Red Dawn: A Russian Civil War Megagame AAR [Part 1]

We’ve talked about Megagames before on The Wargamer. If you’re not sure what they’re about, please see the first part of another AAR on a game I played last year, covering a Warsaw PACT-NATO conflict in 1980’s Germany.

This is an account of what happened at Red Dawn, where I was Commander of the Bolshevik forces on the Ukraine & Caucuses map. As always, this account is a more personal reflection of how I viewed the events of the day: while the broad strokes are true, there will be a lot of other viewpoints missing. I’ve also streamlined and/or embellished a lot of the minutia to give a more compelling narrative, but everything is true as far as I understood it on the day.


To summarise, Red Dawn is a Megagame created by veteran gamer Bernard Ganley to mark the centennial of the October Revolution. Starting in the Winter of 1917/18, the newly in-charge Bolsheviks (Reds) would have to fight for supremacy against the old Imperialist (White) forces, a myriad of Cossack, regional & anarchist forces vying for independence (Greens) and intervening Great Powers like Germany, France & America (Blues). This was a map-based game at the quasi-Operational/Strategic level, but there was also a heavy political element. There were more political players on the Reds team than there were operational players, as an example.

It’s the third time Bernard’s run the game, although this version was quite different from his previous iterations to take into account greater availability of players and to bring in more of the political dimension. As such the actual operational rules were more streamlined.

Several leading members of the SovNarKom, including Lenin, Trotsky & Stalin.

Here is a summary of how Operations worked on the day:

  • Apart from ‘Winter’ turns, there are three Operational phases which involved movement, in faction order White, Red, Green & Blue, then Combat. In Winter there was only one Operational phase.
  • All Cavalry Armies, Cossack Armies & Anarchists could move up to 3 locations via rail, or cross country between two locations no more than 10″ apart. All other armies could only move up to two locations via rail.
  • Max two friendly armies per location. Combat occurs whenever two opposing armies meet, although the defender can choose to retreat on location instead of fighting.
  • Combat was number-based. You added the ‘Combat Effectiveness’ of any friendly armies present, taking into account your general’s combat modifier (could be negative) and then playing up to two tactical cards per army. You then also took into account the modifiers of any equipment present, which could be from Tanks, Air Squadrons, River Flotillas etc… Finally, you could spend up to two ammo cubes per army. Roll a dice per cube spent, and take the highest result.
  • The side with the highest total is the Winner, who would then inflict a third of their score on the Loser. The Loser would inflict a fifth of their own score back, but would also have to retreat up to two locations.

There were other rules governing how losses were taken, but the important part is that an army had two key stats – their combat effectiveness, and their troop level (in increments of 5,000). Generally, losses could be taken from either stat, but when an army loses its final troop level it’s wiped off the map. As long as it’s still in being though, it can be reinforced from cities by spending garrison tokens (which get generated every turn).

The Ukraine/Caucuses Map at the beginning of the game.

The day started off a little shaky as both players and control tried to get used to the various rules and processes in the strategic phase. This can also be viewed as an economy phase of sorts, as a team’s task is to draw cards for their cities, and generate resources depending on what’s on those cards and what the political situation in the city is. The larger your garrisons, the more cards you can choose from that turn. It’s simple enough, but very fiddly and always ends up a bit of a mosh pit as when the various pieces run out, that’s it, no more. Ammo, for example, would become a constant problem as the game wore on.

Once we’d gotten the hang of that though, focus shifted to ‘The War’…

The Whites Are Coming

The first turn or two things went largely as expected and I was reasonably confident of our military situation. At Tsaritsyn, on the banks of the Volga river, a 25,000 strong contingent in the form of the 10th Army was stationed with a forgettable General and a couple of river flotillas as back up. The 13th Army was downriver at the mouth of the Volga at Astrakhan (on the northern shore of the Caspian Sea), where another two river flotillas resided.

Not from my map, but a close up of armies when engaged.

That was smaller, at 15,000 strong force with another disappointing general (you might see a pattern developing here). Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Socialist Army (20,000 men) was at Bryansk, in the north-west of the Map, and the 9th Army (15,000) was at Voronezh, just north of Tsaritsyn. All the way down south, in a city called Novorossick on the shores of the Black Sea, the 11th Army (25,000) was trapped by the Kuban Cossacks blocking the way.

The Whites only had one army on this map in the form of General Anton Denikin’s ‘Volunteer Army’. It made a move in our direction almost immediately and I suspected they would attack Tsaritsyn. I wasn’t too concerned at this point – they were the only real enemy we had at the start of the game and I expected them to make a move on us somewhere. I decoded to advance the 9th army south to reinforce, and I also moved the Ukranians away from the border we held with the Germans since the treaty of Brest-Litovsk was still in place and I wasn’t expecting to have to fight them. The 13thArmy at Astrakhan was moved north, leaving the city vulnerable but at the time I couldn’t see anyone I needed to worry about in the short-term.

A dark vision of the future…

Lacking any specific orders from Trotsky or the War Ministry, my main objective was to get a feel for how the combat rules worked in practice. Even knowing the rules we’ve laid out above, the differences between the various factions needed to be experienced ‘in person’, as it were, to really make any meaningful tactical decisions. For example, the Whites had Generals with better modifiers than ours, and their armies could reach higher levels of Combat Effectiveness. Meanwhile, the Cossack’s Cavalry-based armies could move around the map more freely, making them very dangerous in terms of flanking manoeuvres and cutting off supply lines. The Reds lacked decent Generals and ‘quality’ armies, but they made up for it by being able to field large numbers and had access to decent resources and equipment provided we kept control of key cities. We also had some very useful cards that would come into play later in the game.

All this I learned when the White army advanced on Tsaritsyn and expelled us from the city with relative ease, although we did inflict some damage back. The following turn, I launched a counter offensive with both the 10th & 9th Armies, although we were beaten back a second time, losing out by just 1 point. This would be a common theme of my game, as all other things being equal the extra combat points the White’s could generate kept tipping them the advantage.

A wide-shot of the room with all the various maps and team-tables.

In terms of tactics, I would learn over time that it’s more of a matter of cutting off their access to reinforcements, and inflicting death by a thousand cuts (provided you could keep regenerating your armies faster than they could).

Anyway – despite not managing to re-take the city, I’d managed to get the Ukrainians in place to flank Tsaritsyn from the west. The 13th Army was still making its way north as well, so all-in-all I didn’t expect this situation to last for very long. I was slightly concerned that the Cheka or other various political elements of the Bolshevik team would start investigating me for losing pretty much from the first turn, but then I also had a general order from Lenin to not waste too many resources and fall back if I had too. Going back to the Team room, I felt quietly optimistic.

Then everything got a little FUBAR.

Read Part Two.