Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Review of Red Actions by The Perfect Captain

In my previous post I briefly outlined why the Russian Civil War (RCW) appeals to me. This post continues the RCW theme by looking at the rule set I normally use to game the period.
There are a few sets of wargame rules that can be used to game RCW, some of which I have tried, and others which I have merely read but not gamed. A good example of the second category would be ‘Back of Beyond’ which seems to me to be aimed at armies of individually mounted 28mm figures. My armies comprise 15mm figures produced by Peter Pig. I originally based my figures for use with Principle of War rules (TM Penn, 1995), because at the time my main wargaming opponent liked these rules for a wide range of different historical games. After only a couple of games we both rapidly agreed that these rules did not capture the feel of the RCW and the games simply degenerated into long range slugging matches with little or no fluid movement of the armies. My search for a replacement set of rules began. My first attempt was to adapt the game system of Piquet (2nd Ed; Bob Jones, 1998). In many ways Piquet is a toolbox set of rules that facilitates this sort of approach. I worked out different sequence decks for all the major protagonists and tried, with limited success, to include the ‘modern’ technological developments of tanks, armoured cars etc. I hoped the large fluctuations in command control and unit performance would fit well with the vagaries of the RCW. The final result did work (I think) but I found Piquet works best as a solo rule set, and that in opposed games the random nature of the rules, especially the command initiative, can occasionally kill an individual game. Also, Piquet is a ‘Marmite’ set of rules, players either love or hate the game system, and this tends to make it unsuitable for open access, club games. I have since also tried Field of Battle (Brent Oman, 2006) which is very similar rule system but with the command initiative fluctuation toned down, but the ‘Marmite’ flavour was still off-putting to many players. As my armies comprised Peter Pig figures, it was logical to try their Square Bashing rules (RFCM, 1997) with the ‘Proletarians, to Horse!’ supplement (RFCM, 1998). I found these rules gave a reasonable game but lacked the historical colour and fluidity I was searching for. I have played the more recent 2nd edition rules (RFCM, 2012) using 1914 WW1 forces and liked them a lot but, although I have not tried them for RCW battles, I suspect they will again fail for the same reasons as the earlier edition. RFCM also produce a set of rules for modern African wars (AK47 Republic, 1st Ed, RFCM, 1997) and I have downloaded a variant to convert their use to RCW games. I have yet to try them but think they might be interesting and work OK.
In the midst of my search I came across Red Actions by The Perfect Captain, a Canadian group of wargamers. These are a free set of rules published on the web (perfectcaptain.50megs.com) specifically targeted to the Russian Civil War. Although they are nominally free, they will cost a substantial amount when taking into account all the print cartridges required for printing. This cost is well worthwhile because the graphics are truly excellent. It would be possible to simply collate the stats for all the different units into a simple, cheap spreadsheet but this would negate one of the great attractions of the rules. The rules themselves are fairly simple and are written in a question/answer format in a style that reflects the context of the RCW and this again adds a tremendous amount of flavour. All the elements of the war are present; different unit types, different weapons, tanks, armoured cars, tchankas, Bolshevik commissars, plus armoured trains, aircraft  etc. The basic unit structure is the company each comprising 2-6 bases or platoons. Different unit types have different stats reflecting their movement, firing, elan, rally, panic etc. plus any special characteristics. Each company has a named officer (randomly drawn chit) whose individual characteristics can modify the unit stats. Heavy weapons (MG, artillery, armoured vehicles etc.) are single base units lacking an officer. The game turn uses an IGOUGO structure on an alternating unit basis. One of the major decisions faced by players is which units to activate, when, and in what order. Some actions can trigger an automatic reaction from an opposing enemy unit. Firing and combat inflict ‘Terror’ (which can be rallied) and ‘Humiliation’ (which is permanent) effects. Units rout if the number of Terror/Humiliation markers exceed the number of stands of the company. Simple morale tests are taken to enable units to rally, to charge an enemy, to receive a charge etc. As well as joy to behold, these rules work very smoothly using a QRS with little recourse to the rulebook itself. They are enjoyable and are easy to teach to gamers new to the period.
I have played many (100’s) of games using Red Actions. Most of the games I play are fairly small and use forces of 100-200 points per side. This is because I like the battlefield not to be too cluttered with units but to have space on the flanks for mounted troops to operate. I have not used armoured trains very much (they cost too much e.g. 70-100 points), so I cannot comment on how well the rules work for them. Overall I can find little to fault with the rules but there are some subtle nuances that new players fail to grasp in their first few games and I hope the following points may be of use:
  • Machineguns (and tchankas) can appear to be devastating but because they cannot rally, they are fragile. Try to use them at long range so they are not exposed to danger unnecessarily.
  • Troops can shoot at full effect and then move. If you don’t plan to close with the enemy then use ‘evasive’ movement to reduce casualties. Don’t get fixated about shooting. Charging a poor quality enemy company often results in them routing before they can even fire at you.
  • Rally off ‘Terror’ markers as soon as possible because they become more and more difficult to remove as they accumulate. But don’t become obsessed by this action because it can seriously bog down your plans and surrender the initiative to your opponent.
  • Players (particularly White commanders) frequently allow their elite units to get into fire fights. Although these elite units are slightly better shots, this tactic whittles away their strength. They are best used aggressively. The ‘Shock’ characteristic (forgoing a retire result by losing a stand instead) may seem drastic but can allow you to launch charges in the next turn which can devastate a weaker enemy.
  • Artillery is the best (only) defence against tanks, but if you lack this defence then all is not lost. You can still easily win by taking out the enemy supporting troops (the tank will have soaked up a large number of enemy points). Armoured cars are better value (and more common) but are vulnerable to MG fire at short range.
Finally, I think the key to using these rules is to have fun, not take things too seriously, accept the vagaries of luck, and trust in revolution/mother Russia or whatever cause your faction is backing.

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