Playings; 2 (30 hours), 1 marginal, 1 instant White win;
This is a game with a lot going for it that is let down in two areas. It is far too long; monthly turns each taking ½ to ¾s of an hour. There is also an unfortunate tendency for the White player to win. Play starts in November 1918 so the Great War is safely out of the way, the Reds control most of the map with a good chance of the area under their control shrinking every month.
There is a fine military system here, units are activated by the players alternately using HQs that possess a range a limit to the number of units they can command. Combat is odds based but die bonuses are given for armament, earned through sticking near to supply lines, and shock troops like cavalry and artillery. Step losses are catered for by hit counters rather than the dreadful XTR replacement counter system. Apart from noting that these systems exist and saying they work better than many others this piece will try and concentrate on why the game does not quite work and how it might be changed without redoing chunks of the map and unit manifest.
There is obviously a drawback to the simulation aspect. There should be a chance of the White marching on to Moscow and Petrograd but balanced with the possibility of the Whites falling back to the sea. On reading the player’s notes for both sides it appears that the game should be a lot closer than I found it. Certainly the 2nd playing was a lot closer than the 1st, it could be that experienced players do well as the Reds. The game is so long that there will not be many experienced players around to show how this is done. There are several early game rules that clearly are meant to help the Whites, they get to choose a political option rather than pick 1 at random on turn 1 and they can activate3 HQs at once for the 1st 2 turns rather than using one at a time. If the game were inherently biased to the Whites these rules would not have made it to the final rules book. Clearly someone has looked at the game and adjusted it for balance. It is not possible to say if these changes reflect the experience of many plays or some drastic overcompensation following several crushing White defeats. I am tempted to the turn 1 and 2 White benefits on my next playing and see what happens but have a few other games that I want to try out before then.
The initial power of the Whites is due to their starting at close to full strength and the ease of movement along some parts of the map. There are different White factions for the South, Siberia, Youdenich and Miller, full marks in this area. They all have different supply sources, replacement pools and commanders; all keeping them from co-ordinating too well. The Siberians receive 2 batches of new units which appear suspiciously similar to the intervention units that stayed in the Far East (some are obviously Japanese). The Southern Whites receive no new units until Wrangel turns up in 1920, Youdenich comes in 2 groups and Miller is all up at the beginning. Unit size will always be a problem in this time period where some real figures do exist but 10,000 men could be elite party members or rabble ready to head home. I count 53 Siberian and Czech combat units at set up, estimating 3,000 men on average per unit this is 159,000. I used a figure of 110,000 for the same front when working on Reds, these figures are close enough to justify the Rossyia numbers as reasonable.
If we assume the staring strength of both sides to be fair it must be the ease of movement that aids the Whites. It is certainly the area that most worries me. Railroads are essential for supply, units trace to HQs that must trace to a rail line connecting 2 friendly cities. Rail line control only changes between turns making it impossible to draw supply along newly opened routes but allowing units to block rail routes for part of a turn. It is possible for a cavalry unit to move out of its own supply to cut an enemy rail route and the supply to 1 or more HQs, if there are HQs drawing supply along alternative routes they may be able to use their activation to push the blocking unit off the line and allow the cut off HQ later in the same turn. Back to the main subject; it is clear that most of the railways within Russia are not on the map. Some of these are Siberian mineral lines that can well be ignored others are oddly omitted. Tsaritsyn was an important industrial centre and rail nexus that held out against the Cossacks and later fell to Deniken. This rail line is missing although Tsaritsyn is a red city (most cities are classed as black cities) that offers automatic supply to units inside and is difficult to capture. Astrakhan is another red city on the Caspian. The Whites never got this far but will capture it if they divert a HQ for a few months in the game. Astrakhan was linked to Moscow by a rail line that did not pass through Tsaritsyn (if you draw a line between the 2 the obvious route is through Tsaritsyn, the railway actually passes to the east, away from the main White thrust). In the film Reds (based on part of the book "Ten Days That Shook The World) the star takes a train down there. No one will be taking a train to Astrakhan in this game because its another rail line that you do not get.
Red reinforcements arrive in Gouriev (amongst other places) although a more logical spot would be Astrakhan. It appears that this city tended to fall in playtesting and the logical local reinforcements were moved along the coast to Gouriev. Unfortunately Gouriev is not a red city or on a railway. This leads to the new units suffering badly from attrition, barring good rolls and a pumping in of replacement points that could be better used elsewhere these units have a short shelf life. A HQ turns up for these units, if they all die from attrition he will have to march behind White lines to be used again. The HQ is better off if Gouriev has fallen because his appearance will default to some town closer to the action and behind his own lines. To repeat; the problem is a lack of certain communication lines. The map is quite splendid, colours complement each other rather well, which is a shame because an obvious solution is to draw in extra minor railway lines. These can allow limited rail movement (1 unit only per rail line) and supply with distances increased by 1 hex. The terrain problem is linked to communication problems. Russia was relatively developed in some areas, roads, rails, factories and stuck in the Middle Ages in others. There are the usual terrain types, most hexes are clear but clear in the Ukraine is a different sort of clear in Khazakstan. Some areas of the map may be relatively free of obstructions but lack the infrastructure to support an army. Supplies will have to be carried and probably not by lorry, net result; movement rates drop. To be really broad and avoid drawing all over the map all movement rates should be doubled for hexes on the East map that are not within 1 hex of a railway (this allows for unmarked branch lines and settlements along the line) or adjacent to a river (that you can sail down). Railways run through hexes and rivers between them. Supply ranges are also increased by 1 hex when counting outside these areas; counting from a rail line would now go 1, 3, 4, 5 when tracing command or supply. HQs will now have to be within 1 hex of an east map rail line to draw armament. The Eat map is the sort of place for nomadic herding or hunting outside the industrial centres. To ice the cake Astrakhan just makes it to the East map making taking the place a tougher decision for the Whites.
Having got past the various military and geographical problems the political situation is handled rather well. There is the ever-popular political index that gives an instant White victory at 100 and a Red at 0. Naturally both sides can see all too well how they are doing but the 0 and 100 levels are so hard to achieve that there is plenty of time to bring the index back down. Political level depends on towns captured by either side, HQ elimination and various random events. There is a Makhno HQ that can be used by either side, lacking any instructions I ignored towns controlled by the Makhno faction. The index falls by 1 point every turn after March 1919, as time goes on the Whites may control more territory yet have a lower political level. To get to 100 just about the whole map has to be taken over, I played the 1st game on after it became clear that the Whites were going to win. It took a year after reaching the edges of Moscow to clear out the Reds, this fits in with the time taken to finally finish off the Whites after their 1919 high point. The game is planned to go on until April 1921, which is a lot of turns. It is possible to look at the level in late 1920 and by calculating the likely changes work out who is going to win. This will save a few hours, a marginal win here represents 1 side winning outright after several more years rather than some sort of compromise. The only fault wit the political level are the numbers 65 or 25, beyond these levels the winning side suffers adverse affects to a random HQ. These can stop an offensive along part of the front and can be avoided for a month or so by careful attacking of cities. The political level also affects the number of random events drawn by each side although they will both usually draw 2 each turn. The chits available change as the game goes on, the Poles for instance will not turn up until 1920. There is a chance that some chits will never turn up although the choice narrows as chits are drawn because very few chits go straight back into the cup. A lot of chits are replaced at the end of a year so if a hoped for chit does not turn up by the end of a year the chance of it appearing drops in January. Some chits can be kept secret and others must be discarded if they are not relevant. There is a bit of a discrepancy here as chits are used to enter and remove intervention forces. In the 2nd game played the chit to withdraw the Black Sea forces was drawn before the chit to enter them. This withdrawal chit is allowed to be kept unplayed but is not really valid if the intervention chit has not been played. It made more sense to allow the chit to be held unplayed and used to negate the Black Sea intervention when it occurred. This approach gives some degree of uncertainty to external events.
With the Whites doing well they can set up a continuous front line and have some degree of support. They cannot stack together, if this is played to mean that they cannot move through each other the co-operation between factions is suitably diminished. Various foreign forces, the interventionists, Czechs, Ukrainians, Finns, Poles, Romanians and Turks, also help the Whites. Not all of these will turn up but the odds are that they will. There is really too much co-operation between these forces and the Whites. In the 3 player game there are 2 White player each of whom control the closer outside factions. Only in a 4 player game do the outside forces have an independent controller. The intervention forces are weak and will ultimately retreat, this is some limitation. The other forces are very strong, the White forces can hide behind the Romanians and Poles a little too easily. There are so many Turks that no one is going to argue with them. There are not too many Finns but they are very close to Petrograd, combined with Yudenich, the British and Miller things can get sticky in this area. All the Finns want is a thin slice of Mother Russia but the White player has the option of making peace or not. He is not bothered about losing a few Finns so these will drive on until they take Petrograd (then give it back to the Reds) or are crushed. Some White units can withdraw behind the Romanian lines inside Russia that the Reds cannot breach. The Romanians obligingly hand over the towns as they withdraw. A nice piece of co-operation and unfortunately more or less acceptable in this case.
The Ukrainians are strong enough to hold out against the Reds facing them outside Kiev, historically the local Reds pushed them out in January 1919. It is more realistic to take half the initial Ukrainian units (randomly) and make them available for building from turn 2 onwards but not placed on set up. Petlura had only just got to Kiev when this game starts and he did not stay there long. If the game set up force levels are kept to he can rule a small triangle between Kiev the river and the swamp for years; the Whites will kindly romp all over the southern Ukraine if Makhno lets them. The Ukrainians are very co-operative in moving out of the way when White units want to use part of their rail net for supply. This makes them a sub-White faction rather than a distinct proto-nation. Clearly all is not well with these White controlled forces, certainly for the Ukrainian, Romanian and Polish forces it must be clearly stated which areas belong to them and not to the Whites. Makhno is the only really independent Independent because he may be controlled by either side according to a die roll or chit. Indeed because of his position behind the probable White lines he is something of a Red bonus. Luckily this is the expected use of Makhno, pity about the Ukrainians and Finns who require downgrading to firm up the Reds. A reduced likelihood of a White win would improve the simulation part of this game.