By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
Over the years we’ve tried a number of approaches to game publishing at both the old and new versions of Avalanche Press. Back in the Zeroes, we attempted to craft a line of small, inexpensive boxed wargames that we could then sell in (relatively) mass quantities.
We started with three of them: Alsace 1945, Gazala 1942 and Defiant Russia. While the first two sold well, Defiant Russia was a sales phenomenon. But the very narrow margins meant that we weren’t making a whole lot on the games: even though they took up less storage space in the warehouse, all the other costs to handle them, ship them, sell them and market them were about as much as that of a much larger boxed game.
Alsace 1945 has never received the Daily Content love it deserved even as we lavished attention on its twin, Gazala 1942. So it seems like a good time to look at this fun little game, designed by Brian Knipple.
Alsace 1945 is based on the German Operation North Wind, a German offensive in Alsace that actually opened on New Year’s Eve 1944. Many American units had been pulled out of the line to reinforce the troops fighting in the Battle of the Bulge to the north, and the Germans hoped to inflict severe damage on the weakened remainder and perhaps re-capture the symbolically important capital of Alsace, Strasbourg. American resistance proved tougher than expected, despite the lack of troops, and eventually reinforcements arrived to turn back the German assault though the Americans and French did not regain all of the ground lost until launching a major offensive of their own in March 1945.
The game is a relatively simple one, sharing the same system as Red God of War and Bitter Victory, and very similar to Gazala 1942. The units are regiments for the most part, with a handful of battalions on each side (usually tanks); most regiments have two “steps,” or strength levels, while battalions have only one.
There’s an odds-based Combat Results Table, with results simply in the form of a pair of numbers split attacker/defender, which can be satisfied by step losses or retreats (or sometimes a combination). That forces the defender to choose whether to sacrifice troops to stand his ground, or fall back and preserve his combat strength, though you’ll always lose some steps when things go really badly even if you give ground.
You get to modify those odds with better supply, combined arms (tanks and infantry fighting together), defensible terrain and air support, among other factors. They typical American infantry regiment is a little stronger than the typical German outfit and can move slightly faster, but the Germans have a significant edge in armor: better units and more of them.
Physically, Alsace 1945 is a small game, with a 22-by-17-inch map with artwork by Terry Moore Strickland and 140 pieces done by Peggy Gordon. They’re nice pieces, die-cut and mounted, with full-color tanks and airplanes. The box is small, just 8.5-by-5.5 inches; we designed it to fit in a standard retail book rack.
There’s a lot of game in that small box. Alsace 1945 comes with four scenarios, with two scenarios covering the American and French advance into Alsace in late November and early December, one covering the actual German Operation North Wind and the fourth positing a maximum German effort in Alsace rather than the Ardennes. In addition, there’s also a combined scenario for use with America Triumphant, the long out-of-print companion game to Alsace 1945 covering the Battle of the Bulge.
As in the real thing, the path to victory is to maximize your own combat strength against the enemy’s weak points. That’s harder than it seems; when they’re on the attack the Germans have some very strong units to spearhead the assault and face an American front that’s been stretched thin. But the German supply lines are vulnerable, so the German player will not always be able to do everything he or she wants.
While the American side has a number of advantages – copious supplies, even more supplies dropped by aircraft, helpful tactical air support – the Allies also have to put up with politics. Does General Dwight Eisenhower favor this campaign with troops and supplies, or does he need them in the Ardennes to counter the German attack there? Eisenhower’s Atttitude only has an effect in the Nordwind and Wacht am Rhein South scenarios (the “I Like Ike” marker should start in the 3 box for both scenarios, which is a lot harder to figure out from the game rules than it should be).
And then there are the French, who bring two divisions to the battlefield but insist on keeping one of them in Strasbourg at any cost. The French division tied to the Alsatian capital (the 3rd Algerian Infantry) isn’t a bad fighting unit, rated the same as the second-line American infantry divisions like the 79th or 100th, but it’s still only three regiments. Even so, when the American lines are stretched tight – as they often will be – the American player will look on those three idle 3-7 regiments as curse DeGaulle as heartily as did Ike himself.
This is a fun little game, and we really do need to follow up with this system much more than we have in the past few years: returning the Ardennes games to print with a new title, new artwork and a rules re-write, and polishing up and releasing the Colmar Pocket game that was supposed to be the third entry in the trilogy. Until that happens, I think you’ll find a lot of fun in this little box.
Fight for Alsace! Click here to order Alsace 1945 right now!
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.