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Ardennes '44» Forums » Reviews

Subject: First impressions second edition rss

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This is my second wargame review; I just started playing/collecting wargames about a year ago, so a lot of what may be considered old stuff is quite new and exciting for me. Additionally, this is my first Bulge game -- please bear this in mind when reading my session report. Initially I wanted a smaller, faster playing game than Battle for Normandy -- I don't play the full campaign -- and when I saw the map art for A44 I was sold I also played some N44 and read A44 is basically the same ruleset, just a bit more complicated.

I preordered the game about 7-8 months ago and it finally got reprinted and shipped to down under. I'm surprised that there are not more reviews about it, because it's really good.

The good stuff

The first thing you will notice is the map. You will get two-fullsized map sheets, printed on paper. And they just look gorgeous, with all the roads connecting villages and towns (with individual houses), rivers crawling along hexes and through dense wooded valleys and so many forests. There are additional designated spaces on the map for your counters, as well as unit badges as decoration.

Next are the counters. They are really thick and well cut. Counter graphics is very crisp and clear -- good GMT quality. Armor units are drawn in silhouettes and the pictures are really good. Some status counters, like 'engaged' are two-sided with an allied and a german side. I though it was a really nice touch as it allows to still know what side the units are on even when under such markers.
Additional components are a single die, a 4-sided player aid printed on really sturdy cardboard, as well as a turn-track. The rules are pretty well written, every major idea/rule has its own heading and an index helps you find rules rather quickly. That said, the rulebook is extensive. While reading, you will get quickly that this game has a lot of chrome. After reading the rules I wasn't too sure I got everything, but undaunted I set up the game and started playing the 6-turn scenario.

This is when suddenly all the rules fell into place. Apart from some smaller rules, everything 'clicks'. Some rules and game mechanics I really liked were:

Tactical movement. Every unit is allowed to move 2 hexes, no matter the hex cost or the supply level. It also allows crossing streams (if started next to it). I though this was really neat, you don't feel like your infantry gets stuck, can always 'inch a bit forward'.

15-factor combat limit: When calculating attacker/defender force, there's a hard limit on 15 factors. So even with your 'stack of doom', if the defender has 4 factors, the most you get is a 3-1 ratio. You have to play with the column shift bonuses, like arty support or combined force + tank quality.

Engagements: Some combats end up with the defender being engaged. This effectively means they are not allowed to move next turn. I liked that as it gave the impression of really heavy firefights that are going on, but still indetermined.

Firefights: That's the other interesting CRT result. Sometimes you are allowed to designate a lead unit and enter a firefight, another 'mini-CRT'. It's a bit of a gamble, but quite interesting and it creates quite a tension

Pocket surrenders. Units not only become out-of-supply, but this state is tracked over turns and it can turn into units being close to surrendering. The neat thing about it is that it works on pockets, or groups of connected units.

Off-map holding/blocking boxes. The world (and enemy troops) does not end at the map edges. They are entry points for the US player and to seal them off the german player has to hold points along the way with units. This forces him to actually create/protect his flanks instead of being just this front line of troops in a narrow corridor.

I played my first game solitaire and while there are no specific solitaire rules or scenarios, it plays just fine. Even better, it does not contain any hidden information or card play and the objectes for both sides are pretty clear.


Not so sure about this:

Now there were also some issues I have with the game, nothing major, but in all fairness I wanted to mention them.

First of all, all dice rolls are the wrong way, low is good, high is bad. You get used to it, but the first combat roll in the game was quite a surprise (huh, the 5 was not that good ... ). Additionally, there's only one die, but that's a personal thing. I prefer having two dice.

I felt there's important stuff missing from the player aid. A whole page is dedicated to a minimap with victory hexes highlighted, but info like effects of disrupted/broken, how rallying next to an enemy works, etc is left out.

While I really liked all the chrome around the rules, I wonder if it makes learning (and re-learning after some time) the game not too daunting. After just reading the rules I was a bit confused on what goes where.

It takes quite a bit of space due to the two maps. However, there are two scenarios that only use one map.

And about the scenarios: there is really only one scenario included with different scoring times (and scores). Even the additional 'Patton attacks' scenario just extends the game. Maybe it's just a problem of this battle that there's little variation in what you can do to it, but in effect you get one scenario.

And that's my last point: I do enjoy the game, but I am not sure how different each game will be. The roads basically dictate the armor movement, the terrain is too rough to actually go cross country and it's all about speed and momentum of the german advance (see below). In that regard it feels that the game is basically set, and that there are not many high-level decisions, whereas in games like No Retreat I feel like I have more influence on what and where to do. (Maybe that's an unfair comparison, but this was the game I played last).


6-Turn scenario AAR
Here now an impression from my first 6-turn scenario. The US won by just one victory point! I had no idead what the historical approach was so I just threw my soldier into battle and tried to advance the german center as far as possible while trying to block the path with US troops.

In the south I advanced across the river and made good progress, but got blocked by the units there and the reinforcements a couple of hexes behind the river. The initial goal was to take the reinforcement positions in the far south-east, but this never happened. Intereting how few troups can actually tie up a whole section. The rest of the advance ground to a halt in fighting for the villages.

The center made it mostly across the river on the second turn and had a clear field by the fourth turn. I was actually concerned that I hadn't set up the game properly, as it had no real opposition and managed to drive through all the way to bastogne on the last turn. Turns out, I forgot the US paratroops and played the northern US flank not very well.

In the east was were most of the action happened. Some US troops got pocketed, but did not surrender which tied down a lot of german troops. KG Peiper advanced rather quickly, these units are scary as they initially run over everything in their path without much problems. The US reinforcements from the north not only stopped the german flank there in their tracks, but also pushed them back and would have overrun the german rear aera in another two to three turns.

So this was my first game, the center german units strat moved all the way to Bastogne, while the south and north flank got stopped by US troops. I played the US troops quite wrongly in the beginning, trying to attack and push the germans back, whereas I think that they just have to hold them off. Even a 'engaged' result on the CRT is a tactical US victory, as the german player loses a movement turn with the engaged unit.

TL;DR:
Overall it's a very good game. I really like the map, it's just beautiful. The chrome around the rules gives it some unique flavour and I'm now in my second game, trying to see if I can do it better/differently this time.
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Tom Stearns
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Good review.

This game is one of my favorites and possibly is in line for one of the best wargames ever. I haven't played second edition, but I did open my box and fondle the contents.

The 15-factor attack cap is now optional according to Mark S on CSW. I played 1st edition with and without the cap. My opponent and I both agreed playing without the cap is better. With the cap only half the CRT is really used. Breakthrough attacks and advances are rare.

Also, only having 1 copy of the charts is really annoying. Not sure where that decision came from. Wargames typically have 2 copies of the chart so each player has there own. With the 2nd edition you have to share (ugh) or photocopy a set.

The replay ability comes in switching sides (when playing an opponent), shifting the primary focus of attack as the Germans, or hell just trying to win as the Germans. The victory condition change to 2nd edition that requires Bastogne be captured for a German win complicates things for them.

Welcome to the addiction...er...I mean club, of wargaming.
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Bradley Fletcher
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I, too, love this game and have been playing it solo a lot. I have been unsure about the 15 factor rule, but am liking it more and more--here are a couple of observations: 1) not mine--forgot if I read it here or on CSW--but someone noted that the rule hurts the Germans early, and the allies later--which strikes me as a good balance. 2) I've been really frustrated with the American regiments (df of 6) in a village (+2) which means the Germans can only get 15-8, or 1-1 (without artillery or armor bonus). As an old-time cardboard pusher, I wanted to bash away on attack, and those 1-1 and 2-1 attacks were costly in armor and elites and drove me crazy, but then I realized that, as historically, instead of head-on attack, the goal is to maneuver and bypass or surround. Maybe you can sacrifice a few of those battalions early on in the game to slow the enemy up for a turn or two, but rarely, as the American, can you let your regiment sit there and watch itself get cut-off, so you have to maneuver out to fight again. So, I'm coming to appreciate the 15 factor rule as forcing me to rethink my long-conditioned approach! BF
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Andreas Lundin
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Quote:
but then I realized that, as historically, instead of head-on attack, the goal is to maneuver and bypass or surround.


thumbsup

Regarding replayability: this is by far the wargame (out of over hundred copies) I've played the most of. The replayability is tremendous. I can sit in a meeting at work and find myself day dreaming about planning to lift the siege of Bastogne or how to best put KG Peiper to work. There is so much to explore in this game!
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Markus
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Thanks for the replies. My second game is going a bit differently now, I guess I'm getting more used to the rules. Now the 82nd and 101st have cordoned off the west part of the first map by securing key villages along the main roads.

There are very interesting rules in there, like that your are only allowed to is important, but you are only allowed to do it if the enemy is close. Or when tracing supply you are free to continue if the first hex is in an EZOC. And I completely forgot to mention ZOC-bonds that create this impassable front line in my review .... There's so much content in this game

About the 15-8+ in villages: yes, that happened to me as well. These are the cases when you need the armour shift and arty support. My first guess was surrounding the village in a pocket, but now I'm not sure if OOS actually gives a negative column shift. Still, 3-1 odds, pressing the firefight and a bit of luck is all what's needed
 
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Tom Stearns
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The thing to remember about zoc bonds is they prevent movement through the bond, so the only way to penetrate the bond is through combat. With that in mind I try to avoid, where I can, occupying with a unit a hex I don't want my opponent to have. I let the important hex be empty with units on either side. This is in cases where defense modifiers are empty. For example an important crossroads hex (non-urban), I would place units on either side. If those hexes don't have roads even better. The advance rules are pretty liberal though allowing advance in any direction.
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As to scenarios - wouldn't it be great to take the scenarios in Battles for the Ardennes and make them for this or any other bulge game out there?

That game had 5 Great Scenarios (1 per Quad Map, and the Campaign) and the 1940 Campaign; add the Patton Counter Attack scenario and you would think every Bulge game could at least have 6 scenarios.

BTW, just did put Ardennes '44 under plexi last night.

I'm liking the Simonitch games ZOC Bonds - the above mentioned supply pockets - I have only recently (past two years) been aware of them, and have been grabbing what is in print.

Now to find opponents.
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Jeffrey Newell
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mbroecker wrote:


First of all, all dice rolls are the wrong way, low is good, high is bad.


Says who?

Those are the 'right' way.

Jeff
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Dan Owsen
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You'll have to excuse Jeff, he's an ASL player.
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E William
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Great review. I agree with what you say about seeing that there is basically only one scenario with different end times. I was hoping for more than just the "one" scenario. I really see the first scenario as a training scenario when you teach this to someone and the others just extend what they've learned.
 
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Tom Stearns
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Monster war gamers don't need no stinkin' intro scenarios. Give us the whole enchilada every time....
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