It’s rare that a hex and counter wargame truly surprises me. I, like many of you, have been playing these types of games for years, and know what to expect from our niche genre. There will be familiar mechanics around movement, unit composition, statistics, combat odds, and supply lines. There will be detailed rules, long campaigns, short scenarios, archaic multiplayer systems and decent game editors.
And then there’s Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive.
Ardennes Offensive not only shakes up the formula by adding some fascinating depth to movement, fog of war, and combat, but it also manages to introduce these fresh gameplay features in a package that is both chock full of information, but also beautifully presented and manageably learnable.
How Does Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Offensive Play?
Set during the so-famous-it-needs-no-description Battle of the Bulge, Ardennes Offensive offers two grand campaigns covering the full battle, and several smaller scenarios focusing in on major engagements like St. Vith and Bastogne. Turns are broken up into Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Night. Each hex represents a kilometer, and, in this iteration, units are calculated at the squad level, with individual weapons and stats tracked.
Ardennes Offensive uses the same base mechanics as found in previous Decisive Campaigns games (though this is my first one) as well as the stellar Shadow Empire and interesting sandbox Advances Tactics. The game is presented through a central map with unit, hex, and special information appearing on the sides and bottom of the screen. Turns are IGO-UGO, but with a new and well implemented system of interrupting fire that can halt units in their tracks. attacks are coordinated based on the defending hex, with two types of attack available: Ranged, which brings in mortars and artillery, and direct, which involves choosing the attacking units and the determination of the attack. Supply and traffic play significant roles, just as they did in the actual battle, and moving too many units over the same road in a turn will add additional movement costs to following units.
Overall, it may sound like fairly standard stuff, but Ardennes Offensive adds so many little things to the formula that make it pop.
The Little Things that Make it Pop
I need to start with my favourite part of Ardennes Offensive: Fog of War. This is the first wargame that actually gave me spooky vibes while playing. You cannot trust your eyes in Ardennes Offensive, as you cannot be 100% certain of a hex’s ownership unless you’ve got me sitting squarely in the hex.
This may sound annoying, but it doesn’t feel that way in practice. You’ll see indicators near the frontline representing sounds of unknown origin reported by your supply units as they deliver goods to the front. You’ll see a supposed frontline cobbled together from your limited understanding of enemy movements. You’ll be able to set up, and fall into, ambushes along key roads. At night, visibility is reduced to almost nothing. It is an excellent and atmospheric system that sells the initial chaos and subsequent unease of the Battle of the Bulge.
Visually and auditorily, Ardennes Offensive is simply amazing. I have low expectations for most wargames, but the artwork on unit and hexes are wonderfully detailed with a painterly quality. Hexes are readable and easy to navigate. Units are identifiable right from the get go with their most prominent component showing on the counter face. But the best part are the little details. As the time of day shifts, the background for each unit card will change to reflect the overhead light. These wonderful little bits of finesse add so much to the experience. The soundtrack is also worth mentioning. There is a somber and haunting collection of tracks to accompany gameplay in Ardennes Offensive. The music is great and perfectly fits the mood of the battle. Night turns especially, with the reduced visibility, the changed map graphics, and the haunting music add up to become one of the most immersive hex and counter games I’ve ever played.
I have only one bad to say about this game. It crashed on me more than once. I’m seeing that patches are already on the way, and I can probably blame this on my advance copy, but I do feel the need to report that it happened. Honestly though, don’t let that stop you from trying this one out.
I was so pleasantly surprised by how tight a package Decisive Campaigns: Ardennes Assault was, I had trouble articulating it for this review. This is an excellent addition to the world of digital hex and counter wargaming and the new standard for what can be done visually and auditorily to make modern wargames feel modern without losing the mechanical charm we all love. There is plenty of content, the AI does a solid job, the game is learnable, and everything is wrapped up in a nice package. A must play.
Let’s Talk About Wargames were provided with a review copy of this game. You can check out the game here. We get nothing if you click on this link.