Budapest '45 introduced a new game system to readers of Command Magazine, one that would become XTR's alternative standard system to the classic system used in most of its 20th Century designs. While Budapest '45 still uses the attack-defense factor-movement factor system to quantify units, these values don't appear on the counters. Instead movement factors are based on unit type and appear in the rules, while the attack and defense values are tracked on a roster sheet. The Zone of Control makes a comeback to XTR in these designs, which feaure a lower unit density than usual for the scale. For example, in Budapest 45 the hex scale is only 2.5 miles per hex, which generally means regiments and battalions in most wargames, but in this game most units are divisions.
Each turn represents two days, except for the first turn, which is one day.
Most units have a half-dozen or more steps, which gives them more staying power than most games. Eliminating a unit typically takes several turns of fighting.
The components are crisp and functional. The Beth Queman map looks good and has no terrain ambiguities. The counters are the 5/8-inch size favored by XTR. Here they contain just the unit type and size using NATO-style symbols and a historical designation in large print.
On the Soviet side the non-mechanized units are red, mechanized units yellow and Romanian allies light red. On the Axis side most non-mechanized German troops are field gray and German mech are black. The single Hungarian mechanized unit is green, while the non-mechanized Hungarians are blue. In besieged Budapest all the Axis garrsion units are grey.
The turn sequence is asymetric. The Soviet movement phase follows their combat phase, which means they have to set up all their attacks the turn before. This is little handicap in the city fighting where neither side has room to move around, but is a major handicap in the mobile fighting elsewhere.
The Germans, on the other hand, move and then attack, with a mechanized movement phase following the combat phase. This makes the Germans nimble indeed. Their major problem is too few units to do everything that needs to be done.
The German Panzer divisions can detach their recon battalions to help hold some ground, but this just mitigates the unit shortage a little, it doesn't solve it.
The game situtaion is interesting and unusual. Some 20 Soviet units surround 8 Axis inside the city. Meanwhile another two dozen Soviet units try to hold off a Panzer Army trying to break the siege before the city falls. This provides that satisfying wargame situation where both players get to attack and defend.
As usual in XTR games, various "chrome" rules are used to impart the historical factors affecting the battle. Three times the Germans get to benefit from a "surprise" turn with enhanced attacks. The Soviets have two artillery units which will help them blast into the city. The Germans also have some "heavy support units" (an engineer brigade and two Tiger tank battalions) to add power to their spearpoints.
The Germans win by breaking through to the city, the Soviets win by capturing all of it by turn 14. If neither side reaches their sudden death goal, then the game result is adjudicated on victory points at the end of turn 14. Both sides get VPs for eliminating enemy steps or putting them out of supply at game end. The Soviets can score points by exiting the west map edge, while the Germans can score points if they manage to hold onto some part of Pest (the city hexes east of the Danube river).
The game takes about 20 minutes to set up and will take a full evening to play, on average.
(Yes) for Wargamers: Interesting design covering an interesting battle.
(No) for Collectors: Nothing special
(No) for Eurogamers: Constantly referring to a unit roster is not the kind of game mechanic you'll have patience for.