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Red Empire

| Published: 1990
3 0 1

Each player is given a different assortment of cards representing leaders and other important figures in the Soviet Union. As various catastrophes arise, players must cooperate to prevent the Union from collapsing even though they are constantly competing with each other in efforts to maneuver one of their own characters into the role of president. This combination of competition and cooperation makes for an interesting game full of player interaction.

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“Communism was never so much fun!”

GDW’s only card game Red Empire: The Card Game of Soviet Power Politics is a gently satirical game about Soviet Cold War politics under Leaders such as Kruschev, Breshnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev. Designed for three to six players, who each controls a faction within the Politburo, consisting of KGB, Military, and Party Leaders. Each faction aims to elevate one of its Party Leaders to the office of President of the Soviet Union, whilst also preventing anyone else from gaining the position. This can be done by denouncing an opponent, but the factions must also co-operate to deal with the crises that plague the USSR. Denounce too many opponents and a Crisis remains unsolved, eventually leading to the USSR’s downfall. Of course, the USSR will fall anyway, as Red Empire, published in 1990 almost predicted.

Red Empire consists of two card decks—the 26-card red-backed Leader deck, and the 79-card yellow-backed Play deck. Each illustrated Leader card is colour coded Blue (KGB), Green (Military), and Red (of course, for the Communist Party) and has a number representing his stature, rated from 5 to 9. The higher this stature, the more difficult it is to denounce and purge him.

The Play deck consists of four card types. Crisis cards represent a major challenge to the USSR and are marked by a Pravda style headline. There are six of these, valued 4 (Riots in Armenia!”), 6 (“Lithuanian Independence!”), or 8 (“Civil War in Azerbaijan!”), and they must be played at once. As must Mandate cards which represent elements outside of a player’s control. They include ‘Ailing Leader’ indicating a Leader who sick and dying; ‘New Leader’ which adds a Leader to a faction; ‘Disrepute’ cards temporarily reduces the stature of all Leaders from the KGB, the Military, or the Party.

Option cards provide options to play, hold, or discard. They can send a faction abroad on a foreign “Junket,” isolating it from most events at home; inflict a ‘Scandal’ on another faction to temporarily reduce the stature of its Leaders; and even make a Leader a ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’, increasing his stature and removing all denouncements on him.

Finally Action cards simply possess a strength value between one and four and are colour coded to match the Leaders. They are used to denounce and purge other Leaders and deal with the crises as they occur. The grey Action cards, represent the government and can only be used by the President.

Set-up is simple. Players receive five play cards and several Leader cards which are placed face up on the table where everyone can see them. The faction with the highest total stature that has a Red party Leader is made President of the Soviet Union. Play proceeds to the left of the President—everything in Red Empire does. On his turn a player refreshes his hand up to five cards, plays all Crisis cards he has, then all the Mandate cards, and finally he can choose to play or discard either an Action or an Option card.

Newly played Crisis cards interrupt a player’s turn. Each has the opportunity to play with Action cards on it, one per player, and only card of each colour—though the President can play government or grey cards. If the total value of the Action cards equals or exceeds the value of the Crisis, it is dealt with, all action cards played being returned to their players and counting towards their victory points. The President receives the Crisis card for his victory total. If the Crisis is not dealt with, the President is removed from office, and the next faction with a Party Leader succeeds him. The Crisis card also remains in play and cannot be dealt with, its value perpetuating the USSR’s eventual fall.

To denounce a rival Leader, an Action card is placed on his Leader card. A player must have a Leader that matches the Action card’s colour; the first Action card played on a Leader cannot match his colour; and only one Action card of each colour can be played. When the total of three Action cards equals or exceeds a target Leader’s stature, he is purged. He goes into the victory pile of the last player, while the Action cards go back to their respective players’ victory piles. A purge attempt can be countered by making the Leader a Hero of the Soviet Union, or if the President, who can also be purged in this fashion, with a Treaty card.

Play progresses until the unresolved Crisis cards equal 18 or more, or the play deck is exhausted. The player with the most victory points, gained from purging Leaders and resolving Crises, is the winner.

Initially Red Empire can be confusing because Crisis cards interrupt a player’s turn, let everyone else play Action cards to resolve it, then have the original player carry on. Also, too many consecutive Crises can exhaust the players’ hands and finish a game in two, rather than twenty minutes.

Essentially, Red Empire emphasizes co-operation and consensus amidst factional rivalry. Co-operation is needed to purge Leaders and the President, and to resolve a Crisis. This scores points, but purge too many and the ability to act, co-operate, and reach a consensus to resolve Crises is diminished. Being President grants a few more Action cards to play and ways to score points, but the role is not a strong one. Tactically, player should denounce party Leaders on principal as this increases his chances of becoming President and take advantage of already denounced Leader to score more points.

Red Empire also provides opportunity aplenty for table talk, invariably sharp and barbed, usually to denounce a Leader. Russian accents are not mandatory, but I have played wearing a Ushanka. Although abstract, Red Empire feels like it models power and government under the Soviet Union, effectively emulating ain interesting period of politics and history.


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