Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Tampa
Florida
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The attack begins


The Battle of the Bulge like Gettysburg is one of the sexier game topics. Any new Bulge game has a high bar to cross that will seldom meet expectations. So how can a game that dare to be a new tactical system from an unknown company, from a company who “dwells” more in the fantasy realm cross over? Well that is indeed a good question and one we will both explore here and look at hard. Nor will we do an early Blondie aka Debbie Harry and Rip Her to Shreds, or in this case the game and rip it to shreds unless it is really bad. Having gotten the fun out of the way, making a simple tactical game is indeed very hard to do without losing any flavor of fire and maneuver, or without it seeming to be a gussied-up version of rock, paper and scissors. Gary Graber has done it successfully in both the naval realm and in the land tactical realm with his Combat Leader Series. So how will George Dew’s Battle of the Bulge: A Combat Boots Game (BOB)fare here? As an aside, I am always impressed with designers who thanks folks up front that did yeoman duty in helping bring their work to fruition.



The First Scenario Set-Up – The Attack Begins


COMPONENTS

Think early DTP for this game. Only maybe later. It won’t grab you in that sense as we have gotten spoiled by the pretty factor. However, the card stock counters are on a good cardstock, more than the 110-type variety. Moreover, there is no question that the vehicle and nationality silhouettes look correct. The map is bright and doesn’t look like the Ardennes in the winter I suppose for a number of gamers. I’m ok with that although the material it is printed on shows the seams a bit with some repeated folding to get it to lay flat. But the hexes are nice and big and I do like the way it all looks considering this is a fairly new effort.



Note 2 Killed US Infantry squads



RULES

BOB’s rules seem fairly straight forward, and although there are not any ambiguities, the rule book structure needs something. First thing I ALWAYS look for is an index to help me find those vexing little things, say such as stacking as one example. There are things that would help to state up front such as there are no Zones of Control (ZOCs) in the game. Your gaming audience is going to look for those things. They won’t care if the game lacks ZOCs but want to know up front it lacks ZOCs and not think that perhaps they missed something. This is where I come back to structure, as the rules cry out for a little greater sense of organizational structure. I had some trouble at first the way it was worded that there is a difference between Defensive Fire and the fire a unit conducts when it is attacked. A little greater clarity in terms of explaining something that is different than in other games goes a long way to making the gamer feel comfortable with your product.


GAME PLAY

Units are rated for a number of factors here in the game. First and foremost is the F factor, although we have suggested to the designer they rename this to FP for firepower. Units are generic here in the sense of values, as all squads are alike. Individual Armored Fighting Vehicles are different dependent upon if they are a M4E3 or say a Panther. Included in the mix are the German Hanomag half-track and the venerable M3 US halftrack. In addition, you have layered into the game airstrikes and indirect fire. All of this is done without counters being overly burdened by numbers. In addition units are rated for three types of morale in a sense. There are units with a +, units with no ratings and those with a -. Those with a + morale rating receive a +1 on their die rolls while units having a – symbol receive a -1 to their die rolls.

Combat is pretty simple. One totals up their attacking value vs. the defensive value and starts subtracting dice. Say we have two rifles squads with a total value of 4 Firepower attacking a unit with a defensive value of 2. Each Firepower strength point equal one die, so you have 4 dice against 2 dice to start with here. Then you begin the process of removing dice until one side or the other is left with only one die to roll. In this case each side would remove one die and it is now 3-1 roll. That means the attacker rolls 3 dice to the one die for the defender. And now this is where the morale factor can have a decisive impact in game play, as it can cause either a NE or enable a defender to kill the attacking units.
Cat referees

The one thing you can expect is someone will most likely die on every die-roll. In general you have a 5/6th’s chance of this happening in any given attack. Now what it means is the game plays very fast. There are no pinned, disrupted, broken – dead or not UNLESS you roll a tie die roll which is in effect a No Effect (NE) outcome. My amount of NE results through 10 plays were de minimis. This means of course there is no rallying of units or leadership rules – again units either most likely die or survive. This makes the game seem broken. But if one looks at the terrain modifications, and the close assault rules, you see there is another layer of subtlety going on here.

The defender in the game is confronted with the choice once someone pops out into their Line of Sight (LOS) of do I take this moment to conduct Defensive Fire or not? You only get to conduct one defensive fire per turn no matter how many folks pop up into your LOS. There is also the brutal aspect of Point-Blank Fire where each side gets a +1 added to their FP.


This turned out to be a TEXTBOOK Example of how not to defend a Village – those rules for entrenchments, let me look those over again…




CONCLUSIONS

Is it this a classic tactical game? Probably not but let me assure you it is an accessible and playable game on tactical combat centered on the Bulge. I found the scenarios to be well conceived and for so few units presented real and hard choices. The first scenario could be used to teach new LT’s at Ft Benning. With some upgrading to the components, others might take greater note of it, but it’s more than worth a look. Did I get my $$$’s worth? 10 plays for $12 – sure did. I’m looking forward to see where they go next with this series.




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Barry Kendall
United States
Lebanon
Pennsylvania
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Sounds interesting, Smitty, but a couple of questions . . .

How many scenarios are provided? From the countersheet and your sample game it looks as though there are no-armor, maybe one-side-has-armor, perhaps both-sides-have armor.

Also, the central location of the village with covering terrain on multiple sides suggests that scenarios will feature varying deployments, entries, and objectives.

Re the "Combat" portion of your review: you mention removing dice . . . is a die assigned to each unit? More than one die/unit? (This seems likely given that "plus" units may add one and "minus" units lose one).
"Attacking value" and "defensive value" then ". . . start subtracting dice" didn't quite click in my declining brain as to "how it works."

I assume there are modifiers for terrain and entrenchments . . . are these the things that impose removal of dice when units are located in such terrain?

The game sounds tempting, especially for twelve bucks . . . just wondering how the combat works in more detail.

Thanks for the review. I'm with you, curious about "what's next." I'd never heard of a "Combat Boots" series.
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Robert "Smitty" Smith
United States
Tampa
Florida
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Barry:

Combat - say 2 German squads who have a 2 FP each for a total of 4 FP attack a US squad of 2 FP - 4 to 2 or 2 to 1 odds right? No the way this game figures it is reduced each side by 1 die at a time to have it in this case become a 3 die rolled to 1 die rolled.

There are 6 scenarios in total given here but I can easily see being able to develop one's own from the Bulge histories. Later scenarios have armor and get to be a whole different kind of fun.

Smitty
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