Dripping with historical accuracy and realism, Shenandoah Studios’ Battle of the Bulge is without doubt the most polished and in-depth wargame released on the iPad to date. Although its specific scope and depth may be off-putting to casual gamers, hardened wargame veterans will find a great deal to like here.
Taking one of the pivotal battles of World War II as its setting, Battle of the Bulge focuses on the hard fighting between the Axis and the Allies over the course of a few bitter winter days in France, 1944.
Tanks, artillery and infantry face off in a last-ditch attempt to gain and defend ground, through snowy forests and decimated villages. Heavily-based on historical fact, each unit is accurately placed on a detailed map of the region and is represented by a counter with stats such as health and veteran / elite status. Players then take it in turns to move units across the battlefield: either in an attempt to push back the enemy, or to gain strategic or defensive advantage.
The turns themselves are spread across a number of days. Once again, based on the real historical events, different conditions and events occur on specific days. On the first day of the conflict, for instance, the surprised Allied infantry are unable to move; then on the second day, reinforcements arrive, helping the Allies to repel the Axis onslaught.
The topography of each sector of the map also influences tactics, with towns and forested areas providing extra cover; or roads allowing tanks to move at a faster pace. Additionally, the forces’ lines must also be taken into account, with units isolated from other connected units being cut off from ‘supply’, hampering their ability to move and fight.
With a short scenario set in the first few days of the conflict and another recreating the full Battle of the Bulge, the game allows armchair generals to conduct a short sharp sortie, or to pore over the stats and tables over the course of an involved and in-depth campaign.
Shenandoah Studios have done a superb job of implementing this title on the iPad. Interface and menu screens are clear and excellently designed, with a graphical look which fits the context. The map on which most of the game takes place is pleasingly detailed and fully scrollable and zoomable, allowing players to focus on a particular troublesome firefight or sit back and peruse the entire battlefield as a whole.
Behind the main game lies a wealth of background and historical information. Some of it is merely educational (though still fascinating), whilst some of it is tied directly to the game itself, giving players who study the material a tactical advantage. Objective screens not only show the overall success criteria required to win, but also reveal such vital information as when reinforcements will arrive, or indicate which of your units are at risk of being cut off from the chain of command. For those who like to roll up their sleeves and immerse themselves in games such as this, Battle of the Bulge certainly doesn’t disappoint.
Combats are automatically resolved: however, a predicted outcome is displayed prior to the fight being committed. This shows the likely damage inflicted by both sides, including whether a unit has a chance of being destroyed or forced to retreat. Cover, strength, experience and external factors such as air support are all taken into account and can be analysed prior to setting the order to attack: once this is done, however, you sit back and watch as the units exchange fire before the actual result is displayed. To some players, this may seem a bit detached; to others, the tactical information to be weighed up prior to each combat will be more important than the fight itself.
Players have the option to play either scenario against a series of ranked AI generals, or to face off against another human opponent – either on the same iPad or online. Sound effects and music match the rest of the title’s production values, with realistic movement and battle sounds complemented by atmospheric period music in the information screens. As a whole, Battle of the Bulge drips with quality, justifying the premium price tag associated with the game.
To devotees of tabletop wargaming, Battle of the Bulge will be an answer to their prayers. It is the most detailed and tactically deep wargame title currently on offer on the app store, and provides potentially hours of entertainment for those wishing to recreate the battle again and again.
For less die-hard wargamers however, the very specific setting and the at-times daunting amount of stats and information to take on board may be a little too much to handle. However even for those players, if they are willing to spend more than a few minutes with the title, there is a deep and rewarding gaming experience to be had.
For the serious wargamers, Battle of the Bulge more than delivers – on all fronts.
Score: 7/10 (casual gamers); 9/10 (serious wargamers)