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Red Winter

Overview

 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.
 
Mechanics

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.
 

Background

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.

 

 

 
What the playtesters and rules readers are saying:

“I am a play tester for this game and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy every game that I have played. The rules venture into familiar territory and are easy to digest. The rulebook itself is laid out quite well. The historical commentary interspersed throughout helps to put the rules into context. This is really a slug fest between the Finns and Russians. It is fast paced, but brutal when the Russian artillery rains down. The Finns can take great advantage of the night turns for positioning themselves more favorably. Each side has advantages and disadvantages but the scenarios I have played both through VASSAL and face-to-face seemed to be quite balanced …provided great frustration for the Russian player and stress for the Finn player. Keep in mind this is not a bash, these are the desired effects I expect in a game- tension!” -Keith Mageau

 “Very nice work!!! I'm getting REALLY pumped to see this one on the ol' game table!!!!!!!” -Dan Conely

“I have been eyeing off some of the other Winter War games, and, without naming names, this does look as though it will be much easier on the eyes and concentration. Good theme, fairly straight forward rules, well executed & tested and looks great as well. It's great to see someone taking this on…” -Blair Merton

“The game looks great and the rules are already very tight. I love the setting, the scale, the map art. The rules look fantastic, particularly the assault rules and the Finnish chrome. Get this thing published!” -Andrew Carlson

“I am really digging the rules and they aren't really complex which is a plus for teaching new players. …I am also loving the map with all of the charts readily available on it…Overall, this is just really looking to be a really fun game!”-Caleb Wynn

 

Scenarios Include:

 (Note that in the Play Book, each scenario contains extensive historical notes and strategic notes)

 

16.1 The Campaign Game (The Battle of Tolvajärvi).

 

This is the full five day battle, and the clearest picture of the decisions and challenges that faced the commanders at Tolvajärvi. Of all the scenarios provided in the game, it will take the longest to complete (about 6 hours if neither player wins an automatic victory prior to turn 40), but it also offers both players the widest range of possible strategies.

Duration: Turns 1-40 (40 turns).

 

16.2 The First Day (Kivisalmi Bridge and the Tourist Hotel).

 

This scenario is essentially identical to the first day of the Campaign Game, and as such it is excellent practice for both players if they are planning to undertake the campaign.
 
The victory conditions have been carefully crafted to give each player a taste of the types of tactics he must employ to survive until the latter days of the battle. It is an especially good workout for the Finns, who must master the art of trading ground for losses, or losses for time, as appropriate. This scenario can be completed in less than an hour.

 

Duration: Turns 1-5 (5 turns).

 

16.3 The First Two Days (Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object).

 

This is effectively a longer version of 16.2 that incorporates the next day’s fighting. It is a nice compromise between ease of play (it will take you about 3 hours) and complexity, offering some insight into the strategies and situations inherent in the Campaign Game. Both players have considerable freedom as to how they wish to pursue their goals- more so during the second day of the scenario.

 

This scenario is very useful for giving both players a chance to see the consequences of their actions during the first day. For example, if the Soviets “gobble up” victory objectives at the end of day one, they may find themselves overextended and viciously counterattacked by the Finns on day two. If the Finns sacrifice units to hold territory during the first day, they may find they don’t have enough units to stop the Soviets on the second day.

 

Duration: Turns 1-14 (14 turns).

 

16.4 The Second Day (Out of the Noose)

 

This scenario begins on December 9th with the units of both sides in roughly their historical positions, then allows to players to explore the possibilities.

 

While not as open ended as the First Two Days scenario, the players will likely find this scenario less restrictive than the First Day scenario. Inventiveness can really pay off.

 

I particularly like the victory conditions here, as they encourage both players to make a move; merely holding the ground you start with is not enough to ensure victory.

 

This should make a good Tournament scenario.

 

Duration: Turns 6 - 14 (9 turns)

 

16.5 The Third and Fourth Days

 
Both sides begin in roughly their historical positions for the third day (Dec. 10th), but with considerably more flexibility. There are many ways the players might attempt to gain the upper hand. However, the task will not be an easy one for either player, as both sides have already had the opportunity to situate themselves favorably and dig in.

Duration: Turns 19-32 (14 Turns)

 

16.6 Lake Crossing (historical night attack)

 

 

Before dawn on Dec. 11, a superior Soviet force on Kotisaari Island attempted to cross the ice and storm the town of Tolvajärvi. The Finns of 3/JR16 battalion were dug-in and waiting.

 

 

 

This scenario presents an interesting situation, but due to its small size victory or defeat can hinge on one or two key combat rolls. Setup strategy is very important to both players, and as is knowing when to attack and when to stay put and place the burden on your opponent. I recommend this scenario mainly as a learning exercise, rather than for competitive play. It can be completed in half an hour or less.

 

Duration: Turns 23-26 (4 turns).

 

 

16.7 Firefight on the Ice (alt-history morning lake crossing)

 

 

 

This is a hypothetical variant of the Lake Crossing scenario which examines what might have happened had the Soviets waited until later in the day on the 11th to launch their attack across the ice. By waiting, the Soviets would have had time to fully recover their units, but they also would have been crossing the ice in broad daylight. The delay also might have given the Finnish Erp9 battalion time to reach the battlefield.

 

 

 

Duration: Turns 29-32 (4 turns).

 

 

 

16.8 The Battle for Kotisaari Island (the final day: south sector)

 

This small scenario simulates the Soviet’s desperate attempt to hold Kotisaari Island on the final day of the battle.

 

Duration: Turns 34-40 (7 turns).

 

 

16.9 The Battle for the Tourist Hotel- Tanks to the Rescue! (the final day- central sector)

 

 

 

This scenario features the full scale Finnish assault on the tourist hotel on the final day of the battle (Dec.12), as well as rescue attempt by an entire Soviet tank battalion.

 

 

 

Duration: Turns 33-40 (8 turns)

 

 

 

16.10 The Battle for Hirvasvaara (the final day- northern sector)

 

 

The Finns and Russians unexpectedly clash as each attempts to circle around the lake from the north. The outnumbered Finns are attempting to retake Hirvasvaara with minimal artillery support.

 

This is a short scenario involving a very small number of units. As such, it makes an excellent introduction to the game. Both sides have a roughly equal shot at victory.

 

Duration: Turns 35-40 (6 turns)

 

 

16.11 Two on Two (an alt-history version of the final day- northern sector)

 

 

 

In this hypothetical variant of the Battle for Hirvasvaara, the Soviets have committed a portion of their forces to the defense of the hotel, making the conflict near Hirvasvaara more evenly matched (roughly two battalions against two battalions). The victory objectives have been altered to reflect this.

 

 

 

Duration: Turns 35-40 (6 turns)

 

 

 

16.12 The Fifth Day

 

 

 

The scenario covers the fifth and final day of the battle in its entirety. It features the full scale Finnish assault on the tourist hotel, as well as rescue attempt by elements of a Soviet tank battalion.
 
Note that this is the “free setup” version of the scenario, which gives the players considerably more opportunities to try unhistorical strategies. I recommend it over the historical situation, as it is less predictable. Players wishing to experience the historical situation should play scenario 16.13.

 

Play tests have shown this scenario to be fast, chaotic, unpredictable, and a lot of fun. It has excellent replay value due to the variable setup. It is not recommended for first time players due to the unit density and the strategic situation- one mistake can lose you the game. It should make an ideal Tournament Scenario for two skilled players.

 

 

Duration: Turns 34-40 (7 turns)

 

 

 

16.13 The Fifth Day (historical scenario)

 

 This version places the Finns at roughly their historical jumping-off positions and the Soviets in their historical defensive positions. Only a platoon of Soviet tanks arrives as reinforcements, as they did historically.

 

16.14 The Fifth Day (fog of war variant)

This is a variant of the Dec. 12 scenario which allows the Finns to use fog of war rules and markers. This really keeps the Soviet player on his heels, and adds an exciting element to the game play.

 

 

I recommend trying this scenario only after both players are familiar with the situation and strategies inherent in the normal Fifth Day scenario, 16.12. This will really change the way the Soviet player sets up and plays the game, as he now does not know from where the real thrust will come.

 

 

 

16.15 Alternate Campaign “Replacements to the Rescue” (hypothetical)

This campaign variant examines what might have happened had the Finnish Field Replacement Battalion 13, originally assigned to Task Force A, not been sent to Ilomantsi. The Finns are in a better position to resist than they were historically during the first few days of the battle, but they will not enjoy a morale bonus during the final days. Design note: Without the replacements, the Finns defending at Ilomantsi, to the north, are becoming quickly overwhelmed by the Soviet advance. This does not bode well for the fate of the Finns at Tolvajärvi, who will soon be cut off. This scenario utilizes the Finnish replacement variant units provided in the countersheet.

 

The Future of Red Winter

Future Winter War games in the series may cover the first and second battles for Ägläjärvi, the uniquely lopsided Finnish tragedy-turned-victory at Ilomantsi, the railroad battle at Kollaa River, the border clashes of the Ladoga front (featuring a Finnish armored train bristling with machine guns and howitzers), and the costly Soviet assaults against the Mannerheim Line at the Karelian Isthmus. Designs for the Ägläjärvi game are already well underway.