A War Not So Civil
A Preview of 'Red Russia'
By William Sariego
February 2016

The roots of Red Russia’s design go far back in my personal history. While many have seen the classic movie Dr. Zhivago directed by David Lean, I actually read the novel by Boris Pasternak. In high school I watched Warren Beatty’s Reds, and the brief fight scene at the end stirred my interest, featuring cavalry, armored trains and tachankas. What wargamer would not have their interest piqued! I then managed to get a used copy of The Russian Civil War by SPI. For many years that was the only game available on the subject. My interest in the conflict has never cooled off.

The subject is fascinating and complex, and still arouses passions in the Rodina to this day, as most of my friends born in the former Soviet Union will attest. It was one of the most brutal, no-quarter-asked (and none given), internal conflicts in history. Our American Civil War was a most genteel affair by comparison.

The Russian Civil War has been the subject of several game designs over the years, beyond the moldy-oldie mentioned above.


Enter the Red Goblin

The complex political and military situation in post-Great War Russia demanded a multi-player format in addition to playability by two people. My original vision was a game that could be enjoyed by five players. One would be the Bolsheviks, and the other four would represent the counter-revolutionary forces: Siberian and Southern Whites as the most powerful; along with the Allied interventionist forces and a player who would combine the Central Asian and Northern White forces. In addition to these major powers vying for control of Russia you have various minor factions representing nationalist and independent power blocs, who may ally with the big boys under certain circumstances.

At this point I had decided on what I wanted to do with the game. The major obstacle was figuring out how I was going to do it. Originality is a good thing, and I could have started from scratch, yet I had an idea and promptly sought the ear of our Fearless Leader.

Avalanche Press’s Soldier Kingsseries is possibly my favorite grand strategy system. For simplicity and elegance of design, it cannot be beat. I asked Dr. Bennighof if Rob Markham would be upset if I used his basic system as a starting point. The answer was no, and I had my green light to begin!

Dr. Zhivago Operates

The basic system in Red Russia is similar to the Soldier series games. Yet I added a lot of variations to account for both the new technologies and the unique situation of Russia in 1918. The first and foremost difference will be apparent is in the counter mix. In previous games playing pieces represented armies and fleets. Here you have a bit more differentiation. The Russian Civil War was the last conflict in which cavalry played a decisive role, and this is reflected in the game by separate pieces. The early tools of modern warfare are also present, with air power and armor being represented in small numbers. Fleets are present for support on the fringes as well.

The map area is large, befitting this huge country. The Bolsheviks with their central position are strong, but can be overwhelmed if the Whites can work together. The nature of the situation keeps this from happening often and quite a tense game can result. Special rules for key leaders and random events (55 cards of wonderful chaos to be exact) add chrome to the situation. A key goal of mine was to make the game equally playable in both a two-player and multiplayer format. With developer Kevin Canada’s excellent help, the latter succeeded better than I thought possible.

During development the game was pared down to four rather than five players. Even in my alpha testing I knew the Allied Interventionist player was the weakest faction. In the end Kevin thought it best to drop them as a separate faction, their forces being available as aides to the other White players. This worked out much better — and in today’s fast-paced world, finding four player’s for a game is much easier than five, anyhow!

The Result

Fans of both the Soldier series and the Russian Civil War should be pleased with the outcome. Kevin did a sterling job as developer and I can honestly say this was a fun game to design. (Not something that can always be said, trust me!) The components are up to the excellent Avalanche standard, even better. The counter art turned out magnificent! Purchasers will get a darn good game for a price that is affordable, thanks to the Avalanche Collective. Besides, if you want a game on the Russian Civil war you need to buy one designed by a real Bolshevik!

I actually had to reign myself in a bit while designing Red Russia. The temptation to go heavy on chrome and “gonzo” rules was quite strong. In the end, I concentrated on not making too many changes to an already fine system, excepting the needed adaptations for more modern warfare and the conflict itself. I’ve seen too many good systems borrowed by other designers get snowed under with special rules and exceptions.

As always, I hope you enjoy our game.

Order Red Russia now!