States of Siege: SOVIET DAWN
I’ve played a few of the States of Siege games created by Darren Leviloff and expanded by other designers from Victory Point Games, and by and large, I find them to be interesting and entertaining, but not really classic wargames. Victory Point Games’ description of States of Siege games tend to bear his opinion out, as they refer to them as “storytelling games“. Indeed, I suspect that might be the best descriptor for a solitaire game that really doesn’t feature combat in a classic board wargaming sense. In almost every game in the series, the player is assigned a central position on a map, there are many tracks leading into that position with markers on them of some sort, and the game consists of playing event cards that move the markers– usually referred to as “Fronts” backwards and forwards on the track until they reach the center, or the game ends, or some other more obscure victory condition is met. As a game, State of Siege games are only slightly above the level of Candyland in terms of mechanics. As a storytelling/alternative history generator/teaching “experience”, State of Siege games can be quite entertaining, especially for a player that is somewhat versed in the game’s putative subject matter. In my experience, I have not really enjoyed State of Siege games beyond the first couple of plays, because I find the gameplay is so simplistic it hardly matters what the outcome is. If victory is avoiding “fronts” attacking the central position, well, it will happen or it won’t; it all depends on what cards are available when and how well you play them.
At least, that was my conclusion after five plays of my first purchase, the Israeli War of Independence. After which, I put the game on a shelf and haven’t played it since.
I’ve played a few others since then, but have held off on actually buying any more, having arrived at the conclusion that the games’ basic mechanic was almost cookie-cutter in simplicity and I wasn’t going to bother with other games in a series that that didn’t appear to have a lot of strategic depth to it. This was before the release of Soviet Dawn. Soviet Dawn is a State of Siege game that covers a favorite historical period for me, the Russian Revolution, ensuing Civil War, Intervention, and Russo-Polish War, roughly from 1919 to 1922.
This is a time period that I have always maintained a high level of interest in. A state of chaos had descended on Eastern Europe in the wake of World War One. The old empires had fallen or were in the process of rapid collapse, and in their place arose the fringe element. It was an interesting time, in the Chinese sense of the term, and perhaps no one place was more interesting than Russia in the wake of World War I, which experienced in rapid succession: the Abdication of the Czar, the collapse of the Eastern Front (and a separate peace with the Germans), the Provisional Government, the Russian Revolution, and the inevitable civil war between so-called “White” conservatives and Red Communists (with a heavy levy of nationalists, anarchists and foreign intervention to make the conflict interesting). Surprisingly, for such a tiny game, much of that history is reflected in the design of Soviet Dawn– not as an order of battle and certainly not as part of the game mechanics, which are somewhat generic, but as part of the historical event cards that regulate the advance of “fronts” on all sides of Moscow during the conflict. Darin Leviloff’s research was up to speed for SOVIET DAWN, and every conceivable event you can think of is reflected in the historical events. The Event Deck has three “epochs” which change game play to a small extent– Twilight, Darkness and Dawn. These equate to “Early War” “Mid War” and “Late War” for practical purposes. Epoch phase deck are played sequentially and are “set off” by trigger cards– if you draw a trigger card, it triggers incorporating the next Epoch into the earlier deck, shuffling the larger deck and drawing from it. In this manner the game does follow, more or less, the course of history without worrying about bothersome details like dates having to follow each other in a rigid timeline. As in all STATE OF SIEGE games, the cards will activate 1 or 2 “front” pieces that will advance along a track unless the player intercedes in some fashion. And like all STATE OF SIEGE games, if one of those fronts makes it to “home” (Moscow), the player must hang it up and try again.
If that was all there was to SOVIET DAWN, I wouldn’t be incredibly enthusiastic about it. After all, the tactical options are almost meaningless. There’s only such much enthusiasm I can muster for “if-I-roll-six-on-1D6-I-save-the-motherland” style mechanics. However, Mr. Leviloff has added some very nice chrome to the design which I hadn’t noticed in other games– like the ability to enhance the Soviet military position by adding optional support units like the Red Army Tank Corps, the dreaded Cheka, or armored trains. These in addition to the great historical text on the cards, gives this design the unique immersive flavor it so badly needs to be something other than just another STATE OF SIEGE game.
Add on top of that the political index, which rises and lowers through the play of specially marked event cards, is yet another way to win or lose the game. I am enjoying that aspect of the game tremendously, as it adds to the historical flavor and makes it less of a stand up wargame.
In conclusion, SOVIET DAWN is a good, solid design about the emergence of the Soviet State. The design will not surprise you unduly if you have played other STATES OF SIEGE games. However, unlike other titles in the series I think this one might have the most replayability so far, due to the distinct historical flavor that Mr. Leviloff has added in. SOVIET DAWN is one of my better Victory Point Game purchases, and it will get played again, if not exactly constantly, by this correspondent. The contents are a very colorful map, 9 paged rulebook, front piece art, small die-cut counter sheet of about 20 counters and a series of thick cards made from card stock with what appears to be inkjet labels glued on top. If you want to keep your game for a longer period before it dissolves from the oil in your fingertips, it is highly advisable to pick up some small, cheap card sleeves. The production values on this design struck me as being particularly good– colorful and very thematic in that grand deco art scheme that reminds one of Soviet propaganda from the period. I am very enthusiastic about the publisher, Victory Point Games, as they seem to have single-handedly brought back the concept of the small, easy to afford microgame. I’m a big fan of that notion in an era of 100 dollar boardgames that I may, or may NOT like.
SOVIET DAWN can be ordered on the Victory Point Games website, and costs 22.95. There is an expansion for this game which offers a few more cards and counters, but I want to “play the game out” before buying an expansion, so I can’t comment on it.