Bounding Fire Productions (2018)
Country of Origin:
2 22" x 34" historical maps on glossy paper (Vossenack), 4 22" x 34" historical maps on glossy paper (Kommerscheidt/Schmidt), 560 1/2" and 88 5/8" diecut counters, 1 campaign game, 17 scenarios, 34 pages rules, 4 pages force organizers/play aids.
Objective: Schmidt is the first historical module published by Bounding Fire Productions, and a large one it is at that, focusing on fighting in and around the towns of Schmidt, Kommerscheidt and Vossenack in the Hürtgen Forest in Germany in November 1944, a brutal struggle that the Americans, for all intents and purposes, lost.
Objective: Schmidt should not be confused with Objective Schmidt, the Critical Hit product of the same name published several years earlier that, with its mating game, Huertgen Hell, covers the same subject as Bounding Fire’s product. Although the Critical Hit product was published first, it may well have been “inspired” by Bounding Fire’s then in-progress take on Schmidt (it would not be the first time Critical Hit did something like that). What one can definitely say of the Bounding Fire take on Schmidt is that it was fully playtested and developed. The Critical Hit product probably cannot boast of that.
Bounding Fire’s Schmidt is a huge product, with counters, scenarios, rules, and no less than 6 22″ x 34″ historical maps, two of which combine to depict the area around Vossenack and four that combine to depict Kommerscheidt and Schmidt. For some reason, perhaps because the Vossenack map layout is already so long, the decision was made to have smaller hexes for the Vossenack maps and large, 1″ hexes for the Kommerscheidt/Schmidt maps. Thus the Vossenack maps have hexes the size of geoboard hexes, while the K/S maps have hexes the size of Red Factories hexes. Though ASLers have not always demanded 1″ hexes for historical maps, historically there have been complaints when hexes were as small as geoboard hexes.
All the maps are printed on thin, glossy paper. It would be nice in the future if Bounding Fire were to shift to semi-gloss or matte paper, both of which seem to hold up to wear and tear better and both of which create less glare. Your Humble Author managed to tear his one of his maps just inspecting it for the purposes of this write-up.
The two Vossenack maps are quite unusual. First, they link end-to-end rather than side-to-side, creating a particularly long but shallow map. What is depicted is also unusual. At first glance, it looks like a long hill formation that is shaped suspiciously like a penis. What will strike many observers at first is how open and naked the countryside is–an image not conjured up by the phrase Hürtgen Forest. In reality, most of the Forest was to the west of this area, but woods also surrounded most of the area depicted on the map–it is just that the map is so shallow that most of the woods are simply cut off and are off-map. The map is also misleading in that on first glance it seems to suggest a long hill mass, with the village of Vossenack stretched out along the long top of the hill. In reality, this area was pretty flat–the elevation changes here are slight and more gradual than ASL elevation changes suggest. The area depicted was actually a relatively flat area of farmland surrounded by wooded hills and forested gorges and gullies.
The Vossenack maps depict a naked, almost barren landscape, broken up only by a few buildings. This does not really do justice to the terrain, which was open, but covered in farm fields. Given the date (November 1944), much of this area is legitimately depicted by open ground, but in photographs of the terrain, which show different fields with different shades and textures, it also seems clear that at least some areas would best be depicted as plowed fields. Some of the fields, too, were surrounded by wire fences, but this is not represented in the Vossenack maps. The trees and foliage of the town itself are mostly absent, although there are a few lonely orchard hexes. The terrain is very pristine, too, although there are a few shellholes.
It is interesting to compare the Vossenack maps here with the maps of Critical Hit’s Huertgen Hell, about the only aspect of the two products that can legitimately be compared. Critical Hit’s Vossenack is clearly on a slightly different scale, so that more terrain is shown, which more clearly captures the broader geographical context in which the village of Vossenack is situated. It’s not clear which scale is more accurate, although both are probably close enough that it doesn’t matter. Critical Hit’s Vossenack is far more cluttered and busy than Bounding Fire’s almost naked map. This is because Critical Hit includes some plowed fields as well as wire fences, plus more shellholes as well as rubble (which is absent in the Bounding Fire treatment). Critical Hit also includes a new terrain type: flooded shellholes. Based on photographs and maps of the terrain, as well as what it looks like today, it is your Humble Author’s opinion that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle between these two maps, both of which seem to represent an extreme design choice. What is certainly true is that (sad to say) the Critical Hit map has more flavor and is far more interesting than the Bounding Fire map.
It should be noted that not a single terrain feature on the Vossenack maps–not a road, not a building, not anything–is named, making the map seem rather generic.
The Kommerscheidt/Schmidt (K/S) maps, which geographically were slightly to the south and east of the Vossenack maps, don’t really represent much of a larger playing area, but because they use large hexes require four maps and take up a truly large playing area. Once more the playing area is surprisingly devoid of woods and is generally naked in appearance. However, there are differences between the K/S maps and the Vossenack maps. Unlike the latter, the K/S maps actually have wire fences. They also have named villages. They have more walls and orchards than the Vosssenack maps, too, as well as other interesting features, such as printed pillboxes and trenches, and even an airplane wreck. However, they have no shellholes at all, much less debris or rubble hexes. In that sense, the K/S map is even more pristine than Vosssenack.
Both sets of maps have an infinite number of Slope hexes, so if you are not a fan of Slopes, this may not be the historical module for you.
One unfortunate aspect of both sets of maps is that they use a very dark brown shade for high elevation hexes, which often presents visibility issues, esp. in situations where light is not optimal. Adding to the problem is that orchards in this module are depicted by gray-colored tree-branch outlines (rather than their leafy equivalents in normal ASL), which are often difficult to make out in the dark terrain hexes, where they just tend to be lost.
Again, it is interesting to compare the K/S maps in this module to their counterparts in Critical Hit’s Operation Schmidt, which provide a very different look and feel for the same area.
Overall, the maps in Bounding Fire’s Objective: Schmidt are serviceable but nothing special. They are, one has to admit, not as attractive as recent historical maps by MMP or Le Franc Tireur but are perhaps comparable to those of Lone Canuck.
Schmidt also comes with die-cut counters: two sheets of 1/2″ die-cut counters (560 in all) and a half-sheet of 5/8″ counters (88 total). Bounding Fire has been producing counters for some time and their physical quality and artwork quality are both good. Each counter has a small yellow BFP on it to distinguish it from official counters, although except perhaps for certain vehicle/gun counters, most players would probably not mistake a BFP counter for an official one.
The first sheet of 1/2″ counters is all German. About half of these are additional German SMC and MMC counters, presumably needed for large scenarios or the campaign game. A new squad type, the 5-3-7 squad, is also introduced, about which more later. The rest of the counters are SW, many of which are captured. So if you ever wanted American HMGs, Soviet MTRs, French MTRs, or American Bazookas in German colors, well, ya got ’em.
The second set of 1/2″ counters is half-American and other, the other being mostly campaign game perimeter and location markers, and German concealment markers. The American counters include extra 6-6-6/3-4-6s, crews, and leaders, plus a new squad type of their own, the 5-4-7 (about which, again, more later).
The third countersheet is a half-sheet of 5/8″ counters, half American and half German. The American counters include a host of model-specific aircraft (which third party publishers seem to adore, but which don’t seem to generate all that much interest in ASL players), plus a ton of Shermans and tank destroyers. There are also a few M29 Weasels, which were tracked cargo carriers that the Americans found they needed to haul supplies across the tortuous terrain of the Hürtgen Forest. The German counters are mostly captured American and Soviet guns and vehicles.
There are 34 pages of rules for Objective: Schmidt, all printed in the thin, glossy paper that Bounding Fire seems to prefer. Your Humble Author would certainly pay more for a thicker, more durable paper stock.
The rules are strangely organized. First, there is a two page set of rules labeled “OS. OBJECTIVE: SCHMIDT” that include “historical battle rules,” which are rules for all scenarios and campaign game scenarios on a variety of subjects, from bombardments to soft ground to cellars. These rules are also duplicated on a sheet of cardstock, perhaps as a play aid. These rules are numbered pages 1-2. However, they seem to be separate somehow from the actual Objective: Schmidt rules, which are 32 pages long and ALSO labeled “OS. OBJECTIVE: SCHMIDT.” They start with page 1. It is almost as if there are two separate rulebooks for the same game, one that is only 2 pages long and one that is 32 pages long. There is no explanation for this.
The second, larger set of rules covers terrain, units, and the campaign game (mostly the latter). The dominant terrain feature articulated in the rules are the Slope rules, which are re-written and provided in full here rather than simply given references to one of the official modules that has official slope rules. It is not clear why this is the case, unless it is that Bounding Fire was afraid purchasers might not own an official module with slope rules and did not want to add another ownership prerequisite. Your Humble Author did not compare the Slope rules here to official Slope rules to confirm that they are functionally the same even if re-written, but they likely are the same.
There are also a few rules for out-of-season and partial out-of-season orchards, as well as hexes that combine two types of terrain. Barbed-wire fences make a comeback along with slopes (both initially appeared in Kampfgruppe Peiper). There are also rules for aircraft with Rockets.
The module introduces two new squad types, one American and one German, but both essentially the same type of unit. OS defines 7-4-7 American squads as Engineers (or possibly, via SSR, as Assault Engineers or Sappers). However, they also introduce new 5-4-7 squads as Engineers as well. Similarly, the module uses German 8-3-8 squads as Engineer squads but introduces new 5-3-7 squads as Engineers as well. The module does not explain why normal engineers are represented by 7-4-7s or 8-3-8s, but explains the 5-4-7s by saying that the 103rd Combat Engineer Battalion was “depleted from constant fighting” and explains the 5-3-7s by saying that Panzer Pioneer Battalion 675 had suffered heavy losses earlier and were “reconstituting” their strength.
All these rules take up only a handful of pages and, with the exception of Slopes and Rockets, are not particularly complicated or in-depth.
The bulk of the rules deal with the Objective: Schmidt campaign game (there is only one; there is no campaign game for the Vossenack maps). The campaign game rules seem to be derived from standard “official” campaign game rules. The campaign game, CG I (Crushed at Kommerscheidt) uses only the S/K maps and is seven campaign dates long. It depicts a large German counterattack that occurred in early November 1944, soon after the Americans took Schmidt and Kommerscheidt. Both sides have a reasonable number of purchase options, but the Germans have more (including the option to purchase some captured Soviet SU-152s!). For both sides, the purchase of certain types of troops requires a secret dr to determine the quality status of such troops–under certain circumstances, purchased squads can be replaced with better or worse squad-types (or even both).
A big chunk of the rules are not actually rules at all. Appended to the rules is a lengthy rules article on Slopes written by Chas Smith (which has appeared in print several times before, if we recall correctly). Players need all the help they can get regarding Slopes, which are often non-intuitive, so including this piece may not have been a bad idea (although an even better one would have been not to have Slopes).
Objective: Schmidt comes with 17 scenarios, which are definitely a lot by the standards of most official historical modules, but lower than has been typical for previous Bounding Fire products. As noted (left), Americans attack in 6 of the scenarios, while Germans attack in 11. The Schmidt/Kommerscheidt maps are used for 10 of the scenarios, while the Vossenack maps are used for 7 of them. Five of the scenarios set on the O/S maps use a large portion of the playing area, while the other 5 use a much smaller portion. Four of the 6 scenarios set on the Vossenack maps use a large portion of the playing area.
Bounding Fire scenarios are notorious for being large and fortifications-heavy. Thus it comes as something of a relief that the OS scenarios generally have relatively modest levels of fortifications, if any (though one must also remember the map-printed fortifications of some areas). However, there is no doubt that the scenarios here skew heavily to the large. Of the 17 scenarios, only 4 can be considered small or medium in size; the remaining 13 are large or super-large in size. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as there are plenty of historical modules out there that have attractive maps that are more or less wasted because the included scenarios are small and are only played on a small area of the map(s). This module may have less attractive maps, but it does have meatier scenarios. However, players seeking modest-sized actions on historical maps may wish to look elsewhere, as they are in relative short supply here.
Another aspect of OS that renders it less easily playable is the huge reliance on OBA. OBA is present in 14 of the 17 scenarios. In fact, scenarios often feature multiple OBA modules and bombardments (see below), making it one of the most OBA-intensive historical modules around. If you are not both very comfortable with and happy about OBA, this may not be the module for you.
|Type/Amount of OBA (both sides combined)||# of Scenarios||Notes|
|2 OBA/Bombardments||4||Includes one scenario with 2 given modules of OBA but up to 18 more modules available for purchase|
On the other hand, only two scenarios have Air Support and only one scenario uses the Night rules.
Another odd feature of the Objective: Schmidt scenarios is how remarkably SW-heavy some of them are. OS-2 (The Wolf’s Howl), for example, features 13 squad-equivalents and 2 vehicular crews (which Bounding Fire tries to foist on ASL players for manning certain support weapons). They are given 10 SW (not counting radios). The opposing Germans have 24 squads–with 20 support weapons! OS-4 (Bad Onnen) depicts a German force of 20 squads who have among themselves 16 support weapons. In OS-5 (Disaster at Schmidt), the Germans have one force entering from off-board that is 20 squad in size–and those 20 squads have 17 support weapons. Many of the scenarios feature similarly huge number of support weapons.
A couple of Objective: Schmidt scenarios are “monster” scenarios–particularly large and long scenarios designed to provide especially meaty play. One of these is OS-5 (Disaster at Schmidt), which uses about 60% of the 4-map K/S playing area and which depicts the start of the major German counterattack at Schmidt. In this 11-turn scenario, the Germans have 70 squads, 4 crews, 60 SW (!), and 21 AFVs (plus the usual gobs of OBA). The Americans defend with 52 squads 10 crews for SW, 3 guns, and 34 SW, plus their own gobs of OBA.
The grandest scenario, though–and the most interesting–is OS-17 (The Worst Place Of Any), which uses the entire Vossenack map. This 25-turn scenario depicts the American attack and German counter-attack at Vossenack in the first week of November 1944. The Americans start off with a more-or-less battalion-sized attack, supported by armor: 32.5 squad-equivalents, 9 of those irritating vehicular crews, 25 SW, and 9 Sherman tanks. The defending Germans start off with 22.5 squad-equivalents, 15 SW, and a few fortifications. However, during the course of this scenario, both sides can purchase reinforcements, almost as if it were a campaign game (though the force pools are smaller and choices are more restricted). Your Humble Author has for nearly 18 years, as of this writing, wondered why more historical modules don’t feature this scenario (other than that it requires more development and playtest work than a “regular” scenario), as it gives players much of the scope and decision-making of a campaign game without requiring such an investment in time.
The bottom line is that Objective: Schmidt is probably a very good purchase for a rather specific type of ASL player–a player who likes big scenarios with lots of metal flying from the air. This product offers less value to the more casual ASL player. This is just the nature of the product and is neither praise nor criticism. Probably the aspect of the product that could be criticized with the most validity are the maps, which are bland and bare and don’t do a lot to inflame that “passion to play on them” that is so crucial for ASL historical modules. However, the module does offer a relatively rare West Front campaign game and, if Bounding Fire’s reputation is anything to go on, its scenarios are likely to have been solidly playtested.