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Quick Looks; Red Star / White Eagle

I generally hate it when people describe designs or ideas in games as dated, because many of the most innovative games  are older than I am. Equally it implies there is something innately good about new designs, which I don't think there is.

Dune is arguably the best multiplayer 'war' boardgame and the 70s basic DnD is in my view still the best RPG. I wasn't born until the late 80s and didn't discover these things to the mid 2000s so this isn't nostalgia doing my thinking, its just that some old ideas are better than new ones, despite our apparent 'progress'.

Back when Roger B MacGowan did cool art house covers

But having said all this Red Star / White Eagle is a dated game design. And this matters if you are looking at popping £70 on a new reprint of it from Compass Games. I am a wary cheapskate so I picked up a second hand copy with a trashed box of ebay for £20. It was worth it, but only just.

Poles have just been creamed on the south western front after being outflanked badly

Red Star / White Eagle is a GDW 1979 Hex and Counter wargame covering the 1920 Russo - Polish war. Everything I know about this war comes from a Russian film I borrowed off Pete with a vulgur fat cossack in it (Pete remind me what it was called in the comments!). In my minds eye I view this war as a battle between lower calibre armies chaotically slogging it out. Because this is a 70s game there is very little in the way friction of war or command and control. It is an I go U go game, move then attack and your armies function like clock work. The map is split into two fronts for the Russians, and their units go out of command if they cross the boundary line but other than this command and control is perfect.

There are things about this game I love but I cannot quite be immersed in this story if I have perfect control over my army.

Lets look at the good stuff; 
There is an interesting map situation. The Polish start off in the much stronger position and can almost clean the Russians off the board, but then the reinforcement chart will spray reds across the eastern map edge like a faulty fire hydrant. The tide will roll back and the defense of Warsaw is on. It has a good flow and narrative arc.

You cannot defend in this game. Most eastfront games are about building a big front and then piercing it and having salients and pockets and all that jazz. Here your forces are two small for the frontage so you can always be outflanked. Order of the day is manouvre warfare, that holy grail of wargames. You will either be racing to the next river you can use as a speed bump or out flanking your opponent on the attack. This is a play ground for tactical hustlers.

The CRT is bonkers. In my last two eastfront game reviews I said the CRT was bloody, this takes the biscuit. Its a D6 roll, and on the vast majority of odds ratios you have a 1/3rd to 2/3rds chance of rolling and exchange or half exchange. An exchange result means all the attackers or defenders are wiped out and the same value of attack or defense hits are applied to the other side. So most battles result in near mutual destruction. Even with 8:1 odds massive losses to the attacker are will occur in 1/2 of die rolls.

It has armoured trains! Quite a lot of them and an extensive rail network to hammer them around like rooks on a chess board. And they are sort of useful. A lot of games throw in novelty units and they either do nothing or get blown up in first action, here the fancy units are actual assets.

The bad;
The core system is the 70s I go Ugo, combat CRT no thrills wargame. It uses the default game engine if you will, and then layers the content on top with chrome rules. There are a bunch of rules for minor nations and specific events on certain turns but its all just crap you have to remember for that specific  turn or edge case. There is no system or simulation idea to handle it, and in a more modern design I might expect this.

Whilst the open ended manouvre is great, it produces too many possibilities. The best games provide you with a few clear options and make you pull your teeth out choosing between them. Here there are sometimes too many movement options and the game becomes feels arbitrary.

Because your casualties and replacements are so high you spend a lot of time book keeping, redeploying units, and then shuffling them towards the front lines. Its busy work that after about 10 turns becomes a bit dull. Especially if the same brigade has already been wiped out and reformed 6 times the narrative becomes a bit flimsy.

I already ragged on the lack of command and control. It does have decent supply rules, makes good use of its rail net and is just an interesting little gamed war. I would love to play this game against someone who was good as the Poles. They seem to be up against it, but if they could fall back well and utilise their home rail net well they could exploit the central position and pull of a Tannenburg type win.

I'm glad I resisted temptation and didn't pop £70 on the Compass Games reprint, this is a game that shows its age. There's good stuff but it feels not quite enough when I look at many of the 80s and newer games on my shelf. If it was redeveloped with either chit pull or some sort of variance in activation or turn order it could really come to life, but as it is it feels like an artifact.


  1. So not a classic then. There is a Brian Train pnp set in this war that I am tempted to get.

    The film you borrowed was this one:



  2. I cant believe you werent born till the late 80s!!?!! (Hope all is well?)


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