By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Some years back, William Sariego submitted a small game design that he called “Stalin Defiant.” We re-titled it Defiant Russia and packaged it in a cute little box and sold a bazillion of them (well, thousands of them, anyway). It was a massive success, and while the fine design work had a lot to do with that, it also released just as we debuted Daily Content and I like to think that played a role, too. As the then-current “hot new game,” we gave Defiant Russia a lot of Content attention, and the audience responded.
I really enjoyed crafting variants for Defiant Russia, and wanted to do even more but some of my wilder ideas were brought down to Earth by practical limitations: we didn’t want to include downloadable maps with Daily Content variants (first, we weren’t sure folks would use them, and second, we didn’t want to pay an artist to make them, and third, we really really didn’t want to pay an artist for maps no one would use).
Then came the new Player’s Edition of Defiant Russia, and I got to play with it. I picked out the best of the variants we’d done for Daily Content and modified them a little, and added a few more. Defiant Russia now has eight optional rules, compared to just two in the first edition. Plus there’s some other cool new stuff woven into the regular (that is, the non-optional) game itself. Let’s take a look.
An introductory scenario for an introductory game. This lets you play out the 1939 German invasion of Poland, at the same scale as the main event. That means it only lasts one turn, and the Poles are going to get wiped off the map. If they somehow don’t get wiped out, they win. It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about how to play the game. This lets you set it up and try it out fast, without having to set up the whole game before you know the rules.
Defiant Turkey (optional rule)
This one is my favorite, and the biggest reason I wanted to upgrade Defiant Russia rather than just reprint it (I did not expand the map just to get Turkey on there, but I was pretty pleased when Guy Riessen managed to do so). When I was 12 years old, I designed my first game variant: Turkish intervention in The Russian Campaign, the old Avalon Hill game. I typed up my variant and I drew my extension map with colored markers and the added units and I proudly packed it all up and sent it to the Avalon Hill General magazine. The editor responded with a vicious screed deriding “Martian Intervention in Russian Campaign” and even went on to ridicule it in his magazine (yes, my game designs have been attacked by angry old trolls since I was 12 years old). So putting this option in Defiant Russia is my way of saying, “%$#& you, #$*&%#$” decades later.
And it’s pretty cool. The Martians, um, Turks only enter the game if things are already going pretty strongly for the Axis. The Turkish Army is a bayonet force, and keeps most of its strength at home so it’s not going to rampage across the U.S.S.R., but it can pose a threat to the Trans-Caucasus. The Soviet player has a garrison on the border that can leave for the main front at any time, which makes the odds of Turkish intervention go up.
I do suppose at some point I’ll have to do a Content or Golden Journal variant for actual Martian intervention in Defiant Russia.
Defiant Lithuania (optional rule)
This began as a Daily Content piece. The Axis player gets the Lithuanian Army, which isn’t much of an addition, but also gets to set up in Lithuania, which is a pretty sweet advantage. The Soviets are closer to Warsaw in compensation, but Lithuania puts Army Group North a couple hexes closer to Leningrad and Moscow, which could make all the difference.
Early Start (optional rule)
So what if the Germans left Greece and Yugoslavia alone and went right after the Soviet Union? This rule existed in the first edition, but it’s totally different now (since the game now has a “normal” first turn). The game adds a May turn, and the German 40th Panzer Corps starts with Army Group Center instead of showing up later as a reinforcement (the 2nd Panzer Division of this corps lost its artillery and many vehicles at the end of the Greek campaign, when the transports carrying them to Italy ran onto a British minefield). The Axis player also gets the German airborne unit, since there have been no Crete landings to devastate the paratroopers.
The Soviets get two leaders and the Germans get one, so I added one more to the Axis side. Finland’s Marshal helps the Finns on the defense, and he can’t leave Finland, which means he’s not going to have a major impact on the Axis offensive. But he does make it even tougher to invade Finland, and that helps model the Soviet reluctance to re-litigate the Winter War.
Marshal Timoshenko (optional rule)
This was a Sariego option, and I kept it as an option so the Soviets wouldn’t have three leaders (unless you want them to). Semyon Timoshenko is more defensive-minded than Zhukov.
Two of the Soviet armies that arrive as reinforcements were built around rifle divisions formed primarily of NKVD troops. So I gave them their own color scheme and some pretty mild special powers on the defensive. They don’t make that much difference to the game but they do look cool, and wargame publishing has a long history of giving criminal organizations pretty playing pieces.
Axis Preparation (optional rule)
The Germans (not the Finns or Romanians) get to overstack in their initial setup. That probably should be allowed in a strictly historical game, but it’s a huge advantage so it went into the optionals.
Another Sariego variant that first appeared in Daily Content, these two weak units appear to help defend Soviet cities when the Red Army isn’t around.
Four-Year Plan (optional rule)
The Soviet player has all these wonderful, powerful tank corps. And then has to set them up at reduced strength, with pretty much no hope of ever flipping them over to full strength. That made me sad, so this optional rule lets you start them on their front side. It’s a huge Soviet advantage with little grounding in history.
Soviet Shock Armies
These were in the original, but the designer suggested changing the way they appear to erase a fiddly special rule and I did so.
Soviet Manpower (optional rule)
I always suspected that the Soviet replacement rate might be a little low in this game, but that’s really a judgment call and the designer liked it the way it was, plus it worked well in playtesting that way so I left it alone in the rules-as-written. In the optionals you can boost it (a good balance for the Axis overstacking).
Rommel Heads East (optional rule)
We had this in Daily Content from the designer, and I liked it so I put it in the game. If you add Rommel you lose the Italian CSIR infantry, which is a pretty good trade for the Axis. You also lose Libya and probably Mussolini, but that’s not your problem.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold. Leopold hopes to catch a squirrel soon.