Bundeswehr Northern German, late 1970’s
Review by David Lent
Bundeswehr is a game about a hypothetical Soviet invasion of Northern Germany in the late 1970’s. What’s interesting about this game is that there are only German, British and Soviet forces. There are no American forces whatsoever. Another interesting fact about this game is that it is the first micro wargame written by a woman (Virginia Mulholland). The first “regular” size wargame written by a woman was Battle of the Wilderness by Linda Mosca. It was one of the four games inside Blue & Gray II.
Even though this game was published in the late 1970’s, it obviously influenced the modern series of minigames from Decision Games as it has both standard and exclusive rules. The standard rules are aptly named, because they play like modified “Standard wargaming rules” that allow displacements during retreats and use an active and mobile combat results tables. Mobile combat results tables don’t have exchanges, while the active combat table does. However, the enemy is also more likely to be eliminated with the active combat tables. The exclusive rules give rules about river crossings, untried units, optional nuclear weapons and Soviet air supremacy.
River crossings occur in this game either over bridges or by crossing a river anywhere else using 3 movement points. Whenever Soviet units try to cross a bridge hex, the allies get to roll to see if they blow up the bridge. This sounds interesting, but the problem is that if the bridge blows up the Soviet unit is not harmed and may cross anyway just by paying an additional 3 movement points. I feel the game would have been better served if it were more difficult to cross at non-bridge hexes. It would also have been cool if during the first turn, the Soviets had special units such as Spetsnaz who could attempt to disarm the explosives on the bridges before the main Soviet forces entered the map. This is a low-cost microgame though, so it’s understandable that it doesn’t have that level of detail.
Bundeswehr has a unique feature known as untried units. I’m guessing the logic behind this is that since none of the units involved have been in combat before, their commander’s cannot predict how well they will do the first time they are in combat. Thus, all non-artillery units enter the map on their untried side, which only shows their movement allowance, size and type. It does not show the combat or defensive strength. When the unit moves into combat for the first time, it is flipped to its active side so you can see its stats. There is a variation in combat strengths among units of even the same type and a few units have an attack strength of 0.
When I played the game, I never let the fact that I didn’t always know my units’ attack strengths make me operate any differently. If I saw some units I wanted to attack, I just attacked and attempted to surround them if possible. Sure, sometimes it turned out that my units were weak, but I still did as well as expected because there is an ENORMOUS amount of artillery for each side and that more than made up for the occasional unit with a 0 or 1 combat strength.
The first time I played this game, my opponent and I agreed to use the nuclear weapon optional rules. I should have known better, because I was the Soviets and they have less nukes than the allies. In addition, my opponent knew what cities I had to take in order to win, so he could predict my movement. Essentially, you choose the target hexes for your nukes at the end of your turn and they strike at the end of the next turn. Since my opponent could easily predict my movement, his nukes usually struck near where my forces were. He kept his units on the move and out of static positions, so my nukes didn’t hit his units as often. This game uses low-yield tactical nukes, so the best they can do is a +12 on the CRT, which gives it a 1/3 chance of destroying a tank in its blast area. From what I’ve read, this is pretty accurate for what low-yield nukes do to armored vehicles. The United States and China later developed the neutron bomb to compensate for the lack of effectiveness of low yield nukes against armored columns. However, neither country has ever tested one or put it into production. Theoretically, a low yield neutron bomb would have far less blast than a “regular” low yield nuclear weapon, but far more radiation that would be lethal to tank crews over a wide area. After three turns, my opponent and I agreed to discontinue using nuclear weapons as neither of us wanted to see the game won or lost due to “who can predict the enemy’s location the best on the next turn.”
Air power works like artillery in this game. Depending on the scenario, any side that gets air power can roll on a table to see how many points they get. They can then use these points like artillery strength points.
Bundeswehr has 3 scenarios, each with their own setup and reinforcement schedule along with different victory conditions. This gives Bundeswehr sufficient replayability. Microgames usually have only one scenario, so I was delighted that this one had three.
I found that the secret to playing this game is to use your tanks to pin units with their zone of control and pile on a lot of artillery to blow them to pieces. No commander in this game will ever complain that he doesn’t have enough artillery! Interestingly, the actual conduct of the game felt a little two-dimensional for a WWIII game. It felt like it needed helicopters, bombers, and airmobile units to give it more of a modern combat feel. If you removed the air superiority and nuclear weapon rules and replaced the counters with Napoleonic or Civil War units, these rules would have worked adequately with those also.
SPI made an excellent choice by making Bundeswehr a microgame. It’s fun and works great as a microgame or a folio game, but does not have the level of detail needed for a big box game. Microgame fanatics, such as myself will enjoy playing this game and all its scenarios. Big box gamers will probably view it as an interesting beer and pretzel game, but not detailed enough to be game night’s main event. As such, I recommend this game for microgame enthusiasts and beginners.
View the components in the unboxing video below: