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A Time for Trumpets   The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 by GMT Games  'Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein' (Operation Watch on the Rhin...

A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 by GMT Games A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 by GMT Games

A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 by GMT Games

A Time for Trumpets: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944 by GMT Games

A Time for Trumpets

 The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944


GMT Games

 'Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein' (Operation Watch on the Rhine), or the 'Ardennenoffensive' (Ardennes offensive) it is called in German. The Ardennes Counteroffensive is the official Allied military name. Please do not call it the 'Rundstedt Offensive'. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the planning. In fact, his answer when he was asked about the plan after the war was, "If Old Moltke had thought that I had planned that offensive, he would have turned over in his grave." Neither Rundstedt or Model, fanatical Nazi that he was, believed the plan had any merit. Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich (who commanded the 6th Panzer Army during the battle) said of the plan "All I had to do was the cross the river (Meuse), capture Brussels, and then go on to take the port of Antwerp. The snow was waist-deep and there wasn't room to deploy four tanks abreast, let alone six armored divisions. It didn't get light until eight and was dark again at four, and my tanks can't fight at night, and all this at Christmas time!" As a side note, Rundstedt said Dietrich was "decent, but stupid". So why is this battle so much in demand many to so many wargamers? It seems that you could find five to ten different company's versions in each wargamers hoard. Well, this was the largest battle that Americans had ever been in (the English were involved also, but not too deeply). The Allies were completely taken off guard by this attack in an area that was considered 'safe' because of the terrain. The German plan was pretty much thought of in Hitler's mind even as the Allies were dashing across France, and it looked like the war would be over by Christmas. The Allied offensive was hamstrung by the lack of supplies, and came to a halt at the German border. The Germans used their phone lines instead of radio chatter etc. So, the Allies did not have their usual Ultra intercepts or much else to judge German intentions. The offensive took the Allies very much by surprise. The German Army was considered a spent force. The schwerpunkt was supposed to be with the 6th Panzer Army at the top of the Bulge. In actuality the U.S. troops, some of them green, mostly fought the SS to a standstill. The greatest penetration into the Bulge was done by the 5th Panzer Army. I will list out the number of troops and AFV's etc. that have to be modeled in the game. These numbers are from the start of the German attack:

Troops - 229,000
Tanks  - 486
Tank Destroyers & Assault Guns - 499
Other AFV's  - 1,921
Anti-Tank Guns & Artillery - 971
6 Infantry Divisions
2 Armored Divisions
Casualties at the end of the battle - 90,000

Troops - 406,000
Tanks - 557
Tank Destroyers & Assault Guns - 667
Other AFV's - 1,261
Anti-Tank Guns & Artillery - 4.224
13 Infantry Divisions
7 Armored Divisions
Casualties at the end of the battle - 98,000

So, GMT has brought this battle once more to the wargamers' table. Let us see what we get. This is what comes in the weighty box:

5 full size game maps (65"x48" total playing area)
12 counter sheets (2304 playing pieces)
1 Rules Book
1 Scenario Book
1 Play Aid Manual
Four 11"x17" player aid cards
Five 8.5"x11" player aid cards
2 dice

 This is GMT Games information on the game from the Rules Book:

"A Time for Trumpets (or ATfT) is a one to five player game depicting Germany’s last offensive in 1944 known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” The Campaign Game includes the period from 16 to 26 December when the Germans had to achieve decisive results.
Game Scale
Each game-turn represents approximately 6 hours of real time.
Each map hex represents a distance of 1 mile across and an area of
about one square mile. The units consist primarily of battalions and
companies plus a minimal number of other sized units.
The Map
The map shows the Ardennes including portions of Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France where the Battle of the Bulge was fought. The map illustrates the most prominent terrain features of this region. A grid of numbered hexagons (hexes) has been superimposed on the map as a means of regulating the movement and positioning of the playing pieces. Also located on the map is a Game Turn Record Track, Off-Board Movement Areas, German Bridge Holding Boxes and depictions of the Terrain Features."

 The map scale is at one mile per hex. The 65"x48" size makes it a monster, but a monster that has a lot of scenarios that only use one, two, or three of the five maps. The maps are not rehashed ones and have been completely reworked and checked and rechecked against wartime topographical maps. The colors are nicely done, and it is easy to see what terrain is in each hex. The twelve counter sheets (my thoughts are with the grognards that are compelled to clip counters) are very well done and use the typical green for U.S. troops, Grey for the German Army, and Black for the Waffen SS etc.
The counters are larger than you would think for such a big game, and are easily identified. As with any 'monster' game there will be a large amount of counters on the map. The Rules Book is as large as one would expect with such a game. It is sixty-four pages long, including the index. It is in full color and looks like other GMT Games Rules Books. At the end of it are some examples of play. The Scenario Book is sixty pages long. Pages thirty-three to forty-nine have on one side the German and Allied setups for the different parts of the map. Unless I am miscounting there are 13 scenarios in total (they will be below). Each scenario seems to build on the other as far as sticking your toe into this deep pond. The Play-Aid Book is forty-eight pages long. It is filled with full color Reinforcement Charts, Area of Operations, and setups for the End Game Scenarios. The three books are made up of paper pages with no lamination. I assume the cost would have been prohibitive. There are a total of nine Play-Aid cards. These are made of thin cardboard and do have some lamination on them. One has the Allied and German chains of command. Four of them are one-sided and have the German Artillery Park information for each corps. If you want to see a grognard's eyes light up just open up the box in front of him.

These are the scenarios, with maps:

7th Army Scenarios - 3 - 2 maps
6th Panzer Army Scenarios - 2 - 1 map
5th Panzer Army Scenarios - 2 - 3 maps
Campaign Game 
End Game Scenarios:
3 - 1 map
1 - 2 maps
1 - 3 maps

 So, the main point I want to get across is that this game type is as hard to find as a rare gemstone. It is a playable monster game. There are Advanced and Optional rules that bring more chrome or make it easier on the player. Let us look at the game's RuleBook:

"There are three types of rules: Basic, Advanced and Optional. If a
rule is not identified as Advanced, then the rule is Basic. The Advanced rules impart significant, historical facets to the game; they
are intended to loosely drive the progress of the game by interjecting
intelligence as it was known in 1944. By mutual consent, players
should add advanced rules as they become familiar with the basic
system. During the extensive playtesting of the game, the advanced
rules were usually used. Optional rules are provided simply to facilitate ease of play—they are found in rule sections as applicable."

 The game's pedigree goes right back to the earlier days of wargaming. The designer Bruno Sinigaglio was involved with three of the greatest wargaming titles: Battle of the Bulge, Siege of Jerusalem, and Bitter Woods. A Time for Trumpets is an opus that he has been designing for more than forty years. The only thing you can really say derogatory about the game is its sheer size. To set up the maps alone you need a space roughly 6'x4'. When you add in the extra space needed for the Player-Aids etc. it is a sizable area. The beauty of the system and the scenarios is that there are enough scenarios that only use one, two, and three maps. Players will be able to learn and play with any setup they have now in their house. Then if you wanted to, you could join in at a group play at a convention etc. if you wanted to (whenever they happen again).  

 One of the biggest pieces of the game rules is command and control. The Area of Operations rules for the allies ensures that they cannot just willy-nilly advance across the map, and overwhelm the Germans. All of the different Areas of Operations makes it so if an Allied force moves into another Area of Operation it is immediately out of command. The Germans are similarly stopped from bunching together in a large mass. The Allies were incredibly worried about Liege. This city was the linchpin of the Allies' long tenuous supply line. In the Campaign game if the Germans occupy any of the six Liege hexes they win a Substantial Victory. In most of the other scenarios the Germans must occupy different key points on the map. If at any time a German Tactical Victory in the Campaign game happens, a German AFV enters a hex across the Meuse River from Givet to Liege City. If this happens the Scenario Book remarks "The German player should heed Field Marshall Models's words and "get down on his hands and knees and thank God." You can see by that that the German player has to have all the die rolls and luck on his side. The Allied Victory Conditions are to stop the German from getting to any of his Victory Points. This game has everything in it that you want in a game. Some examples are:

Bridge and Combat engineers
Anti-Tank and Heavy Tank Units
Motorized Infantry
Tactical Aircraft
Strategic bombing
Improved positions
Bridge Demolition (The Allies best friend)
Artillery of all kind

I am very grateful to GMT Games for allowing me to review this game. I was tentative at first because of its depth and size. However, the design of the scenarios makes it very easy for a grognard to play out bits of it before trying to swallow the whole game at once. The other point I made, but need to stress, is that this is a playable monster. This is not a game that will sit on your shelf and you will look longingly at it for years before it gets bequeathed to an unsuspecting child or spouse. The game is fine to play solitaire also (very few games are not) for one of us mostly lone gamers. The price for some maybe a sticking point. However, we are now used to paying 2/3 of the cost for A Time for Trumpets for games that do not give you anywhere near the actual components, let alone game play. I was very ambivalent in the past about Battle of the Bulge games. I am not anymore.


Thank you to Marty Sample and Tom Stearns from BGG, for the use of their pictures.

GMT Games:

A Time for Trumpets: