The game: 1918: Brother Against Brother by Antti Lehmusjärvi. The game was published by Antti’s Linden Lake Games in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. My copy was on loan from the publisher.
As a disclaimer, I know Antti, have used his services as a lawyer and have designed the website for Linden Lake Games.
Elevator pitch: A well-produced card-driven entry level war game set in the Finnish Civil War of 1918.
What’s in the box? The big box contains pretty mounted board, simple cardboard tokens, cards in English and Finnish and rulebooks. Everything is well-produced, in war game standards the game is quite pretty and easy to approach. The cards are illustrated with archive photos and the layout is generally well done, the text is just a wee bit small.
What do you do in the game? The 1918 war was between white government of Finland with support from Germans, and red rebellion with Russian support. In history, reds lost, but the costs were heavy on both sides.
In the game, the game is about controlling strategic cities. In the beginning, the reds control four of them: Tampere, Helsinki, Viipuri and Oulu. Whites only have one, Vaasa. The reds win immediately if they conquer Vaasa (this is somewhat unlikely). The game starts in January and if the whites control four strategic cities by April, they win. In May, whites need to control all five to win, otherwise the reds will win. Thus, the reds need to perform better than they did in actual history in order to win the game.
The game is a card-driven war game, which means that both sides have a deck of cards used to control the action. Each card can be used as an action or as points. If the card is used as an action, it does what it says and then the card is either discarded or removed from the game if it’s an one-off event.
Points are used to activate troops: one point activates all troops in one city. They can move freely as far as their movement points allow, and then may fight. Cards used for points are discarded.
Each month is a hand of eight cards (except January, which is only three cards), all of which are played. After the month is done, supply is checked, players get reinforcements and the cards from the next month and the discarded cards are shuffled into the deck, so new historical events are introduced as the game goes on. Some events are scripted: reds always get armored trains in February and the whites always get the German landing in April.
Combat is simple. Each player totals the combat values of all units involved, attacker may combine units from multiple cities to attack at once. Both roll one six-sided die and check the combat results table to see how many hits are inflicted. Defender takes hits first. Units are first flipped to half strength, then removed. The combat prefers defender, but there’s a three-unit stack limit which the attacker can circumvent by attacking from multiple cities at once.
All in all the game is fairly straightforward to play, but offers many interesting possibilities. There aren’t many different units: reds have basic soldiers and armored trains, whites have basic soldiers, better Jaegers and the utmost elite, German armies. There are also fortifications, but those have a really minor role. The biggest factor is geography and the transportation: attacking and moving along railroads is so much easier than along roads that it’ll determine the way the war is fought.
Lucky or skillful? The better general will win most of the time, no doubt about that, but the battles are fought using a single d6 roll. That means there are huge differences in the outcome, depending on whether you roll 1 or 6.
You’ll know the battle odds beforehand, there are no surprise factors involved, but the results can be really swingy and if you roll lots of ones, it’ll seriously impede your chances of winning.
Abstract or thematic? Strongly thematic. The cards are full of historical flavour and individual commanders. The game guides you to follow historical structures, but allows you freedom to fight the war the way you want to.
Solitaire or interactive? This is a war game where all gains are taken from your opponent.
Players: 2. This is a pure two-player game; playing this solo requires some selective amnesia, but is not impossible.
Who can play? The publisher age recommendation is 12+. I’ve played this with my 12-year-old son, who is an experienced gamer, and he managed to beat me.
This game has fairly straightforward rules. If you know them well it’s not difficult teach the game to inexperienced gamers.
What’s to like: The Finnish Civil War is an interesting war that hasn’t been covered very much yet. Especially if you’re Finnish, this is a very good entry-level war game: the topic is interesting, the production values are good and the game is easy to understand, especially since it’s in Finnish.
What’s not to like: The replay value is the biggest question here. The map is small and quite strongly limited by the railroad networks. The grand strategies will always be similar, you can’t do very radical moves in this game. Will it start to feel repetitive after a while?
My verdict: The centennary of the Finnish Civil War produced a bunch of games about the war. This is a great example, a good entry-level war game about an interesting conflict. I’ve also played another game about the war that was published back in 1918, and this is much better than that!
Is 1918: Brother Against Brother a keeper for me? No. I enjoyed exploring it and wouldn’t mind playing it couple of more times, but I’d say ten games, and I’d be done with it. Would I recommend it to others? Yes! If you are Finnish and looking for an entry-level war game, I don’t think you can choose much better game than this. For people outside Finland looking for a game on this conflict, this is a fine choice, but some might prefer the COIN-style All Bridges Burning.
On the scale of Enthusiastic, Suggest, Indifferent or Avoid, 1918: Brother Against Brother gets Suggest from me, because even if it’s not really my cup of tea, it really is a splendid entry-level war game, especially if you are Finnish.