This is an account of my third playing of FAB:Bulge. Again, I am playing the Allies against Bruce Allen, but this time we are playing the full 9-turn campaign. For reference, it generated just over 100 game moves exchanged on cyberboard, which puts it as a pretty quick play, relatively speaking. Be warned, this will be a long and detailed session report, basically tracking almost every move of consequence. That may appeal to some, but not to others!
In my last session report, I turned in an atrocious performance as the Americans, so I was really looking to redeem myself here. Again, Bruce played a brilliant game, and his tactics were really effective, especially late game as you will see. In that report, I had praised the game balance, which I will continue to do. However, I did have one reply that the game was unbalanced towards the Allies. As we played to the end of the game (turns 6-9, when the Allies can make decent a comeback), I can really see where that impression was coming from. I would be tempted to say the same thing, as the Allies really have some overwhelming power at the end. However, I maintain that folks will ultimately see that playing the Germans is no easy task, but it can be done highly effectively once you learn how. I think an illustration of Bruce's tactics from my side of the board will demonstrate how the Germans can win in the face of these odds.
Turn 1: Dec. 16
The outset saw the typical push, but this time the American line held, giving way a little. Thin and brittle but intact, the line bent in the middle toward Bastogne, the Americans already thinking about that relatively safe haven.
Turn 2: Dec 17
Now the German push toward Bastogne became earnest, as they had achieved the far banks of the Our R. In the north, the 6th Pzr army had encountered a network of American field works, slowing them down effectively. The slow withdrawal opened up the possibility of an airdrop and the von der Heydte FallschirmJagr settled neatly down in Hohes Venn, ready to wreak havoc behind enemy lines. In the middle, the German spearhead had achieved their inevitable breakthrough and a clear path opened to Bastogne. Panzer Lehr division supported by the 2nd Pzr div. heaved their mighty bulk into the breach and drove for the town. The intense pressure prompted the Americans to abandon their objectives in the south and shore up the defenses across the middle. The 10th and 7th armor redeployed to the center, north of Bastogne, while the 4th army dug into the city itself, hoping to slow the rapid advance of the Tigers. The 1st Inf. was all that was left holding the crumbling south flank of the American line, just southwest of Bastogne.
Turn 3: Dec. 18
The appearance of the FallschirmJagr caused the Americans to drop back and engage, lest they be put OOS and suffer larger encirclement. Accordingly, the Americans dropped back to a line just SE of Verviers, where the 2nd Inf had dug in. The panzers rolled unimpeded through Lux. City and Arlon, and Bastogne was attacked. The brittle middle of the American line was shattered when the weak 112th Inf Reg. found themselves face-to-face with the tanks of the 116 Pzr Div, supported by the 26th Volksgrenadier Div. The 112th was forced to retreat by special action and the German armor easily won an exploitation. In Bastogne, the 4th Inf was expelled from the city by Pzr. Lehr with heavy losses and Malmedy was seized from the green 99th Inf by the 12th SS armored, supported by the 12th Volks. Div. However, the American 7th armor held ground, and the Americans attempted to re-establish a ragged line just west of Bastogne. These plans were dashed by the exploiting 116th Pzr Div., as they completed an encirclement of the 7th and 10th arm. north of Bastogne by swinging south and linking up with the Pzr Lehr Div. which was exploiting from Bastogne. Lehr succeeded in pursuing and utterly crushing the 4th Inf. The Americans were forced to withdraw even farther west, toward Marche, with the 7th and 10th armor attempting to escape through the gap in the encirclement. However, the 82nd had arrived on the scene in Marche, expecting the full weight of the rapidly advancing Lehr panzer group. With the demise of the 4th and the fall of the 4 victory locations, VP were all even at the end of Day 3... not good.
Turn 4: Dec. 19
The day began with the Americans in tenuous possession of Verviers, Werbomont and Marche, a situation which was sure not to last. However, here the rapid advance of the Germans would begin to slow down. The Americans had fortified positions in Marche and Werbomont with the 30th Inf., 101st and 82nd airborne, elite units all. They had formed a line just east of the Ourthe R. Marche was screened by the 1st Inf, and the 7th and 10th armor which had survived the encirclement attempt. The terrain on the road from Bastogne to Marche through Champlon is relatively inhospitable and easily defended. And blown bridges around Wellin and Rochefort also hindered movement. The Germans 1SS forced a river crossing into Werbomont, and was faced with a blown bridge. The attack was repulsed by the 30th and the 1SS retreated back across the river. The 26th VolksGrenadiers found the weak point in the line, the lowly 112th Reg. and attempted to open a gap at this weak point, but amazingly it held. The Germans were forced to probe toward the non-VP locations to attempt to dislodge the line, and a hole was present near Aywaille. The Americans shifted their line slightly north as the 7th redeployed just across the Ourthe from Aywaille in Esneux. The 10th armor was forced to retreat beyond the river into Rochefort to cover the gap left behind by the 7th.
This line would hold more or less for the next 3 turns, as the Germans and Americans stood toe-to-toe, slugging it out like a couple of punch-drunk heavyweight boxers.
Turn 5: Dec 20
As the day broke, Pzr. Lehr had regrouped and rolled into Marche, attacking the 82nd there. Meanwhile, the 12SS assaulted across the river into Esneux to try and dislodge the new line. But again a blown bridge jeopardized the action and they were repulsed back across the river with heavy losses. In Verviers, the 2nd Inf found themselves facing the 2nd SS, supported by the 12VG and Heydte FJ. With only the 9th Inf. as back-up, the 2nd was sure to lose the struggle and Verviers fell to the Axis. The 2nd fell back just NW of the city, and with the 1st Inf. just to the south this was not a bad position to be in. In Marche, the 82nd was taking a pounding from Pzr. Lehr, but held ground. But they needed some relief soon or it would be all over. The 10th armor moved out of their position which held the southern flank of the American line, but desperate times called for desperate measures and surely Marche would fall without support. The 1st SS regrouped from its loss in Werbomont and struck afresh in Manhay, easily dislodging the green unit there. They exploited south into Hotton, but to their dismay found the fresh troops of the 101st and were stopped in their tracks (literally!). In an attempt to secure the now non-existent southern flank, the Americans blew every single bridge over the Lesse R., south of Marche. Cracks were beginning to show in the American line, but still it held. VP now stood at German 2.
Turn 6: Dec. 21-22
As day dawned on Dec 21, the battle continued to rage in Marche, and a bloody one it was. The 18th VG which was called up to assist Pzr. Lehr was completely decimated. The Germans had taken this severe blow no doubt to get their turn to strike at the wavering 82nd and 10th armor, which were dangerously close to elimination, while Pzr. Lehr had suffered only minor losses. Across the middle, the 1st SS withdrew from Hotton, and allowed the 12th and 26th Volksgrenadiers to try their luck in dislodging the Screaming Eagles, but that was not to be. In the north, the 12th SS pushed against the 1st Inf, attempting to position themselves to cross the Meuse. Howeverm the 1st stood firm without a loss and the 12th SS suffered heavy losses, aborting their attack. Kampfgruppe Peiper had suffered a similar fate slightly farther north against the 2nd Inf. In Werbomont, the situation looked grim with the 30th Inf. facing the fresh troops of the 2nd SS and 10th Reserve, both elite armored units. The 30th Inf. was supported only by the green troops of the 106th. But by now the Allies had mustered their overwhelming air power which would soon make a serious difference in this conflict. The 106th was completely eliminated and the 30th was badly shot up, but Werbomont held just barely and with extremely heavy losses. The German armor had survived the fury from the skies with minor losses. Additionally, things had apparently not cooled down in Marche. During the breakthrough phase, the Germans would bring up the fresh 116th to replace the loss of 18th VG. Faced with these overwhelming odds, nearly broken and with no assets left, the Americans withdrew from Marche.
However, the Allies weren't finished yet and things were about to get wild. There was a small hole in the German front at Manhay, and the 3rd armor raced through. The badly damaged 10th armor also boldly moved forward across the blown bridges south of Marche in an attempt to close an encirclement of Marche. The newly arrived 3rd army in the south began its push against the German south flank, and Patton wouldn't take no for an answer. However, that breakout was indeed contained by the 212 VG, for now. I had also made a serious mistake with the 10th armor. Although it was in position to put Lehr OOS in Marche, it was itself OOS as I had not noticed! This was seriously bad! Thus, the 10th was eliminated. However, the units were indeed put OOS and the threat of putting a larger portion of the German line OOS would now have the intended effect of forcing a slow withdrawal of the German troops. The pendulum was beginning to swing back toward the Allies, but would it be soon enough?
German VP now stood at 6, just one VP short of an auto-victory.
Turn 7: Dec 22-23
The dawn saw a renewed assault on Werbomont. The 30th had rebuilt to full strength, and I used my special action to include the 7th armor against the 2nd SS, which was now joined by the 9th SS. Allied air was again called in and the attack was aborted due to the possibility of heavy losses. As predicted, the Germans had indeed withdrawn from the middle to cut off the American encircling maneuver. Ironically, a large bulge had formed in the center of their line! The attack was about all the Germans could muster for now as they scrambled to reform their line. The break was received gratefully by the exhausted American troops. But it wouldn't do to just sit back, being only 1 VP away from AV. The 3rd army continued its breakout against the German south flank, pushing toward Bastogne with the 4th armor leading the spearhead and driving the defenders across the Sure R. As the Germans gave way, the exploiting 4th armor veered south in Capellen to cut off the German detachment holding Arlon. They succeeded and drove the 212th into Lux. City. Meanwhile the 2nd armor had joined the 2nd Inf to drive Peiper back into Verviers. Peiper withdrew and the 2nd armor pursued. Unfortunately, they ran into the 3rd PanzerGrenadier in Verviers and were halted with the Germans still in possession of that city. The 101st mobilized from Hotton to drive against the southern portion of the bulge and further opened the middle as the German gave ground before them in Samree. The accompanying 3rd armor exploited out of Samree toward LaRoche in an attempt to complete the encirclement of PZr Lehr in Marche. Luck was with them as they found the green troops of the 62nd VG there, which they overran. Lehr was OOS with only a narrow route of escape. The Americans were back, but the VP count had not moved.
Turn 8: Dec 24-25 (chaos erupts)
This morning saw the Bodenplatte arrive to harass the assembling American air force. Incredibly, this single event resulted in the entire air asset collection aborting (4 assets lost!!) The Allies would fight this turn without most of the air assets they so desperately need.
However, the surprises for this turn were just beginning.
In Arlon, the encircled and OOS 276th VG and 352nd VG, both green units, did something unexpected. They turned and attacked the exploiting armor in Capellen! Of course they could not conduct offensive ground fire or get any assets either, but they were running the gauntlet nonetheless. Lehr was finally convinced to abandon his untenable position in Marche (or so I thought) as the entire south flank of the German line pulled back to Bastogne to intercept the flood of 3rd army units entering the south board edge. However, he could only get one of his units across the blown bridge this turn (which I assumed was Lehr himself). Then, in another surprise move, the 9th SS drove out of Werbomont all the way across the Meuse into Amay, surprising the still organizing Brits there!
"I say old bean, is that Gerry over there on the bridge? Do be a rock and go give us a look-see, won't you old chap? There's a good fellow!"
To add injury to insult, the 9th and 12th SS then conducted a forced breakthrough move to the neighboring VP of Liege and attacked the lone British 51st Inf there, but luckily (for the Brits) the 12th SS was denied their move by a blown bridge on the Meuse. Arty support helped keep the armor pinned as the staunch Brits took only minor losses (bally nuisance!) However, VP was now at German 8!!
The Allies needed to do something badly, and quick! And I had better draw some air assets as I had none courtesy of the Bodenplatte. Luckily, 2 did come and it would have to serve, I reinforced the battle in Liege with the 43rd Inf and some armor assets, moving the unit through Amay so as to get those VP back (whew!) Luckily, Bruce was not able to place enough units across the Meuse to hold both locations. If he had, the game would have been over at this point. The air was allocated in Verviers, which now must be liberated at all costs. I brought the elite 2nd Inf in and allocated arty. The 80th Inf. was sent in with the other air asset to open a path to Bastogne through Martelange, which was now only weakly guarded, however I had no armor in the vicinity with which to exploit should that hole open (thanks to the 2 VG units which were pinning them down in Capellen at the moment). Combat went reasonably well. The Brits did manage to convince the 9th SS to leave Liege. The battle in Verviers was short and bloody. Peiper was eliminated and the supporting 3rd PzG were badly shot up and driven from Verviers. Meanwhile, the 7th armor were trying to open a hole to the eastern board edge in Weiswampach, but faced the 15th PzG Div. and were stopped. In Marche, the 101st and 84th Inf. found to their dismay that they were indeed still facing a full strength Pzr Lehr, who would not be dissuaded from his occupation of the city. The escaping 26th VG were being pursued by the 82nd and 3rd armor, the terrain saving that unit from elimination. South of Bastogne, the 80th succeeded in driving the green 79th VG back into the city and opening a path. The green units in Capellen were being hammered by American armor, and were eliminated. However, they did their job of occupying what was my only real exploiting force in the south.
It was time for a forced breakthrough move. The irascible panzers in the north were a serious hamper on my actions. Now that I held Verviers, the 2nd armor was sent to do some of its own chaos-sowing. It exploited to Hohes Venn, which would effectively cut the supply for most of the 7 units which were in zone 6. I feel like this was important, rather than go for a single unit kill, as it hampered what the Germans would be able to do the last day of this engagement. Plus, it put him adjacent to Malmedy, which was currently unoccupied (so close!!) But in retrospect, this may have been another game-losing mistake, as I could have had the same result by pursuing the fleeing 3rd PzG and eliminating it, giving me one extra VP and still putting me adjacent to Malmedy. It is so difficult to say, because of course it may have let Bruce bring other units in which would have more safely secured Malmedy than the 3rd PzG (now at one step), and the outcome of that contest would be far from certain. At any rate, VP now stood at German 3. Thus ended Christmas Day, with few presents for the Allies.
Turn 9: Dec 26-27
The 2nd armor was engaged in a desperate move by the 246 VG, which was unable to convince the armor to stop its drive on Malmedy, but the 2nd armor was not able to eliminate the unit. However, the resulting pullback to Malmedy did get much of the German line back in supply and ready for the final American onslaught. It was hold or die this turn. As such, the German moved their best units into VP locations and waited.
The Americans came on as hard as they could. The 80th was joined by the 26th Inf in Bastogne for the showdown there. In Fleron, the 1st Inf hoped for a kill which would not come, while the 2nd Inf again joined the 2nd armor to clear the 246th VG away and head to Malmedy. The survival of the 246th was crucial for the Germans, as it kept the 2nd Inf out of Malmedy as we will see and really decided that battle. The 101st and 84th now found themselves faced with not only Lehr, but the 9th Pzr Div., and there Pzr. Lehr would remain. (Where were these Germans coming from? It was not worth fighting in Marche, as there was now no way of eliminating both those units without sucking every resource away from other battles). In the south, the armor continued its drive to the only prize in reach, Luxembourg City.
Thus the Allies had moved as far as they could this turn. The result? The 212th were driven out of Lux. City (lest they be eliminated for VP), and 246th VG was overrun in Hohes Venn, with the 2nd armor exploiting into Malmedy for a final showdown there against the badly decimated 3rd PzG and the 3rd Fallschirmjagr. In Bastogen, the 5th FJ and the green 79th VG miraculously stood against the two large infantry divisions assaulting it, even with air support. The VP stood now at German 2.
In the final breakthrough phase, the 6th armor had exploited north into Mersch looking desperately for a kill which they would not get, while I spent an action to force another combat in Bastogne against the wavering Fallschirmjagr. However, they survived the final onslaught (by one step!) In Malmedy, more air was dispatched to support the 2nd armor, however they were damaged in the ensuing battle and lost a critical combat strength point, thus lowering their odds. The 3rd PzG was eliminated in the ensuing battle for 1 more VP, but the 3rd FJ stood. As the sun set on Dec. 27th, Malmedy would remain in German control.
Game end. VP: 1 Germany
The situation of the Allies in turn 8 really decided the fate of this game. The Germans were now deep behind enemy lines with units in 3 key VPs and the German VP total at 8(!) I really needed to get back some VP by the end of my turn or pack it in, yet I had to deal with the chaos behind my lines. My downfall there was that I did not expect the cornered beast to turn on his attacker, and thus I was caught unawares. And as it turned out, my oversight with the 10th armor and its elimination really cost me a draw in this contest. From the German side, the push in turn 8 was not so much to achieve any VP, but it very effectively slowed me down and made it very difficult to bring the game back to even a draw. I had 8 VP to overcome, and while it was true that much of that was weakly defended (or not at all in some cases), that was a lot of ground to cover and not much time to do it in. Nicely played, Bruce! It was a great strategy, push just hard enough without straining your forces to the breaking point so that the Allies can't come back. A nice balancing act in itself.
So I still believe this game is really well balanced. This razor-thin contest could have gone either way on dice rolls any number of times, which really increases the tension. It pretty much came down to the last die roll, and you can't ask for more balance than that. And given the number of optional rules and the bidding system, I believe that the balance is extremely tweakable, to account for the experience level of either player. My regard for this game is growing!
Jeff, what a gripping AAR! Thank you!!
Great write up Jeff.
I've only played the game once so far, tournament scenario face to face, but I find myself thinking about the game a lot since then. A sign of a good game.