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Subject: Review of Red Dragon/Green Crescent rss

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Matt Irsik
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I have always had a love-hate relationship with magazine wargames. They always sound so appealing in the ads, but once they arrive, get set up and played, they usually end up going on Ebay or in the trade pile. That’s usually because they are under-developed, there’s not much time for playtesting, and because of the limitations on counters/maps, things that the game needs have a tendency to get left out. Over the last ten years I’ve probably purchased well over thirty magazine games and have kept only a handful. One of those I did keep was a modern warfare offering called Red Dragon Rising. Despite the garish colors of the map and a few rules problems, it was a fun game that had fantastic replay value. I was pleasantly surprised that there would be a newer version that would include the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf areas called Red Dragon/Green Crescent that would be the first issue in a new magazine/game series called Modern War.


Overview
Red Dragon/Green Crescent (RDGC) is a theater level game focusing on naval and air operations from the Persian Gulf to the Western Pacific. The game assumes an attack by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) along with Pakistan and Iran (depending upon scenario) on the United States and its allies. There are ground units, but they are usually marine brigades, special forces, etc., that would be used to seize control of islands or port areas. Major ground combat, such as a second Korean War, is handled abstractly. The players are in the role of commanding a wide variety of naval and air assets, from carriers to surface action groups to squadrons of aircraft across vast expanses of the world’s seas. The game features an interesting sequence of play that focuses on random events and the “Op” or Operations, where players get to choose from a list of actions. This definitely enhances the replay value of the game and produces enough chaos where the players need to not only react to their opponent’s moves, but to a constantly changing global situation.

Components
The single map of East Asia that was in Red Dragon has been expanded to two maps with the second map reaching all the way to the Persian Gulf. Also, the Red Dragon map has been turned ninety degrees to fit both maps together. The color choices for the map are interesting, but they work and the sea areas, islands, etc., are clearly marked. I do take issue with the large holding boxes (could have been used for random event listings), the colors used for the Op lists (kind of annoying to read), and the set up listings again should have been replaced by the random event listings. Random Events and Ops drive the game, so they should have been clearly listed on the map if there was room. Failing that, why not use the extra room for a turn track and/or victory point track? Also, the stacking numbers for some island groups are missing and there’s a box with what the numbers on the counters mean, but it looks like there was space for a counter graphic to go in the middle, but there’s nothing there.

The counters are well done, with units representing CVs, groups of surface ships, squadrons of aircraft, and ground forces that would be used in this setting. My set of counters was difficult to punch and in the end I ended up using an X-Acto knife to cut the strips, then clipped them. Each counter is rated for anti-ground, anti-ship, ASW, and anti-air with nice silhouettes for the aircraft. A large number of counters have 2016 or 2021 listed on the backs of the counters and they are used for the future scenarios set in those years. My only complaint with the counters is that some shouldn’t be in there such as the UK CVL (there are no British light carriers left) and Australian F-111 (they’re now in reserve). Also, where are the Saudi MRCA Tornados, US F-22s, and Australian F-18s? There’s actually quite a few questions about the orders of battle, but for game purposes the counters supplied work.

Now we get to the rules. If you’ve played Red Dragon then getting into RDGC will be pretty easy. There are some new Ops, a variety of different scenarios for the Persian Gulf, India-Pakistani wars, Indian Ocean campaigns, and then the combined campaign. About 30 minutes of reading will get you up to speed, then you can set up units and begin play. If you’re new to the system, I think you could be in trouble. The rules are pretty haphazard and spread out all over the place. Many of them are in the Ops or random events explanations, so you’ll need to look through quite a few at times to figure out what’s going on for things like special forces, mines, long-range intercepts, etc. Some examples of play would really help here such as a first turn run through and this game is crying out for professionally done set-up cards for the scenarios as well as a reference card for combat/special situations.


Game Play
Probably the greatest praise for wargame designers is saying that their game works, and in this case it is true. RDGC works…as a game, not as a simulation of modern combat. Each turn begins with the player rolling to see if there is a random event. On a 1 or a 2 the player rolls again and consults the event listings for the effect. These range from countries dropping out of the war, reinforcements needing to be sent elsewhere, revolts, and much more. This is one of the strong points in the game that keeps players guessing and increases the replay value of the game. Then players choose an Op from the list as their action for the turn. Ops can be moving a group of units from a land base out to sea, long range strikes by TU-22s or B-2s, air attacks on enemy bases, calling for reinforcements, hyper war chit draws, and much, much more. In fact, this new version has added even more Op actions than the original Red Dragon Rising so that choosing one can be difficult. Movement and combat are done by areas with forces being able to usually move one area per Op. This is also one of them main challenges for players in that they can only choose one Op per turn. You have so many units, tasks, needs, etc., that choosing just one is difficult to say the least.

I think at this point I need to clarify what I think is one of the huge problems with the game in terms of simulating modern warfare. The problem is being able to only choose one Op per turn or one Op per turn per map if playing the combine game-thanks to Bart de Groot for pointing out this oversight on my part). That’s right. If you are expecting to move a Japanese fleet into a sea area while moving a US fleet in from another to conduct a joint operation against enemy forces during that turn with airstrikes coming in from Okinawa or another base you are sadly mistaken. Likewise, if you have a carrier that’s damaged and spends two turns moving to a base and one turn getting repaired, all of your forces in the theater sit around for three turns doing nothing. You can argue that players should never choose to do that, but then that means a damaged carrier just sits around in the same sea area waiting to be finished off? This problem becomes even more apparent when playing the combined game. Some forces literally just sit in the same sea area for the entire game as you get only one Op per side. Also, it looks weird that the U.S. can’t move forces around the globe all at the same time. I’ve had games where carrier battle groups haven’t moved the entire game as there were too many other pressing needs for the ops during my turn. My guess is that in real life the U.S. and its allies could probably do ten Ops per turn every turn (however, it wouldn’t be much of a game), but the one Op that you do get creates some unusual situations.

Fortunately, the one Op per turn works on the game level. It drives the decision making process and constantly forces both players to reassess their actions. Setting up a combined fleet operation or amphibious assault can take several Ops, so you might need to give up the initiative somewhere else on the board. There are a bewildering array of Op choices, which again, gives the game tremendous replay value. Combat is done by having each player match up their units and rolling a D6, needing the listed number or under for each strength. Combat is simultaneous, quick, and deadly. Units die off in large numbers and its not uncommon in some games to see little left of the Taiwanese and Chinese forces, with quite a few units from other nations in the dead pile.

Scenarios & Campaigns

Having played all of the various scenarios and campaigns, I thought it would be of interest to other gamers to list my thoughts on each. There are three force levels for each scenario or campaign; Current, 2016, and 2021.

Persian Gulf: This would be a good training scenario as there are no random events and it is only ten Ops long. The Iranians only chance is to get hot with the dice as they are hopelessly outclassed, particularly in the Current scenario.

India-Pakistani: Again, probably good for training scenarios or teaching new players the system. The Pakistanis are outclassed in the air and at sea, even with the 2021 force levels. Their only chance as with the above scenario is to get some good dice rolls and hope for the best.

Red Dragon Rising: In my opinion this is the best game in the package. The action starts with a massive pre-game Chinese strike on Taiwan and things go fast and furious from there. The Chinese side has several paths to victory, so different options can be tried out and each Op can mean victory or defeat.

Green Crescent campaign: This campaign covers the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. Because of logistical constraints the Chinese can never have more than eight units total on this map. The campaign basically comes down to how fast can the Chinese player get the Iranians and Pakistanis on their side. If they can’t (and I had several games where they did nothing) then the U.S. side will simply overwhelm any opposition on the Indian Ocean map. The scenarios and campaign on this map are hard to judge as so much depends on getting the right random events. At times it feels like the system is going beyond its limits as the Chinese side only seems to have a chance if certain things break their way.

Red Dragon/Green Crescent campaign: This actually qualifies as a two-map “mini-monster” as there are a lot of units on the table. Unfortunately, this campaign has the same problems that the Green Crescent campaign has, except now it’s complicated by the fact that each side only gets one Op per turn per map for use across two large maps with many. many units! In the end it seems like you’re playing the Red Dragon Rising scenario with a bunch of nice looking units sitting around on another map.


Replay Value

Simply put, off the charts. With the large number of random events, multiple Ops to choose from, and several paths to victory for the Chinese player, this is a game that can be played over and over. One of my friends and I once did three games in just under three hours! Once you know the system you can get through the turns pretty quickly. Not only that, certain events can end the game well short of the 30 Op limit. I’ve played about a dozen games of Red Dragon Rising along with several of the others in the combined game and there’s been numerous surprises along the way, ranging from Taiwan dropping out on the first two turns (makes things really difficult for the U.S. player) to a massive Russian-Japanese sea battle that saw both fleets get cut down to almost nothing. The great thing about RDGC is that you never know what’s just around the corner.


Summary

Despite some small issues with components and the rules, this game is worth playing. The Red Dragon side of the game is what you’re spending the money for and it is a very good game. Both sides have a ton of options, there’s a lot of action, and if things go really wrong you can quickly set it up and play it again. We’ve had some tremendous battles and a lot of fun along the way. However, when you add in the second map and units, I’m not sure what it is adding to the overall game. Because of the op limitations expressed above, you simply have too many units that need to do too many things, but the players are limited to doing just one thing per turn per map. Something is not right here and while it succeeds as a game, I’m not sure that it succeeds as an accurate portrayal of modern naval and air combat. I’m sure many players are going to think at some point, “So, I’m moving some heavy U.S. ground units from the holding box in a convoy to help Taiwan, so for the next several turns everything else I own across that map has to sit still?” Yes, it does and that is a problem that may be too high of a hurdle for some gamers to get over. Again, however, RDGC succeeds in its game play. The random events, chaotic nature of combat, and large number of choices through Ops and various units that you can use each turn makes this into a challenging game. I think more effort, development, and playtesting needed to go into the combined game as there are a number of issues for the Indian Ocean/Persian Gulf map. Overall, a good, but not great start for Modern War magazine.
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Nigel Swan
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Great review but i am reluctant to play it at the moment.I would prefer a better sim of modern warfare.Looking at getting Next War: Korea
 
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Bart de Groot
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mirsik wrote:
However, when you add in the second map and units, I’m not sure what it is adding to the overall game. Because of the op limitations expressed above, you simply have too many units that need to do too many things, but the players are limited to doing just one thing per turn.


Did you take this into account?

Rule 5.4 Combined Game Op Sequence (p R5)
During the Combined Campaign Game each player may perform one Op on each map ...
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Matt Irsik
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Bart, nope, didn't see that! I spent so much time hunting through the rulebook for various things that I must have overlooked that. Still, being only able to do two ops on those large maps with all of the units deployed is strange. I've played well over a dozen games and many nations' units never even get used. The biggest problem is the Indian Ocean map where the Chinese really need some luck to get the Iranians and Pakistanis to cause some havoc to distract the U.S. and its allies.
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Matt Irsik
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I edited the review based upon Bart's comment(thanks again for pointing that out!). It didn't change much as there are still some inherent problems with having a lot of units that sit around for too long.
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Walter Hearne
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They left out the F-22s? Seriously? That seems like a major omission.

UPDATE: After looking closely at the posted photos, I do see an F-22 counter (counter sheet 1).
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Tom Swider
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Red Dragon/Green Crescent vs Red Dragon Rising
I was at a game store today and found Red Dragon Rising in a bin for $18 so I picked it up, thinking it was the RD/GC. The titles seemed similar.

So for somebody whose interest in naval games is limited to War at Sea, Victory in the Pacific and Fighting Sails, would I be missing much if I stuck with RDR and didn't bother getting RD/GC?
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Matt Irsik
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Tom, actually RDR is the better of the two games! I wish I hadn't have sold mine now as the RD/GC game has a number of issues. As a game the RDR side is pretty balanced and fun, but there are some problems with the combined game.
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Joe Pilkus
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As one of the play-testers for this game, I have to tell you it is one of the best we've come across. Ty Bomba and Joe Miranda have produced some other good games, but this one, far-and-away has been the best because of its strategic scope.

Additionally, we've modified the Random Events table to ensure peculiar anomalies such as Japan or Australia exiting the war do not occur, while increasing the chance for a "Double Op" ~ If anyone is interested, shoot me a Geek mail and I'll send it to you. Also, we've devised a "cheat sheet" for Ops based on their Type: Movement, Combat, etc. Unfortunately, as we've said with many of Ty Bomba's games...the realism is there and the game mechanics work well. But, they are in desperate need of an editor.
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Stephen Wagstaff
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Joe, could you up load this as a document?
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Joe Pilkus
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Stephen,

Thanks for asking...I'll dig it out and upload it. As a mtter of fact, I wouldn't even have come back here had not somepone wrote me a Geek Mail asking for a copy.

Thanks,
Joe
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Joe Pilkus
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Stephen,

I'm finally home and able to upload both the Ops Cheat Sheet and our Random Events Table which we've used for our games, post-play-test.

Cheers,
Joe
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Tim Parker
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Matt,
Do you think this expanded version of RDR gives you more opportunities to develop your own scenarios?
I have the original RDR and loved it. I bought the RD/GC to try out various "what if" clashes using the expanded OB for the nations involved.
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Matt Irsik
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Tim, yes I think so. You have the maps, counters, etc., for the current forces and future forces (out to about 2025), so you can definitely create your own scenarios. In fact, more scenarios are what is needed, particularly for the Green Crescent side of things. The Red Dragon part is great as the game situation can change at a moment's notice with the events, but the other side of the equation is lacking.
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Charles Neal
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I think a struggle over the Spratly Islands would be a scenario to consider. Limit the number of Chinese units, partly for play balance and partly because their military would have other interests to guard as well. Have a number of Indian units support the smaller local nations in a coalition. US stays neutral and doesn't have any units in the scenario.
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