In February of 1917, the Russian population had finally reached the limit of its endurance. After three years of bloody, indecisive warfare with the Central Powers on Russia’s western border, and the onset of a famine that threatened to spread throughout the country, the Russian people again — as they had done in 1905 — took to the streets of the Imperial Capital, St. Petersburg. On February 23, meetings among striking factory workers whose primary demand was for bread, boiled over into street demonstrations that initially numbered close to 100,000 men, women, and children. Confrontations with the police were numerous and often violent, but the striking workers and their families — despite police threats and violence — would not give up. By the following day, almost half of St. Petersburg’s residents had joined the strikers in the streets. On 25 February, the work stoppage spread throughout the rest of the city and became a general strike. In desperation, the Russian Government ordered Cossack cavalry units into the city to support the city police. The saber-wielding, mounted Cossacks had been instrumental in ruthlessly quelling a previous revolutionary uprising only twelve years before. Unlike their actions during the 1905 revolution, however, these much-feared cavalrymen now refused to take any violent action against the throngs of demonstrating strikers. Vast numbers of demonstrators now clogged the capital’s streets, and clashes between the out-numbered police and the strikers escalated in violence. The next day, most of the police refused to go back into the streets. With much of the city now in the hands of the demonstrators, the Czar ordered St. Petersburg’s military garrison to restore public order, whatever the cost in civilian casualties. At first, the soldiers maintained discipline and, when ordered to by their officers, marched against and even fired on the mass of workers thronging virtually every street in the city. But the retreating demonstrators would not disperse, and within a matter of hours, the soldiers began to waver in their willingness to do violence against their fellow countrymen. On 27 February, regiment after regiment from the St. Petersburg garrison disobeyed the government’s demands and went over to the strikers. With the defection of the city’s military garrison, the Czarist government collapsed. And what had begun, only a few days before, as a demand for bread, had now become a full-blown revolution.
The first tentative steps towards the revolutionary transformation of Russia had been both successful and comparatively bloodless (only about 1,500 from both sides died during these initial confrontations). In the heady days that followed, it appeared that a moderate revolutionary government might arise to replace the old Czarist regime. Unfortunately, a fugitive Russian exile named Vladimir Illych Lenin was soon, thanks to the assistance of Imperial Germany, travelling by sealed train east to his homeland. The returning exile was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd when he detrained in St. Petersburg on 16 April, 1917. Upon his return to his homeland, Lenin immediately threw himself into St. Petersburg’s fluid, revolutionary scene in order to take control of the unfolding political drama. And, because of the machinations of this brilliant and dedicated Marxist revolutionary, the struggle to control the political future of Russia would soon enter a new and much darker phase. Thanks mainly to Lenin and his Bolshevik adherents, generations of indescribable suffering and bloodshed still lay ahead for the Russian people before the effects of the Revolution of 1917 had finally run their course.
RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR is an abstract historical simulation, covering the period from June 1918 to January 1920 (or beyond), during which different warring factions struggled for supremacy and the ultimate power to determine Russia’s political destiny. The basic game is intended for three to six players. The game design, through a random draw of combat forces and leaders, compels players to control elements from four different competing groups: the revolutionaries (Reds); the counter revolutionaries (Whites); the nationalists; and the foreign interventionists.
Each game begins with the random distribution of forces and leaders around the board until all but two politburo markers (which have been put aside) remain. These markers each go to the players who control Lenin and/or Trotsky. Once the distribution of counters is complete, the first player to move in the current game turn is selected (also by random drawing). Player order then proceeds clock-wise around the board until every player has acted. Player order is determined in this way at the beginning of each game turn until play ends. A typical player turn consists of the following phases: Random Events Phase; Movement Phase; Combat Phase; and the Randomizer Phase. At the end of each complete round of player turns, there is a Game-Turn Inter-phase during which the turn marker is advanced, replacements are taken, and the turn order is determined for the next game turn. Players compete for victory points which are totaled when either the Reds or Whites have triumphed. Only at that point is the winner decided: the player with the most “Red” victory points wins in the case of a Red victory; the player with the most “White” points, if the Whites are victorious.
Although the basic game of RUSSIAN CIVIL WAR is designed as a multi-player game, the design also offers a solitaire variant; as well as instructions for postal play.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
The game design is so rich with innovative details and with opportunities for duplicity that it is hard to convey the somewhat paranoid, but exciting flow and tempo of the design; nonetheless, I think one of my friends, and a regular player, put it best: “How can you not like a game with assassins, purges, Imperial Gold, regicide, and the opportunity to stab your best friend in the back when he least expects it!” In the period right after college, this was a consistent favorite amongst my gaming friends, particularly when we were too tired for Diplomacy, but not fried enough for Emperor of China.
- Time Scale: 5 months per game turn
- Map Scale: not given (area movement)
- Unit Size: armies (abstract strength points)
- Unit Types: leaders, combat units, assassins, imperial units, and information markers
- Number of Players: three to six (with a solitaire variant)
- Complexity: low/average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 2½-3 hours
- Two 17” x 22” hard-backed area movement Map Boards (with Turn Record Chart, Random Events Table, Purge Results Table, Terrain Key, Combat Results Table, and Player Victory Point Display incorporated)
- 400 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario, and PBM Instructions included)
- Two small six-sided Dice
- One SPI Game Catalog (1976)
- One 9” x 12” x 2” bookcase-style Game Box