The Ardennes Offensive by SSG is yet another in a long line of wargames based on the Battle of the Bulge, and it follows in the tradition of the 1965 Avalon Hill paper game and the more recent Bulge chapter in the Talonsoft Battleground series. So what makes Ardennes different from previous Bulge games?
First impressions of Ardennes will probably be less than favorable. The map is a 2-D view of the familiar battlefield, with an emphasis on earth colors. Units are regimental and resemble the die-cut counters of paper wargames. There are various informative displays situated around the playing area, which are confusing at first but a pop-up help box is available if you right-click on a section. Ardennes has eight scenarios to choose from, ranging in size from a small number of turns and units to a mammoth 64-turn game that includes everything. You can play these scenarios against the computer at various levels of difficulty or against an organic intelligence through hot-seating, networking, direct connect, modem (including e-mail), or the Internet. Of course, with an average turn lasting anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour per side, it is doubtful you'll see Ardennes on any online gaming services.
Gameplay is fairly simple. Movement of units, combat, air interdiction, and replacements are handled with a simple point-and-click interface. Deselecting a unit tends to be an annoying process, but otherwise everything is fairly intuitive. Unlike in traditional wargames, where a turn consists of a move phase followed by a fire phase, Ardennes combines both into one phase. While this is not unique among computer wargames, it is a nice feature - especially in the long scenarios.
OK, so far nothing truly new. Combat is where Ardennes distinguishes itself from previous computer versions of the battle. Unlike most wargames, Ardennes doesn't hide combat behind smoke and mirrors. Like Penn and Teller showing you how a magic trick works, SSG shows you everything involved in combat. All modifiers are shown, all odds are shown, and the actual combat result table is displayed. There are six possible results shown, allowing the attacker to get a good idea of what the outcome will be. If that's not enough, the manual gives an in-depth explanation of the combat system. In an age of real-time gaming, with an emphasis on splashy graphics, it's refreshing to see a game play like a paper wargame. Armchair generals should rejoice - they haven't been forgotten.
In addition to the superb combat system, the AI is very good. While a lot of companies boast about their advanced AI, SSG actually delivers the goods - which is great for players who still prefer strong computer opponents to trying to find the time to play against a human.
What Ardennes lacks in eye candy it makes up with a wonderful combat system, challenging AI, and an excellent, informative manual (a rarity in today's world). If you found Panzer General too realistic or you think Command & Conquer is a wargame, you're going to be quite disappointed. But if you know what a ZOC is, understand step reductions, and fondly remember Panzer Blitz, then by all means pick this game up.