I’ve been keeping my eye on this one over the past few months once I saw a draft cover on the Canvas Temple Publishing Facebook page. I’ve done multiple interviews with the designer Ty Bomba and he is always willing to work with us, and more importantly, is very prolific and answers our queries quickly. Here are some links to our previous interviews with him (I haven’t listed all of them but simply given you the 5 most recent):

The Revelation War: The Coming War for the Middle East

Stalin’s World War III

Stalin’s Final War: What If the Soviet Union Attacked in 1953?

America Falling: The Coming Civil War

Case Geld: The Axis Invasion of North America, 1945-1946

Watch on the Rhine: The Siegfried Line Campaign, 1944-45 is a very interesting looking game as it basically covers some of the last action outside of the infamous Battle of the Bulge in Europe during World War II.

Grant: What historical campaign does Watch on the Rhine cover?

Ty: The campaign in northwest Europe from September 1944 through the Allied breakthrough on the Rhine the following spring. The exact end date can vary by a month based on whether Hitler decides to launch the historic “Watch on the Rhine” counteroffensive or send those forces east to launch a “Watch on the Oder” counteroffensive against the Soviets.

Grant: What was the reason you wanted to design a game on this campaign?

Ty: During the past few years I read two excellent new books analyzing this campaign – one from the German point of view and one from the Allied point of view (pictured) – which reignited my interest in it.

Grant: As it was the last campaign on the Western front of the European Theater what did you want to make sure to highlight in the design from the history of this event?

Ty: The problems of the lack of Allied unity of command, and initially also their logistics, were paramount. I wanted to highlight those things, though, in ways that weren’t mechanically burdensome to the players, but that instead were modeled into the overall functioning of their forces in the game.

Grant: What scale does the game use for hexes and units? What challenges did this scale present for you to overcome?

Ty: The hex-scale is 10 miles, and the units of maneuver are primarily divisions along with separate brigades and regiments, plus the two corps-sized formations of the airdropped First Allied Paratroop Army. There were no special problems presented to me by those factors: 10 to 20 miles per hex using primarily divisions is pretty much my favorite place to work.

Grant: What different Allied Army Groups are represented in the game? What German Groups? 

Ty: The Allies have two main army “groupings,” that of the UK and that of the US (with the French as a subsidiary of the latter). The Germans aren’t divided in that way.

Grant: Why did you decide to keep the German Units Group Less?

Ty: The main conclusion offered by Adams in his book was that it was, above all else, the inefficiency in regard to lack of unity of command that slowed the overall Allied effort just enough to allow the Germans to avoid complete collapse of their front that autumn. That kind of thing has generally been inescapable in Allied forces throughout history, and it certainly wasn’t a new feature of World War II. For example, Napoleon once said: “It is easier to make war on allies than it is to make war with allies.” On the other side, the Germans suffered from none of that.

Grant: What is special about setup? What is the significance of the Full Supply North and Full Supply South markers and how are they placed? Why is this the case?

Ty: The set up is based on what the Allied high command knew – as shown on their daily situation maps from that time (all available on the Library of Congress website) – about the structure of the German order of battle and the locations of those units. So, the many German units the Allies didn’t have on their maps are given pretty much free reign to be set up anywhere behind the German front by that player. The Allied supply situation – prior to their capture and opening of the port of Antwerp – is such that they can get what might be termed “full offensive supply” to only one of their two army groups. That player can switch that from turn to turn, thanks to the historic availability of so many US trucks and Allied transport aircraft, but he can’t escape having to set that priority. In turn, that allows the German player to concentrate his combat power to try to thwart the fully supported Allied army group.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters? Can you show us a few examples?

Ty: The counters are organized in the standard way. The publisher has chosen to visually differentiate the tank units of both sides using icons rather than NATO symbols. Both types of symbology will be made more visually striking by the fact they’re extra-large ¾” counters. We should have the final counter-manifest soon as Jon Compton is working to finish that up now in order to get it on the KickStarter page. For now here is what we have.

Grant: What are the 1AAA Units unique rules?

Ty: The Allied paratroop units are the ‘exceptional’ ones in the game. They can be used separately as regular line infantry within their own army groups, or they can be consolidated into two internationally organized corps for airdropping as “First Allied Airborne Army,” which, in turn, aren’t bound by any of the army group nationality limitations.

Grant: I notice there are multiple Victory conditions for both sides. Why did you feel it important to include so many different iterations?

Ty: I try to write my “vics” so as to – as much as possible, given the inescapable reality of historical hindsight among the players – recreate the psychology of the historic commanders. I want the players to be worrying about the things their historic counterparts were concerned with at the time.

Grant: I’m interested in the inclusion of the Furor’s choice to launch Operation Watch on the Rhine. How does this work and why is it important for the German player? What is the major advantage?

Ty: Adams points out in his book the image that got him to write it was one of US tanks rampaging out of the Normandy bridgehead to wreck an entire German army group at the end of July, and then comparing that to a photo of Tiger tanks attacking into the Ardennes less than half a year later. How did you get from that first image – one of total German defeat – to the second one – where they’re again on the strategic offensive? Short answer: the Allies were taken by surprise in regard to Hitler’s willingness to expend the last of his empire’s strategic reserves in order to gain that reversal. Again, I can’t recreate that total surprise in Allied commanders in the game due to historical hindsight – but I can build in a mechanism that simulates the operational effects of Hitler’s east/west strategy choice when it’s made known (by random die roll).

Grant: When is the decision to launch Operation Watch on the Rhine the most optimal? Why is this the case?

Ty: According to Ludwig in his Ruckzug book, Hitler was looking for the opportunity to counterattack (again) from the moment he authorized the withdrawal from Mortain. He kept that largely a secret, though, from the commanders at the front. So, again, in an effort to defeat the spoiler effect of historical hindsight, the German player doesn’t get to know Hitler’s decision until the time the frontline commanders did historically.

Grant: What German Units become available at the declaration and what type and quality are these units? Are they strong enough to make a difference for the German player?

Ty: If Hitler decides on the west front counteroffensive, all the units (new and reclaimed from the dead pile) which where historically committed to the Ardennes and Alsace are made available to the German player. So it amounts to one ‘fat’ panzer army of about 20 division-equivalents. At the same time, though, the German player is then burdened with having to meet a new offensive requirement in terms of regaining control of some Allied territory. In other words, he’s at least got to match the performance, in regard to temporary territorial reconquest, which the Germans achieved historically. If he fails at that, the game ends in the Allied victory at that time.

Grant: Why is there a mandatory withdrawal for the Germans after the declaration? What was the intent with this rule?

Ty: Once the Watch on the Rhine offensive is over – and assuming the German survives the offensive victory check at its end mentioned above – the units historically sent east to try to help stem the Soviet offensive into Poland have to make that same transfer.

Grant: What is the Turn Sequence?

Ty: It has two structures, depending whether Watch on the Rhine is activated. Below is the outline for both. Operatively, that means if Watch on the Rhine is a go, the German commander will have his player turn come at the end of Turn 6 followed immediately by his Turn 7 player turn. It gives him a double-punch, so to speak.

Initial Game Turn Sequence Outline

I. Allied Player Turn

A. Allied Supply Sector Allocation Phase*

B. 1AAA Entry Phase**

C. Allied Reinforcement & Replacement Phase

D. Allied Movement or Combat Phase

E. Allied Combat or Movement Phase

II. German Player Turn

A. German Reinforcement & Withdrawal Phase

B. German Movement or Combat Phase

C. German Combat or Movement Phase

D. Watch on the Rhine Determination Phase***

III. Terminal Logistics Phases

A. German Terminal Supply Check Phase

B. Allied Terminal Supply Check Phase

*Permanently omitted once Antwerp is up and running.

**This phase will occur no more than once during all the 1944 game turns.

***Only on Turn 6. If Operation Watch on the Rhine is launched, starting on Turn 7 and for the rest of the game, switch the order of the two opposing players’ turns, so the phase sequence then looks like this.

Post Watch on the Rhine Declaration Game Turn Sequence Outline

I. German Player Turn

A. German Reinforcement & Withdrawal Phase

B. German Movement or Combat Phase

C. German Combat or Movement Phase

II. Allied Player Turn

A. 1AAA Entry Phase*

B. Allied Reinforcement & Replacement Phase

C. Allied Movement or Combat Phase

D. Allied Combat or Movement Phase

III. Terminal Logistics Phases

A. German Terminal Supply Check Phase

B. Allied Terminal Supply Check Phase

*This phase will occur no more than once during all 1945 game turns.

Grant: What unique rules are included during Game Turn 1 and why is this the case?

Ty: They’re as follows, and are meant to model the disorganization inherent in German logistics and overall operations in the immediate aftermath of their collapse in France.

Game Turn 1 Unique Rules. During the first game turn, all four of the following unique rules apply.

1. German units may not use column movement.

2. All German attacks suffer a one-left column shift in addition to all other applicable shifts.

3. West Wall hexes provide no defensive column shift, but they still do block probing attacks and they also function to allow for German reinforcement arrival placement.

4. All German Fifteenth Army (15A) units are automatically in supply while in any of the “A” hexes marked on the map. Further, they may also move into  coastal polder hexes, and cross East and West Scheldt Estuary hexsides, as if they were clear terrain.

Grant: What are the two German auto supplied units and what was the historical situation with them?

Ty: The German player has garrison units on Walcheren, at the mouth of Scheldt, and another at Ostend. The latter had a squadron of E-boats that could interfere with traffic on that key river, and the former could do the same with artillery. They weren’t strong units in the conventional sense, but they did have a pile of supplies with them. So the Allied player has to be motivated to send forces to eliminate them – despite the fact they’re both otherwise off the main axis of advance – just as was done historically. The Metz fortress city also has auto supply for whatever German units end up defending it, which works neatly to give it the same stubborn staying power it demonstrated historically against Patton’s attempts to take it on the run.

Grant: What is the reason for Antwerp becoming an Allied Supply source if Allied controlled? How does this change things for the Allies?

Ty: Antwerp was the largest port in that part of the world. It’s docking, cargo handling, and railroad facilities were enough that, once the port and the access estuary were securely in Allied hands, all their supply problems were solved (at least at the strategic level).

Grant: How are Allies Aerial Supply markers used?

Ty: They can keep up to two stacks supplied anywhere on the map; however, if the 1AAA corps are in play, the markers are thereby tied up keeping those paratroopers supplied.

Grant: What is the Roer River Flood rule and what does it represent from history?

Ty: It’s not decisive in itself but, just as occurred historically, if the German player opens the dam across this otherwise minor river, the resulting flood slows movement across that whole (five hex long) valley.

Grant: How does combat work? 

Ty: Nothing too radical. For both sides it’s voluntary to attack and concentricity is available, as are momentum and probing attacks. The former allows a victorious attack force that’s advancing into the vacated hex of the enemy force that just unsuccessfully defended against its initial attack to attack again immediately from there. Probing attacks allow you to ‘attack’ into a hex that, though empty of actual enemy units, contains an enemy zone of control. That works to keep players from continually seeking to set up an artificial occupy-a-hex-skip-a-hex kind of front line.

Grant: What is the makeup of the CRT?

Ty: Of all my understandings in regard to wargame design technique, my understanding of combat results tables is the least ‘scientific.’ I start by picking one from another game of similar scale to the project on which I’m presently working, and then adapt it as necessary, as demonstrated by playtesting, in order to get the most historic overall flow and loss rate for combat throughout the game being designed.

Grant: What are the possible results from the CRT?

Ty: The results are Attacker Lose 1 (step), Attack Stalled (nothing happens), BB (even up step-exchanges of variable size, depending on how badly the defender wants to hold, or the attacker wants to take, the hex in question), Defender Retreat (one hex) and Defender Eliminated.

Grant: How does terrain effect the CRT?

Ty: The usual: the further away you get from “clear,” the more the power of the defense is enhanced.

Grant: What is special about Polder & Hell’s Highway hexes for the Germans? Why is this the case?

Ty: That was the area, and that was the nickname given to the road, across which Montgomery hoped to win the war via Operation Market-Garden. Typically, Allied players in the game instinctively seem to want to avoid trying to duplicate that effort, but it’s there if they do want to try to give it a shot.

Grant: How is Allied Heavy Bomber Support used?

Ty: I found a detailed statistical study of the success rates (in terms of delivering added combat power to Allied attacks) throughout this campaign. So my formula (die rolls varied based on the chosen phase sequence) matches those broad outcomes.

Grant: Who is the map artist? Are you pleased with the final map? Why?

Ty: Paul Stuhlfaut is the map artist, and I’m happy with his work. His terrain representations are clear and unambiguous, while at the same time delivering an authentic ‘period feel’ (referring back to the Allied supreme headquarters source maps I mentioned above).

Grant: What are you most pleased with about the design?

Ty: Though this campaign has often been modeled before, I feel this system, combined with this kind of extra-large-hex-and-counter physical presentation, will make for an informative and entertaining simulation. I’m also hoping the stretch goals are reached on Kickstarter: a short “Bulge” scenario beginning on 16 December, a what-if 1936 Rhineland Crisis War, a what-if 1938 Czech Crisis War (with an added ‘East Front’ map of that country), and a prequel Operation Cobra game that will add another mapsheet onto this base-game’s northwest quadrant and set the start date back to late July.

Grant: What is the schedule for the Kickstarter campaign? When do you expect fulfillment?

Ty: Jon Compton tells me he hopes to have it up by the end of this month (June 2019), which should see the whole thing start down the production pathway in August.

Thanks for your time in doing another interview with us Ty. I’m looking forward to seeing this final product as it seems to be very interesting and in seeing what other surprises you have up your sleeve with other designs.

I will edit this post by including a link to the Kickstarter page once it is available so check back.

-Grant