Battle of the Bulge Axis and Allies

By Leo Zappa:
Dan came over to Supreme Allied HQ (a.k.a. my house) on two separate nights as we played our first ever game of Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge. This is part of our Weeknight Wargaming Federation (“WWF”) series, where we have at with a variety of 2-player wargames, both old and new.One thing probably inspired my interest in this battle more than anything else, and that was the old 60’s movie “Battle of the Bulge”. I remember seeing this film as a kid and eating it up. Telly Savalas as the crazy tanker Sgt. Guffy and Robert Shaw as the fanatical Nazi Colonel Hessler were my favorite characters, and the action scenes were enthralling! Looking back on it now, the flick certainly had its shortcomings. Historical accuracy was rather, well, lacking at times, and the acting was at times utterly overwrought. However, this classic is still one hell of an entertaining experience. In some ways, Larry Harris’ creation reminds me of this old chestnut, providing a rip-roaring good time while being a bit light on the details. However, it became clear after just one play that Larry’s game is certainly more faithful to history than the movie, while still being incredibly entertaining.

We were both playing the game for the first time, so it took us a while to get used to some of the quirks of the game (e.g. use of supplies and trucks, use of the “combat strips”). Once we got used to it, though, the game ran very smoothly.

The first several turns saw Dan’s panzers push forward all along the front. As the American player, I felt my only play early on was to fall back everywhere, until I could both gather up enough units to make some meaningful defensive stands, as well as to discern where Dan was going to make his main thrusts.

By the third turn, it became clear that Dan was concentrating most of his effort in the north and center, aiming for Liege in the north, and La Roche in the center, with Bastogne a secondary target. My initial defensive points became Liege in the north, Vielsalm in the center, and Bastogne further south.

At the mid-point of the game, Turn Four, Dan’s panzer groups had almost completely surrounded Vielsalm, and my defense fell back a hex along the road from Vielsalm to La Roche. He had four strong battlegroups on the board, and if I didn’t know I had overwhelming airpower coming available starting the next turn, I think I would have been tempted to surrender! Dan had scored 16 of the 24 points needed to win by the half-way mark of the game.

The last four turns see the introduction of airpower, as the weather clears. This is a decided advantage to the Allies, who deploy three bomber groups and nine fighter groups, versus only one bomber and three fighter groups for the Germans. I used these to good advantage on Turn Five, breaking up Dan’s Battlegroup North of six panzer regiments, destroying two and forcing two more to retreat, taking pressure off of Liege for the moment.

Later, attention shifted to the center, where Dan’s Battlegroups Center and South, each with six panzer regiments backed by infantry and artillery, attempted to push towards La Roche. With my airpower and reinforcements, I was able to hold the line, although I had to abandon Vielsalm and Werbomont, which upped Dan’s VP total to 19.

Supplies started to become at least a minor issue for Dan, as his southern forces basically stalled out for lack of supplies. By the last turn, Dan still had 19 points, but had positioned two panzer groups in the south for a possible push to take either Bastogne (4) or Ortheuville (3). He also made a gamble to use his limited Luftwaffe forces to weaken my hold on Liege (he had gained air initiative, so I had to place my planes first, and didn’t see this coming). Liege is a (4) point city, so if he took that, and one of the others in the south, he could win.

However, luck was not with him in the north, and his attack on Liege did not succeed in pushing me out, as a lone armored regiment held the city. In the south, my air force and ground units chewed up his panzers badly, and he made no further progress. The final game score was 19, which was an Allied victory.

We will play this again; switching sides, and then we will score the two games together as a complete match. I’ll see if I can do any better as the commander of the Wehrmacht!

I have to say that this was an excellent wargaming experience, to be able to play a fairly historical-feeling game on the Bulge in only a handful of hours. It took us around six hours between two sessions to play this, but it was our first time ever playing, and the rules were unlike other A&A games, so it took a bit of time to assimilate the mechanics. Now that we have it down, I would say this game should complete in no more than four hours, and probably three! Larry Harris has done a great job of putting together a proper light wargame on this popular subject, and his handling of airpower, supplies, and transport is elegant and effective. The combat strips, which at first glance seemed somewhat confusing, in fact turned out to be both easy to grasp and quite effective in randomizing combat losses. Given the variability in initiative rolls for both air and ground combat, plus the interactive nature of ground combat (with each player alternating the selection of the next battle within a given turn), as well as the random combat loss results, it would seem that this game should have a considerable amount of replayability in it. A solid “8” rating from me at this point, and I would say that both this, plus Axis & Allies Guadalcanal, constitute outstanding design achievements by Mr. Harris. I certainly hope he continues to look to model additional battles in this manner (perhaps North Africa or Stalingrad)!

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