The Battle of the Bulge was the last major offensive of the German Wehrmacht. In this article, you can read about the board game 'Clash of the Ardennes' based on this event in history.
December 16, 1944
The last major offensive of the Germans begins. Because of the low-hanging fog, surprise and speed, Hitler managed to initially overwhelm the American units with his attack 'Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein'. Better known to us as the 'Battle of the Bulge' or 'the Ardennes Offensive.'
In a last-ditch effort to turn the tide, Hitler tried to punch a hole in the advancing Allied battering ram via the Belgian Ardennes. The weather favored Hitler, as the fog provided good cover. Initially, the attack went well. The unprepared American units, which were also weakened, were completely overwhelmed. The Germans even managed to cut telephone lines behind the line through saboteurs/spies. Disguised as American soldiers, the Germans drove through the American lines in captured jeeps. They created chaos and spread disinformation. Although the Americans did not initially realize the seriousness of the situation, they quickly managed to turn it around. The Battle of the Bulge was a fact.
The Ardennes Offensive became the basis for the board game Clash of the Ardennes. How this board game came about, how the Ardennes Offensive inspired me and which choices I made I would like to share with you.
Many years later, in 2008, Croatia. After visiting an old castle in the region of Istria I knew. I wanted to make a board game. At that time still inspired by knights, horses, and lancers, because I had visited a castle. The game was to be for 2 players and the idea was to reach the other side and conquer your opponent's castle by laying out your units in a row.
The basics laid back then became the foundation for the game today. Coming back from vacation it started to gnaw at me. Castles are nice, but my interest lay in the events surrounding the Second World War. So it had to be different.
The basis of the game, based on the rock-paper-scissor method, I could also apply in a different way I soon found out. To give you an idea of the basic game principle; you place units in one of the 7 streets, starting from your own side and you try to reach the other side. Once you have reached the other side, you own this street. If you conquer 3 streets you have won. Of course, your opponent will try to prevent this and you will meet each other eventually. Using the 'rock-paper-scissors method, you determine the winner of a battle and move on.
The knight defeats the lancer, the lancer defeats the horse and the horse defeats the knight. The 3 units have different sizes and the number of units is also different for each unit. The horse is 3 blocks long, the lancer 1 block, and the knight 2 blocks. Of course, I could also change this to a 'World War II setting'; the tank is 3 blocks long, the anti-tank mine 1 block, and the soldier 2 blocks. The tank defeats the soldier, the soldier can dismantle an anti-tank mine and an anti-tank mine defeats a tank. This became the basis of the game.
I knew I had to test it. How do you know how much you need of everything? How long should the street be and does the rock-paper-scissor method even work? There had to be a prototype. And this one came. Made of wood.
At first, I had too many units, but through test play, you eventually figure out what a proper number of units is. I did know that the anti-tank mine (1 block in size) was easy to place and thus had to be 'rare'. The tank is large and is 3 blocks long and thus can make big moves, which is consistent with reality. The soldier is smaller, but there are most of them.
But something was missing. The game had a good base but was still too boring. By adding -limited- special units it would become more fun. I thought about this for quite a long time, because this could also negatively affect the game. I wanted to keep it simple. Nevertheless, I decided to add 3 special units. These were 'the general' (5 blocks, so could make a big move and especially important at the end), 'the spy' (1 block and beats everyone), and 'the commando tank' (3 blocks and can also attack/flank sideways).
Adding these special units made the game more fun. I added that you could only have 1 of these special units on the playing field. Otherwise, they became too strong and too often used.
Try, practice, test and try again. That really took years. Even though I wasn't constantly working on it, you are constantly adjusting and improving.
I had already described the rules, but not in an official rule book. And these I wanted to have. But I did want to provide them with illustrations because that's more appealing. I started looking online for the style of rulebook I wanted. Authenticity was the most important factor for now. So, I wanted something that I could link to that time. So I started looking and finally ended up with the Tigerfibel. This is a tank manual that the German tank crews used to fix the most obvious problems with their tanks. A quick guide. Simple in structure, not too much text, and with lots of illustrations.
Right away I knew this was going to have to be it, at least in this style. The illustrations were distinctive, striking and unique. Usually drawn in black, accented with red, and provided with a word or image joke. Humorous, but also serious and even featuring naked ladies. This was obviously to let the German tank crew be able to absorb the dry teaching material a little better and easier.
As you can see, the style is very striking. So I put out a commission online, intending to find an illustrator who could draw in this style. The assignment was to draw an attractive young lady playing the game with German soldiers in the background. Attached is Steve's illustration. This was a match!
Meanwhile, my game was ready for the next step, literally and figuratively. It had to take shape and have its own look. My preference for wood always remained. I wanted to make the game out of lasered wood. But anyway, then you need a laser machine. I made contact with several companies that sold laser machines. I was allowed to run many tests on their machines, to test the quality and to be able to provide myself with a working prototype or parts of it.
Later I came into contact with someone who wanted to make 6 prototypes for me, 1 of which was a luxury version, made from walnut and ash wood. The rest were made of poplar wood. Attached is the result. It looked very cool!
Steve was busy doing illustrations. Sometimes a bit at random, due to my spontaneous ideas, but we stuck to our new style. The game had to be thematic, World War II and preferably it had to be a battle that took place in the Netherlands, because that's where I'm from. Location was important, because then you can better empathize with the game and the theme. Operation Market Garden was my first choice, but apart from the fact that paratroopers played a major role there (and they were not yet in my game as units), it was also a battle that did not end well for the Allies. This was no option. Were there other battles that were known? Well, enough, but not of epic proportions. That was the moment I had to look across the border. Normandy came along (but also boats were no units at that time). Then I ended up with the Ardennes Offensive. An offensive where both sides played an important role. Tanks and soldiers were important. It went back and forth (as in my game) and it's an epic and globally known battle. That was going to be the one.
I was already in touch with Glenn. He indicated to me that he would enjoy writing a story/intro. I didn't know him personally, but hey, you can't miss a shot. He started writing and eventually came up with the familiar piece of text, which is in the first pages of the rulebook. Unprecedented, I was immediately drawn into the story! Short and sweet, but after reading it, you wanted to play the game right away. This intro was also used in the current campaign as the story for the introduction video.
After consulting with the illustrator Steve, we wanted to provide most units of the game with a distinctive illustration. So, the general had to be a well-known general. Then you start filling in roles. Who is the general, who are the spies and how are we going to portray them?
Both sides have a General at their disposal, one that is 5 blocks tall and can make a big move, especially in length. Useful at the end, when you have to conquer the last street within a few steps. For the Allies, it was soon clear to me, that would be General George S. Patton, who commanded the 3rd Army. For the Germans, we finally chose Hasso von Manteuffel, who led the 5th German armored army during the Ardennes Offensive.
The German Spy is, of course, based on the German saboteurs who drove jeeps through the lines in American clothing. For me, this was an ideal depiction of a spy. Recognizable, appropriate to the situation and actually happening. But there also had to be an American spy. To have an American soldier dressed up as a German was not appropriate. Besides, my wife pointed out to me that there were few (read: no) women in the game and therefore it is less attractive to women. That in combination with the love for the most beautiful computer game I have ever played, ‘Commandos’, I ended up with a female spy. In the expansion of Commando's you can also play with a spy, namely Natasha. I wanted to make that link and for that reason I chose a beautiful lady who could distract the German soldiers.
The game had to be sold somewhere, so I had to find a publisher or a place where I could sell the game myself. In 2014 I had a small success with the card game BlockYou! on Kickstarter. I wanted to put this game on Kickstarter as well. I started to set up a campaign, with new illustrations by Steve, photos of the prototypes and a rulebook in the same style. Continuously tweaked and adjusted until in 2019 I felt it was complete. In August 2019 the campaign was launched. Unfortunately, though with a lesser outcome than hoped and expected.
I had the opportunity to gain many experiences during this first campaign. I have learned many lessons and I will be honest, also fell on my butt a bit. What have been the main lessons and why did the project not go as expected?
- The lack of color in the drawings was authentic, but it didn't appeal to many people. Surely color is important for atmosphere and thematizing the whole thing.
- The price was much too high, a standard game cost 80, - euro but a luxury variant was already around 140, - Especially by the labor required to make the game was actually too expensive.
- Thematic. Despite the fact that a good theme does not need to cause problems, this was obviously a theme that did not appeal to everyone. Combined with the price, this was still a step too far for many.
- Familiarity also played a part. I am not a well-known game maker, so spending '80,-' Euros on someone you don't know is a big step.
- Our budget was zero. Basically, I am doing this together with my wife, so the financial possibilities are small. Of course, I had reserved budget for Facebook and Instagram ads, but competing against the big ones was not an option.
- I didn't have an Instagram profile yet and now I notice that I did miss it. In terms of followers maybe not a very big problem, but there are many reviewers/influencers out there who could have reviewed my game at that time.
- Our goal was too high. It was set at 30,000 euros, but that was necessary because the purchase of a laser machine was included in the total. But if you don't reach your goal within a few days, you disappear off the Kickstarter radar and with a small budget you don't rise to the top.
In conclusion, despite the support of our friends and family, we did not make much progress. I think we have reached the 6,000, - euro, but then it really stopped. We pulled the plug, it had to be done differently.
After a pep talk from my wife, we decided to try it one more time, because remember, this whole process has cost me about 15,000 euros up until the start of the current Kickstarter campaign. Now or never, all or nothing. Color mattered, opening an Instagram account, cheaper production and our goal had to be lowered.
I immediately started an Instagram account and put out some contests. By adding drawings of Steve and placing ads every week I managed to slowly build my account to +/- 1,000 followers. Steve used his old red/black drawings and colored them in. To give you an idea of the process, see the attached drawing.
Het spel moest ook anders van opzet worden. Hout moest blijven, maar in een andere vorm. Wim was de man op de juiste plek, want die had goede contacten en kon mij koppelen met een bedrijf die met bewerkt hout werkte en deze kon bedrukken en lasersnijden. Deels in kleur en zwart/rood. Ik wou de eenheden op elkaar laten aansluiten door middel van een kleine inkeping en een rand eromheen (vervaardigd door puzzelstukken) zorgde voor het speelveld.
Het speelde goed, maar nog niet alles werkte lekker. De puzzelstukken bewogen nog te veel, de zwart/rood gekleurde eenheden moesten toch in kleur en de eenheden bleken uiteindelijk te groot. Deze aanpassingen had ik besproken met Wim en Steve. De tekeningen werden allemaal ingekleurd en de aanpassingen werden doorgevoerd. Dit prototype leek er meer op. Hij kon op grotere schaal worden geproduceerd, liefst 50+, zodat we deze konden versturen naar reviewers over de gehele wereld.
De spellen zijn gearriveerd. Enkel moet alles nog wel uitgezocht worden. Helaas ook iets minder in aantallen dan gehoopt. Er moest in korte tijd van alles geregeld gaan worden, want ik wou graag eind februari/begin maart lanceren. Omdozen regelen, adressen verzamelen, reviewers aanschrijven (had ik ervoor ook al wel gedaan). De regelboekjes moesten nog worden gedrukt en alles moest 1 geheel worden. Er was maar 1 regel en dat was kwaliteit waarborgen! Pakketjes die het verst verstuurd gingen worden, gingen als eerste weg en daarna volgde de rest.
De Kickstarter pagina kreeg meer en meer een compleet gezicht. Ook mijn eigen website moest ik onderhouden. Er moesten foto’s gemaakt worden, dus schreef ik Henk aan. Een erkend fotograaf in de spellenwereld. De video moest gemaakt worden, hierbij kon ik gelukkig terugvallen op Steve (die de tekeningen maakte) en mijn vrouw Sabine die kon editen. Het resultaat mag er zijn! Continue contact houden met de reviewers, prijs bepalen, marketing in gang zetten, illustraties laten maken, Instagram en Facebook posts plaatsen, de Kickstarter pagina weer updaten, contact leggen met de pers, een gezin onderhouden (voor zover mogelijk) en ga zo maar door! Dit proces herhaalde zich continue, omdat er elk moment wel een reden was om iets aan te passen.
I was very busy with it. The moment was approaching. Because on March 2, we went live. And then it went wrong... The Kickstarter page failed and I got an error message when I pressed the important green button. Fatal error! I couldn't do anything at all. Panic! Immediately wrote to Kickstarter hoping they could help me within a few minutes but in vain.
Many emails and pleas later, I got a message back Thursday morning. Fortunately, the problem had been fixed. I could go live. We still went all out to go live on Thursday afternoon and we succeeded. The momentum was a bit lost, but we had a good start. We met our deadline within 10 hours and after a few weeks, we had raised over 15,000 euros.
To stay in terms, the project was a pretty game in itself and at times war almost broke out. But we made it! The end is still a long way off, but we are well on our way to getting the game into stores soon because that is our ultimate goal after all.
We are busy looking for the right publishers. Once the game is in the stores and the game sells well, we will obviously look at whether we can expand or give it another theme. Perhaps back to the knights or the 1st World War? We will see. We are only at the start and we still have to cross the whole street!
We have been LIVE on Kickstarter for a while, so be sure to check out the LIVE campaign here:
Thanks to Sabine, Steve, Henk, Wim, Glenn, all the reviewers and everyone who contributed to this project.