Battle of the Bulge’s design shares many cues with the variants of the popular Axis and Allies board game based on specific battles, so fans of that style of game will certainly find something to enjoy here. This game is no board game port though and does not have any dice rolling, keeping the randomness behind the scenes. The setup of each battle gives an estimated range of damage each force will be able to inflict upon the other while also showing any terrain or situational bonuses and how likely each force is to retreat. Results are mostly predictable, though random upsets do occur.
Another welcome difference from Axis and Allies and other such board games is that turns pass quickly in Battle of the Bulge. Players can only move a single territory’s units in a given turn and typically have few (if any) other actions to take. Because players have so few decisions to make on each turn, the game ends up with a style more similar to chess, as players should deliberate upon each move they make. The downside of the turn system is that any given unit can only move once per day, and players can easily find themselves with fewer units than turns in the day. It is not uncommon for Allied players to end up passing three-to-four turns in the first couple days of the game.
The action all takes place at a the battle map level, so players do not get to see their units fighting up-close, but the lack of such a feature does not particularly hurt the game at all. Battles are still accompanied by visuals of shots muzzle flare and projectiles hitting targets, so players still get immediate feedback on their actions. The game map itself is easy to read, allowing players to easily differentiate between territories. The historical information entries are filled with actual pictures from the time period, and the briefing maps are all drawn as though Patton or Monty drew them up in the war-room.
Appropriate Forties-style music accompanies the menus and helps set the tone. Unfortunately, the game itself is devoid of almost all background music, save for a small ominous beat that plays during battle setup. The skirmishes could use some sound effects to better illustrate the action and the battle map could perhaps use some ambient sound to help set the scene. This lack of sound effects to punctuate the action keeps the game from feeling fully-polished but does not particularly hurt the gameplay experience.
While the sound setup might offer some minor annoyances, the only aspect of the game that will actually disincline replay is the lack of more combat scenarios or free-play modes. The game only has the Battle of the Bulge and Race to the Meuse scenarios. While being able to play these maps as both the Axis and Allies gives unique strategic experiences, both scenarios take place on the same map with the same starting units. Multiplayer offers a bit more playability, but the lack of alternate maps and unit distributions will sooner-or-later tire players of the game. For most players, the game will probably take on a role similar to many board games in that players will hold onto it and play it occasionally with friends and family, but never play it regularly.
Battle of the Bulge is only a good strategy game, but it is a wonderful historical simulator. Gamers interested in World War II history should enjoy this game, even if they do not typically enjoy strategy games. Strategy gamers without a particular interest in World War II history will get some good, challenging gameplay and some good head-to-head battles against other players, but will probably lose interest due to the lack of maps and scenarios. Regardless, Battle of the Bulge is a well-done game that is definitely worth the price.