On the stormy night in 1992 when I made my fateful deal with that hoofed chappy at a crossroads north of Waterlooville, one of the contract clauses I failed to read was this: “The signee hereby agrees to review all Operation Wacht am Rhein digital wargames however shallow, ramshackle, or unoriginal.” As Mr Mephisto currently has his hands full in places like Yemen and Ukraine, I could probably get away with skipping the released-on-Wednesday Bastogne Breakout. However, just to be on the safe side, here’s a few paragraphs on a title that I can only wholeheartedly recommend to Bulge completists.
Unlike its predecessor, Bastogne Breakout doesn’t appear to be a board game port. The multitude of turn phases, the prominent Combat Results Tables, and the six-sided chaos cubes that tumble every time you launch an attack, imply cardboard origins, but I couldn’t find anything resembling a touchstone amongst BoardGameGeek’s bulging Bulge selection.
Replacing Brian Train’s shorthand (manual HQ activation, almost diceless combat…) with more traditional hex wargame mechanics ensures BB is friendlier than WT. Whether it helps the newcomer stand out in a crowded marketplace is another matter. There’s a half-hearted attempt to freshen a familiar formula with Wars Across The World-reminiscent cards. Unfortunately the deck is too small for this twist to pay significant dividends.
The game is also hampered by a strangely cramped battlefield, a tiny scenario selection, and the lack of an Allied play option. This may be the first Bulge game I’ve ever played that doesn’t let me occupy places such as Dinant, Givet, Spa, and Elsenborn (all beyond map edges). None of the three scenarios last longer than nine turns, and two feature rather inflexible victory conditions that compel you to rush particular units to the western map edge.
That said, if you ignore one crash, my evening of salient swelling passed pleasantly enough.
Casey Bruyn understands the factors that made the Battle of the Bulge such a singular op, and codifies most of them pretty adroitly. Chokepoints choke, supply lines stretch and shear, fog assists, and the Allies eventually counterattack with verve and skill. Maintaining momentum while perfectly (!) preserving your exit-marked divisions does make you think. For a £7.50 outlay perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect more.