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Subject: “A Bridge Too Far” and a design achievement far too rare rss

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Pete Belli
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Arnhem is a game of military strategy that depicts the 1944 Allied airborne attack known as Operation Market-Garden. The normally cautious Montgomery proposed a bold gambit with British and American parachute formations dropping miles behind enemy lines to create a path for the British armored forces. The Allied commanders hoped to cross the Rhine, outflank the German defenses protecting the Ruhr industrial region, and bring about the collapse of the Third Reich. It was a daring plan but the final river crossing at Arnhem (“A bridge too far.”) could not be held by the outnumbered British paratroopers. The offensive failed to achieve its objective.

The exciting Market-Garden campaign provides a superb scenario for an enjoyable wargame. There is a tremendous amount of action on the battlefield and the commanders are in a bitter struggle to gain a decisive advantage. Each player has an opportunity to attack or defend during the game. The momentum changes frequently as the initiative shifts from the Allies to the Germans.




SPI published Arnhem as part of the WestWall quadrigame series in 1976. These historical simulations were known as “quads” and the games were designed to have a low complexity level with a quick playing time. Arnhem includes only 100 counters and a relatively small map. There are essentially just eight pages of rules and the game was expected to be finished in less than two hours.




Arnhem was a success and several versions were produced by SPI, including a special edition linked to the epic A Bridge Too Far movie. Game designer Jay Nelson achieved something rare in the wargame hobby -- he created a title which offered the players enough historical flavor to keep them interested without making the game complex. Special rules cover elements like amphibious river crossings, fighting in urban areas, divisional integrity, air support, and other goodies with a minimum of fiddly details. In addition, Arnhem is an extremely enjoyable game. It is fun. It is a classic design.




The map depicts an area of the Netherlands from near Eindhoven all the way north to the Rhine bridges at Arnhem. The artwork is a typical example of the functional style of Redmond Simonsen and the board looks great. Studying the limited road system and the network of rivers or canals which weave across the region will give the Allied player nightmares. A discerning wargmer will realize how risky Monty’s plan actually was but it is also apparent that a brilliant success could have been achieved if the Germans hadn’t rallied so quickly.

There are three types of river crossings and practically any one of these locations can be critically important during play. The Allied player will need every highway bridge, railroad bridge, or ferry he can seize. The German player has the option to destroy certain spans during the battle. In my most recent game the Germans blew up the crucial first canal bridge on the southern edge of the board just as the British tanks approached, throwing a monkey wrench into the Allied timetable. The demolition rules are simple and effective but an experienced player will have a few extra markers handy to record the changing status of the various bridges during the game.

The only major problem I had with the map is the northern edge outside of Arnhem. The British 1st Airborne drop zone is in the last row of hexes. This provides the Allied commander with a secure flank at the “end of the world” which can never be exploited by the German player. I assume the boys at SPI just ran out of map space but if any knowledgeable Geek has information about impassable terrain in that area I’d like to hear about it.




The graphics on the counters are crisp and clean and they offer another fine example of the Redmond Simonsen philosophy. The units represent battalions or brigades and the formations include infantry, armor, reconnaissance, parachute, glider, engineer, and artillery units. The mix of NATO symbols and combat factors is combined with reasonably accurate historical designations to provide a classic 1970s feel. I prefer the simple clarity of these older techniques to many of the gaudy and garish creations produced by today’s computer-frenzied artists.

The position of the opposing forces at the start of the game is one of the best openings in wargame history. Only a handful of units begin the game on the map. The designer has wisely assumed that the British ground forces will break through the thin crust of the German front lines and push on to Eindhoven. The campaign begins in a highly fluid state and follows that pattern for several turns as the number of formations on the board gradually expands. This is a superb concept and a wonderful method of creating tension. This also makes Arnhem a good choice for new players because a beginning wargamer will not be overwhelmed with dozens of units to maneuver on the map on the first turn.

Don’t be fooled by appearances, though. Arnhem may not be complex but this is not a simple game. Both players are constantly required to make crucial decisions about unit placement and the strategy behind Arnhem is deep.

I mentioned earlier that a new player might feel comfortable with the limited number of units on the board early in the game. That comfort level will decline rapidly as the player discovers that -- no matter which army he is commanding on the map -- there are not enough formations to cover all of the areas that need to be defended. When the initiative shifts and it is time to launch an attack the player will face another challenge; massing for a major assault is a tricky proposition when flanks could be exposed and the enemy probably has the same level of mobility as your strike force. Since there is no stacking in Arnhem each attack must be carefully choreographed to achieve maximum results.




No cardboard and paper toy can accurately reflect the complexity of WWII combat operations. Arnhem doesn’t pretend to be a complete simulation but the battle rules are (in spite of a few blemishes) capable of creating the illusion of historical outcomes. The system uses a differential combat results table (+1, +2, +3, etc.) that eliminates silly factor counting and rewards the commitment of additional forces to a battle without bogging the players down with extra math. The effects of terrain are built directly into the chart and the assortment of retreat results prevents wholesale slaughter unless the opposing forces are extremely lopsided.

In the finest tradition of 1970s wargaming units exert a zone of control that will lock an enemy unit into a series of battles until one of the formations runs away or is destroyed. Since a unit may not retreat through an enemy zone of control the proper sequencing of attacks to push units out of the way, advance on the flank, and surround the enemy is classic stuff. The subtle nuances of the spoiling attack, the engagement that pins a hostile formation, or the advance after combat that will force the enemy to counterattack at a numerical disadvantage are absolutely delightful. This is still a great system and it rewards thoughtful play.

Both commanders are supplied with an assortment of artillery units that can fire barrages to enhance an attack or support a unit under attack by the enemy. The deployment of artillery in diversionary attacks is textbook procedure. A primitive form of counter-battery fire is also possible since gunners can’t use Final Protective Fire to support a defending force if the artillery unit has been affected by enemy action. As the Allied advance spreads the American parachute forces thinner and thinner along the corridor artillery units may find themselves on the front line as they guard an important road junction against marauding German tanks.

The problems with the battle rules are conundrums that won’t be solved without adding extra complexity and stifling the flow of the game. It is possible for a unit to advance after combat following a bloody battle at a pace which is faster than the number of hexes that formation would be allowed to travel during the movement phase. The artillery units fire barrages with pinpoint accuracy that would put Annie Oakley to shame. The locking zones of control permit a pitiful German reserve battalion filled with old men and boys to ensnare a powerful British tank unit, even in open terrain.

None of this stuff matters. Does the game perform as advertised? Is it a low complexity game (and I emphasize the word game) that teaches us something about the Market-Garden campaign? The answer to both questions is a resounding “Yes!” so we can’t fault a Chevy because it isn’t a Cadillac.




In the modern era an experienced wargamer might turn up his nose at a vintage game which uses the IGO-UGO sequence of play. That criticism is justified but the play experience of Arnhem provides enough interaction within a turn to reduce that liability. For one thing, the turns move along quickly. There are relatively few units on the board so down time is minimal. The defending player has to make a series of decisions about artillery deployment while the enemy is launching his attacks and (of course) there are important choices to be made about where to retreat. A retreat by a defending formation in the Arnhem battle system can have numerous strategic implications. A savvy player can skillfully entangle an assault force in spite of the attacking player’s best efforts.

The board becomes a kaleidoscope of shifting units as the game progresses. There is constant motion all over the map. After the Allied parachute units arrive they spread across the Dutch countryside to secure those vital river crossings. The British armored force comes roaring down the highway and then “BOOM!” the German player has destroyed a bridge right in their faces.

The edges of the map quickly blossom with German reinforcements that appear all along the flanks of the Allied advance. These units come knifing in as they attempt to sever the Allied line of communication and delay the push to Arnhem. Few games feature this kind of cat-and-mouse interaction between evenly matched forces. In my recent game an aggressive kampfgruppe made repeated attempts to capture the crucial road junction near Grave and eventually managed to interdict the Allied supply line to rack up some big victory points. Highly entertaining!

There are no supply rules in Arnhem. The designer has created “line of communication” requirements that punish the Allied player with a heavy victory point penalty if he allows any German units to interrupt the path to the Allied rear areas. The British armored force traces its line of communication back to the southern map edge. Each of the three parachute divisions has its own drop zone marker which serves as a focal point for the unit’s line of communication. By using the line of communication mechanic Jay Nelson eliminated an entire category of rules and reduced the fiddly complexity. I miss having at least a few rudimentary supply rules but the game works in its current form.

Creating the victory conditions for Arnhem must have been a tremendous challenge. When a commander risks an all-or-nothing throw of the dice to end a war in one campaign there is no substitute for victory. Monty claimed that the attack achieved 95% of his objectives. When the bet is all-or-nothing then even 95% is… nothing. To win a victory in historical terms the Allies must capture and hold the bridge at Arnhem and then push a substantial number of British tanks across the Rhine.

That might be historically valid but it would probably make a dreary, unbalanced game.

The designer did the best he could do with what was available by awarding both players victory points for destroyed units and by giving the Germans points for those previously mentioned Allied units without a line of communication. The Allied player gets points for moving his armored formations beyond Nijmegen (even if they don’t make it all the way to Arnhem) and extra super-duper bonus points if any ground forces get across the Rhine. I can live with that, but the idea of awarding the Allies victory points for destroying ersatz formations of 4-Fs with stomach trouble or battalions of dragooned Luftwaffe mechanics with no planes to fix strikes my funny bone.

Players will need a pad and paper to keep score. Fine with me… games with elaborate victory point tracks and special marker chits always seem to get bumped and the correct score vanishes as the markers fall to the floor. One more hand-crafted item that might be helpful: a few markers to record Allied airstrikes as they are used to support a battle.

Optional rules for Arnhem include variable weather patterns and a scenario where the Allied player can create his own airborne assault plan.

Weather rules can wreck a game. Some wargame designers feel that weather is like terrain -- changing the historical weather pattern changes history. I understand that point, but when we consider how dramatically weather has affected the course of military events we might agree that the subject certainly deserves some extra attention. We are talking about a game here, so we don’t want a run of horrible weather die rolls to ruin everybody’s fun. The jury is still out on this one.

Create a new assault plan? With full knowledge of the German force structure, combat capability, and reinforcement schedule? That isn’t facing the challenges of Operation Market-Garden… that is just Field Marshal Nostradamus pushing counters around with TMI.




I like this game. I like it enough to have spent several hours creating a set of 100 wooden block playing pieces and then spend several more hours drawing an expanded 3 foot by 4 foot map. Bigger really is better.

I heard that Decision Games is planning a new edition.
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pete belli wrote:
Create a new assault plan? With full knowledge of the German force structure, combat capability, and reinforcement schedule? That isn’t facing the challenges of Operation Market-Garden… that is just Field Marshal Nostradamus pushing counters around with TMI.


A simply brilliant quote from your great review Pete.
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Michael Lavoie
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Another fine piece from the estimable Pete Belli. Thanks for a great review of a great little game. My copy is the "deluxe" edition with a mounted mapboard (quite rare for SPI), and it sees more play than many of the newer, flashier wargames in my collection. This of course is due in part to the easy-to-digest rulebook and relatively short playing time, but none of that would matter if the game were a poor one. Arnhem is one of SPI's best efforts.
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Steve Herron
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I wonder how many copies of A Bridge Too Far SPI would have sold if they had put Sean Connery on the cover?
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Pete Belli
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One aspect of the combat system deserves a little more attention -- the rules for battles fought in city hexes.

There are special rules for these engagements which allow a unit to avoid retreating. Once fighting begins inside a city the formations involved are likely to become stalemated until one side brings overwhelming fire superiority down on the defenders.

Airborne units are almost impossible to dislodge (which fits the historical pattern at Arnhem) but when the German player rolls that lucky "1" on the battle die the Allied unit will be shattered.

When the defenders reach the breaking point the entire situation in that city (in most cases this will be Nijmegen or Arnhem) will burst wide open and the nearby river crossing will fall into the hands of the enemy. That is a heavy burden to place on a single roll of the dice. In games like Arnhem the relatively small number of crucial battles can make one or two die rolls extremely important.

There is a positive side to a slugfest in the city. In a typical game there will be bold sweeping maneuvers along the road from Eindhoven, tough fighting in the hills near Nijmegen or Arnhem, and the claustrophobic urban battles. These different tactical situations offer the players quite a bit of variety as they explore the capabilities of their formations.
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Geoff Burkman
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Thanks for a great review and read, Pete. Now I find myself compelled to dig through piles of boxes to try and track down those old Quad games. Thanks! Thank goodness my copy of Storm Over Arnhem is within easy reach, though.

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My dream is to build a mini shopping mall so I can play the SPI classic Dawn of the dead game...


I know this was OT, but I just had to respond. If you ever get this built, I hope you post a pic here on the Geek! It's really not all that much of a game, but I'll treasure my autographed copy forever.
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Bill Eldard
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sherron wrote:
I wonder how many copies of A Bridge Too Far SPI would have sold if they had put Sean Connery on the cover?


Maybe not many. Considering how much they would've had to pay Connery to use his likeness, the game might've doubled in cost.
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Bill Eldard
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Outstanding review, pete!

pete belli wrote:
The designer did the best he could do with what was available by awarding both players victory points for destroyed units and by giving the Germans points for those previously mentioned Allied units without a line of communication. The Allied player gets points for moving his armored formations beyond Nijmegen (even if they don’t make it all the way to Arnhem) and extra super-duper bonus points if any ground forces get across the Rhine. I can live with that, but the idea of awarding the Allies victory points for destroying ersatz formations of 4-Fs with stomach trouble or battalions of dragooned Luftwaffe mechanics with no planes to fix strikes my funny bone.


I've always felt that Arnhem was the best of the West Wall quad, but I never liked the victory conditions.

Operation Market-Garden was all about capturing an intact bridge over the Rhein to hasten the end of the war. Considering what was at stake, unit attrition and the holding of minor geographic locations are insignificant. Holding key points along the XXX Corps route is only important in as much as it delays/deters the Corps from relieving the Brits at Arnhem before the game ends.

Allied Perspective: Crossing the Rhein in September 1944 and racing armored and motorized divisions deep into Germany was worth the decimation of the First Allied Airborne Army. Considering the losses the Allies suffered between September 1944 and March 1945 (Crossing at Remagen), heavy losses to the US, UK, and Polish airborne units was inconsequential to Allied strategy. No Hurtgen Forest (unnecessary), and maybe no Bulge, since the German panzer divisions mauled in the Allied breakout from Normandy would've had little or no time to refit for the Wacht am Rhein offensive in December.

German Perspective: Loss of the Arnhem bridge in September 1944 would've been catastrophic. Sacrificing all their units in the Netherlands would've been worth it. Not even cutting the road route to the bridge mattered if the Brits secured the bridgehead, because the Allies would just open the route up again. The Germans weren't interested in attriting Allied units for some long-term strategic objective; they were focused on (a) securing the Arnhem bridgehead by pushing the British paratroopers away from it, and (b) deterring XXX Corps from relieving the British paratrooper at the Arnhem and expanding the bridgehead.

Therefore, I prefer possession of the bridgehead as the sole victory condition. Whoever holds it when the game ends wins the game.

That eliminates the bookkeeping, too.
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Hans Korting
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This was my first wargame and I still play it at least once a year.

The game holds up really nice despite its age. A true classic!
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Adam Starkweather
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Could use an accurate OOB and getting the gestalt of the battle right (a fairly common and unrecognized problem) but this is my favorite of the non-TDC Market Garden games.
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Pete Belli
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Quote:
I've always felt that Arnhem was the best of the West Wall quad, but I never liked the victory conditions.


Creating victory conditions for the Allies in Arnhem presents a challenge similar to the problem faced by a designer working on a game about the Ardennes. If the Germans fail to drive a wedge between the British and the Americans to win a smashing triumph the desturction of a few U.S. regiments or the occupation of a few Belgian towns won't mean diddly squat.
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Ian Raine
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adamant wrote:
Could use an accurate OOB and getting the gestalt of the battle right (a fairly common and unrecognized problem) but this is my favorite of the non-TDC Market Garden games.


While I agree this is a 'gem' (and have had a copy since 1976 or 7), I also agree with Adam's comments.

One example is the way the Guards' Armoured division is depicted. 3 armoured (Sherman) battalions, the 3rd btn Irish Guards a 3-3-7 leg infantry formation, and the remaining 3 mechanised/motorised infantry battalions included as a 5-5-7 brigade. Bearing in mind on the differential CRT a 5-5-7 gives you a column shift or two compared to a 3-3-7, the 3 to 5 difference is understandable, but that is not the problem.

The problem is the Guards' Armoured was organised for combat (and formally so from late August 44) in a similar fashion to an American 'combat command' armored division, with its four (2nd Welsh Gds Cromwell armed btn is MIA) armoured battalions and 4 infantry battalions organised into 'battle groups' with combinations of armour/infantry working together.

The administrative OOB was:

5th Guards' brigade, armoured.

2nd Battalion, Grenadier Guards
1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards
2nd Battalion, Irish Guards
1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards ("mechanized" Infantry)

32nd Guards' brigade, motorised infantry

5th Battalion, Coldstream Guards
3rd Battalion, Irish Guards
1st Battalion, Welsh guards

Plus the 2nd (Armoured Reconnaissance) Bn. Welsh Guards (mounted in Cromwell tanks). The 2nd Household Cavalry (armoured cars) were formally attached as official division reconnaissance element in late August, freeing up the Cromwell battalion for use as a tank unit.

The Grenadier and Irish groups formed the 5th Brigade, and the Coldstream and Welsh groups made up the 32nd brigade for operational purposes.

Given the battalion & brigade scale of the game, without increasing the number of counters, the suggestion is remove the 3 x 4-3-10s, the 3-3-7 and the 5-5-7 and replace them with 1 x 5-5-10 (the Grenadier Guards group) and 3 x 5-4-10 (the other three).

Whether the slightly better concentration of attacking strength would break the game is unknown.








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One of the pics seems to need replacement, as it seems to have disappeared from the internet.

Great review thumbsup
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Dave Johannsen

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Wow! Just seeing this picture
, brought back lots of memories from my teens. I thoroughly enjoyed your review, and now need to find a copy of this game (with the deluxe film tie-in box, of course).


Dave
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Michael Flynn
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In 1978 I subscribed to Strategy and Tactics and received Arnhem as a free introductory gift from SPUK. Arnhem was the first counter and hex wargame I ever played. At the time I didn't realise what a gem of design it was. A shame most of the S&T games I received were not in the same league. Armada was a particularly bad one!! So nearly 40 years on and I am still enjoying and playing Arnhem.
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