This is the third InsideGMT article on All Bridges Burning, a COIN system game for three-players dealing with the political and military events surrounding the Finnish Civil War of 1918. In the first two articles (found here and here), the focus was somewhat on illustrating the historical background of various design decisions made during the development of this game. In this article I want to try to give everyone a better idea of how the game plays not forgetting, however, to explain the historical background to the design choices I’ve made as well.
Some playtesters have expressed surprise at how the Senate and the Reds factions in All Bridges Burning have virtually identical action menus, yet play so very differently. A part of the explanation is that the respective victory conditions of these two factions are so different. The third faction, the Moderates, however, is a different beast in that it is a non-violent faction and its means as well as ends therefore being quite different from the other two factions. Let’s look at each faction’s victory conditions to begin to get an idea of how they play.
This had not been a victory, but a defeat – of everyone, of whole Finland. Victory in a war between brothers is not a victory for which the winner may crown itself. –The Finnish novelist Juhani Aho in his war time diary on 28 April 1918
Senate victory in All Bridges Burning is build around establishing control of in total four town population on the map. There are five town spaces on the map, and the Senate begin in control of one of them –their North-Western stronghold, the town of Waasa. From there on, the Senate task is one of the more straightforward ones in this game: to amass an army and go get a further two or three towns under their control. Among the towns, Helsinki alone –the capital and the largest town in the country– contributes two more population points and therefore tends to constitute a key battle ground in most games of All Bridges Burning.
The Senate victory condition reflects the historical task faced by the Senate army. After the Reds launched the Red Revolt in January 1918, the white Senate leadership went underground and, those who managed to slip away, escaped to Waasa. From Waasa and the surrounding province of Pohjanmaa, they launched their bid to retake the country.
In All Bridges Burning, the Senate march to South is complicated by an initial lack of a military punch. This corresponds to the historical situation in early 1918. Instrumental to the Senate war effort was the commander-in-chief of the white Senate army, C.G.E. Mannerheim (1867-1951) –later to lead the Finns in the Winter War against the Soviets. In January 1918, Mannerheim was tasked with turning what was essentially a ragtag group of badly equipped volunteers into an organized army –and that while the civil war was effectively already on-going.
Historically, the leadership in Mannerheim’s army was built upon a cadre of officers who, like Mannerheim himself, had been trained by and served in the Russian army. (For remember, until December 1917 Finland was a semi-autonomous province of Finland and thus for those wishing a career in the army, the Russian army was the natural choice.) The white Senate army also enjoyed an additional advantage over the Reds in the form of Finland-born but German trained jaeger, over 1200 of whom arrived to Finland in the course of the civil war. The jaeger were a volunteer force that, over the course of several years preceding the civil war, had been recruited in secrecy in Finland and sent to Germany to receive military training in preparation for a eventual armed uprising against the Russian rule in Finland accompanied by a German invasion.
Typical to the COIN Series games, in All Bridges Burning these and other military aspects of the historical conflict are modeled in a fairly abstract manner. There are, for example, a number of capability events that afford the Senate faction an opportunity to acquire the support of the jaeger, various other military hardware, as well as the associated tactical and technical know-how. These enhancement provide a favorable die roll modifier in combat. Also the Reds may seek to pick up certain capabilities to enhance their otherwise fairly modest fighting abilities. The Reds capabilities reflect the assistance received from an estimated 1000 Russian soldiers –some of whom were higher ranking officers– fighting among the Reds as volunteers.
In addition to putting together a capable army, the Senate player faces the challenge of motivating and funding the costly campaign of taking the South. Alongside the victory conditions, the mechanisms for earning resources –understood in All Bridges Burning thematically as a combination of political will and capital as well as material and monetary resources– represent a second key aspect shaping the actual game play of the Senate faction. The Senate earnings are tied to the level of support the faction enjoys in the country. Therefore, while Senate victory does not depend on the ability to create support in the country through agitation, their resource earnings do, which adds a non-military aspect to managing the Senate faction in the game. Historically, the Senate engaged in something of a propaganda campaign in which the image of the Reds as a Russia-supported insurgency served to cast the enemy in a certain light.
Historically, a Red military victory in the Finnish civil war was perhaps never really a particularly likely outcome. The Red forces never reached a level in which their organization or equipment would have been sufficient for actually winning the war.
However, the Reds could perhaps have in some sense won the conflict through the avoidance of a decisive military defeat combined with an ability to show the Finnish populace at large that the socialists were able to govern the Finnish civil society in a satisfactory manner. In this latter task, the Reds faced considerable skepticism even from their own ranks. “As a consequence of our lack of intellectuals,” predicted one socialist politician prior to the Red Revolt, “we shall not be able to master the machinery of government.” After the launch of the revolt, the civil servants in the Finnish state apparatus largely refused to co-operate with the Reds and the Reds struggled to functionally replace these people with competent equivalents from their own ranks.
The socialists, unlike the Whites, therefore devoted considerable attention to consolidating the administration at the expense of military development. To be sure, to a certain extent this task was necessary. Practically the entire central administration had deserted [once the Red revolt broke out in January 1918], and the Social Democrats had to work hard to keep it running –another indication that the revolutionary polity did not result from the fragmentation of the old polity but that power was being seized by another polity whose members had been only marginally involved in the old one. –the historian Risto Alapuro in State and Revolution in Finland
In All Bridges Burning, the Reds victory is measured in the level of total opposition combined with the total number of working administrations the Reds have been able to get on the map –administrations referring to those pieces that elsewhere in the COIN Series are known as bases. The Reds may build a passive level of opposition to the Senate even without working administrations. However, to get the wider populace to support the Red societal order at an active level, the presence of an administration (as well as Reds control) in a space is required. The manner the Reds bring administrations to play mirrors that of how bases work elsewhere in the COIN Series.
From the Reds perspective, All Bridges Burning is about trying to fulfill, all at once, the at times impossible seeming three-pronged mission of fighting back the Senate and the German armies while simultaneously building up the administrative state and opposition. All the while, the Moderates gnaw on the Reds morale and control from within.
As explained in more detail in a previous InsideGMT article, in All Bridges Burning the Moderates faction represents the voice of national reconciliation and of social and political reform. The Moderates victory consist of two elements. On the one hand, they need to accumulate a certain level of political capital –that is, resources– during the game. On the other, the number of Moderates networks –that is, “bases”– combined with the number of political issues resolved in the course of the conflict produce a number that then is compared to the level of Polarization prevailing in the country. In particular the second measure of the Moderates victory is quite relational, even more so if and when the victory margins of all three factions begin to be calculated.
In comparison to the twenty octagonal cells that the Reds and the Senate, respectively, have in the game (called “guerrillas” in some other COIN volumes), the Moderates must make do with a lot smaller allowance: six cells. Due to the small overall number of Moderates pieces, for example the placement of a network requires a longer term strategic build up that the other two factions could relatively easily disrupt, yet often feel too “busy” to pay attention to. On the other hand, once the Moderates do get a network on the map, apart from going a step closer to fulfilling one element of their victory conditions, their overall performance improves in terms of increased earnings as well which in turn takes them a step closer to the second element of their victory conditions.
Losing the Game Collectively
Finally, I would like to talk a little bit about something that I definitely wanted to include in the game for important thematic reasons: the possibility of the player factions collectively losing the game to a non-player external power, either Germany or Russia.
Mechanically, first of all, at the game the Senate or the Reds winning a game will produce a non-player power victory instead if, at the same time, the combined measure of Polarization and the level of the friendly foreign power’s intervention in the conflict exceeds a certain threshold. Thematically this is a situation in which Finland’s vassalage to a foreign state has grown too strong such that the historical joint and prized aim of national independence can no longer be attained and a “puppet government” results.
I wanted to include this aspect in the game because, historically, the outcome of the Finnish Civil War was arguably decided by the rise and eventual fall of both external powers in the course of the World War One. That is to say, the Russians exited the Finnish Civil War relatively early on –formally via the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 that extinguished any Russian claims on Finland. Soon after the Germans indeed sent their troops to Finland to quash the Red Revolt and establish supremacy in that part of the geopolitical front with Russia.
After that, for several months Finland became firmly a part of the German geopolitical sphere of influence. During this period, plans were made and pushed through the parliament to install a German prince as the king of Finland. This project, however, died in late 1918 as Germany itself succumbed to the strains of war and internal pressures. With both great powers thereby effectively off the stage, all of a sudden Finland found itself with national independence with no external power in the position to impose their will on the small nation. That story is an integral part of the outcome of the Finnish Civil War despite the fact that many of the events talked about above took place after the war and were external to what went on inside the borders of Finland.