As a long time ASL player, I've played numerous scenarios set in the Battle of the Bulge. Every December our local ASL club even has a "Bulgefest" get-together where playing Bulge scenarios is encouraged. Despite knowing the names of a dozen tiny villages in the area that probably don't appear on most maps, I haven't looked at the overall battle in detail. To rectify that missing piece in my World War 2 knowledge base, I sat down and read Hugh Cole's history of the Battle of the Bulge, and I picked up Deluxe Bitter Woods.
Let me just say the hyperbole about the game's map and counters is not too exaggerated. Everything is laid out clearly and precisely. The counters are big and easy to read and the map makes visualizing the Bulge's complex road net a breeze. The rule book overall is clearly laid out and easy to understand.
At its core this is a very simple game system, with complexity overlaid by nice historical chrome and optional rules. Probably the most challenging thing will be to remember all of the little chrome and optionals at the right time (something the player's aid here on BGG can help with). The good thing is, even if you forget the chrome or optional rules, it doesn't seem like it will break the game (at least in my admittedly limited experience). Things like "SS Panzer Scare" may help a wee bit on a few attacks in the early going, but missing that modifier will probably not affect the campaign in the long run.
In my first playing we made it through the first six turns, which got quicker as we progressed. This game has the feeling of a chess match, with agonizing movement choices for both sides. The Americans have no where near enough units initially to stop the rising Nazi tide. The Germans have to pick their spots for attack carefully for best effect, constricted by their army boundaries and the road net.
The opening moves must have optimal placements like a chess game, and I have the feeling that there are a few critical opening moves the Allies must make to set the stage for success. A few mis-steps and the inevitable Axis break-through will happen too soon. As the American, I would recommend remembering which cities were historically the hardest fought for and make sure you keep troops there (St. Vith, Bastogne, et al).
The combat table is relatively bloodless unless you get to the high odds, or unless you've surrounded an enemy unit and cut off their retreat path. This makes the game feel more like an exercise in maneuver, which again given the complex road map is an intriguing puzzle. Mistakes in initiating combat are more forgiving than those made moving.
I imagine the end game is quite different than the opening. Massive Allied reinforcements are expected just around the time that the Axis should exit the board with his best mechanized units to claim victory objectives. Of course, these mech units are necessary to have any chance of fighting off the entering Allied armies. I'll know more when I finish the game we just started.
Overall, my first impressions of this game live up to the hype. Nice production values coupled with a simple basic play mechanic and just the right amount of chrome add up to a great gaming experience.
Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
I aten't dead yet...
VENI, VIDI, VISA - my good wife conquering a Shopping Mall.
Like a good red wine, I improve with age... and being laid.
Nice review. I think you have captured the feel of the game.
Love thy fate.
Well said! That's truly it in a nut shell.