- 22"x34" full-color mapsheet
- 280 1/2" die-cut, full-color counters
- 16 page full-color game specific rulebook
- 8 page SCS series rulebook
- 2 full-color player aid cards
- 2 six-sided dice
This was one of the rarest of rare game design projects for me. It was a simple joy to work on, playtest, and think about from the very beginning. I can’t honestly remember another project that came together as seamlessly and with so much simple fun as this one. I hope you find it to be as much fun as we did.
For the first time, I designed a game under the overall rules protocol that no rule would be added unless we found in testing that we needed it, the goal being as simple of a game as possible. This is the opposite of the usual technique of creating all the rules you think you’ll need and then paring them down as testing proved they were not needed. That was a tedious and sometimes painful process that risked little remnants from obsolete rules being left in by mistake. I must say, I rather like the ‘build up’ approach.
The basis of the rules here was the earlier SCS game Fallschirmjäger. Many of the special rules there were not needed here (airdrops, anti-aircraft fires and such) and a few of the rules that were ported over could be simplified in ways I rather wish I had done in FJ’s development. All in all, the chassis of rules that exists here is something I am very excited about, and I am already looking for new situations and projects to which to apply them.
I suppose the biggest “what the heck?” rule in this game is Road March. This was the result of two very interesting problems in the early playtest games.
First, with hexes only 400m across, even infantry units could move ‘enormous’ (in terms of hexes) distances in a day—literally all around the map. Vehicular units were even worse. I toyed with the idea of giving units huge MAs, but this was doomed as units would then be able to use that MA in situations where it just wasn’t appropriate. I needed to give them a lot of movement, but only under the ‘right’ conditions. Road march allows this.
The second problem in the early tests was that the US player was lacking any kind of edge of his seat nervousness about the overall situation. Units creeping along during regular movement doing a flank march could be spotted many turns in advance and counter moves made at one’s leisure. Road March allows the Germans to ‘suddenly’ arrive at some critical point with no warning at all. This makes the US player appropriately paranoid and have a greatly interested in making a real perimeter. Interestingly enough, to eliminate much of the German zip-around-the-map capability, the Americans must occupy the rather large pocket they historically did.
Next on the list of seemingly odd rules is the complete lack of normal trace supply. While at times this means some isolated pocket of US troops will hold out until the Germans destroy them, I’ve seen very, very few units that would rate as “out of supply” using the usual sorts of rules. The few that did were either hunkering down someplace hoping the enemy wouldn’t notice them or were busy being crushed by the enemy. Either way, there wasn’t much ‘good’ they were doing for their side and they certainly weren’t in a position to pull some sort of gamey stunt. Trace supply failed the necessity test to justify its rules weight.
The game went through an absolute minimalist phase where with no stacking at all. This worked fairly well except in two matters: arranging the rear areas and reduced units. The rear areas take some management here (to make sure the roads are clear allowing road marches when needed) and it was silly at times to see large swathes of land used up in parking small artillery units and such. With no stacking, there was no way to assemble two reduced units so that players could afford the space in the line to hold them (putting them up there by themselves was dangerous). Allowing the minimal stacking of two steps cured both problems while keeping much of the original minimalist approach in play. It makes everything go faster as you’ll see.
Artillery is handled much the way as in FJ except that only one kill roll is made per stack instead of rolling for each unit. (This is one of the side benefits of the limited stacking.) The tree-burst terrain effect modifier makes for some interesting feelings among players about being in the woods. Yeah, you get a defensive benefit there, but suddenly they are strictly unfriendly if you get barraged. It’s an interesting little conundrum. Finally, there are a couple of direct fire weapons (like the 88’s) that can fire from wherever they are to whatever hex there might be in range with no Line of Sight requirement. Basically, we just aren’t getting into LOS at this level and we’ll just have to assume the guns “found a way” to engage the target.
US Player’s Notes
by Dean Essig
Your first job as the US player will be to avoid trying to do too much at the very beginning when you get an entire Airborne Division dumped in your lap while the Germans still look small and weak. The urge will be to try to take the war to them and block them along the east map edge or engulf them in the middle. Avoid falling into this trap. Not only can you ill-afford the losses of an offensive strategy, but all-too-often the US player trying this will be unable to break contact adequately to avoid getting sucker punched by the flanking German columns. The result is usually a nasty city fight inside Bastogne. This is not where you want to be.
Once you avoid that trap, you’ll need to decide how big of a perimeter to set up. Larger ones allow for more ground to give up before you are in deep trouble. Smaller ones have less ground area to cover allowing more combat power per unit of distance. The fairly historical one is a good choice. There is value in being able to maneuver around the edges of the perimeter, having space to redeploy, and be able to give up a little ground when needed without creating a crisis. It is actually important to generate a real perimeter (as opposed to a string of little isolated outposts). Between the road march and regular movements, the Germans can make quick work of going around a weak outpost line.
Salvage as many of your armor and mech units as possible and set them up in a fire brigade inside the perimeter. You’ll need them to counterattack. Avoid falling into the trap of leaving those at-start Team Cherry units isolated in Longvilly. Sure, there are no supply rules to make them disappear, but the imaginary thorn in the side of the Germans just isn’t worth leaving them outside the perimeter. Escape with them as soon as you can and get them in with the other US units.
Your artillery is your lifeline. Keep a good eye on your ammo supply to make sure you never actually run out. This requires some budgeting and good target selection. It is worth it to hunt tanks and blunt spearheads. It is not worth it to blow up VG infantry. You don’t have a lot of free artillery, but make the best use of it you can. Look for targets in the woods.
Your Air Strikes are an important offensive weapon late in the game as you’ll be able to use them (as opposed to other types of barrage) during the Barrage Phase of your turn.
Toward the end of the game, you’ll be running out of space, units, ammunition and time. Wait, time running out is good for you and bad for the Germans. Your key to winning is to not run out of the first three before the Germans run out of the last.
OK, now looking at winning the game. Depending on a few key decisions and a little luck, your first games will be a matter of either “the Germans can’t win” or “the US can’t win.” That’s fine, I’ve seen both. What you’ll find is that the initial choices you (and the German player) make directly lead to the end game and that end game you get will be slanted one way or the other based on those initial considerations. This is not to say that given start X you will automatically get finish Y and nothing you do along the way will change it, but given X your finish will be around Y to a great extent. Keep playing the opening the same way and you’ll keep getting similar results. To win, you’ll need a fine balance of aggressiveness, passive defense, covering all avenues, and concentration. Yup, those are opposites, hence the concept of balance. I’ve seen US players launch into the Germans with their hair on fire only to find themselves out of units and artillery ammunition at the end when the crunch time came. Be too passive and the Germans will be able to maintain their strength too long and you’ll pay that way.
One victory technique to be wary of is the idea of making two pockets: a main one around Bastogne and another around entry area A (in an effort to cut all the VP routes at once). This does not work as the Germans will be free to concentrate all their power against each pocket and defeat them in detail. Against a fairly ineffective German player, this plan has a chance at success (since he won’t be able to grind down the pockets fast enough), but if the German player is aggressive, he can make you really pay the price for cutting your local troops in half. Thinking that distance will save you as “it will take time for the Germans to shift from one pocket to the other” is a fallacy here.
Another luxury you really don’t have is the ability to “spot” the losses you inflict. In other words, you aren’t in the position of being able to choose which German KGs to pound so as to deny the Germans the VPs they get for removing them. Your attacks will be based on the necessity of the moment, you don’t have the strength needed to “just hunt steps”. VPs for those KGs will depend entirely on how hard the German player chooses to use them.
In summary, your job will be to build a decent perimeter around Bastogne, conserve your forces, and sap the strength of the German spearheads. Do that long enough, and you win.
German Player’s Notes
by John Best
The first, and perhaps most important, point to make is about initiative. The German side definitely has the initiative at the start of the game and you must endeavor to keep it that way as the game moves through its various phases. In the first few turns, during the game’s most fluid phase, continually analyze the board each turn to identify places the American will have a hard time defending. You need to move units to those locations. They don’t have to be your most powerful units, but they should be numerous enough to make the American player think about them. In the later turns, when the game evolves naturally into its “siege” phase, you can keep the initiative by planning and executing attacks from many directions. Keep the pressure on constantly to keep the American off-balance. To do this, the German player will have to make decisions about his overall plan in the game for maneuver, and for combat.
Addressing the maneuver decisions first, they naturally divide themselves into the tactical and operational levels. At the tactical level, if the American player gives you any holes in his line, get your fast infantry (the 3-4-10s) into those holes as quickly and as far as you can! The American player is going to pick some of those guys off in the barrage phase before you attack, but for those who survive, see if you can create some retreat possibilities through your ZOCs. Or at least make the American fire his artillery at your infiltrating units; it might take the pressure off your armor for a little while.
At the operational level, the German side player has to make important decisions about the correct and maximal use of road march. Think about your entering units: Where are you going to want them to be in the combat phase? Sometimes you have to move some on-board units out of the way to clear a pathway for your entering reinforcement. Think of it as clearing a railroad track by putting units on “sidings” so the express train will have a clear path to its destination. You also need to think about repositioning your on-board units the same way. Any unit that is not currently engaged may have a lot of options for where it might be in the combat phase. Study your unengaged units and think about where they could go to increase pressure on the Americans.
Let’s turn to the combat issues. Compared to his material, the German player will probably envy the American artillery, but as the German player, you must nevertheless develop an effective artillery plan to win. This plan will involve two components: (1) Determining what to do with your good artillery (the “yellow-box” units) and (2) determining what to do with your “free” artillery (the non “yellow-box” artillery—the ones that don't require ammunition points). Regarding the former, be mission-oriented in handling this artillery. Attach a good unit or two to each of the various battlegroups and judge wisely when to spend an ammunition point in support of an attack. Probably there will not be too many situations where you will be able to afford to spend more than one artillery point on a specific attack. The Germans also have to develop an effective artillery program with their "free" artillery. It's true that there is a lot of low-probability dicing with the free artillery. Perhaps as a result of this the German player may be inclined to neglect this component. But don't; it can really make a difference. Actually shooting up an American unit, it can increase the odds in your immediately following combat phase significantly.
The Germans also have to be fearless with their units. The German dead pile is going to get big, but nevertheless you cannot let yourself worry too much about "saving" your units. Your good armored units are always going to attract the unwelcome attention of the long-range American artillery, so you can't count on them sticking around too long anyway. As suggested above, your artillery will help your attacks over the course of the game, even if you cannot count on it helping in any particular attack. It is also important to note that even attacks on the one-to-one column favor the German side when the game gets into the actual "siege" phase. You are bound to suffer casualties (step losses) attacking at these odds, but you’ll find that many of the German units are surprisingly resilient in terms of the combat values on their reduced sides. The more attacks you can engineer at least at acceptable odds, the greater your chances are of keeping the initiative.
The discussion about “saving” units gets us to our final point about playing the German side. First, you must make a decision about the degree of commitment of your “victory point” kampfgruppen. If you over commit these units and burn them all out, you are not going to get any victory points for them. On the other hand, if you try to hold them out of combat in order to get victory points, you probably won’t make much progress! You need to have situational awareness about these units; it might be a good idea to use them until you see they are getting close to the point where they are not going to earn you victory points. Be advised that this might be very hard to judge in the actual game. Second, but related to the first point, you need to develop a victory point plan: How many of your victory points will come from exiting intact kampfgruppen? How many from holding the victory routes (and which ones)? Do you think you can actually storm your way into Bastogne? Holding back units may help with some victory points, but it compromises your chances to open the victory routes, and you are definitely not going to get a unit in Bastogne that way. As you can see, the German player in Bastogne maneuvers an interesting and powerful force, but one that requires some thought in order to be used effectively. Let “relentless pressure” be your mantra and you will give yourself your best chance to win as the German player.
Players: 1 - 2
Playtime: 300 Minutes
Ages: 12 +
Published by: Multi-Man Publishing
Read more about Bastogne at BoardGameGeek