Friday, April 20, 2018

Quick Review - Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 - Kickstarter Preview

Dual Powers: Revolution 1917
Designer: Brett Myers
Publisher: Thunderworks Games
1-2p | 30-60m | 13+
Quick Review - Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 - Kickstarter Preview
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Over the past few years I've gotten to know more and more people in the board game industry.  Many I've only met online, but as I've gone to more design meetups I've had a chance to meet more designers and publishers in person.  At my very first Protospiel ever, in 2014, I got to meet Keith Matejka or Thunderworks Games, shortly after his first game, Bullfrogs, was published.  Since then I've gotten to know Keith pretty well, and it's kind of become a tradition for me to play his latest game at a Protospiel shortly before it launches and then give it a review.  I've done that for Roll Player and Roll Player: Monsters & Minions, Blend Off (by Scot Eaton - although I didn't play this at a Protospiel), and now I've had a chance to play his latest game (designed by Brett Myers), Dual Powers: Revolution 1917, just this past weekend at Protospiel Milwaukee.

On Saturday, Keith asked if I'd like to play Dual Powers and maybe write up a review.  I had seen a bit about the game in a few forums, but honestly war simulations don't generally attract me much, and the Russian Revolution isn't a period in history that is super high on my interest list.  Plus, two player games are more challenging for me to get to the table (although I do play solo games pretty frequently, especially smaller sized solo games).  So Dual Powers wasn't as high up on my interest list as some other Thunderworks Games titles that are on the horizon (like Lockup).  But I've never been steered wrong by Keith, so I agreed to give it a play and a review.  So does Dual Powers measure up to the other games in Thunderworks Games' catalog?  Or is this cause to revolt?  Read on to find out.

You can pick up Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 on Kickstarter for only $32, including US shipping through May 8, 2017.  The game is for 1-2 players, ages 13 and up (mechanically it should be fine for younger, but it may be too strategically deep for younger players), and plays in 30-60 minutes.
Absolutely gorgeous cover art, by the talented Kwanchai Moriya!
(Dinosaur Island, Flipships, Kodama, Kepler 3042, and many more.)
Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 is a one or two player game where each player is one side in the Russian Revolution, either the Bolsheviks or the Provisional Government.  If you're like me you have very little knowledge of this period in Russian history.  All I knew before this was that Tsar Nicholas was forced out of his throne and then, after a period of revolts and political fighting, the Soviets came to power and that was the birth of the USSR and communism.  Since playing the game I've learned a bit more about that period, and it's really a pretty fascinating time and really sets the stage for the world political climate for the next 100 years (and probably well into the future, too).

Revolutionaries protesting in February 1917 (from Wikipedia)
There are a few key bits of history that, while not necessary to play the game, really enhance your experience and historical historical immersion.  So here's a very brief history lesson...  First thing to note is that in 1917 Russia was still using the Julian calendar system and hadn't switched to the Gregorian system, so different resources will give different dates for events.  The dates I'll use here refer to the Julian calendar.  In February of 1917 (March in the Gregorian calendar) a series of strikes and riots among the working classes resulted in Tsar Nicholas demanding the Russian army quell the uprisings with force.  This resulted in mutiny by much of his army and widespread revolt.  Tsar Nicholas was forced to abdicate his throne and placed under house arrest by a Provisional Government that took shape.
One of the last photographs of Nicholas II,
after his abdication in March 1917
(from Wikipedia)

Russian First Provisional Government
(from Wikipedia)
This Provisional Government, led initially by Prince Georgy Lvov and later by Alexander Kerensky, was made up by a number of different leaders from a number of different political parties, thus it was a weak government and not able to accomplish much.  Over the next few months various groups worked to gain power.  Among them were the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who worked to gain the support of the Russian labor organizations, or Soviets.  Quickly, a dual power, or dvoevlastie, arose in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) with the Provisional Government on one side and the Petrograd Soviet on the other side.  On October 25, 1917 (November 7 in the Gregorian calendar) the powder keg exploded into a full-blown revolution, with the Bolshevik led Petrograd Soviet taking control.  In 1918 a 5-year long civil war between the Red Soviet army and the White Anti-Bolshevik army spanned the nation and in 1923 the last White army stronghold surrendered.

Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 takes place in the months between the initial February ousting of Tsar Nicholas and the October Revolution.  The object for the Provisional Government (white tokens) is to quell the uprising before October, while the Petrograd Soviet (red tokens) must wrestle control from the Provisional Government and spark the Russian Civil War.  There are also neutral units (green tokens) that represent the common populace.  Each side will fight for control of these neutral units to have them fight for their cause.
Soviets attacking the tsarist police in the early days of the Revolution.
(from Wikipedia)
There is one more bit of history that's helpful with understanding the game's theme.  This is the role of Leon Trotsky in the conflict.  Trotsky was initially a member of the less radical Menshevik soviet party.  He'll enter the game when the timeline hits May as a neutral unit.  Historically, May is when Trotsky returned to Russia after spending time promoting anti-war agendas and attending anti-war conferences in (and getting deported from) many European countries and the US.  Initially Trotsky was not a member of the Bolshevik party, but in August he was arrested, then later freed by the Bolsheviks in September, when he became Chairman of the Petrograd Soviet.  In the game, when the timeline hits August, Trotsky's unit will change from neutral to red, symbolizing his joining the Petrograd Soviet as a leader.

Bolshevik forces marching on the Red Square (from Wikipedia)
OK, so that's enough of a history lesson.  Hopefully you can see how this tug-of-war of power in Russia sets the stage for a fascinating game.  There are a ton of ways a game with this theme could be developed, and tons of ways it could play out.  It was a very tense period and any small difference could have completely changed the outcome of those months and years, which would have changed the entire history of the world.  It's quite exciting to portray such a key point in history.

With all this political drama, unrest, and revolution, you might expect a game based on that time to be full of military units, dice to resolve combat, strategic area control, economic engines, and everything else that's typical of your Axis & Allies style war games.  But this isn't the case for Dual Powers.  Instead this is an ingenious design that ends up being much more about deduction, deception, manipulation, and hidden strategy, much like the actual events were.  You aren't going to win Dual Powers simply through a show of force, or luck of the combat results.  Instead you'll have to dig deeper and think like your opponent so you can outwit him (or her).

So how does the game play?  It's actually much simpler than you might expect.  You can teach someone the rules in less than 5 minutes.  Dual Powers is, at it's core, an area control game.  You'll be deploying units to different areas of the board in attempts to control contested areas and gain points.  After a number of rounds someone will have gained enough points to be victorious.  Simple as that!
The game ends immediately if someone gets the score marker all the way to the Victory space on their side of the board.
Each player will have a set of tokens that represent their units.  There will also be a handful of neutral tokens, plus two tokens to represent Trotsky (a neutral one and a Petrograd Soviet one).  Each player will also get three leader cards to represent their faction's leaders (and matching tokens).  The game board is a map of Petrograd (St. Petersburg), divided into six regions.  Each region will have a random neutral token placed in it at the beginning of the game.  The board also features a calendar with a month track from February to November (with Feb/Mar and Apr/May being combined).  This will track time in the game and track the rounds until the end game is triggered.  There is also a deck of Common cards, which are used for multiple purposes that I'll get into a bit later.  A handful of other tokens and bits, like a score marker, Blockade token, Will of the People token, region tiles, etc. round out the components needed.
Here the game is set up for a two player game.
The game is played in a series of rounds that consist of four phases: Draw, Objective, Action, and Scoring.  There's also a brief phase between rounds where the board is prepared for the next round.  At the beginning of each game two regions are indicated to be a Region of Unrest and Blockaded.  In subsequent rounds the Blockaded region will become the Region of Unrest and a new Blockaded region is determined.  Move the Blockade token to the arrow matching the Blockaded region.  Units will be unable to move along that route during the round.
Four phases, plus a cleanup between rounds.  The Action Phase is the meat of the game.
In the Draw phase each player will draw five Common cards to their hand.  That's it.  In the Objective Phase each player will choose one of the cards in their hand (they may have more than five as the game progresses) to place face-down as their Objective.  This will be an additional region that will be contested during the Scoring phase and will be worth the number of points indicated on the card.  It could be a different region than the Region of Unrest, or it could be the same region.
Here the factories are Blockaded and the green area is the Area of Unrest.
The Action phase is the core of the gameplay.  Starting with the player that currently has the Will of the People token (the Petrograd Soviet starts the game with it), players will alternate playing either one of the Common cards from their hand, or one of their Leader cards.  Each card has a numerical value in the top left.  When played, you'll first advance the calendar the number of days indicated.  This can result in one of four things:
  1. The calendar token lands on a normal day and nothing special happens.  
  2. The calendar token lands on day 15, so the active player will get a bonus action after the normal action.  Bonus actions can be to recruit a unit, move a unit, refresh a unit, or draw a card.
  3. The calendar token lands on day 29, 30, or 31, so the token will slide forward to day 31 and the active player will get a bonus action.
  4. The calendar token wraps from day 31 to day 1 (or further), so the month token will also advance.  If it advances to April or August Trotsky will join the conflict.  He'll be neutral in April, and if he's still in the game by August he'll switch to the Petrograd Soviet side.  The player that advances the month will also acquire the Will of the People token.
Advancing the calendar keeps the clock ticking so the game ends, even if the tug-of-war of power stays equal.
Then you can take an action on the card.  Leaders have two actions and you may take both of them.  First, place the corresponding leader token into any region on the board, then take the leader's special action.  Each player has three leaders that have the same special actions, one per leader: peek at your opponent's secret objective, move the blockade, or take the Will of the People token.
Each side has their own leaders, each with special abilities.  Abilities and calendar days are the same across factions,
but leader's strengths are unique for each leader.
Common cards also have two actions, but you may only take one or the other.  The first action is to place between one and three recruitment points worth of units in the region indicated (each unit is worth between one and three recruitment points, but this may be different than the unit's strength).  The second action will vary based on the card: move a unit one region, move a unit two regions, or refresh a unit.
The cards are simple, but convey a ton of information.  Plus they have some nice historical quotes as flavor text.
Once each player has played their four cards you'll move on to the Scoring phase.  Starting with the Region of Unrest, then the losing player's Objective, and finally the leading player's Objective, players will compare control in each region.  Each unit tile has a large number and small number on it.  The large number is the unit's current strength.  The smaller number is the unit's strength on the opposite side of the token (one side of the token is for fresh units, the other for exhausted units, and some units actually become stronger when exhausted).  You'll take the sum of the units you control (if you control the Will of the People you'll also control any neutral tokens in the area).  Whoever has the most control (ties go to the most units, and subsequent ties go to whoever has the Will of the People) wins that region.  Winning the Region of Unrest will give the winner either points or a bonus action (place a unit, move a unit, refresh a unit, of draw a card).  Winning the Objective regions gives the winner points as indicated on the card (2-4 points).  
Starting with the Area of Unrest, compare faction strengths. 
Here the Petrograd Soviet wins with 11 vs 6 for the Provisional Government in the purple region.
Then all units in contested regions are exhausted.  This means that any fresh units are flipped to their exhausted side and any exhausted units are removed from the board (leaders, Trotsky, and neutral units are removed from the game, other units are returned to their owner).  This makes the refresh action pretty useful in some situations so that you can keep your key units in play longer.

A token on a score track will start at the midpoint and then slide back and forth between each player as they score points.  If the token ever reaches the end of the track in one direction or the other, that player wins immediately.  Otherwise the game continues until the month token is on October or November during the scoring phase.  Then the winner is the player with the scoring token on their side, or with the Will of the People if the scoring token is in the exact center.
The game is a real power struggle that always felt balanced, but winnable.
Games tend to last 30-45 minutes, although it's possible for a game to end after the second round if one player does extremely well.  This is pretty unlikely though.  I found the game I played to be a real tug-of-war and it wasn't until the last two rounds that a winner emerged.  Each decision, from what secret objective to pick, to what card to play, to what action to take has layer upon layer of influence on the game.  It's often a difficult decision because it can be very important in the outcome of a round.  You're playing the game as much in your opponent's mind as you are on the board, and that's fascinating.
Matt Quock takes a break from testing and demoing his game The Primary,
which was just successfully funded on Kickstarter this week, in order to squash my revolution.
Dual Powers also has a solo variant that plays very well.  The solo game takes out the social deduction and bluffing elements and adds in some puzzle-like deduction elements.  Instead of playing against an opponent that can maneuver units around the board and bluff with Objective regions, you'll play against The Opposition, which tries to overwhelm you with units.  A solo game only lasts three rounds, and your play will be pretty much the same as in a two player game.  However, you will not know your own Objective (it's played randomly, face-down) and you'll be able to deduce The Opposition's Objective as the round plays out, but may not know for sure until the end of the round.  The Opposition's Objective is determined by the cards played during the round.  Whatever region has the highest total number of days played will be the contested region, so you can start to figure that out as the round progresses.  The solo mode works very well and gives a great experience in addition to the outstanding two-player experience.
In the solo mode you'll pick one side to control.  The Opposition will use the other side's leaders, but have their own units.

Final Thoughts:

Frankly, I was blown away by Dual Powers: Revolution 1917.  It's nothing like what I expected when I first heard of the game.  This is about as far from a traditional Amerithrashy war game as you can get, but the mechanics really, really suit the historical events depicted.  The period between February and October 1917 were much more about political maneuvering than they were about open combat.  Power was gained by inspiring and persuading the people to follow one side or another.  Dual Powers reflects that tension wonderfully in a game that is fast, smooth, elegant, and deep.  It's the type of game that is super easy to learn, but your experience and chances of winning are highly contingent on your opponent.  Like chess, or Onitama, or many other abstract strategy games, the game is a system for you to match wits against your opponent.  But unlike most of those, Dual Powers has a very tightly integrated theme that tells the story of an amazing time in history.

Whether you are a fan of historical games, Euro style strategy games, war games, or even abstract strategy games, Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 gives you something to love.  This is an absolutely amazing work of art (both for it's gameplay and for the actual artwork in the game) that I fully expect to be on a number of Top 10 lists for 2019 when it's finally published.  It should definitely make the top spot in a number of 2-player lists and I'd be surprised if it didn't creep into a number of other overall lists as well.  This is the highest rating I've ever given a Kickstarter preview, and the game totally deserves it!
Keith is having fun watching us battle it out, I promise! :-)
I do like to be critical of games in my reviews though, so if there's one thing that I wish was different with Dual Powers it's the player count.  It's such a great game that I wish I could share it with more players at once.  That's hardly a knock at the game though, but maybe a sequel someday could bring these mechanics into a game about the Russian Civil War that spanned from 1918 to 1923.  Honestly, I don't have any criticisms of the game.  It's easy to learn, fast to play, balanced, exciting, fun, and even a bit educational.  There's nothing here not to like.

Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 is available on Kickstarter for only $32, including US shipping, through May 8, 2018.  Be sure to pick up your copy today!

Preliminary Rating: 9/10

This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends. Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games. Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play). I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game. Quick Reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first few times playing. Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

1 comment:

  1. Great preview man! I also have loved my time with the game and hope it gets the funding it needs and deserves! Will be sooo upsetting if the kickstarter fails.