World War I and the Soviet takeover of Russia have always been fascinating historical topics for me. I’m a historian by education and desire, if not by trade.
While I’m sure there have been some games that cover the Russian Revolution, Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 (hereafter referred to just as Dual Powers) is the first one that I’ve seen and heard of.
The 1-2 player game was designed by Brett Myers with art by Luis Francisco and Kwanchai Moriya. It was published in 2018 by Thunderworks Games after a pretty successful Kickstarter.
At its core, Dual Powers is essentially an area-control game with some card play. You are trying to control certain areas of the city of Petrograd at certain times based on the ebb and flow of the urban unrest as well as your card play (ironically, while one of the sides is called the Petrograd Soviet and the map clearly seems to be Petrograd, nowhere in the game or rules does it really say what city you’re in).
How does it work?
Why are you asking me?
Oh, wait, it’s my job.
Let’s take a look.
(note: this game has a solitaire variant in the rules, along with counters for its use, but I haven’t played that yet)
Put the board on the table between the two players. The board is set up so that it should be situated with the Soviet side of the score track toward the Soviet player (wow, who would have thought?) and the Provisional Government side of the score track in front of…come on, guess. That’s right, the Provisional Government player.
At the beginning of the game (and all subsequent turns), a region of Unrest will be drawn and also a region for where the Blockade goes. At the beginning of each turn, the Unrest counter is removed, the Blockade counter is moved to Unrest, and a new Blockade region is chosen.
Each coloured region of the board gets one random neutral unit token placed in it.
The players take their three leader cards and then are dealt five more Command Cards. The colours on the card match a certain region on the map.
You’ll be choosing one of those regions as your secret objective region. Whoever has the most strength in that region during the scoring phase will get the number of points on the bottom right corner. The other four cards are part of your hand and may be played during the Action Phase.
The Calendar is a really interesting aspect of this game. It’s the timer for the game, and also depending on how it’s manipulated can give you bonus actions or change the Will of the People in your favour.
During the Action Phase, you will take turns playing a card. The first thing you will do is move the Day Marker on the Calendar the set number of spaces on the card (top left). If it lands on the 15th or the 31st (or the 29th & 30th as if it does, it slides to the 31st), you can take a bonus action during your turn.
If it goes into the next month (or months as the first two “months” are actually two months each), then you will get (or retain) the Will of the People. (The people must have an attraction to those who begin a new month)
Why is that important? Whoever has the Will of the People will get control of any Neutral tokens for scoring and moving/flipping purposes.
After moving the Calendar, you can either recruit at least one of your units into the region that’s on the card or you can do the action that’s on the card.
The card actions are moving a unit one space, moving a unit two spaces or flipping an exhausted unit (units are exhausted after a scoring round if their region scored).
You can also play a Leader card rather than a Command card. This will move the Calendar a lot, but it gives you a special action depending on the Leader and you can place the Leader counter anywhere on the board.
Depending on what leader you play, you can do the following: look at your opponent’s secret objective, claim the Will of the People, or move the Blockade anywhere else that you want.
Play your leaders wisely because once played, that card is out of the game (though the Leader stays on the board until/unless he is eliminated).
After four cards have been played, you enter the Scoring phase. Check the Unrest region, adding up the strength of all units there. Remember that the Will of the People gives you the Neutral units!
Whoever has the most strength can either score it (as shown above, the points go up as the Calendar moves on) or they can take a bonus action.
Following that, the two secret objectives are revealed in order based on where the score marker is (whoever’s side it is on will turn theirs over last). These regions are scored based on the points on the card.
Finally, exhaust (flip) all unit markers in the regions that were objectives in the round (Unrest and Scoring). If they were already exhausted, they’re removed from the game. Regular units go back to the player’s supply. Neutral units and leaders are removed permanently.
Continue to the next round, moving the Unrest/Blockade markers and dealing out 5 new Command cards.
The game ends when either a Scoring phase takes place in October or November, or if the score marker reaches the end of either side of the track. If it ends the first way, then whoever has the score marker on their side is the winner!
Does Dual Powers result in the fall of the government? Or does it peter out because nobody’s interested in fighting?
As I said above, Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 is a basic area control game. You are playing cards to place or move units in order to control certain areas.
That being said, the theme shines through in this one. All of the regions have factions fighting for control, or just survival. But the main focus of the fighting moves around the city, popping up like a ground hog in a game of Whack-a-Mole (though at least you have a one-round warning of what region is going to be important).
You truly do get the sense of a city in chaos.
I love how Trotsky comes out as a neutral Leader in May-June, but then becomes a Soviet Leader come August.
The Will of the People is a neat concept, though how it changes is kind of arbitrary. It seems like there needed to be a mechanism for how it could switch from one player to another and the end of the month turned out to be a useful one.
But it’s neat how it can bolster your ranks as you have these people just milling around joining the faction that, well, turned the calendar forward (or played a really strong leader to rally them).
It would have also been easy to make the Will of the People the tie-breaker in the area control, but it’s actually only the second tie-breaker. The first one is whoever has more units there. Two 1-strength units trumps one 2-strength one.
Let’s start with components, first.
The rulebook is very nicely illustrated and clearly written. It’s easy to find most anything in there. The phases are easy to follow, the examples are great. It’s short and a breeze to understand. We were up and running in a few minutes and only periodically had to consult the rulebook (and the question was easily answered when I did).
The cards, however, are a different story.
They look fine, they’re pretty functional and everything on the card is easy to understand and follow.
They’re just a little too thick for comfortable shuffling, and they start to warp after a while. They are definitely sturdy, though. I’ll give them that.
The units are also of thick cardboard stock. Those things aren’t getting torn in half by any means! These are really functional as well. I love how it shows you both the current strength and the strength on the other side of the counter. The current strength is the big number, and the smaller number is what’s on the other side.
Very useful information!
And they’re nice and chunky to feel in your hand and moving them around the board.
Everything else is perfectly fine. No complaints.
The artwork on the board and the counters is beautiful in that harsh, Soviet style. Lots of muted and dark colours in this one. Even the blues and greens are dark. The white region is quite the contrast, and even that one looks like it’s a region that’s embarrassed by its brightness and is trying to mute itself.
One minor criticism of the board, though on one side I’m not sure how it would be fixed without making the board even bigger (and I love how compact this game is), is how the brown, white, and blue regions have the game information stuff encroaching on them.
The Unrest/Blockade stacks, as well as the scoreboard and Calendar, all seem to bleed into the parts of the board that are in play, giving it a bit of a cluttered look. Each time I look at it, I have to remember that those colours are actually regions and not “off-board” stuff.
As for the game play, I find it really interesting. It’s a nice tug-of-war between factions. Since there is no “take that” in the game (the only thing you can do to the other player is look at their objective card once, move the Blockade once so that it may inhibit them, or take the Will of the People), it’s all about bluffing, positioning, and card play.
I think the various unit strengths of the two factions are very cool. The Soviets have Level 1 units that lose their strength when exhausted, Level 2 units that keep their 2 strengths when exhausted, and Level 3 units that increase their strength from 2 to 3 when exhausted.
Meanwhile, the Provisional Government Level 1 units keep their 1-strength, but the Level 2 and the Level 3 units each lose a strength when its exhausted.
That push and pull, exhausting units and then deciding whether to flip them or to sacrifice them in a second scoring region is a choice that I found really juicy.
That being said, the game can be a bit random. Like most card-driven games, the trick is how you use the cards that you are dealt, but sometimes there’s just not a lot of choice.
In one game, my opponent needed to refresh at least one of her units to get a bit more strength and so that it wouldn’t go away, but all of her cards that round were “move” cards.
Most times it’s not an issue, but if randomness is not your bag, then that may be something to watch for in Dual Powers.
Even with that, though, I do find the decisions in this game very interesting. You may have to mull your options over a little bit at times.
Do you bluff? I mentioned in my “New to Me – March” post that there was a game where my opponent had chosen her objective and already had me beat 2-1 there. Rather than put more units in there, she just ignored it. So did I. She ended up winning it 2-1.
When do you want to play a Leader? You only have one that will shift the Will of the People, so do you really need it now? Or should it wait? Playing Leaders will advance the Calendar either 9, 10, or 11 days, so that’s also a consideration.
While the choices are interesting and quite thematic, it’s not a very deep game. I don’t think it’s possible to achieve too much depth in a 45 minute game. It’s probably as deep of a game as Fort Sumter, though, so this is not a criticism at all. They’ve packed a pretty good punch into this time frame.
All in all, I would say Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 is a great game, especially at lunch if you have an opponent at your workplace. The theme is really cool, the area control gives you interesting decisions to make, and it’s a crunchy game for its length.
It will definitely be a lunchtime staple in our office.
(This review was written after 3 plays)