This is the battle immortalized in Sergei Eisenstein's classic 1938 movie, “Alexander Nevsky”. As the Mongols squeezed Russia from the east, the Teutonic Knights sought to eliminate the Russian menace once and for all. The Baltic Crusade, declared by Pope Innocent III, had been raging for almost three decades, when Bishop Hermann von Buxhoeven of Tartu (in Livonia) finally consolidated enough power to open up a new front in northern Russia. Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod chose to fight the Germans first, and rallied an army of Russians. After a period of cat-and-mouse engagements, the climax came when the Crusader army “trapped” the Russian forces on the eastern shore of Lake Peipus.
What we know of the battle is very simple. The Crusader knights charged across the lake on the ice towards Nevsky's positions on the eastern shore at a place known as "Raven's Rock," with the Danes on the left, the Teutonic Knights in the center, and the Livonian feudal knight contingent on the right, followed at a great distance by the Estonian foot. Alexander placed his Novgorod militia foot in the center on the shoreline to absorb this charge, which was probably aimed at capturing Nevsky himself, with the reserve cavalry in the center. To his right, he placed his strong druzhina cavalry wing, reinforced by Mongol horse archers, to outflank and destroy the Danes. On his left, was a weaker wing of cavalry to confront the feudal knights.
Apparently these flank elements did their jobs, repulsing and driving off the two crusader wings. This resulted in the encirclement and destruction of the Teutonic knights in the center, who were now too deeply engaged with the Russian foot to extricate themselves.
The battle was decided more by the impetuosity of charging into the center, and being doubly-enveloped, than by any collapse of the ice that was so popularized in the movie.
This battle was significant in that it was the last major attempt by the Germans to break into Russia proper for several centuries, and the Russians used this aggression as a popular myth to support their propaganda campaigns against German expansionism in the 20th century. Ironically, within four years of defeating the Teutonic Orders, Alexander Nevsky would submit to the Mongol Khan.
The Armies (as per the DBA lists)
Early Russian (III78): 1x3Cv(Gen), 4x3Cv, 2x2LH, 2x4Sp, 2x2Ps, 1xHd
Teutonic Orders (IV/30): 1x3Kn(Gen), 3x3Kn, 1x3Cv, 2x2LH, 1x4Sp, 2x4Cb, 2xHd
The words “Teutonic Orders”, “Crusaders” and “Germans” are used interchangeably.
Deployment is hard-coded, as per the map below. The pre-set deployment and lack of much terrain make this scenario an ideal for introducing newbies to DBA.
Admittedly, the Crusaders’ camp would not have been on the frozen lake, but for dramatic effect (and for play-balance!), a camp, ideally consisting of the Bishop and his clerics in a tent with musicians, should be placed on the Crusader baseline.
. = Good Going (Ice) h = Gentle Hill (Good Going) R
= Raven’s Rock (impassable)
Ice is treated as good going. The lakeshore (the entire, non-lake area) is a Gentle Hill and gives uphill advantage, sloping up from the lake surface to the Russian baseline. A few scattered trees can be placed on this lakeshore feature for visual effect, but are not considered Woods. The small “Raven’s Rock” feature is considered impassable terrain.
By rule, the Teutonic player takes the first bound. The Crusader knights, on their first two bounds, must make full, tactical moves (not backward) before any other force can be moved. In other words, PIPs can only be expended on non-knights elements if there are any left over after PIPs are first spent on the knights. This reflects their impetuosity.
Since the ice collapsed in the movie, this ice-rule creates that possibility. Starting on the German player’s second bound, and at the start of each subsequent Teutonic bound, the German player must roll a D6 for each and every Knight element that is at least partially on the ice. (These die-rolls are made before rolling for PIPs.). If a "6" is rolled, roll again and consult the following table:
Note: There is, of course, the 1-in-36 possibility that, at the start of the second turn, the Teutonic Orders’ “Hochmeister” 3Kn(Gen) element could fall through the ice for a quick, 1G-nil, Russian victory. If that happens, the German player should congratulate the Russian player on his extraordinarily skillful play and ask for a re-match.
If a Knight element is slowed, halted or destroyed by the ice-rule above, any other Knight elements that had been with it as part of a group, may continue to make a group-move (for a single pip) on that bound. This "free" move by a disintegrating group of elements replicates the impetuosity of the Crusader knights.
For any implausible situation that might arise from these special rules, which is not covered here, simply use common sense (or a random die roll) to resolve it.
As per normal DBA.
Experience from extensive play in the Seattle-based “NAGS” group indicates that the Germans do have a slight advantage over the Russians. The Russians are generally well advised to retreat their two Psiloi elements to positions behind their two Spear elements. Good timing of the Russian cavalry counter-charge seems to be a key to their success.
Creating the Battlefield Terrain
Creating the illusion of ice was a challenge for me. A playing surface of white felt, oddly enough, looked just like white felt. A sheet of reflective, pale-blue Mylar, placed underneath the white felt, however, yielded just the look I had been hoping for.
I affixed this Mylar sheet to a 2’x 2’ board, and gave the board a one-inch high frame. A fitted square of white felt sits inside the frame. (This is loose and can be cleaned or replaced, as necessary, if the white felt gets soiled.)
I crafted the “shoreline” from a length of “pinkboard” insulation material, painted and flocked to with white “snow”, but with exposed, “melted” portions, such as little rivulets. A one-inch tall river rock, sunk and glued into the pinkboard, serves to represent “Raven’s Rock”. A few, scattered trees are placed loosely about on the shoreline for visual effect only (they do not count as Woods).
To simulate the “broken ice”, I created special, 40mm x 30mm “terrain features” that could be placed on the felt as needed. To make them, I glued a sawed-off knight figure to a thin piece of styrene, cut jaggedly, and painted deep blue. I painted the edges white, and added small bits of styrene and white paint to look like bits of floating ice and turbulent water. A heavy application of gloss paint gave the desired “wet” finish.
Translucent “ice dice” complete the look. Lastly, hockey fans will want to have a Zamboni model in their team’s livery handy to flood (smooth) the ice between games.
Osprey's Campaign Series 46, Lake Peipus 1242: The Battle of the Ice
“The Courier” magazine, May 1982
“Alexander Nevsky” movie, 1938
Many thanks to Mark Kyriss for the original concept. Many of the rules ideas are his.
Thanks also to Andy Hooper, Gary Pomeroy, David Sullivan and other regulars
at the Seattle NAGS DBA group for their help and input in play-testing the
Last Update: 3 June 2005
Thanks to Paul Hannah and Mark Kyriss for