Playings; 2, 5 hours (1 Japanese, 1 Soviet win).
All that I know about this conflict is gleamed from reading the covering article in S&T 158, so I will make no attempt to rate this game as history. The Nomonhan incident (hardly a war) was ostensibly fought to decide if a portion of the Mongolian-Manchukuo border ran along a river (Japanese view and bigger Manchukuo as a result) or in a nice straight line. I doubt if the few wild animals that made up the local population really cared, the military commanders took this as a chance to test each other's fighting ability. As a game Red Sun/Red Star is not going to cause much stir among the native gamers, Decision have seen it as a chance to test new system's
I have only been playing the July scenario, which is a river crossing exercise. All units are either foot or motorised but only foot units can cross that important river without using a bridge. Most Japanese units are foot but none of the initial or turn 2 reinforcement Soviet infantry. The Japs also have a pontoon bridge unit that they can throw over the river wherever they please. The Japs rush up to the river and try to get more units on the Mongolian side than the Soviets can cross over to Manchukuo. The Japanese get a better deal on crossed over units so if both sides simply swap banks they will win. Turn 1 is the key moment, the Japs must brush aside scattered Soviet units and block all bridges within movement distance. Turn 2 sees substantial Soviet reinforcements arriving, all within 1 move of 3 bridges over the disputed river. If none of these are blocked by Japanese units there will be Rooskies all over the shop. Luckily it is not too hard for a thoughtful Japanese player to reach and block at least 2 of the bridges in his 1st turn. The Soviet units will then have to make a diversion to cross the river and give the Jap a chance to defeat the original garrison before the cavalry arrives.
There are 2 other short scenarios concerned with the Soviet counter-attack, one a solo "whip those Nips" exercise and the other an alternative approach giving the Japs a chance to run away. There is also a campaign scenario that continues the July game, this is likely to run on for more than 1 evening - I could not summon up the enthusiasm. Finally, I have not been using the air rules, these are abstract and independent of the main game. The basic rules have quite enough innovation for 1 issue of S&T, so I left the air rules alone.I have used yards of ink complaining that Command games offer nothing new. Hence I cannot slag this game for containing a lot that is new but I will state that not all that is new is all that well explained. The 1st playing of Red Sun/Red Star was a "what do I do now? Can this do that?" type of game. A few guesses later, plus a couple of counter fixes and reinforcement changes, led to a fair game that just failed to get the pulse racing, note that I am not a fan of WW2.
This game has succeeded to represent the 2 armies as different styles of warfare, not an easy task. The Soviets have lots of artillery, some able to fire 20 hexes (no line of sight rules), plus the support points to use it (at least 1 point paid to fire or attack, USSR receives more points per turn than the Jap). Most Soviet troops are motorised, moving twice the speed of Japanese infantry but unable to cross the crucial river except at bridges (you there! Get out of that truck and into the water! Can't sarge, its against my doctrine). The Japanese artillery is rubbish, some only has a range of 3, even if the Jap has enough support points left to use it, his guns may be flattened by Soviet counter-battery fire. Japanese infantry does have superior morale to Soviet, giving an advantage in combat plus an improved chance of holding their ground rather than running away. The secret weapon of the Jap player is the night attack, infantry getting a bonus over the Reds plus artillery is not allowed to take part.
Combat takes place before movement, plus units may attack again during movement paying 2 or 4 (motorised/foot) movement points to attack (units that have been used for night attacks cannot do this). A defender could be bombarded then attacked once in the combat phase, plus umpteen times during movement but will usually be able to pass off a combat loss as a retreat rather than lose strength points. Both players will try to surround units before charging in for the kill, the Japanese player would do well to target Soviet artillery units and even up the overall odds (artillery cannot attack if adjacent to an enemy when they are alone in a hex).
Combat and artillery take up a lot of the rules but work in the end, less welcome are the organisation and stacking rules. These relate to who can support who with artillery plus what can coexist in a hex. Stacking is governed by the organisation of units plus their sizes, also all this unit differentiation slows up set up. In brief both systems are crying out for a sharp knife. Talking of knives, liberal use of the developer's axe would clean up this game and speed it up. As it stands you get more good ideas than bad ones. Best part of the game, 2 different tactical systems simulated without a rule for each counter. Worst part, too little excitement per unit time, interest pales after the 1st few turns.