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Subject: Red Terror...with kids rss

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Nate Merchant
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I've been slowly circling Victory Point Games' States of Siege designs for years now, collecting and hoarding them, but never getting any to the table. Perhaps it's because I couldn't find a competent opponent. However, that changed after our family visited Tallinn, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg this summer. How could I NOT play Soviet Dawn after that sort of trip?

The setup couldn't be easier, and the rules are very clear, although there is a certain amount of looking things up, appropriate to an entry-level wargame. The complexity of the game is contained within the ingenious Event cards (although players must be careful to track ongoing DRMs, specially on the Eastern Front.)

The Reds (the player power) start in the hole at the beginning of the game, at 1 Political Level (0 Political Level leads to Collapse and immediate Political defeat) and with three fronts (Baltic, Southern, and Eastern) active before the first Event card is even drawn. That creates some delicious tension right out of the gate, but does not leave a lot of room for newbie (or even veteran) mistakes. Heck, roll badly enough and have the wrong cards come up in sequence, and there is virtually nothing you can do to avert disaster. That's not a problem for many gamers, who can simply re-shuffle and re-set, but some may become disenchanted with the game and purge it from their collection, due to the lack of perceived decision-making. Obviously, sticking it out through a few early (and ignominious) defeats will allow players to really appreciate this elegant, spare design.

What was especially revelatory for me was what a great educational game this is, not just for wargamers like myself, but for curious onlookers. In fact, Soviet Dawn works very well as a communal, cooperative game, which can make the highs and lows of the game that much more dramatic. My children, after watching one of my dire catastrophes, basically shoved me out of the way (shades of Kolchak's coup!) and re-started a game, with their father in an oft-ignored advisory capacity. They won, naturally. And this episode underlined for me how these States of Siege games could be utilized in schools and in after-school programs.

Though better than a game based on such a complicated subject matter has any right to be (I was not a fan of Raicer's 2-player 2nd edition design of Reds!, for instance), Soviet Dawn could be improved. The Curzon Line box and Ekaterinburg spaces can lead to some confusion, the Great War Status and Reorganization boxes are too large given what they depict, and HitchKennedy's modification to allow successful Reorganization rolls to take a spent Reserve Offensive chit is a good house rule, mitigating a run of bad rolls. Also, more thought could have been given to the placement of the four information markers and the two Inactive, off-board Fronts. Yes, this is hairsplitting, but in such a streamlined game, any confusion at all is a problem. Other GMT games have made better use of space on the board and the interface. The very important Bukharin Option being hidden at the bottom of the draw pile seems odd; one might expect that simply drawing the Treaty card would send the player to the rulebook for a complete explanation.

Lastly, and especially after playing The Lamps Are Going Out (which includes various stylized fronts fighting via boxes), I would have liked to control the Red armies facing the various fronts. Yes, that would have added complexity, but perhaps also more visceral enjoyment and more decision-making. There would be more of an epic, "last stand" feel if depleted Red armies were being gathered in Petrograd, Kiev, or Moscow instead of Front counters cruising through empty squares unopposed.

All in all, though, this is an accessible, elegant design modeling a war that was notorious for its complexity and chaos, and every wargamer and student of history should at least play it, if not own it. For myself, I will definitely be exploring the other States of Siege games, and especially Leviloff's creations.

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Scott Muldoon (silentdibs)
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Natus wrote:
Perhaps it's because I couldn't find a competent opponent.

QFT laugh
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Darin Leviloff
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Thank you, Nate. I really do like the idea of cooperative or class play. The first game to use this system, Israeli Independence, was designed in a Sunday school class room at my synagogue. I know John Welch has used his Levee en Masse game in his Advanced Placement classes. I glad you enjoyed it.

Btw, it is really not that hard at the beginning because the enemy Fronts are so far away. You really do have time to build up your political level before things get out of control. My first actions are always spent politically (or forfeited for a DRM on "Constituent Assembly" if it comes up).
 
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