Iron Tide: Panzers in the Ardennes Review by Len Krol
Publisher: Pacific Rim Publishing
Design: Nathan Kilgore
Developer: Jeffrey Tibbits
Map graphics: Joe Youst
Counters: Jeffrey Tibbits
Cover by Maureen Grey
And 12 game testers
Once more into the Ardennes!
Now that I’m retired, I have time to fight the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes. It’s the largest land campaign in the history of the United States Army and the largest battle of 1944. The Germans came close to achieving Hitler’s political objectives.
The Battle of the Bulge is an interesting battle. While the German and American forces are about the same size, the Germans start with most of their force on the map. The Americans are spread out and there is room to maneuver around them. The Americans have to delay as much as possible while awaiting reinforcements and will take heavy losses doing so. The Germans do not have to destroy the American forces. Usually, if they get a couple of mechanized or panzer regiments off the west end, that will win the battle for them.
The Ardennes campaign will take a lot of time. You must be prepared for that. I have only played one game on this subject that took less than four hours to play. I did not like that game, so I have to be prepared for a long game.
This is the third time I am playing this game. I played a ten turn game and it was fun. I next tried for a twenty turn game, but quit after turn 16. At that point the German units were mostly at half strength or in a cadre level, while lots of full strength American units were entering the map from all angles. I concluded that the Germans attacked stupidly and I wanted to try again.
The map is 41.5” by 28” and is everything a wargamer could want. Even in low light conditions, you can clearly distinguish the light woods from the heavy woods. You can also tell which communities are towns and which are cities. This is very important in an Ardennes game. The terrain effects chart is also on the map.
The game turn sheet is 33” x 17”. Listed on this game turn sheet are the starting units, when the reinforcements arrive and where. Also stated are the unique units both sides have and what they are allowed to do or what restrictions they have. Also included is the Combat Results Table (CRT) and other extra charts and information. I noted that with all the information printed on the map, turn chart and CRT that I never looked at the rules booklet when I played this game.
The turn sequence:
Both players check for weather. Then both players determine if they have air power points this turn
Both players determine if their units are in supply
The phasing player allots replacements if any are available.
Now, Players operate individually. The Germans go first.
Phasing player attacks
The Phasing player can move units designated as being in reserve.
Phasing player can build or destroy bridges, dig trenches, or destroy depots.
Then the non-phasing player (Americans) moves, combat, reserve and engineering.
The counters all have their starting hexes or entry turn printed on them. This is very helpful, because you have so many units to set up. The units have divisional bands that help to identify them. Units have their movement rates on the lower right side. All infantry have a movement rate of three, while armor and mechanized have a speed of six. This is increased if you use strategic movement. In strategic movement you cannot be closer than 3 hexes to the enemy anytime. Armor units get 18 movement points. German infantry have nine, while American infantry has eighteen. (I guess Americans have better trucks.)
The regimental size units have the unit’s rating in a square. You are either a blue square or a red square. The blue square units are the smaller units while the red squares are the larger units. In the box will be a letter; A, B, or C. The A’s are the above average units, B’s are average, and C’s are below average. When you are first engaged in combat, you pick a chit. The number on that chit will be your combat strength. This gives the game more re-playability. The red A’s have strengths ranging from 16 to 12. If you pick a lot of high numbers, you can have a powerful division. If you pick low ones, you have a weak division. If you lose a step, the combat chit will be turned over and your strength is reduced. After the first step loss, the unit is flipped over to the side that says “Cadre.” If you take another step loss you are eliminated.
You also have battalion size units that can be used as assets to division. I call these units speed bumps and soak-offs. These are one or two strength units and are only one step. Units can stack three high, but only one unit in the stack can attack or defend. When coming in as reinforcements you stack your units. You unstack them as you close with the enemy. To have combat, you move next to the enemy units. Attacking is voluntary. When you attack you calculate the attacker’s strength against the defenders. This is cross indexed by the terrain the defender is in. A 3-1 attack in clear terrain is equal to a 2-1 attack in light woods, while it would be considered a 1-1 attack in heavy woods. There are also modifiers that do column shifts for either the attacker or defender. Then you roll a 2D6 for a result.
During the movement phase you can place units into reserve. They cannot have moved or been in combat. They can move in the Reserve Phase.
When a unit is first surrounded by enemy units and their Zones of Control, it is out of supply. This means it attacks at half strength, defends at full, and moves at half MP. If they are still surrounded a second turn in a row, they are isolated. This means they attack and defend at half strength and move only one hex. Then… nothing happens. A unit can spend the entire game isolated and suffer no ill effects unless attacked. I will talk more about this subject later.
You win on points. Only the German wins points. He gets points for exiting units off the west end of the map. He also gets points for the capture of towns. The points vary due to the importance of the towns. For example, Bastogne is worth 8 while St. Vith is worth 2. The German has to score at least 19 points to achieve a German marginal victory. If the German holds Liege for one turn while in supply, he wins a strategic victory.
When I played this the second time, I concluded that I attacked stupidly as the German player. After the thirteen turn, most of the German units were at half strength. The Americans were at full strength and maneuvering around to cut the supply lines. When I played a third time, I carefully coordinated my attacks, even though it took about two to three turns to set it up. I wanted my modifiers for division integrity, combine arms and artillery! I almost always got a defender retreat with a step lost. For a few turns, I had the 2th IND and the 99th IND in a caldron. Valiant and costly attacks by the 7thARD and two regiments of the 78th IFD freed these two divisions.
I also noticed that I have not advanced too far. By turn ten, I was barely at the gates of Bastogne, let alone surrounding it. At turn twelve, the United States had placed a unit at every bridge over the Meuse River. With replacement points I had rebuilt the 4th Division on the south shoulder, and the 2th and the 99th division on the north shoulder, and they were attacking. If successful, they could cut the German supply lines. Also Patton’s Third Army was coming on board, and this powerful force would sweep all before them.
I find Iron Tide to be a good simulation of this battle. It is easier to get started than most games on the subject. The rulebook is complete and easy to understand. The large turn sheet and the CRT have many of the tables or special rules needed to play this game. There are many decisions to be made. Using chits to determine the combat strengths guarantees that each replay will be different.
The only change I would make is in the Isolation rules. Both armies are dependent on their supplies lines and cannot live off the land. After a few days they would waste away. During the engineering phase you check for attrition. On the second consecutive day, or third consecutive day for elite units, you roll a D6. You roll separately for each unit.
Turn 2/3 6,
Turn 3/4 6, 5
Turn 4/5 6, 5, 4
Turn 5/6 6, 5,4, 3
Turn 6/7 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
Turn 7/8 Automatic step loss.
You do this until the unit has reopened the supply line or is destroyed.
Starting on turn ten, both sides receive replacements. The Germans receive them on alternate turns, while the American receives them on every turn. These replacements allow the German to rebuild some units for another push. The Americans can often rebuild units that were run down earlier in the game and threaten the weak points of the German line. I feel this rule gives the Americans too much of an advantage. The next time I play, I will not use replacements.
I like the cover. While cartoony, the artist understands what would illuminate this campaign; a menacing tank in a pine forest. The problem with this game is that it takes up too much space and is too long to play.
I found that Pacific Rim games are still in print. I will be visiting them soon to buy another game.
Buy your own copy of Iron Tide here.