New board game to illustrate specifics of 1920 Polish-Soviet war

A new board game named “How the West was Saved” will allow players not to just spend pleasant time with each other but also learn more about the Polish-Bolshevik war and the events of the summer of 1920 when the Red Army came close to successfully overrunning the European continent. The game’s creator, Stephen Pole told PolandIN in an exclusive interview what he hopes players will take away from the game.

In the interview, Mr Pole emphasised Poland’s role as a bulwark against communist ideology spreading with the Red Army from the Soviet Union to Germany, saying “The most fertile ground for insurrection was Germany. Humiliated by defeat in World War I, awash with unemployed and disaffected soldiers, political dissension had escalated into mob violence. Lenin decided to send Bolshevik troops to assist fellow socialist revolutionaries in Germany. The only country between Russia and a Germany eager to embrace Bolshevism was Poland. The Russo-Polish War and, in particular, Poland’s victory at the gates of Warsaw, thwarted Lenin’s ambition to export revolution to Europe at a time when many countries were at their most vulnerable to Bolshevik ideology“.

The game has been created in such a way that players get a grasp of how the reality on the ground looked for soldiers fighting in the war. It highlights how the new technology, which had left its mark on the First World War, was used in an environment which was much more fluid than the static trenches of the Great War.

“I hope that the game reflects three features essential to an understanding of the Russo-Polish War”- Mr Pole stated before giving some of the important tactical and strategic characteristics of the war”.

“It was a war of manoeuvre fought over vast distances – from Warsaw to Smolensk - with relatively small armies. Exact numbers are difficult to glean; but, typically at any given time neither side would have had more than 400,000 men in the field, and sometimes far fewer. In other words, about one-fifteenth of the men deployed in 1941 when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the great German offensive against the Soviet Union, over broadly the same territory” - the game's creator explains.

Regarding the effects the relatively small numbers of troops had on the manoeuverability of military units, Mr Pole had the following to say, “relatively few men fighting over such a huge area gave the Russo-Polish War its essential character. Although both sides were well equipped for defence, possessing artillery, barbed wire, machine guns etc, of the kind which had proved so effective during World War I; in many engagements attackers were victorious. The vast open spaces meant that any defensive position could be out-flanked, and reinforcements were usually several days away”.

As previously mentioned, the war was fought with the same types of new weapons which had created a revolution of military affairs in the Great War, but some of the tools and types of weapons used hadn’t changed much since the times of the Napoleonic wars more than a century earlier. As Mr Pole notes “the war was a fascinating mix of ancient and modern. Cavalry was used extensively by both sides, and the war saw some epic cavalry battles with charges and counter-charges reminiscent of the eighteenth-century (...) Alongside the cavalry, both sides deployed the trappings of modern warfare, albeit in small numbers: aircraft, armoured trains and tanks. Communication was largely conducted by radio”

The game has also been designed in such a way that players can appreciate the lightning speed with which the fortune of war could turn. Mr Pole notes that in just 4 months, the Polish Army went from threatening to take Smolensk to being pushed back all the way to Warsaw before again taking huge swaths of land to the East, with Polish troops occupying Minsk.

“The sheer drama and speed of the events which unfolded during 1920 makes for an exciting game. It began with the Poles on the offensive, threatening Smolensk and, with their Ukrainian allies, seizing Kiev. Then, at the end of May, the Russian First Horse Army – the legendary “Konarmia I” (...)

was deployed to attack the Poles south of the Pripet Marshes. The Poles, taken completely by surprise, were forced to retreat. Further defeats and retreats followed north and south of the Marshes and, from being in the ascendancy, by August the Poles found themselves in a desperate struggle to defend their capital. Then, after “The Miracle on the Vistula”, the advantage swung back to the Poles. They were able to chase the Russian forces as far east as the River Neman where in September the Poles secured another significant victory. However, by this stage both sides were exhausted and in October 1920 a truce was agreed” - Mr Pole stated.

Another historical component which interests many of the game’s players who didn’t have much prior knowledge of the battle, is the number of famous characters involved.

Mr Pole states that he was surprised himself when researching the story of the battle, saying “I hadn’t appreciated how many larger than life characters who would put their stamp on twentieth-century history had a part to play in the war: Churchill, Lenin, Pilsudski, Stalin and Trotsky were all involved. So, too, was a young major sent as a member of a French delegation to advise the Poles on military matters; Charles de Gaulle”.

The game truly offers wide historical knowledge of the battle but there are other benefits too.

Playing a board game is a social experience. Friends and family members sitting around a table can enjoy the game together, maybe share food and drink, and converse about the game and the events it represents - Mr Pole argues.