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David G. Cox Esq.
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Dark December
Two-player Simulation of the Battle of the Bulge – December 1944



Designed by Danny S. Parker
Published by Operational Studies Group (1979)



Having started to play wargames back in the early 980’s, I have fond memories of many O.S.G. games – Dark December is one of those fond memories.

I played it in the early 80’s and just recently took it off the shelf and reacquainted myself with the game. I was very pleasantly surprised and impressed – Dark December has aged very nicely and shows few wrinkles despite its age.

To sum the game up quickly, it has fairly good physical quality and a very straight-forward game system that is easy to learn but still presents some interesting moments as you play the game.



Components
Map – very colourful (perhaps almost too colourful). It is generally attractive (apart from the West Wall, which appears to have been created using a marker pen as an afterthought). It is user friendly with no obvious confusion and has a sequence of play printed on the map to facilitate ease of play.
Counters – the counters are functional but the background colours tend to be a touch too dark, making the small set-up information very difficult to read.
Rule Book – well laid-out with charts on the back cover.
Study Book – historical information plus scenario details with charts on the back cover.



Scenarios
There are several scenarios – the smallest is 6 turns long. The main campaign games goes for 20 turns (from December 16 to December 25) – each turn represents half a day. There are two other medium length scenarios and an extended campaign game – these scenarios have been constructed in such a way as to allow you to play which ever part of the battle suits you best at the time.


Rules
The rules are incredibly straightforward. I was able to refresh my memory in about 15 minutes just by skimming through the rules to pick up the main details relating to supply, movement and combat. The rules are laid out in a very logical way that made it easy for me to double-check fine detail as I was playing the game with virtually no delay as I found what I needed. The game plays with a Supply Phase, Movement Phase and Combat Phase. There is virtually no chrome and no special exceptions to rules. There are some optional rules that may be used at player discretion.


Movement
The designer has kept the movement rules simple. Yet they accurately reflect the concept that movement through the Ardennes was a key aspect of the campaign. Terrain costs are high and units, particularly infantry, that leave the road will travel slowly. Strategic movement allows the Allies to move units quickly over the road network to position units at significant locations. For units to gain the advantage of a road both the hex they leave and the hex they enter must contain no other units – this means that the German player has to be careful about how to go about moving their troops so as to gain maximum benefit and the most rapid advance. Building bridges is fairly simple but the German player is limited to seven bridges throughout the game.


Combat
Combat is also handled in a simple manner and yet in a way that is a little different to other games that I have played. Combat is voluntary – units are never forced to attack just because they are next to enemy units. Two dice are rolled to get a result between 2-12. Generally the defender will receive a numerical score and this score is compared to the defensive value of their terrain – if the combat result is less than the defensive value of the terrain nothing happens – if the combat result is equal or greater than the terrain’s value the defender must retreat or take step losses. There are no elimination results and defenders may retreat through enemy Zones of Control – the consequence of this is that it is difficult to get a rapid breakthrough as the German player – you can push the Allies back and you can see them weaken and the line of defence become thinner and thinner. As the defender, the Allies usually have the choice of retreating of taking losses – this allows them to make a strong defence at the cost of troops for important locations. The attacker is allowed, in most cases, to make an All-out Attack which means they can attack a second time with units that fail to dislodge enemy units (albeit, at the cost of an extra step-loss of friendly units). Stacking units of the same division together will give them a dice modifier on attack and defence. Armour units attacking have the ability to reduce the defensive value of terrain. For the first 6 days of the battle the Germans have the tactical advantage (which is like having an automatic ‘1’ off the dice when they attack). After December 22nd the tactical advantage switches to the Allied player.

When resolving combat you add the attack values of attacking units and then add the defence values of defending units and work the two numbers into a ratio (e.g. 24 to 5 becomes 4:1). Roll two die and compare the result to the Combat Results Table - small numbers help the attacker and large numbers help the defender. The results will be Fire Fight, D# or A# (sometimes the result will be both a D# and an A#). Compare the numerical result to the terrain occupied (e.g. clear terrain has a value of 1, sitting behind a river has a value of 4). If the terrain's value is higher than the result then nothing happens. If it is equal the defender retreats on hex or loses one step. If the terrain value is less than the numerical result then the defender retreats two hexes or loses two steps or does one of each.




General Comments
The rules describe the game as having 400 counters – this is grossly misleading. The campaign game starts with 51 Axis counters and 23 Allied counters on the map. A large number of the game counters are markers rather than units.

The game plays smoothly and quickly. The components are pretty high quality. The number of counters and the size and scale of the map make the game a very pleasant gaming experience.

Dark December could well be the Cinderella of ‘Battle of the Bulge’ games – I am more than a little surprised that there are not more positive comments about it here on BGG.





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Steve Herron
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I had SPI's Battles for the Ardennes so I passed on it back then. Nice to see what it was like.
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Michael Lavoie
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Like Steve Herron, I went with Battles for the Ardennes as my Danny Parker Bulge game of choice so I missed this one. Thanks for the review! The game sounds like a good one, but that map doesn't work well for me.
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Ethan McKinney
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Could you explain how defense strengths (if any) come into play?

For that matter, the attacker's strength doesn't seem to matter. Is it really just a die roll against the terrain value?
 
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David G. Cox Esq.
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elbmc1969 wrote:
Could you explain how defense strengths (if any) come into play?

For that matter, the attacker's strength doesn't seem to matter. Is it really just a die roll against the terrain value?


I have added a paragraph above.
 
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Bill Lawson
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MichaelLavoie wrote:
Like Steve Herron, I went with Battles for the Ardennes



Me too.
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David G. Cox Esq.
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billyboy wrote:
MichaelLavoie wrote:
Like Steve Herron, I went with Battles for the Ardennes



Me too.


According to the designer, Danny Parker, his third game on the battle must be better than his second design. I have played both and find Dark December to be 'lighter' and faster playing and the rules seem less fiddly.


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billyboy wrote:
MichaelLavoie wrote:
Like Steve Herron, I went with Battles for the Ardennes



Me too.


Me three - almost.

After I got BotA, I got rid of DD.

Wish I had not...
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Pete Belli
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Fire & Movement #20 contains an excellent comparative review of Dark December and Battle for the Ardennes written by Gary Charbonneau.



This issue also includes extensive designer's notes, optional rules, and errata from Danny Parker.
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Martin Smith
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Nice review, thanks.

I don't suppose you know anything about the "Special Map Supplement" that the Rulebook - and BGG - lists as part of the contents (in addition to the Map)? You don't mention it, and I can't find one in my box ...?
 
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Randy Heller
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The special map supplement was never produced.

IMO, the game needs a house rule to prevent the German player from simply battling off the closest road in the SE corner of the map and preventing the bulk of the Yank reinforcements from ever entering game play. Historically, there was no reason for the Germans to exit units off of the south or, for that matter, the north of the map.
 
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David
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It certainly does deserve a review. I had this and liked it a lot - almost enough to consider getting the Six Angles version now! A very manageable game - and didn't it have interesting (and harsh) supply line issues too, which seemed to fit the situation well.
 
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Keith Plymale
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I have both this and the SPI quad. This is perfect for solo or 1v1 and the quad campaign game is best IMHO with two on a side. I've done that several times and it works quite well.
 
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