Tabletop Review: Reds! The Russian Civil War 1918-1921

Reds! The Russian Civil War 1918-1921
Publisher: GMT Games
Cost: $50
Release Date: 2012 (2nd Printing)

Based around the Russian Civil War and a specific set of events that don’t necessarily cover the whole war, Reds! is a game that pits two players in a fairly historic representation of what actually happened during that time period. Reds! is one of those board games for advanced players. People who love the rules and having a lot of them on top of being able to play the game and historical accuracy will love this. If you don’t like taking a long while to set up and play a game, this is not for you.

The game itself is set during the Russian Civil War, specifically the years 1918-1921 which doesn’t cover everything during that time but a decent part of the events that happened. There are two different ways to play: the short version runs just a few years, the long version runs the whole time period the game is set. Each have different sets of objectives to “Ëœwin’ even though the game is very much slanted against the White army, the Reds have very specific objectives they have to get to effectively win the game. Turns cover a good chunk of time, a month per turn, but can be pretty lengthy. The short game can run between four and six hours. The long game up to eight or more. Initial set-up took about an hour to punch out the pieces and lay everything out, but I’m betting the second time would only take about 35 minutes or so.

This is not the game for the newly interested in tabletop or board games. It’s a complicated system, and the rules aren’t laid out or written out very well. The rulebook is, in a word, confusing. When I went to play this, I wanted to run it with a friend of mine who’s very much into gaming, tabletop, the computer, board games, RPGs, card games, and she’s also very much into history, specifically Russian history. She did make the comment that for the box alone, to have it on display, she’d pick it up. And we both share a twisted sense of humor, so the fact that you make rolls to determine if the Tsar is alive or not and the fact that on one side of his piece is his portrait and the other, a tombstone, had us both highly amused. We set about setting it up, popping out pieces, being amazed they had baggies in there for not only all the pieces but one for each type of piece. There are a lot of game pieces to keep track of. After laying it all out and trying to figure out which pieces were reinforcements and which needed to be out at the start we hit the rulebook again to go over how to play and hit a wall.

It’s not that it’s organized badly, it has markers and good enough layout to get you to the rule you need fairly quickly, but the wording is so off it had us both shaking our heads. After several aborted attempts to get started on the short version, we gave up. It just wasn’t happening. I was determined though and managed to muddle through a single player bout to try it out after I’d gotten home during the next week, but it was rough. It may look like a more advanced version of Risk with a distinct theme, but it’s far beyond advanced in that regard and is going to confuse most people who pick up the rulebook at first. I had to re-read each rule several times over before it clicked and even then had to actually move and do it on the board before it made much sense.

While the rules are a bit confusing, and reinforcements not labeled on their pieces quite the way they are described in the rulebook, I do have to say it is a great looking game. The map you play on is actually fairly accurate for what it’s trying to represent and the scale. My history buff friend was highly amused by what they did show and how it all came together. One of our biggest decisions was who was playing the Reds and the Whites. I will say that the game is not necessarily about changing history. The Reds have a distinct advantage and start off controlling what they did have at the time. As I mentioned earlier it’s all about obtaining objectives. For the Whites, it’s about retreating and holding key positions as long as you can to keep the Reds from simply over-running the board. There is a bit of strategy to it as you can’t simply move or use everyone you control each turn and have to pick and choose between several of your key areas with which to stage from.

The thing I think is the game’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness, its attention to historical detail and the rules that go along to try and maintain that. This could really use a stripped down version of the rules, or a quick play set for those looking to just rampage around the map, but that really isn’t what they were trying to achieve with this game.

So who exactly is this game for then? Someone with a lot of time to kill on a weekend or evening. It takes at least half an hour to set -up and tear down, so there’s an hour right there and then depending on which of the two game settings you’re going by, between four and eight hours added to set-up. This is not for the beginner player. Historic and war gaming enthusiasts might very well be interested. I’m not sure how many casual or laid back board game players would really want this one though. There’s a lot going on and to keep track of and if you don’t really care about the material or trying to decipher the rules it’s going to feel like a waste.

This is a hard game to recommend. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but it is one that will require patience and a good chunk of time to actually play. If you lack either of those on a regular basis, it’s out. If you don’t like playing around with history and war you’re not going to like it. If you do have the time and like the period and are willing to sit down and take the time to work it all out though, it can be a lot of fun.



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