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Subject: KARELIA '44, an enjoyable surprise! rss

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Richard Boyes
United States
Bothell
Washington
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KARELIA '44 is The Gamers/MMP latest Standard Combat Series game. I've only played it once, but it was such a fun session I want to spread the word! I was the Finns and my opponent the Soviets.

The Sequence of Play goes like this:

Pre-Game Turn:

Boss Patience Phase
Air Point Determination Phase

Soviet Turn:

Prepared Offensive Announcement
Reinforcement
Barrage
Movement
Combat
Supply
Finnish Reaction
Exploitation

Finnish Turn:

Reinforcement
Movement
Combat
Supply
Exploitation


Victory conditions

Spread across the map are Victory Point hexes with values varying from 1 to 5 that total 39 VPs. The most valuable of these hexes are furthest from the Soviet's south edge starting positions, and will be the ultimate Soviet objectives near the north map edge. The winner is the player in possession of 20 or more of VPs when the game ends, but that is the catch, the game's ending is variable, and occurs when the Boss Point level is 0.

Boss Patience Phase

At the beginning of each game turn the Soviet player rolls a die, on a 1 to 3 one Boss Point is lost, on a 4 to 6 no Boss Points are lost, and if the Boss Point level reaches 0, the game ends immediately. The Soviet begins the game with 3 Boss Points (the Boss being Stalin, not Bruce Springsteen). With the 50% chance of losing a Boss Point each turn you might expect the game to last around 6 turns, however, Boss Points can be gained in two ways. (1) Controlling all VP hexes of a defense line (Main Line of Resistance (MLR) or the VT line) or (2) removing units from the map (24 steps of Soviet units OR all Soviet Guards units). So the Soviet has the potential of gaining 4 Boss Points along the way which will extend the game and give him more time to get 20 VPS.

Air Point Determination

Both players roll a die and refer to a table. Results are compared and one player will end up with 1 to 4 Air Points which are flexible with each Air Point allowing a shift of a combat odds one column in the owner's favor.

Soviet Prepared Offensive Announcement

A key Soviet strategy decision is when to declare a turn to be a Prepared Offensive turn. He gets three Prepared Offensives per game and the Prepared Offensives must be separated by at least three game turns. Prepared Offensives give the Soviet four goodies. (1) six Massive Barrages (to replace their usual artillery barraging that turn), (2) the ability to attack at any odds (normally he needs at least 2 to 1 odds or it's no go), (3) the Soviet gets to mark 11 units as 2nd Wave, giving those units the ability to use Exploitation that turn, and (4) all Soviet attacks that turn are bumped up one odds column on the Combat Results Table. Massive Barrages use a special column on the Barrage Table which is more likely to cause step losses and guaranteed to Disorganize the defending hex. My opponent used the Prepared Offensives on turns 1, 4 and 7. Since the Soviet is under the threat of the game ending, I bet the earliest possible use of the Prepared Offensives will be common.

Game Play

The rest of the phases are fairly routine for wargamers: movements and combats. By the way, the SCS system allows overruns during movement.

Major game play differences for the Finns and Soviets are in timing of artillery barrages and the Finn Reaction Phase during the Soviet turn; no reaction phase for the Soviets. Finnish Artillery doesn't have a barrage phase but instead gets to move-then-fire or fire-then-move during movement, reaction, and exploitation phases if eligible. Up to three shots per unit per turn! The Soviets get one shot with each artillery unit only during the Barrage Phase, but their wild card is the Prepared Offensive turn which allows six Massive Barrages instead of normal fire.

The basic situation is a skimpy Finnish army facing masses of Soviets fighting in the strip of land bounded by Lake Ladoga and the Gulf of Finland. Although the Finnish army is thin and many units are one step units that can vaporize very quickly, there are 3-step Finnish units that can pack some punch in counterattacks. The Finns also have lots of space to trade away and there are defense lines and terrain which double defense factors.

The Soviet advances with two armies, 21st and 23rd, each on a tether for supply through its HQ. HQs can only move on transportaton lines (roads, trails, rails) which mainly run North/South, so once the Soviet starts pushing an HQ up a road the Finn can see where to expect a main thrust. Rivers are a barrier to motorized units so those units will be somewhat channeled too.

My Game

I was the Finns and my trusty opponent took the Soviets. The game opened with a Prepared Offensive Turn and the Soviet got off to a good start pushing my Finns back easily all across the front. I was getting uneasy as the Boss Points stayed at 3 for a few turns and things were just not going my way. (That's how it looked to me anyway. But over the years I have more than once been in what I thought was a doomed game situation only to have my opponent offer his resignation. Apparently he was thinking he was more doomed!)

Finally on Turn 7 the Boss Points were down to 1. One point is bad, because if the Soviet player doesn't gain a Boss Point during that game turn, he will face a 50% chance of immediate loss (assuming he doesn't have the winning level of 20 VPs) at the beginning of the next turn. As bad as things had gone for the Finns I was managing to hold on to the last VP hex of the MLR near a terrain bottleneck in the eastern sector. Realizing that gaining a Boss Point from clearing the MLR was iffy, my opponent elected to remove 24 steps of Soviet units. He took units from both 21st and 23rd Armies, but the reduction took much of the punch out of the 23rd Army for the remainder of the game. This left the onus of getting VPs on the 21st Army which was headed towards the main VP hexes of Viipuri (Vyborg). As it turned out, the Soviet did take that last MLR VP hex and with the removal of units too the Boss Point track was back up to 3 for game turn 8.

So the Soviet advance continued. But as the Soviet gains ground going north, the front widens immensely due to the geography along the Gulf of Finland. Fortunately giving ground and the Soviet being hampered by the chaining of supply through slow moving HQs (there are only the two HQs) helped me barely keep the Soviets contained.

On about turn 13 the Soviet finally got down to one Boss Point again, just as he reached the doorstep of Viipuri. Taking the VT line was not a possibility due the weakness of the 23rd Army in the east, so the Soviet figured he had two options. (1) Remove ALL Guards units to gain one Boss point and hopefully have a turn or two to assault Viipuri for the decisive VPs, although that assaulting army would be severely weakened without those Guards. (2) Leave the Guards units on the map, risk losing the game next turn due to the Boss Point roll, but have an army with the strength to make good odds attacks on the big VP hexes.

My Soviet opponent chose to leave the units on the map because he didn't think the weakened 21st Army, which contains most of the Guards, would be up to the task of taking Viipuri. Well, he lost the Boss Point die roll, game over. Finnish victory. An abrupt end to a tense and competitive campaign.

It was exciting for both of us. Lots of decisions: what axis of advance to use, how to get more Boss Points, when to use Prepared Offensives, for the Soviets. For the Finns: how to best use their flexible artillery, how to thwart Soviet tactics with the Reaction Phase, when to trade space for time.

The SCS and KARELIA '44 rules are tight, we didn't have any problems. The map does use a small 5/8 inch hex grid and the counters are 1/2 inch. It seems like the Gamers are about the only folks still using small hexes and counters. But the map and counters have good graphics and are pleasing to the eye. Stacking is limited to 3 units per hex, so game play was manageable in those tight hexes. There is only one copy of the charts and tables on the back of the rules. I made my own scans for convenience. KARELIA '44 is a quality product overall.

This game took nearly 9 hours, but now that we know the system I bet a game could be completed easily in 5 hours, or less if the Boss Points run out quickly!

KARELIA '44 is likely to become one of my favorites of the SCS series.
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Clay Woody
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Albuquerque
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Hey Richard,

This reply is only four years late, but I had to compliment you on the nice review and AAR. They definitely make me want to buy this game, a game I have many times bypassed. I have only two games covering the Finnish front, Winter War by S&T and a Winter War by GRD; this just may have to make number three!

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Tony B
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Borodin wrote:
Hey Richard,

This reply is only four years late, but I had to compliment you on the nice review and AAR. They definitely make me want to buy this game, a game I have many times bypassed. I have only two games covering the Finnish front, Winter War by S&T and a Winter War by GRD; this just may have to make number three!

I'm four years late to your reply. I just bought the game myself and think its great. Too bad it doesn't get enough love.
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