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David G. Cox Esq.
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The Russian Civil War, 1918-1922
(2nd edition)



Designed by James Dunnigan
Developed by Joseph Miranda
Published by Decision Games – Strategy & Tactics Magazine #267 (2011)



I have quite mixed feelings about Decision Games – well, slightly mixed at least. I think that it is great that they have adopted the philosophy of republishing old SPI games. In my experience, however, they are not content with simply republishing the games but feel the need to tinker with them and in the process seem to actually make the games worse rather than better.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a review of the first edition of the Russian Civil War, unaware at the time that Decision Games had just republished it. I have been a long-time fan of The Russian Civil War and, as the game was quite rare, decided, against my better judgement, to purchase the new edition of the game. I now normally avoid purchasing Decision Games based of previous disappointing experiences.

I have not played the 2nd edition version of the game and I almost certainly have a quite irrational, even if understandable, dislike of the publisher so, as you read this review, you should be very careful about taking anything I say too seriously. This may actually turn out to be nothing more than a subversive attack on a completely innocent wargame.


Components

The easiest and most obvious place to start is with the physical components of the game.

This time TRCW(2) comes in a magazine rather than a box. The magazine is actually rather neat. Quite apart from the thirty two pages of rules it has an extensive historical article on the Russian Civil War as well as a one-page article on design aspects of the game – both articles are by Joseph Miranda. There are other articles on other military events but these are irrelevant to the game and this review.

The map is twice the size of the original. This has both positive and negative implications. It is nice to have more space in the areas on the map but it now takes a larger table to comfortably play the game. Personally I prefer the original map. The new map has bolder, stronger colours. I prefer the softer hues of the original. Some of the rail lines have moved and cities have been added – Joseph Miranda says that the rail lines now better replicate the actual rail lines of the time. I like the additional cities and the rules that accompany them. In the original game each player would draw a randomizer chit at the end of their turn – these would give them things like assassins, politburo markers, control of Nationalist and Internationalist troops as well as new counters for armoured trains, anarchist units and ‘special events’. In the new edition of the game control of important cities gives you extra chits – this is good as it makes some cities more important than others and so more fighting should occur, as it did historically, to control these cities. On the original map all players had an area on the map to place their victory point markers as the game progressed and these were all adjacent so it was easy to see how everyone was going regarding victory. On the new map the player point areas are quite separate and I think this is probably a bad change.

New Map

Original Map


There have been some minor changes to the counter mix. There are now fewer assassins but an extra ‘super-powerful’ assassin has been added. There are more Nationalist and Internationalist groups represented in the counter mix as well as some more white units – to keep the balance there are also more red combat units and these are quite strong. I like the idea of an assassin counter for Felix Dzherinisky (who was the head of the Cheka) that has a double strength when attempting an assassination. I don’t like the idea of extra combat units. One of the interesting aspects of the original game was trying to use your leaders to go around and pick up combat units. It was highly competitive to try to get the best units and be able to maximize the potential of your leaders - or, indeed, any combat units as they tended to be a little scarce. I suspect that the additional combat units will detract from this element of the game. In the game combat units are deployed on the map according to specific locations. Leaders are randomly drawn from a cup and will take control of troops in their starting area. Leaders such as Lenin and Trotsky (with a rating of 3) can control 3 combat units each. The stacking limit for leader/combat unit counters is 5, although the number of stacks that can be in the same area is unlimited. An unusual aspect of the game is that for the first 5 turns any units eliminated will be placed back on the map and will be available for leaders to ‘pick up’. Only after turn 5 of the game do units actually start to become permanently eliminated and so can be used to score points – if the game ends with a red victory then eliminated white units/leaders are worth points, and visa versa if the game results in a white victory. There have been a number of new ‘special events’ added to the counter mix. The developer writes about these in notes at the back of the rules. These are to give the game more ‘flavour’ – I think the original edition had plenty of ‘flavour’ without them. But perhaps I am just extremely reactionary. A fifth faction has been created (black units) which represent anarchist forces. These units do not move and are a nuisance to everybody. It seems to me that the 2nd edition changes are, to a large extent, intended to increase the simulation value of the game and to make it play more historically. In the original version the focus was clearly on recreating the chaotic nature of the war and the political instability of both major factions by making even guys on the same side to not really want to be cooperating with their compatriots.

New Counters

Original Counters


Playing the Game

As Joseph Miranda says in his design notes, “The central game system was essentially valid. It modelled the fragmentation of command among the combatants as well as the political chaos.’

The game is unique. At the start during set-up players randomly divide the red and white leaders amongst themselves. This means that players will have a combination of both white leaders and red leaders. Players may trade counters if they wish to. Players have several options:
1. Get all red leaders and go all out for a red victory.
2. Get all white leaders and go all out for a white victory.
3. Get a balanced mix of both types of leaders and sit on the fence, play both sides, and towards the end start going for the victory that you think will maximise your chances of victory.
4. Get mainly Red or White and a small number of the other colour so that you can set them up to give yourself easy victory points by attacking your self – yes, in TRCW(2) you are allowed to attack yourself and sometimes it is to your advantage to do so.

Players move their ‘stacks’ around the board and attack those they are allowed to – Reds attack everyone, Whites attack Reds and Nationalists, Nationalists attack Reds and Whites and International forces only attack Reds. For the first five turns often little happens and units just manoeuvre for position. This is because combat units don’t start to become permanently removed until turn 6 – I guess this represents that as time went by it became more and more difficult to recruit troops.

Each turn players roll for random events – these can include plague. This is an excellent design feature as it adds an element of risk to players just building a big stack and sitting and doing nothing – a plague can come along and decimate your forces.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the use of Poliburo markers. There are 15 Politburo markers in the game. If a player, or group of players, control 8 of these they can form the Central Committee. They can attempt to purge other players with Red leaders. If the committee feels that a player with Red leaders is not truly committed to the cause and is, perhaps, not ‘putting their body on the line to take a hit for the team’ (that is they are pussy-footing around) they can attempt to purge them which means they may lose Red leaders which will then be redistributed amongst the members of the Central Committee. Sometimes the threat of purge can be used as a negotiating tool to get some players to try just that little bit harder for the cause.

The game rules are almost identical to the original rules. The additions have been ‘chrome’ to increase the simulation value. In regards to victory points players now score additional points for control of ‘critical cities’ – I expect that the new importance attached to cities will make the game play more realistically and makes the geography of the situation more important and provide a focus for military activities, as it should be. My memory of the first edition of the game is that large stacks tended to march around the countryside with virtually no regard to geography but primarily to ‘club out’ opposing forces – although control of some locations so as to facilitate movement by rail did come into play from time to time.


Overall

I think that the first edition of The Russian Civil War is a unique, exciting and interesting game to play. The developmental changes in the second edition are fairly minimal and appear to be a deliberate attempt to increase the simulation value of the game.

I think the physical quality of the components of the second edition is disappointing. The map appears garish when sitting alongside the original. The counter art is two-dimensional and lacking artistic flair – if you put these counters alongside counters made by OSG, GMT or MMP you will see a marked increase in the quality of counters from these other publishers.

I feel that the game is greatly overpriced but I may simply be out of touch with reality regarding the price of games – I also think that L2 Design Groups games are exorbitant.

I may play the game once, in the near future, to see just what it is like to play but I expect that I will stick to my original first edition – it looks nicer, it is a better size for my table, the rules are a little bit simpler and I expect that it will both quicker to play and more interesting because of the smaller number of combat units included in the game. But these are only impressions and I may be mistaken – only time will tell.




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da pyrate wrote:
I think the physical quality of the components of the second edition is disappointing. The map appears garish when sitting alongside the original.

Artists today have better tools to work with, but few if any have the ability to improve on Redmond Simonson's graphic designs. He was an enormously talented man.
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The one thing I'm very surprised you failed to mention, which even the most ardent fans of the original have complained about for decades, is that the original SPI version of the game didn't include Central Asia on its map. Any "serious" simulation of the RCW without Central Asia would have to be viewed as badly flawed since the region (which included the cities of Bokhara, Khiva, and Tashkent) saw considerable fighting during the civil war and was important as a recruiting area for both sides due to its large pool of manpower. The new DG edition of the game, however, has added in the missing Central Asian districts. For this reason alone, regardless of the various flaws you point out (not all of which I agree with), I'd argue the game is worth the purchase price for anyone looking to "fix" their copy of the original SPI version.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
The one thing I'm very surprised you failed to mention, which even the most ardent fans of the original have complained about for decades, is that the original SPI version of the game didn't include Central Asia on its map. Any "serious" simulation of the RCW without Central Asia would have to be viewed as badly flawed since the region (which included the cities of Bokhara, Khiva, and Tashkent) saw considerable fighting during the civil war and was important as a recruiting area for both sides due to its large pool of manpower. The new DG edition of the game, however, has added in the missing Central Asian districts. For this reason alone, regardless of the various flaws you point out (not all of which I agree with), I'd argue the game is worth the purchase price for anyone looking to "fix" their copy of the original SPI version.


Your comment is intelligent and does have some validity.
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I agree with the artwork issue, the new version hasn't improved on the original, which is a credit to Redmond Simonson and the lack of imagination of the current art-team at Decision.

Even though I prefer the boxed version (of any game!), But the addition of Central Asia is what attracted me to this version. The added chrome isn't much and doesn't detract from the experience.

Stepping back and seeing things from a bigger picture:

I don't think this version is perfect (as if any game is) but it is commendable that Decision game is reprinting and "upgrading" these old games for a new generation of wargamers! Kudos where its deserved.
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Dave, appreciate your review of the 2nd edition of this game.

Russian Civil War was a game which, when it was initially available, I had no interest in. Unfortunately, I subsequently developed an interest in the subject material, only to find it very hard to obtain.

I have the same, general impression about Decision Games' efforts as you, it seems. Still, this looked like a good opportunity to finally pick up this game. But I was shocked, when I found a price tag of $37 for a magazine game. So, it looks as if I'm still not going to have a copy of this game, unless I can find someone willing to trade.
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Quote:
The counter art is two-dimensional and lacking artistic flair – if you put these counters alongside counters made by OSG, GMT or MMP you will see a marked increase in the quality of counters from these other publishers.

I feel that the game is greatly overpriced but I may simply be out of touch with reality regarding the price of games


I have the same feel. The way DG put a price tag on their games is rather unreasonable given simple enlarge of the original map - from a single one map to two maps, and yike, the ugly counter art, which looks like 3rd grade student drawing what U.S. soldiers should look like, and that they look the same to that of Red or White Army. I somewhat feel a bit cheated with the deduction of 2 issues from the subscription, meaning more expensive for the issue. As a subscriber, you don't have the choice. DG is planning to a double issue every 6 issues. I don't know how do they price their annual subscription rate in future with this single double issue, while subscribers are having different expiration. DG's policy of charging something double without adding value to an old game significantly in terms of phyiscal production is a contrary fashion to what the other publisers are currently doing - keep surprising customers with more value at the same price (look C3i or Special Operations magazines). Disappointment as the physical components are even not on par with their recent revised and upgraded SPI introductory series games. At the same time, I hope they wouldn't spoil the rest of the other old SPI titles they still own.
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Your title for this review summarizes what drives me nuts about Decision Games. I wish that they'd have the good sense to leave most of the games they're reprinting alone, unless there's an overwhelming reason to tinker.
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Kingdaddy wrote:
Your title for this review summarizes what drives me nuts about Decision Games. I wish that they'd have the good sense to leave most of the games they're reprinting alone, unless there's an overwhelming reason to tinker.


The trouble is, when they do publish one that is essentially unchanged (except perhaps graphically), they get as many complaints about "why idn't you change/fix this?" as they do complaints like this. The buying public has as many different tastes as there are people in it -- what makes one gamer happy with a "reprint" invariably pisses another off.

Me? I'm just happy to see this old classic get another chance to show its stuff.
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Lancer4321 wrote:
Kingdaddy wrote:
Your title for this review summarizes what drives me nuts about Decision Games. I wish that they'd have the good sense to leave most of the games they're reprinting alone, unless there's an overwhelming reason to tinker.


The trouble is, when they do publish one that is essentially unchanged (except perhaps graphically), they get as many complaints about "why idn't you change/fix this?" as they do complaints like this. The buying public has as many different tastes as there are people in it -- what makes one gamer happy with a "reprint" invariably pisses another off.

Me? I'm just happy to see this old classic get another chance to show its stuff.


Your point has some validity. I remember when TSR took over SPI and started reprinting some of their older titles without any changes at all - even reprinting the original errata rather than making changes to the rules/map/counters to reflect the errata.

I still feel that Decision games actually spoil some of the titles. In Leningrad they added an extra hex-row to the map which spoils the balance/play of the game. In Battle for Germany I believe they spoilt the game by their interpretation of the Courland rule. Their graphic design decisions are sometimes quite bizarre as in the case of Napoleon's Last Battles where they used deep purple on black for the guard units so that it was unreadable - although they did supply a second set of counters with better colours.
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It is a fun game but fails as a simulation of the RCW. Purges were not started in the USSR till the 30s. Having purges in the Civil War period is like having presidential elections in an American Revolution game. Leader removal should have been named something other than "purges."

Still, the game is a blast to play.
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deschubert wrote:
It is a fun game but fails as a simulation of the RCW. Purges were not started in the USSR till the 30s. Having purges in the Civil War period is like having presidential elections in an American Revolution game. Leader removal should have been named something other than "purges."

Still, the game is a blast to play.


I have played the new version and it is quite good. I would note that purges are difficult to pull off or even to occur in a game as you need a certain amount of Politburo votes out before one can occur. In my last play through we had no purges, although I take your titling point.

Dave, we should play a game in NYC in April with the Chitkickers.

Mark
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What's that about replacement counters for NLB?
 
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
What's that about replacement counters for NLB?


When DG republished NLB they made some poor colour choices that made some counters unreadable. I contacted DG and they sent me 2nd edition counters that were not very attractive but were, at least, readable.
 
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Thanks. I have the game (so I know what you're referring to) but didn't know that replacement counters were made. I just used markers on mine.
 
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deschubert wrote:
Purges were not started in the USSR till the 30s. Having purges in the Civil War period is like having presidential elections in an American Revolution game. Leader removal should have been named something other than "purges."


First off, it's not "leader removal," but rather "leader realignment." When you successfully purge in RCW, the target of the purge isn't killed in Lubianka prison or sent to the gulag, but rather changes ownership, from one player to another (remembering that there are typically multiple 'Red' players in the game).

Secondly, Dunnigan explained this quite well in the orginal designer notes: "Purges in the RCW game are not the purges that we normally think of in Russia. That is, the purges that took place in the 1930s and later. The RCW purges are relatively bloodless affairs, whose major objective was to obtain allies in the Communist Party at the expense of some other faction. In addition to its historical purpose, we also used this mechanic in the game to encourage diplomacy among the Red Players. In doing so, we were also able to add the "Central Comittee," which was the highest political/military authority among the Communists."

Within that context, the concept of "purges" in the game make perfect (and accurate) sense.
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I think the question is simply whether the term "purges" is historically appropriate. Is that what they were called at the time, or did Dunnigan arbitrarily choose to call them that?
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DJ Kuul A wrote:
I think the question is simply whether the term "purges" is historically appropriate. Is that what they were called at the time, or did Dunnigan arbitrarily choose to call them that?


You know as well as I that it was an arbitrary decision by Jim Dunnigan. But that's the nice thing about being dictator king game designer - you can call things anything you like.

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da pyrate wrote:

I may play the game once, in the near future, to see just what it is like to play but I expect that I will stick to my original first edition – it looks nicer, it is a better size for my table, the rules are a little bit simpler and I expect that it will both quicker to play and more interesting because of the smaller number of combat units included in the game. But these are only impressions and I may be mistaken – only time will tell.


I have now played the 2nd edition. I think that the rules layout is a disaster.

Despite the colour choices the double size map is great.

The new counters are a little larger than those in the original game and they are fine, despite the amateur artwork.

The critical cities work a treat and Felix D, super-assassin, is a very nice touch.

I doubt that I will every play with the first edition again. Despite my quibbles the new edition is superior - but the rules are very poorly laid out and we frequently went to the original rules as they are much easier to read.

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da pyrate wrote:
DJ Kuul A wrote:
I think the question is simply whether the term "purges" is historically appropriate. Is that what they were called at the time, or did Dunnigan arbitrarily choose to call them that?


You know as well as I that it was an arbitrary decision by Jim Dunnigan. But that's the nice thing about being dictator king game designer - you can call things anything you like.



Well, I do now! I honestly am not familiar with the events in question.
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da pyrate wrote:
Felix D, super-assassin, is a very nice touch.


Frankly, I was rather disappointed with that rule. Dzherinisky was far more than just a "super assassin" who'd basically change loyalties after every time he had someone shot (which is essentially what the game does with him now). As head of the Checka, Dzherinisky was both the spy master for the Bolsheviks as well as their Chief of internal security. I think it would have been more accurate to have had "Iron Felix" provide the owning faction a +1 modifier to all assassination attempts it conducts anywhere on the map, and a -1 modifier to all assassination attempts made against members of his faction that are located in the same province with Dzherinisky. Further, given that Lenin (who never commanded forces in the field) is assigned a 3 leadership rating, I'd think it would've been appropriate to assign Dzherinisky (who did personally lead several Checkist operations in the Moscow area) a leadership rating of 1.

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If You Fix It, Fix What Needs to be Fixed
David, first, thanks for another great review. It seemed fair enough.

My experience with the original game (about 8 plays) led me to conclude that there were some areas for improvement.

1 It was tedious to put units back on the map during the replacement phase. The new version doesn't really help too much with this. By separating the VP chart into individual player VP charts, the workload can be distributed, but doesn't especially help with the task. To assist, I wrote on my new map the combat value of the piece that originates from the space, with the idea that we'd use the faction markers from the old game to mark the territories that will have possible replacements as they are eliminated in combat. This would allow us to scan the map, and also allow players better access to this information. They then can make a more informed decision as to whether to leave an enemy force behind to prevent the reinforcement, or consolidate. A game should make this type of information more evident to players. The original did not, and the revision did not.

2 Fixed player order (other than who moved first) was okay for the original. We tried it pbem with random order (draw chits from a cup), and I believe it reduced the amount of negotiations as it prohibited player's ability to plot against one another. I think the DG revision improves upon the original by allowing a player to seize initiative if they have 2 of the 3 "power" chits (forgot the exact name; rules not handy). Because these chits can be traded, it allows another reason for players to negotiate (another positive).

3 Assassin table - no change here except that they exchanged a calculation rule by making the table bigger and building the modifier for leader value into the table. I think it was a mistake to do so, but in this era of math incompetence but no real harm was done, and there was room on the map to do so, I can see why somebody might try to do so. I would like to think that anybody who would choose to play RCW would know enough math to calculate odds ratios correctly, and could therefore apply the leader value modification to assassination die rolls correctly.

4 Political Correctness - Some players always seemed to have problems determining which colors can attack which. I've always thought that this was self-evident if you understood the conflict and the roles involved. The revision prints a table that summarizes this, a definite plus to the game.


I'm glad they didn't tinker with the bloody CRT.

I think the biggest disservice to the game is that it's relegated to a magazine game format. This does not encourage new players to go out and get the game. I would have rather seen a GMT deluxe type of upgrade. I think playing the original game with the new counters comes close enough, but it doesn't bring the game to as large an audience. That's a business decision for DG, and they chose to make other investments (such as in their hexwar website and the recent release of Axis Empires: Totaler Kreig and Dai Sensei. They had RCW on a 500 list for quite some time, and there were probably not enough money votes to release it as a boxed game. It's unfortunate as I think this hobby needs more games and gamers where negotiate and, on occasion, break one another's eggs (rather than solve a tile laying puzzle or merely outwit an opponent by making a higher bid).
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I would be far more interested in picking this version up if it was boxed. Just a weird, irrational prejudice I have against magazine games. Especially for the price of this one...

I will just try and find a first edition copy most likely. But the improvements here sound good. Argh! The frustration.
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mmm... I might be more interested if it did not (seem) to double the game lenght.
 
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