Multi-Man Publishing (2012)
Country of Origin:
4 22" x 28" historical maps, 2,380 die-cut counters (in 9 countersheets; 2140 1/2" counters and 240 5/8" counters), 17 scenarios (in duplicate sets), 46 pages of rules (Chapter FB), 4 pages campaign game sheets/maps, 3 campaign games, 2 chapter dividers/chart pages.
MMP created a very nice 2-page Festung Budapest play aid, which they handed out at Winter Offensive 2012 and put up on their website for free download somewhere here.Commentary:
The long-waited Festung Budapest finally debuted at the Winter Offensive tournament in January 2012. This “Magyar Opus,” designed by Bill Cirillo, had been a playtesting staple at many previous iterations of the WO tournament, and 2012 attendees were delighted to see it finally come out.
Festung Budapest (FB) is a massive HASL module depicting part of the lengthy siege of/battle for Budapest from December 1944-February 1945. This is a relatively obscure battle, at least in the English-language literature, but there is a very good book on the subject that can provide useful historical context. The combatants included Germans (including many Waffen SS formations), Soviets, and Hungarians (fighting on both sides, interestingly enough).
As the historical situation suggests, FB depicts a city-fight. It must be admitted that this type of fighting is over-represented in official HASLs (with previous examples including Red Barricades, A Bridge Too Far, and Valor of the Guards, and several more city-fight modules in various stages of completion). However, there is enough that is novel here, from the terrain to the inclusion of the Hungarians, that FB does not really feel like a retread.
The other general criticism that can justly be leveled at FB is its price: $130.00. In these fragile economic times, many players will have to stretch into their pockets to come up with its purchase price. FB was one of several very high ticket ASL items released in 2011-2012. However, it must be admitted that FB does offer a significant amount of play value, with a wealth of scenarios and three full campaign games. It also comes with a veritable horde of components. I guess one could always knock over a liquor store.
The centerpiece for any HASL is its map or maps. FB comes with four of them, each representing a “quadrant” of the central part of the western portion of the western (Buda) portion of Budapest. The maps use large 1-inch hexes, which reduce map clutter (more of an issue for campaign games than scenarios), but which increase the size of the maps. Thus the four Budapest maps take up a large amount of table space (although not as much as their raw measurements would suggest, as there is a fair amount of map overlap). Such large maps are usually an issue of concern to players who have limited space, but FB is a bit odd in this respect, because though it has four full-sized maps, no scenario or even campaign game uses all four maps (the largest campaign games use only two maps each). As a result, unless some “ultra large” CG is subsequently released, players will never actually have all the maps in play. This may disappoint some players who had hoped to be able to play on the whole map layout, though it will please those people wondering how they were going to be able to find space for the game.
It must be said that the FB maps (rendered by Charlie Kibler–where would ASL be without him?) are some of the most attractive historical maps that MMP has ever done. Although part of this is due to the detailed artwork (more on this below), much credit must also be given to the basic map palette as well, which is a pleasing mix of olive greens and light browns. Nowhere to be seen are the disturbing “pink” ground hexes of Red Barricades or Valor of the Guards. Rather, the hues are more naturalistic and easy on the eye. The elevation levels are not colored in the “standard” fashion, but they are clearly distinguished from each other, and MMP also borrowed a page from Critical Hit’s book and labeled each elevation level so as to avoid any possibility of confusion. The result is an attractive map and one that is also more “user friendly” than the maps of Valor of the Guards.
Adding to its attractiveness is the level of detail that appears on the maps (even including tennis courts!). Each building is rendered in great clarity and detail (unlike, say, the buildings in A Bridge Too Far). The complex city layout has been simplified and abstracted to make it playable by ASLers, but not so much as to render it unrecognizable when compared to aerial photographs of the actual terrain. Although FB is a city-fight, the different maps have different “feels” to them, as some are primarily residential areas, dominated by small wooden buildings, while others are primarily “city center” areas with massive stone buildings. One map, the southeastern map, is dominated by a massive open city park area, rightly given the label “The Field of Blood.” The maps provide quite a bit of variety and tactical differences. This, combined with their look and feel, should give most ASLers a strong urge to play on them. They are a great ASL achievement.
The FB maps provide nice new artwork for the out-of-season orchards (certainly better than the standard green circles!). They use the standard orchard artwork for a new type of terrain, “dense orchards,” which are in-season, have a +1 TEM, have double MF/MP costs, and–mostly oddly of all–allow vehicles to gain Wall Advantage in them. It is not clear what this is supposed to represent.
There are a lot of rules, some of them irritatingly detailed, that deal with the various rail lines, tram lines, etc. These alone take up four whole pages of rules (including two extremely detailed illustrated examples), plus another half-page of rules for Railroad Underpasses. For example, there is a “Cogwheel Railway,” which uses Embankment Railroad Rules (already convoluted because they are based on Hillock rules), only adds much more detail to them. These are not rules one can simply breeze through and ignore; they pretty much have to be studied. Thankfully, the Tram Line rules are far less detailed than the Railroad Rules. Also, most of the “bad” rail hexes are on one map only (the Northwest Map).
There are a host of other, mostly minor, terrain features. The FB maps have “map edge buildings,” which are buildings partially represented along the periphery of the map. There are also “variable height rowhouses,” which are rowhouses which are not all the same height. There are rules for the “Postal Palace,” which make Hungarians fanatic (you don’t fuck with a Magyar’s mail). Except for things rail-related, the terrain in FB is pretty easily understood (especially if one is already familiar with things like Red Barricades cellar rules).
Players will quickly observe one thing missing from the map: the massive piles of rubble and debris that dominate some other city fight games like Red Barricades and Valor of the Guards. Because Budapest had not been heavily damaged prior to the fighting there, and because the fighting in the city did not cause the severe damage that city fighting in many other places did, the designer decided to have a “clean” map and to create a system for generating specific rubble and debris for each scenario or campaign game. This simplifies the map and also makes it easier to have scenarios in the same area over a span of time, but the semi-random system for rubble/debris creation is somewhat artificial and odd die rolls can create odd results. It also adds to the set-up time for a number of the scenarios. However, all in all, it is probably an okay work-around.
About a quarter of the rules are devoted to terrain issues. Another chunk of them are dedicated to the units that fought in that terrain. FB, for example, provides much more flavor to the Hungarian Order of Battle. It introduces several new Hungarian unit types, including Vannay Units, a special type of elite 4-4-7 squad with a broken morale side of 8. They are also stealthy and can move in sewers (one would think the smell would eliminate the stealthiness, but apparently not). Another new unit is the 5-2-6 Arrow Cross Militia unit. In addition, FB provides units to represent the so-called Buda Volunteer Regiment, which was an ad hoc military unit formed of former Hungarian Army forces now fighting alongside the Soviets.
It should be noted that, thanks to MMP, it should be possible to play FB even if one does not have Armies of Oblivion, the Axis Minors core module. FB itself provides all of the Hungarian units needed, and most of the rules. If there are any bits required from the Chapter A replacement pages that Armies of Oblivion provided, those pages are available for download from MMP. Chapter H notes for relevant Hungarian vehicles are also available in a special download from MMP.
There are a few thin rules for German forces, mostly to establish SS unit substitution. Similar to the Germans in Operation Veritable, there are counters for German MMC from different unit formations, which are used primarily for the campaign game. However, there is a major rules section for all Axis forces, German and Hungarian alike: Axis Ammunition Shortage. These two pages of rules detail the worsening supply situation for the surrounded Axis garrison. Though fairly long, they are all straightforward and simple.
Most of the rules deal with the Campaign Games, which are based on standard Red Barricades campaign games rules, plus a bit borrowed from here or there, or invented on the spot. They should contain few surprises.
FB comes with three campaign games. FB CGI (Pearl of the Danube) is the smallest and shortest. It takes place during the period of January 19-24, 1945, with one CG date per day (i.e., 6 CG dates). It uses a single FB map (the NW map). It features the Hungarian Vannay Battalion. It looks like a good introduction to the fB CG rules–or ASL CG in general, as it is a very playable size. The second campaign game, FB CGII (The Swept Away City) is larger, ranging from January 19, 1945 to February 2, 1945 (i.e., 15 CG dates) and two maps (the NE and NW map sections). It thus encompasses CGI within it. The third campaign game, FB CGIII (City of Eternal Heroes), is somewhat shorter, taking place from February 2-10, 1945 (i.e., 9 CG dates), and uses the SE and SW map sections.
MMP comes with nine full countersheets, of standard ASL layout and quality:
|Additional standard Soviet MMC, with letter id formats AA-ZZ and a-z. The only non-standard counters are 18 6-2-8 “assault engineer” squads with the DC icon, a la Valor of the Guards.
|Soviet Infantry, SW, & ?
|Additional standard Soviet MMC (mostly half-squads and crews), plus more leaders, SW, and concealment markers.
|Hungarian & Buda Volunteer Regiment
|Nearly half of this sheet contains Hungarian crews, leaders, and SW. The rest consists of Buda Volunteer Regiment MMC and leaders (two-toned counters with a Soviet border surrounding Axis Minor Green). Buda Volunteer squads are 4-4-7, 3-4-7, and 3-3-6.
|Standard Hungarian MMC, plus 60 Vannay squads and half squads, and 34 Arrow Cross Militia squads and half-squads.
|SS & Kampfgruppe Europa
|Various SS squads (8-3-8, 6-5-8, 5-4-8, 4-6-8, 4-4-7) and half squads, plus 22 8-3-8/3-3-8 assault engineer squads with the DC icon. Also contains 60 counters representing units from Kampfgruppe Europa, which are standard German squads with a red-colored identifier.
|Panzer Division 13 & Panzer Division “Feldherrnhalle”
|Normal German squads and half squads with the divisional insignia for the two Panzer Divisions, plus the half squads from Kampfgruppe Europa.
|German SMC & Miscellaneous
|Mostly just additional German SMC, SW, and concealment markers. There are also about 20 CG markers and close to 100 info markers. The latter include a generic white 6+1 “inexperienced” armor leader.
|Markers & 5/8″
|90 location control and perimeter markers; 90 additional info markers, a handful of 5/8″ info markers, plus some Hungarian (mostly) and German AFVs and guns (including some Hungarian FB counters).
|Fortifications & Miscellaneous
|5/8″ markers (level counters, etc.), including some Debris and Wide City Boulevard Debris counters. Also a few Soviet 5/8″ counters.
Those ASLers lacking a copy of A Bridge Too Far should note that this game includes the obscure Waffen SS squads previously only available in that long out-of-print module (though in blue, not black).
FB comes with 17 scenarios, all designed by Bill Cirillo (who, luckily, is a better scenario designer than scenario namer), except one co-designed with Sean Deller. Indeed, FB comes with 17 scenarios twice, as MMP included two copies of each scenario card because the majority of scenarios use two sides of a card. This is not because most of the scenarios are huge in size, but rather primarily because many of them include lengthy SSRs and/or employ SSRs that allow players to partially purchase their OB and/or reinforcements, and such charts require space.
The scenarios tend towards the large in size (see breakdown, below), and some of them at first glance look smaller than they actually are, because many of the units appear not on the scenario card but as purchasable reinforcements. However, it is interesting to note that there are no super-large scenarios, much less anything approaching a massive scenario like The Last Bid or The First Bid (from Red Barricades and Valor of the Guards). It is also notable that not a single scenario uses so much as one entire map. Thus ASLers looking for large meaty scenarios that can tear up big chunks of the map will have to look towards a campaign game instead. Given the relatively small map areas, it is not surprising that most scenarios are relatively short in length as well.
Overall, the scenarios tend to be SSR-heavy, with a number of scenarios having 8 or more SSRs in addition to all of the standard FB-specific SSRs. Only a few scenarios, however, employ OBA, Air Support, or Night Rules. A number of scenarios allow players to purchase their reinforcements from a variety of options, which adds replayability to the scenarios.
The scenarios reflect an attempt to be innovative and to try different approaches. The purchasable reinforcements that are available in almost a third of the scenarios are one example of this; so two are scenarios FB2 (The Devil’s Free to Have a Try) and FB3 (Furor Hungaricus), which feature the same map area and have identical victory conditions–only in the case of FB3 they are applicable to the other side. FB10 (The Return of the Black Company) has either/or choosable OBs for both sides, while FB12 offers simultaneous setup. Then, of course, there is FB14 (At the Narrow Passage), which is a three-player scenario. FB14 is the first “official” three-player scenarios (a mere handful of others have been published by Kinetic Energy, Le Franc Tireur, and Schwerpunkt). However, it is unusual even for three-player scenarios. One player plays the Germans, and the second player plays the Soviets. However, the third player plays the Hungarians that are fighting along BOTH sides. The scenario thus has four player turns (German, Soviet, German-allied Hungarian, Soviet-allied Hungarian) for each game turn, though two player turns are in fact done by one person. It certainly is unusual.
The scenarios with purchasable OBs are interesting in several ways. First, the mechanism used in most of these scenarios funnels units in to the OB over time, rather than giving players one large purchase (one scenario does that). This allows forces to gradually accumulate and the action to become more intense (some of the scenarios allow some of the points to be accumulated early on, allowing a larger purchase on a subsequent turn). Secondly, because the purchases are done at the beginning of each player turn, players will have only vague ideas of what their opponent’s OB might eventually look like. This produces an unpredictability and requires seat-of-the-pants ASL skills, which not all players have in equal amounts. The purchase tables tend to offer a number of options and, at least at first playing, do not seem to present obvious “best solutions.”
However, there are also a lot of straightforward scenarios as well, so even the meat-and-potatoes ASLers will be satisfied. The small and some of the medium-sized scenarios are tournament-suitable.
Overall, Festung Budapest is a very satisfying product, with a lot to explore (lacking only SASL support). It is physically attractive, comes with a load of components, offers a lot of play value, and appears to have been done with tender loving care. With no offense intended to other offerings, it is probably no exaggeration to suggest that this may be the best looking and most interesting HASL that MMP has published to date.
|FB1 Uncles and Pups
|NW (nw third of map in play)
|Fair amount of fortifications; has Cogwheel RR section.
|FB2 The Devil’s Free to Have a Try
|NW (nw third of map in play)
|Fair amount of fortifications; has Cogwheel RR section; kind of irritating VC.
|FB3 Furor Hungaricus
|NW (about same map area as FB2)
|Some fortifications; has Cogwheel RR section; exact same VC as FB2 (except for other side); SSR-heavy.
|FB4 HKL 259
|NW (about a third in play, sw corner)
|FB5 Siesta Time
|NW (middle of map area, more or less; 10 x 11 grid)
|3 or 6.5
|Some fortifications; snow drifts; heavy snow.
|FB6 Came Tumbling After
|SW (about 80% of map in play)
|Large but fast playing.
|FB7 The Terror of the Castle
|NE (bottom third in play)
|9 (but can end sooner)
|Purchasable units; SSR-heavy; Rubble Generation.
|FB8 For Want of Either Crust or Crumb
|SE (nw 25% in play)
|FB9 The Shooting Gallery
|NE (ne 33% in play)
|Some fortifications; Rubble Generation; purchasable units.
|FB10 Return of the Black Company
|SW (sw 33% in play)
|Rubble Generation; partially choose-able OB.
|FB11 Boy Soldier
|NE (75% mostly center of map in play)
|SSR heavy; Rubble Generation; some fortifications.
|FB12 The Black Ravens Are Flying
|SW (tiny portion)
|5 (possibly shorter)
|possible Air Support
|Simultaneous (recorded) setup; Purchasable units.
|FB13 Don’t Economize
|NE and SE maps (small portion of NE map plus sliver of SE map)
|Purchasable units; some fortifications.
|FB14 At the Narrow Passage
|NE and SE maps (small portion of NE map plus sliver of SE map)
|5 (but can end sooner)
|Three player scenario (Soviet, Hungarian, German; all can win); SSR-heavy; Rubble Generation; some fortifications.
|FB15 The Taking of Object 59
|SW and SE maps (about 25% of each)
|Rubble Generation; some fortifications.
|FB16 Crossing the Bloody Meadow
|SE (most of map)
|Some fortifications; Rubble Generation.
|FB17 Stalingrad Redux
|SE (sw 25% of map)
|Some fortifications; purchasable units
2013 Update: In late 2012, MMP published the ASL Journal #10, which features content of significance to Festung Budapest owners, including accumulated Festung Budapest errata, Festung Budapest Q&A, and an 8.5″ x 11″ Festung Budapest play aid (with a terrain summary, terrain chart, various ammo shortage charts, and more). It also includes a Festung Budapest scenario, FB18 (Red Banner Days).
2016 Update: in 2016, MMP published ASL Journal #11, which adds a new Festung Budapest scenario, FB19 (War Brotherhood).