The Ballbusch Review: Ga Pa
Ga Pa (literally ‘fall
on!’ though a better translation is ‘charge!’)
is a set of rules for “The Age of Marlborough” (as in John Churchill, Duke of),
but really these are rules for the Great Northern War of 1700-21. Little know in the English speaking world,
the Great Northern War was a conflict of incredible complexity, but the potted
version for those who don’t know: Sweden (then a major power) and Russia (then
an Asian power with little European presence) fought for control of the Baltic,
largely at the expense of the Poles.
Ga Pa is very much set of homemade rules of the old school. Color is lacking and illustrations are
limited. But, it is very much the effort
of one man. Those spoiled by new, glossy
releases might be slightly put off.
However, in appearance Ga Pa is very much the standard for wargames rules
before Osprey and Warlord hit the historical wargaming scene six some years
This is a game for battles. While it can be scaled down, you need at
least a dozen or so units a side for the mechanics to really shine. That puts armies at the smaller end around
150 figures each. The upper limit is
left to the players’ ambition. But
requiring only 40-some units a side
you could probably manage the Battle of Poltava assuming your
mother/wife/girlfriend/mistress is willing to give up her son/protector/sugar
daddy and (likely far more upsetting) her living room for the better part of a
A single figures represents roughly
50 men with a standard twelve casting unit equating to 600 effectives, more or
less continental standard strength for a battalion. However, Ga Pa never counts figures nor
theoretical numbers of men during the course of play, so how many figures in a
unit and how many combatants that actually translates to are almost completely
The core mechanic in Ga Pa is the
Troop-Quality Check. For anything and a
unit is called upon to do or endure 2d6 is rolled and compared to the unit’s
Quality. The result provides some degree
of success or failure that is then compared to the appropriate check to
determine exactly what happens. Quality
is a somewhat variable amalgamation of training, morale, and élan. Misfortune and the stress of combat can lower
Quality while charismatic commanders and bursts of zeal can raise it.
The turn is divided into three
phases: orders, fire combat, and closing.
Both players act consistently active within each phase with one player
possessing the ‘initiative.’ Initiative
indicates which side is controlling the tempo of the battle at the moment. In game terms the player with the initiative
decides who goes first.
The Orders Phase is central to the
gestalt of Ga Pa. Each senior officer on
the table can issue four orders per turn.
The players take turns issuing movement orders based on a pattern set by
the player holding the initiative. The
pattern can be any combination of 1 and 2 the player wishes. So, Player A could issue 2 orders followed by
Player B issuing 1, or both players could issue two, etc. This then continues until all of the
officers’ orders are exhausted.
The rub is that every unit in the
army must receive a command during the turn, even if that command is simply
‘hold’. If a unit is deprived of
instructions from headquarters local officers will start to act on their own
initiative. What exactly an uncommanded
unit does depends on current conditions, as well as the unit’s training and
morale. Troops in trenches or
fortifications are likely to stay there; unenthusiastic units might begin to
fall back or retreat outright; and aggressive, (over)confident may decide to go
in with the bayonet.
Officers are only able to issue
commands to units they can see. Line of
sight is obstructed by terrain, bad weather, and ubiquitous gun powder
smoke. Of course, the army commander
must be able to see an officer in order for him to be ‘in command’ and able to
himself issue orders. All this, not to
mention casualties amongst the senior staff, means that players have less and
less control over their forces as the battle drags on. However, since uncommanded units still
do…something. There is a chance that
total chaos could be advantageous. So, a
player with a large number of elite units might welcome a true soldier’s
combat. Here every unit simply blazes
away at anything in range. All missile
fire is resolved simultaneously, so both sides can look forward to being on the
receiving end of punishing volleys.
Players have relatively little control at this stage since there men are
simply going to shoot at the most obvious target regardless of whatever their
general might like.
Finally comes the closing phase
were units advance upon each other with the intention of initiating melee. This follows the tradition pattern of morale
and reaction checks for both sides with the possibility that one side or the
other will fall back before contract or stop and begin shooting instead. By the end of the century European foot would
be reluctant to engage in hand-to hand combat; however, during the period
covered by Ga Pa infantry were still expected to do their business with swords,
axes, and pikes. Therefore, units do not
require a great deal of prompting to charge.
Ga Pa does not track
casualties. Rather each unit has a
number of ‘steps’ (generally two) the represents its relative cohesion. Combat and failing morale have a chance to
eliminate a step. When a unit losses all
of its steps it disintegrates and is removed from play.
As a Swede, I assume English
is not Mr. Arnfelt’s first language; however the writing is clear and well
organized (I think the use of ‘steps’ to mean the number of hits a unit can take is the only major example of
something that didn’t translate particularly well). Particularly nice is the fact the nearly
every major rules point is followed by the blessed words ‘for example’ and a
paragraph long game play example.
Ga Pa is very much a game of
command and control. Getting your men
going the direction you want while frustrating your opponent’s ability to
command effectively is central to winning the game. Once your men are in position and engaged
there is little either player can do to influence the contest. But, that is a very accurate depiction of
corps or army level command.
The uncommanded units mechanic is
genius and once I got used to it I missed it in every game that didn’t have
something similar. Ga Pa feels like
commanding (or trying to command) something organic rather than a mass of ever
loyal toy soldiers.
This is a chart heavy game. In fact nothing can really be done without
consulting a chart. Most of the mare
sort and simple, but a chart of charts (I got mine laminated) is a requirement
for play. This doesn’t bother me in the
slightest, but there is a camp that loathes charts of any sort with an eternal
passion. These people are sad, but if
you are one of them, you’ve been warned.
Also, this is very much a set of
early 18th Century rules. Armies
of the period very much in flux, evolving feudal hosts into professional
organizations. Plans were frequently
vague, general staff non-existent, and great princes still lead the charge from
the front rank. The rules help capture
this as how exactly one goes about controlling an army in the field was still
in the experimental stages.
The Great Northern War was an
incredibly complex conflict involving wildly different forces. While the Danes possessed a modern army, the
Russians and Swedes were at least a generation behind Western Europe while the
Turks and Poles fielded forces that were nearly Medieval, complete with
swordsmen and archers. The rules handle
this disparity fairly well, but it works because more everyone wants to get
Do they work for the more popular
War of Spanish Succession? Yes, but I’m
more included to use them for the earlier wars of the 1670-90s. A Western European army of the Nine Years War
was very similar to the type of forces fielded in the Baltic in the
1700-20s. By the later part of the War of Spanish Succession
both the Bourbons and the Grand Alliance of the Maritime Powers were starting
to put their faith in protracted firefights rather than cold steel. The rules handle this fine, but it still
feels like an afterthought to market the set to a conflict the Anglophone world
has actually hear of.
At less than the price of a
sandwich for the PDF version of the rules, I say get a copy even if you aren’t
interested in the period. The command
mechanics are worth the price of admission alone, and highlight how much
C&C is missing from a great many games.