On the bright said I had less dice to roll, even after three entrants initially tied for first. The winner of the dice-off, and the contest, is noteworthy in that he was the last person to join Sitrep in 2021 and the first to enter to enter the contest. His ASL adventures are the subject of this post.
Before I get lost in the Light-Woods landscape of Suomi, I should stress that the winner is not related to a scurrilous stringer for the Idaho Independent. Remember the host of the Top Tater Awards? Same guy, only during his cub reporter days. Unlike that imposter, our winner hails from a long line of Self-Rally men. He’s the genuine article.
All in the family
His wargaming experience began in high school (1989-1992). At the time, he lived in Kuopio, a city some 400 kilometres northeast of the Finnish capital. He and his brother played Squad Leader, Cross of Iron, and Crescendo of Doom. A couple of their schoolmates also played, although, sadly, it’s been 30 years since one of them (Tommi Kontiola) sat down with them to push some cardboard. [Ed. If you read this Tommi, drop our ASL all-star a line. He’d like to catch up.] Later one of his brother’s friends purchased several ASL modules. The brothers were sold the moment they set eyes on the maps from Red Barricades. They proceeded to buy whatever they could get their woolen mitts on. A cousin joined in the fun. But their sessions became more sporadic during the 90s when they dispersed for university studies in different cities.
Nineteen ninety-seven marked an ASL revival after the brothers were reunited in Helsinki. The internet took off around the same time, and the ASL mailing list, along with various wargaming discussion boards, linked the pair with other small groups of players scattered across the country.
As the century came to a close Finland’s ASL community numbered some 15-20 enthusiastic players. Organized meets nevertheless cemented these early ASL relationships. Nowadays their numbers are closer to 100. The ASL Player Map below disguises the true strength of the Self-Rally faithful in Suomi. Many of those memorialized in cardboard are AWOL, absent without leave on the map below.1
|Self-Rally Section (click to enlarge)|
In February 1999, our man in Helsinki accompanied fellow Finn Eero Vihersaari to the ASL Scandinavian Open (ASO) in Copenhagen, Denmark. First contact with the international ASL scene encouraged the duo to organize and run an inaugural Finnish ASL tournament six months later in August. Dubbed Sissukoni—a playful nod to the misspelling of sisu in the 1st edition of the ASL Rulebook, and a twist on the abbreviated English term for “convention,” as in Avalon Hill’s annual Avaloncon—the event has been a reliable fixture of ASL life in Finland ever since.2
The year proved to be an auspicious one in another respect. When Brian Martuzas—an ASL player from the US—visited Finland, our man played host and took his guest on a tour of the southern part of his homeland. Brian was invested in the development of a full-blown module for the Axis Minors, until then confined to a bit role in Avalon Hill’s 1987 offering Partisan! At the time, it was anticipated that the Finnish would be folded into Armies of Oblivion. However, the project had already dragged on for at least seven years and would not be published for another seven. So the Finns were cut for expedience sake.
The encounter nevertheless piqued our man’s interest. Later in ‘99 he met a Swedish fan of ASL. Lars Thuring was also working on a submission for a Finnish module, oblivious to Brian’s parallel efforts. A Finno-Swedish alliance was born, a design partnership that has endured to this day.
And so the turn of the century marked a turning point in our man’s ASL career. Exposure to new opponents had helped him become a semi- (his word) competent player, and a serious (again, his word) “ASLer.” What followed was a decade of intense ASL activity. He hosted player gatherings, organized tournaments, and played stacks of ASL.3 Along the way, he also co-designed and co-developed an ASL module with a title dear to Mark Pitcavage’s heart. When he wasn’t researching material for Hakkaa Päälle! (HP) or coordinating play tests, he was designing scenarios. Due to a misspelling of his last name, the ASL Scenario Archive credits him with seven designs. There are eight, as you shall see.
I play tested four of them. The smallest was “Armored Car Savikurki” which features a L182 Landsverk armored car commanded by ylikersantti (sergeant first class) Savikurki. “Nothing but Courage” is full-on Winter War (1939-40). This combined-arms scenario pits the only Finnish tanks then in service against a menagerie of T-26s backstopped by a T-28 medium tank. Artillery, ski troops with ahkio—a Finnish sled or toboggan used to transport weapons or a wounded man (E4.81), together with a host of restrictions on the defending Russians, resurrects this chapter of military history. Prepared Fire Zones (B36.), a new type of fortification introduced in HP, allows the Russians in “Forest Bastion” to “terra form” portions of their front line, improving the sight lines of their bunkers. The Finns are granted a special smoke barrage that can make these zones less risky to cross. The fourth design I tested was a beer-and-pretzel card with quirky BT-42 “tanks” as the hook. These Russian retreads are armed with 114mm British howitzers, making for clumsy, turreted assault guns. Try the scenario with a Sahti—Finnish farmhouse ale flavored with juniper, and a viipurinrinkeli, a sweet pretzel spiced with cardamom and nutmeg. The latter is especially apropos given that these snacks are said to have originated in Viipuri (Vyborg), the site of the “11th Company Counterattack,” and the “V” in VKT line, which I’ll get to in a moment.
|Pää Tuomo's Greatest Hits|
The wintriest of the bunch is “Arctic Crossroads.” Antiquated artillery, a rockin’ anti-aircraft gun, and a lone light machine gun of Finnish manufacture make their ASL debut in the first scenario of the module. Light Woods (B.35), a new terrain type added to better reflect the sparse woodlands of northern Europe, are in effect as the Russians conduct their assault in the gloom of a perpetual polar night. “Breakout From Prääzä” is a T&T co-production. The brothers bring us a motti, Continuation-War style, in August 1941. Look ma, no snow! Although not a classic envelopment of Soviet forces, the constricted terrain of board 52, with its single forested road, conveys the same sense of panic as successive units are forced to run the gauntlet. A solitary medium tank offers a glimmer of hope for the Reds. Anti-tank mines on the road ahead dash it. A second co-design, albeit with Lars this time, provides us with a glimpse of the Lapland War (1944-45). In “Hunters at Ylimaa,” Gebirgsjäger are under increasing pressure to withdraw from Finland following the latter’s armistice with Moscow. Hot on their heels is a Jaeger battalion—the other hunters of the title—supported by five T-34 tanks in Finnish grey. Mud and Offboard Artillery make for a bloody mudbath. Of the four scenarios that I didn’t play test, “Retaking the VKT Line” stands out. Trigger warning: it’s long, eleven turns long! Set in June 1944 and played on six half-boards, it’s a smash-mouth, combined-arms scenario with plenty of armor to keep both sides entertained. The Finns field eleven tanks and assault guns, while the Russians make do with about half as many, but are bolstered by artillery of the on- and offboard variety. The squad counts are likewise high: 23 attacking and 19 on defence. There’s a day’s worth of ASL on a single-sided card.
By 2009 Hakkaa Päälle was ready for submission4 to Multi-Man Publishing (MMP), and Tuomo Lukkari felt that at long last he was a bonafide ASL player. His crowning competitive achievement was winning gold at Sissukoni in 2009, the first year he relinquished his role as tournament director. He told me that it was during this period that he earned the title that he continues to use: “The Head Tuomo of the Finnish ASL community.” The Head Tuomo, or perhaps Pää Tuomo, is the winner of our December contest. He’s a busy guy.
|The real Tuomo|
Tuomo’s priorities had begun to shift in 2008 when he started coaching his daughter’s ringette club. What’s ringette you ask? It’s a non-contact female sport played on ice with skates, sticks that resemble a hockey stick without a blade, and a rubber ring. Played on a rink very similar to that used for hockey, the objective is to score points by shooting the ring past the opposing goalie and into the net. Ringette remains popular in Canada, where it was invented in 1963.5 Several other countries participate in the sport, but Finland arguably has the biggest following outside Canada, so much so that two countries routinely face each other in the world finals.
|One ring to find them, and in the polar darkness bind them.|
Tuomo coached ringette until 2020. His dedication paid off in 2017 when his girls won the U16 level Junior Finnish Championship. ASL play suffered however. From a high point of around 50 ASL matches annually during the aughts,6 his play declined to 15-20 games each summer from 2010 to 2017. Recently, Tuomo decided to turn up the ASL volume. He learned to play ASL online using the Virtual ASL (VASL) platform. He also used VASL to play some of his games by email (PBEM), which requires players to email logfiles back and forth. In 2018, Tuomo took the plunge and flew to Cleveland, Ohio where he participated in the annual ASL Oktoberfest, ASLOk for short. He had the time of his ASL life and looks forward to returning when circumstances permit.
He’s playing more than ever now. Last year he completed 93 scenarios, the majority of which were played either as live VASL or PBEM. Tuomo has also been dabbling with design work, but is unsure what will come of it. Time will tell, he tells me. It’s good to know that he’s not planning to cut and run any time soon. More work needs doing on ASL’s northern front.7
|A cut below the rest...|
Tuomo: to claim your copy of Bounding Fire Production’s Onslaught to Orsha 2, please leave a comment at the end of this post and email us your shipping details. For those who didn’t win, we still have a few copies available in our KitShop. Thanks for participating.
|Onslaught to Orsha 2 by Bounding Fire Productions|
And thanks to everyone else for taking time to read Tuomo’s ASL exploits. I’ve got a few posts in various stages of completion. However, my priority for the remainder of our Canadian winter is to prepare for the (Chicago) eASL Open and the Canadian ASL Open (CASLO). Registration remains open for both events. The former is a VASL tourney that runs over the course of roughly two months. The CASLO is in Montréal this year. Hope to see some of you online and in person later in 2022! Until then, roll low!
1. A few years ago, there was a Canadian ASL player with our embassy in Helsinki. He’s on the ASL Player Map and the Self-Rally site, but I can’t say for certain if he’s still in country.
2. See footnote 37, Chapter A, ASLRB1 where the authors confused the Finnish concept of rugged individuality or grit known as sisu with the Finnish word for guerrilla, namely sissi, hence the extra “s.”
3. In Australian slang, “stacks of” is another way of saying “a lot” or “lots of.” Your significant other may not be happy with you playing stacks of ASL, but I’m happy playing anyone careless enough to move in stacks in LOS of my kill stack.
4. Veikko Hyyrynen, one of many Finns involved in play testing scenarios for Hakkaa Päälle!, is also credited with providing a reporting system for these tests. Veikko has since drifted away from the hobby. His contributions also live on in the Self-Rally site that he built for the Finnish ASL community. Unfortunately the site isn’t as vibrant or active as it once was.
5. My wife played ringette as a teen, but wasn’t a fan. She preferred hockey. The game wasn’t open to her at the time. It wasn’t until her early 30s that she got her wish. Rather than play forward, as she had done in ringette, she opted to tend goal. During one tryout she had the pleasure of stopping pucks fired by top players, including at least one Canadian Olympian. It was bittersweet, but sweet nonetheless.
6. The British refer to this decade as the noughties. They’ve always been a naughty bunch. ;)
7. Lars Thuring was said to be working on a historical module covering the summer battles of 1944, during the dying days of the Continuation War. This is fertile ASL ground that could broaden the appeal for the Finnish module, not least because it wouldn’t be another snowball fight.