1565: St. Elmo’s Pay – The Great Siege of Malta
Play through one of the great defenses in history.
|Publisher||Hall or Nothing Productions|
|Category||Dueling Card Game|
The 2nd entry in Hall or Nothing’s Historic Epic Battle Systems puts 2 players in charge of asymmetric, opposing armies for a back-and-forth, card-playing, tactical good time set during the legendary Siege of Malta.
While the artwork is certainly aggressive at times, there’s nothing beyond PG violence-wise, though some card descriptions discuss things such as beheadings.
Before we get started, a few things: If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at how the game works, check out my review of 1815, Scum of the Earth. Because I’ve already covered the basic gameplay, and 1565: St. Elmo’s Pay uses the same gameplay system as 1815, I’ll mainly be writing about the differences.
The Siege of Malta is regarded as one of the greatest sieges of all time. The Ottoman Empire attempted to capture the island of Malta, which was at that time being held by the Knights Hospitaller. Despite the Ottoman Empire’s greater numbers and advanced siege tactics, the Maltese held out. If you’re interested in learning more about this, I suggest The Great Siege, Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford (bonus: he wrote it like a novel so it doesn’t feel like you’re digesting a bunch of facts).
The asymmetry between the 2 factions is exciting and historically accurate. Pound for pound, the Maltese take the cake. However, the Ottomans’ weaker cards are played for a cheaper cost, so the Ottomans often outnumber the Maltese on the battlefield. Fitting the historical setting, the Ottomans also have much more siege weapons such as cannon-firing ships and large artillery batteries.
As I’ve stated in my review of 1815, the text on the cards adds so much theme and historical flavor that it makes me like the game more. It’s exciting playing through a different battle using a familiar and well-executed system. 1565’s artwork is more visually appealing than 1815’s because of the Ottomans’ vibrant colors and the Maltese’s unique armor pieces, but I do think 1815’s is more impressive, given the source material (making each card look unique when everyone is wearing the same uniform is a tough challenge that the artist overcame).
It does feel like 1565 is less refined than 1815. I suppose playing the most recent, more polished version of a game will inevitably have this effect, but it’s worth mentioning. The starting tactics cards for 1815’s armies ups the strategy from the jump, and the cards in 1815 just seem more versatile and balanced than the ones found in 1565. There are also a few cards that seem overpowered, like the one that lets you remove all damage from a character, which you could use on your leader.
For example, I played a game of 1565 that I won in under 20 minutes simply because I played Ottoman snipers and killed my opponent’s leader during the first 12 turns because she couldn’t draw any cards to stop my snipers. Of course, that only happened once, and there will always be some luck element in a game like this, even if players choose to mitigate that luck by constructing their own decks beforehand.
It’s worth mentioning that 1565’s solo mode is less robust than 1815, and by “less robust” I mean it doesn’t include a handy-dandy flowchart. However, the 1565 flowchart is publicly available here so you can easily print your own to use with any of the Historic Epic Battle System games.
Both 1565 and 1815 are great games. And they should be, because they use the same gameplay system! It’s really excellent that the same system can be used for 2 different games that, while they feel similar, also feel different enough to be worth playing both. I like 1565’s theme better, but I do think 1815 is the more polished game. However, if you like the Historical Epic Battles system, and you like history, it’s worth owning both, especially if you’d like to see how the Maltese would fare against a, shall we say, shorter enemy in the Napoleon-led French.
Hall or Nothing Productions kindly provided a review copy.
The Bottom Line
Vibrant art and historical tidbits make for a good time, despite being less polished than the more recent entry.