What the wargaming world really needs is another game on the Battle of the Bulge.
Over the last half-century of commercial wargame production, the Nazis’ winter offensive into the Ardennes has been the subject of enough games to fill an entire closet. But somebody’s always out to design a better mousetrap, thus the continuing need for Bulge games.
I’ve got my fair share of Bulge-oid games, and I’ve bought, played and sold off an even fairer share. The Bulge-centric portion of my game collection includes older titles like SPI’s Ardennes quad, newer stuff like the recent 2nd Edition of GMT’s Ardennes ’44 and modules for tactical game systems like ATS Darkest December. Because no old wargamer can ever have enough Bulge games, during my recent binge of “off brand” game purchases I decided to pick up a copy of “Battles of the Bulge: Celles”, published by Revolution Games.
Celles is a small game that focuses on the farthest extent of the German advance, in an area stretching from Hotton to the Meuse crossings. The 22 x 17 inch map features a generous hexgrid (3/4 inch hexes) that’s around 33 by 16 hexes, plus a few game tracks and holding boxes. There’s a sheet of 88 nicely thick counters in the package and the cardstock cover sheet is backprinted with all of the necessary charts and tables.
Units in the game are either regimental-sized (two steps) or battalions (one step). Step losses are shown by replacing a 2-step unit with a reduced strength counter because the reverse face of each combat unit is used to indicate a “used” state after it’s completed an activation. There are two main allied formations in the game: The 84th Infantry Division, represented by 10 battalion (single step) counters, and the 2nd Armored Division, represented by 5 rather powerful 2-step counters. According to the designer’s notes, 2nd Armored’s Combat Commands A and B are each two counters, while Combat Command Reserve is a single counter. The allied player also has an immobile detachment from 3rd Armored sitting in Hotton, an armored cavalry squadron running around and a couple of British battalions guarding the Meuse crossings.
Forces at the German player’s disposal are fairly powerful, but they don’t have a lot depth and there’s a lot to accomplish if they want to win the game. Elements of the 2nd and 116th Panzer Divisions begin on the map, and the lead units of Panzer Lehr enter just south of Rochefort during the first turn. Later in the game the Germans also get some help from 9th Panzer and the Fuhrer Beigleit Brigade (although this formation is withdrawn after only a couple of turns on the map).
The game uses chit-pull activation (by division) to set things in motion. Some divisions have two chits in play at times, so they can be activated twice in a turn. Activations are constrained by a limit assigned each turn; as an example, on Turn 2 the Germans can activate five times and the Allies three. Each player has his own draw cup, and after an initiative die roll they take turns pulling chits and activating formations. A small assortment of “Tactical” chits also goes in each cup. The tactical chits can be saved up and played during an activation to modify what happens on the map.
The tactical chits are one of the game’s more interesting twists. The “Combat” tactical chit lets a player modify one combat die roll, +1 for an attack or -1 on defense. Play of the US “Airpower” chit requires a die roll, but usually results in a German unit getting the hell blown out of it. The “Replacement” chit rebuilds one strength step and the “Extra Move” chit allows the activation of a single unit from a formation other than the one drawn from the cup.
Despite the serious interruption of a cat attack that left several of the extra-thick counters severely fanged, I’ve managed to play through this one several times. Although it’s a small situation with fairly limited forces, the use of the chit-pull mechanism combined with the tactical chits keeps it from getting repetitive.
The physical quality of the game’s components is quite good. The rules are clearly written and easy to follow, with charts and tables printed on the back of the cardstock cover sheet. The reinforcement table is on the back of the rulebook, but easy enough to photocopy. Color “codes” for the different terrain types are printed along the margins of the map. It’s not ideal — study the terrain on the map and the color key before daylight starts to fade — but I understand the publishing constraints and nothing is too hard to figure out. Taking into account the good production values and the even better play value, I lean toward the opinion that Celles is what more of the folio-sized games out there should aspire to be.