Retro Review - The Battle Of Balaclava by Palitoy (1975)
Antony Brown is a games analyst and inventor who writes regularly on board games. His Retro Reviews take a nostalgic look at games of the past. This article rediscovers the Battle Of Balaclava board game, a family strategy game based on the famous battle.
In the mid-1970s Palitoy published two board games based on famous battles - the Battle Of Balaclava and the Battle Of Waterloo. Both have similar playing pieces and basic game mechanisms but are very different in the way play unfolds, as each aims to follow the key events of the battle. The games are positioned as strategy games and the boxes declare: "Can you change the course of history?" Of the two, the Battle Of Balaclava probably works slightly better.
An illustrated booklet provides a description of the battle as well as the rules. The Battle Of Balaclava, fought on 25 October 1854 during the Crimean War, was part of the Anglo-French-Turkish campaign to capture Sevastopol, Russia's principal naval base on the Black Sea. The Allies decided against an immediate assault so the British army moved to the southern port of Balaclava. This committed the British army to the defence of the right flank of the Allied siege operations, for which they had insufficient troops. Taking advantage of this exposure, the Russians prepared to attack.
The battle began an hour before dawn when the Russians attacked a Turkish held ridge called the Casuseway Heights. After initial resistance, the Russians overpowered the Turks and moved down towards Balaclava but were stopped by 'the thin red line' of the 93rd Highlanders. The Russians also attacked the Heavy Brigade of the British in the valley but were routed. The battle is infamous for the charge of the Light Brigade. This military disaster was based on a misunderstanding of an order which saw a brigade ride straight into Russian gun and artillery fire. Not surprisingly, the charge of the Light Brigade is a main feature of the game.
As well as the booklet, the game comes with sets of infantry, cavalry and artillery pieces in two colours; a single, non-folding board, which is quite unusual; and a die.
The key game concept is the attack line, along which specified troops can move by a throw of the dice. Some of the squares in an attack line may have specific actions to be undertaken. The line terminates with an arrow head - if a infantry or cavalry piece reaches the arrowhead an opposing piece may be removed from the board. There are several attack lines for each side in play and the tactics consist in making the best move given the role of the die, especially watching your opponent's moves.
The game starts with the Russian units moving along the attack line to the Causeway Heights and proceeds from there. It ends when three specific conditions have been met: (1) when all Russian ranks have been vacated (2) all Turkish cannons have been captured and (3) the Fedioukine Hills have been won.
Of the two games, Balaclava probably plays better, the charge of the Light Brigade being a central feature. There is also greater scope for three or four players to play, although the game is best with two players. The game is educational, well-presented and has an interesting game mechanism. However, it is a mainstream board game and is not suitable for wargamers.
A trivia footnote: The order for the charge of the Light Brigade was misconstrued by the 3rd Earl of Lucan. Over a century later, the 7th Earl, popularly known as Lord Lucan, infamously disappeared in 1974 on the night his children's nanny was murdered.
Verdict: A well-presented and educational game.