I did an out of the box review on the new Axis and Allies title, Battle of the Bulge, last week, and got a chance to play this with Jesse a few days later. This was Jesse's first game, and I had him play the Germans so he could get a good sense of how the game plays as he'll probably be demo'ing it to customers at his store in the future. Jesse won on turn five when he took Liege, and in fact had several chances to beat me that turn. However, we felt that had I held out that the Allies would almost certainly have won, so we both came away feeling the game was close.
Some thoughts after getting in a second playing:
o This is going to be my favorite A&A *game* in the series. I still hold that the game does not do enough to try to tackle the difficult nut of encouraging the Germans to do what they were trying to do historically, and for that reason there may be times when I pull out Tigers in the Mist instead of this game. However, this may be the best introductory wargame out there, nothing else does such a great job of introducing basic concepts in such an appealing package.
o A closer look at the VP spaces on the board show that the cluster of towns in the north leading to Liege and the area around Bastogne are the critical spaces to prevent a German victory, just as they were historically (St. Vith is doomed, but may also help the Allies to hold out as long as possible). As such, we think that the Allies may have a better chance of winning by allowing German penetration after making these areas hedgehogs with strong defenses. ZOC prevents supply from reaching the panzers racing ahead, and the rules about stopping when entering uncontrolled towns prevent them from running amok in the Allies backfield. I may try this strategy out in a solo attempt in the near future. In other words, the Allies *force* the Bulge, which is historical. The lack of defensive terrain in the north may make this harder, but it's worth a shot.
o I still have issues with the counter mix, the difficulties of tracking movement, and some of the vaguaries of the ruleset. However, none of these affected our enjoyment of the game. This is one I definitely want to play again in the near future!
I wonder what Avalon Hill will do for it's next A&A game now that they've exhausted all of the "interesting" ETO battles involving Americans? I'd love to see a Guadalcanal game, which would allow the game to continue with the supply issue while tackling a subject that has been problematic for traditional wargame designers.