ARDENNES ’44 A Boardgaming Life Review and After Action Report


By Russ Lockwood and Dan Burkley

Designers: Tony Curtis and Mark Simonitch

Publisher GMT Games

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I last played this GMT game covering the battle of the Bulge with Dan back in 2013, at least according to the date stamp on my photo files. It’s been too long to this terrific game. You can probably blame Bitter Woods on that — bigger counters for squinty eyes and bigger hexes for fatter fingers…

Mind you, this is not a simple game. At its base, it is just move and then a combat CRT based on odds, but with chrome.

Nevertheless, we took to the gaming table after lunch and settled in for an enjoyable game of Ardennes ‘44. Each hex is 1.6 miles and units are battalions and regiments for the most part. Each day consists of a morning, afternoon, and night turns.

Mind you, this is not a simple game. At its base, it is just move and then a combat CRT based on odds, but with chrome. A turn will take a player an hour — you have to consider that one player controls all three German armies at the bttn/regt level. For all its complexity, it offers enough options that the time just flows (at least when it’s your turn to move). Not much of an interactive aspect to the game, but cleverness all around to mimic the battle.

The Game and Mechanics

cover

Dan wrote up a great description of how the game flowed turn by turn – see below. So, I’ll concentrate on the clever bits that I recall (dangerous). For the unabashed correct mechanics, you can download the Second Edition rules (including example of play, scenario, and a good look at the map) at:

http://www.gmtgames.com/nna4/A44_LivingRules_Jan-2013.pdf

Tactical Move: Infantry can move two hexes — very useful at times.

March Move: Add 2MP if not ending in enemy ZOC. Also very useful.
Retreats: Often, a unit can retreat through an enemy ZOC, but not enemy ZOC ‘bonds’ (hexside or whole hex link between two units).
Advances: CRT includes several types of ‘advances,’ including Breakthroughs that allow a player to advance two hexes (motorized units three hexes along road) that do NOT have to be the defending unit’s hex…AND then, with one stack, attack another enemy unit. I cannot tell you how often the Germans rolled this one, but plenty of crunched US units suffered such a fate, allowing Germans to attack the second line.
Furthermore, this stack has the option of moving to assist another attack, which often helped generate another Breakthrough. Now, the stack can only move one more hex, but the other units can perform a two-hex breakthrough with a stack participating in a second attack. You can really roll up a line with this mechanic…and Dan often did.

Counters

Sample counters from A’44.

As I recall, no Overrun mechanic, but Breakthroughs were key to slice through US lines (instead of the usual grind ’em out games).
Yes, the Germans can blow out the US units, and they can with the right die rolls. It does seem a little too coordinated, and far more coordinated than the Germans ever were, but remember turns represent about eight hours and moving 3.2 miles (two hexes) to join another attack is not so far.

Artillery: Shifts odds by one column per artillery unit support.

Armor/Mechanized and Troop Quality: Shifts odds by one column if TQ is higher. Germans just about always had TQ superiority due to the panzers.

Armor Effect: If armor or mechanized attack infantry, shift odds by one column. Bazookas/panzerfausts? Pffft. Germans often, especially with breakthroughs, got this benefit.
Kudos to the combat system. Really well designed.

Movement: You really have to watch and watch again as you move along roads with mechanized and tank units. Most games double the move along main roads. Ardennes ’44 generally does, too, BUT, not in all hexes. The game differentiates between infantry, armor (tanks), and mechanized (half tracks, armored cars, etc.) units, and thus, movement.
Tanks don’t move in woods. Mechanized and Infantry can.  St. Vith hexes (actually not exactly near St. Vith): Cost whopping 4MP for Germans until they take St. Vith.

battle-of-the-bulge-3

Roadblocks and Traffic Jams: Both cause units to expend 2 extra MP when entering, but a die roll determines which traffic jam stays in a hex when placed. Clever, this.

Night Turns: Designate up to a certain number of units or stacks (can’t remember) that can move and attack at night. The Peiper units are automatically available for night operations. Another way for the Germans to push the attack.

Snipe and Tripe

A game turn takes a player an hour, if not a little longer. For the other player, well, bring a book. Or start a second game so that when one player works on an Ardennes ‘44 move, the other does the same on a second game. On the other hand, you have more than enough time to read and re-read and re-reread the rules.

The number of units and the amount of chrome (certain units do certain things; certain hexes offer certain benefits and detriments) make this a long and complex game. Yet as I noted in the paragraph above, the non-phasing player does get a lot of time to read the rules.

start

Setup Map supplied in the game.

Game Result

The Germans had a blowout win. As the US, I could barely patch together a line at the end of a turn. Sometimes, terrain was the only barrier.
This is the first time, I’ve seen the speed of the German advance matched (and in some places exceeded) the actual German rate in 1944. It was difficult to create a line that would hold. If you used battalions to hold a hex, the Germans could concentrate and Breakthrough their way towards the Meuse. Yet large units (like a CCA or infantry regiment) were easy enough to ignore and bypass — the Germans not only have better units, they have more of them.

Granted, this was two full days (four regular turns and two night turns) and a German half of the morning of the third day (took Bastogne!), but there better be a lot of US units arriving before the Germans march across the Meuse. I just didn’t see a lot of reinforcements in the future.

Ardennes ’44 After Action Report

by Dan Burkley

Dan

We have both played at least six different “Bulge” games (AH Bulge ’65, SPI Ardennes Offensive, AH Bulge ’81, Hasbro’s Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge, L2 Bitter Woods, GMT Ardennes ’44). We really like Bitter Woods with the larger hexes and counters (for the “maturing” wargamer) and it is a solid game with lots of details and “chrome,” but Dan (at right) could not find a *.pdf version of the rules for Bitter Woods – but did have the latest version for Ardennes ’44, so that would be the game we played for the 71st anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

Dan took a half day and had the game set-up ahead of time. Sides were rolled for randomly, with Dan playing the Germans and Russ playing the “unsuspecting” Americans.

plan of attack

Ardennes ’44 is GMT’s game on the Battle of the Bulge on the battalion/regiment scale. Each game-turn represents approximately 8 hours of real time. Each map hex represents about 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers).

At first glance, Ardennes ’44 bears some close resemblance to Bitter Woods, but on closer examination, some interesting differences can be seen:
1. The Americans start off with more playing pieces, but many are battalions. Stacking is by points, not counters, so this gives the Americans more flexibility. They can spread out to cover a wider front, or mass for an attack.
2. The American infantry have the same movement rate as the German infantry, which is a significant departure from many other “Bulge” games. The American infantry can use “truck counters” to move longer distances. Both sides can used “Extended Movement” to “walk” a little further, provided they don’t end movement in an enemy zone-of-control (ZOC).
3. Armored units have an “armor rating” that can provide a column shift when resolving combat.

Each “Day” consists of 2 “day” turns (AM, PM), followed by one “night” turn. Play starts with the German turn on the December 16th AM turn. Ardennes ’44 has relatively few “1st Turn Special Rules” compared to other games.

GERMAN TURN: Dec 16th AM

Panther_Battle_of_the_bulge_csg054-ww2shots-army

Besides Army boundary restrictions, there are division boundary restrictions during the 1st turn only, but most of the units are in attack positions anyway, so there is not a lot of movement. The SS divisions cannot move on turn 1. A couple of spoiling attacks are made at the northern and southern ends of Elsenborn Ridge in the north, primarily to pin US units and soften up the southern end of the ridge for the PM turn, but most of the German artillery does not fire (saving their limited ammunition for the 16 PM turn).

DeadGIsDec1944_zpsbbad1fac

The opening attacks along the front are mostly successful, causing casualties, pinning or driving off defenders, and clearing off contested bridges. The Americans cannot blow up bridges during December 16th, with one exception, the Ourthe River bridge at the center of the front, which they succeed in blowing. The US armored cavalry at the Lostheim Gap is eliminated and the Germans advance up the road. Here is where a clever mechanic comes into play. On a “D1” or “DR4” result, a “Bonus Advance” is permitted (2 hexes in any direction, 3 if along a primary road), with one stack eligible to make a “Breakthrough Attack”, which can be combined against an adjacent enemy that has not been attacked yet.
This proved mighty useful, allowing the Germans to cross “heavy traffic” areas without getting slowed down, and getting in more combats and potentially rolling up a line. Combined with the attacks at the center, the US 106th gets completely surrounded and a significant hole about 12 miles wide is present at the start of the American turn (something I’ve never seen after any 1st turn Bulge game). In the south, the 7th Army’s infantry cross the river and start to feel their way around and through the American front.

AMERICAN TURN: Dec 16th AM

Russ

Now another difference between Ardennes ’44 and many other Bulge games becomes apparent. There are quite a few American units that cannot move on the 1st turn – and units “disrupted” from combat can only do “Tactical Movement” (up to 2 hexes). Holy crap! The center front is patched together, but there are far less US units in the St. Vith area than the US commander would like to see, but some of the US 99th division has been pulled from Elsenborn Ridge to start heading south to form a reserve force.

Russ wonders where he’s going to get the troops to form a line…and this is turn one.

Now comes another clever mechanic comes into play after the US movement has been completed. The US player can place two “road blocks” and six “traffic markers” to slow down the Germans. The “road blocks” must be placed within 4 road hexes of any US unit in supply, but the “traffic” markers can be placed anywhere, except next to each other (or a “road block”), but each is numbered, and after placement is finished, two dice are rolled, and the “traffic markers” with those numbers come off, so placement is not as reliable – and it’s the only way they can be removed, so placement is important.

GERMAN TURN: Dec 16th PM

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The 1st and 12th SS Panzer divisions are released, and they move through the open Lostheim Gap and attack the blocking infantry force with support from the Falschimjagers and Volksgrenadiers that started the attack the previous turn, plus full artillery support. These attacks are largely successful, pummeling the US rearguard left along Elsenborn Ridge after a good part of the US 99th infantry pulled out, and permitting some SS units a “bonus advance” at the south end of the ridge, which bring them along the main road north of St. Vith, a significant penetration. The hole in the American lines is now 20 miles wide and the end of the Army boundary between 1st SS and 5th Panzer armies has been reached. The 150th brigade prepares for a “Night Move” during the upcoming Night turn.

In the center, the 116th Panzer division drives north and crosses the bridge to St. Vith to attack the makeshift US force. They overwhelm it, getting a “bonus advance” and “breakthrough attack”, which bring them to St. Vith, which is captured with the “breakthrough” attack (and a good die roll). Capture of St. Vith reduces the three “heavy traffic” hexes from +4 to +2 MPs.

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Both US artillery units in VIII Corps are eliminated during the German attacks, as the 2nd Panzer crosses the Ourthe River on intact captured bridges and joins the infantry to attack the US line anchored on Clerveaux. All of the Americans are eliminated or driven back. The 18th VG “shepherds” the surrounded US 106th, waiting for them to surrender.
The 26th VG with some help from Panzer Lehr attack the new American line anchored on Clerveaux, clearing the town. Other elements of Panzer Lehr prepare for a Night Move. The 2nd Panzer finishes crossing the Ourthe River and is in position to attack towards Bastogne or Houfallize.

In the south, several battalions of the US 4th division are surrounded and attacked. They stand fast, but become isolated. The supporting US 9th CCR successfully blocks any further probes to the southwest. The 276th VG outflanks the US 4th division and reaches a US entry hex along the board edge, triggering an interesting rule.

When a German unit occupies an US entry hex along the edge of the board, the “flank” of the US front lines is “threatened” and a “blocking force” is required to secure the exposed flank. Units amounting to at least 6 defense factors must be placed in the holding box for that US entry hex (either from units on the board, or from arriving reinforcements). The net effect of this was that the initial US reinforcements due to come in on the Dec 16th PM turn got re-routed to the holding box to act as the “blocking force”.

Frontline

The start of the German second turn…

AMERICAN TURN: Dec 16th PM

Things are getting bad to worse.

[Tell me about it. My line keeps getting vaporized. Despite favorable terrain, the Germans can concentrate two and three hexes’ worth of troops on a single battalion, getting a 4-1, then toss in some artillery (becomes 5-1) and gain a TQ advantage (6-1). Sometimes the odds are more. No US artillery to counter except on the one flank around Monschau. Then it’s a 50-50 chance of getting Breakthrough movement, which just adds to the attacks around the breakthrough point. Pretty soon, it’s another struggle to piece together a line.–RL]

NIGHT TURN: Dec 16th

The US moves first during the Night turn and receives 1 infantry replacement. A couple of units from the north front begin their trip west and south using Strategic Movement (up to 24 hexes or close to 40 miles). The Germans receive one infantry and one armor replacement and move next. KG Pieper units of the 1st SS can move, plus any units marked with a “night move” marker.  The 150th brigade (equipped with American tanks and vehicles) moves right up the road to Malmedy, trying to slip through the American lines. It’s initial attempt was successful, but got caught before it could break free of the US lines.
[Gotta say, brilliant mechanic, here, and well-used to unhinge the line.–RL]

Sixth Panzer attack

Still, it’s in a flanking position, and with KG Pieper’s units, overrun the US infantry battalion, gaining a “bonus advance” and “breakthrough attack”. Pieper pushes his luck and attacks the US garrison at Malmedy, getting an Exchange. Pieper loses a step, but occupies Malmedy. More importantly, the road is now open to the west for the Dec 17th AM turn. In the center, Panzer Lehr performs a Night move and attack, reducing a tank battalion.

GERMAN TURN: Dec 17th AM

The Germans benefit from the “double-turn” by being able to exploit the breakthrough achieved by KG Pieper. KG Pieper heads west and attempts to capture a fuel dump near Stavelot, while the 12th SS tries to encircle the exposed flank of the US 99th infantry north of Malmedy. The fuel dump goes up in flames as the Germans advance and all they can do is watch.
[Just like in the movie…–RL]

The encircling attempt by the 12th SS scores limited success. “Encirclement” is more difficult to achieve in Ardennes ’44, since a retreating unit is permitted to enter an enemy ZOC if it is the first hex of the retreat, but it cannot cross a “ZOC bond”, which is defined as a hexside between two units that share a ZOC, or a hex that is between two units that share the same ZOC – so simply flanking an enemy unit with two of your own (each on opposite sides) will not work. You need a minimum of 3 units at the “12”, “4”, and “8” positions to encircle the unit to prevent it from retreating (as well as isolation).

battle-of-the-bulge-3

On a parallel road from St. Vith, the 116th Panzer engages the remnants of the US blocking force, driving them further west. US casualties mount, but the attacks start to wear out some of the German armor with exchanges – most by Firefights.

A Firefight is a result of combat that permits the attacker the option to accept and “engagement” result (pinning the defender for a turn), or force a decision by rolling again on the Firefight Table. The Firefight Table has only one column and a short set of modifiers will influence the die roll, including the quality of the “Lead Unit” and whether it is a Tank unit with a better “Armor Rating” than the defender. Any loss to the attacker must be taken by the “Lead Unit” – so tanks and assault gun units can get chewed up if the German player wishes to force the issue, but there is a chance that the defender can be driven out, with or without casualties.
[Forgot about this creative mechanic. This is where the Germans take losses, small as they are.–RL]

2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and the 26th VG eliminate most of the US blocking force between Clerveaux and Bastogne. The supporting artillery from the initial attack are largely immobile, but the Germans have a limited number of “Prime Movers” to tow artillery with. Ammunition is now significantly limited (3 reloads a turn), but a lot of artillery is out of reach, anyway, so a few are towed to try and keep up with the front lines.

battlebulge

In the south the 276th VG continues to sneak along the south edge, covering three US entry hexes. The 212th VG follows behind to occupy the captures hexes as the 276th VG continues west. The 5th FJ clears Diekirch.
Starting with this turn, the Germans now get to place roadblock and “Greif” markers (which are equivalent to the US “traffic” markers). The two roadblocks are deployed in front of Pieper’s leading units to prevent US units from advancing towards the main road. Most of the “Greif” markers are set up at crossroads between Liege and Bastogne to stymie any transfer of US units from the north to the center, as well as hamper any repositioning of the few US blocking units that still exist in the center.

AMERICAN TURN: Dec 17th AM

There are finally enough US reinforcements in the southern “holding box” to permit some to enter.
[I looked for a counterattack opportunity, but declined. If I don’t patch those holes, the recon bttns will be racing for the Meuse. Dan’s already got a choo-choo train heading for Liege. –RL]

GERMAN TURN: Dec 17th PM

The American roadblocks set up on the main road Pieper is trying to head west on effectively slow his advance west of Stavelot. This stretch is heavily wooded, and the German are fortunate in that no US units have been able to reach the road to stall the advance by getting any ZOCs on it. The 12th SS could have continued to attack the exposed US 99th infantry, but is pulled out to follow the 1st SS.

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German infantry fills in the line to keep the US 99th infantry occupied. The US and German lines are now stationary north of Malmedy.
Just south of 1st SS, the 116th Panzer continues to mop up the remnants of US units and some engineer battalions desperately deployed to stall the advance. The main roads are not completely cleared, but a number of secondary roads between them are. Wise placement of “traffic” markers hampers the advance a little bit.

2nd Panzer, 26th VG, and Panzer Lehr press their attacks towards Bastogne, driving back the already pummeled US 28th division with more casualties. Their advance after combat brings them next to Bastogne.
3rd FJ clears Ettenbruck and starts to head west. The 276th VG assists the 352nd VG to surround the last of the US 4th division at Mersch.

AMERICAN TURN: Dec 17th PM

The leading elements of the US 10th Armor arrive from the south, but can’t reach Bastogne, no matter what path they take (thanks to a “Greif” marker). The US 7th Armor arrives from the north and takes positions north of the woods to prevent Pieper from leaving the woods and extend the American line west of the US 99th infantry. One regiment of the US 30th uses “Strategic Movement” to start its long trek to help hold the center.
[Again, I passed on the opportunity to attack. With the reinforcements, powerful as they are, I can only hold so much of a line. If I use the breakdown counters, the Germans simply swarm and overwhelm, benefitting from column shifts from TQ superiority and well-placed artillery. A dearth of US artillery means no counter to German column shifts. –RL]

German advance

Start of Dec 18 AM turn. As sketchy a line as the Americans could ever fear…

NIGHT TURN: Dec 17th

Neither side has prepared any units for “Night Movement”, except for one infantry unit of the 326th VG just to reposition closer to Malmedy.

GERMAN TURN: Dec 18th AM

It is close to 11pm in real time and Russ is ready to call it quits, but he encourages me to play out the turn to “see what happens”, which I do after he leaves.

The wear and tear against the American center has finally eliminated any sense of a “line”. There are a few units at some intersections, but several can be by-passed.

Last Turn

The 1st SS reaches Werbomont, where a regiment of the US 1st division intends to make a stand to prevent the Germans from breaking out of the woods. 1st SS diverts most of the division to a southern secondary road to attack a blocking US engineer battalion and go after a fuel dump south of Werbomont. Both attacks are successful and the Germans are now on the Liege-Bastogne road south of Werbomont.

The 12th SS uses “Strategic Movement” to move into the gap north of Houffalize and south of Werbomont, ending up near La Roche, which is garrisoned by an engineer battalion. The Fuhrer Escort Brigade and Furher Belgeit Brigade enter as reinforcements and use “Strategic Movement” to head to Houffalize and Bastogne. The Germans only have 6 “Strategic Movement” markers available, but one marker can be used on a stack if they all belong to the same regiment or brigade. (Five of them are back-printed with “Prime Mover”, so if you use the marker for Strategic Movement, you can’t use it to tow artillery.) All of them are used to promote the advance.

The US 9th Armor CCA is holding Houffalize in the center, and is simply surrounded by elements of Panzer Lehr. The rest of Panzer Lehr attacks part of the US 28th division holding the woods north of Bastogne, driving it back with casualties. 2nd Panzer and 26th VG attack into Bastogne, driving out a battalion of the US 28th and crushing the US engineers. The “bonus advance” allows the Germans to set up a cordon around Bastogne.

In the south, the 5th FJ moves slowly towards Bastogne, while a regiment of the 352nd VG advances to Bettborn to screen US 9th Armor CCR.
The German General Staff stands in amazement at the progress of the attack. Could the Fuhrer’s strategy actually work? All three armies have been meeting their objective and are on schedule.

[All I can say is “wow.” The advance was amazing, moving like clockwork thanks to some clever mechanics and great play. I can’t blame die rolls, because Dan had a full smattering of 1s, 6s, and everything in between. The Breakthrough mechanic helped the Germans far more than any mechanized movement mechanic of wargames past. Great game and worth playing again. — RL]

About the Authors

SoWD_RussRuss Lockwood has been bouncing around the wargaming world for the last 25 years in one capacity or another. Most know him as creator and CEO of MagWeb.com (on-line archive of 162 military history and related magazines from Coalition Web, Inc. from 1996-2009). He appeared on camera on The History Channel (Modern Marvels), ABC, NBC, Fox, and various cable TV shows. MagWeb was also covered by the NY Times, USA Today, and other newspapers, a variety of trade and consumer magazines, and a multitude of on-line sites. He’s given lectures at various HMGS conventions, Origins War College, and various professional meetings and seminars. Although MagWeb closed in 2009, those white MagWeb rulers still appear on wargaming tabletops across the country.

On the prior professional front, Lockwood was Editorial Director of AT&T’s web division, Senior Editor at Personal Computing Magazine, Assistant Editor at Creative Computing Magazine, Telecommunications Editor for A+ Magazine (Apple), tech writer at AT&T, Staff Writer (Financial) NY Times Information Service, and freelancer for PC Sources, Windows Sources, PC, MacUser, Byte, Restaurant Business, Hotel Business, Computer Buyer’s Guide and Handbook, and other magazines. He also hosted a radio show, ComputerWise, for five years, and was an on-line editor for ZiffNet on Compuserve and Ziffnet on Prodigy.

He is currently a freelance editor and writer covering financial and defense news, with a concentration on the retail industry. If you are really interested, go to Linked In, where he maintains a profile.

On the miniatures front, you may have seen his byline in various hobby publications in the 1990s and 2000s. Lockwood is also the author of: Snappy Nappy: Simple, Subtle & Ultrafast Miniature Rules for the Napoleonic Era, and, Hyperspace Hack: Ultrafast Spaceship Fleet Battles with Miniatures (both published in 2009 and available from http://www.onmilitarymatters.com and http://www.caliverbooks.com).  Lockwood is also the editor of the Secrets of Wargame Design series, releasing the fifth volume in 2015.

 

DanBurkley1Dan Burkley has been boardgaming since 1967, when he got Afrika Korps as a Christmas gift. I started historical miniatures tabletop gaming in 1977, using RAFM’s Universal Soldier and Panzerschiffes for WW1 and WW2 naval miniatures. His interests range from biblical ancients, Punic Wars, the War of the Roses, Napoleonics, and WWII. He has developed a number of unpublished miniatures rules for the War of the Roses (DBWR), Fantasy/Medieval (DBFM), man-to-man medieval tactical combat (Medieval Skirmish), American Revolution (ARWR), and a boardgame version of Dragon Dice (Campaigns of Esfah).

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