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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Battle of the Bulge iPad Game Review

By Mitch Reed
My entry into Flames of War was the latest in an evolution that started with SPI and Avalon Hill board games more than 3 decades ago.  As a gamer I have always been interested in how the hobby used the latest technology available to grow and to reach gamers who may not have time to sit down for a 2-6 hour board game.   The latest “tech toy” we all seem to have is the tablet, and like the PC 15 years ago, war gaming has embraced this technology too.

Editor's note: This isn't strictly Flames of War, but it felt more at home here than over on The Outpost. -S

One of the latest games to hit the iPad is “Battle of the Bulge” by Shenandoah Studios.  The project started as a kickstarter investment and hit the Apple App store in December 2012.  The game is designed by veteran board gamer John Butterfield and captures the essence of the classic board games of the past while using the iOS platform to perfection.

Battle of the Bulge is an operational game that gives the player an opportunity to either launch the desperate 1944 Ardennes offensive as the German commander or to stem the tide of the surprise attack as the Allied Commander.  No matter what side you take, the game is no cake walk and will challenge the player until victory is achieved.
German forces close in on the Meuse; is victory at hand?

The game is played on a map of the Ardennes region split into areas in which a player moves, attacks, and controls in order to get victory points.  In the past, I was never a fan of “Area-move” games, however once I played it I saw how the terrain and road network dictates movement makes this format great decision.   Units represent the actual divisions or brigades that fought in the battle and each side has elite units like the 101st Airborne or the 116th Panzer division.  

While each turn can take the player seconds, the in-game time of that turn can be anywhere from 0 to 90 minutes and after the day reaches dusk the game resets for the next day. Each turn the player activates one area and can use the forces it contains to attack or move, once this is done those forces may not attack or move again that day.  This forces the player to think ahead and to carefully position their units for attack ahead of time.

The real gem of this game is the interface and how well the under the hood game engine works.  Artillery, airpower, and supply play a huge role in Battle of the Bulge and are built into the mechanics perfectly, creating a great gaming experience for the player.  The interface is clean and simple and lets the player concentrate on developing their strategy.  Combat is based on many factors such as the units current strength, terrain, and if they have artillery or airpower support.
The German attack commences!  The combat flyout is shown above giving the player an idea of the what the outcome may be.
The game can be played against the AI, which has two settings for each side that will determine how aggressive it will act during play.  The AI works very well and challenges the player with unique moves each game turn.  The real fun is playing others head to head which is managed by Apple’s Game Center.  All a player has to do is request a new game against either a random player or someone from your Game Center friends list and in seconds you are on the frozen battlefield slugging it out with Panzers or dug-in paratroops.  For new players, a tutorial is included that gets you up to speed quickly.

Shenandoah plans to release a game covering the Battle of El Alamein later in 2013, and the hope is that they will further expand their title list using this great game engine.

For any gamer with an iPad, this game is a must buy, and at its current price of $9.99 it is a steal for hours of fun.

Mitch Reed is consultant for the DoD and a LtCol in the US Air Force reserve.  Besides being a poor Flames of War player, he is a play tester and designer for board and computer war games and resides in the Washington DC area.  

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