Updated: Oct 19, 2019
Designed by Ryan Heilman and Dave Shaw, Brave Little Belgium is an abstracted war game representing the German invasion of Belgium at the start of the First World War. It’s a short, very playable two-player game where one player controls the advancing German army and the other controls the plucky Belgians and their French allies, plus a tiny (three chit) British expeditionary force.
The game is driven by randomly drawn event chits. These are not always automatically triggered: they can be placed in a ‘pulled chits’ box to be activated at the choosing of the player whom they benefit. For example, the Zeppelins chit gives a one-off, one-use only +1 combat advantage to a single German attack, so the German player will want to reserve use of this chit for the attack where he can use it to best effect. The event chits recycle each turn.
Among the chits (initially 12, rising to 16 as the game progresses) are three ‘end of day’ markers. These act as a countdown timer on the German player – introducing a ‘push your luck’ element: if the German player has any armies that have not been activated by the time the third ‘end of day’ marker is drawn, then there is a 50% chance that each activation will give rise to an atrocity: five atrocities and the Germans automatically lose the game. This seems a generation ahead of the international consensus that led to the Nuremburg Trials but such, it seems, was the peril of the Schlieffen Plan.
Combat is straightforward. Regular six-sided dice are rolled for each unit and they reduce (flip) or eliminate enemy units if, after applying any event chit modifiers, their die roll is matched or exceeded. Combat is simultaneous (attackers and defenders both roll) and will result in a retreat for any surviving units on the side that took the greatest number of hits. Forts are quite difficult to besiege but the German victory conditions require them, inter alia, to destroy the Belgian forts at Liege and Namur.
The German units outnumber those of the Allies and they are individually more powerful than those of the Belgians: the French and British units are stronger but the Belgian units can only score a hit on a roll of 6. The Allies win if they can hold the Germans at bay (prevent them from meeting their victory conditions) for eight turns. This inevitably makes Brave Little Belgium a war of attrition, with the Allies sacrificing units to slow the German advance and the German player throwing units against hard to reduce fortifications. This may be an abstracted war game but it is, after all, a representation of the bloody conflict that characterised the First World War.
Most war games involving chits, dice and counters demand a heavy investment of time assimilating complex rulebooks. It’s refreshing therefore to find a light war game with rules that are simple, straightforward and easy to learn, and which can be played through to completion in around 40 minutes. The event draw and the dice rolls for combat mean there’s a fair amount of random luck in the game, but, as with even the most complex war game, part of the challenge is to develop a strategy that gets you past those turns when luck favours your opponent.
If you’re a seasoned war gamer, you may regard Brave Little Belgium as no more than a filler, but you’ll probably still enjoy it. For those who want to dip their toe in the water but have previously been put off by the ultra-complexity of most war games, this could be just the gateway game you are looking for.
Shown here on Board’s Eye View is a pre-production prototype of Brave Little Belgium. The game is due to be published by Hollandspiele. We’ll update our review when we have further release details of the game.