TAHGC, BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1991)

BATTLE OF THE BULGE ’91 (2nd Edition) is a historical simulation of the last great German offensive on the Western Front during World War II. This game was designed by S. Craig Taylor and published in 1991 by the Avalon Hill Game Co (TAHGC). This title was published by Avalon Hill as part of their “Smithsonian Institute Series” of introductory conflict simulation games.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

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 an Allied force commanded by General Mark Clark. Soon after the surrender of the “Eternal City,” the victorious Allies had resumed their northern advance up the Italian “Boot.” 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 order to their front. Despite these multiple catastrophes, Hitler poured over his maps frantically searching for one last offensive opportunity that might reverse this 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. In 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 operating north of Aachen. Hitler hoped this strategic blow might finally force the Western Allies to accept a separate, negotiated peace with the Third Reich.

DESCRIPTION

BATTLE OF THE BULGE ’91 (2nd Edition) is an operational (division/brigade/regiment) level simulation — based loosely on the GETTYSBURG ’88 Game System — of Germany’s last great offensive in the West. The mounted four-color (oversized) hexagonal grid map board depicts the area in the Ardennes region of France, Germany, and Belgium over which the World War II campaign was fought. The differently colored counters come in two sizes: ⅝” (divisions and information markers) and ½” (regiments, task forces, battle groups, and aircraft counters); these different counters represent the actual combat units that took part in the historical battle. BULGE ’91 is played in game turns. Each game turn consists of two symmetrical player turns. One player commands the Germans; the other player controls the Allied forces (Americans and British). The German player is always the first to act.

The basic game system of BULGE ’91 uses the traditional and comparatively simple “I go-U go” turn sequence: the first player Moves and then initiates Combat; then the second player Moves and initiates Combat. Stacking is the same for both sides and is limited to one unit per hex at the end of any movement or combat phase. All combat units exert a zone of control (ZOC) over the six immediately adjacent hexes. In addition, ZOCs are semi-rigid; that is; moving units must pay a movement cost to move directly from one enemy ZOC to another. ZOCs are not “sticky;” which means that enemy units may freely leave an enemy ZOC during their regular movement phase. Combat between adjacent enemy units is voluntary. Terrain effects are simple: one movement point for clear terrain, two points for woods and rough hexes, one-half movement point for road hexes (when traveling along the road), and one additional movement point to cross unbridged river hex sides. The effects of different types of terrain on combat are represented by die roll modifiers (DRMs). These DRMs either increase the die roll of the defender; lower that of the attacker; or effect some combination of both. Combat is resolved by the two players rolling their own ten-sided dice at the same time and then comparing their results after all DRMs have been factored in. BULGE ’91 uses “step-reduction” (partial losses) to account for combat casualties. The higher adjusted die roll wins the battle and, depending on the difference between the two rolls, the losing player may be required to retreat, or retreat and lose one or two steps from his defeated unit or units. Division-sized units can lose up to four steps before being removed from play; non-divisional units are eliminated with the loss of a single step.
The winner in BULGE ’91 is determined by a comparison of the two opposing players’ accumulated victory points at the conclusion of the last game turn. Victory points are awarded to both players for the destruction of enemy steps, and for the capture or control of certain geographical objectives. Each player’s victory requirements will vary depending on the specific scenario being played.

BULGE ’91 offers the players several different historical situations when initially setting up to play the game. Besides the campaign game, scenario #3, “The Ardennes Offensive,” which covers the battle from Dec. 16 through Dec. 31 (sixteen game turns), BULGE ’91 also offers two shorter scenarios or mini-games: scenario #1, “Surprise,” which covers the initial days of the German offensive and runs from Dec. 16 through the Dec. 21 (six game turns); and scenario #2, “The Beginning of the End,” which begins on Dec. 22 and runs through Dec. 31 (ten game turns). In addition to the three scenarios, BULGE ’91 also offers a collection of optional, more detailed rules for those players who, at the expense of additional complexity, would like to increase the historical realism of the game. These “Optional” rules include: player Initiative; Special German Units; Variable Weather; Air Operations; Supply; German Fuel Supply; Task Forces and Kampfgruppen; and special Movement Options.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

BULGE ‘91 is an interesting little game, but ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’ (1977) it is not. It is not even BATTLE OF THE BULGE ’65, for that matter. This game, like the other titles published by Avalon Hill as part of the “Smithsonian Institute Series” of conflict simulations, is an introductory game in the truest sense of the word. The rules to the Basic Game, for example, require only one 8½” x 14” back-printed page to cover all of the essentials of play. This doesn’t mean, of course, that BULGE ’91 is automatically a terrible choice for more experienced players. The additional “Optional” rules, particularly when used en mass, do actually add a small amount of additional simulation detail to the basic game; moreover, this “Smithsonian” version, whatever its historical omissions, is reasonably fast-moving and generally enjoyable to play. Nonetheless, for players contemplating buying this title, it probably should be considered a “gateway” game on the subject of The Battle of the Bulge. Stated another way, BULGE ’91, insofar as it succeeds at all, succeeds almost exclusively as an introductory game. This is because it presents a simple, easy-to-learn game system that introduces players to the historical event of the battle, and that also quickly prepares them to move on to more complicated and historically accurate treatments of Germany’s last great offensive in the West. For this reason, I am reasonably comfortable recommending this title for the beginning or casual gamer. It wouldn’t necessarily be my first choice, but it wouldn’t be my last, either. For the grognards in the hobby, on the other hand, I am inclined to follow the lead of Borat, and emphatically say: “not so much.”

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 day (24 hours) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 5 miles per hex
  • Unit Size: division/brigade/regiment/task force/battle group
  • Unit Types: armor/panzer, panzer grenadier, armored cavalry, infantry, paratroops, commandos, and information markers
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: low
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2 - 5 hours (depending on scenario)

Game Components:

  • One 14” x 22” hexagonal grid, hard-backed Map Board (with Turn Record Track, Terrain Effects Chart, Weather Chart, Allied Air Allocation Chart, German Air Allocation Chart, German Paradrop Chart, and Movement and Combat Quick Reference Guides incorporated)
  • 112 ⅝” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • 90 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • One 8½” x 14” back-printed Rules Sheet
  • One 5½” x 8½” Battle Manual (with Historical Background Information, Scenario Set-Up Instructions, and Quick Reference Tables incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” German Order of Appearance Card (with German Fuel reserves Track incorporated)
  • One 8½” x 11” Allied Order of Appearance Card (with Weather Table incorporated)
  • Two ten-sided Dice (one blue and one red)
  • One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Postal Order Form
  • One 3½” x 6½” Avalon Hill Customer Response Card
  • One 17” x 11½” x 2” Game Box with two cardboard Storage Trays

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

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