‘WACHT AM RHEIN’: The Battle of the Bulge, 16 Dec 44 – 2 Jan 45 is a historical simulation, based loosely on the PANZERGRÜPPE GUDERIAN Game System, of Hitler’s last great gamble on the Western Front: a massive German winter offensive to smash through the Allied line, and by so doing, change the course of the War in the West. ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ was designed by James F. Dunnigan and published by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI) in 1977.


In the closing months of 1944, Allied armies were closing in on the Third Reich from all sides. British, American, and Canadian troops had broken out of the Normandy beachhead, destroyed the bulk of von Kluge’s army group, and were already pushing up against the Siegfried Line in the West; in the South, Rome had fallen months earlier to the Americans, commanded by General Mark Clark; soon after, the Allied armies had resumed their northern advance up the Italian Peninsula. The news was just as bad from the Russian Front: there another entire German Army Group, under Field Marshal Busch, had been shattered by the Russian Summer Offensive, “Operation Bagration.” Only the speed and depth of the Russian advance, and the length of the new Russian supply lines had allowed the Wehrmacht to restore some semblance of a front. Despite these multiple catastrophes, Hitler poured over his maps frantically searching for one last offensive opportunity that might reverse the recent string of German defeats: a battlefield victory that could retrieve the Third Reich’s fortunes long enough for the new German “wonder” weapons to make an impact on the war. At the forested section of the German frontier that bordered Belgium and Luxembourg — site of the Germans’ brilliant surprise offensive of 1940 — Hitler finally decided that he had found it. The German Führer would attempt to repeat his earlier military triumph by again attacking through the Ardennes. This desperate military “throw of the dice” would be Hitler’s last major effort to turn the tide of battle in the west. The code name selected for this, Germany’s last winter offensive, was ‘Wacht am Rhein’ which, when translated, meant “Watch on the Rhine.”

Hitler’s ‘Wacht am Rhein’ offensive jumped off, as planned, at 5:30 am on 16 December 1944, with a violent, hour-long artillery bombardment 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 later come to be called the “Battle of the Bulge” had begun. The German plan was simple: tear a wide 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.


‘WACHT AM RHEIN’: The Battle of the Bulge, 16 Dec 44 – 2 Jan 45 is a two-player historical simulation, at the grand tactical (regiment/battalion/company) level, of the surprise German offensive against the American forces deployed along the German frontier in winter of 1944. The game is played using an AM and PM daylight turn, and a Night turn for each day (24 hours) of the battle; players may also choose, if they feel that the advantages outweigh the costs, to conduct operations during a Night Bonus Game Turn. A typical game turn begins with a set of joint player operations all of which are conducted during the AM game turns only. These include the Weather Determination Phase (U.S. player rolls for the day’s weather); the Mutual Air Allocation Stage (both players allocate their air missions for the day), and the Surrender Stage (both players roll to see if any of their isolated (I-2) units surrender). The U.S. player acts first, but both the Allied and German player turns follow an identical sequence of player actions: Mutual Supply Determination Phase; Movement Phase; Bridge Blowing and Bridge Building Phase; and Combat Phase. Following the end of both player turns, there is a Mutual Fatigue Reduction Stage. At the conclusion of the regular Night Game Turn, but before the start of the next day’s AM turn, the U.S. player first, and then the German player may opt to conduct a Night Bonus Game Turn.

‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ offers four standard scenarios. The first two use only a portion of the game’s counters, a single map section, and are a useful means of introducing players to different aspects of the game system. These two introductory games include the Bastogne Scenario (Map Section D), and the Kampfgrüppe Peiper Scenario (Map Section C). The last two game situations use the complete counter mix, all four map sections, and cover the entire ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ battle area. These are: the December 21 – The Race for the Meuse Scenario (which begins play at the “high water” mark of the German offensive); and the Campaign Scenario (which begins on December 16, and covers the entire battle through January 2, 1945). In addition, players may opt to experiment with a number of different optional rules. These include special rules for, among other things: Mechanized Infantry Movement, German Artillery, German “Truppeneinheit” (Commando) units, Von Der Heytde’s Parachute Drop, the 150th Panzer Brigade, Additional Green Units, German Westwall Fortifications, German Free Set Up (bad news for the Allies), and a rule assuming an “All-Out” (maximum) German Effort (really bad news for the Allies).


‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ is not a simple game, and it is certainly not a good choice for the casual gamer. However, many serious players with a strong interest in military history have persuasively argued to me that examining specific combat actions at the tactical (company) or grand tactical (battalion) level provides a level of accuracy and information almost never contained in other types of simulations. In short, they contend that this title, Frank Chadwick’s AVALANCHE, and “Red” Jack Radey’s design, KORSUN POCKET, together provide the most complete and “intuitively” accurate narrative currently available on the operational dynamics of individual World War II battles. For my own part, I cannot say one way or the other when it comes to this title because, regrettably, ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ is one of the very few Monster games that I never actually had the opportunity personally to play. None-the-less, players whose judgment I trust have assured me that it is, quite possibly, the best historical simulation of the “Battle of the Bulge” ever published. After examining the game and its components, I am inclined to believe them.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 4½ hours per AM or PM daylight game turn; 15 hours per night game turn
  • Map Scale: 1 mile per hex
  • Unit Size: company/battalion/regiment
  • Unit Types: infantry, glider infantry, parachute infantry, mechanized infantry/panzergrenadier, reconnaissance, ranger/commando, engineer, towed artillery, airborne artillery, self-propelled artillery, rocket, anti-tank gun, armor/panzer/tank destroyer/assault gun, headquarters, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two or more (teams highly recommended)
  • Complexity: above average/high
  • Solitaire Suitability: average (if pushing around 1,500+ unit counters doesn’t bother you)
  • Average Playing Time: 6 + hours (assuming experienced teams and depending on the scenario; for the fifty-five turn Campaign Game, think in terms of months, not hours)

Game Components:

  • Four 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Terrain Key and Abbreviated Sequence of Play incorporated)
  • 1600 back-printed ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 11” ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ Rules Booklet (with scenario instructions and American Battalion Breakdown Table incorporated)
  • Two identical back-printed 11” x 14” combined Game Charts and Tables (with Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Artillery Effects Table, Weather Table, Supply and Fatigue Effects Summary, Truppeneinheit Table, March Mode Interdiction Table, Green Unit Table, and German parachute Drop Table included)
  • One 11” x 17” Axis Turn Record/Reinforcement Track (with German Air Mission Control Display, Weather Track, and Ground Track incorporated)
  • One 11” x 17” Allied Turn Record/Reinforcement Track (with U.S. Air Mission Control Display incorporated)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • Two SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Boxes (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic box with Title Sheets

Recommended Reading

See 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


  • While this is not a popular assessment, I have to say I was horribly disappointed with this game. It had such potential. My complaints are legion. First, the terrain depiction was a bit too simplistic--not enough variety. Second, panzergrenadier units could dismout and abandon their transport, but players had to make up their own counters to account for the dismounted element and the transport element. Third, dismounted elements could traverse restrictive terrain a bit too easily. Fourth, blowing bridges was the American's best weapon--it seemed to have too much affect on play.

    Now, there was much to commend in this game. The system was a notch above the ISLAND WAR/DESERT WAR/WESTWALL quad series--if you knew those games, you quickly could get into WACHT AM RHEIN. Two, it was great for clubs (indeed, that's how I played it). Three, what else out there had this kind of detail on the Batttle of the Bulge? Nothing. So it's natural this derived a following.

    But it's not surprising that there is a 2nd Edition of the game that is a major redesign. Certainly the success of it is debatable; some feel the complexity of the cure is worse than the disease afflicting the original. I myself believe that a monster-game treatment still eludes us; mayby the DG revision of the 2nd Edition will be the final, definitive treatment. But that remains to be seen.

    For now, while I played the original WACHT AM RHEIN with my University of Central Florida wargame club in the summer of 1979 and 1980, I'm not upset that I never purchased this title....

  • Greetings Eric:

    While most of the players whose opinions I respect tended to like this game, your criticisms mirror many of the "nits" that tended to surface once we got beyond the more general assessments of the game.

    You raise an especially good point about the lack of transport counters. In my conversations with the few players that I knew who had actually played, rather than merely admired, WACHT AM RHEIN, the most common complaints had to do with the absence of artillery "designated fire" markers: which, the concensus held, would have been very handy so that players could actually keep track of which batteries were actually firing at which targets.

    By the way, this inexplicable absence of useful information counters was, it seems to me, a chronic SPI failing. I noticed it first with USN (ports, etc.), but it really came home to me when I first started to play GRENADIER (a game, it would seem, that only Mark Saha and I actually like). The absence of disruption markers was a huge problem in this Napoleonic tactical-level game.

    Sadly, this was one of the few really 'big' games that I never actually had the opportunity to play; however, given your assessment, it would appear that I didn't miss out on much.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I tend to disagree with Mr Walters. Although by no means perfect, WaR is a playable "monster" game of the Bulge. I like the map, it reflects the close nature of the Ardennes and keeps armoured columns tied to the roads as it should. Sure a few extra markers might help (Highway to the Reich anyone?) but it's still a top game for me!

  • Greetings Dougie LB:

    Thank you for visiting and for adding your thoughts on this game.

    As I indicated in my profile, WACHT AM RHEIN is one of the very few "monster" games that, for one reason or another, I never had the chance to actually play (competitively, at least). Thus, I have had to frame my opinion of the game based on the views of seasoned "monster" game players whose judgment I trust.

    Interestingly, your comments and those of Eric Walters tend to nicely reflect the split that I encountered among those of my wargaming friends who had actually invested serious time and effort in exploring this design. Some liked it, some didn't; so, given the contrary nature of most wargamers, what else is new? Still, for all of its faults -- real or imagined -- it does (still) occupy an almost unique niche among "Bulge" titles; and for that reason, if for no other, it is probably worth a look from anyone who has more than a passing interest in the subject.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • SPI HttR and WaR were in the Game Depot at the same time. I bought Highway with the extra 30 bucks I had. When I came bach WaR was no longer on the shelf. In the DG treatment is as grim as the HttR DG and from comments calling DGs system a contender in the class of OCS I don't want it. The hope was that DG would update the counters, map and OOBs and work the kinks out of Dunnigan's rules. But what we have is a complete redesign. That just adds adds needless complexity. A wargame can only simulate about five to seven key factors in its sub-systems. You can't trow in the kitchen sink and all the dishes too. All games are flawed. I've played this one and I could criticize what I think are missing elements. But the real truth is that the value of a game comes from how many times it is played--it's use value if you will. The pusuit of the perfect simulation is a ticket to utter unplayabity.

  • Greetings Anon:

    Thank you for visiting and for sharing your thoughts on this venerable old title.

    Moreover, you do not seem to be alone. It would appear that you and Eric Walters are largely in accord when it comes to your i ndividual views of Decision Games' heavy-handed redesign of WACHT AM RHEIN. Which, I think, is really too bad because -- on it's face, at least -- Dunnigan's original ideas for WACHT AM RHEIN seemed to contain most of the key elements necessary to create a really excellent grand-tactical si mulation of a major World War II engagement.

    Unfortuantely, the boys atDecision Games seem utterly incapable of simply tweaking a game to improve it. This shows up, by the way, not only in the DG redesigns of the old SPI "monster" games, but even in titles (e.g., DRIVE ON STALINGRAD) for which a number of effective "home-brewed" changes had already been introduced and tested.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Hi
    I bought WaR when it first came out and it is great at giving a 'real' feeling of each sides problems.
    The rules are not perfect and many of the issues stated above are true but the German always feels that he must push harder and the US player thinks his forces are spread to thinly, at least to start with.
    Unlike some monster games you can actualy play this one.
    I have just bought the DG version and am looking forward to getting to grips with it. It sounds pretty complex but I play ASL so it can't be too bad......can it?

  • Greeting Gavin:

    When it comes to my comparing the original SPI design with the newest DG version, I really am not in a position to make a judgement, one way or the other. The DG version has a lot more counters and -- visually, at least -- a somewhat more interesting set of maps. However, when it comes to the two different games, themselves, I just don't know. And as the visitor commentary posted should indicate, there is no clear concensus on this topic, even among long-time players.

    Best Regards, Joe

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  • Interesting comments about DG's WaR remake. I'm the guy who redesigned that one. Once we finish Atlantic Wall 2, I'm going back to refit an optional system of quick play rules that cut the complexity of the series in half.

    Joe Youst

  • Greetings Joe:

    Thank you for visiting; I appreciate your "insider" comments.

    Although I wrote this game profile some time ago, I still have not actually found the time to look closely at your redesign. [Maybe I'll try to find time at this year's CSW Expo; that is, if I don't end up playing SPI's old TURNING POINT: THE BATTLE OF STALINGRAD with John Kranz as I did last year.] That being said, I suspect that nothing that you and your DG team could have done would have pleased everyone. Our's is just not that type of hobby.

    Re: the DG redesign of ATLANTIC WALL. The original SPI version of ATLANTIC WALL, unlike WACHT AM RHEIN, is a game that I did have an opportunity to play. And although it has been quite awhile since I had the game spread out on my game table, I seem to remember that -- puting aside the very cumbersome (and tedious) invasion scenario -- most of the other shorter scenarios tended -- at least in my view -- to work surprisingly well. On the other hand, the campaign game, for reasons about which I am still unclear, just didn't seem to either fit together or to play out very convincingly. A case, I suppose, of the individual parts turning out to be greater than the collective whole.

    Needless-to-say, for those players who are just now coming into contact with these ambitous simulation designs, "quick reference" rules play aids would, I am sure, be very useful.

    Thanks again for visiting and

    Best Regards, Joe

  • DA,
    I have been lucky enough to play both - SPI and DG - versions of WaR.
    I tend to agree on comments I read but with some different general feelings.
    SPI game was a great game , especiallly if we consider that the "monsters" were not so common so far.
    DG is also a great game and gives a much higher level of details in its rules. ( I ahve last DG edition)
    Unfortunately this high degree of details sees in some way reduced the postive effect due to the rules, not Always so clear in their meaning.
    Nevetheless the game flows well, all in all. (apart form some wrong infos on counters /reinforcement chart).
    Many rules issues become evident just by playing and my guess is the playtest was not so extensive, who knows time was over to publish it..
    Also I like a lot the graphics of the map , although not always readable on where (in which hex) roads run..
    Altogether a big step forward that could be improved to outstanding with a final revision, taking care of a.m. issues.

  • Greetings Alex:

    Thank you for visiting and for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    Since you like WACHT AM RHEIN (both versions), I strongly suggest that you look at Jack Radey's similarly-scaled KORSUN POCKET. Obviously, the two game situations are very different, but I personally found Radey's design to be especially well done. While I'm thinking about it, you might also check out CSW's redesign of the old GDW game, AVALANCHE. I haven't personally played it, but the "play test" version that I saw at the ConSimWorld Expo a few years ago certainly looked interesting.

    Best Regards, Joe

    Best Regards, Joe

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