Short review: Nevsky


Summary: My game of the year for 2019. Brain-burning and frustrating in the best possible way.

Nevsky. Where to begin with this one? With only 20 pages of rules the game should, by the standards of a big box GMT release, not be too hard to grok. GMT’s own black-box complexity indicator has it exactly at the mid-point of medium complexity. That could be right in terms of literally understanding the steps needed to undertake an action. But, oh my god, this is a very difficult game to play. It is also unique, brilliant, and, in my humble opinion, the best game released in 2019.

The difficulty comes in the planning. It all seems so easy. It is winter, so make sure your two Teutonic Lords have sufficient sleds and food to begin conquering the Rus, and off you go.

Things first go awry when they storm the minor Rus fort of Izborsk, expecting an easy win and some loot and coin. This booty is very important as without it you can’t pay Lord Rudolf von Kassel, and he will disband and return home at the end of the turn. But, somehow, the local garrison there rebuffs your attack! Now you are stuck outside an enemy stronghold. Not only is Lord Rud-olf going to bugger-off, but, because you are in an enemy locale, there is no ‘muster’ next turn. And next turn is Rasputitista, Russian spring, when your winter sleds are useless and the only way to get supplies is by boat, which you now cannot muster. This means your remaining Lord cannot access his seat in Livonia to supply food. And no food means the men get restless, and you come closer to having to disband another Lord.

Well, at least it is no longer Winter so you can ‘forage’. Wait, no you can’t, you stupidly ravaged the area around Izborsk two turns ago, it’s a wasteland with no squirrels, bears, beetroots or edible berries to be had. You are going to have to retreat home with nothing to claim for two turns of planning and actions except one fewer Lord. FECK!

I have played this game quite a lot now, and stuff like this keeps happening all the time. Occasionally, just occasionally, I will get it right, cut off the supply line of a besieging opponent, starve out a much stronger lord from a well defended city, plan everything just right. And that is a glorious feeling. But even when things go wrong, it is just so enjoyable. Each turn is an opportunity for an event to swing things your way. To programme your hand of actions such that it totally outwits your opponent. To see if, this turn, the plan you hatched a couple of hours ago will actually come to fruition. (It probably won’t.) Oh, and the combat and sieging are tense and well done, and we have not even talked about the production and artwork.

The only criticism I have is around some of the Arts of War cards. These double up as events that get drawn each turn, and capabilities Lords can muster. Some of the events are too eventful; game-changing in a way that undermines the precise planning the game otherwise rewards. The designer Volko Runkhe has – I have read – acknowledged this issue and fixed it for the next in the series, Almoravid and the Christian-Muslim battle for Spain. I cannot wait to play it!

Words: James Buckley