HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAlmost from the day that Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the newly-partitioned country became a flashpoint for Cold War tensions between the Eastern Bloc, dominated by the Soviet Union, and NATO, under the leadership of the United States. On 24 June 1948, the Soviets blockaded Berlin by closing off all rail and road access to the American, British, and French zones of the city in an attempt to gain complete control of the divided former German Capital. The United States, Great Britain, and other members of the British Commonwealth responded with the Berlin Airlift. Hurriedly organized and directed by American general Curtis LeMay, the operation proved to be a stunning success. At its peak, the airlift was delivering over 13,000 tons of food to the beleaguered city every day. After months of East-West tension, and faced with an embarrassing political and military failure, the Soviets finally ended the blockade on 12 May 1949. However, they did not abandon their designs on achieving control of West Germany.
Given the ongoing belligerence of the Communist leadership in the Kremlin; their ruthless suppression of the peoples of Eastern Europe, and their aggressive political adventurism in Africa and Latin America, the possibility of a Warsaw Pact invasion of Western Europe quickly became a key feature of NATO planning as the Cold War continued. The two most likely routes for a Soviet mechanized offensive into West Germany were obvious: the North German Plain, and the Fulda Gap. However, given the strategic Cold War importance of Frankfurt, as West Germany’s economic heart, the Fulda Gap was considered to be the primary axis for a Warsaw Pact attack against the NATO forces arrayed to defend Germany. Because of this fact, military planners on both sides of the “Iron Curtain” saw the Fulda Gap as the most likely site of the first major battle of a 1970s war between East and West.
The Fulda Gap is, geographically speaking, unremarkable. It is a swath of low ground that lies between the Hohe Rhön and Knüllegebirge mountains near the East German border, and the Spessart and Vogelsberg mountains farther to the west. This low-lying corridor runs along the Fulda River and then through the Fliede and Kinzig Valleys and debouches onto the open terrain bordering the Main River near Offenbach in the north and Wurzburg in the south. Militarily speaking, this relatively flat ground was considered, by both NATO and Warsaw Pact operational planners, to be excellent terrain for large-scale mechanized operations.
During the 1970s and 80s, the forces squaring off across the East-West German border were well-known to each other. If the Warsaw Pact launched an offensive through the Gap, it would undoubtedly be spearheaded by the Soviet 8th Guards Army, based in East Germany. The Soviet 1st Guards Tank Army would, NATO planners thought, follow-up the initial attackers and serve as a reserve force for the Soviet first wave. The 8th Guards Army's objective, if war broke out, would be simple: batter its way through any NATO forces that blocked its path and seize Frankfurt am Main. On the NATO side, the responsibility for defending the Gap between 1972 and 1994 rested with the US Vth Corps. The American trip-wire unit closest to the East German border — the NATO force assigned to meet the initial Soviet assault — would be the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The 3rd Armored Division and the 8th (Mechanized) Infantry Division were slated to move east immediately to support the troopers of the 11th Cavalry Regiment. Their orders were blunt and unequivocal: they were to hold the Gap until NATO reinforcements could reach the front. An American fighting withdrawal, considering the strategic importance of Frankfurt, was not considered to be an option.
The Fulda Gap is an area in southern Germany that, for more than a generation during the Cold War, American and Soviet planners viewed as a potential battlefield in any conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact Forces. FULDA GAP is a semi-historical simulation of such a confrontation on a regiment/brigade level. The FULDA GAP four-color game map covers an area of southern Germany that extends from Koln in the north to Mannheim in the south, and from Bonn in the west to Bamberg in the east. The back-printed game counters represent the actual NATO and Warsaw Pact units (typically regiments and brigades) that would have fought each other had war broken out in Germany during the period covered by the game. All of the formations in the game begin play as 'untried' units; their actual combat strength is determined through a semi-random process only when they engage in combat for the first time. Zones of control (ZOCs), as might be expected, are semi-active and 'sticky': this means that units must stop upon entering an enemy ZOC and may only exit either as a result of combat or through 'disengagement'.
To model the complex elements of modern warfare, the FULDA GAP game system weaves a number of innovative design features into a well-tested turn sequence. The standard game turn sequence proceeds as follows (the Soviet player is always the first player): Initial Movement Phase; Combat Phase; Secondary Movement Phase; and Reorganization Phase. The Advanced game rules add a Joint Air Superiority Turn prior to the start of the regular game turn. Once the air war sub-routine ends, the Advanced game turn begins with the addition of a Nuclear Planning Phase, and a Nuclear Strike Phase to the standard player turn sequence.
The rules for combat in FULDA GAP are generally familiar and, because of the important role of ranged artillery for both offensive and defensive fire, are somewhat reminiscent of those for MODERN BATTLES (1975). Regular combat between adjacent units is voluntary and is resolved using a conventional odds-differential Combat Results Table (CRT). However, while the CRT is familiar, the various combat results are not. Instead of stipulating step or strength losses, individual combat results specify losses in terms of Retreat Points (RPs). This somewhat unorthodox approach works well because terrain effects are also presented in terms of RP values. Thus, if a phasing player is attacking a unit defending in a rough terrain hex (RP value of 3) and receives a combat result of 2 or less, the defender would not be required to retreat; however, if, instead, the combat result is 5 RPs, the defender would then be obliged to retreat two hexes (assuming the flight hexes were clear terrain): 3 hexes for the rough terrain hex (3 RPs, remember), and 1 RP for each of the 1 RP valued clear terrain hexes. Interestingly, although this combat results system is somewhat cumbersome to describe, it actually works very well in the context of the game.
FULDA GAP does not lack for operational detail. The game includes rules on, among other things: limited intelligence (untried unit strengths), step-reduction, sophisticated movement and logistical subroutines, Soviet doctrine, and NATO replacements. Also there are additional rules covering divisional integrity, disengagement from combat, artillery, field fortifications, attack helicopters, air power, airmobile operations, Soviet paratroops, ECM, chemical warfare, and nuclear weapons. Essentially, if you read or heard about a military capability for either side during the 1970’s, then you’ll probably find it in this game design.
The winner in FULDA GAP is determined on the basis of accrued victory points. Both sides gain victory points for destroying enemy units; in addition, the Warsaw Pact player also receives points for satisfying certain teritorial objectives (i.e., getting supplied WP units across the Rhine River or controlling the north-south autobahn).
FULDA GAP offers three short scenarios: the Tripwire Scenario, in which Warsaw Pact forces attack into Germany without warning (7 game turns); the Advance Warning Scenario, in which NATO forces have enough warning of the impending Soviet attack to begin to concentrate and deploy for battle (7 turns); and the D+7 Scenario, in which both armies have mobilized and completed their initial preparations for the impending campaign (7 game turns). These scenarios can be played using either the standard or advanced game rules. In addition, players may also opt for either the standard or advanced version of the Campaign Scenario (14 turns). The advanced version of the rules introduces several new subroutines into the sequence of play. These new phases involve the use of air power, nuclear weapons, and special units, such as: Soviet paratroops, attack helicopters, airmobile units, and NATO airbases.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONFULDA GAP, looking back, can probably best be described as an innovative, but ultimately disappointing Dunnigan 'near miss'; and like SPI’s FIREFIGHT, it never really succeeded in capturing the interest of most gamers. This is unfortunate because, despite its several imperfections, FULDA GAP is still an interesting treatment of a hypothetical confrontation between Warsaw Pact and NATO forces in Germany in the 1970s. A number of modern-era design concepts made their first appearance in this title. For this reason, it is not surprising that despite using a familiar game system for its basic mechanics, FULDA GAP is not a simple game. Moreover, it is not an updated version of SPI’s earlier foray into a hypothetical East-West battle for control of Western Europe: the 1973 title, NATO. In truth, other than the fact that both modern-era games use a variant of the KURSK Game System as their basic design architecture, the two titles have almost nothing else in common. And because Dunnigan’s nuanced design incorporates newer, more advanced weapons systems into its game mechanics, combat operations take on a quality distinctly different from SPI’s simulations dealing with World War II operational combat. Purely from a design standpoint, this was probably unavoidable. The hypothetical European battlefield of the 70s and 80s, because of Cold War technological advances, is a very lethal environment indeed; and FULDA GAP demonstrates very clearly, if only in game terms, that to be seen and targeted in the modern combat zone is to be destroyed. That being said, there are other modern-era simulations — SPI’s THE NEXT WAR and Victory Games’ GULF STRIKE come immediately to mind — that probably do a better job of representing the complex interactions of the different combat arms on the contemporary battlefield. Nonetheless, this title does offer those who are interested in recent (the last thirty years or so) military affairs, a fascinating, manageable, and challenging simulation of the first days of the war that might have been, but thankfully, wasn’t.
- Time Scale: 24 hours per game turn
- Map Scale: 10 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: regiment/ brigade
- Unit Types: mechanized infantry, armor, motorized infantry, artillery, paratroops, covering force, territorials, reconnaissance, attack helicopter, air unit, supply transport, supply dump, artillery division, and information markers
- Number of Players: two (teams are possible)
- Complexity: above average/high
- Solitaire Suitability: low
- Average Playing Time: 5+ hours
- One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Terrain Effects Chart, Air Superiority Record, Soviet and NATO Air Superiority Point Allocation Tracks, Soviet and NATO Nuclear Warhead Records, Soviet Victory Point Track, and NATO Replacement Point Record incorporated)
- 400 back-printed ½” Cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- One 12” x 22” back-printed Combined Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Initial Set-up Sheet, Examples of Combat, Player’s Notes, and Untried Unit Analysis.
- Two 11” x 17” back-printed Combined Overrun Combat Results Table, Combat Results Table, Untried Unit Table, Replacement Success Table, Electronic Warfare Table, Disengagement Table, Soviet and NATO Air Unit Allocation Tables, Air Superiority Determination Table, Strike Table, Nuclear Combat Results Table, Contamination Table, and Victory point Schedule
- One 3¾” x 8½” SPI Customer Complaint Card
- One small six-sided Die
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic Game Cover with Title Sheet