Shenandoah Studios' The Battle of the Bulge [$9.99] is to the iPad what SSG's fabled Panzer General was to PC gaming in the '90s. Its a game that will make historical strategy diehards swoon, while also being pretty enough, and easy enough to learn, to draw in people who never knew that this was the game they'd been waiting for.

It's even educational, with day-by-day summaries of the historical course of the Axis' last offense and additional materials about the battle presented in an incredibly appealing "magazine" format with historical photos. This is a game that could be taught in a military history class.

There are several things that Battle of the Bulge is not, by design. It's not real time, it's not a multi-mission campaign, it's not a game where you can see every soldier fight and die in 3D animated gore, thank the strategy gods.

Battle of the Bulge is a wargame on what grognards call the "operational" scale: neither "grand/strategic" (representing complete control of an entire nation or at least its military on a given front) nor "tactical" (squad/unit level). You maneuver entire formations across a territory-level (not hex) map.

The result is a game that looks a little like, and is nearly as easy to control as Risk, while being much deeper in strategy. Terrain effects, including roads, bridges, and defensive cover, are an essential part of strategy, as are lines of supply.

Units are fairly simple, but sufficient: regular and elite infantry, mechanized infantry, and armor, with artillery and airpower as environmental effects. Every unit is historical, based on the actual unit, its strength (represented in "pips") and experience (represented for elite units with a badge containing their historical insignia). Combat is resolved quickly and elegantly, with just enough of an audiovisual flourish to be appealing (much like Panzer General), and those flourishes can be skipped or turned off in the menu.

The full set of movement and combat modifiers is easily accessible under the Charts and Tables tab of the Help menu, which has been designed to look like the dogeared contents of a field desk.

Well-considered touches in terms of design abound, from tabletop-inspired unit "chits" that are easy to drag about, to the bluish look of the map and menu (the Battle of the Bulge was a winter offensive), to the way that the game review presents the full map. There's also snippets of period footage of military units, colored "glows" when control of a territory changes, a scrolling sidebar with place names and combat results, and a dynamic chart showing victory points as they shift back and forth.

The game looks and feels like it was designed specifically for the iPad, which it was. Shenandoah Kickstarted this game and its sequel, El Alamein, specifically for this platform. Don't expect a Universal update: the game plays very well on my iPad mini, but even there I can see how a retina iPad would allow one to play without ever needing to zoom in. The strategic overview that is so essential to the game would be frustrating, at best, on an iPhone.

The game supports live multiplayer "board game" style on a single iPad, or on two separate iPads, as well as multiplayer with friends and random opponents over Game Center. Multiplayer is where the game's replayability lies: with only two scenarios (the signature battle and the abbreviated "Race to the Meuse"), you'll explore the single-player possibilities soon enough (you can play both sides, and against each of two AIs modeled on historical generals, but that's still only eight combinations).

It remains to be seen whether additional scenarios are forthcoming: if so, they would almost have to be speculative, rather than strictly historical.

Battle of the Bulge is a must-have for anyone with an interest in historical wargaming. It's only flaws are limited single-player replayability and the fact that it is so easy to start playing that some players may jump in expecting a Risk-like game, only to become frustrated when the game's nuances assert themselves.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • http://www.youtube.com/user/kbrinks Gemütlichkeit

    Amazing presentation. I really hope they release a 'smaller' version for iPhone. Maybe hex grid in the style of Advance Wars.

  • wilmheath

    This looks sick

  • http://matt-curtis.me/ Matt Curtis

    I hate myself for assuming terrible things from the "bulge" part of the title.

  • http://www.facebook.com/WereChihuahua James Gerbino

    Best serious Wargame on iOS bar none.

    • PureRumble

      That is... Combat mission: touch

  • http://twitter.com/DotComCTO DotComCTO

    Battle Academy and Battle of the Bulge set the high water mark for wargaming on the iPad. They're both fantastic games.

    Is anyone on the TA staff ever going to do a full review on Battle Academy? Just wondering why that game was paid short shrift.

  • http://www.facebook.com/basden4 Dennis Basden

    fyi, Panzer General was an SSI title, not an SSG title.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003136913750 Tof Eklund

      Whoops! I I do know that difference; I played a lot of Warlords II back in the day.

      On an unrelated note, I just had a conversation with the composer of the game's theme - and realized that I said nothing about music. I think that was an easy oversight, as the music for the game is very good but also intentionally understated.

      • chommie

        You just are not very good at your job. Not only do you fail to recognize the board game aspect of this game but you place xbox like(your own?) expectations on the game. Maybe some one who is more familiar with niche strategy titles should have been doing the review. Trying to save face in the comment section by adding as an after thought your opinion of the music (and a quick apology to boot) Amateur. Thank god for the internet or you would quickly find yourself in the breadline

      • Adams Immersive

        Thanks for the review! Actually got me to consider this title, in a genre that I normally wouldn't look twice at. (The Internet contains an interesting range of social skills, doesn't it? You just have to laugh...)

  • blindspot

    "with only two scenarios"
    "still only eight combinations"
    "whether additional scenarios are forthcoming"

    The voice of this review really espouses video game values over classic war game values. And why not, this is TouchArcade after all. I can accept that, but I will suggest that readers here who've never experienced playing a board war game to view this app as an implementation of such, rather than a video game with a built-in expectation for "more content". That being said, the app certainly uses all of the advantages of its medium to the fullest.

    I wouldn't expect Shenandoah to add additional scenarios into this app, but I could be wrong about that. I believe that they take their inspiration from the print war game manufactures of old. I expect them to reuse the base code of this game to make new apps covering totally different conflicts and other war games, of course with iterative improvements. If you check out their site, you will see that they have plans to work on 8 or 9 more games/apps in the near future. I believe Battle of the Bulge is the harbinger of greater things to come, and I'd be surprised if they use energy to expand it or add more to it.

  • SpiceTheCat

    This is an outstanding.game, with completely transparent rules and a fabulous map. Despite the asymmetric sides, it is well-balanced (for human players). The AI is good enough for learning the game, but not great at protecting its supply lines. Seriously enjoying playing through GameCenter.

  • worldcitizen1919

    I'm new to these kinds of games. Just can't appreciate this yet.very boring.

  • jessk

    Finally a real game for the hardcore gamers!

  • Louis Ace

    It's kind of funny that the author of this review says to not expect a universal update, even though the game just got one.

Battle of the Bulge Reviewed by Tof Eklund on . Rating: 5