Funny story time. About six weeks or so ago, I received a response email from a designer that I had reached out to in late 2017 and sent questions to for an interview on a new edition of his game. That designer said in their response that they had found my email in their inbox as they were doing a purge, buried under hundreds of other emails, and were sorry that they hadn’t got back to me. Answers were then attached to the email and the rest is history. The designer is Chester Hendrix and the game is Bastogne or Bust: Ardennes Offensive, December 1944-1945 Designer’s Edition.
Grant: Chester tell us a little about yourself? What is your day job? How did you get into board game design? What games do you play when you aren’t designing?
Chester: Happily married to a Canuck. Have 5 children and 17 grandchildren (including 2 greats). Not bad for having just turned 65. Recently retired and busier than when I was working.
I have been designing games since I was 14 (in 1969) when I read E. R. Burroughs’ CHESSMEN OF MARS. I made a set of the game he made to use as a plot device and quickly discovered the design was flawed – 99% of all games ended in a draw. Not much fun. So I changed and clarified the rules to make the game competitive and fun and spent a year trying to get my redesign patented and/or published under the title EAGLES AND KINGS. That was my introduction to the world of game design. I’ve never looked back. I have written extensively on the subject of game theory and design on three folders (BASTOGNE OR BUST, THE UPPER HAND and STARSHIP TROOPERS / ON THE BOUNCE!) on the CONSIMWORLD website.
I play a lot of Magic the Gathering, BattleTech CCG, big box games (AXIS & ALLIES), wargames (moderate complexity is the top of my limit) and Eurogames (designs of my own and favorites of my sweetheart – STONE AGE and RA: THE DICE GAME).
Grant: What do you love most about design?
Chester: The satisfaction of making a design work. Putting all the parts together is like solving a puzzle when all the parts work together properly.
Grant: What is your greatest challenge?
Chester: Actually putting together a classic game design. Minimalist classics [like Chess/Checkers/Backgammon] with few pieces and simple mechanics are the hardest things to create. I have one – I refer to it as my ‘retirement game’, because if I could ever properly get it onto the market, I believe I could retire [in style] on it.
Grant: What games or designers have influenced your designs?
Chester: I approach wargame design from what I refer to as the John Hill School of Design Philosophy – does the simulation FEEL right historically for the campaign it represents? And I want all my wargames to WORK as GAMES – not just simulations. If a wargame doesn’t work as a GAME then it is just a graphic novel based on history. I would say that I consider THE RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN to be the best wargame design of all time.
For Eurogames, I find that games that are FUN work for me. All of my designs get worked on until they have that ‘I want to play this again’ factor is evident before I offer them for sale. For Euros, I would have to name SETTLERS OF CATAN as the best.
I love playing both.
Grant: What is your design philosophy?
Chester: My basic design philosophy is this: if a player has to spend more time in the rulebook, diving around for obscure rules and exceptions, than you do on the gameboard then you’ve probably wasted your money. My designs are realistic but remain playable and minimize time in the rulebook.
Grant: What is new in the 3rd/Designer’s Edition of Bastogne or Bust?
Chester: Updated research [combat factors were radically adjusted by Danny Parker of all people!], graphics upgrades and added scenarios. Other than these, the game remains the same.
Grant: What specifically has changed in the OOB? Where did this new information come from?
Chester: The OOA was not changed, but the OOB was significantly altered due to the generosity of ‘Mr. Bulge’ Danny Parker. When he heard that BOB was going into a 3rd Edition he asked if he could look over my combat stats. He now has an amazing matrix where he can plug in your figures [based on unit ID] and give you back a comparison and suggested corrections based on new research [which he is still collecting even as we speak].
The cool part was that the difference between mine and Parker’s TOTAL combat factors for all German units was only a 6 point difference, and for the Allies it was only off by about 30 points [most of which was big changes for the British 30 Corps units].
Thus – almost ¾ of all units had their CF adjusted, but the overall totals remained virtually unchanged. While very dramatic, the result was completely unexpected.
Grant: What makes BOB stand out from the plethora of other Bulge games out there?
Chester: The Off-Board Movement Chart primarily. There are a number of small things [such as the Von der Hydte unit ALWAYS getting on the board]. I wrote about these fairly extensively in an article for MOVES magazine which is available on BGG here:
Grant: What is the long design story of BOB? Start with the story from Origins 1994.
Chester: I first self-published BOB in a dtp format and took it to ORIGINS ’94 under my TERRAN GAMES banner. I had a half-booth and had a great time hawking it. So great, in fact, that two companies wound up bidding for it. It was purchased for publication by Ray LaBarbera who wanted to start his own company. BOB was my second commercial game sale. I also lent him the name TERRAN GAMES, which he changed to TERRAN GAMES, INC. After he folded TG, I retook my old company banner (without the ‘,INC’). Both versions – BOB 1994 and the TG, Inc. boxed edition – have their own pages on BGG. BOB got a wonderful facelift (all new artwork which I was able to help with), and an amazing makeover – courtesy of an additional 20 years of new research by Mr. Bulge, Danny Parker who vetted my OOB, expanding the number of units and realigning unit strengths into its 3rd Edition printing under the PAUL KOENIG GAMES imprimatur (only about 60 copies were printed under the PKG label). I later regained all rights and published a Designer’s Edition under license to BLUE PANTHER GAMES. I altered the map (without the Off Board Movement Chart), and recreated the OBMC separately. This is the version currently available and has its own BGG page as well.
Grant: What area of the Bulge does the map focus on?
Chester: The German border is tight on the east. Herve and Liege on the north out to Namur in the west then to Boullion and Martelange in the south.
Grant: How are Off Board Movement Boxes used?
Chester: These areas represent Allied Corps staging areas, which – with Allied Army staging areas – act as reinforcement jumping off points for the Allies. The Corps areas can be captured by German units (instead of just exiting the map) to cause havoc in the Allied rear and delay/divert Allied reinforcements (as they did historically).
Grant: How are Allied reinforcement handled and why?
Chester: They all come in on the OBMC. If their Corps area has been captured, they come in at the next closest area. If the Germans can pull off the 15th Army Offensive (not easy), certain reinforcements have a 2/3 chance of not arriving at all. The Allies have to make choices about defending the off board areas or the ground on the map.
Grant: What opportunities does this give the Allies and conversely the Germans?
Chester: It can get tricky. If the Germans can meet assigned objectives in time, they can trigger the 15th Army Offensive, which will wreak havoc with Allied reinforcements.
Grant: Talk about the changes in Road Bonus Movement (RBM). What has changed and why?
Chester: The only changes from the first 2nd Edition was for the US Airborne divisions (because they were transported in trucks when they arrived). This gives them greater range when they control key roads and can accelerate their counteroffensive to push back the Germans. Roads are key to both sides and must be used in order to meet objectives on time.
Grant: How does supply work differently for both sides? Why did you choose this difference?
Chester: Both sides Out of Supply (OOS) have their attack/movement factors halved, but German units also suffer halving of defense factors as well to reflect the tenuous German supply situation and how this effects their fighting force.
The German supply restrictions also prevents their artillery from providing a Defensive Fire Bonus that Allied artillery provides. The Allies were notorious for fueling their artillery, which they placed great emphasis on.
Grant: What are the stacking limits and how did this come about?
Chester: 6 points per hex. Based mostly on allowing three regiment sized units per hex. I put stacking limit numbers on the units themselves for ease of play. I regard stacking limit numbers on counters to be one of the best innovations for ease of play ever invented.
Grant: How do Zones of Control work? Why do only white stripe units exert a ZoC?
Chester: ZOC’s are sticky in BOB. You move into an enemy ZOC, you stop. In most wargames, some classes of unit exert this ‘you must stop next to this guy’. While others do not. I chose to have all infantry class units exert sticky ZOC instead of armor/artillery. Small infantry unit action in the Bulge was critical in numerous instances, small units holding up large formations at critical road junctions for example. My treatment of ZOC’s reflects these battlefield conditions. The white stripe is there so you don’t have to constantly refer to the Player Aid Card to remember which units do exert and which don’t. I have a LOT of different unit types (represented by the plethora of NATO symbols on the counters), and this simple convention eases play.
Grant: Talk about the CRT used for combat and the choices you made in its design?
Chester: I removed an entire column in my odds chart (between 3-1 and 4-1) shifting the odds in favor of the attacker after 3-1. Any attack that puts that much combat factors into it represents a ‘major push’ and I think the ‘free’ column shift (after 3-1 odds) represents this very well without actually adding in a layer of rules.
Grant: How does fortified towns affect this CRT?
Chester: Unfortified towns double defense factors and provide a -1 DRM against attacks. If you build a fort in a town, the DRM increases to -2. Building a fort represents extra assets being assigned which makes the defense of a fortified town (forts can only be built in towns) more flexible – so units in a fortified town can ignore retreat results. “Nuts!”
Grant: Why did you choose to include Engagement Combat Results rules in the design? What does this model from the actual event?
Chester: Engagements in the Bulge tended to tie units down in a locked struggle, whether holding against the odds, or unable to disengage. In game terms, this shows as ENGAGED (ENG) results on the CRT. Units that are ENG lose their ZOC as well, showing their forced focus and commitment when two opposing units become entangled and no one can effectively retreat – a consistent situation during this campaign. This (eventually) often resulted in non-engaged units being able to push past units that were ‘pinned down (no ZOC)’ as it were. It was a moment of opportunity thing (ENG markers don’t last) that occurred on both sides, and this simple marker – ENG – placed on top of units helps recreate these situations elegantly.
Grant: Why the choice to include an Allied Air Availability roll rather than a weather roll?
Grant: Weather conditions during the month of the Bulge were chaotic and fast. Troops adapted and moved because they had to, regardless of the weather. Adding rules messing with movement and/or combat and/or supply and/or (insert condition here) adds a level of slowing down play. The Bulge was fast and furious – it doesn’t need an extra layer of rules to mess with every counter on the board. It is also difficult to add air rules/units to a Bulge game (many do not), yet air units (especially Allied) played a big role in the Bulge (entire books are written about it). Rather than mess with weather rules, I chose to have the vagaries of the weather affect air availability (which is where the weather had the biggest effect at this scale in my opinion). It has worked out very nicely.
Grant: How does the destruction and repair of bridges work? How can this be used by either side strategically?
Chester: The Allied side has a number of free ‘blown bridge’ markers to reflect the Allied penchant for blowing bridges. The Germans were never really concerned with blowing bridges, but rather with bridge repair, and had a number of specially outfitted Engineers. Basically the Engineer expends all its movement over two turns (12 hour turns) to repair a bridge.
Grant: How does the Einheit Steilau Commandoes affect the game and how are they used by the Germans?
Chester: They are of limited use (they only get to move once and are removed after a few turns), and serve to stop the first unit that enters the hex. These are the jeep group Germans who posed as Americans, redirecting traffic and causing havoc in the rear.
Grant: What is the OKW staging area and what rules govern its use?
Chester: This represents all the organizational assets of the German units involved. All their supplies and reinforcements were funneled through this narrow part of the front, as opposed to the Allies who had organizational assets spread out all along the edges of the battle.
Grant: What is the Von der Hydte battalion and how have you integrated them into the design?
Chester: A concise note from Wiki on OPERATION STOSSER: “Because of the extensive dispersal of the drop, Fallschirmjäger were reported all over the Ardennes, and the Allies believed a major division-sized jump had taken place, causing the Americans much confusion and convincing them to allocate men to secure the rear instead of facing the main German thrust at the front.”
The battalion sized unit saw pieces scattered as far as 50 miles apart, and was never really a cohesive unit, and many Bulge games don’t mess with the single unit it represents at this scale. Appropriately, it only has a slight chance of dropping successfully, and if it doesn’t, in BOB (unlike any other Bulge game I’m aware of), it PERFORMS ITS HISTORICAL FUNCTION which was as a distraction that tied up Allied assets.
Grant: Why did you feel it important to get them in the action while other Bulge designs ignite them?
Chester: I thought it was important – not because of its strength that could have added to the battle – but because of the chaos it created in that area of the conflict. It’s an easy bit of chrome (the Bulge is filled with weird things), but I wanted it done right. Other games that include it make it disappear if it doesn’t land successfully. It’s a pet peeve.
Grant: What allows the German 15th Army to go on the defensive?
Chester: Not the defensive, but offensive. 15th Army is north of the map. Their participation all depended on objectives being met (mainly on the northern shoulder) within a timeframe (18th through the 24th). 15th Army was tasked with holding the right shoulder, primarily 1st Army (with V, VII and XVIII Corps) staging areas. If they can get help from the German spearheads, they can push the shoulder further east and disrupt Allied lines of reinforcement, forcing Allied units to redirect against this push (making them unavailable for the Bulge proper as it were).
Grant: How often does this happen?
Chester: Historically, it didn’t. In game terms, the conditions for release are appropriately difficult. Even if the German player allocates enough resources to make it happen, it’s still difficult. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the (‘what-if’) impact tells the story.
Grant: Why would the German player ever hold the offensive?
Chester: It can be the key to victory. In the few times it goes off, it’s usually a collapse of the northern corridor – Eupen to Verviers to Liege. In this case the Allies are really on the ropes and those units coming from the 1st Army are desperately needed to plug the holes. It makes the ‘bulge’ deeper and allows the Germans a much better shot at victory.
Grant: Why can US engineers attack but Germans cannot?
Chester: German engineers (Pioneers) were mostly attached to their divisional Headquarters. In BOB I have folded the German Pioneer battalions and other smaller units representing divisional assets (tank, artillery, anti-aircraft, recce, signal, etc.) into the German HQ units. Same for the Allied HQ units. The German Engineer (bridging) units are separate from the divisions, representing Army and Corps assets specially outfitted for bridging operations.
The American combat engineers were ‘independent’ and were outfitted to fight as well as perform engineering duties. The American Combat Engineers played critical combat roles – the German Pioneer units were more specialized. A cursory examination of Bulge Combat Engineers, will reveal many examples of these units being critical to small actions across the battlefield. In BOB, you will find these units performing those same functions.
Grant: What are the victory conditions?
Chester: Rather than victory points I have divided the map into 4 quarters. The German wins if he can clear certain quarters and hold a certain number of Allied zones (sections of the Allied Corps areas). I wanted the victory conditions to include large areas of the map for the full effect of what the Bulge looked like on situational maps at the time. Victory is checked at the end of each turn.
Grant: What scenarios are included in the design? How long does each take to play?
Chester: The campaign scenario will take an average of 8 hours to play. More until the players get more comfortable with the rules and situation. There are now two additional new scenarios – 16AM and December 10 scenarios (both 8 turns). They run about 2-3 hours each.
Grant: Why do we keep playing Bulge games? They never really end differently and the Germans can’t win. So why do you keep designing the conflict?
Chester: Of course the Germans can’t win, they never really could. The GAME is in the victory conditions – you have to scale them so that victory for the Germans is possible in a non-traditional sense. I discuss this very subject at length in the Designer’s Notes at the end of the rulebook.
Grant: What experience do you hope players get out of the game?
Chester: When you are done, I want both sides to feel like they experienced the real campaign (as seen from a historical view – not the actual participants). As you’ve read the histories, there should be touch points (units, places, situations that develop in the game) as you play out the game. I’ve played many Bulge games and BOB is my effort to invest the simulation with all the things I miss and desire (pet peeves if you will – the Von der Hydte unit being a good example).
Grant: Why did you initially choose Paul Koenig Games to publish the upgraded 3rd Edition in 2017?
Chester: Paul chose me to put a Bulge title in his stable and I was happy to accommodate him. After two years, I was approached by Blue Panther (for the same reason) and made arrangements with Paul to release the rights back to me so I could license BOB to Blue Panther as a publisher. Bastogne or Bust – Designers Edition is the current iteration as of 2020.
Grant: Where is it available for purchase and what is the MSRP?
Chester: It’s available now from Blue Panther Games directly as a Print on Demand game for $75 (email them directly at firstname.lastname@example.org in the US, and thru Wargame Vault in pdf form for $20). It is also available from SECOND CHANCE GAMES in the UK (£68.95) at www.secondchancegames.com.
Thank you for your time in answering our questions Chester, and for not giving up on them even they were from a few years ago. The game looks really well made and creates some interesting situations that I think most of us would be interested in playing.