Review: The Bulge 6th Panzer Army

Posted by James (admin) on April 4th, 2014

6th Panzer Army game close-up‘Paul Koenig’s The Bulge: 6th Panzer Army’ (to use its full name) is a tactical, 2-player, World War II game with a hex map and counters.   However, it packs a massive amount of decision-making into such a small area, and with relatively simple rules.

One player plays the German army trying to break through the Allied lines by a surprise advance through the Ardennes forest (an event of major importance during the war), and the other player plays the Allies.  This means the two sides are quite different – the Germans have lots of units but also have  a lot of work to do as they need to advance to capture cities and get across the map; whereas, the Allied player has few units and needs to use these to hold up and disrupt the German advance.

The game ends after 7 turns when victory points (VPs) are assessed.  The Germans score VPs for capturing cities and getting mechanised units (tanks, etc.) across to the far side of the map or, even better, beyond it.  The Allies score VPs for cities not captured by the Germans.  In addition, both sides score VPs for destroying units although the Allies score more for them, which balances up the other VPs the Germans can earn.  When the game is over, the Allies win of they have at least 6 VPs more than the Germans (the Allies start with lots of VPs because no cities have been captured by the Germans yet).

The central game mechanic is that a player must decide if they will move their units their full movement and then fight at half strength, or if they will fight at full strength and then move half their movement.  This decision affects every unit that player has for that entire turn so it is a tough, yet fundamental, choice.  Moving fully to place units in attack positions means they won’t be very strong; fighting at full strength is powerful but you need enemies to be very close or already in contact.  At most times, you’ll want to have a mix but you must decide which is the best. 

Another core game mechanic is that the hexes around an enemy unit are its zone of control (EZOC).  Units must stop when entering an EZOC, plus you can’t move from one EZOC to another if they belong to the same enemy unit.  This means you can’t just drive past enemies and your unit’s positions are very important.  The Allied player needs to use this to create the maximum hold up.  The German player needs to punch through, but also needs to avoid causing traffic jams (as hexes containing 2 units are impassable but tempting for maximum firepower).

The rules for combat are simple.  The Attack Strength (AS) is the total strength of the units attacking a hex (halve it if you already moved fully) minus the value of the terrain the target is in (the type of units being attacked doesn’t matter).  The attacker rolls a single dice: Lower than the AS, the targets will retreat and/or be damaged (the bigger the difference, the bigger the effect).  Equal to the If the roll equals the AS, both attacker and defender are damaged (no retreat).  If the roll is higher than the AS, the attacker is damaged.  Players can use artillery to add to the attack or defence from range, plus players sometimes have air support tokens to spend too.

The combat system works well because not only because it is all done in one dice roll, but you can easily assess the risks too.  There’s a real feel of tension as you wait to see how the dice rolls come down.

Many combats result in a unit retreating which is an important part of the game as it’s about position not just destruction.  A player needs avoid retreating into an EZOC or take damage – so encircling is very tactical (as I have discovered to my cost).  Also, retreating units must head away from the hex where they were attacked – so you need units near them to steer them or their retreat could be towards their objective.

Whilst there seem to be lots of small rules to remember, I was pleased that these became familiar as it’s these small rules which add realism and decision-making.  For example, some hexes are much better for defence, tanks can’t drive through forests unless along a road, etc.  Also, the amount of movement points to move different unit types through different terrains are simple, but give shape to the board creating a very tactical game where the locations and types of units feel important and differentiated.

Destroying bridges allows the Allied player to try and cut some routes to re-shape the battlefield, but they have to wait until a bridge is threatened (German unit nearby) before they can try.   The German player must leave units behind in cities that they capture, or will score a large amount of penalty VPs.

The components are very nice.  I like Victory Point Games counters which are very thick and laser cut.  The version I had had a board made of 5 jigged pieces but (surprisingly to me) I actually preferred the single-piece card map just because there weren’t any extra lines from the joins.  Still, it’s a nice idea and an efficient way to provide a boarded version too.  The player aid sheet is excellent and really has all you need.

6th Panzer Army game

At the beginning of the game, the Germans are ready to charge West. Just a few Allied units stand in their way.

In terms of negatives, there’s nothing major.  There can be some downtime whilst your opponent works out what to do on their turn; but, this is fairly unavoidable in wargames especially when it’s hard to plan ahead because units can be instantly eliminated or may have retreated.

Set-up can be a bit fiddly as you need to read the tiny, tiny writing in the corner of each unit tile to see where they are placed.  However, this was much easier after a couple of plays when I knew what I was doing, and the player aid also shows them too.

Also, there is the luck element of the dice which can really alter things.  One good/bad result and your whole plan may need to change.  Too many ‘bad’ results could affect your game; however, the simple combat roll really does make it easy to understand your relative chances and you just need to react to what happens.

I struggled to see how I could play the game in 1 hour as the box suggests, but I can imagine it being 1.5 – 2 hours for me once familiar with the rules.  However, that probably says more about me than the game.

Overall, I enjoyed 6th Panzer Army a lot.  It’s amazing how much decision making there is, and how many options you have on your turn packed into such a small game especially for a low price.  Plus, the relatively simple rules manage to convey a sense of realism.  I like playing a good military game now and again and this delivers the hard to find mix of strategic choices with simple rules.  The decisions you make really do change the flow of the battle.

[Played with 2 players]

6 Responses to “Review: The Bulge 6th Panzer Army”

  1. Andrew Dlugolecki Says:

    I think this review is too uncritical.

    Yes, the game components are lovely, and the rules are well laid-out,
    BUT as designed, I cannot see how the Germans can ever win.

    1.At start, some of the Germnan artillery is out of range of the US units.
    2.The US air power is as strong as an artillery corps.
    3.The Germans receive very powerful reinforcements on Turn 7, but they hardly matter, because play ends on Turn 7!
    4. The Allies can build improved positions, even after retreating, or when in a German ZOC.
    5. The defensive power of a hex is basically the terrain value- the defending units do not affect the value.Thus if the Germans put a very powerful panzer unit out in front e.g. advancing after combat, it can be smashed by fairly weak US units.
    6. Unlike history, the 2nd US division units at Wahlerscheid can move on turn 1, so they can help to build an impregnable defensive line by retiring quickly.

    I have devised various ‘house-rules’ to fix these issues, but as it stands the game is too onesided.

  2. Randy Heller Says:

    Andrew: Thank you for your feedback. I was the developer for this particular game. I will try and address some of your concerns in order:

    1. I cannot recall any of the German corps artillery that cannot reach at least one enemy unit on the opening game-turn, but I will certainly take a look. Appreciate you pointing this out.

    2. Yes…that was intended.

    3. Those incoming turn 7 German reinforcements will have a definite impact when the campaign game is joined.

    4. Yes…that was intended as well. Some games allow for this and some don’t. It was one of many design decisions to instill play balance.

    5. Differences in type of units defending in terrain are very much reflected in die roll modifiers.

    6. U.S. 2nd Infantry Decision had the potential of moving given the circumstances. Why hamstring the American Player by refusing movement here? Remember, the purpose of a wargame is to put YOU in command.

    “Onesided”? When the game was given to me to develop, I very much felt it was too easy for the Germans to win. Many of the rules you cite were developed for the purpose of balancing the game. Of course, your mileage will vary, but our team fealt the final result was a well balanced contest.

    Again, thank you for the feedback and enjoy the game.

    Randy Heller

  3. Andrew Dlugolecki Says:

    Hi Randy
    Thanks for your explanations.

    1.The artillery is 388VA, on hex 2301.I repositioned it.Also, most of the nebelwerfers have to move to fire on Turn 1, which really forces the Germans to do move/fire. in fact I ended up using that sequence all the time, for both sides.
    2. My house rule is eliminate the German air units, and reduce US air units to 1 strength point.
    3. I look forward to the campaign game- more maps I presume. However, I extended the short game 1 turn to allow the T7 reinforcements to attack something on T8.They are too far back to hit anything on T7.
    4.I think the IP rule is too easy. I allow only if not moving, not retreated (see new #7 below), and not in ZOC.
    5.I still think it is too easy to defeat big tank units, and also 2-unit stacks. I modified the rules for the defender to add 1CP for a second unit in a stack. I also gave the first tank unit a mandatory 4 CP’s in defence (3CP’s in forest),and the first armoured infantry 3CP’s. In these cases, you ignore the terrain stength completely- it only matters for infantry and artillery.That is a compromise between terrain only and detailed point counting that works quite well.To make this fair, I also designated the following US infantry as armoured infantry: 1st, 2nd, 9th and 30th. They all had major armour attachments.
    6.I don’t agree about 2nd infantry. Their mission was to attack. Higher command insisted on this even into the afternoon of 16th December. The divisional commander Robertson stuck his neck out , and held off attacking, but he did NOT go backwards on 16th AM.
    7. (new point,which I forgot before). The retreat rules are too easy. The US units can simply retire through rough or forest terrain,and the Germans then have a 1 or maximum 2 hex advance.I am sure this could be altered eg follow the roads till the last hex, or even count the terrain cost.Also , in common with most games, the retreating units can act as if nothing happened in their upcoming turn, and skip away, attack , build IP’s etc. I generally modify this in every game I play to make retreating units disrupted, and therefore unable to do much.
    Though these amendments seem to complicate the game, I think it is more balanced, and still great fun to play.I look forward to the campaign.
    Hope these points may be of interest,

  4. Randy Heller Says:

    Andrew: 388 Art starts the game in the same hex as the regiment in hex 2312. This is as it was in my playtest kit and my final submission to VPG.

    I cannot comment further about the retreat rules, as they were changed at the VPG offices after my final submission.

    The same argument you put forth concerning 2nd Infantry could apply just as well to U.S. 7th Armor, which was ordered to St. Vith. In my design, Bitter Woods, if you don’t allow freedom of movement for these two formations, the game would be broken. I have heard similar arguments concerning the release of Panzer Lehr on the opening day. In fact elements of Lehr had been loaned out and were in action the night before. There was no such order for Lehr as applied to mechanized units of 6PzA.

    You are certainly welcome to make your own changes to the game as it is your prerogative. Perhaps as you gain more experience with the game, you might consider returning to some of the original rules as written.

    Enjoy the game and thanks for your input.

    Randy Heller

  5. Andrew Dlugolecki Says:

    thanks for the clarification on 388 VA. Fyi, it is clearly shown as 2301 on the counter, and on the player-aid set up map!

    I agree there can be different views about how ‘free’ movement should be. Obviously as the game progresses,the battle situation develops differently from the historical situaion, so decisions would be different.Therefore I feel that US decisions on 16th December , particularly AM, should be historical.

    7th Armor arrived on 17th AM, so there is more of a possibility that if the ground situation were different,its mission would be different.But I agree with you, given the ‘fog of war’, you ould argue that its mission would still be ‘go to St Vith’ whatever the battle situation was, because St Vith is such an obvious key point.

    On the other hand, decisions regarding the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions would not just blindly follow the historical missions, because more time had elapsed, and there was more intelligence available.Bastogne would be a strong possibility, again because of its key location on the road net.

    Over and above that, it is very interesting to explore ‘what-ifs’. I just think that allowing 2nd US Infantry division free action on 16th AM is too much of a game-winner for the US.Most of my thinking goes on the German side, because their historical plan was doomed to failure. So, it’s interesting to see what they could have done differently to at least cross the Meuse, or even reach Antwerp at all.

    Anyway, apart from agreeing to disagree, can you say anything about when the campaign game might appear?


  6. Randy Heller Says:

    Andrew: For various personal reasons, my work as developer on this game was done pro bono. Although attempts were made to recruit me to complete the remainder of this series, I humbly declined due to other commitments. The remainder is in the hands of Mr. Koenig. Hopefully, I adequately laid down the groundwork for him to complete the project without difficulty.

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