Race to the Meuse

Now I want maple syrup for some reason.

Much like the elusive okapi, good strategy games are hard to come by on the iPad. How many times do developers think we want to sit through bad Advance Wars clones anyway? So the release of Shenandoah Studio’s Battle of the Bulge has been a breath of fresh air in a stale warehouse. This week I played the three-day introductory scenario, Race to the Meuse. Did I take Bastogne? Did I reach the Meuse River itself? Find out below.

I'll get the biggest point of criticism out of the way right now: There's only one map, and two scenarios (3-day and 13-day engagements), which you can play from either side.

The Axis begins their attack (click to embiggen).

16 December 1944

I’m playing as the Axis forces, so my goal is twofold: to achieve a full victory, I need to break my troops through the thin line of American defenders and power at least one division through to the Meuse River. Since the Meuse is farther away than most of my units could travel in three days even if they were only lightly hindered, the easiest spot to reach is the northern stretch, which bends sharply to the east near the towns of Liége and Verviers. Barring that, I can end the battle in a draw by taking the town of Bastogne and its vital crossroads to the south. Neither objective will be easy going: the northern route to the Meuse is behind a strong Allied position, and the crossroads at Bastogne are likely to become a major highway for repositioning enemy troops. I’ll have to act quickly and decisively, since the enemy will win by attrition if I take my time and play things safe.

So far the Allies have considered this to be a “sleepy” sector, so their forces are spread thin and reinforcements are days away. This has a few implications. First, their infantry are spread out patrolling their respective territories, so they won’t be able to shift their positions today; only their armored divisions will have any chance of moving about. I’ll be making a handful of pre-dawn attacks before even those can react, but because I don’t want the sound of tank treads waking up the enemy positions, my armor won’t be able to move for a few hours. Even worse, most of my other armor divisions are stuck behind my lines in a massive traffic jam, so I won’t be able to rely on any immediate reinforcements either.

Those little sliders under "likely hits taken" indicate the chances of each result. White with an "R" means retreat. So in this battle, my forces will probably be unhurt, and might take 1 hit, but the enemy will likely get hashed.

The Allies are completely unprepared.

Fortunately, my pre-dawn assaults go better than expected. We’re within range of my artillery, the enemy is spread out (and many were still sleeping), and in most zones I command overwhelming force. All across the center of the Allied line I push into their forces and cause massive casualties. A few divisions manage to retreat, which is a serious disappointment since they’ll live to fight another hour.

There are a few engagements that I could win easily, but I opt to move around the center of the Allied line, pocketing the 106th and 112th Infantry Divisions. This lets me move up my line much faster than it would have had I delayed to engage the infantry there, and with time this will leave them without supplies — initially they won’t be able to move, but they’ll still have enough bullets to shoot, but within a day they’ll be cut off so entirely that they won’t even be able to defend themselves when I make a final assault and demand their surrender.

This is the "supply" overlay, which is extremely clear. The user interface is consistently readable and useful.

The 106th and 112th Infantry are pocketed.

Unfortunately, the Allies move most of their armor back just enough that they’ll have the initiative in choosing where the rest of the day’s engagements will take place. They also sprint one of their divisions back to defend Bastogne itself, and in the north they group the 14th Cavalry and 9th Armored at Malmedy, thus threatening to plunge into any flank that I happen to leave exposed. And since my plans are basically to overextend myself reaching the Meuse, that’s no good.

Well. That won’t do. At the very least, this battle should end in a draw. While the enemy is busy making total victory even more remote in the north, I move my elite 2nd Panzer forward on the road to Bastogne, hoping that tomorrow they’ll be able to displace the town’s defenders before they can be reinforced, and praying that the enemy doesn’t move relief divisions behind the 2nd Panzer to cut off their supplies. Thankfully, my assumptions bear out. The Allies drag their feet further securing the north (which doesn’t really need more securing, at least immediately — my forces there are spent for the night), letting me move the 26th Volksgrenadier into position to protect the supply lines.

The game system is turn-based, with the day gradually progressing in random increments. So you might march a couple infantry divisions down the highway, then an hour later the enemy launches an attack across a bridge, then thirty minutes pass and you get to go again. There's rarely enough time to give orders to everyone, and no day necessarily contains the same number of turns.

End of the first day.

Before dusk, the Allies make one final attempt to turn the momentum against me, and for a few minutes there’s a real possibility they’ll collapse my entire line. In order to relieve their starving infantry divisions, they blitz the 9th Armored right into the flimsy 3rd Fallschirmjäger, who are the only ones standing between the Allied front and the isolated 106th. Fortunately, my frail infantry turn out to be happily secure in the woods surrounding the road, and the relief effort is blunted. As night falls, two Allied infantry divisions are still cut off behind my lines, the road to Bastogne is firmly in my control, and it seems that the northern front is at a stalemate. Things are looking good, provided I can secure Bastogne tomorrow.

There's also a fantastic calendar system, which lets you see when and where reinforcements and special events will occur, letting you plan your actions deep into the future.

Allied reinforcements arrive.

17 December 1944

Things aren’t looking good. Three American divisions have reached the sector: negligible armor in the south, where they won’t arrive in time to block my entry to Bastogne (though they might be able to cut into my logistics), and a very unwelcome armor division and the elite 1st Infantry in the town of Verviers — right along the highway between my troops and the Meuse River.

My only hope for full victory is to divert as many troops south as possible, hopefully exposing a chink in the northern Allied line. Good thing I was planning on charging my 2nd Panzer straight through to Bastogne anyway. The defending enemy armor is less than half the strength of my own, and they fall back along the road to the south. Bastogne is mine. Hopefully I can hold it and the supply lines necessary for it to count towards a draw. If the enemy cuts me off, I could hold the town for the rest of the war and it wouldn’t do me any good.

You play by activating one zone at a time, and moving each division there, or initating an assault if both sides have troops there. Then it's your opponent's turn, so the game quickly becomes a series of undermining strategies.

The day’s first priority.

The plan works and multiple enemy divisions begin marching south to liberate Bastogne. Gulp. The upside is that it gives me a bit of wiggle room in the north, especially with those elite reinforcements spending the rest of the day on backwoods roads between Verviers and Bastogne. I concentrate my forces and prepare for a massive assault, when out of nowhere the enemy 2nd Infantry — also an elite division, where do they get these people? — decides it’s a good time to counterattack. Annoying as this ploy is, it also means the enemy now has fewer soldiers garrisoned in the narrow strip of forest and road that separates my line from their unprotected backside. Rather than bothering securing my backside, a massive invasion should be sufficient to dislodge the lone cavalry division that has been left behind.

Movement isn't as easy as it might look, especially when bridges are involved. You can't exactly move three divisions of armor across a single bridge in an hour, after all.

Fighting piecemeal across the northern sectors.

I send my weaker troops, hoping that we’ll be able to demolish that cavalry rather than getting bogged down in the forest. It works, and my armor are allowed to “break through” to the undefended town of Verviers. I move up more armor to secure the route, which should hopefully let me drive the short distance to the Meuse tomorrow before anyone else shows up to block me. In one fell stroke, our situation has gone from bleak to extremely advantageous. As a nice little bonus, those pesky elite infantry have now been trapped behind my much-expanded front line, and they should be out of C-rations and toilet paper by morning. Elite, my frozen bum.

I now take advantage of the quiet to wipe out the last of the infantry that I had pocketed the day before. They surrender immediately. That’s the end of the war for the 106th and 112th Infantry Divisions.

Even though I have a few divisions that haven’t acted yet, there isn’t anything else I hoped to accomplish today, and I don’t want to risk overextending even more than I already have. Ambition could spell my undoing at this juncture. So both sides hunker down for the night, and it’s only two thirty in the afternoon — army had a half-day, it seems.

I've been having a good time with Battle of the Bulge. It's extremely simplified, but in a good way.

The calendar system announcing the day’s reinforcements.

18 December 1944

As dawn breaks, the 1st SS Panzer trundles out of Verviers and into position adjacent to the Meuse River, across the bridge from the town of Liége. Now all I need to do is hold.

Turns out holding isn’t half as hard as taking. The enemy reinforcements that were bound for Verviers are now displaced. They may appear elsewhere in the future, but by then there won’t be anything for them to do.

My supply lines in the north are practically undefended, but there aren’t any nearby threats. The 2nd Infantry are still trapped behind my lines, tangled up with a vastly superior armored division. The 7th Armored is poised to strike, but before dawn I had commandos sabotage their position, thus leaving them bogged down for the day. So long as I don’t move into Malmedy, those tanks won’t be fighting anybody. And the 1st Infantry are still stuck in the backwoods, now too far from either Bastogne or the Meuse to make a difference anywhere.

The enemy does try to lessen my victory by attacking the supply line to Bastogne with two armored divisions, but against all luck my infantry manage to hold out. Not necessary, but a nice little bonus to an already-great campaign.

Extremely astute readers may have noticed that these were screenshots from two different playthroughs — one of which I lost. Congrats if you caught it!

The final holdings: Axis victory!

And that’s it. In three days I’ve managed to not only seize Bastogne, but actually pushed all the way through Allied lines to the Meuse River. Total victory. It is good to be Kaiser. Just an expression.

Posted on December 22, 2012, in Game Diary, Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. What a lovely after action report! I hope you play the Allies next time and report in similar detail.

  2. This sounds phenomenal. As you might be able to guess from my name, Patton is one of my heroes. December 26th, the day he relieved the 101st at Bastogne (which was a massive accomplishment on both of their parts) is basically a holiday for me.

  3. I have been searching for days to see how someone has done this successfully. Bastogne has been no issue every game as Axis, but the Meuse has eluded me. Nice detailed report!

  4. I´ve tried millions of times and never win!! 😦 It´s very easy to hold Bastogne, but it´s impossible to get to the Meuse river. Totally impossible. I´ve played tons of wargames; I like this wargame because it feels very good but… I´m only a bit dissapointed because sometimes I have a strange sensation of “rock-paper-scissors” which I don´t like at all… Anyway, I´ll try again… Damm!!

  5. By the way! Very good AAR: congratulations!! 😀

    • Thanks Rubeus!

      As for reaching the Meuse, it’s not *impossible*, but it certainly is damn hard. And that “rock-paper-scissors” feel you bring up has been criticized by others (the problem isn’t that it exists, it’s that it’s so prevalent in determining battle outcomes), so you’re not alone.

      Still, I have fun with it. =)

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