We love reporting on indie games here at UGDB, and so on Wednesdays you'll be seeing more indie games being featured on the site. Each week I'll be featuring my indie pick of the week. This could be a small studio working on a project that doesn't get the benefit of a marketing campaign, or it could be the the work of a single developer publishing their personal project on Steam, itch.io, or another game-hosting site. Small games can have big ideas, take us in unexpected directions, and tackle unconventional subjects. This series highlights those games.
Today I'm going to share one of my favorite strategy games of the last several years: Shenandoah Studio's Battle of the Bulge.
Combat in Battle of the Bulge is calculated by unit strength, veterancy, terrain, and supply
Battle of the Bulge recreates the operational-level command of the 1944 offensive into the Ardennes, letting players take control of Axis or Allied forces in a series of historical mission across the dense northern European forests. For Allied forces, victory at the Ardennes means a clear path into Germany. For the Axis powers, catching the Allied military off-guard with a massive counter-attack may be the only thing that can turn the tide of the war back in their favor.
In each scenario you are allowed to select which side you wish to play and the computer-controlled commander you will play against. Each computer-controlled enemy commander will try to win using different tactical doctrines. Some will use their own strength to create opportunities, some will test your lines for weaknesses to exploit, while others will be poised to take advantage of any mistakes you might make.
In each scenario you will have objectives to complete by the end of the target date. These individual missions usually last from a few days to over a week. Each day you have a certain amount of time to activate the units under your control. These units are grouped by territories which make up the tactical map you're playing on, and so you're kind of sending orders to these strategic territories you control, ordering the units within to move towards objectives, attack enemies, etc.
Each day has a number of alternating Axis and Allied turns
While the objectives of each mission almost always go beyond "kill the enemy," the only way to safely advance through enemy lines is to create secure lines of travel. Sometimes the quickest way to an objective is to go head-to-head with the enemy, in an attempt to shatter their line and create some momentum for your army. Recognizing when fighting is necessary and when seizing objectives is the right choice takes time. My first games had me baffled at my losses. Even though I had shattered the enemy lines, I was nowhere close to reaching my objectives, seizing critical strategic locations on the map. That's when I realized I had to have the bigger picture in mind. Sure I needed to consider the attacks and counter-attacks that I would be open to with each move, but at the end of the game control of territory is what wins wars.
So I started pushing deep into enemy lines, driving columns of tanks, mechanized infantry, and infantry towards those big-point targets. All it took was for a few enemy divisions i had bypassed to swing around behind me, cutting off my supply lines to the front. Units that get caught behind enemy lines and surrounded are considered "out of supply," drastically reducing their effectiveness in combat and defensive capabilities. I lost several games because of some overzealous charges into enemy territory.
I'm the kind of general friendly soldiers would frag in a foxhole when no one was looking. But hey, I was learning.
2nd Armored Division is trying to hold the bridge south of Verviers. What I've learned so far: don't mess with 2nd Armored
As is true in most wars, information is critical to success. Every day you're given a mission briefing, that does everything from remind you of your objectives, show the status of your supply lines and support units, provide intelligence on enemy conditions, and then the actual history of what was happening on this day during the war. Read this information. It is critical to understanding what you need to do that day and how best to do it.
Every day you're briefed on the status of your fighting force. Your poor aide reminding you again that the objective isn't just to kill tanks. You have to, you know, capture some strategic intersection of road or bridge
Because Battle of the Bulge operates on an alternating activation system, I found that the game really simulates the attack/counter-attack of warfare really well. Once a unit has been activated for the day, it can no longer move. It can still defend, and it will retreat in the face of overwhelming forces, but once you move a unit into a new zone, it has exhausted its offensive ability for the day. Foxholes are being dug, wounds are being tended to. Because of this, if you move a unit into a territory adjacent to occupied enemy territory, you invite the chance of counter-attack. The counter-attack is a real thing that advancing armies have to deal with, and the I-Go-You-Go system really nicely models this reality.
Battle of the Bulge is a fantastic light wargame. It's not nearly as complex as some of the theater-spanning simulators out there, which I count as a blessing. I'm sure there is plenty of grognardian joy to be derived from a deep, crunchy wargame, but I'm relatively new to the genre, so I'm trying to ease into it.The game maintains the spirit of the wargame genre, rewarding clear supply lines; careful, considered advances; and clear focus on objectives. But its intense focus means that you're not split between managing multiple fronts. Rather, you have to look at actions of a dozen or more divisions, balance their actions and abilities against the immediate threats in the area, all while considering how to best achieve your objectives.
Battle of the Bulge ends up being very chess-like in its execution. There are micro and macro-level decisions that must be made, and the missions last from 30 minutes to an hour. If you're looking for an historical strategy game that takes an operational approach to warfare, you could do worse than Battle of the Bulge. It's currently available on Steam and iOS.