Sunday, May 22, 2011


Operation Market Garden was the most ambitious paradrop campaign of WWII. It inspired the 1977 movie A Bridge Too Far, directed by Richard Attenborough and with a star-studded cast that included Denhom Elliot, Dirk Bogarde, and Sir Laurence Olivier. And because of its mixture of parachutes, gliders, tanks, engineers, and against-the-odds heroism, it's a favorite with wargamers as well.

Arnhem was originally part of SPI's WestWall Quadrigame, released in 1976. Quadrigames (Quads, for short) were sets of four games using sets of common rules, with special rules for individual battles. You could buy the games individually or as a set.

The Quad games were aimed at novice and intermediate gamers; the base rules were never over eight pages and special rules never exceeded four. I never owned the WestWall Quad but I do own three others (Thirty Years War; Blue & Grey I; Napoleon's Last Battles) and I enjoyed them very much over the years. Hardcore gamers sometimes turn their noses up at intro wargames, but despite the simplistic rules the games as games were usually fun to play, tense, and well-balanced.

According to my copy of Strategy & Tactics no. 81 from July/August 1980 (the latest issue of mine which contains a Games Ratings chart--I think it was shifted to MOVES magazine soon thereafter), Arnhem was rated 6.7 out of a possible 9. Currently on BGG it's rated 7.2/10. To put this in context, here are some other ratings from that same issue:

  • Cross of Iron (top rated game overall and top WWII game): 7.4 (current BGG rating: 7.58)
  • Kingmaker (top pre-19th c. game): 6.9 (current BGG rating: 6.39)
  • Napoleon at Bay (top Napoleonic): 7.2 (current BGG rating: 6.79)
  • Terrible Swift Sword (top Civil War/late 19th c.): 7.3 (current BGG rating: 7.11)
  • Mech War II (top Modern era): 7.3 (no BGG entry???)
  • Freedom in the Galaxy (top Fantasy/S.F.): 7.1 (current BGG rating: 6.57)

You'll note that Arnhem now outranks all but Cross of Iron on BGG.

Arnhem's popularity at the time, along with its (relative) n00b-friendliness, encouraged SPI to use it as part of another introductory set called Moments in Conflict. My copy is this version--the price sticker is still on the baggie: $5.96. I find to my surprise that there is no entry for this set on BGG--if I had time I would add it--but for the record the four games were:

  • Arnhem;
  • Chickamauga from the Blue & Grey I Quad, a great American Civil War game;
  • World War I, a standalone minigame--excellent; and  
  • Bundeswehr (a hypothetical Soviet invasion of northern Germany, from the Modern Battles II Quad).  

Naturally, given the popularity of the Market Garden Campaign among gamers, there have been quite a few attempts at simulating it at various levels of scale and difficulty, including:

Not only that, but Microsoft put out an Arnhem game as part of its Close Combat Series (recently re-released, apparently, by Matrix Games), which I also own and played to death in its day.

Marked-Up. Much easier to play. No resale value.
As usual for my copies of SPI games of this period, (as I discussed back in Week 14) I completely marked up the chits and map to simplify setup and reinforcement entry. I also added markers for VP's and Ground Support, since I hated keeping track of anything using pencil and paper--I'm not sure why.

Relearning the rules was a snap--this is standard SPI golden-era Igo-Ugo with locking ZOC's etc etc. It took a few minutes to freshen up on the scenario-specific rules, but otherwise we were good to go. My partner elected to play the Germans, and I was happy to embrace the challenge to playing the Allies. We also agreed to play with variable weather but historical drop zones.

I had never played this game other than solitaire until this week. Since the game has no special solitaire mode, this involved playing with selective amnesia (those of you out there who play mainly solitaire will know what I mean). It's groupthink with a group of size one, and it's the deadliest kind. Furthermore, the Allied side in this game has little margin for error. First, the Allies get only one VP per German unit eliminated, but the Germans get FIVE for every Allied unit lost; furthermore, the historical drop zones are vulnerable to being overrun, and once overrun the Germans can amass tons of victory points for preventing Allied units from tracing Lines of Communication.

The long and short of it was that I resigned after five tense turns. I managed to repair one bridge the Germans blew along the main highway, but I left a couple of units carelessly vulnerable to being surrounded and eliminated. Not only that, but they were British paratroopers, whose drop zone is the hardest to defend. By turn 5, the Germans had swarmed the drop zone and there was precious little I could do. It wasn't helped by some unfortunate weather rolls which kept reinforcements and air support on the ground. Curse you, rain clouds!

The big picture, however, was that I enjoyed it immensely. For all its simplicity, the game captures the tense struggle to secure the bridges for the Allied advance, with the Allied player watching the skies every turn praying for clear weather. I hope to play it again in a couple of weeks at my gaming group's quarterly day-long gaming con--right, Rob?


1 comment:

  1. Sir Brian Urquhart has some advice for you - change the drop zones - that was one of the big mistakes - and he's still alive so give him a bell and tell him how you get on!