A desperate battle for territory and survival is about to be waged across a bleak and snowy landscape of forests, swamps, and frozen lakes.
Red Winter is the first in a proposed series of games covering battles of the 1939 Russo-Finnish Winter War and World War II at a rarely gamed scale: company sized combat units and 90 minute game turns. The Winter War games of the series will be characterized by highly fluid frontlines, wild flanking maneuvers by night, Finnish night raids, and a low unit density across a wide and shifting front. Future Winter War games in the works include the battle for Ägläjärvi, and WWII games in the works include Operation Dauntless (the Allied flank attack near Caen, France, in June of 1944), and several Pacific theatre battles of WWII.
In Red Winter, players assume the roles of the Soviet and Finnish commanders during the unusual battle for Tolvajärvi, Finland, controlling the actions of Finnish ski infantry, Soviet tanks and heavy machine gun companies, mortars, anti-tank guns, and other combat units. The game map is populated by forest, suo (wetlands), small Finnish settlements, and a network of crude roads and trails. However, the dominant feature of the map is a system of sprawling, frozen lakes. Combat units can very often gain favorable positions by crossing these lakes, but they do so at considerable risk…Units caught out on the ice make very inviting targets!
Based upon recent Finnish and Soviet sources, Red Winter is the product of several years of research and development. It was designed with an emphasis on speed, ease of play, and competitive play balance. The rules are built upon classic hex & counter wargame mechanics in combination with novel and well-integrated systems for ranged attacks, unit recovery, Finnish night raids, and sub-zero weather attrition losses. Low counter density and individually simple mechanics combine to allow each player the luxury of completing his turn in about five minutes. This means the full 40 turn campaign game is playable in a single, long afternoon. The large 5/8 inch counters and oversized hexes further enhance playability. And the Play Book's illustrated examples make it easy to jump right into the action.
Central to play is the Action Phase, wherein each unit may choose only one from several possible actions: move/assault, attempt recovery, dig in, or take replacement steps. This makes for some very tense decisions for both players. It also conveniently moves the game along at a brisk pace.
Red Winter features a uniquely simple unit recovery system. Reduced infantry units may opt to attempt to recover during their turn in lieu of other actions. This requires rolling a “6” on a single die. However, units gain a bonus to the die roll for maintaining their distance from enemy units. This provides a simple yet realistic incentive for players to withdraw their reduced units to the rear and move forward fresh units. During the fourth and fifth (final) days of the battle, the Soviets receive a penalty to recovery rolls, simulating a lack of replacement troops as well as sinking morale. The result, in game terms, is a gradual but noticeable shift in the number of full strength Soviet units on the map.
Another deceptively simple mechanic is used for ranged support. Ranged fire from weapons such as artillery, mortars and machineguns provides a “use it or lose it” benefit to combats against the targeted hex. Thus the attacker will need to follow up his artillery strikes during the very same Combat Phase in order to exploit their benefit, or the suppressed hex will return to normal. No markers or “resets” of any kind are necessary for this mechanic.
Combat is fast and well integrated. Units may voluntarily perform combats against adjacent enemies (two-way firefights, which utilize a CRT), conduct assaults as part of movement, or make ranged attacks at a distance of two or more hexes. The “grand tactical” scale of 425 yards per hex yields ranges of 2 hexes for light machineguns, 3 hexes for heavy machineguns and T-26 tanks, 6 hexes for medium mortars, and 12 hexes for heavy mortars. Artillery is somewhat abstracted, being handled as off-map batteries which can strike any hex on the map. Players allocate barrages as they see fit, while keeping an eye on their ammunition.
The rules for night turns provide several layers of strategic depth by means of individually simple mechanics. During each night turn, which simulates a 12 hour period, units have double their normal movement allowances. This means combat units can exploit gaps in the enemy’s frontline, cross lakes, or execute wide flanking maneuvers. However, such ambitious units are susceptible to “Sub-Zero” step losses, simulating frostbite, desertion, and poor morale from the extreme weather conditions. Whether or not each stack (note: stack, not individual unit) receives a step loss is determined by a simple 50-50 die roll. The interaction of these night rules means that ambitious players may be encouraged to push their luck and gain the upper hand during night turns, all while the system simultaneously encourages players to “do nothing” and even huddle their units together into stacks during night turns to reduce total step losses. The end result is that the system nicely mirrors the night actions of the actual battle.
The implications of the night rules don’t stop there. Skilled players will plan ahead for a night turn by positioning their units favorably during the preceding dusk turn, so they won’t need to relocate and possibly take step losses. This nuance can (and should be) exploited by the Finns, who move second in the turn sequence. The Soviet player has the option to build bonfires to avoid sub-zero attrition losses, but in doing so his units become very inviting targets for Finnish assaults. All this gives both players a lot of choices, without burdening them with cumbersome rules or tables.
It is the winter of 1939 and the Soviet Union has just declared war on Finland. Bombers unleash a downpour of destruction on the Finnish capital of Helsinki. In the David and Goliath struggle that follows (the population of Leningrad alone was greater than the whole of Finland!), four million Soviets swarm across the border and push back the Finns in victory after victory. The future appears grim for Finnish independence.
Nowhere is the danger greater than in the central sector, where a Soviet breakthrough would threaten the strongpoints of the Mannerheim Line. Newly assigned to the sector, the Finnish Colonel Paavo Talvela surveys the situation. He is already thoroughly familiar with the terrain, having extensively wargamed the very situation now at hand, and also having led troops in the region during the Finnish civil war. Talvela chooses the place to make a stand: a lake called Tolvajärvi.
The weary and demoralized Finnish ski troops have mere hours to recover a semblance of order before the Soviet juggernaut smashes into them yet again. Initially, the Finns are outnumbered five to one. Although reinforcements will eventually increase their manpower to roughly even with the Soviets, they will remain outnumbered three to one in automatic weapons, a staggering ten to one in artillery, and suffer from a complete Soviet monopoly in tanks.
Over the next five days, the world watches in awe as the Finns manage to halt the Soviet advance through sheer heroic determination. Then, miraculously, the Finns launch a successful counterattack...
The Game Situation at Tolvajärvi
The game situation at Tolvajärvi is unique for a Winter War battle. Due to the mobile and fluid nature of the front, both players must remain flexible in their plans at all times, exploiting their opponent’s missteps as they occur. Unlike the popular notion of a Winter War battle such as Suomussalmi/Raate Road, the Finns cannot simply surround the Soviet road columns and cut them into out-of-supply pockets. Both sides are evenly matched at Tolvajärvi, but the Soviets begin with a strong numerical superiority. The Finns are hanging on by their teeth initially. But if the Finnish player can balance the acts of trading losses for time and ground for losses, he may be able to weather the onslaught and accumulate enough reinforcements to turn the tide. If he is skilled, he may then be able to mount a full-scale offensive against the Soviet invaders, as did the Finns historically.
The game includes a 40 turn campaign as well as over a dozen shorter scenarios which cover portions of the full five day conflict. All scenarios have been balanced for competitive play.
No. of Players: 2