Now, when your weapons are dulled, your ardor damped, your strength exhausted and your treasure spent, other chieftains will spring up to take advantage of your extremity. Then no man, however wise, will be able to avert the consequences that must ensue
In the first two articles we discussed to strategic and tactical dimensions of Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge. However good your plans for attack and defense might be, they will be impossible to execute with out the proper supplies to maintain them. This article will focus on the use of logistics in this game, its importance in determining the outcome of battles and how this element can be properly managed and utilized to the player’s advantage.
Erwin Rommel famously quoted that, “the battle is fought and decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins.” Weight of supply and industry was a major factor in influencing the outcome of countless wars. Historical precedent of this can be seen as early as the Punic Wars, and more recently in the American Civil War and both World Wars. On the battlefield itself, supplies and the means of their movement to where they are need must be maintained at all times. Soldiers need to be fed, vehicles need fuel and guns need to be loaded with munitions. Without these things, eventually defeat is almost certain.
To represent these battlefield realities, Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge has introduced supplies and trucks. The ability for each side to move units and launch attacks is directly tied to the presence of supplies on the front lines. These supplies are represented by tokens on the board that are used up as each attack or movement is executed. Supplies must be adjacent to the hex that is using them and must also be behind friendly lines.
Supply tokens come in from the rear at a rate of nine tokens per turn for the Axis and twelve tokens per turn for the Allies. However, these tokens cannot simply be placed on the board. Trucks must come in from off the board carrying these supplies. Each truck has the capacity carry up to six supply tokens, infantry and/or artillery units. Moreover, during the Movement and Reinforcement Phase trucks on the board return to the rear and can be used for further transport if they are outside of an enemy ZOC. The Axis will receive four trucks over the course of the game and the Allies seven. Both the Allied and the Axis player will have to be careful and consider how their ground forces and supplies will be distributed on each front. Since a truck traveling along the road can pick up units in different hexes but can only drop them all off in a single hex, multiple trucks are a must if separate fronts are to be adequately supplies.
The Axis player begins with 24 supply tokens distributed at three points along the front line, each one at a point at one of the three fronts. This is enough to launch attacks and move the front line forward for the first round and have 8 supply tokens to spare. A maximum of nine supply tokens can come in each turn and that is dependant on having the trucks available and their space not being taken up by infantry and artillery units. Presuming the Axis player was to attack and move with every hex each turn, a minimum of 16 supply tokens per turn would be needed to maintain the advance. Supplies will have to be captured in Allied depots right from the beginning. Additionally, the Axis player should adapt his strategy to take into account the presence of new Allies supply caches as they develop new defensive lines. Ideally the Axis player will want to have steady supplies reaching all of his fronts, but even with capturing Allied supplies and judicious use of trucks, supplies will eventually have to be rationed. The Germans will have to carefully evaluate which fronts offer the best chances of success and move supplies to those areas. Even though you will have to budget your supplies, if you have the trucks to do it, try placing what few supplies you have in several hexes to force air power to spread out to hit all of your supplies, while still allowing yourself to concentrate your scarce airpower to drive the Allies off your most vulnerable targets.
Positioning supplies is also very important. If at all possible, supplies should be dropped at points where they can be utilized by the greatest number of occupied hexes. The geography of a hex boards means that on a three hex front there is a rear hex in the formation that touches all three of the front hexes. Supplies placed in that hex can reach all three of the front hexes. Unfortunately, the terrain can get in the way of such a neat and tidy arrangement. Roads are crucial for the movement of supplies via truck. However, not all hexes have roads and hence it will be difficult to get supplies in a central position if there is no road to allow it. An example can be seen in the hex that is directly south-west of Monschau. It is an open plain of sorts. If during the early game all goes well on the northern front for the Axis, then the Germans could occupy the hexes astride Eupen and Malmedy. If that is the case then this open hex would be the backside to such a three hex arrangement. This would force the Axis player to place supplies or reinforcements off to the side which could leave one hex in the lurch. A good player should keep these possibilities in mind when expanding their front-lines or forming defensive zones.
Balancing Supply Protection and Utilization
Supplies can be rushed to the front all the same as combat units. Similar to the rush strategy outlined for defense in the tactical article, there are benefits and caveats to moving supplies directly to the front, especially for the Allies. I say this because it is unlikely that an Allied hex on the defensive will be out of the enemy ZOC by the end of the turn. Trucks that are in an enemy ZOC cannot return to the off board area to move in supplies and soldiers. This can present some severe problems as trucks can continually drive up to the front, never to return, severely limited a players ability to move about troops and supplies late in the game. Trucks are a precious unit and should not be left to capture or destruction so easily.
With that in mind, there are also grim necessities that can force a truck to the front lines. Early in the game, an Allied player employing a rush defense will need to bring supplies and soldiers directly into play on hot fronts. If trucks drop off soldiers and artillery directly behind the front line, then they can’t be used immediately in the battle. With only so many trucks to go around and with the limitations on where they can make drops, everything will have to go to the front to make a stand. Early in the game units sitting behind the front have to watch as their comrades are overrun and they get committed piecemeal to the battle. Once aircraft begin to appear, it may be necessary to bring both trucks and the quarry to the relative safety offered by being surrounded by front line troops. Both supplies and trucks left out in the open are easy prey for Allied airpower and incentive for them to split their forces. The Axis player should focus on keeping these units from being exposed to aerial sorties. The best way to prevent this is to bring them to the front and accept the risks associated with the supply rush.
The other option would be to establish depots directly behind the front lines. This could allow for maximum distribution of resources and the free movement of trucks. This works well when the Allies are adopting defensive lines in the rear or the Axis are making a steady early game push toward the west. What supplies aren’t used can simply be picked up and brought forward by trucks to ensure waste isn’t left to languish in the rear. For the Allies building hard points, supplies and soldiers can be dumped off around their target locations and use the supplies to organize themselves if the need to spread out a bit. Remember that as the Allies, supply denial is important. Never use more supplies than you need. Extra supplies should be left off the board if the aren’t necessary. Also, you can blitz your tanks around and shuffle soldiers to burn off supplies in vulnerable depots, like St. Vith, to keep them out of enemy hands when the come knocking. The Allies should never have supply problems unless they lose their trucks. Building hard points away from the hottest fighting can help establish a good base of supplies that won’t wind up falling into German hands.
Air Power and Late Game Logistics
On Turn 5, another dimension is added to the game as the skies clear up and aircraft come into play. This has the potentially to decisively shift the balance of power into the Allies favor, but in order to inflict a maximum amount of damage with them, airpower must be used properly. The Axis possess their own aircraft which can be used to block or draw off Allied aircraft. However, the simple fact is that the Allies will dominate the skies, outnumbering the Axis planes three to one.
Simply put, air power functions in this game as a method by which the Allies can eliminate Axis supplies. Sure airpower can hit all units present in a hex, but for the Allies they can inflict the greatest amount of damage simply by removing the Axis player’s ability to advance and thus pick up the remaining towns needed for victory in the late game. The Allied player has 3 bombers and 9 fighters to allocate around the board, for combined total 21 dice to attack with if they all make it through unscathed.
It is important not to spread planes out much, if at all. This goes for both sides. Twelve planes attacking twelve hexes are likely to do no damage whatsoever in the face of anti-aircraft fire. The Allied player should consider where the supply depots that give the greatest advantage to the Axis player are located and strike them heavily. Late in the game, if your defenses have done their job, the Axis player will be forced to focus his supply efforts in a single front.
With the preponderance of Allied air power, the Axis will have to use supply rushes if just to keep them from being exposed. Because of this, in order to press on, the Germans will have to clear out the hexes around their supplies to allow their trucks to return to the rear and bring more up. That is in itself a very tall order. At this point it may be best to focus on continuing the offensive along a single front and maintaining a defensive stance along the others with enough supplies to launch counter-attacks against the Allies. At this point, one needs to look at their prospects and see what the surest route toward victory is. If just a few more points are needed, then focusing all of your efforts to pick up the last town or two you need could provide edge needed to win.
Defending supplies from air attack provides a new and unique tactical situation in Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge. Each type of unit present in a hex, from Infantry to the Supplies themselves, contributes a die to Anti-Aircraft fire. Each additional unit of that type beyond the first does not contribute additional dice to Anti-Aircraft fire. This creates a situation where your anti-air defenses in a given hex are defined not necessarily by the weight of your units but by their diversity. As such a hex with an infantry unit and an armor unit in addition to supplies will receive more Anti-Aircraft dice than the hex with five infantry units and no armor with supplies.
Axis Aircraft Use
Initiative provides an important edge in this phase, allowing the Axis player to see where the Allied player wishes to strike with his Aircraft. In the absence of this foreknowledge it is best to hedge your bets and try to protect your most crucial hex. If the Allied player is worth his salt he will be going after your supplies. The priority assigned to each of your hexes bearing supplies should be ranked by two factors, strategic importance and defensibility. The former requires you to look at the battlefield and decide which of your fronts holds the greatest chance of success in winning you the game either by itself or with a minimum of aid from other fronts. This late in the game, you will have probably already assigned the bulk of your dwindling resources to maintaining this one axis of advance. Certainly the Allied player will be able to see your disposition on the board and plan accordingly. If your supplies are concentrated in one area, then there he will strike. If he has massed all of his airpower against such a supply area then you should take steps to make sure he doesn’t disable your offensive. You should do everything you can to protect your most important depot from attack and that is where you should place your airpower.
However, this is where defensibility becomes important. As we’ve covered the importance of protecting your supplies on the ground late in the game it is also apparent that there might not be enough units to cover all of your supplies. When you place your aircraft consider carefully the odds of taking out enough aircraft to minimize their overall effect. If the Allied player has split his aircraft between targets, judge carefully the one where you are most likely to mount a successful defense. Squandering your plans to pick off two enemy fighters only to have the remainder glide through negligible Anti-Aircraft defenses would be a terrible waste of airpower. Also consider whether or not the Bomber should be used defensively or not. Most often it is important to clear as many aircraft as possible out of a hex, but if a target has been left unguarded, the risk of letting planes through might be worth it if four dice can be used against a hapless cache of Allied supplies or unsupported units.
If initiative does swing to the favor of the Axis, then the bomber or possibly with some other Aircraft can be used to threaten a vulnerable area in the Allied rear. The goal of such an attack would be do draw off an inordinate amount of Allied air cover as the Allied player will want to ensure that units blocking the way to an important town aren’t shoved out of the way by an Axis air strike. It is a bit of a gambit as the Allied player may simply ignore your diversion, but if ignored you get the chance to do some damage to an important part of the Allied defenses.
This completes the articles on improving your play in Axis and Allies: Battle of the Bulge. Hopefully these hints and tips when taken together will bring your game to the next level and expose some new tactics and strategies to try as you develop your play style. There is still a final article to come where we will explore house rules for integrating Axis and Allies Battle of the Bulge and Axis and Allies: Miniatures, bringing two great games together and opening a whole new level of play and strategy.