HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn 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.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
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.
- 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
- 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