Russo-Turkish War

Playings; 3, (7 hours, Russian win, Turkish win, draw).

 

This game uses the same game system as Franco-Prussian War, indeed the basic rules have been touched up and now replace those of FPW. Credit where its due, the rewrite is more than the word processor job of Sicily/Salerno (some new bits, many a fuzzy bit left untouched), the combat rules are now clear and the whole set up a big improvement. On the minus side, this game is little more than a variant for FPW, perhaps "pick a chit" Miranda has advanced as far as he dares with this system and has dug in against the critics' assaults. FPW was covered in issue 1 of ZOCo and I do not intend to waste my time or yours by repeating myself. Suffice to say that the game had playability but was held back by the tendency of the French to win. If I had not enjoyed the game RTW would never have got punched, this speel will concentrate on the gameplay of RTW and highlight the special rules that do not apply to FPW.

 

This was a war fought on 2 fronts, the Balkans and Caucasus, Miranda has decided to simulate the 2 areas by 2 separate maps joined by holding areas (1 for each side). This approach is a mixed blessing, it does allow the whole war to be fought and makes players think hard about where to commit troops. Only 5 Strength Points may leave each holding area per turn, often followed by a long trog to the front line, the Turk can whip 5 more SP's from ports on the 1 coast to the other but even so the amount of inter-map movement will be small. Most units will stay on the map that they arrive on. The price for covering the whole war in a magazine size game is that the scale has been changed from that used in FPW, at a rough guess SP's are 2x the size in RTW and hexes 2x as big (neither game is too free with details of scales). OK, the vagaries of time (7 years) and space (1/2 Europe) mean that it is unlikely that anyone would have considered linking the 2 games but the change of scale has been brought in with little change to the actual system. Another approach would have been to only simulate the fighting in Europe and keep to the same scale as FPW, hopefully with a finer detailed map and higher strength units (there are a lot of 1 SP units in RTW). The fighting in the East was secondary to that in the West, any breakthrough in the Caucasus would merely gain the Russian a lot of mountains full of hostiles, the only people likely to welcome them being the Pontic Greeks along the Black Sea. To get to the point, the new scales mean that certain actions that occurred are now too small to be relevant to the gameplay, this is not necessarily a fault, any game is restricted by the scale imposed (except possibly that mighty gobbler Eagle and the Sun). This particular war was very broadly 2 big seiges, Plevna in Europe and Kars in the East, the Turkish efforts to hold and relieve Plevna being a focus of the fighting. The game too will revolve around several seiges, not necessarily of the same cities, Shumla (on a shorter route to Constantinople) has seen some close fighting in my games.

 

The Russian has to hold 10 Turkish fortress cities at game end for 1 of his 3 victory conditions (other 2, destroy 40 Turkish SP's - easy, National Will 10 above Turks) naturally the Turk will try to stop this and if possible fulfil his victory condition of taking a Russian fortress city (other conditions, hold Constantinople - freebee, National Will 10 above Russian). Obviously with victory conditions like these, fortress cities are going to be prime real estate but are the rules for fortresses any different to those of FPW? Nope. Both sides may still yield fortresses with honours of war, these people are Turks not Frenchmen, Plevna was forced to surrender but the garrison did not march out with full honours like that of Belfort.

 

The beginning of the end for Plevna was the completion of Russian lines to cut off the city, to do this in the game the Russian would need forces entrenched in the 4 unblocked hexes adjacent to Plevna. There are no Tactical Zones (ZOCs) in RTW, so if a city is not completely surrounded fresh troops can be marched in. A closer recreation of the situation would be a single entrenched force in the same hex as Plevna plus a covering force at Shipka. Bearing in mind that hexes are 2x the size of FPW, we could treat fortress cities as hexes within hexes, like in The Crusades, enemy forces may now enter the hex to begin a formal seige (they don't have to entrench but would be foolish not to do so if able). Except for the change in scale, there are 2 major changes in the special rules from FPW (and a few minor ones not worth mentioning), operation chits and supply. Both sides now have 7 operation chits, 3 staff (effective in FPW), 1 bold (my favourite, a chance of attacking 1st or moving 2x in a turn but with a chance of disaster, not fighting or being disorganised), 1 secret police and 1 sedition (to place or remove guerillas). Lastly the Turks have fanatic, to increase combat casualties (on both sides) and the Russians have stolidity, to improve recovery from demoralisation. According to the rules, these chits are picked at random, so if you want to fight 1st you could end up picking sedition, reading the examples of play, the testers have been picking chits openly, as needed. I have tried both ways and find the open method easier, a little ordered for my tastes but with all commanders being so bad there are likely to be more chits than can be used anyway. Only 3 staff actions means only 3 guaranteed moves or 3 guaranteed 1st attacks, to the player that means depending on the die for some moves (with a chance of going the wrong way or being disorganised), don't take the risk for combats. The combat chits are a lot rougher on the units than in FPW, you can take 100% of the other sides force in losses, always make every effort to shoot 1st (if you pick the H, 0% chit it is still bad news but thats gaming). The 2nd change is in supply, both sides may build supply units, the Russian starts with his full complement of 3, the Turk must forego building a unit to get any. To be in supply a unit must be within 3 hexes of a fortress unit or 3 hexes of a supply unit. The supply unit is removed when used unless it can draw a path of 3 hexes or less to a fortress unit or friendly railway line leading to same. The Russian has 3 fortress units, plus 1 allied Romanian, all on fortress cities. The Turk has 10 units but 17 fortress cities, there is some leeway in which cities receive forts, 4 East, 6 West, exactly where these are placed will have a big effect on Turkish play.

 

Not only are these (immobile, non-replaceable) units the source of supply and victory hexes but they are also, together with off map boxes, the point of entry of reinforcements. 7 Turkish fortress cities will spend the game with no fortress, if they are further than 3 hexes from a fort unit (and some will be) any units in them will be out of supply with a 1/3rd chance of being disorganised if not stacked with a supply unit. Any disorganised unit that remains out of supply suffers a 20% loss (ie: 1 or 2 SP stacks are immune from further loss) each turn. Worse still, if the Turks lose a fort unit but hold or recapture the city, that hex is no longer a supply source or a point of new troop arrival. The Russian supply situation is much lighter although bound by the same rules. In the East 3 Turkish fortress cities are within supply range of Russian forts, in the West 4 lie in range of the allied fort of Bucharest or the railway running from it. In brief the early Russian attacks will not have to worry about supply but a constant stream of supply units (at least 1 per turn) are needed to break into the Turkish heartland.

It is always pleasing to see a simulation on a rarely covered event, the "not another East Front game" syndrome is avoided. The Command game Russo-Japanese War (is this the year of the Russian) failed not because the subject had been done before but because it avoided simulating the conflict. Many conflicts have yet to get the hex treatment and there is often a reason, in this case the historical war consisted of a slow Russian advance until Turkey was bailed out by the British, with a couple of epic seiges thrown in for good measure. This game is a pretty close simulation of same, the Turks having a smaller starting force plus lower recruitment and being on the defensive. Russia has a 1/6th chance of raising no troops with each die roll (0 to 2 rolls per turn) and the Turks, who really need the troops, a 1/3rd chance. Historically Russia could muster some 1,500,000 troops and Turkey 500,000, not all these forces would be available at once, nor do the totals include irregular forces. Still in game and historical terms the Turks were well outclassed, on the hexgrid this means that the Turk will be praying for high recruiting die rolls and pushing every available man into key forts. Several fortress cities will be abandoned after turn 1 because there are not the troops to hold them. Guerilla units will be raised behind friendly lines (not enemy) and used to beef up garrisons, take losses, then be raised again, any reposte after spectacular Russian failures should be carefully thought out and probably abandoned (remember 2 of the 3 Turkish victory conditions can be met without offensive action). We've all played enough simulations to know that this sort of reactive game is not high on fun but if things were any different this would not be the Russo-Turkish War.

 

There are some points where this game is out of step with history, notably in the East, there are only 5 Turkish fortress cities here so the Russian cannot win the game on this front (although he can lose it here). The Russian side of this frontier had only recently been consolidated and was a long way from anywhere, in 1877 it took the Russians some time to get going on this front. Initially the forces on both sides in the East were about equal (70,000 Turks, 65,000 Russians, quality may have been another matter), the Russians got no-where until they had brought up more men and guns. The war started in April but it was October (12 game turns) before the 1st Russian victory in the east.

 

In RTW the Russians in the East start with a superiority in SP's plus a supply unit all ready for the off. These can be put in any city on the East map but most gamers will put them right on the frontier ready to take (or try and take) 2 or 3 Turkish fortress cities on turn 1 before the Turk can build up his stacks This may be a play balance fudge but it is a fudge all the same. I suggest that the set up for this map be changed from "any Russian cities" to "any Russian cities or in off map box but no more than 2 units (not including forts HQ's or guns) per city, also the initial supply unit in the east should be removed to the mobilisation pool. The situation is a little better in the West, Turkey being a long way from Russia but the Russian ally of Romania is not and all new Russian units can come on in the friendly fort of Bucharest, 2 hexes from the border. They should have to come on in Odessa but I feel this may upset play balance, the choice is yours on this point. In conclusion, RTW is fine for a magazine game, it lacks enough excitement to give much replay value. The big questions are, which forts are going to fall? And how long is this going to take? One of the random event chits brings in the British (with no units), forcing the Russian away from Constantinople. This means that after this chit is drawn the Russian cannot win a continental victory, also he can only win an instant victory before this chit is pulled. This does give the Russian the incentive to race for Constantinople, fast, but is likely to put off the more ordered gamer. The game is let down by the subject rather than the system, one for the simulators rather than the gamers, who like me will want to change the initial set ups. If any gamers out there still have copies of FPW sat unpunched, read these rules and play it, given the limitations of magazines (small games, popularist systems), this is a good game system. Whether it can stand being adapted to umpteen new games remains unlikely, having been there, read the book, seen the film, gamers do not take to having the same product repackaged and relaunched again and again.