Recently I had again a chance to play one of the masterpieces of John Butterfield’s designs – Enemy Action Kharkov. After familiarizing one of my colleagues to the two player version, the time has come to check solo variants. It seems that the Soviet Solitaire system is easier to grasp – and definitely, nicer to play as you attack from turn one – and thus that will be the subject of this material.

While Enemy Action series is probably one of the most detailed and somehow complicated of the John Butterfield’s games, it is 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 – it is like 3 games in a box!

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

I decided that for a starter I shall go with the introductory game (Initial Assault), 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 and Soviets 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. Let us see how I did in my initial attempt! Below picture-rich session report!

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; defending Germans on the northern side of the front, units at the bottom are my forces (click to enlarge).

Turn 1

I started with pretty strong attack in the South. As a result, the Corpus Raus was demolished but my units got disorganized in the process (to prevent losses)
But the main blow came in the North, in the direction of Kharkov. Germans were leaving garrisons everywhere, but a well-prepared play of Stavka card (see that comment about stacking) allowed to destroy outright couple of German units and disorganize the rest.
The situation after both attacks – a huge gap is clearly visible in the center.
Another card for 3rd Tank Army allows me to seize the initiative and proceed through the gap towards Belgorod and other VP areas.
Situation after First Turn – significant gains in area of Kharkov, minimal near Slavyansk.

Turn 2

3rd Tank army moves again, taking Belgorod and encircling Volchansk – where huge portion of SS Das Reich division is stationed.
Finally I managed to reconstitute Mobile Group Popov and amass enough forces to successfully attack Izyum. Luckily without losses! 
Of course Germans immediately repositioned its reserves to plug the gap.
Erich von Manstein is a great card for Attack. Here the AI used it for proper repositioning (look north of Belgorod).
The time has come to take Volchansk! Huge attack from all directions, with enough losses to eliminate enemy in Town. Another VP gained!
Using depletion of German forces, a lot of simultaneous attacks in region of Sloviansk took place. In the process, the latter was taken.
Final situation at the end of scenario, with nine Soviet VPs marked on the map and Tactical Victory. Still, the following counter-attack probably would smash exposed elements of Mobile Group Popov.

What a game – there were moments when I though I will not break through the defense. All those garrisons were popping up like mushrooms everywhere. Still a good planning allowed breakthrough in the south. Kharkov though was never in danger – I did not have enough forces there.

First Impressions

Let me share now my initial impressions about the Soviet Solo Variant:

  • It is fun to play Soviets – at least initially. Two turns of unstoppable offensives, encirclement, breakthroughs and possibility to optimize and maximize the terrain gains.
  • I am fan of no-dice battle resolution procedures (see: My Top 3 No-Dice Wargames). Here this title excels, as there is not only zero CRT but also no terrain modifiers – just drawing the chits which are applicable in particular situations. Great idea, and what is more – great implementation.
  • Again, I have to admit the components quality is great, the clipped counters are a very welcome surprise, the clear, colored designation for front and armies very helpful. Still, I wish I could have a mounted map (two sided most probably to reduce cost). But one cannot complain if he gets 3 game sin one box! Nothing special for solo game, but I like it so much that have to repeat!
  • I admit, it takes time initially to grasp the AI (Germans) flow and all the priorities for them – where they move, what they will do, etc. Still, a common sense often saved situation 🙂 I think I would probably add one player Aid, with a flowchart, going step by step by each decision point.

It is probably obvious from my article that I enjoyed the game enormously. I can only imagine what would start to happen when Germans counter-attack and how brittle my currently nice position can be. I will for sure try larger scenario and later on – also German Solo Variant. Stay tuned!