The Russian Civil War was one of the first civil wars of the 20th Century, and yet, in many ways, it was a throwback to the 19th Century. The bayonet and the cavalry saber were decisive instruments, but it was also a time where the more modern elements of state-sponsored terror were present on both sides. It was also one of the many conflicts that took place in the interregnum between the World Wars that eventually lit the fuse on the second.
The war claimed the lives of millions of Russians and half the world intervened to attempt to stop the Bolshevik revolution, but the support for the “Whites,” the opposition to the Bolshevik “Reds,” was half-hearted at best, and by 1922, the Bolsheviks had become the masters of most of the former lands of the Russian empire, now known as the USSR.
The conflict is a bewildering mélange of personalities and factions, from Lenin, Trotsky, and the Reds, to the various White factions that ranged from Czarist loyalists to Socialists who were opposed to the Bolsheviks. Then there were the other smaller players, like the anarchist Nestor Makhno, who led the anarchist “Black Army” and played both sides against each other for a while until his army was crushed by the Reds and he was forced to flee, and he died in Paris in exile in 1934.
There have been some board games written about this bewildering war, and as I have an interest in this conflict, I own some of them and have played a few others. I’d, of course, love to play more of them, but let’s go through the highlights and see what’s out there?
Ted Racier did a fine job with this game, and it’s still my favorite game on the conflict. I think it models the chaos of the war extremely well, as well as addresses the fact the various White factions were far from united. It also has enough chrome for any veteran wargamer, covering every major unit at the corps and division level that appeared in the war, and having present such major personages as Frunze, Denikin, Wrangel, and Trotsky, his infamous Red Train.
The game does reflect the chaos through a random turn order determined by chit draw (which, to me, is the only way you’re going to manage this war). Logistics can and does play a big role and kills as many units as combat does if you don’t play it right. The game also models the Russian weather well, and in short, it’s a player’s game that gets the history spot on. I’d highly recommend this effort by GMT, and you can get it from them for $50, which is a steal in my opinion for a game of this caliber.
I own but haven’t played this, but the game looks good at first blush. Against the Odds (ATO) usually puts out a good game, and this is no exception. It takes a lot for an area movement game to impress me, and this one did. Like Reds, it works off the chit pull system, and I like the stress on the political-military elements and how both had to work hand in glove to win (and historically, this is how the Reds did win). That said, I still think Reds is the better game overall, but the ATO game is a very, very close second, and I’d play either game and have an enjoyable time. Plus, I highly recommend the article on the war that comes with the game. It’s very good work on understanding the nature of the conflict. The game is also still available from ATO for $34.95 for a ziplock version or $39.95 for a boxed version.
To be honest, I hadn’t heard of either game until I’d been researching this topic. But I will say I am intrigued by the subject matter. To be honest, most board games on the Russian Civil War handle the strategic level of the war, while there are few that actually look at the operational level (though Red Star, White Eagle about the associated Russo-Polish War is a notable exception).
Both games are from smaller publishers and seem to be filling this (admittedly) small niche in the market, and I like HFD’s take on the subject. There was a rather informative interview found here with the designer, and the game has a little of everything for the Russian Civil War player hinging on the high watermark of the White Army’s abortive march on Moscow in the fall of 1919. I am rather happy about the way the subject matter is implemented. I will admit, in some ways, it’s a departure from the usual card draw system HFD uses in favor of a chit pull, which seems to be standard for Russian Civil War games. The game is available for $20.95 from HFD, and I am intrigued myself. I think I might just pick it up at some point soon.
As for White October? I don’t know that much about it, other than it was nominated for a Charles S. Roberts Award, so that does say something about it. It’s available in PDF form from the magazine website, so you’d basically have to print out the components to play it…but that said, for 7 euros, it’s not too much of an investment to try the game out.
I do hope this small bit of an overview has inspired you to give this little-known period a try. I certainly have enjoyed playing games in this period since I first found Reds! in the now-defunct Neutral Ground NYC game store back in 2002.
And, as always, Good Gaming, Everyone.
At Epoch XP, we specialize in creating compelling narratives and provide research to give your game the kind of details that engage your players and create a resonant world they want to spend time in. If you are interested in learning more about our gaming research services, you can browse Epoch XP’s service on our parent site, SJR Research.
(This article is credited to Jason Weiser. Jason is a long-time wargamer with published works in the Journal of the Society of Twentieth Century Wargamers; Miniature Wargames Magazine; and Wargames, Strategy, and Soldier.)