HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 0530 on 16 December 1944, a massive German offensive, code-named “Wacht am Rhein,” jumped off with a violent, hour-long artillery bombardment from 1,900 guns along eighty-five miles of the Allied front line in the Ardennes region of Belgium. As soon as the barrage lifted, the 250,000 men and 1,100 tanks of Field Marshal Model’s Army Group B smashed into the dazed defenders of this thinly held section of the American line. The German offensive that would come to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge” had begun. The German plan was to tear a hole in the American front and then to rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap. The panzers, once they had achieved freedom of maneuver, were to force a crossing of the Meuse River, and were then to pivot northwest to seize the port city of Antwerp before the Allied High Command had an opportunity to react. The German seizure of this important Allied supply center would isolate the substantial British, Canadian, and American forces north of Aachen. Hitler hoped this might finally force the Western Allies to accept a separate, negotiated peace with the Third Reich.
DARK DECEMBER is a grand tactical (regiment/brigade) level simulation of the last major German armored attack against the Western Allies in World War II. One player commands the Allies (American and British forces); the other controls the Germans. The game system offers a nice blend of traditional “Bulge” elements (move-fight, fuel limits, bridge demolition and repair) and some new game features (step-reduction, replacement points, and armored superiority) that combine nicely to simulate the fighting in the Ardennes. Each game turn follows a simple, but rigid sequence. The first player (German) executes his player turn in the following order: the Supply Determination Phase; then the Replacement Phase; the Movement Phase — strategic and then regular movement; the Combat Phase; and finally, the Construction/Demolition Phase. The second player (Allied commander) repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends. The German player wins by satisfying the victory conditions of whichever scenario is being played; the Allied player wins simply by preventing a German victory.
DARK DECEMBER offers six different scenarios of varying lengths. The first scenario, HERBSTNEBEL (Dec. 16 AM to Dec. 19 PM) and the second, TURNING POINT (Dec. 22 AM to Dec 25 PM) are both only eight game turns long. The third scenario, FINAL FURY (Dec. 26 AM to Jan 2 PM) lasts sixteen turns. Scenario number four, THE CAMPAIGN GAME (Dec 16 AM to Dec 25 PM) covers the first critical ten days of the battle, and runs twenty game turns. THE EXTENDED CAMPAIGN GAME (Dec 16 AM to Jan 2 PM) adds eight days (sixteen game turns) and extends the campaign well into the period during which the Allied counteroffensive had already begun to develop momentum. The final scenario is called THE REDUCTION OF THE BULGE (Dec. 26, 1944 to Jan. 31, 1945); it covers the long Allied campaign to recapture the territory lost during the early days of the German offensive. This scenario is for those players who are truly masochistic or dedicated, or both, and runs for a whopping seventy-four game turns.
DARK DECEMBER also presents the players with an interesting and very plausible mix of optional rules that affect everything from Allied readiness, command response times, reinforcements, to German opening deployment, reinforcements, and speed of reserve commitment. So besides the varied game challenges offered by the six basic scenarios, players can also spend many additional hours experimenting with a few of the most likely Battle of the Bulge (what ifs?) presented by this title.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONIndividual taste can be a tricky thing, particularly when it comes to the graphics used in game design. However, one of my long-term beefs with OSG has been what I view as the consistent ineptitude of their graphics people. I admit that I do not like the design of the DARK DECEMBER box art: it is uninspiring, dreary, and somehow, a little phony looking. The game counters, and the rules and study booklets, on the other hand, are all just fine. It is the pumpkin-mash of a game map that I really do not like. The DARK DECEMBER game map is, quite probably, one of the ugliest pieces of cartography that I have ever seen. And I have seen a lot. This is really too bad. In playing this game with a friend who did not find the map colors as repugnant as I did, I couldn’t help but appreciate some of the innovative elements that Danny Parker put into his third try at a “Bulge” game. There really is a lot about this game’s design that is quite clever and intuitively pleasing. If the map hadn’t been so off-putting, I probably would have actually done more than set my own copy of the game up once, and then put it away. Who knows? If Redmond Simonsen had done the graphics, Parker’s design might have been seen today as an exciting, playable “classic,” instead of as a celebration of the colors of Halloween. I know, at least, that I would have liked it a lot more.
- Time Scale: 12 hours per game turn (one am and one pm turn per day)
- Map Scale: 3.2 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: regiment/brigade
- Unit Types: armor/panzer, armored infantry/panzer grenadier, armored cavalry, infantry/volksgrenadier, parachute infantry/fallschirmjager, glider infantry, engineer, leader (optional), and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2-10 + hours
- One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, German and Allied Replacement Tracks, German and Allied Turn Sequence Keys, Destroyed Units Boxes, and Terrain key incorporated)
- 400 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Combat Results Table, Weather Table, Paradrop Table, Fuel Shortage Table, and Terrain Effects Chart)
- One 8½” x 11” Study Booklet (with Combat Results Table, Weather Table, Paradrop Table, Fuel Shortage Table, Terrain Effects Chart, and Extended Game Turn Record Track incorporated)
- Two 5½” x 8½” Errata Sheets (as of 6/21/79)
- One six-sided Die
- One 9¼” x 11½” x 2” Bookcase style Game Box
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of most of these titles; all six 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