This is about the 5th time I’ve played Ardennes ’44, and I’ve been pleased that it’s been holding its own, even just playing the 6-turn version, which can be played in about 4-6 hours. The 8 turn scenario might be a bit more interesting – the Germans might have an outside shot at taking Bastogne, and so a few more options – but at the price of taking the playing time over the magical 6-hour boundary beyond which it would be difficult to finish in one sitting. Our games have generally been pretty close, although the Americans have won more often.
So, here are some of my thoughts on winning as the Germans, on a sector-by-sector basis.
7th Army: Separated from the rest of the offensive by the dense terrain between Ettelbruck and Wiltz, this army operates more or less on its own. Obviously, you have to take Diekirch and Ettelbruck. But you can also cause significant heartache to the Allies by blocking some of those exit zones on the map edge, which will suck up numbers of good-quality US reinforcements for virtually no purpose. If the US does not give this sector enough attention, thinking it a backwater, you should definitely commit the artillery to make them pay.
5th Panzer Army: The 5th Army has two objectives, Bastogne and St. Vith. St. Vith has to fall for you to have any chance, and this will require a set-piece assault – bring up the artillery, surround the city, and pummel it. Don’t mess around with chancy low-odds attacks against the city itself; work on encircling it instead. Bastogne, on the other hand, is a goal that should be unachievable in the 6-turn game … but you still want to drive hard for it. The purpose here is to open a yawning gap in the American lines somewhere between St. Vith and Bastogne. If you can unhinge things there, you can breakthrough into the point-rich area to the north, or go around to exit units. This is where you can win.
6th Panzer Army: This unit has two avenues of advance: north of the Warche (through Eisenborn) and south of the Warche. The northern option is a non-starter – the American units there are too good. Be happy if you can take Eisenborn. South of the Warche you have some options. You’re likely to see severe traffic problems initially, but you have a large number of potent units. The problem is, you’re also close to the point where the best and most numerous US reinforcements arrive, and the terrain is, as usual, awful. I’ve never seen the Germans progress even to Malmedy in this sector – it’s just too easy to reinforce. Unless you can create a crisis elsewhere, I wouldn’t expect much in the way of VPs, and I certainly wouldn’t redirect units from other sectors here or put artillery here at a high priority. But, if you can attract divert reinforcements from the center, that’s still good. And as always, you want to be on the lookout for opportunities. The Americans will have to strip or neglect some sectors to bolster others, so you want to be prepared to exploit weaknesses.
Bearing in mind that wherever the Americans commit the reinforcing 9-6-6 Combat Commands and 6-defense infantry units your offensive is likely to stall out, I think the most likely vulnerability is the long dangling flank between St. Vith and Bastogne. Pressure in the 6th Panzer Army and 7th Army sectors won’t create breakthroughs, but will divert units that create the possibility of a breakthrough somewhere in this sector. Look for opportunities both to seize VP locations and to exit units.
Also bear in mind that your offensives will stall out without artillery support. I find that you will win or lose based on whether you have your artillery in the right place at the right time in the right quantities. Artillery makes the difference between just dislodging the defenders and getting bonus advances and breakthrough combats.
As I say, I’ve been quite happy with both the playability and the replayability of the 6-turn game for both the US and the Germans. I’d love to play the whole campaign game sometime, but that would be an almost prohibitively long game (although to be sure, I imagine it often won’t take 22 turns to realize the Germans aren’t going to make it across the Meuse).