We got wind of this upcoming game through the monthly email update from Worthington Publishing and decided to reach out to the designer to see if we could get more information on the game. 1944 Battle of the Bulge is a low to medium complexity game on the historic and often gamed Battle of the Bulge. The game comes with large game counters, a large mounted map board, player aid, rules, counter tray and dice. The game uses concepts from the Holdfast Series but is modified for the use of counters as units and plays in under 2 hours.
If you are interested in the Kickstarter campaign you can visit the preview page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1040417273/960570314?ref=9lmtu1&token=f34e26a1
Grant: First off Dan please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Dan: I recently retired from a 30-year career in the Army and reserves (serving in Germany, Korea, Colombia, Haiti, Bosnia and Iraq) and 25 years (overlapping) in the civil service. I have been training to be a docent at the soon to open National Museum of the US Army, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. My main hobby, since I was a teenager, is historical research, and I have written over a dozen military history articles in Campaign, Command, Military History and International Journal of Intelligence magazines. I now direct my research primarily to wargame design.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Dan: I designed Tyrant (a Great Battles of Alexander Module-2003) and Barbarian (an SPQR Module-2008) as well as over 40 articles in C3i magazine with scenarios for the Great Battles of History Series, Pax Romana and Commands & Colors: Ancients. With limited time while I was working, I found it easier to design scenarios for existing games, rather than design one from scratch. As a retiree, I wanted to take the next step and design complete games. It has been very enjoyable seeing a game come together, as problems are resolved one after another.
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Dan: Looking at my bookshelves, I have a lot of games by Richard Berg, Mark Herman, Richard Borg, Mark Simonitch, Carl Paradis, John Edwards, John Butterfield and Grant and Mike Wylie. For this particular game, I am indebted to the designers of previous division level Bulge games: S. Craig Taylor, James F. Dunnigan, Ty Bomba, Brian Train and Danny Holte.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process?
Dan: The biggest difficulty for me in design is balance. I don’t mean play balance, though that is very important. For me a game is about teaching history in a fun and exciting way. So, when I have done extensive research, I feel compelled to get all that information into the game—order of battle, leadership, geography and all aspects of military operation in the period. The countervailing force is to keep the game fun and simple to play. Balancing those two imperatives is a struggle.
Grant: What caused you to want to design a game around the Battle of the Bulge in World War II?
Dan: This is your easiest question, and it comes down to interest and opportunity. My father was a paratrooper in World War II, and his most compelling war stories all came from the Battle of the Bulge. The 1965 Avalon Hill The Battle of the Bulge was my first (and for a long time only) wargame. I must have played it over a hundred times. This game spurred my interest in the US Army’s greatest battle, and I have been reading about and studying it ever since. In 1983, I was able to visit the Ardennes while stationed in Berlin, and walked and drove through as many of the key battle sites as I could. Twenty years or so later I began playing the Holdfast Series games (Eastfront, Korea, North Africa and Tunisia) and it struck me that this would be an ideal system for a Bulge game. After vainly waiting for Worthington to do the obvious and publish a Bulge game, I received their December 2019 newsletter with a call for new game designs. So, I proposed a Bulge game using the Holdfast System.
Grant: Don’t we have enough games on the subject? What do you feel your take on the subject brings to the discussion?
Dan: My first answer is there can never be too many games on the US Army’s greatest battle, but it’s a fair question. There are over fifty Bulge games out there already, mostly at the regiment level, but only a handful of division level games. I own over a dozen, and particularly admire Bitter Woods, Ardennes ’44 and Enemy Action: Ardennes. This game will not compete with those classic, detailed treatments of the battle. My intent with 1944 Battle of the Bulge is to provide a simple, fast playing division level game that captures the essence of this famous battle. A game with clean mechanics and a manageable number of units that can be played in a few hours. I think it is a game that should appeal to grognards looking for a light take on a familiar subject, as well as novices to the hobby.
Grant: What from the history did you want to model in the game?
Dan: Of course, order of battle and geography are paramount. The German player will quickly see that he has a mix of powerful, mobile Panzer divisions and weak, slow infantry formations. The Allied player has mostly veteran, robust infantry, and a few armor and elite airborne divisions. The many rivers, limited road net and rough and forested terrain dictate the possible courses of the battle. Holdfast does an excellent job of portraying the tyranny of logistics and friction of war as an integral part of the game system, without burdening the player with multiple rules sub-systems. Finally, I had to include colorful units like von der Heydte’s paratroopers, Skorzeny’s Panzer brigade disguised as American GI’s, and the elite American airborne units.
Grant: I understand the game started out as a block wargame but now uses counters. Why did you change the format?
Dan: I designed the game to use the Holdfast System, which at the time used blocks. During development Worthington decided to transition the system to counters, and it was not difficult to make the change. Fog of War will be maintained with unidentified counters on units not in contact, and the counters allow for more subtle differentiation in unit values.
Grant: What is the scale used in the design? How does scale effect your approach to the game?
Dan: It is division level with about 10 kilometers/6 miles per hex. In order to have a Bulge game that plays in about 2 hours, this is the most practical scale. Most people with a passing knowledge of this battle are familiar with some of the famous divisions, and many US veterans have served in the modern versions of these units (for example, I served in both the 2nd and 9th Infantry Divisions that earlier fought in the Bulge). This allows the historical narrative to unfold—you can see in the game, for example “the 1st SS Panzer Division being held up at the Ambleve River by the defensive stand of the 82nd Airborne Division.”
Grant: What is the anatomy of the counters?
Dan: Holdfast uses a step system, so a division of 4 steps is portrayed by 2 counters, front and back. The units have standard military symbology, and 4 values—steps, dice rolled in combat, movement points and the “to-hit” number (the value that must be rolled on a die to score a hit against this unit).
Grant: I understand that the Manteuffel and Patton leaders add benefits to the units they are placed with. What benefits do they grant?
Dan: Manteuffel and Patton were selected as they were the two most dynamic army commanders in this battle. Dietrich, Brandenberger and Hodges were far less effective. The two leaders provide an extra die in the attack and an extra movement point to one unit of their army each turn. This simulates not only the effect of their leadership, but also the diversion of additional fuel, ammo and fire support to the selected unit.
Grant: As we all know weather affected this battle significantly. How did you deal with weather in the design? Is there an option for random weather?
Dan: The base game uses historical weather—either overcast, mist or clear. The main affect is on the amount of Allied airpower available, while the logistical effect on the Germans is built into the Resource Point (RP) system. There is also an optional Variable Weather rule. A die is rolled to determine the weather for the turn and its effect on available Allied air units and German RP’s.
Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?
Dan: The sequence is very simple, as movement and combat are extremely fluid in Holdfast.
- German player places reinforcements and refits units.
- German player activates units for movement and combat.
- Allied player places reinforcements and refits units.
- Allied player activates units for movement and combat.
Grant: What are Resource Points and how do players use them?
Dan: Resource Points (RPs) are the driving mechanism of the Holdfast System. RP’s represent the logistics and command emphasis necessary to get things done in a military operation. One thing I never liked about traditional hex and counter games is that every unit can usually move and attack every turn. My experience in exercises like Team Spirit ’86, ’87 and ’88 in Korea (the largest exercise in the free world with two corps (six divisions) in action) was that Clausewitz’s friction of war must be taken into account. Every unit cannot move and attack every day! The RP system forces the player to make tough decisions. RP’s are used to refit, move units and launch attacks, but there are never enough RP’s to do all three. Another feature, which I thought particularly suited to the Bulge, was that movement and combat are free-flowing. A unit can move and then attack, or attack and then move, or move or attack, or do nothing. The player is forced to make decisions and prioritize his effort as each RP is expended. Breakthroughs are possible without any additional rules or phases, but the cost of a big effort in one sector is inactivity in another. Finally, the German and Allied logistical situations are replicated without complex supply rules—it is inherent in the Holdfast RP system.
Grant: What does the refit of different units cost?
Dan: 1944 Battle of the Bulge departs from the earlier Holdfast games in one key aspect—time frame. Earlier games had monthly or two week turns, but Bulge has daily turns. So, what were called “replacements” in earlier games (replacing multiple SP’s or re-constituting entire units) is far more limited. Units that are in supply in Bulge can “refit” a maximum of one SP per turn—this reflects re-grouping scattered men and receiving additional supplies, rather than replacements arriving from the rear. The cost is one RP per SP for infantry, but two RP’s to refit one armor SP.
Grant: I know that traffic jams were a major problem in this battle. How did you reflect this challenge in the design?
Dan: Traffic jams are portrayed simply in the Terrain Effects Chart without the need for additional markers or rules. It normally costs ½ MP for armor to traverse a road hex, and 1/3 MP for motorized infantry. However, if the road hex is occupied by a friendly unit, it costs a full movement point.
Grant: How did you deal with fuel shortages? How important is this to your design?
Dan: Fuel shortages are handled by the RP system. This is crucial to the design, and flow of the game. As the game progresses, the German player receives additional divisions as reinforcements. However, beginning on Turn 5 (20 Dec) the German RP level begins to decline. So, the German player is racing the clock, to achieve his objectives before he is constrained by decreasing logistical support (RP’s). There is also an optional German Fuel Shortage rule.
Grant: How does combat work?
Dan: In the Holdfast System, one RP is expended to attack the unit in a target hex. Combat is simultaneous so both players roll for attack and defense at the same time. The attacker totals the number of dice to roll for the attacking units, and modifies that total by any terrain and supply. The defender then adds any terrain modifiers to his defending unit’s dice and reduces dice if out of supply. The players roll their attack and defense dice. A hit is scored on opposing units for each number that is rolled that corresponds to an opposing unit’s hit number. Hits are applied simultaneously. It is a simple, fast process without the need for CRT’s or complex calculations.
Grant: How are air and artillery units used?
Dan: Artillery units provide an additional die in combat. Each of the three German and two US armies have an artillery unit. German artillery units are only available the first three turns, while US artillery arrive as reinforcements. Only the Allies have air units. Each air unit provides one die in combat, and one is added to the result rolled (this reflects the ability of aircraft to target armor in particular).
Grant: What are the effects to units of being out of supply?
Dan: Being out of supply reduces a unit’s combat and movement capability. Infantry lose one die rolled in combat and one Movement Point (MP). Armor lose two dice and three MP’s. As a special ability, the elite US airborne units are not affected when out of supply.
Grant: What special units are included in the design?
Dan: In addition to the US airborne units mentioned above, there are three special German units. Kampfgruppe von der Heydte is a parachute unit that may be dropped behind Allied lines on Turn 2 (17 Dec). The 150th SS Panzer Brigade (with American uniforms and vehicles) can attempt to infiltrate enemy zones of control and cross bridges. It loses this ability if its infiltration fails, or it engages in combat. Finally, the 1st SS Panzer Division is an over-strength armor unit with six steps (no other division has more than four steps).
Grant: How do players win the game?
Dan: The German player may win a sudden death victory if he can cross the Meuse River and exit a Panzer Division off the northwest map edge by Turn 6 (21 Dec). If the Allied player prevents a German sudden death victory, the game continues to Turn 10 (25 Dec) and victory is determined by how many key towns the Germans control at the end of the game. This sets up Allied counter-attacks and battles for towns like Bastogne in the final phase of the game.
Grant: What are variable objectives and how do they work?
Dan: The three variable German objectives include Autumn Mist (standard victory conditions), Plan Martin (a “small solution” plan) and Spoiling Attack (victory based on attrition—units eliminated). Before the game begins, the German player selects, or randomly draws, one of the three objectives without revealing it to the Allied player until the game is finished. This creates a great deal of realistic uncertainty for the Allied player, and provides great re-playability.
Grant: What scenarios are included?
Dan: There are two scenarios: the standard game and the variable objective game.
Grant: What changes have you made to the design through play testing? Please give a few specific answers.
Dan: One example is traffic jams. We tried a few options to simulate traffic jams until John Katz, one of my play-testers, came up with the idea to add “friendly occupied road hex” to the terrain effects chart. This gave the desired effect without the need for a special rule or counters.
Another example was army integrity. We tested a number of rules to simulate the difficulty of inter-army coordination. We came up with one simple change—it costs one RP for units of a single army to make an attack, but it costs two RP’s for units of two or more armies to make an attack. Players will naturally keep their armies together to avoid the extra cost, without the need for HQ units with ranges to count, boundaries on the map or special rules.
Grant: What was the most challenging part of the design? Did you get it right?
Dan: Play balance was the most difficult design challenge. I wanted a game in which the Germans had a chance to cross the Meuse, but at the same time achieving this is difficult and unlikely, as it was historically. Fortunately, as all the other aspects of the game became firm, it became a matter of adjusting RP levels to achieve this desired end-state. A German sudden death victory occurred about once in every 6-8 games in play-testing, which made it possible just often enough to be worth trying every time.
Grant: What is next for you?
Dan: I am working on my next article and scenario for SPQR to be published in C3i Magazine. I also have a WW2 paratrooper game about to be announced. Next, I have a game on the Athenian siege of Syracuse and another on the Second Punic War in development. Finally, as a prequel to 1944 Battle of the Bulge, I have started work on a Holdfast version of the campaign from D-Day to the Rhine.
Thank you so much for your time in answering our questions Dan. It was very nice to hear your experiences with your scenario building and how that has now led you to full game design. I look forward to this game and like you feel like there are not enough games on the Battle of the Bulge.
If you are interested in 1944 Battle of the Bulge, you can follow this link to check out the Kickstarter preview page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1040417273/960570314?ref=9lmtu1&token=f34e26a1
The campaign is tentatively set to launch on Saturday, June 27th. If successful, fulfillment is estimated to be December 2020.
A quick playing Division-level game on the Bulge could be welcome – although I do like Winter Thunder.
It looks like neither the Dice nor To-Hit numbers change with casualties, that seems like a missed opportunity.
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Great interview -thanks for doing this! My question to the designer is ‘was the switch from blocks to counters a cost-saving decision?’
I have other games with the two sets of counters and they’re a pain to keep paired up. Plus, fog of war (confusion + lack of intel) was part of the Allies problem/ Axis advantage at the beginning of the battle. I would really pay extra for blocks – or blocks & counters, like the recent Stalingrad game.
The ultimate operational Bulge game was already made a couple of years ago: Enemy Action – Ardennes.
No other wargame offers this kind of overview of military structural operations with hidden movement, unexpected road blocks, last minute reinforcements and unpredictable events in both command chains as in battle resolutions than that one.
Actually I have never seen a wargame system where the military hierachical structure was so well implemented and offered both challenge and logic to its (solo) players. Instead of putting artificial hurdles under the feet of its players – like wonky Fields of Fire – Enemy Action Ardennes offers the players actual insight into the military structure of such operations.
The fact EA:A is even diceless in combat AND offers a great AI structure for both armies is just icing to the story telling of the cake.
It is a shame EA:A NEVER got any decent attention from this site. Just like the SOLO expansion of Conflict of Heroes. Both games are nonetheless extremely highly regarded on the BGG rating systems with ratings of 8.7 and 8.5 respectively No easy feat in times of euro wargames that offer hardly any decent simulation value.
Rather than having an ever increase avalanche of recently mediocre euro wargame products of modest designers I think one should promote the few rare treasures this decreasing sector of the boardgame industry still has.
It is your task to educate, not promote games which will hardly have the life expectancy of a one day wonder.
Hi Ben. I would love to play Enemy Action Ardennes. The problem is the price. It is $140 last time I checked. We aren’t rich and can’t buy every game. And just because we haven’t covered a game doesn’t mean they aren’t good. We can’t play everything. Thanks for reading though.
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Thanks for this interview on an interesting design!
I’ll admit I had not taken the time to learn about the Holdfast system until now, so thank you for the explanation.
Winter Thunder’s first iteration was called Autumn Mist.
It came out in 2005, coincidentally the first time I attended Consimworld Expo.
For some reason Bulge games were a special theme that year and I found myself on a stage with several other designers who had done Bulge games, answering questions about how we had individually reflected certain things in our respective games.
I recall one was about the v.d. Heydte unit, others about bridge repairs or fuel depots etc.; the others all had detailed answers but because I was the only one who had designed a divisional level Bulge game, I had nothing to say about these chromy points.
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Your Winter Thunder is a sublime and very playable version of the Battle of the Bulge and still is one of my favorites on the subject. Love the attack and defense matrix and double blind draw of those chits. Such a unique and interesting take.
Just about to pre order this title. Definitely room in my collection for a 2hr Bulge game. Really hope the designer’s Siege of Syracuse game comes to fruition as it’s one of my favourite subjects.
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