Review: The Deadly Woods by Revolution Games

Ted Raicer has done it again. This time he’s applied his acclaimed chit pull mechanism to the legendary Battle of the Bulge and has done it with aplomb. This is a streamlined and intuitive title that organically simulates the campaign while providing ripe opportunities for the Germans to achieve operational success. But it does feature some…

Unusual Parameters

The first thing to note about The Deadly Woods is the scale. The map is only 22 by 34 inches and includes locations generally not seen in other Bulge games, namely Luxembourg City and Sedan. Most of the large cities qualify as victory hexes so this provides the Germans with more latitude to achieve victory if at a minor cost to historicity (Hitler strictly forbade any deviation from the operational plan to cross the Meuse and strike towards Antwerp). Despite the size of the map, most units are regimental in size (or kampfgruppe) which is different compared to most other Bulge games of a similar scale which feature two maps (i.e. Ardennes ’44).

Another parameter that differs nicely from other Bulge campaigns is the length of the game. Spread over 12 turns, the game lasts until January 15th, 1945 and depicts the Allied counterattack to flatten the Bulge. This forces the Germans to be more conservative with their forces, knowing that whatever gains made will have to be defended. At some point the conditions for victory in Bulge games are arbitrary (even if the Germans can cross the Meuse in force, this will not guarantee a change in the fundamental trajectory of the war but that’s a whole other story) but it seems less so to end the game at the historic apex of the German advance and let the game continue. This let’s the player see their actions develop in a greater context and gives the narrative more room to breathe.

Given the slightly different design parameters, the title still features the typical Bulge features: an imbalance of forces between the Germans and the Allies that slowly corrects itself with overwhelming Allied reinforcements and replacements, the paramount importance of roads and terrain in impeding advances and supply, and morsels of historical chrome (Peiper’s fuel depot capture, Operation Greif, and the staggering ability of American artillery to be used every action round.)

But suffice to say…

It’s All in the Chit Pull

The chit pull mechanism is the main engine for this game system, providing the impetus for not only attack and movement orders but also providing a subtle way to abstract fuel limitations, asymmetric supply and even airpower. For those unaware of this mechanism, essentially all available actions for either player are randomly placed in an opaque container and randomly drawn. This uncertainty of when and what actions are taken simulates the fog of war to a greater degree than the traditional IGO-HUGO system.

That’s just the boilerplate and according to each theatre/design, a wealth of flavor can be added (The Deadly Woods is an informal addition to his other line of Dark titles). More movement chits for a particular side can simulate a greater logistical network, or even more chits period can reflect a historical initiative in materiel. In The Deadly Woods, the player who has initiative, can choose their first chit which does reduce the randomness. In fact, the first turn is highly scripted to ensure the Germans have a solid chance of replicating their initial breakthroughs.

Normal player phases can also be folded into the chit pull as well – namely the random arrival of reinforcements. Supply functions in a similar way, at least for the Germans, in so much that supply is usually only checked when the German supply chit is pulled. Meaning, divisions can put themselves ‘out’ of supply without paying the consequence in a kind of press you luck device. The obvious downside is that when the chit is pulled and the Germans do find themselves out of supply, the affected units cannot be brought back into supply until the chit is pulled again. Now that is clever.

But my appreciation for the design was fully solidified when I discovered what other elements had been abstracted and folded into the chit pull system. Without having played many other Bulge games, I am aware of the omnipresence of weather and its effect on Allied airpower. Historically speaking, it had a monumental impact on the campaign but here there were no rules overtly governing weather, and no airpower assets, like artillery, that could be used directly in battle. At first I figured this was an oversight but came to find out through a helpful BGG thread that the dwindling chits that the Germans can use to move and attack folded Allied air presence in abstractly, essentially taking the aggregate effect and baking into the design. This cuts down on rules overhead and assigns another task to the chit pull mechanism. This allows the player to focus on strategy and the litany of…

Shiny Chrome

While some elements have been abstracted into the chit pull mechanism, other rules and special cases liven up the gameplay. Notably but not limited to:

  • Divisional integrity forces you to keep regiments reasonably close to avoid a CRT shift penalty.
  • Offboard assets cover everything from German motorized movement to artillery to engineer battalions that can demolish bridges and provide defensive shifts.
  • Traffic markers that represent congested road ways that impede movement.
  • Mandatory surrender if the 106th is caught out of supply on the 2nd turn.
  • U.S. delay markers to simulate desperate rearguard actions that can hold up enemy movement.
  • Wide variety of terrain- clear, lights woods, woods, forest and formidable ridges all with varying movement costs, ZOC rules and combat modifiers.

Now, remembering all of these can be daunting which leads me to…

The Most Minor of Quibbles

With this preponderance of chrome, which is necessary to help produce feasible outcomes, it would have been helpful to have a player aid listing what special rules are applicable on which turns. With enough of these cases, a condensed player aid is needed. This also applies to a detailed example of play. I am a visual learner, and having graphics showing me movement and combat goes a long way in solidifying how a particular title’s concepts fit together.

But it isn’t terribly hard to produce one yourself, or to hop on over to BGG or the Revolution Games site and download these. I imagine this is material consideration by Revolution Games to keep the cost down for their titles which in that case, I am am happy to do a bit of leg work.

Final Thoughts

For all the reasons Ted lists in his designer notes as to why he crafted The Deadly Woods the way he did, this title appeals to me immensely. It has a small foot print but is still regimental in scale. Many of the player phases have been folded into the chit pull mechanism. The design expertly focuses on gameplay that directly affects the outcome and abstracts much of everything else. Much of the applicable chrome adds narrative flavor and learning it should be easier if you have a passing familiarity with the historical campaign. All of this makes The Deadly Woods a worthy addition to my gaming library.

Game Credits:

Designer: Ted Raicer

Developer: Roger Miller

Box Art: Mark Manhaffey

Map Art: Joe Youst

Counter Art: Charles Kibler

Rules Editing: Kai Jensen

Publisher: Revolution Games

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