The Soviet Attack at Tolvajärvi, Finland
8-12 December 1939
Advise GMT Games you read the review on mataka.ORG.
The Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40 has been an oft visited sideline to World War II. In July 1972 Simulations Publications published a game called the “Winter War”. This game covered the Russian invasion of their former province, now named Finland. Finland was created in 1918 when General Gustave Mannerheim and the anti-Communist officer corps broke away from “Mother Russia”. As the power of Adolf Hitler grew in the late thirties, the Russians became apprehensive; if the Germans moved into Finland, Leningrad and Murmansk would be in close striking distance of the Nazi war machine.
The war took place in a sparsely populated, heavily forested area of the country. The Finnish forces consisted of only 300,000 troops (according to Finnish propaganda), or 200,000 according to the Russians. The heavily forested nature of the majority of the area of operations made the use of mechanical units a liability rather than an asset. This helped negate the superiority of Russian armored forces. The ultimate conclusion of the war was a ceasefire after the Finns suffered some 24,000 casualties (according to the Finns; 60,000 according to the Russians). Of the estimated 1.25 million men committed to the Soviet invasion, the casualties were 48,745 per the Russian figures (or some 200,000, according to Finnish sources). This invasion placed the Finns firmly into the Nazi (Anti-Communist) sphere of influence.
There are two booklets provided with Red Winter. The first is the “Rule Book” and the second is called the “Playbook”. The rule book is 24 pages in length including front and rear pages. The rules are very well written with plenty of examples illustrating play. One of the really nice things about the way these rules are organized is that they facilitate learning the game incrementally; each section builds upon the preceding section so that by the time you’re finished reading the rules you have an excellent understanding of the game.
The rules are divided into 16 sections and they are: <use colons here, not semi-colons>
2. Components and Terms
3. Sequence of Play
7. Zone of Control
10. Ranged Attacks
11. Anti-Tank Fire
12. Special Units
13. Reinforcements, Replacements and Recovery
14. Digging In
16. Night Turns
The Playbook is over twice as long as the Rulebook, weighing in at 54 pages including front and rear covers. Now, before panic sets in, let me breakdown what is in the Playbook and you will see that not all of these items need to be read before playing the game. The sections of the Playbook are:
18. Designer’s Notes
19. Historical Notes
20. Optional Rules and Variants
21. Tips and Strategies
22. Glossary of Finnish Terms
23. Selected Sources and Recommended Reading
24. Unit Designations and Order of Appearance
The main rules that you need to play Red Winter are in the Rule Book and consist of only 19 pages, which include, as I have said, a large number of nicely detailed examples.
- Each daylight game turn represents approximately 90 minutes of time. A hexagonal grid has been superimposed on a map of the area in which the battle took place and each hex is about 425 yards from side to side. The counters in the game represent mostly companies, interspersed with some battalions and platoons. The units portrayed represent the following formations;
· Finnish Infantry Companies
- Soviet Infantry Companies
- Soviet Tank Companies
- Soviet Heavy Machine Gun Companies
- Soviet Armored Car Battalions
- Off Map Artillery Battalions (Soviet) and Batteries (Finnish)
- Finnish Engineering Platoons
- Finnish and Soviet mortar platoons
- Finnish Heavy Machine Gun units, each representing 6 guns
One of the unique features of this game is that it consists of two time frames to represent the length of a day in game time terms. In Finland during this time of year, daylight is only between the hours of 7am and approximately 4pm. The first and last hours of daylight are considered twilight. The night turn represents 15 hours. When this battle was fought in December 1939, it was a new moon which meant that it was quite dark. A day turn represents approximately 90 minutes, while a night turn represents 15 hours.
Now, you may initially think that because a night turn is 10 times longer than a day turn, that movement and combat would be increased proportionately. Well, that could not be further from the truth. Units have their movement capabilities doubled, with Finnish units being able to perform night raids, while Russian units can build Bonfires to name only a few ways used to differentiate day and night turns in Red Winter.
Sequence of Play
The Sequence of Play in Red Winter is simple, straightforward, and uncomplicated. In some ways it is a throwback to the earlier days of boardgaming when the Sequence of Play was very simple and worked well with the game system. The Red Winter Sequence of Play is an IGOUGO system and is;
- Reset Phase
- Action Phase
- Combat Phase
IGOUGO means that first one player completes all the items in the sequence, then the other player takes his phase and once both players have gone, a complete turn is recorded. Now, we will go into a bit of detail for each of the Phases above.
It is during the Reset Phase that players flip their counters over from their fired side to their unfired side. At this point, any Replacement Points are allocated and artillery ammo adjustments are recorded. An interesting game mechanism regarding Replacement Points is that players can reconstitute units that that have been destroyed while in supply and return them to the game. This subtle game design insures that if there is an area of the battlefield where you become overpowered, you can balance things with prudent use of Replacement Points on the next turn to day in the gaps. However, Replacement Points are few and far between, especially for the Finns during the first days, and for the Soviets in the final days of the battle.
It is during the Action Phase players will begin to take a more active role with all of their units on the battlefield. During a daylight turn, players can perform one of the following items during their Action Phase:
- Move and/or Assault
- Attempt Recovery
However, if it is a night turn, one of the following tasks may be performed:
- Double Movement
- Build a Bonfire (Soviets only)
- Conduct a Night Raid (Finns only)
So, as you expect, Movement and Assaults would take place during this phase. However, again a piece of subtleness comes into the game with unit Recovery. It is at this time that the phasing player may attempt to recover reduced infantry units that have taken step losses. Recovery simulates rallying of troops and a return to a coherent structure. It can also mean a trickle of reinforcements that have been found to bolster your unit. For a Recovery attempt, a unit cannot be in an enemy zone of control. Recovery is accomplished by rolling a die, applying any die roll modifiers, and then consulting the Recovery Chart. If you think about it, it is the perfect foil for an attack that pushes the enemy back with substantial step reductions, only to have some of them recover to their full strength on the next turn. While this may sound like a simple procedure, players will typically spend a turn getting out of eZOC, then 1 or more turns rolling to recover, then another turn to move back to the frontline. Players may also want to increase their Recovery odds and receive a +1 DRM for being 4 or more hexes from all enemies, thereby encouraging players to rotate out their battle-worn units with fresh troops, and also encouraging them to keep a reserve behind the frontlines for this purpose.> What a way to upset an opponent’s plan.
The final phase of a players turn is the Combat Phase. At first thought, you may think that combat might have been performed during the Movement/Assault Phase. Well the type of combat they are referring to here is a two-way firefight, with both offensive and defensive ranged fire support. At the end of this phase all Suppressed Markers that occurred are removed. We will delve a bit deeper into the unique Combat system shortly. However, let me say here that Suppression is a use it or lose it benefit and players will need to follow up their ranged attacks with normal combats to exploit the suppression.
Once these phases are completed by Player One, it is now Player Two’s turn to conduct all the same phases. There are a few other items that players need to take care of during a turn, specifically if it is a Night Turn or an End of Game Turn.
There is an interesting rule dealing with the movement of Finnish and Soviet forces. Because all Finnish infantry wore skis, it only costs them a single movement point to move across a frozen lake hex, whereas it costs Soviet troops 1.5 movement points to cross the same frozen lake hex. This illustrates that the Finns were very adept with their skis and were taught to ski as soon as they could walk.
Assault, Combat, and Ranged Combat
There are three types of conflict in Red Winter and they are Assault, Combat, and Ranged Combat. Before delving into the details of the different types of fighting, some clarification is required. In Red Winter there are special die roll modifiers that can assist or hurt an attacker. Also, there is a modifier system which shifts combat odds in either the attacker’s or defender’s favor depending on the results of offensive and defensive ranged support. For example, if the attacker has two column shifts to the right, and the defender has one column shift to the left, the net result is a shift of 1 odds column right. In an assault and in some cases combats, items that could cause positive or negative combat odds shifts are things such as:
- Defender in Frozen Lake
- Pajari Leader Bonus
- Defender Dug In
- Morale Bonus
- Soviet Armor Bonus
- Change of Finnish Operational Stance
- Bonfire Bonus
- Soviet Morale Collapse
- Soviet Coordination Penalty (Optional Rule)
- Soviets in Eliminated Finnish Field Kitchen Hex (Optional Rule)
- Finnish Submachine Gun Bonus
Now we will look at the different types of attacks. First you need to know that an Assault takes place during movement and is resolved during the Action Phase. A unit or stack of units may Assault a defending hex by paying the terrain cost of the hex plus an additional two Movement Points. During the Action Phase, a defending unit or stack of units can be attacked as many times as there are units in adjacent hexes. This means that adjacent units or stacks cannot combine their attack strengths into one Assault but must Assault separately. You should note at this point that this does not apply to Combat- only Assaults. Assaults are resolved identically to Combats. The only other difference is that all attacker losses due to Assaults must be taken as step reductions to the involved units.
On the other hand, a Combat is a situation in which the phasing player’s adjacent units have the option to attack a defending enemy unit or stack of units. This is not to be confused with Ranged Attacks which is exactly what it means- units have a range (number of hexes) from which they can attack.
First of all, Combat is NOT mandatory. However, all units in a defending hex must be attacked if there is a Combat. Also, unlike Assaults, a defending hex may only be attacked once per combat phase. The normal method of combat would be to move the attacking unit(s) adjacent to the enemy unit(s), call for any ranged support that could affect the combat ratio with suppressions, and roll for the combat results. Sounds simple, right? Well just like everything else in this game you go through a lot of rational thought when planning your strategy for an attack as sometimes, there are numerous ways in which you can direct the action.
I think the easiest way to explain a combat and ranged attack is with a simple game example of ranged combat. This is the tutorial scenario of a small hypothetical battle that is included with the game. In this scenario, which represents the earliest stages of the battle, two Soviet battalions are sent along the main road to capture the small settlement of Hirvasvaara. As would be expected from a tutorial scenario, it is only 3 turns long and uses only the most basic rules of the game. Below are the initial dispositions of the Soviet battalions, along with the Finnish units, followed by the entire section of the map where the fighting will take place.
When you first set up this scenario, as the Finns, you may think that the Soviet units are far enough away and be lulled into a false sense of security. However, the Victory Conditions state that as soon as two units are eliminated, it is an immediate victory. Otherwise, whoever controls Hirvasvaara at the end of the game wins. Below is the Soviet Combat Phase. Hopefully you can see that things do look a little grim for the Finns. However, though it may not see like it, a lot depends on the allocation of support fire (ranged combat) and favorable die rolls.
First, let’s talk about the Soviet supporting units. In hex R15, there are two Soviet Machine Gun units each with a range of 3. In Q16 there is the Soviet Mortar unit. The Soviets have moved into position to perform two separate combats, and I have arranged the support units in such a way that they could support either combat. Adjacent to the Finnish Machine Gun unit are 3 Soviet infantry companies and the other 3 Soviet infantry companies are adjacent to the other Finnish unit in front of Hirvasvaara. Due to the manner in which the Finns have protected Hirvasvaara, the Russians will need to eliminate two Finnish units to win.
Now is the time for decisions. Do I have the Soviet mortar unit support an infantry unit and attack the Finnish machine gun? Do I use the Soviet machine guns for offensive support as well? I decide to take a chance and have the Soviet machine gun and one of the adjacent infantry units conduct ranged fire on the Finnish machine gun. Ranged attacks must be resolved individually which means there is no combining of the Ranged Attack Strength (RAS).
The machine gun unit fires and I get a lucky on the first shot and roll of a 5 and 6 to which I add the RAS of 5 for a total of 16 with no modifiers. Referring to the Ranged Attack Table (RAT) I find that the result is a Suppressed (any modified result of 14 or higher results in a Suppressed marker) and place a Suppressed Marker on the Finnish Machine Gun. Next, one of the adjacent infantry units takes their shot and barely misses with a total of 13.
Since Ranged Attacks are considered simultaneous, it is now the Finnish player’s turn to respond with Ranged Attacks if he wishes. (Note: It doesn’t matter who goes first as the other player can respond.) Looking at the map, the Finnish player decides to conduct a Ranged Attack at the Soviet Infantry unit across the lake. The strategy behind this is that if a Suppressed result is rolled there would be a shift in the Combat Odds in the Finns’ favor. The roll of the dice yields a 5 and 3 to which the Finnish unit’s value of 4 is added and there is a +1 modifier for a total of 13. The modifiers in this RAS are:
- +1 for an infantry company in the hex
- -1 for machine gun firing at a distance of 3 or more
Referring to the RAT we see that there is no effect, so the Finns are out of luck.
Next we solve the Ranged Attacks on the Infantry unit in front of Hirvasvaara. The units assigned to this attack are the Soviet Mortar unit and the Machine Gun Unit. In these combats the Soviet player gets very lucky and each unit scores a suppression which means a two odds shift in the favor of the Soviet. There is no Finnish response as the units that conducted the Ranged Attacks are out of range. Once all of the Ranged Attacks are completed, it is time to move on to the Combat. The map now appears as shown below.
In this Combat Phase there will be two Combats. In the first Combat, the 3 Soviet Infantry units in P15 will attack the Finnish Machine Gun unit directly across from it in Q13. The defending hex contains a Suppressed Marker which will modify the Soviet Combat odds one step in favor of the Soviets. The other Combat will take place in hex Q12 which consists of a defending Finnish Infantry unit that has two suppressed markers which will modify the combat odds in the Soviet favor by two steps. There will be three Soviet Infantry units attacking, two of which will be from S13 and the third from S14. At this point, we need to look at the modifiers and find our final odds column, then roll the dice for the results.
Looking at our first combat, we have the 3 Soviet Infantry with a total Combat Factors of 15 (for the three units) attacking a Finnish Machine Gun. Looking at the Combat Resolution Modifiers you will see that there is one that applies – a Suppression marker yields a 1R shift. We have the Infantry, totaling 15 Combat Factors, attacking a defense factor of 3 in a block box, which doubles its defense factor to 6. 15 to 6 rounds to 2:1 odds, and we add a 1 shift right for the suppression, yielding a new Combat Odds Ratio of 3:1. The Soviet Player rolls 2D6 and rolls a solid 12 which means that there are no attacker losses and the defender will lose their last unit step and become eliminated.
Now for the final combat. Here I again have 3 Soviet Infantry units attacking a singular Finnish infantry in S12. The attacking units, two in S13 and one in S14, combine their Combat Factors which total 15 against the single Finnish unit with a Combat Factor of a 3. This is a base 5 to 1 odds to which there is a two column shift to the right in favor of the Soviets because of the two suppressions. Since the maximum odds ratio is 6-1, the odds will stay at 6-1. The Soviet player rolls the die and scores a 9. Referring to the CRT, we find that a 9 results in no losses for the Soviet player and 5 losses for the Finns, which can be taken as step reductions or retreats, depending on the Finnish player’s preference. Since the unit cannot retreat more than 4 hexes (its Movement Allowance minus 2), it results in the unit’s elimination.
While this was a simple ranged attack and combat situation, I hope that it provides the reader with the essence of the combat system. It is not a complicated system and really does fit the historical situation that the game is attempting to recreate.
The Playbook included with Red Winter is where all of the Scenarios are presented. One of the things that I especially enjoy with the Scenario presentation is when the designer also informs the gamer of the approximate time it should take to play the Scenario once both gamers are familiar with the rules. The Scenarios included with Red Winter and the approximate times it would take to complete a game are:
1. The Campaign Game – 6 to 12 hours
2. The First Day – Approximately 1 hour
3. The First Two Days – 2 to 3 hours
4. The Second Day – 1 ½ to 2 hours
5. The Third and Fourth Days – 4 hours
6. Lake Crossing – 30 minutes
7. Firefight on the Ice – 30 minutes
8. The Battle for Kotisaari Island – 1 hour
9. Battle for the Hotel – 90 minutes
10. The Battle for Hirvasvaara – Less than an hour
11. Two on Two – Less than an hour
12. The Fifth Day (Free Setup) – 90 minutes to 2 hours
13. The Fifth Day (Historical) – 90 minutes to 2 hours
14. Alternate Campaign – 6 to 12 hours
15. Tanks at the Narrows – Less than an hour
16. Overrun – Less than an hour
17. First Folly Tutorial -15 minutes
As you can see, you are given a large number of scenarios that can be played in an extremely reasonable time frame. As a matter of fact, you can play 3 to 5 games of Red Winter in one afternoon on the weekend in the same time it would take you to play the campaign game. This is value for your money as each time you play, a new strategy will unfold for the player.
After this, you are given some very detailed Designer’s Notes and Historical notes which provide history lessons on the battle. You get the sense from reading these areas of the Playbook that Red Winter truly was a labor of love for Mark Mokszycki, the designer. You’ll learn many details about the history of this battle just from reading these areas, but as an added value, he also provides the gamer with a “Sources and Recommended Reading” section which explains where additional information can be found.
The final item I want to talk about in the Playbook is the section for Optional Rules and Game Variants. Here you are immediately warned that if you use all these rules, it will shift play balance in favor of the Finns. Each rule details who it will favor in the game. While there are only a few pages of Optional Rules, in reading them you can see the effect they would have on the outcome of even the simplest scenario.
It is clear that Red Winter was a labor of love. The design process took place over 7 years, and this shows, as the game system is very mature, and the game is simple to understand. While I wouldn’t call this a beginner’s game, I would say that novice wargamers should be able to understand the game in a short amount of time. The avid boardgamer will find that Red Winter is a very subtle and mature game with well written and easily understandable rules. It is a game that grows on you and evolves the more times it is played. With each playing, no matter which side you choose, you will find new strategies and tactics that can be employed. As the designer points out, Red Winter cannot be appreciated in a single playing; it is a game that needs to be repeatedly played to gain its full value.
I believe Red Winter is one of those games that will retain its value because of its replayability. The scenarios are short enough to be played in under a few hours and the campaign game can be played during a weekend afternoon. It is a subtle game that grows on you with time, and I think you will find yourself coming back for repeated playing’s. I hope that the designer, Mark Mokszycki and GMT Games receive all the accolades and awards they deserve for bringing this excellent game to market. Best of all, there is a sequel in the works which will cover the the fighting retreat to Aglajarvi, the arrival of a fresh Soviet division with tank, artillery, and air support, and the subsequent battles. Bring it on! I am officially a fan of the Russo-Finnish wars, and now I can’t wait to see Mark’s next design.