At the end of November 1939, shortly following the commencement of what would become known as World War II, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) demanded territory of Finland, especially around Leningrad, for ‘security’ reasons. When the Finns refused, the Soviets launched an attack using four armies comprised of nearly 1,000,000 troops. Approximately one-third that number of Finns defended their homeland in what is now referred to as the ‘Winter War’. Although the League of Nations declared the war ‘illegal’ and expelled the USSR two weeks later, ultimately, despite fierce resistance during almost four months of struggle in the ice and snow, the Soviets won concession of virtually all their territorial demands.
Order of Battle: World War II (formerly OoB: Pacific; reviewed here by James Cobb) recently added its Winter War (WW) DLC alongside Morning Sun and U.S. Marines. The latest expansion inaugurates the series’ foray into the greater realm of WWII, the foregoing installments having all been set in the Pacific theatre.
Beginning with the defence of the Mannerheim Line, the DLC’s 13 scenarios also cover the so-called Continuation War, when the Finns allied with Nazi Germany in order to recoup territory lost in the Winter War. Following a separate peace the Finns made with the USSR, German forces sought to evacuate northern Finland and Norway; the Lapland War was the result, concluding OoB: WW.
What’s New – Or Not So New?
Featuring a completely different operational area as well as opponents, one would expect certain changes in the game. As reviewed a few months ago by James, the graphics remain gorgeous, this iteration seeing ‘snow’ – as one might imagine – falling on field and forest, hill and rooftop, bunker and supply dump… One would also presume the introduction of certain units such as Finnish Ski Troops. Although not statistically all that superior to Infantry – comparing ’39 versions, Ski are 1.6 times more expensive in Resource Points (RP) – they bring up at least one intended topic: Unit Traits. Other subjects are Commanders, ‘efficiency’, and Special Events.
I invite players to have a look at the preceding image as well as an Engineer’s Unit Trait window (presumably, everyone already has the base game!). Units in OoB have many different traits, but, aside from the obvious – minesweeping/laying – there are others, e.g. ‘Digger’ and ‘Infrastructural Repairs’. According to the tooltip, the former trait means that Engineers can assist in entrenchment of adjacent units, while the latter is probably self-explanatory (both are accomplished automatically, unlike laying mines, for example).
Unit Traits, while sometimes ‘hidden’, can significantly change the game if one pays attention and takes advantage of them. For example, Ski Troops, in addition to ‘Concealable’, have the apparently new ‘Guerrilla’ trait; quoting the tooltip from the Unit Trait window, the unit suffers “No efficiency loss from terrain disruption”. Players of the series are doubtless aware that when some units move through certain terrain – i.e., jungle and hill – they can suffer this form of disorganisation; aforementioned as ‘efficiency’.
Similar to how Supply status is indicated, a unit’s efficiency is denoted by its Strength label changing colour. From white to pale yellow, indicating a low state of disorganisation, efficiency loss escalates to orange, followed by light-, then dark, red. Perhaps needless to say, units become less and less effective as they move and fight, or are bombarded, strafed, etc. Remaining still for at least a turn – and not being attacked! – is the only thing that allows any significant improvement; it seems that even taking on replacements, though unmoving, will not improve efficiency as much as doing nothing. (Although I have seen units go from red to white in a turn, I suspect Supply status might have an effect as well, but haven’t tested this theory.)
Something else that can significantly affect the game is Commanders. As mentioned by James and the manual, leaders are automatically awarded in particular scenarios or by completing certain Secondary Objectives (SO). For purposes of this review, note the above screenshot; the Commander awarded at the beginning of the Winter War campaign has a buff to Attack (+2 vs. Land) as well as Shock (+10!). As described, this leader can disrupt enemy efficiency in battles taking place within range – in Talvela’s case, within two hexes (leaders have a zero- to three-hex range). Commanders can be wounded or captured if their unit is destroyed, so be careful!
Another feature I would like to comment upon is that of Special Events. These are ‘flavour’ popups that occur either as a scripted event or by achieving an SO. As mentioned, they may grant a special unit, RPs, or perhaps penalise the enemy in some way (such as ‘causing supply problems’ after destroying a fuel dump; I would hate to see how many Sov aircraft came after me if I hadn’t destroyed it in that scenario…). A nice touch, for immersion; in my opinion executing it better than, say, Soviet Corps.
A last feature James mentioned and about which I must add my enthusiasm is the adjacent unit ‘swap’; I wish certain other games in the genre had it.
My play-through thus far indicates that, along with force concentration, the only way to win Winter War (at moderate- to harder Difficulty), is to take keen advantage of such buffs. I had to try a couple of scenarios several times before I realised the benefit of the above leader, and the Guerrilla ability of Ski Troops. (Yeah, I hear all the grognards scolding me about ‘knowing thy forces’ or some such!) Although I played through both original OoB campaigns two or three times each, the latter time at ‘General’ Difficulty, I had to try “Karelian Isthmus” four times, finally turning it down to ‘Captain’, or Kapteeni Difficulty, just so I could get on with it (my deadline approached!). BTW, Winter War’s Difficulty levels are: I. Vääpeli; II. Luutnaanti; III. Kapteeni; IV. Eversti; V. Kenraali. Presumably Finnish! A nice touch, for historicity/immersion.
At the risk of stating the obvious, the gameplay of WW offers some challenges not found in the other campaigns. For example, instead of ‘island-hopping’ atolls, the player gets to assault a strung-out Soviet division; one has the opportunity to place units in pockets virtually all along the enemy’s flank – but only from two directions. One assigned SO requires a speedy penetration of two locations along this front, while the Primary is to destroy a minimum number of enemy units. As James revealed, SOs may have to be prioritised; the problem is, usually you don’t know what the possible rewards could be. It’s interesting finding out, however, then perhaps trying again to get the unachieved objective(s).
Another piece of advice I can offer is that the player’s air force will not quite measure up to the enemy’s, in quality, quantity, nor selection; so remain on the defensive until such time as you might catch up. Also, although it seems counter-intuitive, using fighters vs. enemy aircraft before your AA seems more effective than the latter first. Often, one can soften a unit up with one or two or maybe three dogfights, then knock it down with AA. In at least one scenario, an SO requires the player to damage enemy air units with his own aircraft anyway; AA damage doesn’t count. Oh, and stay away from Soviet AA if you can…
One last caveat: Although the player cannot buy tanks, a few will likely be awarded. Protect them well, as Replacements for them are slooooowwww… Makes sense that one of their Unit Traits is ‘Limited Replacements’; I’d venture a guess that trained tank – as well as heavier AT – crew are scarce in WWII Finland!
I Have a Problem with That, Though…
Where me and James’ opinions differ is in regards to the font size and quality of the strategic map, which I find acceptable. It’s mouse-scroll zoom-able, and an option in the Preferences Menu allows for ‘Dynamic Scaling’ (if your graphics are adequate, I presume). The strategic map is actually nice; abstracted, akin to certain board games’.
Other than not getting any Specialisations in WW – say what? – I have only a few minor quibbles with it.
One: What’s up with Dense Forest? They are impenetrable to tanks (okay, I’ll buy that), AT, Engineers, and Heavy Infantry, but not to carts? No mention of them in the manual…
Two: It seems the AI hasn’t changed; as described by James, it will often abandon a strong defensive position to essay a questionable attack. Perhaps even worse – or as a case(s) in point – no less than six times in my first few scenarios (some replayed) a Soviet tank did an end-around to get at a ‘juicy’ target or presumed ‘VP rush’. While disconcerting at first, the gambits invariably allowed me to cut them off and destroy them virtually at leisure, with little lasting damage in return. A couple of times it even brought up artillery adjacent to my infantry, which surely had been spotted, since enemy units were also adjacent or near enough. (Gee, thanks, I guess!)
Three: I would like to see the option to play as the Soviets; perhaps a perspective other than ‘doomed heroic loser’ seeking to reverse history…
Four: A ‘cargo hold’ on an airbase is a ‘hangar’!
Winter War is definitely one to add to your Order of Battle collection. It doesn’t go as far as it perhaps could have, but the different locals, the new enemies and tactics… it’s a breath of fresh air for a series which hitherto has focused on the Pacific theatre. What’s more, you too can enjoy the AI bombing your ‘cargo holds’; blitzing an arty with a single tank; VP rushing deep into meaningless territory. Perhaps that doesn’t happen on harder Difficulties; It will need further testing.
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