American player: Bruce Allen
German player: Jeff Kuhn
I was invited to DixieCon to play a game of FAB by Bruce. It is a very nice event, and the day I attended folks were playing a mix of euros and light wargames, but the Diplomacy tourney seems to be the main event here. We decided to play the 5 turn tournament scenario in FAB:Bulge, with the added optional rules for Fuel.
The game starts with the obligatory battles in newly contested areas. I committed all my available artillery to every battle, as The Allies have no assets at the beginning and with such a short game it seems that the Axis must force a breakthrough as quickly as possible. As is often the case when you are rolling lots of dice, the overall luck evens out fairly well. However, the initial disposition of troops is quite uneven, and luck (fate, more accurately) played a part very early on in the engagement.
Since the battle is segmented into 3 areas of operation for the Germans (reflecting their rather rigid thinking in army organization), I'll follow the fate of each, as there is a significant penalty for swapping forces out of their target area of operations. The 7th army, in the southmost portion, starts the game very weak and mostly in a bad position, with green troops. Historically, their purpose was to hold the flank of what was hoped to be a lightning fast armored spearhead action. The 7th actually did quite a bit better than could be hoped for in the south on turn 1, due to heavy concentration of artillery assets. This put an inordinate amount of pressure on the south flank of his line, which as we will see had some ramifications. Meanwhile, the 5th Panzer army (middle) had reasonable success against the thin American line in the middle. In the north, the 6th Panzer army (which was the largest concentration of German force) struggled. If there is any place on the board the Americans start in a strong position, it seems to be here (their strongest unit is located just behind the initial line).
Given the real possibility of breakthrough in the south, the Americans were forced to shift their lines a bit. During the second turn, Bruce shifted units south to plug gaps in the middle and south by using Strategic moves on unengaged units. To cover his exposed army, Bruce blew as many bridges as he could, and soon the 6th Pzr army was faced with some inhospitable conditions and river assault situations. Turn 2 saw almost no progress in the north. The 5th Pzr army was slow to take advantage of the collapse in the American middle, due to some judiciously blown bridges. This gave Bruce time to reinforce the crumbling middle of his line. However, I did manage to have some units in position to avoid one key river assault situation in Marnach. Marnach and Holzthum are a particular problem to the Allies because they lie behind rivers, but each have a non-river border. I was able to bring units across the non-river border and avoid the river assault penalties and wedge my units across the Our R. Meanwhile, I continued to press as well as I could with the relatively low quality units in the 7th army.
At this point, I decided to abandon the northward press and go across the middle and to the south. The 5th Pzr army could well have broken the stalemate in the north, but instead I threw the bulk of my forces to the south, against Bastogne in an attempt to seize that VP location. Turn 3 saw a successful combat in Wiltz that allowed me to exploit a breakthrough into Bastogne. In the north, a special action Fallschirmjäger drop in Hohes Venn managed to gain some ground and open a route to Vierviers. The grinding push also managed to capture Malmedy and saw the first German VPs of the game. Now, a substantial hole was open in the north, but the huge network of blown bridges and the lack of engineer assets to remedy this situation made it impossible for the fast moving panzers to take advantage of the gains. At least twice, units that were put in reserve were denied their exploitation moves by either failed battles or blown bridges.
The momentum in the middle carried into the 4th turn. Bastogne quickly fell and the 5th army continued to blow hole in the middle, more VPs and a big unit kill, thanks to a ton of assets thrown into the battle. As this point, there was nothing left between the Tigers and the French countryside. Bruce had some major re-org to do to hold his line which took a huge pressure off the north. Additionally, he did not draw the resources to allow his entering airborne divisions to move quickly to the front, so he had to again pull resources off the north (and south). The fading lines allowed the inept 7th army to occupy Luxembourg City and deny those VPs to the Allies. The 6th Pzr army was now making their drive to Vierviers, due to the arrival of some major reinforcements and the city was soon put in contest. However, as I mentioned, the Americans are very strong in the north and even two elite units were not enough to put even a dent in the defenses of Vierviers. Thus, turn 4 saw my first aborted attack.
The situation at the top of turn 5 did not look good for the Germans. Vierviers was simply not falling after the second battle. Bruce had reinforced his line substantially in the middle. I had thrown the bulk of my weight in the middle back north to drive against Marche. In that city lay my last hope to flip the VPs over to Axis for a minor victory. I put some units in reserve and went at LaRoche hard with some armor. Unfortunately, Bruce was able to blow the bridge and I had no chance of negating the river assault and getting exploitation (where is the Greif team when you really need them!?). So the game ended there with an Allied victory. Thin but intact, the American line had held.
It was an exciting contest and I was quite happy that the game was that close, given this was my first play of FAB:Bulge. I think that is a testament to the game design, if you can grasp the concepts well enough to put a reasonable effort forth in the very first game you play. I will certainly be playing this one more. Take home lessons: concentrate those valuable battle assets where they can do the best (an obvious suggestion, but it takes some thought). One key is to take advantage of exploitation at every turn. Look for battles that are easily won by overwhelming armor and punch through. My use of reserves was clumsy at best (inept, more likely), and I could have done much more damage through the few exploits that I did force by having some units to move through in reserve. Still, on more than one occasion I simply avoided Bruce's strongpoints and went past him, forcing him to give up ground and move entrenched units. Keeping the Americans off-balance in this manner is how the Germans did so well historically at the outset of the battle. I did not do nearly so well!