Remember when the United States invaded Russia? No? The Russians do. It was September 1918, not long after the Russian Civil War had toppled the Czar. There was a war going on at the time (World War 1) and the fall of the Czar meant a de facto truce broke out between Russia and Germany. This was bad news for the Entente – it meant Germany could ship a bunch of troops and supplies from its eastern front to its western front. This could have tipped the balance of the war.
The Entente decided on a daring mission: the Siberian Intervention. It had a threefold purpose: rescue some Czech troops that had gotten caught behind Russian lines; keep war stockpiles from falling into German hands; and install a White government that would restart the war against Germany. As a bonus, there were a lot of Communists/Bolsheviks over there to shoot.
The intervention was a failure – the Bolsheviks had overwhelming popular support and greater manpower. Also, turns out Siberia is cold in the winter, and very large. The signing of an armistice between the Entente and Germany in November obviated the need for an Entente presence in Russia and the final evacuation happened in Spring of 1920. At least the Czechs made it out.
“Revolution Under Siege” is an old-school board-style turn-based strategy game covering the Russian Civil War (1917-1923). This is a too-often overlooked war, perhaps because the American contingent was so small (about 13,000 soldiers) which means that game companies believe American gamers won't buy it (under the theory that American gamers only buy historical games about medieval times, or wars Americans fought in).
Way back when war gamers lived under bridges the only type of game in existence involved pushing cardboard counters around a board, rolling dice, and consulting tables. The first computer war games were pretty much just ports of this style of game. Some progress has been made since then but there is still a lot of life in the paradigm, especially when doing detailed modeling.
This is just the sort of war the AGEOD engine is meant to work with. There is infantry, cavalry, artillery, armored trains, supply wagons, boats, airplanes and who knows what else, each of which has a name, a movement rate, offensive power, defensive power, movement rate, morale, strength, cohesion, and a zillion other properties. Each of these units belongs in a particular location under a specific command hierarchy with attendant supply and coordination problems. It can all seem a little overwhelming at first but is necessary if the conflict is to be accurately modeled.
After an initial period of feeling overwhelmed, the quality of the AGEOD engine shines through. Much of the micro-management that a lesser engine forces on the player (such as supply lines or command hierarchies) is abstracted away by the engine. Not entirely away – you can still tell when your units are leaderless, for example – but it is generally clear what the problem is and what straightforward action needs to be done to fix it. For example, if you see the Third Army is short on supplies you can be sure that moving it nearer the supply depot means that it will automatically draw down what food and ammunition are available. There is no one way to strike the control vs. playability balance but the AGEOD engine represents a noteworthy solution.
Once the interface and mechanics learning curves are overcome (a set of 3 tutorials helps, but they are too short) it is time to actually play the game. To its credit “Revolution Under Siege” is easy to play at a basic level. Everyone is familiar with the idea of pushing counters around and fighting, and the game can be enjoyed on that level. To play at a high level, however, requires the player to delve deeper into the manual.
The first thing to understand is the command hierarchy. To simplify, there are divisions, corps and armies. Every group should be led by a leader of the appropriate rank – the bigger the group, the better the leader must be. The leader of a group can have various bonuses which he provides to his group, for example a bonus to ammunition supply. Divisions and corps can be attached to armies, allowing the army leader's bonuses to also apply to the attached group. Using an effective command hierarchy can turn a ramshackle bunch of troops into an organized fighting machine.
Also important is control. Military control reflects your armed presence in a region. Without military control supplies cannot pass, obtain control and stop enemy units in their tracks. Civilian loyalty is like military control but with civilians; high loyalty is required to reach victory conditions, low loyalty can give rise to partisan units. Never forget that civil wars revolve around the people fighting them, not firepower or supply.
Somewhat more abstract, but of great importance, is National Morale. Every battle won (or lost), every city taken (or abandoned), every leader promoted (or lost) can make National Morale go up (or down). National Morale affects some very important things: max unit cohesion, unit cohesion recovery, supply and asset production, and possibly even victory status. In other words, everybody likes a winner and will work hard to be on the winning side.
There are many other mechanics to understand before a full campaign should be attempted – there are special rules for planes, trains and boats, command postures, weather, fortifications, unit visibility, unit and leader experience, and so forth. One can play without knowing them, but sub-optimally and without the fun they bring.
What's wrong with the game? At times it can feel more like “Spreadsheet Under Siege” than a titanic struggle of men and ideologies being fought over a dozen time zones. There are shining moments – times when your left wing comes crashing down on the unprepared enemy – but it takes a lot of dry work to get to that point. This feeling is inherent to the style of game “Revolution Under Siege” is and is not necessarily a knock against it in itself, but it does severely limit the number of gamers who might enjoy the title.
In the end this game sits in an uneasy niche: it is not as economically complex as “Civilization 5”; not as easy to play as “World Supremacy”; but also not as in-depth as “War in the Pacific”. “Revolution Under Siege” hits the target. It remains to be seen whether anybody wanted this target hit.
To summarize: the AGEOD engine does a good job of modeling an interesting period in history. This game should appeal to military and history buffs, and gamers looking for a little more detail to their strategy game than most titles provide.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
A solid engine brings an interesting conflict to life. No shortage of grognard fun, but not for the faint of heart.