Review – Paul Koenig’s The Bulge: 6th Panzer Army from Victory Point Games

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Review – Paul Koenig’s The Bulge: 6th Panzer Army from Victory Point Games

Designer – Paul Koenig

Art – Tim Allen, Clark Miller, Alan Emrich

Victory Point Games has supplied a copy of this game for review purposes

This is a game for 2 players, aged 13+

The Battle of the Bulge. I haven’t researched this but surely, this particular event during the 2nd World War has been the subject of more war games than most. I’m really interested to see that Paul Koenig has now put his design talents  into producing the first in a new series of games on the German offensive in the Ardennes which effectively was Hitler’s last throw of the dice.

As this game is using the core game engine introduced in his D-Day series and successfully upgraded to fit the Operation Market Garden Series, I was very hopeful that this new series would bring the interesting challenges of the Battle of the Bulge to the gaming table. There were particular aspects of this huge battle that simply needed to be reflected but too much chrome and special case rules might bog down game play in what is at its core, an elegant, very playable system.

Reading the following from the Victory Point Games website gave me confidence…

Using a fresh take on the venerable wargaming system presented in the D-Day and Market-Garden series, Battle of the Bulge authority and game developer Randy Heller has brought Paul’s system up in scale to handle the larger operations in this campaign and provides the great (but manageable!) gaming “chrome” that wargamers so enjoy when exploring history using a “paper time machine” like Paul Koenig’s The Bulge: 6th Panzer Army.

This game covers the operations in the northern half of the Battle of the Bulge with the next game in the series covering the southern half. Ok, so this needs to have the feel of what I understand about the Battle of the Bulge and remain very playable and it looks like the commitment is there to deliver this.

Unboxing

In the box you receive –

•    One 20-page full-color Rules booklet

•    One 11” x 17” mounted, jigsaw-cut game map  and one card stock 11” x 17” map so you can choose to play on either

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As you can see, the map depicts a variety of terrain types in the northern half of the Bulge including forest and key cities. The Ardennes was a particularly difficult area to conduct military operations and this is reflected well. The game map looks great but you look at it and wonder, how in the world can the German player take advantage of his armoured formations with so many physical obstacles in the way?

•    One sheet of 106, two-sided game pieces
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As you can see, the game pieces are really nice and easy to read and quickly spot on the map. The quality and thickness of the pieces will stand up to many plays. I do love the creativity being used for creating small game markers.
•    One two-sided player aid which shows the starting set-up
•    One 4.5” x 11” Turn Record mat
 
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This is a nice addition to the production of the games in this series. No doubt required due the larger scale of the map compared to previous games, it lays things out nicely for reinforcement units. Note the turn track. This game only has 7 turns as it only covers the initial few days of the German offensive in the north of the Bulge.
 
•    One six-sided die

As in the previous games, this game is made to the same  high standard that I have become accustomed to VPG 

Game play overview

Unlike the previous games in the series, the game play does not use a chit-pull system and instead uses a bit of a more traditional “I go- You go” approach which gives the players the choice to emphasise Combat at a cost to Manoeuvre, or Manoeuvre at a cost to Combat.

Game Turn Sequence of Play (from the rules)
1. Mutual Support Phase. On Game Turns 3, 5, and 7, both players receive their respective Support markers.

2. German Operations Phase. The German player receives reinforcements and declares the Combined Operations that his units will conduct this turn, either:

Manoeuvre & Engage to conduct the German Movement Step first, and then the German Combat Step (at half strength); or Fire & Movement  to conduct the German Combat Step first, and then the German Movement Step (at half speed).  German non-Artillery units that have neither moved nor attacked this turn can attempt to Repair adjacent Demolished Bridges.

3. Allied Operations Phase. The Allied player receives reinforcements and declares the Combined Operations that his units will conduct this turn, either:

Manoeuvre & Engage to conduct the Allied Movement Step first, and then the Allied Combat Step (at half strength); or Fire & Movement to conduct the Allied Combat Step first, and then the Allied Movement Step (at half speed). Beginning on Game Turn 3, at the end of this Phase, Allied units can attempt to Demolish or Repair Bridges.

4. Housekeeping Phase. At the beginning of this Phase, rotate German Artillery units that moved so
they again face the German player. Advance the Game Turn marker one position or, if  the last turn is completed, determine the winner according to the Victory Conditions.

 
The process is very straight forward and works very smoothly. This system itself emphasises gameplay over simulation and plays quickly as this is a small game without tons of units and actions to take. The core rules include more traditional rules for –
 
Zones of control – which inhibit movement (unlike the games in the previous series)
 
Terrain effects – for movement you would naturally expect this as well as for combat. Unusually, the terrain occupied by a defender plus a die roll, not its combat strength, determines its defence value. The defender’s die roll compared to the final modified Attacker’s value determines damage and retreats.  
 
German Garrisons – the German player needs to ensure each city taken has a garrison or they lose victory points
 
Artillery – the most interesting part here is that the Americans can move and fire, the German Corps Artillery can only do one or the other.
 
Bridges – the river obstacles are a key to victory for both sides and capturing or blowing bridges is crucial
 
Random Events represent actual or likely events during the offensive which add some nice interesting wrinkles to the game.
 
Optional rules cover Leadership, Allied interdiction, Combined arms, Improved positions, The Fuel Dump. I recommend that you lay with these as they are easily included and add some nice depth to your decision making
 
The rules overall, are very straightforward. Experienced war gamers will want to play with all of the optional rules for the full experience. Less experienced players may want to ease into it but I don’t think they will have any problems getting what the game is trying to do.
 
Do I like Paul Koenig’s Bulge: 6th Panzer Army?
 
The Bulge is right up there next to Operation Market Garden in terms of my interest in the period so Paul Koenig’s Bulge: 6th Panzer Army is a slam dunk winner for me. But interest aside, as a game, it’s probably my favourite Bulge game, having played a few others, as its balance of simple, yet interesting  gameplay works a treat.
 
I love the choice between full movement/weakened combat versus full combat/weakened movement. Both sides are really faced with a tightrope to walk along. This simple, yet elegant design feature really brings the operational problems to life. The German needs to breakthrough and quickly before the US reinforcements arrive to clog up the pinch point cities and bridges, yet the attack strength isn’t as useful but can still have an affect. The terrain is simply a nightmare of broken ground and forest which helps the defenders a lot, especially if the opt for delaying tactics.And if the bridges are blown… Oh, the stress of it all….
 
The US player is weak and thin on the ground (hence Hitler chose the Ardennes for the attack) and can quickly find themselves in a world of hurt with little to stop the Germans. They must stack units where possible, use the most defensible terrain and build improved positions but time in terms of short game length and the advancing Germans make this difficult at best. They can run but they can’t hide, and must counterattack or the German player will simply wrack up the victory points.
 
I think that both players have tough but different challenges to deal with which makes for a fun and interesting gaming experience. The gameplay is smooth, although the combat is a little unusual and takes getting used to. It makes sense and is interesting as at the end of the day, the terrain was a hugely determining factor for both sides.
 
Paul Koenig’s core design with Randy Heller’s development have expanded the horizons of this excellent game system and I can’t wait to play the next game in the series covering the southern part of the Bulge and the heroic stand of the 101st airborne at Bastogne.  6th Panzer Army will get played again, and again as it demands having another go. The ease of play, yet interesting treatment of the huge battle makes for a lot of interesting fun.
 
 
Paul Koenig’s Bulge: 6th Panzer Army is an excellent addition to the series of games based on the same core system. It steps up to a grander scale to match the requirements of the Battle of the Bulge and keeps things at the same level of interesting, elegant simplicity. I recently recommended the D-Day and Market Garden series to a non-war gamer who wanted recommendations of gateway war games. I would likewise add 6th Panzer Army without hesitation.
 
Kudos to Victory Point Games for not just cranking out identikit rehashes but keeping things fresh and interesting. Bring on the next game!
 
 
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