Chinese Civil War (3W)

 

Hoping to beat the 3W release schedule I dug my original copy of Chinese Civil War out for another run through. It is the earliest 3W game that I still have, issues 1 to 6 having passed out of my hands partlty from a desire for hard cash and partly due to the sheer ordinariness (or duffness in the case of Kesselring) of the games ther'in. Chinese Civil War hung around because it is the only game I have come across in this setting. The past record of 3W releases means that Chinese Civil War may never re-appear on the games shelves (where are The Barbarians and Wars of the Roses?). Still this is a good chance to see if the game still rates against current magazine games and to rile the trend of re-releasing old games rather than trying to push out decent new games. As I type the Decision versions of Battle for Germany and WW1 have got as far as Leeds but the most recent S&T issue to drop through my letter box has May written on it (Shock Troop which I happen to have the Perry Moore version of, another re-issue).

 

Still on with the show, Chinese Civil War earned itself a good few playings when new and another recently, when as before the KMT won. I cannot swear that the KMT have always won but can explain this record with the victory conditions. The Communists begin in scattered strongholds but with a bias towards the North. An average game will see some strongholds being swamped but others linking together to form a liberated Northern area which should steadily move South. The game is of historical length and victory is based on how many towns have been liberated by the brave workers and peasants. this is fair for counting points but ignores the irrelevance of time in Mao's struggle. As long as the Communists were gaining ground there was no rush to conquer China by the some set date. On the KMT front Chiang had to stamp out the Communist infrastructure or at best contain it to Manchuria which could be recognized as an independent state like Tibet. The KMT problem was not that of militarily defeating the rebels in a short time but of sorting out the rivalries and jealousies of its own commanders and of finding some political solution which could counter the Communist message. That the KMT is still in power in Taiwan indicates that in time they were able to achieve this but total military defeat may have clarified their minds. So long as the Communist problem remained just that, a problem rather than a threat there was little incentive to sort out the military. If the Communists could have been kept in Manchuraia and in isolated mountains until KMT land reform had begun to work, then stamping out what was left of the rebels would have been so much less work. There is a time limit to this war, certainly several harvests, that of sticking to the historical length is rather simplistic.

 

Part of the cause of Communist victory was the lack of solidity amongst the KMT. Chinese Civil War makes serious efforts to reflect this but life is still too easy for the KMT because of the Communist's enforced time schedule. Good sensible (but atrociously written) rules keep the KMT from prosecuting a serious war. China is divided into regions each of which has a KMT Warlord and HQ, if any unit leaves its allotted region it can no longer stack and cannot combine in combat with units from its present region. If the number of units left in a region fall below a garrison level (either 3 units or 0 in very remote regions) the Communists step in with a free base. It is not possibile to abandon a region that contains no Communist units. These rules keep units tied to regions and prevent a logical exodus to the war zones. Single units may be sent to neighbouring regions to garrison cities and clear railway lines but many units just hang about waiting for the war to come to them.

 

KMT problems are increased by relying on 6 supply units (1 of which is a single use unit, others return each turn) for attack. Supply units appear on the South map edge or in Shanghai (also pretty close to the South edge) and have to be within 2 hexes of a KMT unit to allow the unit to attack. Supply units can power more than 1 attack if cunningly positioned but the big hassle is getting them to the front when Communists begin to capture ports and block railway lines. At worst 1 supply unit can be spent to fly a 2nd unit to any friendly major city, often this is the only way to keep the war going in the North. Don't let the KMT forget that if a 6 is rolled before any KMT attack then that combat is not fought, this is easy to skip over if playing solitaire, I believe that this result will still burn up a supply unit. Communist bases and combat units push out re-useable guerrilla units onto any rail hex within 3 hexes that is not in a KMT ZOC. Guerrillas have a 2/3rds chance of stopping rail movement but can be stomped on by KMT units, if so they come back next turn rested and refreshed. The KMT has police units to chase the guerrillas but because these are less than effective combat units get used to chase the guerrillas and the police make good garrison units.

 

The KMT begins in a very strong position, at full strength with his best commanders alive and in the best places plus (if I understand the set up) ready to immediately assault several Communist bases. Some good die rolls should see a few less Communist bases by turn 2, Communists draw supply and new units from bases so the game strategy must always be "take the bases" regardless of how bad the front line may look. Base hexes are marked on the map and consist of that hex plus the surrounding 6, it is not clear if the KMT can begin set up in any of the 6 surrounding hexes ready to assault the centre. Capturing the centre will destroy the base but taking an outside hex only moves the attacker into position for a final assault next turn. Reading the rules very carefully indicates that the KMT can make a turn 1 blitz but I am not convinced that this was the designer's intention.

 

Communist new units increase as the game progresses but begin with 5 combat factors a turn, these can be from the dead pile or as new units. So if the Communists survive they will gradually increase in strength, the KMT always get 6 combat factors but only draw from the dead pile. As long as the KMT can keep killing more Communists than are replaced and can restrict rebel influence to a few regions they will do well, bad die rolls and lack of supply will eventually lead to the communist bases linking up and sweeping South across China.

 

The Communist can defy KMT strength by using unconventional warfare which inflicts a -1 on Communist attacks and restricts stacking to 2 compared to the KMT's 3 but which allows Communist units to move from 1 KMT ZOC to another (they must then stop). KMT units cannot form a line to stop infiltration unless there is a unit in at least every other hex, the map geography makes this hard across the whole of China. If a decent line is built up it will be weak and susceptible to Communist attacks. The Communists can switch to conventional warfare and gain an extra stacking unit but will lose their ability to infiltrate. Conventional warfare is handy for mopping up a beaten KMT but should not be entered into too early.

 

Chinese Civil War is an interesting game with some different choices, attacking is not always a good idea for the Communists but if they don't attack they will never win. The game length and KMT commander reliability would be better treated by a random events table than by using a roll of 6 and a set length of game. Also the number of Communist recruits could be linked to success rather than time, to be fair the Communists do get bonus recruits on high odd attacks and capturing major cities. Also the continued existence of Communist presence would increase the number of people aware of the movement so I will climb down on that point. Another plus point is a truly splendid map, the rules are as poorly laid out and explained as you might expect. Compared to recent Command games these crash and burn, it lacks some of the political correctness of Miranda's S&T games but still beats many of that rag's efforts. In short good topic for a re-issue, better choice than Eylau but remember that most 3W games from the same era were so forgettable that we've forgotten them.