Katie's Game Corner: Review of Brave Little Belgium by Ryan Heilman, Dave Shaw & Hollandspiele
I love wargames. I want to be playing them, or talking about them, at all times. Sometimes, however, I just really don’t have the time to do much of either. That’s when I’m really thankful for games like Brave Little Belgium. A game that has been scratching my wargame itch over the last couple of months when it really hasn’t been possible to get something with a longer playing time, or something with more weight to the table, and just to be clear, Brave Little Belgium being quicker and easier to learn than other wargames is not a negative, it’s actually quite the opposite.
Wargames are wonderful, and weird and extremely enjoyable to but can also be pretty intimidating at first. All those chits and numbers and ahhhhh. Brave Little Belgium does a great job of fighting off that fear though. Brave Little Belgium feels like a friendly face in a crowd of scary strangers, ready to take your hand.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself here.
In Brave Little Belgium, players are going to take the role of either the Germans or the Allies, who consisted of the Belgians, French, and Brits, at the start of World War I. As the Germans, can you quickly smash through Belgium without committing too many atrocities? As the Allies, can you slow down the German advance and halt their plans to capture France?
Brave Little Belgium begins with a Special German Cavalry Phase, where all German Cavalry Units are activated for Movement and then Combat, simulating the initial German movement in the days leading up to the period the game covers.
After that, the game takes place over a number of Game Turns, with each turn representing three days, between August 4 and August 27 1914, which was the beginning of World War I on the western front. Each Turn consists of a number of phases that are performed in the following order. Let me just tell you by the way, I don’t want to go through every single rule, but if you’re new to chit-pull mechanism in games, this is really helpful for you.
1. The first phase is the Chit Pull Phase where one player blindly draws the first chit from the Chit Cup and resolves it. Players are then going to alternate drawing chits until the third Turn End Chit is drawn, which ends the Chit Pull Phase. Chit pulling is really common in wargames and I feel like Brave Little Belgium is the perfect introduction into this system.
The chits in the game represent different actions in the game. The Activation Chits are used to activate Combat Units belonging to the corresponding Army. Then there are Event Chits that may be drawn and result in a special Event taking place. Finally there are Turn End Chits which dictate the tempo of the Game Turn, ending the turn when all three have been drawn.
Chit pulling gives the game a solid direction and helps players chose their actions which is something I love in a wargame. Especially when you’re new to a game or learning, you can sometimes need a little bit of a helping hand and this system is perfect for that.
2. Next is the Additional German Activation Phase. If the German Player has not activated all of their Armies by the time the Chit Pull Phase has ended, they may activate those Armies at this time. The German player only has a certain amount of turns to play the game. The German Player announces which Armies that were not Activated during the Chit Pull Phase they wish to Activate. After announcing these Armies, but before carrying out the Activation, they roll one die for each Army and move accordingly. This would also determine if the game ends or not, depending on the outcome.
4. Finally is the Clean Up Phase where players will advance the Game Turn Marker to the next space on the Turn Track; if there is an ActivationChit on that space, place it into the Chit Cup. Place all chits drawn during the turn into the Chit Cup.
Yes, there are a lot more rules than that, but when you break it down into phases, that is really all there is to it.
Brave Little Belgium has the elegance and addictiveness of many other wargames but is one of the most accessible that I have come across. It gives players a real taste of the wargame world, as well as introducing them to Hollandspiele, who are an incredible publisher producing some of the most interesting and evocative games around. Designers Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw have done something which many other wargame designers aspire to do. They have designed an easy to learn, easy to play wargame which is just as rewarding as some of the classic wargames out there.