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Subject: Solitaire Fun: Soviet Dawn after 30 plays rss

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Marc Frank
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THE GAME
In Soviet Dawn you play the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution during the Russian civil war. Moscow sits at the center of the board; radiating out from it are five tracks with four or five boxes on them. At the far end of these tracks sit counters representing the Eastern and Southern Whites, the Finns, Poles, the Baltic states, and the Allies. The Finnish and Baltic (German) tracks converge at Petrograd, the last step before reaching Moscow. If any front reaches Moscow, you lose. The fronts can switch between active and inactive during the course of the game, and some can eventually be removed from play entirely. There is also a political track numbered from 0 to 10. It starts at 1.

The game can end in four ways: political collapse, represented by the political level falling to 0; political victory, attained when the political level rises to 9; military defeat, which occurs when an enemy front reaches the Moscow space on the board; and finally military victory, triggered by the depletion of the deck.

Each turn, the player draws an event card representing historical events during the war. These control the advance and retreat of enemy fronts, can alter the political track (by die roll or otherwise), and provide bonuses or penalties to player actions during the turn. Enemies reaching certain spots on the board can also trigger a loss of political points. It's quite a flexible system for being so simple and easily managed. The cards are broken up into three eras; the later two eras are shuffled into the draw pile as dictated by card text.

The player then takes his actions for the turn, the number of which is determined by the card draw. The player can attack an enemy front, try to improve his political situation, or attempt to reorganize the Red Army.

Battle is resolved by a roll of the die; if the modified die roll exceeds the battle rating on the front's counter, you succeed and push it back a space. To advance on the political track, you must beat a certain number on a die roll; this number increases the closer you get to victory. A successful Red Army reorganization will confer benefits on the player--some possibilities include modifiers to battle rolls, the ability to shuffle a bad draw back into the deck, or the ability to act before the enemy fronts are advanced. These can give the player a huge advantage during the game, but they're hard to attain--a roll of 6 is required to gain one, and a further die roll determines which benefit is received.

The player is also provided with a limited number of markers that represent "free" offensives and political rolls that can be spent during any action phase that does not specifically prohibit them.

One counterfactual is included: rather than withdrawing from the Great War by accepting the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Russia can opt to stay in the war. This will have ramifications later in the game as certain card outcomes are altered by the player's choice.

Play time runs from about 5-30 minutes, depending on how well you do.

The map and rules are online at the Victory Point Games website; check them out if you want further info. (The rules are formatted for printing and folding rather than for on-screen reading, so don't be surprised if you open the pdf and find yourself staring at page 8.)

THE RULES
The rules are very well-written and quite functional. They're written in section/subsection format, which personally I prefer as it makes it simple to reference and cross-reference rules. The 8-page rulebook is very easy to digest; I only had to read it once to understand how to play. So far every gameplay question I have had has been answered by the rules.

Everything is well-organized. There are color illustrations throughout and excellent use is made of color to distinguish rules text, commentary, examples, and important points. The example of play covers an entire game, fully annotated.

Designer's notes are included on the back of the cover sheet.

THE COMPONENTS
Physically, the components are pretty crappy. While the components aren't stunning, they get the job done and hold up well after repeated play. According to the Victory Point Games website the games are desktop-published on a "made-to-order" basis. This shows--nobody's going to confuse this with a professionally-printed game. You get an 11x17" map, a rulebook, a countersheet, a piece of paper apologizing for the quality of the components, some cards, and a miniscule die, packaged in a ziplock baggie. You also get a small baggie to store the punched counters. I am always happy when publishers provide these and I don't have to supply my own.

My map is beginning to show some wear from being inserted into the baggie; it's a tight fit so the edges catch on the bag. (After 50 plays, this hasn't worsened.)

The cards are plain unlaminated cardstock, which makes them difficult to shuffle--they don't slide against each other and friction holds them together. They bow easily when riffle-shuffled. Normally I point and laugh at people who sleeve cards, but I am tempted to sleeve these to improve durability and make them easier to shuffle.

Functionally and artistically, the components fare much better. The board is attractive, with a portrait of Lenin and Soviet propaganda posters to add to the theme. Unfortunately, the board uses Cyrillic letters to represent Latin letters ('ya' for a capital R, for instance, or 'de' for a capital A) in an attempt to give the game that Russian feel. This annoyed the snot out of me at first, and in fact I had passed on buying the game for quite some time because of it, but eventually it faded into the background.

The board has spots to hold all in-play and out-of-play counters, and all the charts you need are printed on it. Functionality win. The counters are well-done. The various event and Red Army upgrade markers have text on the reverse explaining their use in the game, which saves a trip to the rulebook. The cards unambigously tell you what to do in each phase, and contain a paragraph of flavor text explaining the historical background of the event.

MY OPINIONS
Some of the comments for Soviet Dawn complain about the luck factor. I think that luck is necessary in a solitaire game--without luck, you don't really have a game at all, you have a puzzle. The game has a bit of a Twilight Struggle feel--you know awful things are going to happen, but you're not sure when, so you either have to dilute your efforts by pushing back on all fronts, or concentrate on whatever's most pressing at the time, hoping that choice won't bite you in the butt later.

The more you play it, the less luck-driven Soviet Dawn feels. The strategy really opens out once you start learning the cards. The first few times I played, it felt like I won or lost based on the roll of the dice. No longer. Once you learn the cards and have a few winning games under your belt, you'll realize that most of your losses can be traced back to your poor choices a few turns back. ("Why did I waste time trying to score some political points when I could have pushed back on the southern front?") Granted, you can still be defeated by a long run of bad draws and rolls, but it's pretty rare for luck alone to sink you.

Occasionally the game will hand you poop on a platter--if the Finnish civil war breaks out in the first couple of turns you're probably hosed. While I expect a loss if that happens, I've come to enjoy seeing how long I can hold out.

I particularly enjoy the pacing of the game. I'm a retrogamer, and it reminds me of a lot of the classic CRPGs of the Bard's Tale, Wizardry and Alternate Reality varieties. Namely, it's sometimes hard to get started and you will play a number of games that you lose within a couple of minutes. You will feel besieged from all sides. But then one game will start to come together and you'll enjoy the feeling of gradually getting the situation under control as you beat back the wolves at the door. By the end game, as enemy fronts start getting removed, you'll feel like you're on easy street as things finally start going your way. (Although, with that in mind, I've yet to score a military victory--by this point I go for the political win.)

In the early game, as the enemy advances inexorably towards Moscow and you're on the brink of political collapse, I find myself sympathizing with the Bolsheviks and the precariousness of their position. There are few games that make me consider what the people represented by the counters might have been thinking when the events depicted in the game were actually occurring. This is one, Twilight Struggle is another. That's pretty cool, actually.

Soviet Dawn is designed for solitaire play from the get-go. Unlike many solitaire versions of primarily multiplayer games, it feels like a complete game, not a timewaster for when you can't get a group together. Solitaire Race for the Galaxy, for instance, is decent, but it's a pale shadow of the multiplayer version, and solitaire Agricola feels more like work than a game, as you seem to spend 90% of your time fiddling with bits and restocking rather than making choices. Soviet Dawn has none of these problems.

It is also mercifully quick to set up, tear down, and reset between plays. I love Fields of Fire, but between refreshing myself on the rules, setup and gameplay, I'm looking at a six hour time commitment. So it rarely hits the table. Soviet Dawn is much more likely to get played because I can go from "game in baggie" to "playing" in about a minute and a half, I know I'll be finished within half an hour, and if I have more time the game encourages multiple plays in a single sitting with minimal effort required to reset the game.

Non-wargamers take note: Soviet Dawn is not just for grognards. Euro players looking for a solitaire fix would do well to check it out, especially fans of the "stop bad things happening" games like Pandemic, Notre Dame (the rat track) and In the Year of the Dragon. I am not much into Ameritrash games so I can't say how it will fare with that crowd; it might appeal to Arkham Horror players looking for a game that plays faster than solitaire Arkham.

Replayability seems to be excellent; after 30 games I'm eager for more. The game gets deeper rather than shallower with repeated plays. It's thoroughly addictive, tense and fun. Value for money is high.

Not only has Soviet Dawn sold me on the game, it's sold me on the designer, game series ("States of Siege"), and publisher. I've already purchased the Soviet Dawn expansion and the rest of the games in the series, as well as a few other unrelated games from Victory Point Games.

I'm sold on the theme as well. I had no prior interest in the theme, but now I'm going to read a book on the Russian civil war so I have a better idea of what the cards represent. (So, having come to the game with no real knowledge of the subject, I feel like I know about a number of major events that influenced the course of the war--I just don't know what order they occurred in historically because I've been drawing them randomly from a deck!) I'm probably also going to get Triumph of Chaos, which will sit on my shelf unplayed for months or years while I desperately try to convince my friends to play it, whereas Soviet Dawn will be played regularly during that time.

In some ways I feel like I've failed as a reviewer. When I read a review, I like to look at the negatives. What the reviewer doesn't like often tells me more about the game than what he or she likes. Components aside, Soviet Dawn just doesn't have any negatives for me. The game clicks with me from beginning to end.

So if you're looking for some fast-playing solitaire gaming goodness, you're not allergic to dice and you can overlook the suboptimal components, crank up the Internationale on the mp3 player and give Soviet Dawn a try.

Edit: updated comments on the components after 50 plays.
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Alexandru Stanuta
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mfrank wrote:
Not only has Soviet Dawn sold me on the game, it's sold me on the designer, game series ("States of Siege"), and publisher. I've already purchased the Soviet Dawn expansion and the rest of the games in the series, as well as a few other unrelated games from Victory Point Games.


Marc, you "sold" this game to me! After reading your review, I want to have it really bad! But, if it's true what you said, that the publisher only makes this based on orders, it will be very hard for me to get it, especially in my country...cry

Anyway, excellent review! thumbsup

Alex
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Michel Boucher
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alex1326 wrote:
But, if it's true what you said, that the publisher only makes this based on orders, it will be very hard for me to get it, especially in my country...


It is true but you may have misunderstood. VPG keeps no stock on hand and games are printed on demand (when they are ordered), so, if you order it (and pay for it) it will come.
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Alan Emrich
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VPG never runs out of stock; we just build more copies as people order them.

I'm very glad you liked the game. Darin's a great designer and I did a lot of work developing the game rules and graphics. Our component quality is the best non-professional material that we can muster and manufacture individually, and it's one of the reasons that we can cover myriad (and obscure) topics with affordable, small-format games.

Let's see... $20 / 30 playings is about $0.67 per game played. That seems to be a pretty fair value, and your copy is still ticking away.

Some day, we might box and "Euro-ize" our games more (or work with another publisher who can), but for now making games is more of a sideline for us. Our "real jobs" are being teachers and game development students, and we are making games to learn our craft (and have fun). The games themselves, like SOVIET DAWN, are the happy byproducts of our efforts that we offer to you. I'm glad you liked it!

Thanks,

Alan Emrich
VGP
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Wulf Corbett
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Alan Emrich wrote:
Our "real jobs" are being teachers and game development students, and we are making games to learn our craft (and have fun).
I'm paying for your fun? Damn, I feel soiled... shake

(awaiting another delivery impatiently )
 
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Alexandru Stanuta
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Hi Alan,

Do you know how much it costs to ship the game to Romania?

I think that it will cost more than the game...shake

Thanks,
Alex
 
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Darin Leviloff
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Alan,

I've always wanted to go to Romania. Why don't you send me as a business development scheme and I can personally deliver Alex a copy of the game ?
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Alexandru Stanuta
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Crassus wrote:
Alan,

I've always wanted to go to Romania. Why don't you send me as a business development scheme and I can personally deliver Alex a copy of the game ?


That would be great

Now, seriously, if you actually manage to come to Romania, I would be more than happy to meet you.

Cheers,
Alex
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David Kennedy
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Alan Emrich wrote:

Some day, we might box and "Euro-ize" our games more (or work with another publisher who can)...

I really hope VP Games can find a way to produce a version with more quality components. I think Soviet Dawn is a fantastic game and completely deserving of the deluxe treatment. I just wish the components were top-notch. Sorta like a girl that you like, but you just wish she a little more pretty.
 
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Robert Choi
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Actually I find the maps and counters very good for the price.

I would like to see the cards upgraded to make them easier to shuffle.
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Alan Emrich
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I really hope VP Games can find a way to produce a version with more quality components.

VPG can't, but other publishers can. We'll talk to them...

Alan Emrich
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Wulf Corbett
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Don't put the price up!!! surprise
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Dylan Alliata

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My grandfather was a non-voting delegate to the Comintern back in 1920 so my interest in the subject is more than personal. However if someone said there was a first rate solo game of the Russian Revolution that captured the flavor of the era I would say your nuts. This game succeeds brilliantly and the game design is genius. I've played this game 6 times in the two days I've played it and it is very challenging with a nice balance between skill and luck. One game ended for me on the first time when the Constituent Assembly was dissolved and the dissent was so violent that I went to a minus political status ending the game. Even that game had a 'historical' feel. I know the cards are a little flimsy looking (don't riffle the cards to shuffle) and they supply the world's smallest die. But the graphics and the historical flavor is all there. This is a must have game.
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William (Andy) Anderson
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I laminated the cards with 5 mill thick and 59mm x 83mm laminating pouch cards on a $25.00 Walmart heat lamination machine. After doing this the cards are wonderful. I buy these cards in groups of 500 and have several sizes which I use on several games where either the card stock is thin or you use the cards over and over. Problem solved.

You can spend lots of money on professional lamination machines but a cheap one will do the job. The one I own is a Duck 9 inch Electric Laminator - Henkel Consumer Adhesives, Inc. Avon Ohio

I buy correct size lamination from www.laminationdepot.com

Hope this helps.
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Marc Frank
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mfrank wrote:
Physically, the components are pretty crappy.


Just passed 50 plays today, and I'm retracting that comment about the components. The map shows no further wear. The cards and counters are holding up just fine.

I still wish the cards were laminated though. 2ndPlace, that's a great idea re laminating the cards yourself.

Soviet Dawn continues to be one of my favorite games; it's my go-to solitaire game of choice.
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David Kennedy
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Due to my personal situation, I've played easily over 500 games and I'm astonished to say I like the game even more. In fact, counter-intuitively, my passion for the game has only deepened.

Admittedly, I use the Expansion Kit. A must in my opinion.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/495680/should-you-buy-th...

I've also tailored some house rules to make the game even more interesting.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/539404/alternate-use-for...
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/496860/reserve-offensive...

These suggested changes, in conjunction with the Check This Out rule, gives the Kremlin some control over the flow of events. As always, you have to pick your battles. Like any game, you hope you chose wisely and get some breaks.

I think Reserve Offensives and Political Degree chits need to be renamed Military Reserves and Political Capital with the rules modified accordingly. Both are more afterthoughts in the present rule set. But, with the addition of Decisive Outcomes, I think both concepts need some tweeking to mature the game. I'm working on getting those ready.

By the by, if you really want the low-down on the event decks, check out my analysis. I dumped my findings into Excel.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/filepage/55415/trends-in-the-ev...

Ultimately, I think a lot depends upon temperment and expectations. This is a solitaire game with a handful of pieces and plays in about 20 minutes. That meets a real sweet spot for me right now. I don't expect it to work for everyone. But, if you expect to be able to control the dice, that's an objection which I don't have an answer to.

Hope that helps.
 
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David Kennedy
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You know, I've thought about that a lot lately. I've realized that winning isn't that important to me. If the game is good and the play is fun, I'm in.

I used feel like I was batting over .300; now I seem to be well below .200! I seem to be finding ways new ways to lose. You ever lose on event card Kolchak Undermines Joint Offensive?

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/500358/kolchak-undermine...

Recently, I had four of the six Reorg Table resources and I made it well into the Dawn epoch. Ended up losing due to some key Decisive Defeats as I'd run out of Reserve chits to counter them!

But, the whole way through, I'm having a blast. As for all the 'work' you mention, nah, it is just me enjoying the game another way. As for your Bolshevik Blues, I'd say go international and play the Comintern chit!

Keep at it, Comrade!
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David Kennedy
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Memo to Troksky:

Reopen the file on Comrade Bingham and put a security detail on him. He may becoming unreliable. Possibly, exhaustion. No matter, the Revolution needs men of steel. Check the files on his family and known associates. Let me know what you find. I'll discuss with Lenin once you issue your report.
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David Kennedy
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Webnard wrote:
Now, it's true that I can say "Oh I hope these cards don't show up and I do hope these do," but none of that helps me make a better decision right now--on this turn--when I need to make an informed decision. It reminds me of craps where, even after I learned the odds and how to use them in betting, I still couldn't use that knowledge to control the roll of the dice. Knowing about the cards doesn't control the next card that comes up.


What's important to understand is there are two types of knowledge about the event deck.

1) Knowledge of specific cards are coming because of the epoch you are in, like Czar's Fate and German Capitulation. Significant events like these cause game-altering events. If you haven't successfully managed the relevant fronts, yeah, bad things are going to happen. The Cheka This Out rule and my suggestions for Political Decrees give the Bolsheviks a modicum of control over the event deck, which is really at the heart of your complaint. The tension for you then becomes, do I expend the resource now or risk saving it for later? This is the core dilemma for the Kremlin throughout the game.

2) Knowledge of the trends of the event deck and the various fronts will influence your decisions on how to respond to enemy threats. Who is more likely to advance and how strong they are gives you real insight into your options. Here are a couple of examples of that. Notice how my decision process is informed by my knowledge of the trends in the event deck.

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/522096/czars-fate-decide...
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/514556/allies-at-the-gat...

As I've said before, the more you know and the better you understand your options, the more fun the game is. That said, the game is designed to cause the Soviets to lose most of the time. Otherwise, the game would be quickly mastered like a puzzle and subsequently pointless to play because "you've figured it out".

Keep at it, comrade.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention. Some new staff officers have been assigned to your HQ. They are very experienced. You should find them a big help.
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Maik Stich
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Alan Emrich wrote:
I really hope VP Games can find a way to produce a version with more quality components.

VPG can't, but other publishers can. We'll talk to them...

Alan Emrich


And here we are. Alan said that in 2009. Components have changed in many games. Way to go VPG!!!
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Georg Bauer
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Actually now in 2015 they get their own first mass-market produced game going via KS with nothing less than a State of Siege game: Dawn of the Zeds
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