This is the first in a series of articles that will look at strategic, tactical and logistical issues in Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge. While taking place on a set battlefield like its predecessors, this game, like others under the Axis and Allies name, allows for a great deal of variety, lateral thinking and tactical nuance. The most successful player will be the one who takes all of the vast number of variables present in the game into account and brings them together to form a sound plan to win the game. Of course, luck goes a long way as well.
Before one can even begin to plan their attack, it is important to know the lay of the land. The game board for Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge possesses terrain features that can have a profound impact on how the armies will move and consequently the tempo and flow of the game.
This article will focus on the geography of the board and the strategic importance of different locations. It will be important for both side to know how to take advantage of rivers and roads in maintaining and stopping an advance, and how to properly defend and take each town or channel the enemy toward locations that do not benefit them.
Before exploring specific points on the board a quick overview of these three terrain features is in order.
Rivers: Rivers are represented by the shaded borders in between hexes. They are important as they prohibit the movement and retreat of Armor, Trucks and Artillery across these hexsides. They are a very important obstacle in stopping blitzing tanks. However, they will not stop Infantry. That they impede trucks will seldom factor into a game, but this is important to consider when planning logistical allocations for your troops.
Roads: Roads are the lifeblood of the army. Roads allow for quick movement of both trucks and armor to the front lines. Movement along roads requires that the road in question run through the connecting hexes and that the hex the unit is exiting is not in an enemy ZOC (Zone of Control). Denying the use of roads can be crucial to victory. Whenever possible, force the enemy to travel over clear hexes or perpendicular to the road’s axis in order to slow them down.
Towns: Towns are essential to victory. 24 points worth of towns will win the game for the Axis. The Allies are obviously working to prevent the capture of as many towns as possible, but it will also be in their favor to route the Axis toward towns that are worth the least number of points or provide poor access to more valuable targets.
Now that the functions of each terrain feature are understood, how do they work together to affect events on the game board? Well it all depends on context. The remainder of the article will be divided into two parts. The first will look at strategic locations from early to mid-game. The last part will explore what kinds of strategic situations are likely to arise during the late stages of the game and how each side can plan their attack to secure victory.
It hasn’t taken long for players to realize the value of the towns along the northern edge of the board. This northern ‘trio’ offers a very lucrative prize for the Axis should they be able to claim them all. At nine points in all, they comprise over a third of the points needed to win the game. The gateway to these towns and the first among them is Eupen and the Allies will have to defend it for as long as possible to stay in the game. For the Axis there is only really one direct route to attack Eupen, and that lies through Monschau. The hexes to the south are roadless and make for awkward angles of attack. However, if Malmedy is taken, an attack from there can flank Eupen and force it and the other towns to fall like dominoes.
Eupen and its neighbors offer some advantages for the Allies as well. Being on the northern edge of the board, they will be very simple to reinforce during turns when Northern reinforcements come into play. The Allied player will still have to take care to provide supplies to the garrison, but Eupen will serve as a trusty base from which to counter German thrusts along this front. That being said, it does not suit the Allies to defend Eupen to the last man. When the threat of flanking materializes through a push around Eupen or from a thrust from Malmedy, falling back to Verviers will be a necessary evil.
The Axis will want to push into St. Vith as soon as possible for several reasons. The most crucial of these is to acquire fuel. The more swiftly the Allies are ejected from the city, the more likely the Germans are to make a serious supplies coup to add momentum to their center drive. The capture of St. Vith will take pressure of the Northern advance and force the Allies to build a new center line around Trois Points and Vielsalm, both of which are more difficult to defend.
St. Vith will be impossible to hold indefinitely by the Allies. The likely outcome of adjacent battles will place even a successful defense of St. Vith in jeopardy. The probable axis of advance for the Germans will put them directly northwest of St. Vith and to the south as well. In this situation, all avenues of retreat from St. Vith could lie in Axis zones of control, making it much easier for the Allied garrison to be destroyed. Because of this, the Allies should be careful to know when it is time to leave St. Vith. Holding St. Vith for as long as possible can put quite a dent in the German timetable. If it can be done, keeping the city out of German hands until at least turns three or, if you are lucky, four would put the Allies well on the way to winning the game.
This is an interesting city that appears to be of secondary value with its middling point value and it lack of supplies or other enticements, but its position places it as the lynchpin between the northern and central fronts. Control of this city could greatly influence the battles both north and south of it. For the center line, Malmedy provides a good anchor for St. Vith early in the game and an avenue of escape for Allied units. It is unlikely, albeit possible, that Malmedy will fall before St. Vith. However, just as importantly, Malmedy can hold the key to winning the battle in the north. From Malmedy, both Eupen and Verviers will be open by road. Given the fight that will be put up for these northern towns, Axis control of Malmedy could allow for flanking maneuvers that would double the threat faced by the Allies on the northern front. The hex directly between Verviers and Malmedy may be the most important in this part of the game. An Axis presence there guarantees the eventual fall of Eupen since its defenders will not be able to fall back to Verviers with it under Axis ZOC.
The Axis will want to drive to Malmedy as fast as possible, however that will likely require the capture of St. Vith first if there is a strong force still encamped there. The roads from Stadkill will allow for quick and easy reinforcement of armor As mentioned in the section regarding St. Vith, the Allies would also do well to use Malmedy as a point to withdraw forces from St. Vith.
Bastogne is linked to no less than seven other towns and cities, only two of which are far in the east and likely to be in Axis hands. Controlling Bastogne provides many options for the Axis toward the end-game, which we will explore later. To put it simply, the Allies must do everything they can to hold Bastogne for as long as possible. The main roads that advance to Bastogne from the east are at Clervaux and Diekirch. However, there is some space between these two and Bastogne. They are also on the German hit list on the first turn and their supplies are likely to fall into enemy hands. Like with other towns, properly defending Bastogne will depend on keeping the flanks secure so supplies can be brought up to the front line and soldiers can safely retreat if the town comes under attack.
For their part, the Germans can facilitate the seizure of Bastogne by exerting pressure on it early, even if a direct attack cannot be properly mounted. Houffalize makes an ideal target as it applies pressure to Bastogne and drives a wedge between the central and southern fronts. The only problem with getting there will be a direct lack of roads and the possibility of allied ZOC messing up an advance. If St. Vith and Viersalm are taken out quickly, then an Axis army could be there as early as Turn 4.
Martelange is close to Bastogne but lies further away from the start line and is more difficult to access. The Axis player shouldn’t count on this town in any strategy to seize Bastogne. Though controlling the flanks will be helpful, the main attack will likely come from a main drive from Clervaux possibly supported from Diekirch. Each side should try to make sure that the roads leading up to the front fall within their ZOC. Cutting off the roads leading to and from Bastogne will make a big difference in outcome of the battle.
Three Crucial Crossroads
If in a dire situation where the Axis have created a major breakout, the lay of the land in the ‘back field’ of the board suddenly becomes very important. At this point it is likely that the Axis will be able to roll up the entire allied defense or more importantly, make a dash for the last few towns and cities it needs to secure victory. However, for the Axis to make the most of a breakout it needs to advance efficiently in the Allied rear and maintain a stable chain of supply to its spearheads. Conversely, the Allies can find new blocking lines that could stave off an advance just long enough for the game to lapse.
Situation #1 – The Fall of Liege:
If Liege has fallen then at this point it is very likely that both Eupen and Verviers have been taken as well. If they haven’t, then both the cut off troops and the likely narrow band linking Liege to the rest of the Axis front could be very contentious if not decisive in victory. The Allied forces will likely be destroyed quickly, or if initiative falls in their favor a blow could knock the legs out from under the northern axis front.
With all three cities captured, the Axis stand poised to make a dash to several high point cities. Any one of these will likely be enough for victory. The north trio of Eupen, Verviers and Liege are worth nine points, and it is likely that other cities have been claimed on the other two fronts to push the axis even closer to their 24 point goal. From Liege, tanks could snatch Huy, Marche, or even hit Werbomont from the rear. Huy and Marche are worth five and four points respectively, a very serious blow to the Allies if either is captured. Conversely, Werbomont provides crucial access for supplies and reinforcements headed for the Allied center front. A lack of roads and the winding Ourthe River means the center would have to be supplied from the south through La Roche or Houflice, presuming they are still standing.
The Allies can do their part to prevent this with whatever incoming reinforcements they can spare. Access to the rear of the board via Liege depends on a crossroads directly east of Huy. If Allied reinforcements are place there, they will have to be removed before progress can be made toward Huy or Marche. Any Axis force that tries to circumvent the crossroads could find themselves hemmed in against the Ourthe River, where an armored spearhead will be most vulnerable.
Situation #2 – Breakout at Bastogne
Bastogne is perhaps one of the most important crossroads in this game. If it falls, the Allies will be in acute danger of their entire defense collapsing under Axis pressure emanating from this city. Even in the event of its fall, there is no reason for the Allies to give up or for the Axis to get sloppy.
The likely fall back spot from Bastogne is Ortheuville in this case. The Allies should only do this if La Roche is still in their hands or the German ZOC leaves them with no other choice. If the Allies are still strong in the center then it might even be possible to launch a counter-attack from Houffalize or La Roche and take back the town. It is crucial for the Allies not to lie down in the south and just play defensively if Bastogne falls. Bastogne is very vulnerable to pressure and being cut off. Late in the game, a combination of pincer attacks and air strikes could stonewall any offensive from Bastogne and cut it off from resupply.
In my opinion the best bet for the Germans to exploit the breakout is to swing south toward Neufchateau, but only if the Allied center is still very strong. In order to facilitate such a move, Bastogne would have to be completely outside of the Allied ZOC. If the Axis can affect a breakout in this direction AND keep it supplied (again, keeping Bastogne safe is essential), then a German tank force can pick up an easy nine points by capturing rear area towns. The Allies won’t be able to divert substantial resources to protect the south at this point without giving up on other fronts. Keeping Bastogne safe as a crossroads requires expanding to Ortheuville and Houffalize if that hasn’t been done already. Those two add up to another four points, but will allow for a hard strike to the south and the continued movement of supplies via trucks to further points of advance. Just remember to protect your new supply depot from air based attacks.
Situation #3 – The La Roche Funnel
A likely end game scenario could see the Allies with their proverbial backs against the wall in the Center. It is important that the Allies not forget about the rivers adjacent to La Roche and Werbomont when planning a withdrawal. Those rivers will prevent the retreat of tanks and artillery in those directions in the case of continued German attacks. Likewise the rivers will prevent an armored breakout around these two towns. Essentially the axis of the German thrust will have to go directly to one of these two targets, likely Werbomont first. This will allow the Allies to concentrate their forces a little more with out having to fret about their flanks. The fall of Werbomont will only allow the Axis one way forward, and it’s a hex that can be quickly and easily defended without much worry of flanking attacks due to the rivers.
However, the fall of La Roche opens quick paths to Marche, Rochefort, Ortheuville and most importantly Bastogne. Losing La Roche could force the bottom out of the barrel for the Allies, but another line can be formed on the crossroads in between Marche and Ortheuville. If the Allies still hold Bastogne, it may be tempting to fall back to Ortheuville to create a contiguous line, but supplies would then have to go to the crossroads themselves to supply Ourtheville. It would be best to supply Bastogne from Neufchateau if at all possible.
I hope you have found this informative. Our next article will explore the nuances of actual attack and defense. Each side needs to take care in organizing their forces and knowing where to strike and how to adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield. Until then, good luck and happy gaming!