THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is an operational simulation — based on the KURSK Game System — of the German attempt to break through a thinly-held section of the American front in December, 1944. The game was designed by James F. Dunnigan, and published in 1973 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).


American soldiers assume defensive
positions in the Ardennes
At 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 sparsely-defended portion 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 a simple one: the Wehrmacht would tear a hole in a weak section of the American line and then rush powerful panzer forces through the newly-formed gap; as soon as the leading panzers had forced a crossing of the Meuse River and gained freedom of maneuver, they would then pivot northwest and drive on the Allied supply port of Antwerp.

German tank, The Battle of the Bulge.
Hitler’s offensive began well, and early German gains in some sectors were dramatic. Near the center of the American front, Hasso von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army quickly broke through General Troy 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.

Subsequent events would show that von Manteuffel’s men had made a costly mistake. The hasty decision to bypass Bastogne, although the local panzer commanders didn’t realize it at the time, had put the whole German offensive in jeopardy. And it was a lost opportunity that would come back to haunt the Germans as the battle wore on.

American soldiers on an Ardennes forest road.
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 that was still 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.


THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is a two-player operational (division/brigade/regiment) level simulation of the decisive period — 16 December, 1944 through 2 January, 1945 — during which the outcome of Hitler’s final desperate gamble — the last great German offensive in the West — was decided.

The playing area of the game map represents the Ardennes, a forested region where the frontiers of Germany, Belgium, France, and Luxembourg all intersect. This was the area in which most of the major action of the historical battle actually took place. The two-color game map is relatively unambiguous, although a few terrain changes are required; these, however, have been noted in the game errata. In addition, for ease of set-up, the historical positions for all of the starting units are printed on the game map.

THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is played in game turns which are further divided into a German and an Allied player turn. One player controls the Germans, and the other player commands the American and British forces that fought to thwart Hitler’s offensive plans. The German player is always the first to act. Each player turn proceeds in the following order: the Reinforcement Phase; the Supply Determination Phase; the Initial Movement Phase; the Combat Phase; and the Mechanized Movement Phase. On the first game turn only, the Allied player may not move any of his eligible units during the Initial Movement Phase. Interestingly, neither player may move any otherwise eligible units during the Mechanized Movement Phase if they fought during the immediately preceding Combat Phase. For this reason, unengaged mechanized reserves are critically important for both sides.

Supply, as it did in the historical campaign, plays a critical role in THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE; for this reason, the rules governing the determination of supply status for both sides are both detailed and comparatively complicated. Supply effects, on the other hand, are fairly straight forward: “supplied” units operate using their face combat and movement values; “unsupplied” units are halved on attack and in movement; “isolated” units are both halved on defense and in movement, and their attack strength is reduced to zero. Zones of Control (ZOCs) are “rigid” and individual units must halt movement upon entering and may not exit an enemy ZOC, unless stacked with one or more other friendly units. In this case, one unit “absorbs” the enemy ZOC, allowing the other units in the hex to exit or even to infiltrate around the enemy unit’s flanks. Stacking of combat units is limited to one “division equivalent” per hex. There are no artillery units included in the counter-mix; however, the influence of artillery on the battle is neatly reproduced through an abstract but restrictive (for the German player, at least) set of "bridge interdiction" rules. Combat is resolved using an “odds differential” Combat Results Table (CRT), but there are two different CRTs: the Initial German CRT and the Standard CRT. As is typical with the KURSK family of games, combat results tend to be of the “bloodless” variety with most battles producing retreat results (in varying numbers of hexes) for one or the other player. Defender Eliminated and Exchange results do not even appear until odds of 4 to 1, or higher. Terrain Effects are relatively uncomplicated. As might be expected, rivers represent a serious barrier to movement and the “West Wall” hexes multiply the defensive value of defending German units. The most important terrain effect is that of towns: units defending in towns are affected only by DE and Exchange results; all retreat results (whether DR or AR) are ignored. Needless-to-say, this rule has a profound effect on the overall flow of the game.

Victory is determined on the basis of victory points; these points can be amassed by the German player through the capture of geographical objectives, and, for both players, through the destruction of enemy combat strength.

THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE, besides the Historical Game, also offers nine additional scenarios, each of which allows the players to experiment with different set-up and reinforcement options. Conveniently, these alternative game situations have been scored by the designer as to which side they favor, and so can be used to vary lines of play or to adjust play-balance between unequal opponents. There are no “optional rules.”


German soldier in the Ardennes.
Over four decades ago, James F. Dunnigan — while still an unknown college student — wrote a letter to the Avalon Hill Game Company complaining about the many historical inaccuracies in TAHGC’s THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE ’65. For reasons that are still unclear to this day, Tom Shaw, who ran Avalon Hill during this period, was so impressed with Dunnigan’s comments that he offered the neophyte game critic an opportunity to design a game of his own: an offer, unfortunately, that resulted in the publication of probably two of the most widely-detested Avalon Hill games of all time, JUTLAND (1967) and 1914 (1968). Dunnigan’s first attempt at a naval game (JUTLAND), followed by his game of World War I ground combat on the Western Front (1914) were neither of them, as they say, roaring commercial or critical successes. In spite of these disappointing first two outings, Dunnigan persevered. In 1969, he founded Simulations Publication, Inc (SPI) and took over the publication of the then struggling S&T game magazine. It was a fortuitous move. In the space of a few years, Dunnigan — along with the help of graphics whiz, Redmond Simonsen — turned SPI into the most prolific game publisher of its day.

General Hasso von Manteuffel.
Looking back at Dunnigan’s long tenure at SPI, it is clear that his interest in the Battle of the Bulge never really waned. In fact, SPI published a half dozen titles, over the next two decades that covered all or part of this famous battle, beginning with BASTOGNE, a Dunnigan designed S&T magazine game that first saw print in 1969. BASTOGNE ’69, to be generous, was received with less than enthusiastic reviews: it appeared, at first blush, to be more historically accurate than BULGE ’65, but it also proved, in the eyes of many gamers, to be a lot less playable (read: fun) than its Avalon Hill counterpart. THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE, which appeared four years later, was a return trip to the “Bulge” well for Dunnigan. This second game was the next to the last time (BULGE, published in 1980 and then rechristened as THE BIG RED ONE, would be his last) that the prolific designer tackled the subject personally, and as such, it is an interesting take on how Dunnigan had come to view the battle by this time in his career as a designer. In BASTOGNE ’69, the “orders of battle” and “terrain” were the main focus of the game; in his second design, the Ardennes road net and the initial unit congestion in the German assembly areas are clearly — in Dunnigan’s view, at least — the key factors in the critical early stages of the campaign. This means that for some players, THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE may seem a little cumbersome; and despite its comparatively simple game system, I should also note that it is not an easy game to play well. Large scale maneuver, even with road movement, is often difficult; and concentrating an assaulting force against a strongly-held enemy position (particularly towns) is usually time-consuming, complicated, and frustrating. This combination of factors tends to produce a regular pattern of play: deep initial armored penetrations by the Germans during the first five to seven game turns, followed — assuming that neither player has made any serious mistakes — by a grinding World War I style Allied counter-offensive during the remaining turns of the game. Thus, an obvious game dynamic seems to be 'baked' into the simulation, and the result is that the Allies almost never seem to have many strategic options. Because the Germans can seal the Northeast and Southeast map edges with incoming assault gun brigades and a few weak infantry regiments, the Allied player usually has no choice but to push the Wehrmacht back with frontal attacks against the leading edge of the German “bulge.” The panzers probably aren’t going to get to Antwerp in the Historical Game, but the Germans may well still be able to stall the Allied advance long enough to eke out a win.

General George S. Patton.
So where does all this leave us? I would argue that despite its several design quirks, THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE is still an intriguing, if somewhat unorthodox, treatment of the Battle of the Bulge. More than that, however, this title’s modified KURSK game mechanics offer a clue about the future direction of WW II designs at SPI. Like Dunnigan’s EL ALAMEIN — also published in 1973 — it seems to be a precursor of the PANZER GRUPPE GUDERIAN Game System to come. A game system that, in the eyes of many gamers, would finally reach its full potential with SPI’s release, in 1977, of perhaps the most detailed “Bulge” simulation ever published: ‘WACHT AM RHEIN’. Thus, for those gamers for whom the December, 1944 battle in the Ardennes holds a special fascination, and also for those players with an interest in the design evolution of armored warfare game systems, I recommend THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE highly.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: one day (24 hours) per game turn
  • Map Scale: 3.15 kilometers per hex
  • Unit Size: division/brigade/regiment
  • Unit Types: armor/panzer, armored infantry/panzer grenadier, assault gun, motorized paratroops, infantry, paratroop, engineer, and information counters
  • Number of Players: two
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3+ hours

Game Components:

  • One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with German and Allied Victory Point Tracks incorporat
  • 255 ½” cardboard Counters
  • One 8¾” x 11½” Rules Booklet (with Terrain Effects Chart, German Initial, and Standard Combat Results Tables incorporated)
  • One 7” x 23” Turn Record/Reinforcement Track
  • One 8½” x 11” Consolidated Errata & Addenda (as of 31 May 1973)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment cardboard Tombstone-style Game Box (with clear compartment tray cover)

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


  • Quirks,Yes it did have those but after tackling SPI's Bastogne it was a great jump ahead for a Bulge game by them. But sadly it got lost for me in the glut of newer games on the subject but I have returned to it over the past 10 years so again finding it's many interesting points

  • I think there is a fatal flaw in the game, the Germans can break out in the South across the river, IIRC. This makes the game ahistorical from the get go.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Don:

    Thank you, as always, for your interest and your comments.

    I confess that it has been awhile since I looked carefully at THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE game map, so I'm trying to dredge up some of my earlier impressions based purely on my memory of the game map and historical starting positions.

    In any case, I assume that you are suggesting that von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army pivot southwest after forcing multiple crossings of the Our River. This strategy is an interesting one and, as I recall, most of my own games of THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE involved a diversion of at least some of von Manteuffel's units in order to close off the southern map edge to American reinforcements. On the other hand, such a strategy, I think, would require a fairly major commitment from the Fifth Panzer Army to achieve a southern breakout as the German Seventh Army is not strong enough -- even with its compliment of curiously powerful Volksgrenadier divisions -- to make much headway against the Americans on the southern shoulder of the bulge without the offensive weight of both the 2nd Panzer and Panzer Lehr being thrown into the attack. Nonetheless, your view may well be correct; although I seem to remember that Allied "bridge interdictions" during the first few game turns usually played hob with the initial German advance, at least until the pesky American engineer regiments could be cleared away from their advanced positions on the west side of the Our.

    Unfortunately, I passed my own copy of the game on to another player some time ago, so I am no longer in a position to actually pull out the game and take another look at it with your southern strategy in mind.

    As I recall, I also was a little unhappy with how ahistorically the middle and end game usually developed; but I seem to remember that my main criticism of the game system really had to do with the World War I nature of combat once the Allied counteroffensive began.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • IIRC, there was a ford that the mech units could cross and then it was galloping time, as the US response was always a turn late.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Again Don:

    Your idea about a southern strategy picqued my interest enough that I visited the Boardgamegeek site to see if I could get a better look at the game map. I assume that you are referring to the ford due east of Diekirch, but for some reason, I don't recall it being quite so easy as you suggest for the Germans to blow through the American right flank and then gallop off to the Meuse. Of course, I could be wrong; this wouldn't be the first time that I "missed the forest for the trees!"

    Does anyone else have any thoughts about Don's southern approach for the Germans? Since I -- stupidly, it would now seem -- handed my old copy off to another (out of state, naturally) player, I would be very interested to hear ideas from other players who are both familiar with this old Dunnigan title and who also still have a copy of the game.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • I played this a lot when it first came out. German forces start out bunched up at the start line, not all in optimal positions. Movement penalties for stacking and the careful planning needed for road movement are a challenge for the German player early in the game. The German player needs to make the most of the starting situation. I recall a high level of frustration for the German player for at least the first few turns.

    The same rules somewhat hinder the Allied ability to respond as reinforcements arrive. The bottom line is that you can’t just fly down a road with your strongest units to respond to a situation.

    The bridge interdiction rules were a neat innovation.

    I still have the game – it’s worth another look. My opponents & I never made it to the "southern approach" school of thought, but it would be interesting to try.

    Doug Edwards

  • In most of my Ardennes games as the German player it makes sense to block off the southern portion of the map. It takes less units. This assumes that there are rules allowing your to just block the road. Not all games are designed that way.

  • Didn't drop my name in.

    Skip Franklin

  • My tricky move.

    The 3-10 in 2707 crosses the river at the ford and ends up in 3408 for 10 MPs. Another 3-10 ends up in 3208 from 2507 and a 4-10 frromm 2508 ends up in 3108. This gets 3 mech across the river using the ford, which is not interdicted, being a ford and not a bridge. None of these units were involved in combat, so they can move in the mech movement phase.

    This is hard to counter as the Allies.

    Don Johnson

  • It is also sort of strange as nothing happened like it in history that I know of.

    But as the road junction at 3408 is now owned by the Germans, the closest US unit that might react is the armor 5-12 in 3206 but it is stuck in the ZOC of the 6-4 in 3106, assuming the German does not attack. A 4-12 is in 2114 and might move to 3113, but then south of that is free, so the whole south position gets outflanked.

    If someone sees some flaw, I want to know it.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Again Everybody:

    Thanks everyone for contributing your thoughts on Don's souther strategy.

    Clearly, Don is correct that the German motorized Fallshirmjager division from the Seventh Army can get across the Our River using the ford. I seem to recall, however, that the key to blocking a major German penetration on the American right is to prevent the Nazis from grabbing early uncontested control of an east-west supply road across the river. It's been a long time, I'll grant you, since I played this game; nonetheless, I seem to remember that so long as the Americans can prevent the Germans from securing one or the other of the two east-west roads in the far south, the Nazis really can't get much beyond Diekirch before running beyond their supply range. Or am I confusing THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE with some other game?

    Thanks Again and Best Regards, Joe

  • Yes, supply is a consideration. The unit in 3108 will be in supply from 2906, but the others will depend on what happens at 2909. But even at half speed, if nothing is opposing you, you can move twice and go far. For example, the unit at 3408 can move twice at 5MPs to 3617, cutting off the westernmost SE entry hexes, the eastern ones being easier to cut off.

    Don Johnson

    And of course others units on turn 2 will cross at the ford and will be in supply; that is, the Germans should reinforce success to the max.

  • Good Evening Don:

    I'm with you in terms of the ability of the Germans to penetrate the American position in the south; in fact, I think that I used to do something very similar with the motorized Fallshirmjager regiments, myself. For some reason, though, I don't recall a southern German push actually resulting in an early breakthrough by the Seventh Army and the Fifth Panzer Army.

    I hate to say it, but it may actually be necessary for me to go out and get another copy of THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE -- it won't be the first time that I have let a game go, only to buy another copy later -- just to see if there is an Allied riposte to the southern gambit that you describe. Somehow, I am pretty sure that there is, but without the map and counters in front of me, I am hard pressed to reconstruct such a counter-move (if there even is one) from memory.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Any turn 1 counter move is very limited, as only mech not in enemy ZOC can move.

    Supply is key to this game, much more so that most others and needs to be rigorously enforced.

    I have 2 copies and live in VA and going to Prezcon this Feb.

    Don Johnson

  • Greetings Don:

    Yes, I agree that any American turn one or turn two riposte must be aimed at cutting supply to the German player's southern spearhead. I just don't remember -- it's been a long time, after all -- exactly what form the American countermove would take. Certainly, I do remember (as the Germans) shuffling incoming assault gun brigades along the southern map edge to block incoming Allied reinforcements, but I don't recall that the opening move that you describe ever actually resulted in an early decisive breakthrough and German dash to the Meuse. Of course, it could be that I and my opponents just didn't push the southern drive quite forcefully enough in the early going!

    In any case, good luck at PrezCon; I know Eric Walters plans on going this year -- he has some games he wants to auction off. For my own part, seeing as how I live in Arizona, it is a little off the beaten track for me; and probably would be -- even if it was closer -- as I have a deep-seated loathing of commercial air travel.

    In any case, I may still pick up another copy of THE ARDENNES OFFENSIVE at some point in the future; if that happens, maybe we will be able to compare notes again once I have considered possible American options for the first and second game turns.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • First turn there is no initial movement phase for either side, secondly the Germans per the errata must attack all units they are in contact with using all units.

    The 5-12 in the south will be able to move in it's mech movement phase because infantry can not advance after combat and only armor can. So the southern 5-12 can reach a position to cover those fords in the south with zone and stop any deep penetration from happening I believe!


  • Greetings Chuck:

    Your comments mirror my own recollection of the early game turns. Unfortunately, by the time Don raised the issue of the "southern breakthrough", I had already passed my own copy of the game off to another player; hence, I was unable to personally double-check the legality of Don's recommended German opening.

    Thanks for commenting and
    Best Regards, Joe

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