Aaron Danis, 15 December 2022 ~ #UnboxingDay
“It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a Bulge game.”
When the calendar turns to December, grognard wargaming minds turn to the Battle of the Bulge. There are so many bulge games that if you owned them all, you could play a different one every year and never repeat, as there is at least one new Bulge-related game released annually (there were six in 2020 and 2021 alone). I bought Race to the Meuse (RttM) this past summer on a secondary market sale and put it aside for December. Published by the now defunct 3W in The Wargamer magazine Issue #26 in 1983, it is a two-player game designed by Bob McWilliams, who according to BoardgameGeek, only has four design credits, two of them for 3W. It was republished in 1989 in Tactics magazine by Hobby Japan.
click images to enlarge
RttM does not cover the entire Battle of the Bulge from start to finish, but focuses on the period from 22-27 December when lead elements of the 5th Panzer Army – which had bypassed the Bastogne enclave – were in the final “sprint” to reach the Meuse crossings already protected by elements of the British XXX Corps. It does so at the battalion/taskforce/kampfgruppe level for units, 6-hour day and 12-hour night turns (3 turns per day), and at 1.25 kilometers per hex. The standard game has 14 turns, with additional day and night turns added for an interesting scenario which I will address below.
There are 200 thin ½-inch counters that needed a little coaxing to punch out (they are 39 years old, after all). The Allies have 3 main combat formations: the 84th Infantry Division (9 units), the 2nd Armored Division (12 units), and the British 3rd Royal Tank Regiment (4 units), with the remaining American units being pesky outposts and the town of Hotton garrison (11 units). The German forces look like a juggernaut at first blush, with the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, 9th Panzer, 116th Panzer Divisions and the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade (19 primary unit counters & 30 kampfgruppe (KG) “breakdown” counters). The remainder of the counters are game and task point markers and German fuel counters (VERY important).
The map sheet has a LOT of towns, more than I have seen in other Bulge games. Compared to its most obvious competitor, Celles by Revolution Games (2012), its not even a contest. But the map is very attractive for 1983, with several charts, holding boxes, and the turn record track all neatly placed in the lower left of the sheet. Back to the towns, this obviously favors the defense, and helps explain why the Germans had such a hard time making rapid headway in 1944. I set up the historical scenario (shown in the picture below), but it is the second scenario that interests me more. It starts a day (two turns earlier) with 2nd Panzer Division just arriving in the southeast corner of the map, allowing it to explore routes not taken. A third scenario allows for limited free set-up and hidden units.
Bob McWilliams wrote the accompanying article in The Wargamer, and it has lots of historical notes and how history impacted the game design. He even mentions using a couple of SPI games – The Ardennes Offensive and Wacht am Rhein – to help explore alternative strategies in the design the game! The big difference in this game is the use of Task Points to move and conduct combat, outside of the usual IGO-UGO game structure. This should make for a fluid game (the excellent Celles uses unit chit pulls for a similar effect), so I am interested in giving it a go. The game has no identifiable official errata, although there is an first-rate comparison with the Celles game and a playthrough AAR on Grognard.com.
Finally, in case you didn’t see it, here is an early Christmas present: the link to a free Compass Games Battle of the Bulge historical study done by “Mr. Bulge” Danny Parker for its upcoming remake of 3W’s Hitler’s Last Gamble, due out in late 2023 (I told you there was a new Bulge game nearly every year!).
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