Review – Arnhem ’44 from MDVC Games

Review – Arnhem ’44 from MDVC Games

Designed by Dirk Virgauven

note – Thanks to the kind folks at MDVC Games for providing a review copy of this game.

I am fascinated with Operation Market Garden. For me, it is probably the most interesting campaign of the Second World War in the sense that it was a very risky and desperate operation and showed that ignoring intelligence and allowing “group think” to prevail to soothe the ego and arrogance of British General Montgomery cost the allies dear, including an entire British Airborne Division.

The scenario of Market Garden, with the Airborne forces dropped along a highway corridor into Holland, tasked with capturing a number of bridges, the final prize of which being the bridge at Arnhem, and finally, with British XXX Corps driving up what was to become known as “Hell’s Highway” has been addressed in a number of war games over the years. I have played a number of these designs and now had the opportunity to play a very recent design, Arnhem ’44 from MDVC Games from Holland.

Unlike many other games on this important operation, this game is similar, certainly in looks to the Axis and Allies franchise of games in that the military units are represented by plastic miniatures of infantry, artillery and tanks. A similar style game, A Bridge Too Far: Operation Market Garden from Flames of War,  would be the closest comparison.

Arnhem ’44 is certainly more complex than the other games mentioned above, adding deeper and certainly more interesting tactical elements. The components range from reasonable to very nice. The miniatures are reasonably basic. You have German Tiger Tanks and Allied Shermans. Yes this is a simplification but that’s fine. The artillery and infantry are generic in sculpture and in different colors to represent the UK, US and German forces. The standard of miniatures isn’t as high as those produced in the Flames of war game but they are serviceable and easily used in the game. A number of fairly thin cardboard markers and a bunch of D-10 dice are included. Oh yes, there are bridge pieces which are very cool.

The map board is unusual and may not suit every gamer at first sight. It is large and long covering the area of the campaign and there is little specific geographic detail other than the main types of terrain represented by different colors and it may look a bit loud but actually, the map really grew on me quickly and works very well indeed for the placement and movement of your forces. Once your forces are on the board, it all looks rather pleasing to the eye and certainly attracts your attention.

From the film – A Bridge Too Far –

Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: I’ve just been on to Monty. He’s very proud and pleased.
Major General Urquhart: Pleased?
Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: Of course. He thinks Market Garden was 90% successful.
Major General Urquhart: But what do you think?
Lt. General Frederick “Boy” Browning: Well, as you know, I always felt we tried to go a bridge too far.

Gameplay

War games generally are in a different world compared to Euro-style games in my mind. I usually expect to have a certain level of detail linked to the designer’s efforts to re-create a historical situation and due to the complexity of warfare, there are a lot of things to consider as to how complex a war game is, and how much you try to simulate or abstractly represent. The balance between realism and playability is very difficult to achieve. Worse still, the war gaming community has varied tastes as to the level of detail and area of historical interest and can be very hard to please.

So, I normally expect a war game to have a need for errata and further revision in the rules for correction of details and clarity of understanding. I also expect it to have a number of small points that need to be remembered and minor exceptions to certain combat situations and combatant capabilities. This is all part of the deal if you are a war gamer and I am happy with this. I have always treated war games as more work than Euros but I generally don’t care if I am interested in the subject. Theme is generally a key element of the attraction for war gamers in my experience.

Arnhem ’44 fits well into all of the above and being a medium level complexity means it will be challenging to learn but potentially quite rewarding as you get into it.

The objective of the game is gain victory points by having bridges in your possession. Quite simple really…

The game process is as follows –

Artillery fire barrages – (except on the first turn) these can be devastating and you will quickly learn the value of hiding in dense terrain rather than out in the open

Landing of Airborne Units – British 1st Airborne in the Arnhem area and the US 82nd and 101st to the south along the main bridges route.Weather has an impact on how accurate the landing is. Bad weather will scatter you further away from the drop zone. If you land on German forces, anti-aircraft fire will cause you problems.

Supply by Air – The allies have limited supply capacity and although the initial drop has supplies, you will soon run out of them and have to hope for a safe air drop of more. The Germans have other ideas and if the supplies are scattered, will be looking to capture your supplies.

Distribution of food & ammunition – each turn, each of your airborne divisions uses up a supply marker

Diffuse explosives – The German player gets to wire the bridges for destruction. The allies can stop them from being blown with a die roll.

Detonate explosives – The German player needs to consider as he will carefully weigh the balance of keeping the roads open for his own use and blowing bridges and losing victory points to stop the Allies advance. Blowing the bridges isn’t easy as it takes a die roll and for each bad roll, it becomes harder for the German player to blow a bridge.

Field Marshall Walther Model: Why do all my generals want to destroy my bridges?

Placing explosives – The German player can adjust the explosives capability and location

Constructing Bailey Bridges – The US forces can construct portable bridges to replace those that have been blown

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world?

Movement of Allied troops – subject to movement capability of different unit types

Combat – each terrain type has combat factors for infantry, armor and artillery indicated on it for resolving combat results (unit destruction or retreat). Combat is resolved through rolling a number of dice to see if the enemy units take hits. Then the attacker takes the dice that made hits and re-rolls them to distribute the hits amongst the targeted enemy units. 

Movement of German troops

Combat

Determine tomorrow’s weather

Allied Reserves

German Reserves

Ok, so there is a reasonable amount to go through each turn. And I will say that it took a while to get through turn 1 as we were getting used to the process (this is very typical in war games) and dealing with a number of issues which weren’t clear enough (again, typical in war games). But into the 2nd turn things moved along much faster.

The challenges in a bit of the Dutch to English translated rules were relatively few but we did have a number of additional issues including –

– There was some confusion over the ability of infantry to cross the Major waterways except by bridge or ferry.  Historically, the American airborne staged a cross-river assault over the Waal to capture the Nijmegen bridge. This didn’t seem to be allowed in the rules. Also, the allies were able to rescue a number of the trapped British 1st Airborne from across the Rhine to the west of Arnhem.

– The rules for the Engineer and Reserves tracks need to be clearer as it took us a while to understand them.

– We took an educated guess at what it meant to “distribute” supplies by agreesing that each airborne division uses one supply token per turn. Again, this needs to be clearer.

– The Allied reserves include US forces and I hope that this is just an error and that all the reserves need to be British (and colored tan). There were no US ground troops in this campaign as far as I am aware. Only airborne. If there are to be US infantry reserves, shouldn’t they be airborne?

– Units that advance into a sector which already contains forces of both sides aren’t allowed to include the allied forces that are already in the sector as part of their combat. This just doesn’t seem logical.

Despite these issues the process, once we got into it, it worked pretty well.

Did it work for me?

Being a long standing grognard, I am used to issues as noted above. The issues that were of most concern were  historically related. Having said that, the games represents the ebb and flow of the operation pretty well. The British 1st Airborne has a VERY tough time of it. I at least got Johnny Frost’s brigade into Arnhem but he was absolutely hammered and didn’t last long. The beleaguered US airborne units had a struggle to keep the route to Arnhem open, let alone capture bridges. XXX corps overwhelmed the few German units in the southern end of the corridor of advance and made steady progress and then was counterattacked at various places.

Lt. Colonel J.O.E. Vandeleur: Remember what the general said; we’re the cavalry. It would be bad form to arrive in advance of schedule. In the nick of time would do nicely.

All in all the flow of the game was what I expected it to be.

I think that this is a good game and with cleaner rules will be even better. It looks very nice and once you understand the process, moves along well. Definitely worth a purchase if you are interested in Operation Market Garden. It is more challenging and tactical than the A&A games and A Bridge Too Far: Operation Market Garden from Flames of War.

Boardgames in Blighty rating – 6 out of 10


Family friendly?

No, this is purely a game for hobby and war gamers.

For more information about MDVC Games go to – http://www.mdvcgames.com/

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