I am a dedicated fan of John Butterfield’s creations, be it D-Day series or SpaceCorp – they usually have very well thought out solitaire rules and give a real challenge to the players, at the same time being pretty much demanding and tough to win. A hallmark of this designer is a card-driven impulse system, with multi-purpose cards played to activate formations, implement events & resolve combats.

Enemy Action series is probably one of the most detailed and somehow complicated of the John Butterfield’s games, but at the same time very much rewarding and exciting. The Ardennes proved to be a great position, with special rules for solo German, solo American and 2-players. We are getting similar system in Kharkov installment. Below I will be presenting my initial impressions after the 2-player session.

The Game

Let me now bring some initial information about the title itself.

Enemy Action: Kharkov is the second game in John Butterfield’s acclaimed Enemy Action series of card-driven games simulating pivotal battles in World War II, playable by two players or one player controlling either side in the conflict.

The game portrays the Third Battle of Kharkov, the key Eastern Front battle in which the German Army ended a string of Soviet victories begun at Stalingrad. In the late winter of 1943, Soviet Operations code-named Star and Gallop drove the Germans from the city of Kharkov and threatened a complete breakthrough, only to be driven back by the German counteroffensive known as Von Manstein’s Back Hand Blow.


Sessions Report


The game comes with 3 scenarios:

  • The Initial Assault – Turns 1-2
  • Operations Star and Gallop – Turns 1-6
  • The Campaign – full 12 turns

We decided that we shall start with the introductory game, which had its special victory conditions, namely:

  • Soviet wins with 8 or more VPs; anything less is German victory
  • Soviets win if they taken Kharkov
  • or Soviets win if they have a unit behind the Western Support Line (you will see dotted, red line behind Kharkov – that is the one)

In the first two scenarios theses are Soviets who attack; in the long campaign things change in the middle of the game, with initiative moving to Germans. As for our play Kuba took Soviets, with the task to attack while I was given Germans, who will need to try to withstand Soviet offensive.

As always, you can click on any of below images to enlarge it in the new window.

The full theater of The Enemy Action: Kharkov. The initial game turns will take place mainly in the right-bottom part of the map.
A close-up on the at the start situation of the front; Kuba’s units at the bottom with my thin lines on top of them (click to enlarge).
I managed to quickly deploy my II SS Panzer Corp around Kharkov to prevent instant victory for Soviets. Of course, the rest of the front was moving back successively.
Situation mid-game – main Soviet thrust came from 3rd Tank Army (right above). The Mobile Group Popov was severely delayed, gaining only limited ground (left above)
The second turn started with a huge Soviet offensive at Izumy. The losses on both sides were horrendous (4 steps for defender and 4 steps for attacker) but enough to eliminate the defenders entirely.
Since the Izumy-breakthrough the Germans were fighting for survival – pretty well when VPs are considered, but there were simply not enough forces to prevent the Russians to break through the lines and reach terrain behind Western Support Line.
Final situation on the map with four Soviet VPs marked (they were starting with 2) and a break-through unit which won the day for Kuba.
  • Soviet losses

We finished game with the sudden death victory condition although we were pretty close to regular finish of the scenario. That was close and exciting game which gave us a lot of fun!

First Impressions

Let me share now my initial impressions about the game and especially 2-player variant:

  • First and foremost, if you are familiar with hex & counter games it will be reasonably easy for you to quickly get into the game; the rulebook for 2-players is shortest one and most straightforward – in comparison to solo one’s. In other words, I appreciate the ease to learn the rules.
  • We are getting here very neat activation mechanic based on the cards. There is no typical “I-go-You-go” all front movements which usually caused long downtimes; instead each side uses cards to move specific armies / corps / units, i.e. small segments of the troops under their command. That also creates fog of war as you do not know which part of enemy forces can still act in a turn!
  • Another solution which I would like to call-out is the battle resolution procedure. No CRT, no terrain modifiers – just drawing the chits which are applicable in particular situations – like type of terrain, forces ration, status of opponent battle tactics played – and resolving the net score of hits vs. defender and attacker. That proved to be a great solution which we loved from the start.
  • The components quality is really great, although I would like to see mounted map. The counters are rounded, pre-cut and clearly differentiate fronts / corps / armies with colors.

All in all I enjoyed very much the game and will now jump into the Soviet Solo game. What I would like to see is a scenario starting around Turn 7, when the German counter-attack started. But I am sure we will get this too. Stay tuned for more content!