By Fire & Sword – Poland's Invasion of Tabletop Gaming

By Bill Gray 05 Jul 2017 0

April 20th, 2013 was a special day for tabletop (historical miniature) wargaming, though no one knew it at the time. That was the day Konrad Sosinski and Rafal Ozwelicki started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new, English version of an already published set of Polish wargaming merchandise. This project was for a set of rules for the 17th Century wars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (think Winged Hussars) called By Fire and Sword and its supporting line of miniatures and accessories. Some 437 contributors and $ 82,384 US, later, the name By Fire and Sword has emerged as synonymous with tabletop excellence while covering one of the most esoteric eras of military history.

In terms of product quality and breadth about the closest comparison one sees is Flames of War (FOW) and uniquely enough, Wargamer Poland actually sponsors FOW tournaments in their country. And “unique” should really be the motto of this firm in so many, many ways. As a November 12th, 2012 interview with Anatoly’s Game Room revealed, Konrad has a law degree but spent two years in Polish Special Forces, later spending seven years at Deloitte as a legal advisor. Rafal was an archeologist by education and trade, but in his off time hosted games at conventions all over Poland. Both chaps are 17th Century military reenactors and have used this experience to nurture their business, which was consummated when the two met for the first time at a miniature wargaming convention.

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Now I don’t play their rules and have only a little bit of their merchandise, mostly Ottoman Turk miniatures and flags for use in later periods of history, specifically the 1716 battle of Peterwardein where the Pasha tussled with Prince Eugene of Savoy. The equipment and garb was about the same, the figures top notch, so why not? Nevertheless, this was all it took to convince me this company was something special. Certainly product quality – to include the best translation of a foreign tongue into English I have ever seen – is top notch with graphics from containers to flags, nothing short of spectacular. But there is a lot more than meets the eye, and here are a couple or three that really stuck with me.

One Stop Shopping

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This company not only produces the graphically awesome By Fire and Sword rules and its expansions, but literally almost everything else you need to play the game, and even additional merchandise you don’t need. While some firms may produce figure lines that include cavalry with no command sets or every unit in the army except . . . well, you know. These guys offer complete figure ranges for every nationality the game covers. These include Poland-Lithuania, the Cossacks, the Swedes, the Holy Roman Empire, the Crimean Khanate, the Electorate of Brandenburg, Muscovy, Transylvania (Vlad the Impaler not included) and the Ottoman Empire. Taking the latter, the range lists 17 different sets to include a specific pack containing the Ottoman garrison of Raszkov in 1674, to include Jusef Pasha himself. There is even a standalone pack for an Ottoman Mehta Band! This is the famous jingling military band still found in Turkey today, with a camel mounted musician, two horses with bandsmen and four foot musicians. Seriously? I mean, how many Napoleonic ranges include the Imperial Guard marching band, the one that could “make a paraplegic move?” Like, nobody. The Mehta’s have absolutely no impact on any gameplay I know of, but I bought three.

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The company also manufactures its own terrain specific to the game. This means tents, grain stacks, fences, buildings, roadside shrines, bridges, churches and terrain mats. For my money the roadside inn, though pricey ($ 55.00) is really prima. All told you have not less than 38 choices at your disposal.

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And there are also not less than 41 different sets of gameplay accessories available as well. These include casualty bases, pre-cut movement stands, order tokens specific to each nationality, dice specific the same way and sets of cavalry hunting caltrops. Specialty items include unique (that word again) sets like Camp Masters or the Mayor and City Council of Gdansk, rounded off by logoed tape measures, polo shirts, coffee cups and calendars. I picked up a calendar for no other reason than the fact that the week over yonder evidently starts on Monday (not Sunday), though the spiffy illustrations from the base rules didn’t hurt.

Suffice it to say, outside of paint and brushes (which, who knows, maybe next for this company), there simply is no need to bump around to several vendors to find what you need for a game.

Packaging

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Unique (yet again) is also the way each individual set of miniatures and other merchandise is packaged. When I buy a set of, say, 1866 Austrian Uhlans (lancers), I know I am going to also need to pony up for some model railroad plastic to cut and use as movement stands, not to mention researching, printing flags and lance pennants, not to mention again piano wire for lances.  Not so much for the way they do business at Wargamer Poland. For example, Ottoman heavy artillery, which was only used for sieges, automatically includes a gun emplacement as well as cannon with crew. And if you grab a set of Polish Winged Hussars, you will not only get the horses and riders, but also wire lances, pre-cut movement stands and an appropriate flag and pennant sheet in the same box. Given some of these banners are VERY big, this is no small perk.

The advantage of this as a time saver, not to mention money saver cannot be underestimated. It takes an ungodly amount of minutes to simply measure and cut movement stands out of plastic, and the same to find, prep and attach flags. That is of course, if you can find flags. Too many times I have finished a unit but have no source for a preprinted flag readily available, forcing me to do it myself from start to finish. I don’t do this well. The included wire lances and flag staffs are also a blessing. Normally if made they cost extra, and considering the delicate handling (slightly less than a rhino in a Wedgewood shop) technique of some gamers, they are far better than having a lead pike or similar molded on the figure waiting to be bent or snapped. If sharply pointed, they can also add some painful, but decidedly humorous, interludes during game play.

Tournaments

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Finally, there are tournaments. Yes, though only started back in 2013, By Fire and Sword has now celebrated its Fifth International Wargames Tournament in Wilanov, drawing attendees from as far the good ole USA. Sure, FOW has tournaments, but FOW does not have tourneys held in an actual, no joke palace (Baroque, but of course) that doubles as a military history museum, where each contestant gets a replica general’s mace for participating or where in your off time you can browse thru collections of swords, half pikes and Polish Winged Hussar armor.

Highbrow or classy is the best word to describe the event, but you better have all the historical and administrative aspects of your chosen army in order before you arrive. The Wargamer Poland folks are a bit pedantic about what goes on their tables. Like most tournaments By Fire and Sword is based on a point system where armies of equal point values contest the field of honor. But in By Fire and Sword land a player can actually lose points if his army is not properly painted. Worse, since each championship is memorialized by a high production value YouTube short, and while it’s always nice to be noticed, this is likely not the best way. Historicon is next week at Fredericksburg, VA in the Colonies, and the Poles always show up for the event. It will be interesting to see if a mini-tournament will be tagging along.

Conclusion

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Admittedly the miniatures and other products from this firm are not inexpensive, with a dollar for each 15 mm foot or two for horse and rider, all accessories included. Yet backed by high quality products and an eye candy high marketing campaign with colorful illustrations and attractive giveaways, Wargamer Poland projects an image of being a business far larger and dominant than it likely is. While the company may not be as large and extensive as FOW and Battlefront, it sure looks like it is. Quality, value, a very complete product line and continued expansion convey the aura of something that has to be housed in a high rise in beautiful downtown Warsaw.

And that’s the point. This is being done in a small niche hobby covering a period of military history that is nothing if it’s not esoteric – NO, very esoteric. Konrad and Rafal’s story provides future tabletop startups with a solid template on what it takes to be successful in a cottage industry such as tabletop wargaming. Fusing Kickstarter with their unique (how many times have I used this word now?) production, packaging and retail models may not work for everyone trying to break into business for this hobby, but it’s a very good place from which to start.

And BTW, although By Fire and Sword already has one US distributor, success may well have created another.

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