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Reds! The Game To Play When You Wanna Get Hammered

John Goode
Falkland Islands
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From gallery of FinalWord

Reds! is an odd stew of mechanics grafted onto a chaotic historical situation—the Russian civil war—resulting in a sort of Little Golden Book version of the conflict.

The conflict — between the insurgent Bolsheviks (the Reds of the title) against various capitalist and monarchist factions, and some eight foreign countries (the Whites) — seems tailor-made for wargaming: multiple fronts, numerous and diverse factions, planes, armored trains, tanks and near limitless opportunities for chrome.

Chrome you say? We're talking side-switching anarchistic armies, a looming Polish invasion, Cossack raids, Trotsky shuttling from front to front giving rousing speeches to rally the troops: “Gamers of the world, you have nothing to lose but a half-dozen hours of your time.”

The first half of Reds! is basically a head-butting contest with the side that rallies more effectively prevailing on that front. Unless you're playing against an actual drunk commie the Whites will not be able to prevent Allied Withdrawal around mid-game. The first withdrawal only removes a couple units. But that is followed by major withdrawal which sees all the foreign forces go home and frees up enough Red armies to have the White’s soiling their tunics. Now Reds! turns into a game of run-away as standing up to the Red army will result in you getting hammered to the point of requiring a sickle to scrape your remains off the steppes.

It’s a bit like playing Whack-A-Mole with paralyzed moles. Instead of occasionally ducking you get repeatedly clocked. Whites rally only on a dr of 1 after major withdrawal so once your head gets bashed in chances for first aid are slim.

And that’s problem number one with Reds! It seriously overstays its welcome. The fun runs out at hour three, about the time when the White’s become pinsetters and the Red steamroller flattens the various speedbumps that make up the remaining White forces.

The Reds have to capture every Russian city on the map (or KO the Poles and capture 10 centrally located cities) so it’s not as if the Whites can’t win, but finding volunteers to play the immobilized moles in Whack-A-Mole is a challenge.

That’s problem number two with Reds! It’s scripted to produce the historical result on the historical timetable, give-or-take a couple months. At the half-game mark it becomes tedious playing the Whites.

Problem three is the previously mentioned odd stew of mechanics
. Far be it for me to question Hall of Fame designer Ted Raicer (Paths of Glory, Barbarossa to Berlin etc.) but it seems convoluted for the sake of convolution. The poster child for this is the combat procedure. Before I tell you what a single combat involves realize that in practice around 75% of the time the result will be defender flips and usually retreats. Occasionally both the defender and attacker will flip. It’s possible for just the attacker to flip but this rarely happens.

Here’s what you have to do for each combat:
Add up the Manpower Strength of each unit, use this to determine the combat odds. Add up the number of units on each side, this is the multiplier value of your combat dr. Now determine the combat die roll modifier, this is determined by adding/subtracting the combat dr modifier listed on each individual unit. Now each side rolls a d6, multiplies it by the number of units on its side, adds or subtracts its combat dr modifier and cross-references it on the odds column determined by the Manpower value. Then the defender flips and retreats. One combat done, many more to go.

Granted, it’s not Organic Algebra but what a chore to determine that the defender flips and retreats. Like many convoluted mechanics it starts out being fun when new and novel but becomes tedious after repeated application.

There are other oddball things, for example in-supply units can never move out of supply but out of supply units have complete freedom of movement. I guess once you’re near that field kitchen you’re not doing anything to put distance between you and that sweet, sweet, borscht.

All of this is not to say that Reds! isn’t a good time because it can be. There is a shorter scenario where you only play the first 13 of the normal 24 turns. The rules are not overlong or overchromed so the convoluted combat procedure is not a symptom of oppressive rules weight.

Scripted play is for me the game’s biggest downside since it greatly limits replay value. And Reds! simplifies a staggering amount of chaos to make it a two-player game you can finish in one long afternoon. Reds! is to the Russian Civil War what Checkers is to Chess.

After just two playings I sold my first edition copy years ago when it was in demand between printings. I played a couple games of the largely unchanged second edition recently and enjoyed it but have no desire to play or acquire Reds! again anytime soon. It falls firmly into the "play a friend's copy" category.

I keep hoping a truly great Russian Civil War game will be produced in my lifetime. SPI’s The Russian Civil War was fun, but requires four players and is history lite. Triumph of Chaos looked like it could be the one but turned out to be a morass. Now if Brad or Brian Stock of Pursuit of Glory fame were to be hired as developer of Triumph of Chaos second edition … man, that would be the ticket. I’d pre-order two of those.

From gallery of FinalWord

Reds! The Russian Civil War 1918-1921
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