The challenge behind Red Victory was pretty simple: take the pieces left over from the old Red Vengeance game and add forty new ones to craft a new game using the map from Defiant Russia, which covers the same ground. While there was a good bit of work involved, it all fell together pretty logically, and we have a very fine Defiant Russia expansion set as a result.
Red Vengeance had a smaller map, one of spectacular ugliness, so I made no effort to just translate that game onto the Defiant Russia map. I did adopt a lot of its concepts, because it was a very well-done game (outside of the map). But it’s pretty much a new game that uses parts from another.
The subject is what Soviet historiography called the Third Period of the Great Patriotic War – the final year of the contest, in which the Red Army threw the invaders not only off the soil of Mother Russia but drove them all the way back to Berlin. The game system is the same as that in Defiant Russia: roll one die for each combat factor, get a hit on a 6, each hit reduces the enemy by one “step” (a typical unit has two steps, one front and one back).
The Red Army did not execute many vast, sweeping encirclements in this campaign (they did so a great deal on a smaller level); the largest was the pocketing of German Fourth Army east of Minsk, but even that would translate to one hex in game terms. They ground down the Wehrmacht and its allies, and that’s how the Allied player will win this game.
In game terms, that means the Soviets are always required to attack. As the game is set up, the German forces look pretty impressive: they have lots of panzers, and in the South they even have reserves. Surely they can hold the line.
They can’t. The first turn is going to be one of the bloodiest dice-fests in all of board wargaming, as every Soviet unit must attack and the Germans must line up right across from them. The Red Army will usually grind them down, even with a relative handful of mechanized units in its order of battle (just six tank armies).
So how does the Axis hope to stop them? They’ll depend on European geography. Eastern Europe and Russia are, together, shaped sort of like a funnel with the wide end pointing to the east. One of the key factors in the failure of the Axis offensives in 1941 and 1942 to knock the Soviet Union out of the war was the continual diffusion of Axis strength as they had to cover a wider and wider front the farther they Dranged to the Ost.
Now that they are on the retreat, the front gets shorter and shorter. And a sane Axis player won’t try to keep a bridgehead in Latvia, resulting in a much more defensible line between the Baltic and the Black Sea. In the historical events, the Soviets broke through into Romania, causing the Romanians to not only leave the German side (costing the Axis up to six fairly poor Romanian infantry corps, depending on how many have been lost so far). Worse, two of them will switch sides. Even more worse, the Axis front is bent around and now much, much longer. The Allied player doesn’t have to do this; he or she can always try to mass the Soviet tank and shock armies on a narrow front and power forward toward Berlin.
There’s a lot going on behind the lines as well; possession of the dual Yugoslav capitals (Zagreb and Belgrade) is worth the same as Berlin, though you can’t win a victory point for executing Slavko Kvaternik. There are pretty tough Yugoslav Partisan forces, and also the small army of the Chetnik movement. But everyone hates the Chetniks – though controlled by the Allied player, Partisan units must attack them if they end up in an adjacent hex. They also have to attack the Croat unit (most Croatian divisions were part of German corps during the game’s time frame, but the Croatian state fielded independent forces as well).
The Germans do receive some rather dubious help from the Bulgarians, who help garrison Macedonia and Greece. The Bulgarians aren’t all that good, but they are reasonably numerous. They’ll switch sides when the Soviets arrive, however, unless the Turks join the war. The threat of Turkish invasion will inspire them to much greater feats of arms.
The Turkish Army is included as an option (as it is in Defiant Russia); in the actual events, Turkey declared war on Germany in February 1945 but did not actively join the war. By that point, operations had moved well away from Turkish Europe and the Soviets did not want Turkish troops moving through their sphere of influence to get to the front. That’s less of a concern if Turkey enters the war earlier, as the Bulgarians will never change sides in that case and stick with the Axis so they can fight the ancestral enemy.
The Germans also have the onerous task of occupying Greece and Albania. The Greeks have a couple of partisan units that can pop up and annoy the Nazis; the Albanians are much tougher and are almost impossible to root out of their mountains. But there are no victory points living in these far southern lands, and the Germans are probably better off pulling out their weak garrisons to help defend Belgrade. If the Albanians and Greeks will let them get away unscathed.
Inevitably, the Axis will be forced back into German territory. The Axis player can’t win the game by defeating his or her enemies in the field, only by delaying the end. To some, this sort of situation is only fun when it's the Germans doing the victory dance; Red Victory is for those who reject the very fine people on that side and like to make Nazis cry.
We added a variant scenario to make them cry even harder: Operation Zeppelin, the “deception plan” (you know, alternative facts) effort that tried to make the Germans believe that the Allies planned to invade the Balkans with a number of Allied formations (American, British, Polish, Canadian and Indian) that for the most part did not actually exist. In this scenario, they do, and it’s designed for three players: the Western Allies try to play spoiler, and snag enough victory points to steal a win. They have a good shot at the Yugoslav point and can probably take Vienna and the added Bucharest-Sofia point; they're not likely to grab the casualties point but can prevent the Soviets from doing so. It makes for an odd gaming interlude that would have made for a very different Cold War had it actually happened.
Red Victory is a great addition to Defiant Russia: it's a whole ’nother game, doubling your fun. You need this.
You can order Red Victory right here.
Please allow an additional three weeks for delivery.
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.