Balkan Wars (S&T 164)


Playings; 5, 9 hours (1 Bulgarian win, 1 Balkan League, 3 draws)


It is necessary to gain at least a 1.5:1 superiority in victory points to claim a win, hence the high number of draws.


Balkan Wars has the look of being cobbled together from the out-takes of recent S&T games, notably Seven Years War (Diplomacy rules) and White Eagle Eastward (shock rules) all put together with the customary S&T finish. Players of recent Miranda games will be gaining experience in translating what he writes into what he meant to write. I sided with the rules in allowing artillery units to shift combat odds according to their bombardment rating. The example of play would have their combat values used. With bombardment ratings ranging up to 4 but combat steady at 1 this makes some difference to combat. Terrain shifts the odds back down, causing defenders to sit in heavy terrain preferably dug in. Scenario 2 allows units to begin entrenched, if all the supplied entrenchment counters - plus as many more as can be made out of the sides of the counter frame - have not been used during set up, someone is not playing the game right. Heavy artillery and trenches, so we must be somewhere around World War I, shock news magazine game gets something right.


Diplomacy is full of good ideas which do not quite work out. 2 types of nation are represented, the smallish ones who fight on the map and the Great Powers, who influence them plus may send in the troops. Who supports who is determined by set up and random events, supporting Great Powers boost Balkan countries' morale and aid recruitment but in theory are rarely needed for raising troops. The number of units that can be raised by each nation is based on the number of supply depots it has plus any Great Power support. Only 1 new unit can be placed per supply depot which limits new units to the extent that the points supplied by friendly Great Powers can rarely be spent. Rather than the Great Powers meddling in Balkan affairs, the players have some limited control over actions of Great Powers.


Austrian, German and British support bring combat units that can be positioned on the map after paying a victory point penalty. Strongest are the Austrians, who for a hefty 20 points will roll over most of Serbia plus anything else they pass on the way. The 20 points may balance the extra territory that Austria overruns, evening out their effect in the game but it is the player who decides if he wishes to use the extra units. Considering the relative size of Great Powers and combatants, who sends what should not be entirely in the hands of the players. Empty random event slots 63 and 64 could cover this for either side. To be fair, if too many Great Powers become involved there is a chance of World War I breaking out and everybody losing. The Great Powers controlled by both sides can and sometimes must be pitted against each other in diplomatic conflict. Usually nothing happens but an armistice can end the game. If a player is doing well or about to do badly he would be advised to try for an armistice. If Bulgaria has had the Ottoman Empire declare war on it during the random events phase it has a chance to get an armistice during the diplomatic phase before Ottoman units begin to move. Admittedly not much of a chance but this gives Bulgaria some hope of preventing a draw or victory turning into certain defeat. This is what any patriotic leader would do. Politicians are often more interested in power than winning, the current Balkan War would be long over if the politicians were able to judge when the tide turned and call an armistice.


Generally the rules work after the usual post publication editing but contain the customary clanger. Surprisingly the shock rules from White Eagle Eastwards turn up nearly unchanged, they did not make a lot of sense there either. Combat is determined by standard odds but the die can be adjusted by +2 if the attacker has a higher shock rating, -1 if the defender. Shock ratings are based on the cadre rating of infantry and staff ratings of HQs. Preferring good odds, attackers will heavily outnumber defenders in combat factors and ,without even trying, in shock factors. In effect if an attacker achieves good odds he will almost always gain the shock bonus. If the bonus applies in every combat it should be factored into the CRT. Players can decline to use the shock bonus with a benefit of suffering less disruptions on a die roll. This option raises the problem of who charges 1st or should charging be secret. In an open declaration the attacker will charge just enough units to get the bonus but no more. I fixed this muddle by banning charges. Cadre ratings are still used in recruiting units and in recovery from disruption so the space taken up on the counters is not wasted. Combat sometimes brings about spectacular routs, more often it will leave parts of both sides disrupted. The side that can recover quickest from disruption can withstand combat better, high cadre units pay off.


2 scenarios are provided, one for each of the conflicts that preceded World War I. It is not possible to simulate the Great War although this conflict in the Balkans could be termed the 3rd Balkan War. The 1st Balkan War holds few surprises, the Ottoman Empire gets carved up by its neighbours. Ottoman strategy hinges around keeping the Turkish lands in Thrace as large as possible while holding onto scattered garrisons in the West and hoping for an armistice.


Hidden behind this scenario lies the 2nd War which is a cracker of a situation. In the 1st War units are placed in fixed hexes but the 2nd is a free set up within national borders. Bulgaria faces Greece, Serbia and Montenegro (the largest Montenegran order of battle in any game I've seen). Mountains divide Serbia into North and South. Bulgaria sets up 2nd so can choose to attack either side of the mountains, concentrate on Greece or hedge its bets. Too many troops committed to one part of Serbia may allow Serbia to invade Bulgaria from other regions. The Greek army is barely strong enough to maintain a defense let alone attack. The Montenegran army will always race to the rescue of its allies, unfortunately the mountains of Montenegro prevent part of its army from ever leaving home without invading Albania (unthinkable). The Bulgarian army is large but will be stretched to attack in more than 1 area plus maintain a screen to guard against Romanian or Ottoman invasion. These invasions have a 1 in 18 chance of occurring each game turn but the later that they take place each game the less chance of any significant losses before the last turn. This last turn is fixed allowing the Bulgarian to calculate what risks to take when shuffling forces between attack and defense. This problem can be fixed by settling game end by compulsory diplomatic conflict on the last turn plus at the beginning of every following (new) turn. Victory is only gained for occupying hexes with units. In both scenarios any advancing force will have to judge how many units to transfer from combat to occupation.


The above makes for plenty of game variety but naturally has a few drawbacks. Note that the chance of Romanian or Ottoman entry is fixed and does not depend on the progress of the war. Either country will invade regardless of how well its future allies are doing. Both countries were probably prompted to join the war when Bulgarian attacks turned into retreats. This can be simulated by changing certain random events which are otherwise treated as no event in scenario 2.


31, 32. If neither Salonika, Belgrade or Skopje are Bulgarian controlled and the Balkan league controls more towns within 1913 Bulgaria that Bulgaria controls outside it's borders; Romania intervenes against Bulgaria.


33. If Romania has already entered the war; Ottoman Empire joins the Balkan League.


34, 35. If the conditions listed in 31/32 apply, Ottoman Empire joins the Balkan League.