WARGAME WEDNESDAY: Avalon Hill’s The Battle of the Bulge (1981) – Part I

Wednesday , 6, December 2017 4 Comments

I’ve spent the last few months playing Avalon Hill’s The Battle of the Bulge, probably devoting more table-time to it than virtually any other game in recent memory. It’s one thing to want to play a hex and chit game twice, once to get a feel for each side, but really says something when you want to play it over and over, exploring different possibilities and different outcomes.

My dad and I played Battle of the Bulge four times, twice as each side, and if my dad hadn’t started to burn out on it, I would’ve been more than happy to have played it a fifth time.

Though rather lengthy, featuring AM & PM turns for each day of the operation, BotB plays very quickly, and you can easily knock out 5 to 8 turns in a single evening.

BotB is played at the Regiment/Brigade level with a detailed order of battle, and it even has some special rules for the 150th Pz Brigade (Operation Greif) and the Einheit Stielau commandos.

The game does take weather into account through a fairly simplified (and fixed) system of “is the ground frozen or mud?”, air mission allocations (historical weather is noted on the turn chart, as are fixed number of air missions for turns with weather that allows them), and a fixed period of “strategic bombing” rules in effect during the clear-weather turns.

The German objectives seem fairly straight-forward, but there are a number of ways a German player can win the game. I’d need to play it a few more times to get a better analysis, but operationally, the Germans have to make the big all-or-nothing push early to effectively achieve a strategic victory before the mid-game (Patton & Montgomery’s arrival followed by the Strategic Bombing and Allied Air Superiority). They need to be aware of their capability of fulfilling victory conditions and, if they can’t meet them, need to dial back accordingly at the precise moment or be squashed while their lines are stretched thin.

Objectives:

  • Antwerp Victory (Strategic Major Victory)– German player exits 6 units (2 Armor, 4 Mech Inf.) off map North of Meuse between Namur & Liege and 6 units (2 Armor, 4 Mech Inf) off map West of Meuse between Namur & Givet. Must remain in supply for 4(?) consecutive turns. Represents the plan for the 6th Pz Army to circle around Antwerp from the North, while the 5th Pz Army meets it by way of Brussels from the South, cutting off many Allied forces.
  • Meuse Victory (Strategic Minor Victory) – German player seizes key cities along the Meuse, establishing a new front line.
  • Liege Victory (Strategic Minor Victory) – German player captures the fortress city of Liege, disrupting Allied operations and seizing needed supplies.
  • Bastogne Victory (Tactical/Game Victory) – German player captures and holds both St. Vith AND Bastogne AND beats the Allied player in a points tally based on units eliminated and cities held.

We waived or modified a few of the Advanced rules to give the German player a better chance. Under all of the Advanced rules, the Germans probably have as poor a chance in the game as they did historically (which is to say none-at-all of fulfilling strategic objectives against a competent Allied opponent).

  • The paratroopers of Operation Stösser only have a 1-in-6 chance of landing. Even if they do land, their 1 SP is so inconsequential that it may be hardly worth the 2 victory points the Allies get for a failed landing or eliminating them that it’s better to not drop them at all. They proved really useful once, and only once (much to my dad’s frustration), by preventing one artillery unit from retreating anywhere but towards the German rear. There’s no optional rule which would allow for the drop of a cohesive and properly trained 800 man Kampfgruppe instead of the understrength piece-meal force Von der Heydte ended up with. (This could be represented by a 2-2 or a 3-2 piece, rather than the 1-2 piece).
  • • The 150th Pz only has a 1-in-6 (or 2-in-6, I forget) chance of being allowed to make its post-combat turn 1 movement to ignore zones of control. Given that it cannot move through an enemy unit, and most enemy units end up on the road, even a successful use of this special movement is only marginally beneficial. Historically, the 150th’s attempt was a bust, and falling behind the regular Pz brigades, was used as a regular (if irregular) armored brigade. If you are required to roll, you might as well just use the 7-4 panzer unit on your initial attack, especially if you’re playing with…
  • • The I & II SS cannot participate in the Dec 16 AM attacks. The I & II SS Pz were held back to exploit breakthrus made in the morning of the initial assault. However, without those divisions participating in the initial attacks, there very well may be no breakthrus to exploit. In game. That’s about 50 SP of attack power spread across 6 battalions in 2 hexes – that’s a huge balance swing, especially since it allows a few max or near max-odds attacks against forces along the highway. The Germans earn their biggest advantage in the opening move of first turn, in which no Allied Player strategy can overcome the combination of the fixed set-up and the combined might of several panzer divisions. Holding the SS back until the afternoon.

I’d need to play through a few more times to see how the Germans fare consistently with the imposition of those rules, but that third rule seemed to shape the first game’s outcome so unfavorably for the Germans (even though we’d failed to notice the one footnote where it’s mentioned that Forts provide a die-roll modifier) that we pitched it for the subsequent series.

In the following series of posts, I’ll be breaking down each of our play-throughs with the results of our 4 games of Battle of the Bulge.

– Alex

4 Comments
  • deuce says:

    The Bulge is my favorite WWII battle. I’ll have to check this out.

    • Alex says:

      It’s really playable and has been one of my favorite wargames of the series I started with my dad a few years back.

      It’s long enough that it could take you several days to finish it, but it has the playability and pacing of a beer-and-pretzels game.

  • Strapparer says:

    I can’t be the only one who thinks the cover depicts a tank with a big, meaty fist growing from one side…

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