Friday, February 6, 2009

Wave of Terror, The Battle of the Bulge

The issue game in Command Magazine No. 41 was Wave of Terror: The Battle of the Bulge, another of the “mini-monsters” that XTR published in its wargame magazine in the mid-90s.

With two maps and 720 counters it is a big game. Like most monster games the game system is kept pretty basic, with the usual combat factor-movement factor NAT)-style unit symbol ½-inch wargame counters. The SS are in black, Luftwaffe in blue and German Army in light grey, while the Americans are in their standard XTR olive and the British are tan. The map scale is 1.5 miles per hex and covers pretty much the same ground as every other Battle of the Bulge wargame since the first. As one would expect, the map is covered with small villages, dense woods, rivers and altogether is a busy terrain study. As always with a Beth Queman production, the map is functional, although, as is often the case with one of her maps, not particularly attractive.

(Shown clockwise from upper left are the US 26th Infantry Division, the US 4th Armored Division, the German 9th Panzer Division and the 246th Volksgrenadier Division)

Each of the 17 turns is a day, with two “player couplets” each. The only unique action in the game turn is the weather determination, so the play sequence could have just as easily be organized as one player couplet per turn with weather checked every other turn. Players could consider this to be a 34-turn game, which may give a better understanding of its scope. Despite the relatively straightforward rules (15-page rulebook, moderate complexity) the large number of turns and units means this game will take a long time to play, probably at least one whole weekend day.

The most notable aspect of the player turn couplets is the player’s ability to choose whether to move and then fight, or fight and then move. Moving first allows the attacker to get an attack off before the defender can react, but limits the ability to exploit successes. Attacking first gets a favorable odds modifier and allows a full movement phase to exploit any breakthroughs. On the other hand, the attacks have to be set up the player couplet before, which gives the defender a chance to spoil the attack or retreat away from it.Combat is odds-based, with attacking voluntary. As in nearly all XTR games, the CRT provides numeric results for attacker and defender which are taken as step losses. There are no retreats and no zones of control.

Most of the time the player will wish he could move and then attack in some parts of the battlefield, while doing the opposite in other sectors, but he must choose, creating an interesting game tension and some choices.

The general course of play will be no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the historical event. The Germans attack a thin line of American units with overwhelming force. They pour through the gaps while the Americans rush reinforcements to the battlefield. The difficult terrain, limited road net and heroic defense by small packets of U.S. troops begins to throw the Germans off their timetable. Small delays add up to big ones. The American front line slowly stiffens while the forward progress of the Germans slows. Finally the German offensive grind to a halt, and the Americans start limited counter attacks until the game ends on Jan. 1. Historically the fighting went on for a couple more weeks as the Allies pushed the bulge back, but nearly every Battle of the Bulge game does stop right around Jan. 1 because the latter phase of the battle is not very interesting to game.

As usual in this sort of game, the fun is in the detailed battling within the overall script. The big strategic decisions have been made and there is very little scope for either side to make big departures from the historical event. The German player, for example, can win a decisive victory by getting a single unit across the Meuse River. The singular nature of this victory condition hints at how unlikely it is.

The Allies have sudden death victory opportunities if the Germans are driven completely back to the start line or fail to hold St. Vith at game end, also unlikely outcomes. (These victory conditions are designed to prevent the German player from simply sitting behind his Westwall fortifications and skipping an offensive altogether.)

Most matches will come down to points, which are scored for capturing cities, eliminating enemy steps and a few game events.


(Yes) For Wargamers: Absolutely. The Battle of the Bulge is a classic game situation and if you have the time to play this, you’ll find it a very satisfying wargame.

(No) For Collectors: No special collectibility.

(No) For Euro gamers: Way too much wargame for you.

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