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. At the center of the American front, Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army quickly broke through General Middleton’s US VIIIth Corps. After a short, sharp fight von Manteuffel’s panzers shattered the American 28th Division and began their drive west through the Ardennes. On the night of 18 December, elements of the 2nd Panzer Division unexpectedly ran into an ad-hoc American unit, Task Force Harper, and a short violent clash erupted. TF Harper could not stop the Germans, and 2nd Panzer soon pushed its way over and through the outnumbered Americans. At this point in the campaign, 2nd Panzer could have swept unopposed into Bastogne, but the Germans bypassed the town, and by the next morning, the opportunity had passed. During the night the 501st Parachute Regiment arrived and immediately took up defensive positions around Bastogne. If the Germans wanted the town now, they would have to fight for it.
The rough terrain and forests of the Ardennes, even today, make off-road movement for both wheeled and tracked vehicles difficult and often impossible. In December, 1944, roads — particularly roads running east to west, and their junctions — were crucial to the German offensive timetable, and seven different roads passed through Bastogne. Although the initial wave of panzers had bypassed the town, the Germans knew that they had to capture Bastogne: possession of this Belgian hamlet was crucial to the continued supply of their armored spearhead driving towards the Meuse. The Allies, also recognizing the importance of Bastogne, had rushed the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division forward to occupy the town and dig in. The newly-arrived American defenders had been ordered to hold Bastogne whatever the cost; the attacking Germans were just as committed to its capture: one of the great sieges of World War II was about to unfold. And its outcome would be a key factor in the success or failure of the German offensive.
ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES is a grand tactical (battalion/regiment) simulation of the first eleven days of the last major German armored attack against the Western Allies in World War II. Unlike almost all other games on this topic, this title uses a point-to-point rather than a hexagonal map system. One player commands the Allies (American and British forces); the other controls the Germans. The game system, although a little unusual, is not difficult to learn, and even novices will typically grasp the basic substance and intent of the game rules fairly quickly. ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES follows a simple game turn sequence: the first player (German) Moves and initiates Combat, and then Moves any eligible units and initiates Combat again; the second player (Allied commander) repeats the same sequence, after which the game turn ends. Rules governing supply, although comparatively simple, are important to play and to the German victory conditions. Combat is resolved on the basis of “hits;” a system that is virtually identical to that used in GDW’s SOLDIER KING (1981) and A HOUSE DIVIDED (1981). The game uses a modified (inverted counter) step-reduction system to account for combat losses. As might be expected, rules governing bridges and river crossings are critical to the German advance. In addition, weather plays the same critical role in the game that it did in the actual battle. The German player wins by accumulating more victory points than his Allied opponent does by the end of the 26 December game turn. Alternatively, the German player can win an immediate, decisive victory by exiting a specific number of supplied units (depending on the game turn) off the map edge west of the Meuse River, at any point prior to game end.
ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES offers only the standard Historical Campaign Game, and there are no optional rules. The game is twenty-two turns long. It begins on 16 December, and ends at the conclusion of the 26 December 1944 game turn. Unlike a number of other games on this topic, there are no shorter scenarios; so barring an early German breakthrough and decisive victory, players should be prepared to slug it out to the bitter end.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Every game designer, at some point in his career, just has to try his hand at a “Bulge” game, and Frank Chadwick, it seems, is no exception. ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES, however, is a game with a difference. And, although I needed another game about The Battle of the Bulge about as much as I needed an IRS audit, I decided, years ago, to pick up the GDW version and see how Chadwick had decided to approach the legendary battle. However, the first thing that I had to get over was the box art: it was, to be charitable, a little off-putting. I don’t know what it is about The Battle of the Bulge, but the subject seems to attract ugly graphics like “free buffets” attract “senior citizens.” If you don’t believe me: take another look at TAHGC’s BULGE ’65 or OSG’s DARK DECEMBER; and those are just for starters. Be that as it may, GDW promised that the game would be a lot like A HOUSE DIVIDED, and since I liked that game a lot, that’s where I pinned my hopes. Besides, it is what is inside the box that really counts, I told myself, so I sent off my order and check to GDW and, by and by, the game arrived in the mail.
Despite having already read the ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES ad slick, I wasn’t really sure what I would find when I finally pulled the box lid off and began to examine the game. I have to admit that as soon as I had read the rules, I was immediately skeptical about the game’s mechanics. However, much to my surprise, after a couple of face-to-face matches, I found that the game system worked surprisingly well. The Ardennes — because of its difficult, forested terrain — magnifies the critical importance of the area road net. Thus, the Ardennes is probably one of the few modern battlefields where Chadwick’s choice of a point-to-point movement system for a battalion/regimental level game actually makes sense. ATTACK IN THE ARDENNES takes a little getting used to, but once it has been learned, it is eminently playable and loaded with action. Is it the greatest “Bulge” game that I have ever played? No, far from it; but based on my own experience, I would say that if a player likes A HOUSE DIVIDED, then he should enjoy this game.
- Time Scale: 12 hours per game turn (one am and one pm turn per day)
- Map Scale: (irrelevant) point to point movement system
- Unit Size: battalion/regiment
- Unit Types: armor/panzer, tank destroyer, assault gun, armored cavalry/reconnaissance, mechanized infantry/panzer grenadier, motorized infantry, infantry, parachute infantry, glider infantry, motorized artillery, artillery, Nebelwerfer, engineers, and information counters
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 3-5 + hours
- Two 17” x 22” point-to-point Map Sheets (with Eliminated, Scrapped, and Replacement Unit Boxes incorporated)
- 320 ⅝” cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Errata from 28 July 1982 included)
- One 8½” x 11” Turn Record Chart
- One 4” x 6” GDW Customer Survey Card
- Two six-sided Dice
- 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