HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn 24 July, 1944 (D + 48) the Allied armies in France, after suffering over 122,000 casualties, had still only managed to gain control of an area that invasion planners had hoped would be in Allied hands by D + 5. All that changed when, on July 25th, American General Omar Bradley's 1st Army launched “Operation Cobra”: a major offensive that, its architects hoped, would finally break the bloody stalemate on the Normandy Peninsula. BREAKOUT & PURSUIT simulates the campaign that shattered Germany’s grip on France and that carried the Allies from the hedgerows of Normandy in July, across France and up against Germany’s West Wall, seven weeks later.
General Omar Bradley
BREAKOUT & PURSUIT is an operational-level (brigade/division) simulation of the Allied breakthrough of the German front near St. Lo in July of 1944, and the mobile pursuit of the Wehrmacht across France that continued through the fall and culminated in the destruction of the bulk of Germany’s combat forces in the West. This Allied advance not only liberated Nazi-occupied France in the space of a few months; by late September, it had also taken the Allies to the edge of the German frontier.
The game uses a modified version of the familiar Kursk Game System to model the fluid nature of mechanized warfare during this period on the Western Front. The accordion-fold game rules are well-organized and clearly written; rules errata and corrections are minimal. Besides the rules, the game also comes with a back-printed combined Turn Record/Reinforcement Track and Scenario Instruction Sheet. Two very handy back-printed Historical Setup Sheets (one each for the Allies and the Germans) are also included to help players position their starting units prior to beginning play. In addition, besides the three Historical Scenarios covering different phases of the campaign, the game also offers eight alternative (hypothetical) scenarios. These game variations permit players to experiment with free deployment, and/or plausible alternatives to the two armies’ historical orders of battle and reinforcement schedules.
Supply, given the highly mobile nature of the campaign, is a crucial factor in BREAKOUT & PURSUIT. A unit can only be in one of three supply states: supplied (full attack strength, full defense strength, and full movement); unsupplied (half attack strength, full defense strength, and half movement); or isolated (zero attack strength, half defense strength, and half movement for non-mechanized but only one hex for mechanized units). Supply lines, unlike those in other titles in the KURSK family of games, may NOT be traced through enemy ZOCs, even if these hexes are occupied by friendly units. Outside of this shared restriction, the supply rules for the two opposing armies differ significantly. Allied units are supplied if they can trace a supply line of four hexes or less to any operational supply source; Allied units are unsupplied if the supply path is between five and eight hexes long. If the Allied supply line exceeds these ranges, then the affected unit is isolated. The Allied commander may draw supply from the Cherbourg hex, the Bayeux hex, an active Supply Pipeline unit, or an (expendable) supply unit. In addition, British and Canadian forces (only) may use the Naval Supply unit (Mulberry) as a supply source if this temporary port unit occupies a coastal hex and it is otherwise within the normal supply range of the Commonwealth units being supplied. The German player’s supply situation is much simpler: Axis units are supplied if they can trace a path unobstructed by enemy units or their ZOCs to the East edge of the map, otherwise they are isolated. German units in Fortress hexes (but not in West Wall hexes) are always supplied.
Because it encompasses most of the northern coastal region of France and the Low Countries, the large 22” x 34” two-color game map covers a playing area that extends approximately 325 miles from east to west and 235 miles from north to south. Terrain effects on movement are negligible. Neither army, as might be expected, may enter all-sea hexes. Crossing river hex-sides slows the movement of all units from both armies by adding one additional movement point for the Allies and two additional for the Germans. Also, German West Wall hexes require Allied units to expend one additional movement point to enter. No other terrain features affect movement. West Wall hexes, city and town hexes, and Bocage hexes all double the defender. German coastal Fortresses triple all Axis units inside them, have an intrinsic defensive value of five, and negate enemy zones of control. River hexes force the attacker to subtract one from the die roll if all attacking units are assaulting across a river hex-side.
The Combat Results Table (CRT) is the “bloodless” type characteristic of virtually all of the SPI games that utilize the KURSK Game System. Even relatively high-odds combat results are weighted in favor of Retreats, Exchanges, and Attacker Disruptions. For example, odds of 5 to 1 or above are required before the attacker has any prospect of rolling a D elim result. Even at 9 to 1 odds, which do guarantee a D elim, the attacker still risks a one-third chance of an Attacker Disrupted, which both immobilizes and halves the combat strength of all attacking units involved in the attack for a full game turn. Because of this distribution of combat results, “toe-to-toe” slugging matches between the opposing armies will tend to produce lots of retreats and exchanges; the real key to success, if a player wants to establish offensive momentum and favorable attrition, is the creation of fluid combat situations in which 'surrounded' attacks against unsupplied enemy units become possible. This is particularly true in BREAKOUT & PURSUIT because, just as in the case of the supply rules, the presence of a friendly unit does not negate the effects of an enemy ZOC in retreats!
The counters are clearly printed and easy to read. American units show white print on an olive drab background, while British and Canadian counters are olive drab with black print. German Wehrmacht counters are field-grey; Waffen SS units use white print on a black background. Axis counters typically represent divisions, brigades, and kampfgruppen; individual Allied units are divisions, brigades, and battlegroups.
To determine who wins, players compare their respective tallies of victory points after the conclusion of the final game turn of the scenario being played. Victory points are awarded to one or the other player for the destruction of enemy units, the capture of certain cities and other terrain, and (for the Germans) whenever the Allies begin an air drop cycle. The game ends immediately, whatever the game-turn, as soon as supplied Allied units breach the Rhine River.
SITTING DOWN TO PLAY
Field Marshall Gunter von Kluge
Although BREAKOUT offers eleven different scenarios, players looking at the game for the first time should probably start with the July 25th Historical Breakout Scenario. This scenario begins with General Bradley’s American 1st Army poised to launch Operation “Cobra” against Waffen SS General Paul Hausser’s 7th Army. The Allied choice of targets is a good one: Hausser's force, already weakened by protracted heavy fighting, holds a key section of the western flank of the German front near the town of St. Lo. The scenario ends on the August 20 game turn: the point at which, in the actual campaign, most of the retreating remnants of Field Marshal Günther von Kluge’s Army Group B were trapped and annihilated in the Falaise pocket. This scenario also has the twin advantages of being relatively short (nine game turns), and of being easy to set up because it provides the initial placement for all of the starting units of both armies. Given these factors, beginning with this scenario is probably the best way for players to quickly develop an understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play.
The Allies are the first to move and attack in all of the scenarios. They will typically spend their first movement phase making minor adjustments to the positions of both their front line and reserve units, particularly the armor. However most armor will be held out of the initial battles to prevent an Ad (Attacker Disrupted) result from paralyzing the Allied tanks and preventing them from exploiting any gaps in the German line opened by the infantry. The Allies only have fourteen armored units when the scenario begins, so they really cannot afford to have a couple of stacks of armor disrupted on the first game turn. In actual play, the July 25th Historical Scenario usually begins with the Americans attacking Panzer Lehr and the other weak units holding the hinge of the German line in the West; while, on the other end of the front, British and Canadian forces attempt to relieve the encircled Canadians, and at the same time, expand the narrow Allied bridgehead across the Orne River east of Caen. On the first game turn only, the Allied player must conduct an Air Strike against any or all units in a single German occupied hex before any regular combat is resolved. The historical setup virtually guarantees that, given average luck with the Allied Air Strike and ground attacks, Bradley’s forces should succeed in forcing a narrow break in the Axis front. Then, during the mechanized movement phase — if the Air Strike has been VERY successful (i.e. the 353rd has been eliminated) — the American armor may be able to drive northwest and encircle the rest of the German LXXXIVth Corps, as well as the two SS units on the German player’s far left. Of course, the encircling Allied armor will then be isolated and surrounded in turn, so a lot will depend on how some of the other Allied attacks along the front fare. Whatever happens, the German player will probably immediately start pulling his left back to shorten his front and limit the number of hexes available from which the Allied player can stage future attacks.
The first two to four turns of the July 25th Historical Scenario set the stage for the coming battle, but the game will really hinge on how well the German commander can organize a withdrawal east towards the Seine once the Allied breakout can no longer be contained. This withdrawal will usually begin during one of these first four turns. If it is left too late, the fast-moving Allies will envelope virtually all of Army Group B — which is what happened historically — and the German player will have to really scramble to scrape up any forces with which to defend farther East. Needless to say, the German 15th Army is not going to be enough to do the job on its own. For this reason, starting on the second game turn, the Allied player will almost always attempt to either restore or widen the breach in the German line at St. Lo while, at the same time, he pushes mobile units north in an attempt to set up a mechanized breakout and left-hook around the German units still holding near Vire, Flers, and Caen. The Allied goal, at this stage should be to deny mobility to Kluge’s mechanized units so that they cannot escape en masse to the east. The good news for the German commander, such as it is, is that Allied supply problems will begin to surface the instant that the Americans drive beyond the supply range of Bayeux. And although it doesn’t seem like it during the first few game turns, the Allied player will quickly discover that, as he pushes east, he will really not be able to afford to waste a single supply unit.
Falaise Gap "Death Road" aftermath
The German problems during these first few turns are, of course, very different from those of the Allies. If the Allies have really bad luck with their first turn attacks, then the Germans will have a much easier time of reorganizing and strengthening their line. And although the Axis player should be able to contain any British eastern drive across the Orne, there will probably be very little he can do to significantly improve the situation of any units unlucky enough to be in the path of Bradley’s First Army: there simply aren’t any forces to spare for their relief. Nonetheless, any units that are not immobile should immediately move to close any gaps that may appear, and to pin and isolate any Allied armored or motorized units that they can reach. Forget about the German infantry, though; they are going nowhere. Some of the eastern-most leg units may make it across the Seine, but none of them are going to be around long enough to defend any farther East. Besides, they couldn’t walk to Germany in nine turns, even if the Allies ignored them completely — which, of course, they won’t. Those infantry units that can, should try to reach one of the German coastal fortresses before the Normandy front collapses completely. The remaining infantry divisions, along with the temporary "Delay" counters, are going to have to be sacrificed to screen the withdrawal of the surviving German mechanized units.
Game turns two, three, and four will usually be decisive when it comes to determining the eventual outcome of the game. As the Germans fall back, the front will rapidly expand and the Allied player will quickly find himself wishing fervently for even a few more motorized divisions. This is also the stage of the game when the Allied player begins to seriously consider making preparations for an Airborne operation. It is during this mobile phase of the campaign that really peculiar things can happen if one or the other of the players becomes careless or overconfident. The two most important things for the German commander to watch out for are: the reach of Allied supply, and the position of any supplied enemy motorized units that, unlike their German counterparts, can merrily scoot through German zones of control with relative ease.
NOTES ON TACTICSThe KURSK Game System is clean, intuitively logical, and easy to learn. However, every one of the titles that SPI published using this system possessed a few idiosyncrasies that subtly affected each game’s play. BREAKOUT & PURSUIT, like its East Front cousins, is no exception. So what follows are a few tips, based on many hours spent playing this title, on using the nuances of this particular game system to help new players become more comfortable with a few of the tactical niceties of BREAKOUT & PURSUIT.
Supply StatusFirst, in this game, supply status is everything. An “isolated” unit is halved in defense, is either reduced to one hex or halved in movement, and may not attack at all. There is nothing more painful than rolling an Ad result and then being surrounded and isolated during the enemy’s ensuing turn. Axis units, because of the unrestricted length of their supply paths, have a much easier time of it than Allied units. In game terms, this typically translates into a pattern of Allied operations in which the British and Canadians advance along the coast (in order to remain close to the Naval Supply unit) while the American divisions drive inland. As the Allied armies advance across France, their axis of advance steadily becomes narrower and more predictable. In addition, five Allied Truck units just don’t go very far. Between shuttling supplies forward and transporting the slow-moving American infantry towards the front, there just never seem to be enough Trucks to do everything that the Allied commander would like them to do. Moreover, as the “Red Ball Express” gets longer, it becomes ever more vulnerable to raids from the German motorized units that, if the Axis player is devious, will constantly be lurking on the fringes of the Allied advance. All in all, it is probably safe to say that coping with supply problems is the single biggest challenge that the Allied player faces in this game.
Zones of ControlThe zone of control rules in BREAKOUT & PURSUIT are particularly onerous, so extreme care must be exercised by both players when it comes to advances and retreats. The only positive factor for a surrounded unit is that, if it forms a battle group or kampfguppe as a result of combat, it might well be able to return the favor to its tormentors during its own combat phase. In addition, ZOC costs are lower in this game than in others in the KURSK series. This is particularly important because Allied motorized units (those with a movement factor of 16) can make deep penetrations against any but the most robust of German defensive lines.
Coastal FortressesFortresses offer a nice opportunity for the Wehrmacht both to pick up a few easy victory points and to sow a little confusion in the Allied rear; hence, these strong points present a real dilemma for the Allies. They are always in supply; and, as noted previously, have a built-in defense strength of five, and also triple the defense strength of any German units that take refuge in them. To make things even more unpleasant for the Allied player, only D elims and Exchanges affect coastal fortresses; Defender retreats are treated as no effect. And to add insult to injury, each of them is worth as many victory points to the controlling player as Paris. Moreover, the Allies cannot really afford to ignore these German units in their rear because, if they are not screened, they may well be able to move out of the fortress and still draw supply from the east edge of the map through a supply path that sweeps wide along the southern edge of the playing area.
Air PowerAllied Air Power has been treated fairly abstractly in BREAKOUT & PURSUIT. The movement factors of German units have been reduced, and the Germans’ cost to cross rivers has been increased, all to reflect the unchallenged air supremacy of the Allied air forces. In addition, the game begins with Panzer Lehr already having been badly hammered by the intense carpet bombing raid that immediately preceded Bradley’s attack. The additional (20 factor) Allied Air Strike that occurs on the first turn of the game can be chalked up to the ground attacks from tactical aircraft that followed up the earlier “high altitude” bombing raids. Interestingly, the Allied capacity for Airborne Operations is a mixed blessing. Because it costs victory points to begin a mission cycle, the Allied commander should be fairly certain that the mission will actually be executed. Unfortunately, the three turn lead time between mission plotting and mission execution, combined with the extremely fluid nature of the campaign, often means that the paratroops never do get dropped into action. And this can also be a problem because it may mean that these precious units end up spending the entire game parked in the readiness box and away from the action at the front.
German Delay UnitsThe German player receives one of these priceless "little beauties" on turn two, two on turn three, and one on turn four. They are, at least in game terms, literally "worth their weight in gold." Unlike regular infantry units, Delay Markers can be placed precisely where the German needs them. Movement costs or a lack of weak infantry in a threatened sector of the front are meaningless when, just like “Superman” they can drop out of the sky into exactly the right hex at exactly the right time. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the ultimate outcome of the game can often depend on how skillfully the German player deploys these precious counters.
CONCLUSIONBREAKOUT & PURSUIT, despite its age and unimpressive graphics, offers an excellent, manageable, and intuitively satisfying simulation of one of the most fascinating military struggles in history. For some reason, it has never enjoyed the popularity of several of its East Front brethren; and for the life of me, I don’t know why. As a game, I personally think that it succeeds admirably. It demonstrates, at least in simulation terms, that the annihilation of Kluge’s Army Group B was not foreordained, and that the Allies might well have had a much tougher time in winter of 1944 were it not for the German mistakes in the Battle for France. No game is perfect, but in so far as a simple simulation is able, this title helps bring to life the built-in drama of one of the most decisive campaigns in World War II, and the innumerable “what if’s?” that surround it. Moreover, the rich collection of different scenarios means that a player can experiment for many, many hours with this title and never exhaust the possibilities offered by the game. Finally, it is detailed enough to be interesting to the amateur historian who is interested in the Allied liberation of France, and exciting enough — with its sweeping mobile battles of encirclement and counter-encirclement — to be enjoyable to the casual gamer who is just looking for an interesting and exciting challenge.
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles; both of which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
THE WEST POINT ATLAS OF AMERICAN WARS (Complete 2-Volume Set); edited by Brigadier General Vincent J. Esposito; Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. (1959); ASIN: B000MTBTEU