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REVIEWS

Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Review – New Golden Standard

Ardennes Offensive has been racing to be my favourite game this year. Slitherine deserves a lot of credit. The company, which was a relatively small publisher of strategy titles in 2021, became a gangster, robbing wargamers at every opportunity and taking their money. Combat Mission Black Sea was the first game to be released on Steam. Field of Glory II Medieval was released in the year 2000, pushing the timeline of this seminal series further forward. The War in the East II quickly followed, and became the definitive wargame on the Eastern Front. Warhammer 40,000 Battlesector wreaked havoc on Ball Secundus. Combat Mission Cold War was released a few days later, while Decisive campaigns: Ardennes offensive is now available. Review it now!

ardennes offensive - Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Review – New Golden Standard

Overview – As 1944 came to a close, Germany found itself outnumbered by the allies and their forces. The Battle of the Bulge was a desperate attempt to stop the Allies’ advance in Germanic land, dividing the assault and trying to get a treaty to end the war that would not destroy the Axis. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s not necessary to sugarcoat the truth: Decisive Campaigns, my favourite operational level wargame is Decisive Campaigns. I do not even enjoy operational counter-pushing. It’s not fun to move around the abstract squares of DC: AO, searching for my army’s food, water, and ammo caches. DC: AO is a classic hex-and counter game. It doesn’t stray far away from its roots. But once you start to notice the little details, and how the hex/counter formula has changed, it’s clear that Ardennes offensive provides a different gaming experience to genre favorites War In the East Operational War of War or Warplan. Ardennes Offensive is more like Battles of Normandy or other JTS Panzer Battles games. It will ultimately come down to individual preference whether it’s for better or worse.

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Bridging The Gap Between Tactical and Operational – This writer enjoys games that are less abstract and more detailed. Ardennes Offensive is a game that zooms in on the action and brings it closer to the player, thus bridging the distance between traditional wargames with their abstract nature and tactical battles. The hexes measure 1km in width, and the primary unit of movement is the battalion. Each turn takes 6 hours. The move towards a more detailed look at the battlefield required some adjustments (new features and rules) in order to fit the “in-between scale” of the game. Most impactful were, but are not limited to, line of site, intercept fire and Battlegroup mechanics. Nighttime operations, traffic jams, and nighttime battles were also notable. Ardennes Offensive now models base units per squad, while vehicles and guns are simulated instead by a single unit. The changes bring a new level of detail and granularity to the game that has never been seen before in this franchise. It’s easy to get confused by the line-of-sight mechanic, which has a lot of rules. But once you read the manual, it becomes clear that it is much simpler than it seems. It’s more complicated than just “stand a set number of tiles away from your enemy” because it also takes into consideration the height differences and the shadows cast by buildings, forests, and towns as well as weather and reconnaissance points. The fine-sight mechanic, combined with intercepting fire (which is the same as fire of chance), allows you to trap enemies and hold them there. However, my experience so far has been that I have often been ambushed by the AI, who stopped battalions in their tracks, and cost me one of the few remaining victories in a small scenario.

The nighttime missions are very interesting, and it’s not been replicated as well as they were in Ardennes Offensive. It helps to create an unsettling atmosphere when the map is changed into a deep blue. It has a profound effect on the game’s rules, not just the graphics. The penalties for regular attacks, the reduction in recon abilities, as well as reckless advances, can have disastrous results. You might find yourself facing an entire German battalion unexpectedly. Even the strongest offensives can be halted by poor recon combined with decreased situational awareness or combat skills.

Other, less significant changes include “hex-ownership”, whereby if you don’t have an unit within a given hex you cannot be sure that it belongs to your team. It makes sense because it allows you to use flanking tactics without alerting your enemy or penetrating their lines. In other words, we are trying to stay away from the absurd borders of some games. Steel Division is the one I am referring to.

The card system was one of the things that I really enjoyed about this game. Cards can be used to perform almost every other action besides combat. You want a new army? Spend 20 points to get a tank brigade. Recon? Click the card to send your plane (availability may be dependent on favorable weather conditions). Want fuel? Send the headquarters a card in monopoly format requesting 10000 units of fuel. They’ll get it.

Combat will take place in two ways: regular or ranged combat. Ranged attacks will enable more conservative commanders to use all of their guns, tanks and rifles in close proximity to an enemy position, to weaken the toughest nuts. Ranged attacks are not just for artillery but can be used by any unit. In the screenshot shown below, the tanks, infantry and anti-tank units are in close range of the Germans barricaded in Bitburg.

The game also does a good job of presenting information on how it calculates the odds by displaying all the data. It also presents all of the necessary information to explain how the game calculates odds. On the left, it shows the estimated offensive modifiers and on right, the estimated defensive ones. The number of attacking units is shown on the right-hand side.

The term “combat resolution” is used to describe the process of resolving a conflict.

It’s safe to say the content is pretty extensive, as there are two large campaigns that last 16 days. There are also six scenarios of medium size and four smaller ones. Two editors are included, one for beginners and another for intermediates. There are more than 100 units listed on the comparison list, and I still have a lot to do. So there must be more than 200 units.

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The new mechanics are a great combination and, I don’t think their novelty will bother traditionalists, as they will eventually become second nature after several rounds. If you are a novice to this genre, then I fear that too much exposure to Decisive Campaigns : Ardennes offensive could spoil your enjoyment with less complex wargames.

The Graphics in Hexagonal Counter Games – You know, once you talk about graphics you’re either talking about a fantastic game or shitshow. Ardennes, as I am happy to inform you, is a real treat for the eyes. This review has become very popular, so I won’t go into too many details. The unit artwork is fantastic and looks like it’s on the front of an Airfix kit. They will blend in well with any background, no matter what. Below is a list.

Maps’ main roads are highlighted without the need to switch between “special” views of different roads. From above, you can see individual buildings. Larger cities have a greater concentration and smaller towns with fewer. Bird’s-eye views make it easy to determine the density of the forests. Colors are bright and pleasing, with vibrant greens and blues as well as fiery yellows and golden reds.

The User Interface- Although cumbersome interfaces will not stop even the most stubborn of gamers from enjoying a game the constant opening and closing of windows to find obscure information may be difficult for some to accept. Over the years, I’ve developed a dislike for shabby UIs. It is the reason I can’t enjoy games such as Crusaders Kings II or Europa Universalis. The premise is fantastic, but clicking on dull, hard-to-figure-what-the-hell-this-is icons; navigating menu after menu while reading every single, paragraph-long will tiny letters tooltip is enough to destroy any enthusiasm.

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Ardennes Offensive is a good compromise. It’s true that it overwhelms you with information, which is impossible to digest unless you are a photographic memory or have a IQ over 170. But at least, you can see everything without clicking on many things. It may take some time to understand certain things and you might need to consult the manual. But once you do, you won’t forget. After clicking on a counter, you can choose the type of unit transport, rules for intercepting fire and how to retreat. After a few games, I discovered that these were clickable. It’s my fault for not randomly clicking on all the buttons, but there are other issues that I find hard to excuse. The Battlegroup system hides under a “micro” title. It’s true that Ardennes Offensive: Decisive campaigns will overwhelm you with information, but it does try to be reasonable. This would be the fault that I’d point out to this game. It’s true that I really enjoyed the game and found it easy to play. This might be just a nitpick, and in my first drafts, this was written as “the Battle Academy of Operational Level Wargaming”, but Unity of Command still wins. This is a lesser game in all aspects.

Manual — A controversial bit for sure. Decisive campaigns is lacking in tutorials, and it can be hard to understand without prior experience. It has a manual of 116 pages that is sure to satisfy the most discerning readers. The manual is well-written and concise. The manual begins by setting the scene and then jumps right into the interface. It explains everything that players will find on screen and how it all works, using several illustrations to support. The manual is more than happy to make you feel intimidated if you go beyond page 48. Pages of explanations of the most minor rules replace the quick clarifications of the game mechanics. They are accompanied by tables filled with percentages about “supply base statistics”, “line of sight” schematics, and “shadow case” cases (this is important). The writers, probably knowing that the content is not the most exciting, have sprinkled random trivia throughout the book to help break up the monotony.

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