Table for One: Revolt in the East (SPI/S&T) Review

Standard

Many a wargame exists on hypothetical NATO/Warsaw Pact conflicts after the Second World War. Fewer still exist—possibly just one—on a joint NATO and Warsaw Pact conflict against the Soviet Union in that same time period.

Using the freedom afforded by the need to stick a complete game in a magazine every two months, SPI delivered a decidedly fresh take on the Cold War in James F. Dunnigan’s Revolt in the East, postulating a potential NATO intervention in an uprising spreading throughout disaffected Warsaw Pact member nations. Simple in design and streamlined in execution, Revolt in the East manages to provide an engaging game on a decidedly undergamed topic, even if the constraints of the basic SPI game “chassis” get occasionally in the way.

Overview

Revolt in the East: Warsaw Pact Rebellion in the 1970s
Simulations Publications Inc. (SPI), 1976
Strategy & Tactics 56
Designed by James F. Dunnigan

Revolt in the East, Cover image

Revolt in the East saw life as a “folio” sized game included in one of SPI’s house magazines, Strategy & Tactics, Issue 56 (May/June 1976). Coming in at an even hundred half-inch mounted counters, matte printed on the front only, and with a simple four-panel matte printed map measuring 22″ x 16″, the folio format severely limited the design space available—and probably helped drive many game development decisions. Other than lacking sufficient informational/mnemonic markers for tracking which Warsaw Pact cities are in revolt, however, the game doesn’t seem to have suffered from the physical restraints imposed upon it.

The counters feature typical Redmond Simonsen discipline, using generic “army man” figures for ground combat units (each representing an army or corps) and top-down aircraft silhouettes (F-4 for NATO, MiG-25 for the Soviet Union). Specific unit designations are provided, with the only other numbers on the counter a combat strength and, for air and airborne units, a range. The color registration on my copy leaves a fair bit to be desired, with about an sixteenth of an inch of offset color on several of the Warsaw Pact and Neutral nation counters. (I suppose it’s too late to write to SPI for replacements…)

Revolt in the East,  Situation in Bulgaria

The accompanying article on the game in Strategy & Tactics goes into detail about the locations of the various units in play, but in practice, the game does set too great a store on which unit sets up in which hex so long as it has the proper nationality and combat strength.


The cream, blue, and brown map encompasses West Germany, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania (Rumania here), Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania, with bits of bordering country territory around most of them. Setup codes litter the map, but in actual play (and, alas, set up!) they tend to blend in. More irritatingly, the crucial city hex iconography disappears under any counters in the hex; while a few hours of working with the map teaches one the location of Plovdiv and Brno eventually, the lack of some sort of hex border or other demarcation around these locations, whose occupation and control forms the sole object of the game, would have been appreciated. Too, the map does not have space for a Terrain Effects Chart, but does give copious room to the rather squiggly and seldom used mountainous area of the Alps.

Revolt in the East, the Alps and Austria

Four scenarios come with the game; all, of course, are hypothetical, but two, the Hungarian Revolt Scenario in 1956 and the Czechoslovakia Resists Scenario in 1968, stem from actual events, allowing players to game out what would have happened if other Warsaw Pact countries had revolted at the same time and if NATO had intervened in those real-life struggles. The main, Standard, scenario allows for a variety of options in terms of what countries revolt and when (and even if) NATO intervenes; and an oddly prescient Yugoslavian Revolution Scenario postulates the break-up of that amalgamated country into a civil war, with the Soviets and NATO taking sides.

Gameplay

Unlike some of SPI’s other forays into the political sphere (notably their “Power Politics” games), Revolt in the East remains a wargame through and through, even though the political component of any Warsaw Pact uprising would be of at least equal importance as the military component. Warsaw Pact countries in Revolt in the East join the eponymous movement through the Warsaw Pact Revolt Table, the number of potential uprisings linked to the number of cities currently in revolt.

Revolt in the East, Warsaw Pact Revolt Table

Revolt here is all or nothing—a more nuanced take might see some, or none, of a country’s military forces joining the civilian populace in open rebellion; or, conversely, the military might rebel while the populace remains noncommittal. Revolt is also irreversible. Though Warsaw Pact units, once eliminated, never return to play, their cities bounce right back into revolt once certain criteria are met. The ease with which NATO can liberate a city, laboriously suppressed by the Soviets, lends them an edge, magnified by the Soviet need to garrison revolting cities until the national capital itself is suppressed and all revolting military units of that nation eliminated.

Warsaw Pact and, once intervention has been triggered, NATO units move and fight in the same phases, with no restrictions on their coordination other than the hard prohibition that Warsaw Pact units may never leave their home countries. The Soviets face limits in stacking with unrevolted Warsaw Pact units and cities, though they are allowed reduced movement rates in unrevolted countries, reflecting their usage of the rail network. And, given that Poland sees most of the end-game fighting, the closer replacement and reinforcements locations work to Soviet advantage.

Combat features a standard odds based system, with rounding favoring the defender. The lack of steps or other incremental degradation of force makes combat, as is typical of the time and publisher, focused on encirclements (to turn Defender Retreat results into Defender Eliminated) and dramatic losses. Given the relatively low counter density and limited stacking capability, an Exchange result can see a full Soviet army lost in an attack against a much smaller NATO corps (or, in a frequent occurrence, against a city in revolt).

Revolt in the East, Combat Results Table

This kind of drastic all-or-nothing Combat Results Table doesn’t serve the game well as a simulation—just how a city in revolt can eliminate the four to five divisions of a Soviet army remains uncertain, even if one generously equates elimination with being made ineffective as a fighting force. When tied to the replacement system that brings Soviet units back after four turns (a month of game time) and NATO units back after two turns, though, the elimination function works decently to provide fairly well-balanced gameplay.

A rudimentary supply system exists for NATO and Soviet units, consisting of a simple trace to the respective map edges at the start of the Movement Phase and the moment of combat. Warsaw Pact forces, neatly, are always in supply, as they can never leave their home countries.

Zones of Control in Revolt in the East are both sticky and, somewhat oddly, not counteracted by the presence of friendly forces for any purpose whatsoever, making supply cutoffs/encirclements far easier than in a more traditional wargame where friendly forces negate enemy ZOC. Towards the end of the game, once NATO has intervened and the disparity in replacement speed begins to tell, encirclement becomes the primary means of engagement.

Revolt in the East, Encirclement at Leipzig

Air power plays a highly abstracted role here, moving on map at ranges that would suggest a sortie system or other there-and-back-again mission system; instead, air units actually move to the hex in order to bring their ability into play, while remaining immune to all ZOC or other ground unit effects. Air power provides straight odds shifts for the attacker only, there being no defensive shift, and any number may be brought to bear, allowing a single NATO corps to punch well above its weight should the WP/NATO player allocate sufficient air units.

In general, Revolt in the East encourages attacking play, even allowing players to split attacks from a single hex into multiple hexes. The rules for this are half-baked (and seldom advisable in real play anyway), but the mere presence of the rule suggests to players that a patient defense will prove unrewarding.

Revolt in the East, Soviet assaults against initial NATO intervention

Victory hinges entirely on occupation of the twenty-one Warsaw Pact cities on the map at the end of the twelfth turn; this number of cities may vary, depending on the quite rare entrance of Neutral countries or certain Warsaw Pact nations not revolting. It’s a zero-sum state, with the cities not needing to be in supply or, in most cases, garrisoned, leading to tense end game situations of daring airborne drops, sneaky moves between ZOCs, and desperate cross-river attacks.

Solo Play Suitability

Depending on how the early Warsaw Pact Revolt Table rolls pan out, it’s quite possible that NATO will not intervene at all, making for a rather one-sided affair. Optional rules for the Standard scenario (and explicit scenario rules for the others) provide a mandatory intervention point for NATO, but from a solo player perspective, the uncertainty of NATO entry provides an intriguing mix of puzzle and tension, both necessary ingredients for a satisfying solitaire experience. Efficient planning is required in the early Soviet turns; a single failed city assault can set back the entire strategy, and thanks to the unforgiving CRT, even on the highest odds column, a roll of six will eliminate an attacking army with no loss to the city.

Revolt in the East, A well-prepared city assault

Even with a more normal set of revolt rolls that sees NATO enter play between Turns Three through Five, the gameplay ebbs and flows, such that NATO and then the Soviets enjoy periods where they determine how play will proceed. Inevitably, NATO will enter while the Soviets are focused inwards, attempting to herd the many Warsaw Pact cats armed with tanks and armored personnel carriers, allowing NATO to dictate the terms of engagement. The Soviets then find themselves faced with the competing demands of mopping up and turning to face the new foe.

Given the NATO edge in air power and, initially, shorter reinforcement and replacement distances, the game tends to shift their way, with an ominous pile of eliminated Soviet units building on the turn track, waiting to return en masse. Then, NATO and the Warsaw Pact have the task of liberating cities from Soviet control, simultaneously having to avoid splitting their lesser-strength units. Because air power cannot help on defense, isolated or single-stacked NATO/WP units prove easy prey to the much larger Soviet units.

The initiative, as it were, shifts between the two sides sufficiently that one side is driving play and the other, hanging on for dear life, with concurrently little in the way of decision making. Where these periods of game-driven docility make for an occasionally unsatisfying two player experience, for the solo player, they offer ideal solitaire gaming situations.

Revolt in the East, Towards the End Game, Standard Scenario

Even in the tense final turns, where each side attempts to pick off or protect that one city that will flip victory, there’s no real chance to try to win the game for one side or the other subconsciously—the objectives are clear, the options limited (by the truncated folio countermix and design) and usually obvious, and the fate of the Warsaw Pact often comes down to the unblinking, uncaring die. From the perspective of a solo player, that’s a fine state of affairs, providing a satisfying gameplay experience wherein both sides were played to the utmost.

Final Die Roll

Revolt in the East certainly fulfills its design remit—a short (five to six hours or so) wargame examining an non-nuclear confrontation pitting NATO and the Warsaw Pact against the Soviet Union, all amidst the backdrop of a potential Warsaw Pact rebellion. The game captures nicely the confused situations the Soviets would have found themselves in, in the game’s admittedly unlikely scenario, driving into, say, Bulgaria, uncertain if once-friendly Romania would turn at any moment and threaten the rear flanks.

As an analysis of the political turmoil and complexity that would doubtless accompany such rebellions, the game falls woefully short, with the real-life ramifications of NATO intervention (particularly in the lock-step manner shown here, with perfect intra-alliance coordination) completely ignored in favor of a simple intervention die roll. But to its credit, Revolt in the East never holds itself out as even attempting to address those issues. It does what it says on the tin, exploring the logistics of the military component in such a rebellion rather than figuring out how or why the military (on all sides) is involved at all.

As a game, then, opposed to a simulation, Revolt in the East provides an engaging contest with an unique, if perhaps fantastical, premise. The limited play space and unit count make for relatively quick play, an easy rules lift, and an approachable table footprint. For the Cold War wargamer, Revolt in the East deserves a playthrough, if not a spot in the library.

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