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Battle of the Bulge

If you’re going to create a iPad game about a single battle, the Battle of the Bulge isn’t a bad place to start. Perhaps best dramatised in the HBO series Band of Brothers, the last German counter-offensive of World War II was an extremely ambitious but ultimately futile plan. Both sides had different objectives, strategies, strengths and weaknesses, and these make for an intriguing event to revisit.

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Battle of the Bulge takes the history it’s based on very seriously, from its introductory video to a full section of the app that gives a more detailed background to the battle and those who fought in it. It’s clear the developers have placed great value in authenticity and if you’re likewise interested, you’ll no doubt appreciate the attention to detail.

“It’s clear the developers have placed great value in authenticity”Upon starting the Battle of the Bulge, you’re introduced to the Basics, a pre-tutorial explaining the primary objectives of each side and the fundamental concepts of the game. In essence, this is a turn-based strategy game in which you control either the Axis or Allies, moving units around a beautifully detailed map until victory conditions are met. There are no hexes, dice or other boardgame artefacts; this is a pure simulation, based on its own set of rules.

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Those rules take some getting used to. The tutorial is comprehensive, but you’ll probably need to go through it twice to truly understand everything you’ll need to win. Doing so isn’t easy, as the Germans found out 68 years ago.

“You’ll quickly discover how crucial it is to maintain your supply lines”Commanding the Axis forces, you’ll quickly discover how crucial it is to maintain your supply lines. If a unit becomes isolated, it runs out of fuel and can’t move, then ultimately loses the ability to defend itself. For the Germans’ armour, this means trying to push your tanks through as quickly as possible, while retaining enough forces behind your vanguard to keep the entire force moving.

As the Allies, the Battle of the Bulge is a completely different challenge. With a few weak units at first, your strategy is to stall the German armour and deny access to territory until reinforcements arrive. Letting some Axis forces through can work in your favour, as long as you cut off their supply lines before it’s too late.

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With both sides having such different objectives, Battle of the Bulge makes for an engaging experience, whichever side you play as. The difficulty is just right too: as in history, winning as the Axis in the first few days is very difficult, meaning that your first few games will be losses or ties before you figure out a winning strategy.

“There are missed opportunities to extend its lifespan”Once you have though, the game falls a little flat. With only one battle and a map that never changes, the replay value is limited. There’s no option to change the starting units, and once you reach a victory condition, you can’t continue playing until the other side is routed. Just as you’re on top of your enemy and your efforts are being rewarded, the game is cut short and you feel a little short-changed.

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There’s longevity from online and offline multiplayer, but once both players have a few games under their belt, fighting the same scenario again and again is likely to tire. Most will play Battle of the Bulge alone, and there are missed opportunities to extend its lifespan, with no high scores or achievements in Game Center.

In short spells, Battle of the Bulge is an engaging strategy game with enough depth to satisfy anyone with a passing interest in World War II history. The developers have clearly paid great attention to detail to make it authentic and ground it in the history it seeks to simulate, but you’re left wanting more from a formula that clearly has huge potential.

7 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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