A few years ago, we encountered a new company on the scene called Princeps Games with their first game titled March on the Drina. We did an interview on the game and once again when they had a new game coming out we reached out to get some information about the design to share. This new game is called Freezing Inferno: USSR vs. Finland 1939-1940 and it comes to Kickstarter on October 25th.

If you are interested in Freezing Inferno: USSR vs. Finland 1939-1940, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/princepsgames/freezing-inferno-finland-vs-the-ussr

Grant: Vukašin welcome back for another interview and congratulations on your first game March on the Drina being funded. What did you learn from that Kickstarter campaign?

Vukašin: Thank you. March on the Drina was a successful campaign, but we had a lot of surprises there and we learned a lot from the process. New themes are welcome, but in order to make the game good you need to do really great research. Some things we left unattended and it almost backfired on us. Luckily, we were able to make some changes according to the remarks we got from our audience, so it all ended well. Listening to feedback and being able to act quickly is something we’ve found very important, so we were ready for this campaign.

Grant: What historical event does your new game Freezing Inferno cover?

Vukašin: Freezing Inferno covers the 1939-1940 conflict between Finland and the USSR, also known as the Winter War.

Grant: Why did you want to design a game on this event in World War II?

Vukašin: We were looking for events that had less coverage so we wouldn’t end up with just another game about WWII, and a member of our team, Matt McKean, came up with this idea. I thought it was great, because harsh winter conditions and the terrain with hundreds of lakes would provide additional flavor to the game and make it an upgrade on our previous project.

Grant: What was your design goal with the game?

Vukašin: My goal was to make a game which will somehow ease the gap between boardgames and wargames. I wanted to make a game which will be deep enough for wargamers, but artistic enough to draw in other boardgamers. I feel that those two audiences have drifted apart and since I am right in the middle, I thought that there must be more people like me and I was right. That is why artistic look of the game was important to us and we went this way.

Grant: What type of research did you do to get the details correct? What one source would you recommend?

Vukašin: In our first game March on the Drina, you have a calendar with the most important events of WWI. Freezing Inferno comes with an upgraded version where you have three cards for each round of the game. Those cards talk about important events of that period and give players a lot of interesting information. To gather the info we needed, we mostly relied on historical books and YouTube channels covering this conflict.

Grant: How different are the Finnish units from the USSR units?

Vukašin: We wanted to present the actual historical look of the units, so we had help from the guys from Taktyka i Strategia and Wojciech Zalewski did a great job offering this beautiful artwork for the counters.

Grant: What different special abilities does each side have?

Vukašin: Both players have an option of choosing one of the three technological improvements which they will try to build during the game.

Finnish player can choose between Motti Tactics which will affect enemy Zone of Control, Molotov Coctail which will increase the infantry attack against the Soviet tanks or White Death and Simo Häyhä which will increase Finnish infantry fire power.

The Soviet player has their own advantages to choose from, such as B-4 203mm HOWITZER which increases the range of the artillery, KV-2 TENK which brings a better defense for the Soviet armor units and AEROSANI KM-5 which will make the Soviet supply lines more efficient.

Grant: What area of Finland does the game board cover? How much have borders changed since 1939 and was this information hard to find?

Vukašin: The game covers the whole territory of Finland and parts of neighboring countries. While Sweden and Norway are impassable and the players can’t put or move their units there, the part of the Soviet territory is open for action and Finland can launch its offensive there at any time.

Most of the borders are the same as today, but the biggest change is up in the north. Since we did some modification of the map in order to make the game more playable under these rules, finding the right position for the border line was quite the challenge, because we didn’t want to move too far away from historical borders of that time.

Grant: Who is the artist for the map?

Vukašin: We have two maps, so we have two artists. The artistic map is to be credited to Jelena Pjevic, a local artist who’s been working with us on our first project March on the Drina. Since we’ve had a lot of comments from a wargame community about the look of that map and its artistic style, we chose to listen to our audience. So we asked Wojciech Zalewski for help and with great input from Zilla Blitz and Moe’s Game Table, a second, more wargame-ish map was made. We will offer both maps in our Kickstarter campaign, so the players can choose which map they want to play on.

Grant: What is the purpose of the Weather Conditions Chart and the Diplomacy Chart found on the game board? NOTE: Instead of Weather Conditions Chart on the game board we put Terrain Attack Modifiers, and Weather Conditions Chart will come as a separate board.

Vukašin: The Winter War was fought in harsh winter conditions from November 1939 until February 1940 where temperatures were freezing almost all the time, with winds, fog and snow making heavy impact on the troops of both sides. This is something we wanted to incorporate in the game, so we decided to make the weather conditions and the temperature change every round of the game. Every type of weather brings some effects on the game, especially on units’ movement. Also, the temperature plays a big role since the lakes can be impassable or passable for some units, depending on how cold it is.

Diplomacy Chart brings the international affairs in the game. The USSR was expelled from the League of Nations after its invasion of Finland, so we wanted to bring in lobbying and the sense of political intrigue in the game, but in a way that it doesn’t fall too heavy on the gameplay. Basically, the players can spend their resources trying to swing the mood of the League of Nations in their favor, thus resulting in some benefits for themselves or penalties for the other player.

Grant: What are the Key Cities on the board? How is victory determined?

Vukašin: Three Finnish cities are regarded as the Key Cities and those are Helsinki in the south, Oulu in the middle and Petsamo in the north. The rest of the Finnish and the Soviet cities on the board are regarded as Home Cities. For the USSR to win, they must capture 2 of the 3 Key Cities and hold them until the start of the next round, while also controlling at least 5 of its 7 Home Cities. If this is not achieved by the end of the 8th game round, the winner is the player controlling Finland.

Grant: How important is the effect of terrain on the game, including movement and combat?

Vukašin: The terrain has great effect on units’ movement as well as on their offensive and defensive capabilities. Every type of terrain costs a certain number of movement points so units can move a different number of hexes, according to how much movement points per turn they have. In addition, the terrain effect of the lake hexes can change during the game depending on the temperature, so they can be impassable, passable to infantry only or passable to infantry and artillery.

Some types of terrain affect the strength of the attacker, by reducing or sometimes increasing it. If the defending unit is in the woods or in a fortification, the attacking value will be reduced by a number shown in the Terrain Attack Modifier Chart in the upper left corner of the board.

Grant: What different types of units are involved in the game?

Vukašin: There are 7 different types of units: Infantry, Artillery, Tank, Fighter, Bomber, Anti-aircraft Gun and Headquarters. 

Grant: What are the different characteristics of these units?

Vukašin: Each unit has its attack and defense values and a certain number of movement points. Air units have their range, instead of movement points. Furthermore, artillery has the range of fire which allows it to fire on an enemy unit up to 4 hexes away.

Grant: How are counters used to represent strength?

Vukašin: Every counter represents one strength. By stacking counters, players increase the strength of the unit and by removing it after the unit has taken casualties in the battle, the unit’s strength is reduced. A maximum strength of any unit is 5, so there can be a maximum 5 of counters stacked.

Grant: How are miniatures used and how do they differ from counters?

Vukašin: The miniatures can be used instead of counters. They have strength indicating mechanism comprised of two discs. The lower base disc with numbers from 1 to 5, and the upper rotating disc, used to indicate the current strength of the units. The miniatures are stacked on top of the discs and its strength is reduced or increased by rotating the upper disc to the right position.

We love miniatures and we think that there is nothing more beautiful than a board packed with miniature units ready for battle. We do understand that miniatures increase the costs of the game and that is why we chose to include the counters in the base game and offer miniatures STL files as a separate pledge level and as an add-on, so backers can choose the option that would fit them the best.

Grant: Can we see examples of these miniatures? How can players acquire them?

Vukašin: Of course. Here are the pictures of the miniatures on the game board! The players can pledge for STL files or an add-on with the miniature files and 3D print them at home.

Grant: How does combat work in the design?

Vukašin: For Freezing Inferno, we took the combat system from March on the Drina and upgraded it. Every type of unit has its attack and defense value, which is indicated in the upper left and right corner of the counters. As said before, the strength of the unit is determined by the number of counters in its stack, or it’s indicated on the base disc if you’re playing with miniatures. A unit’s total attack/defense value is determined by adding their attack/defense value to their strength. After that, players put those numbers in ratio and look for the column in the Combat Result Table. The attacking player rolls a die, applies modifiers and looks for the row in the CRT. Intersection of the column and the row gives the result of the battle. Here is a picture for better understanding.

In Freezing Inferno, only one unit can attack one unit at a time, but consecutive attacks on the same unit are allowed, so it is very important for the attacker to figure out in which order their units will attack. The players should always use air units first, then artillery and if something survives, just send tanks and infantry to finish it.

Grant: What different dice options are included and why?

Vukašin: Freezing Inferno comes with 5 dice. D10 and D12 are used to determine the weather conditions and the temperature for the upcoming round, as described earlier. The other three dice are D8 and two custom D20 dice, but with numbers 1-8.

In order to adjust the impact of luck on the game, the Players can choose to use 3 types of dice:

1.            The standard D8 die where the players have 12.5% chance to get any number from 1 to 8.

2.            A custom D20 with numbers 1 to 8. Here you will have a 10% chance to get a 1, 2, 7 or 8, but 15% chance to get 3, 4, 5 or 6.

3.            A custom D20 with numbers 1 to 8, which gives you 5% chance to get a 1 or 8, 10% to get 2 or 7, 15% to get 3 or 6, and 20% to get 4 or 5.

The players choose one of the dice at the start of the game and after that the die can’t be changed.

In this way, strength ratio of the units will have more impact on the result of the battle since the players will have less chance to completely fail (roll 1) or perform brilliantly (roll 8).

Grant: What are the various optional Modules included? How do they change the play experience?

Vukašin: There are three optional Modules in the game.

Module 1 – The Weather

Module 1 brings Temperature and Weather Conditions to the game which have certain effects on the movement of units, as described earlier.

At the start of the game, the Temperature is set to Very Cold and the Weather is set to Clear, and the effects from the table are applied for the first round of the game.

At the beginning of each subsequent round, one of the players (by agreement) rolls D10 and D12 dice, which determine what the Weather will be that round. The effects are applied immediately and last until the start of the next round.

Module 2 – Technological-tactical improvements

Technological-tactical improvements are shown on the Players Cards and they consist of four branches of research. METEOROLOGY, ESPIONAGE, SABOTAGE and TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCEMENTS. Each column is divided into a number of fields, which represent the degree of development of a given branch, that is, the effects that are obtained when the specified branch of research is sufficiently developed.

Module 3. – Diplomacy

Diplomacy represents the influence of Finland and the USSR on other countries in the League of Nations. With the attack on Finland, the USSR was expelled from the League of Nations, so the initial position, that is, the attitude of the League of Nations towards the USSR, is negative.

At the beginning of the 7th round of the game, the effects listed on the Diplomacy table field where the marker is located at that time apply. Depending on the position of the marker, the Finnish player may receive a certain number of units as reinforcements from the League of Nations.

Grant: How important are HQ’s to the game? How does an HQ effect supply?

Vukašin: HQ’s are very important, since they allow other units to play with their full strength and to be resupplied if needed. An area of 7 hexes around the HQ is considered a supply zone. When a unit is out of supply, its Movement is halved, as well as its Total Attack Value and Total Defense Value (rounded up) and they can’t be reinforced. If the player loses an HQ, it can lead to a total breakdown of their fighting force on that part of the front, so it is important for the players to always keep their HQ’s safe in the back.

Grant: How important are airports?

Vukašin: Air units can only land at airports, so if the players want to have their air power available for attack and defense, they have to make sure they have control of the nearby airport. If the player pushes too far forward with their ground units without taking the airfield, they won’t have the air support in the next turn, so taking the airfields, even if it doesn’t look so in the beginning, is very important.

Grant: How are actions like air lift and air bridge used?

Vukašin: Air lift or air bridge is an action performed by the bombers in order to quickly relocate the units on the board. Since Freezing Inferno has a secret setup at the beginning of the game, the players don’t know the layout of the enemy’s units. This may come as an unpleasant surprise, so the bomber can transport infantry and HQ’s to the other part of the front, thus allowing the players to act according to the situation on the board.

Grant: What are you most pleased about, design-wise?

Vukašin: I love that we’ve managed to present something new and something unique to the wargaming community. Battle mechanism and consecutive attacks where the players must carefully choose the order of the attack are the key points of the design. In addition, I am really pleased how the weather mechanism works, since I got feedback from the playtesters that it brings that harsh winter conditions feeling in the game.

Grant: What has been the response of playtesters? How do they feel about the time period now?

Vukašin: Playtesters were very pleased with the design. Almost all of them pointed out the new system which is something they’ve never seen before. Furthermore, they really liked the possibility to adjust the impact of luck in the game by using custom D20 dice. That is again, something they haven’t found before in a wargame. There aren’t many games about the Winter War, so the theme was very interesting to them, even with the current global situation in the World.

Grant: What stretch goals are included in the Kickstarter campaign?

Vukašin: We have two maps for the game, the artistic and the more wargame-ish one. For now, the second one will come as a free PDF file, but the first stretch goal is a double sided mounted board, so players can choose which one they want to play on. As for the other stretch goals, keep an eye on the Kickstarter campaign and you will see.

If you are interested in Freezing Inferno: USSR vs. Finland 1939-1940, you can check out the Kickstarter campaign at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/princepsgames/freezing-inferno-finland-vs-the-ussr