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Note on Expanded 2nd Printing: We have expanded the game to include a new battle (maps, counters, scenario), as detailed in the text below. In all other ways, this edition will be the same as the 1st printing, with any known errata corrected.
Expanded 2nd Edition Overview
This 2nd edition game is more than just a reprint of the 2012 CSR Award winner for best WW2 boardgame. It features an all-new battle, complete with its own map and countersheet.
The Battle of Kelja (December 25-27, 1939) now compliments the original Tolvajärvi battle. Kelja presents a challenge that is unique to the game system but certainly not the Winter War: a large-scale river crossing. The length of the new map is bisected by a wide, frozen river that functions as a frozen lake. The overstrength Soviet 4th Rifle Division, with five infantry regiments under its command, must establish a beachhead from which to launch attacks on the Finnish 10th Division. Opposing the crossing is a loose system of forts and roughly two tenacious battalions of Finnish infantry. The defenders are initially overwhelmed but reinforcements are on the way.
Kelja is a logical fit for the game system in terms of length and scale. At three days, it provides a shorter play experience than the five-day Tolvajärvi battle. The unit density is only moderately higher than that of the previous battle but still limited to a single countersheet, and the featured river crossing offers a unique game situation, providing both players with plenty of decisions and challenges.
The Soviet player must choose the number and location of his crossings. Historically, the Soviets opted for a four-pronged, simultaneous attack, plus a (fifth) diversionary prong, but the game allows the Soviet player to experiment with nearly any deployment and crossing strategy. Once established, the Soviet beachheads must be continually supplied and reinforced if the Soviets are to break out of their “motti” and capture their objectives: several key forts, towns, and roads. Heavy artillery and even a handful of tanks are on hand to support the Soviet effort.
The outnumbered Finns must scramble to prevent a Soviet breakout while using their heavy machine guns and artillery to whittle away at the near-constant stream of Soviets crossing the ice. As reinforcements arrive to bolster the Finnish strength, they must be guided to the appropriate “hotspots.” The Finnish player must continually weigh the need to do several things at once: mount a forward defense by blocking the Soviet beachheads, defend in depth by digging-in behind the current frontline, launch spirited counter-attacks to stall Soviet breakouts or destroy smaller pockets, and delegate an appropriate number of troops to shore duty to stall the near-constant movement of fresh Soviet reinforcements across the ice.
Lest the battle become a “one trick pony,” plenty of options are available to both players, including variable unit setups, multiple victory conditions, variable reinforcement units, and smaller scenarios including some hypothetical situations.
Red Winter veterans will find a new set of challenges awaiting them in Kelja, while newcomers will benefit from the battle’s straightforward nature. Kelja strips away some of the special rules from the Tolvajärvi battle (bonfires, night raids, the Pajari leader) and offers a more streamlined alternative to the previous battle. While not intended as a replacement for Tolvajärvi, and lacking some of that battle’s dynamics, Kelja compliments the former battle by offering players a fresh alternative with its new map, unique tactical considerations, shorter play time, and multiple scenarios.
The following text describes the original Tolvajärvi battle which is also included in this edition.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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