In many ways I’m ideal Grognard material, being interested in games and military history. However I’ve tended to shy away from wargames because I can’t usually be bothered with the byzantine, unappealing rules and because too much counter density does my head in. I’d really enjoyed the few lightweight style games I’d tried such as Hammer of the Scots and Commands & Colors: Ancients so when I got the chance to try a similarly lightweight game in the hex-and-counter format, I jumped at it.
This game was originally only available from publisher as a free giveaway at trade stands during conventions. At one point they were mailing copies to anyone who requested one for no more than the cost of postage, but unforunately the game is now out of print.
As befits what is essentially a freebie the game comes without a box. However any similarity to other cheaply produced giveaway games ends there. The counters are thick, robust and printed in full colour, including nicely stylised vehicle icons for the mechanised troops. The map, though fairly small and un-mounted, is similarly colourful and well designed featuring everything you need to directly refer to during play as well as the board and turn/point tracks.
The game is a simulation of Operation Market Garden, with counters mainly at the regimental level. The allied player controls the drop of the paratroops and the advance of the British armoured columns up the main road into Holland. The German player must defend the road and threaten allied supply line with a mix of scratch infantry and Panzer units.
This is a proper hex-and-counter game which has two pages of rules. That’s right, just two although they are fairly text-dense. They’re not available from the publisher so hopefully I can give a worthwhile summary for you here.
The game is played over nine turns of three impulses each. In each impulse, the players take a turn each to activate units, allied player first. An activated unit can do one of three things. It can move, attack or resupply. All units on both sides can act during each of the first two impulses each turn, while only armoured units can act during the third. Although this is an attractively simple way of modelling the extra speed and firepower of armoured troops it has the downside of actually discouraging stacking of infantry and armour together, as armour units in such a stack are fairly useless acting on their own in the third impulse. Given the combined arms tactics that dominated during the Second World War, this is a slightly surreal oversight.
In the movement phase a unit can move two hexes or one hex over a canal or any number of hexes along a road. German units can also use the off-board areas which surround the hex board and which each cover a number of hex sides each. This allows the German units to redeploy to new areas much quicker than the allies and is a nice, simple way of simulating the dangers of the allied units having to operate deep in enemy-held territory.
Combat is the usual hex-and-counter routine of totalling up the combat strength of all the units in the attack versus those in the hex being attacked, finding a ratio and rolling a dice to get a result which can (and usually does) damage both attacker and defender. There are simple terrain modifiers for attacking into woods and cities (one column shift) or over a bridge or canal (half strength). The combat resolution table used here is terribly unforgiving and encourages the attacker to really stack the odds up as much as possible. Damage is distributed amongst units as the owning player sees fit and counters placed to keep track of how much damage each unit has taken. Units have a defensive strength which, when matched by damage taken, results in the elimination of the unit.
The resupply action simply removes a point of damage from a unit at the cost of a resupply point. There are a variety of pools of resupply points available which different units can use – most of these increase at the rate of one per turn, so units cannot keep on resupplying indefinitely. The number of pools is a little perplexing – each allied airborne division has a different one, there is a Wehrmacht one for general German units which gains a D3 point per turn and is for use by general German units. There’s also an SS pool which can be used only by SS units, although these units can also use the Wehrmacht pool if they want. Finally there’s an unlimited supply depot for the allies along the main road, and cutting this becomes a major objective for the Germans late in the game. Supply points can also be use to bombard a target during an attack, which buyers the offensive force a column shift on the table.
That’s pretty much the core rules. The only other things of particular note are the special rules for the allied airborne troops. At the start of the game the allied player must choose three airdrop locations and these become the supply points of each of the allied airborne divisions. Starting paratroops and re-enforcements must land within 2 hexes of these points and stay within 2 to use it as a supply point. The historical location of the drop points are given in the rules, although the allied player is permitted to drop his troops wherever he likes. At the end of the nine turns, then if the allies have a unit in Arnhem and there are no German units on the main road, then they win. Otherwise the Germans take the victory.
See, it is pretty simple! I was amazed and horrified in equal measure to learn that some light Eurogame fans actually had trouble learning and playing this. I can't imagine a game could offer any level of meaningful historical simulation and be any easier to teach than Target: Arnhem.
For all the simplicity, the game does manage an impressive level of historical flavour. The game, like the battle it attempts to portray, revolves largely around control of the central road which serves as the allied supply route and control of the bridges which serve as excellent defensive barricades for both sides. In that high-level sense at least the dilemmas presented to the players are broadly similar to the dilemmas presented to the actual commanders in the battle. As you would expect from a game about a battle which the allies lost, there is a very heavy pro-German bias in the game balance which might annoy people more interested in symmetry than they are in history. This, combined with the nine-turn time limit, also results in some of the sense of pressure and desperation that must have faced the real life officers during the battle. Some people might find the pro-German balance to be offset by the fact that the allies have the more interesting decisions to face during the game, but I find there’s still enough here to keep the German player interested.
And indeed pressure and desperation are two of the big points of appeal in the game. The aforementioned time limit, the harsh mistress that is the CRT, the desperate, skin-of-the-teeth holding actions fought by outnumbered and outgunned airborne units until the guards arrive and the need to react quickly to threaten and protect supply lines combine to result in a remarkably tense experience.
The necessity of keeping the central supply line open for the allies is the core of most of the interesting tactical decision making in the game. The paratroopers fighting in the cities and the speed of the inexorable, but often slow, advance of the guards to relieve them, basically come down to the position of the allied supply points and the dice which, while exciting, isn’t terribly challenging. However, the allies usually end up with one or two powerful stacks to defend the road while the Germans have a smorgasbord of weak units to try and attack it. The fact that it only takes one unit to cut the road combined with the impulse system which forces a unit to move or attack results in a situation which rewards carefully calculated manoeuvre even given the relatively small map space. This is a good example of the way that the impulse system becomes the other major source of tough choices for the players. There are frequently times when the best choice of action from move, attack or resupply is not clear cut and picking the wrong option can have a big impact on the game. The fact that there's a limited source of supply points and that they can be used to attack as well as defend forces further consideration before decision.
The game can be played to conclusion in 2-3 hours, although if the Germans are winning (as they often are), you can often call a game before all nine turns are up and save some time. There isn’t much endgame excitement unless the allies are winning through in which case it can be a really thrilling finish!
There are two major problems with the game, both of which run off the entirely forgivable imbalance in favour of the Germans. The flaws are more avoidable and, as a result, slightly less forgivable.
Firstly, although the game runs nine turns it’s entirely possible for the game to effectively be decided very early on, and for neither player to notice that this has happened. Bad choices of starting drop points for the allies can (and often does) pretty much preclude any chance of an allied win before a dice has even been rolled. Once the bones start rolling then a short streak of good luck for the Germans in the first turn or two or a corresponding run of poor luck for the allies can prove equally decisive. Once you’ve got a few games under your belt you’ll be able to spot when this has happened and agree a mutual restart – but for less experienced players they’re going to spend most of the game night playing through an already dead match.
The other issue is that the choice of tactics, particularly for the allies, is pretty much forced on them by the adversity of the situation. There are very, very few workable strategies that the allies can adopt if they want to have any realistic chance of winning. There are various ideas I’ve not tested yet but the number is quite possibly as small as one. There is a knock on effect of course in that once you’ve fixed a strategy the German player tends to respond in a similar way for every game. Once you’ve worked this out then the re-playability of the game drops drastically – there is still some potential for excitement and tension, but the strategic element becomes of very little interest. The result of course is that the game has an extremely limited lifespan in terms of play time.
There are some solo rules for the game, designed to allow a fast-half hour play for those who can’t find an opponent:
I’ve played these and they’re briefly diverting but I can’t really recommend them. The fact that the Germans basically don’t move and have no re-enforcements means the game becomes almost entirely governed by the dice. If you want to play solo, you might have a better time of it taking the traditional lonely wargamers’ route of playing both sides at once, although I’ve not tried that myself.
Viewed from the standpoint of an introductory wargame for new Grognards or a wargame which is of interest as a diversion and change of pace for non-wargamers, this is an excellent game which ticks pretty much all the boxes. It’s simple, relatively quick, has good historical flavour, is tense and exciting to play and can be had for very little or no money. What more could you possibly want?
However, in order to properly assess it we kind of need to step back and assess the game from a wider perspective. At this point the re-playability problems come to the fore and no game which has such a limited shelf-life really deserves to be widely celebrated as a great design. However, given the near-perfection with which this fits its chosen niche, it’d be equally churlish to be harder on it than is entirely necessary. Take it for what it is - a simple wargame, ideal for introducing gamers to the rigous of hex-and-counter games and also an interesting tactical puzzle to solve and you won't go far wrong. Just don't expect to get a lot of play-hours out of this title.
Matt is the founder of Fortress: Ameritrash. He is also a regular columnist for Board Game News.