The skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy
– Sun Tzu
Last time we explored the layout of the board and how to use to your advantage on both the attack and defense. In the second article of our series on playing Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge, we will look at the tactics that can be employed and how to plan your attack based on the knowledge of strategic areas accrued from our first article. Just as knowing where you need to go is crucial so is knowing how to get there. For the Allies on the defense, knowing how to stop or divert the attacker will be the means by which you will secure victory. This article will give an overview of the means of mounting an offense and defense in this game.
Utilizing the ZOC
Ever hex that is occupied by fighting units possesses a ‘Zone of Control’ or ZOC that extends to the hexes that immediately neighbor it. The ZOC allows the player to exert a degree of influence over adjacent hexes without having a physical presence in that hex. It is impossible to be everywhere at once, a maxim that is especially true for the Allies in this game. By using ZOC to compensate for gaps in your line, you can make sure supplies don’t move into the gaps as truck will have to stop once they enter the ZOC. Armor will have to expend extra supplies to blitz through the gap. Units that are hit and must retreat can only retreat into hexes that are outside of an opponent’s ZOC. An inability to do so destroys the units. Being aware of its function in this game is important as it influence all aspects of offense and defense. Additional uses of the ZOC are covered below.
Launching an Offensive
Planning on offensive and executing it well is the only way that the game will truly be won or lost. The Axis can win by capturing 24 points worth of towns and cities. To do this they must constantly be on the attack putting pressure on the Allies in as many places as possible, forcing them to retreat and cede valuable cities. For the Axis, planning the offensive should depend on two things, the layout of the board and the location of strategic cities (which are outlined in the Strategy Article) and the results of the attacks during the first turn. On the first turn of the game, the Axis should not dally at all and use their existing supplies to move the entire front west. Based on the relative success of this crucial first strike, a plan can developed as to where future resources will be allocated to strengthen or exploit different fronts. Remember that movement takes place after all attacks have been concluded in this game. So your attacks should be focused on delivering a maximum of force to clear out as many hexes as possible. A cleared hex can be occupied by advancing troops.
Germany will start with and receive a great deal of armored forces throughout the game. With twice the offensive power of the standard infantry unit, armor alone can maintain a great deal of momentum in an offensive situation and have the mobility to relocate along the front as necessary. This is important as it will be these units that can be massed (up to the maximum allowable in a hex) to deliver a lot of dice in an attack. Making an offensive plan work is all about delivering that greatest weight of power at the best place along the front. Once key angles of attack have been picked out, the Axis player should try to ‘max out’ his armor units in the hexes that he can strike at it. Even if it means less offensive units on other fronts, the Allied player will seldom be in a position to push back early in the game and a catastrophic loss on one front could spell the end for the Allies anyway.
Artillery pack an even stronger punch than tanks, but they tend to work best in tandem with other more expendable units providing an added offensive boost in attacks against fortified hexes. Artillery units lack the mobility that armor does and cannot relocate as easily as the former. Artillery, while formidable on the offensive is just as easy to destroy on the defense as infantry and runs the risk of being left behind by a spearhead. Artillery is best used in the broad fronts where steady progress is expected to be made without sudden breakouts, or where there is a healthy mix of different units so they won’t be stranded.
Flanking and Breaking Out
With the direction of movement offered by the hexes on a game board, attacking from different angles and covering the six sides of a hex with your ZOC becomes an important feature of the game. Perhaps the greatest benefit that a flanking maneuver can offer is the ability to make use of the ZOC rules. Doing so can force your opponent to retreat to a particular point on the map or, if all avenues are cut off, have his units destroyed with single hits instead of doubles.
Just as flanking can seriously weaken the integrity of a defensive position, actual breakouts where fast moving units move multiple hexes behind enemy lines carry rich rewards as well as serious risks. The Axis player should be constantly on the watch for developing weak points in the Allied defenses. If attacks can open gaps in the line, tanks can blitz or use roads to quickly scoop up towns in the rear for extra points and to cut off Allied lines of resupply.
This carries its own risks. Once at their destination, it may be difficult to maintain the momentum of your advance, unless you capture precious supplies in rear depots or are able to bring fresh ones to your spearheads. When attempting to surround a group of enemy units, one should be careful not to have potential zones of retreat and resupply within the enemy ZOC during the reinforcement phase. Small forces ore vulnerable enough, but tanks without any support are particularly prone to counterattack and being wiped out losing everything you’ve gained.
Defense, in its simplest of terms, is accomplished by stuffing more units into a hex thereby making it more difficult for the opponent to clear it out and advance. However, a passive defense created by a mass of units must be balanced with the benefits derived from an active defense. The units that are doing the defending should also have the opportunity to fight back. When under attack, one successful hit will force a defending unit to retreat unless it is a truck or supply token. Units that retreat no longer physically occupy the hex, allowing the attacker to move in during the Reinforcement Phase. However, the units are still in play and can be marshaled for counter-attacks of their own or to form a new defensive line.
To further insulate your more precious units from harm, rolls that surpass the number of units you have begin counting from the beginning again to assign hits. This counting from the beginning again weights the likelihood of a hit connecting with an infantry unit when you have a number of units that are not divisible into 6. These situations will arise when you have 4, 5 or any number of units greater than 6 but less than twelve. Again it all depends on the mix of units and while more is better this is way to make your defenses stretch without giving up offensive opportunities.
As an example, say you are defending with three infantry and a tank. Nominally you would have a one in four chance of a hit landing on your tank with a single successful die cast. However since results of a five or six count back from the beginning and will land on one of the first two infantry then your odds of having the tank hit have decreased somewhat. This would not be the case if only two infantry and the tank were defending since it could be hit on the result of a 3 or a 6 as it is included in the count back.
By using the right proportion of infantry to tanks and artillery a player can go a long way to ensure that when it is his turn to strike from his attacked hex that he will maximize the dice he can use in his counter-attack. Single tanks or artillery units make for poor defending units, but if they survive an attack on the hex they are in, then they can use their dice on a counterattack.
When playing the Allies one should take some time to decide on a plan to defend against the onslaught of the Germans in the first few rounds. You will be outnumbered and out gunned, and it will stay that way unless the German spearheads can be whittled down and enough breathing space can be achieved to allow Allied units to accumulate in significant numbers. There are two primary methods that can be employed to mount a defense. As players develop their own style and flesh out winning strategies they will fall somewhere between these two extremes. I will detail both of them and what is entailed in their proper execution and the caveats that each presents for the Allies. Conversely, the Axis player should be well aware of these strategies and attempt to adapt their own offensive strategy to compensate. Clearly, the Axis player shouldn’t be put entirely on the defensive; if that happens than the Allies have likely won anyway.
The Rush Defense
A rush defense involves the frenzy of throwing reinforcements and supplies straight to the front. This strategy hopes to rob the Axis of a territorial advantage even at the cost of Allied units that are put in harms way, often piecemeal. The problem with this strategy is that it can reduce the game to a war of attrition in some areas. The Allies will need to bank heavily on drawing out the battle as long as possible, all the way to turn 8. Since the units that your trucks will be dropping off will be going directly into the fray then the trucks themselves will have to navigate a path to the front. Throwing units constantly into the hottest spots on the front will entail placing precious supplies and trucks directly in harm's way (an issue that will be discussed on its own in an upcoming logistics article). This risks either their destruction or worse, their capture. There is also the serious risk of the front just collapsing in vulnerable areas. If one of the fronts disintegrates there will be nothing behind except for reinforcements to prevent a breakout. Such a breakout could easily become catastrophic as unimpeded units rush to pick up as many towns as possible.
That being said, this course of action allows you to focus on reducing Germany’s material. To make it work a little luck is going to be needed to swing initiative in your favor. The weight of arms that can be brought to bear will start swinging back into Allies favor late in the game, especially once air power becomes an issue. However, the loss of trucks and supplies that is likely in the beginning will hamper efforts to keep the front properly outfitted. Implementing such a strategy need not carry such airs of desperation. The judicious deployment of forces to where they are needed the most will make this strategy work. You must be willing to give up small defeats along other fronts in order to secure victory in the most decisive battles. Constantly putting pressure on the Axis will keep them from marshalling the forces in a single spot to strike that decisive blow. Conversely you won’t have the mobility to move your own forces to face a new threat as they will all be tied up on their own fronts.
Many players have lamented about the difficulty in properly developing these ‘hard-points’ to drive off the Axis at crucial areas. Often times the Axis player can just bypass the trickiest spots and drive on to pick up more points in the rear. Even large armies when concentrated in a few hexes can be circumvented and cut off. It is crucial that when developing a hard-point you are aware of both the avenues of advance and the zones of retreat. Rivers and open ground will be crucial for limiting the mobility of attackers and preventing a flanking attack. Refer to the first article on strategy and peruse the board before play to plan a defensive set-up. Remember to keep ZOC in mind and you can see how individual hard-points in close proximity may slow down and attack by forcing blitzing tanks to expend a great deal of supplies to reach their destination. When the Axis finally engages your hard point, hopefully enough units will be there that two things can be done. 1) Even a concerted attack won’t have favorable odds of clearing out your defense in one brad stroke. This means that it will take more than one turn to clear out the hex, costing the Axis valuable time. 2) You will have the forces necessary to counter attack or if you win initiative strike the first blow. This can knock the legs right out of even a powerful axis attack, especially if it is a spearhead of unsupported armor.
In order to mount this defense, you must be resigned to give up victory points as you fall back. Refer to the strategy article to decide what cities are worth giving up and where you should make a stand. Coughing up crucial cities without a fight without a fight gives a great advantage to the Axis. Conversely, setting up a hard-point that is easily flanked or bypassed can be equally disastrous. It is also important to consider that while you are falling back you are also leaving Axis forces unmolested and that allows them to gather their own momentum. The few battles that are fought will be decisive ones and a hard point that fails often spells doom for an entire front.
A mix of both of these strategies may work best. A player with a keen eye can see that the board and the battle both offer opportunities to exploit weaknesses in the Garman advance with defenses adapted to both the terrain and their style of attack. For example, a rush defense would make sense to protect the northern front where the fall of Eupen could unravel the surrounding area, while in the South a successful German attack that overruns supply depots in the first turn might only be stopped by falling back to Bastogne and taking time to build a defense there. Each game will be unique and will call on unique responses from each player.
I hope these tips and insights add depth to the tactics you employ in achieving victory in Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge. Our next article in this series will focus on the logistics of maintaining a supply line and the strategic use of air power, for both sides, to destabilize an opponents supply chain and front.