Critical Hit (2015)
Country of Origin:
8 12" x 18" glossy light cardstock/heavy paper map panels, 8 scenarios 6 rules pages, 736 die-cut counters
Huertgen Hell is one half of a “two-module presentation” of part of the Battle of the Huertgen Forest, the U.S. Army’s most significant defeat in the 1944-45 campaign in France and Germany. During this battle, in November and December 1944, Omar Bradley hurled a number of infantry divisions at a fortified German line in the dense Hürtgenwald (just north of the area from which the Germans would later launch the Battle of the Bulge). The terrain, the conditions and the Germans ground up all the U.S. formations, with little gain achieved. It was a bloody battle of attrition.
Huertgen Hell (hereinafter HH) focuses on the American attempts to take the villages of Kommerscheidt and Vossenack. Its companion, Operation Schmidt, released at the same time, focuses on the attempt to capture Schmidt. The provenance of both modules is not entirely clear. The common rules shared by them credits the “original map prototype” to Larry Winslow, as well as “some of the scenario concepts.” One perhaps can assume that the development of those scenarios, as well as the design of whatever other scenarios are involved, rested with Ray Tapio. No playtesters are mentioned at all, which is never a good sign with a Critical Hit product. Map art is credited to the mysteriously vague “JQ studio.”
It is the maps that are really the selling points of these modules, to the extent that they have one, as otherwise they have relatively few scenarios and no campaign games. The HH map uses the new style of map CH debuted in 2014, based on overlapping 12″ x 18″ glossy light cardstock/heavy paper map panels. They must be assembled to form the playing area. HH comes with 8 such map panels, which makes for a very long map area (and that is without combining it with the Operation Schmidt map). The image on the back of the product does NOT show the HH map but rather the combined HH/OS maps, though it does not say this anywhere. However, OS is not needed to play any of the HH scenarios.
The Critical Hit map panels are controversial. On the one hand, they are brighter and more colorful than CH’s other maps, and this is definitely a good thing. On the other hand, they are glossy, which can create irritating glare. Worse is the fact that the map must be assembled from so many panels. Generally speaking, the more you go above 4 panels, the more irritating it can be to put the map together–and make sure it stays together. Many players will decide that it necessitates plexiglass, as otherwise, all the panels must be taped or stuck down.
The maps often require efforts to use. This is not Critical Hit’s fault but the fault of the actual terrain involved, which combined heavily wooded areas with steep hills and valleys. Thus players will regularly be checking to figure out what level their units are on. The addition of quite a few slope hexes doesn’t help matters any. In a large number of cases, slope symbols appear in hex clusters that are all woods terrain, which means that the sum effect of the slopes would only be to add a 1/2 MF cost to infantry units moving up slope. Was it really worth putting slopes in those hexes for that single, paltry effect?
In general, the artwork is good, but not spectacular. The maps generally use standard ASL terrain conventions, which is nice (CH in the past has tended towards alternative terrain styles, some of which have been aesthetically unpleasing choices). There is a new terrain type to depict plowed fields, which is brown and smudgy, and a new type of terrain, flooded shellholes, the depiction of which looks rather like vomit. The buildings unfortunately have large, very dark shadows, which will make LOS frustrating at times. However, at least the building depictions do not suffer from the horrible graphic flaw that CH’s recent geoboards all contain. A few terrain features are named.
HH comes with three full countersheets, all done in “modern” CH fashion, which means that the graphic qualities are finally up to par. The die-cutting was a little off-center on the two sheets of 1/2″ infantry and SW counters, but not bad enough that it intersected with any counter text. One German vehicle has all of its counter factors mysteriously printed in white (the ghost halftrack). The counters are virtually all essentially gratuitous, being duplicates of existing official ASL counters. The rules do introduce the M29C Weasel, an American amphibious wide-tracked armored truck-thingie, designed for transport across snow and difficult terrain. One such truck is used in one scenario.
HH comes with 6 pages of rules, printed as loose-leaf sheets of paper with holes punched in them. The rules are in color. They are extremely simple, mostly consisting just of clarifications to help people recognize terrain. A few special rules are included, such as hand-to-hand combat; they are mostly basic, but there are a couple of major exceptions. Essentially these exceptions are complex special scenario rules originally developed by Kinetic Energy, then many years later adopted/borrowed/stolen (take your pick) by Critical Hit, which often gratuitously threw them into modules as “optional rules.” The rules in question are Bayonet Charges and Marching Fire, which add even more complexity to ASL without providing any actual benefits. For some reason, however, in HH they are not described as optional but instead appear with all of the other regular rules. However, I recommend NOT playing with these rules (they are, in any case, not really applicable to this historical situation, anyway).
There are also rules and counters for three different types of armored cupolas, one with a Panther’s MA, one with a CMG, and one with an HMG. The latter is called an “MG Panzernest.” There are also rules for abwehrflammenwerfer 42 FTs, i.e., fougasses, a sort of remote-detonated flame-throwing device. Out of all of these, only two appear (one each), and only in a single scenario.
HH comes with only 8 scenarios and they are a disappointing lot, by and large. All but one of the scenarios use only a portion of the map–and typically only a very tiny portion at that. Five of the eight scenarios are small or very small in size, one is medium-sized, and two are large in size. One scenario uses Night rules, one uses Air Support, and two use OBA. It is the two large scenarios that utilize OBA and Air Support; they look as if they might be the “scenario concepts” contributed by Larry Winslow, as they have his style to them.
Some of the scenarios are just too small (in terms of both OB and map area) to interest very many players. HH4 (The Green Hornets), for example, features 6.5 American squads attacking 4 German squads in a 6.5 turn scenario. HH8 (Beaten to the Draw) features German reinforcements entering “as per SR#3,” but SR#3 refers to an American grenade shortage, not German reinforcements (in fact, no SR refers to German reinforcements).
On the plus side, perhaps, all of the non-large scenarios have very few SSRs.
HH2 (Jump Off at Vossenack) is the one scenario that uses the whole map area. It is a 9.5 turn scenario that features an American attack with 32.5 squads and 11 AFVs (as well as a very scary MG group with 3 crews, 1 HMG, 2 .50 cal HMGs and a 10-3 leader) pitted against 29 German squads, 3 guns, and one AFV.
There is no campaign game, which means that HH2 represents the meatiest offering the module has. As superlarge scenarios go, it is pretty modest. The lack of a campaign game or much in the way of meaty scenarios–to allow players really to USE this product, is the main disappointment here.
CH does include a few paragraphs of rules for something they call “the Macro Scenario,” which is not actually a scenario at all, but more like unplaytested scenario suggestions that call for using HH2 and its OS equivalent (with the latter doubled in size) and adding some turns. It is basically a “go homebrew it, dude” statement and even says that “players may make any needed tweaks/modifications within the Macro Scenario framework.” How lazy and indifferent!
Huertgen Hell comes in at a very hefty, if not outrageous, $99.95, which is a ridiculous price to charge for 8 lousy scenarios, no campaign game, gratuitous counters, and a map. That is a cost of $12+ per scenario. Moreover, the only way to combine HH with its sister game Operation Schmidt is through a last-minute “do it yourself” homebrew directive. This is a product you can safely pass on. People interested in the subject should wait for Bounding Fire Productions upcoming Huertgen Forest product (which may have “inspired” this effort in the first place).