RED SUN RISING is a combined land and naval simulation of the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 - December 1905). The game was designed by Frank Davis and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1977.


On 27 May, 1905, forty-five Russian warships, having sailed an astounding 18,000 nautical miles all the way from their regular station in the Baltic Sea, through the Atlantic, and into the Pacific and then the Sea of Japan, finally entered the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan. The Russian fleet, commanded by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, included seven battleships and six armored cruisers and was steaming towards Vladivostok when it was intercepted by the Japanese fleet, under the command of Admiral Heihachiro Togo. By late afternoon, a major battle had developed as the Japanese began firing at the Russian ships at long range. Within a matter of hours, four of the Russian battleships had been sunk and another severely damaged. Admiral Togo’s fleet, both faster and better armed than their Russian adversaries, suffered no losses during this initial clash.

Indicative of the onesidedness of the struggle was the fate of the Russian Battleship, Borodino, which after being struck in a powder magazine, exploded and sank within minutes taking all hands with her to the bottom. Failing light brought no relief for the badly outmatched Russians as the Japanese continued their unrelenting attacks with destroyers and torpedo boats. By the end of the next day, all but twelve of the Russian ships had been sunk, captured, or run aground. Admiral Togo’s total losses, astoundingly, were only three torpedo boats.

The Battle of Tsushima Strait had been the greatest naval engagement since Trafalgar, almost a century before; it had also been the only major naval action to ever be fought between pre-dreadnaught battleships. In addition, the lop-sided outcome of the battle was, despite the humiliating loss of Russian territory to the Japanese Empire, instrumental in bringing the Russians to the peace table. The Russo-Japanese War formally ended with the acceptance, by both sides, of peace terms proposed by the American President, Theodore Roosevelt, in December 1905.


RED SUN RISING simulates the Russo-Japanese War on both land and sea. The land game is an operational (brigade/division) treatment of the war, with special emphasis on the command and control, and logistical problems confronting both armies. The land portion of the game map covers the areas of Asiatic Russia, Manchuria, and Korea over which the contesting armies maneuvered and fought. The naval game centers on the individual capital ships and flotillas that featured so prominently in the final outcome of the war. Leadership, in the guise of initiative, plays as important a role in the naval game as the land game. Many of the game mechanics used in RED SUN RISING are standard fare in contemporary designs: command and control, initiative die rolls, step reduction, and logistical rules are all pretty much to be expected. There are, however, unexpected rules that add color and detail to the simulation. For example, Ship Repair; Capturing a Fleet; Foreign Aid, the February 1904 Japanese Surprise Attack, and the Port Arthur Follies, among others, all add to the historical flavor of the game.

Land and naval movement and combat have been integrated in an ingenious manner in RED SUN RISING. An excellent way to get a feel for the flow of the game, therefore, is to examine the combined sequence of play. A typical game turn proceeds as follows. First is the Strategic Naval Sequence of Play which consists of five stages: the Russian Naval Initiative Stage; the Japanese Naval Initiative Stage; Naval Search Stage; Naval Movement Stage (which consists of 10 rounds); and the Attrition Stage. Once the Strategic Naval Sequence has been completed, the land portion of the game turn begins with the following sequence of actions: Russian Supply Stage; Russian Reinforcement Stage; Russian Land Movement Stage; Russian Land Combat Stage. After the Russian Land Combat Stage is completed, the Japanese player repeats the same steps, and once finished, the game turn ends. Unless, that is, a successful search has been executed during the Strategic Naval Sequence: in that case, play immediately shifts to the Naval Tactical Display and the Naval Combat Sequence of Play begins. This sequence can consist of multiple rounds, but will follow this series of steps: the Weather phase; the Search phase; the Range Determination phase; the Gunnery Combat phase; the Torpedo Attack phase; and finally, the Morale phase.


Players will quickly find that, as was the case historically, Russian naval sorties are exceedingly rare. But some sort of naval action is virtually guaranteed: first because the vulnerability of the Japanese sea borne supply lines makes raiding attractive; and second, because of the preordained arrival of the Russian Baltic Fleet. The importance of the Japanese supply lanes underscores an important factor in RED SUN RISING: it is much more economical and effective to put units out of supply, than it is to actually fight them. A unit unsupplied for two game turns melts away; while attacking, even with a superior force can often lead to outcomes in which it is hard to tell the winner from the loser. Although the Russian player is at a significant disadvantage in terms of leadership and command and control, the Japanese player has problems of his own: Japanese forces must capture cities on a strict timetable or the Russian player wins immediately. In short, the pressure is on the Japanese player from the first to the twenty-third game turn, and the historical Japanese victory is far from a foregone conclusion.

Finally, I should note that the creator of RED SUN RISING, Frank Davis, is one of my all-time favorite SPI designers. Davis certainly had his his share of "misses" in the course of his career, but I personally think that his reputation is secured by his superb designs, FREDERICK THE GREAT and WELLINGTON'S VICTORY. That being said, this game does not, I confess, count as one of his best designs, but it is still an ingenious and well-crafted effort and well worth a look from anyone interested in this relatively obscure (and little understood) conflict.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 month per game turn
  • Map Scale: 20 miles per hex (estimated) land map; 180 miles per hex (estimated) naval map
  • Unit Size: brigades/divisions
  • Unit Types: headquarters, admirals, infantry, cavalry, artillery, siege artillery, battleship, cruiser, destroyer flotilla, torpedo flotilla, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: medium/above average
  • Solitaire Suitability: average
  • Average Playing Time: 3-5 hours

Game Components:

  • One 23” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Land Combat Results Table, Terrain Key, Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Port Arthur Mine/Supply Tracks, Vladivostok Mine/Supply Track, Japanese Replacement Track, and Strategic Naval Map Insert incorporated)
  • 400 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters (land war)
  • 100 back-printed oversized cardboard Counters (naval war)
  • One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Set-up Instructions, Land Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, and Historical Commentary incorporated)
  • One 11” x 27” Tactical Naval Display (with Russian Morale and Defense Strength Track, Weather Track, Naval Combat Results Table, Admiral Casualty Table, Maneuver Table, and Japanese Blockade Attrition Table incorporated)
  • One 7½” x 11” Russian & Japanese Unit Assignment Display
  • Two small six-sided Dice
  • One 8½” x 11” S&T Promotional Flyer
  • One Customer Complaint Card
  • One SPI 12” x 15 ” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet


  • I came up with a variant to make the game more historical. As it is with rules as written, the best Russian naval units are the torpedo boats, due to their defense factor being so strong. This is of course exactly backwards, so my variant allows for selecting the number of points in the TB and D units to be attacked. CA and B need to be attacked as whole units.

    Another thing is that the Japanese get to land too far forward and as this is a race game at the start, this too far forward landing means they win the race all the time, when actually it was closer than the game shows.

  • "On 27 May, 1905, forty-five Russian warships, having sailed an astounding 18,000 nautical miles all the way from their regular station in the Baltic Sea, through the Atlantic, and into the Pacific and then the Sea of Japan, finally entered the Tsushima Straight between Korea and Japan."

    This is a bit poorly worded. The fleet separated into 2 parts. One sailed through the Mediterranean Sea through the Indian Ocean and then into the Pacific. The other sailed around Africa, then the Indian Ocean and then the Pacific. The way you have it worded seems to me as if it sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas and then into the Pacific. Also, it is Strait not Straight.

  • Greetings Bill:

    I hate to admit it, but your criticism is a valid one. When I wrote this passage I struggled with how much in formation to include and how much -- in the interests of brevity -- to leave out. What I was trying to convey was the fact that the main Russian fleet -- having been denied passage through the Suez Canal -- had been obliged to sail from the Baltic all the way around the Horn of Africa to reach the war zone. In reality, I didn't like the wording of the passage when I wrote it, and I still don't, so your criticism is a legitimate one.

    So far as "Strait" versus "Straight" goes: You are, of course, quite correct. This is yet another example of "spell-checker" failing to save this intrepid blogger from himself! In any case, I will make the appropriate corrections as soon as I can.

    Thanks for your interest and your comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Greetings Don:

    As usual, you raise a couple of interesting points, and although it has been quite awhile since I actually played RED SUN RISING, let me offer a modest defense (although it has been years since I played the game) of Davis' design choices.

    First, in the case of the Russian torpedo boats, I, like you, was initially struck by their disproportionately high defensive ratings. However, after a bit of thought, I seem to recall that I decided that what the designer was attempting to convey was not the flotillas' "armored strength", but their comparative "survivability" in the face of Japanese naval gunfire.

    Your second point is also a good one; in my own case, I decided that the risk of an unexpected (and successful) Russian naval sortie at least somewhat mitigated against the Japanese swarming against the more remote landing zones. Hence it offered the Japanese commander a "high risk, high reward" option versus a more conservative set of choices right from the beginning.

    Finally, your idea about modifying the rules for naval combat seems intriguing and well worth a try.

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

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  • I sold off this game earlier in the year once I got my copy of THE TIDE AT SUNRISE, which I consider a better game. Still, one can hope that RED SUN RISING might see a redesign/remake someday. It's interesting to compare the two designs. I play THE TIDE AT SUNRISE without the naval option and use the abstracted table system (it has gorgeous ship counters, much like RED SUN RISING) and feel I don't miss a thing--the juice ain't worth the squeeze to learn/play naval sorties when the Russian does them so infrequently. But more interesting is the land campaign in both games. While maneuver is rewarded in TIDE AT SUNRISE, it's hard to escape those frontal assaults and, like RED SUN RISING, units are whittled down at an alarming rate. But the Japanese isn't on the timetable--that player creates his own. I like this degree of control over the pacing and there's still this lunging quality to the ground action which models the campaign well. RED SUN RISING is more a simulation and THE TIDE AT SUNRISE is more of a game, but to me the latter teaches all the important points about the history of the war in a far easier format to learn and play. What I like about both games is that a Japanese win is difficult to get, despite what progress seems to have been made! But I suspect that TIDE AT SUNRISE will trump RED SUN RISING for a while until the day that this game is redone. If it is, I think it offers enough of a unique take on the war that it would be sought after by those interested in it.

  • Greetings Eric:

    Thanks, as usual, for your insightful comments; also for the recommendation on TIDE AT SUNRISE which I have not yet personally examined.

    What I found interesting about RED SUN RISING was the several similarities (particularly in its emphasis on logistics and the sheer bloodiness of the land combat system) between it and Marc Miller's RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR which, you may recall, appeared a year earlier in 1976. Thus, although Simonsen's graphics were certainly heads and shoulders above those of GDW, once players got past the cosmetics, both ground games tended to tell the same story.

    The differences between DAVIS' take on the naval war and that of Miller's, on the other hand, I found to be quite intriguing. It always seemed to me that, although Miller's Russian naval units were intrinsically more brittle than those of Davis -- a reasonable assumption, given the historical outcome -- that the TSUSHIMA was worth playing because, every once in a while, a Russian player would get his fleet to sortie against the Japanese and then, as an added bonus, be treated to "hot dice" as well. In that sense, I suppose that Miller's naval combat system was considerably more "unpredictable" than that of Mr. Davis. In both games, the Russians are severely out-classed, but in Miller's game the Tsar's naval units (very occassionally) seem to be able to do a little more damage to the Japanese than in RED SUN RISING.

    In any case, thanks again for the "heads-up" on what sounds like a promising game, TIDE AT SUNRISE, and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • One of my favorite SPI games. I was glad to have this and GDW's take on the war with their twin games to get a good choic on what I wanted in the game. Ifelt RSR did a better job on both the land & naval parts copmpared to GDW.

  • Greetings Kim:

    I don't know of many players, familiar with both games, who would disagree with you. Clearly RED SUN RISING was a more "finished" game in every way: better organized, clearer rules; much better and more attractive graphics presentation (in counters, game maps, charts, and rules booklet); and even better packaging.

    In spite of their differences, however, I think that both Marc Miller (RUSSO-JAPANESE WAR) and Frank Davis (RED SUN RISING) came to pretty much the same conclusions about the land portion of the war; the naval part of the campaign, on the other hand, are handled by each designer in very different, but interesting ways. I guess that my main beef with the naval system presented by Miller in TSUSHIMA is that the combat rules that drive it are awkwardly written and confusing, and when the rare naval battle finally occurs, its combat outcomes tend to be "lumpy" and unpredictable.

    Comparing the two games from this perspective, I would have to say that -- based on my own experience with the two titles -- the "wheels just seemed to come off the wagon" a lot more when I played the GDW design (clever or not).

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Red Sun Rising was also a pretty good solo play too as I recall. Back in 1980 when I bought the game the subject didn't interest many at my club so I never played a 'real' game. Sold it in the mid 90's, but it fetched a good price

  • Greetings Anon:

    Yes, both the Japanese and Russian sides offer interesting problems that lend themselves well to solitaire play. Unfortunately, as you note, this war was, like the Crimean War, a bit too obscure for most of the players I knew when these games were first published.

    On the positive side, the GDW version -- which appeared a year before Frank Davis' design -- did have one positive effect, at least on me. It encouraged me to actually read a bit about a conflict that, up until that time, I really knew next to nothing.

    Thanks for your comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

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