Game Spotlights

Published: October 30, 2023

Adam Knight

Wargames: A cold Day

Cold, snow, and a swarm of tanks. I’m rolling in as the Germans near Christmas, my panzers crashing towards a river and a few towns, planning to cut off supply lines and in a war (or wargames) that’s gone, well, terribly. This time, with a handful of counters, a D10, and a tight map on the table, maybe The Battle of the Bulge would be different.

That’s wargaming for you: hope lasts till the first die rolls.

Opening Moves

Choosing Celles: The Ardennes by Revolution Games for an afternoon play wasn’t an accident: my enemy was a wargames newbie, so something with a gentler intro to hex-and-counter gaming seemed appropriate. From the first, the game matched my approachable dreams: coming in a sturdy bag with nothing more than a couple counter sheets, the rule book, and a map, Celles did everything it could to kill intimidation. This is a game for players who want to get to it, not spend days parsing tables or watching how-to-play videos.

And, given how thoroughly I was destroyed, I’d say it works quite well as a first run at the wargaming world.

Celles doesn’t stop its introductory advance at the presentation either, carrying it through into the rules of play: namely, chit-pulling. With broader games like Twilight Struggle or more dense tactical titles like Combat Commander, the brain-melting starts with simply deciding what to do with all the options at play. Like taking a chess board and tripling the pieces, it’s tough to know what to move first.

In Celles, that decision gets made for you as your hands dash into a cup, dish, or fancy hat to pull a division chit. You can then activate all (for most types) the counters on the map for that division, or use the pulled marker as a sort-of wild card, activating any one unit of your choosing. That the latter is, shall we say, inefficient makes it easy to go forth with whatever Fate has given you.

For me and my hapless Panzers, that meant a rush from the southeast, snagging early momentum by surrounding allied infantry in their towns and mushing them off the map. This was worth more than territory: every enemy defeated provides points, with a few extra spots on the map providing end game bonuses. A far-off river also tantalizes with possible benefits, but for me proved to be a trap.

One I fell into, with disastrous results.

See, Celles runs its course along day and night turns up to and through Christmas of 1944. Every turn sees new units enter the battle for both sides, crowding your cup with more chits. As exciting as it is to see more tanks roll in, drawing the wrong division when you need your 2nd Panzer to run, run, and then run some more is both crushing and accurate to the state of battlefield chaos. Given that units are exhausted after they move, drawing the wrong chit at the wrong time can keep you from capitalizing on an enemy’s ill-luck or let your pal pulverize your panicked forces. Using the chits and their attendant activations to scheme out success at first seems like luck, but quickly transmutes to skill as units swarm the field.

As it was, my poor Panzers were caught out of position by the Allies’ 2nd Armored division, a marauding terror sweeping down from the north, using simple-to-parse rules for terrain to boot my tanks into the scrap pile. What’d been a promising surprise attack had flipped to disaster, and I had to rethink my strategy.

A Cold, Delighted, Defeat

I’m not one for concessions: knock out my queen on move three and I’ll still try to play you to a draw on the chessboard. Have me doubled up on the victory point track and I’ll still block your spaces, pursuing a hopeless tactic to see where it leads. Wargames indulge these instincts, and Celles is no exception.

Sure, my advance had been curtailed, my marauders mashed, but in chasing down my free-range forces, the Allies had left their infantry alone and, crucially, isolated. With a couple chit pulls, a reinforcement infusion, and a little help from the previously vanished dice deities, two of the three scoring towns were under my control, along with a plethora of bonus points racked up with captured counters.

Celles embraces speed, not just in its slim rules, but in its playstyle. Alternating actions and an easy-to-parse points system for unit activations means battle whipsaws back and forth, those northern forests morphing too fast for long-term planning. Reinforcements might not show up, the Allies might not move the 2nd Armored till the end of the day, or a wayward infiltration roll could shock the best strategies, keeping things light, frenetic, and fun.

But not without direction or cohesion: even as I took the towns, the Allies consolidated their outlying forces, looking ahead to the next couple days and accepting a short-term sacrifice later strength, even if victory’s final picture remained elusive.

Also missing were my vaunted tanks, whole divisions deciding to dodge away from the forests and leave my valiant stragglers isolated. My chit-drawing fingers doomed me to a scrambled fortification, the Allies bearing down on my slim numbers with little reason to fear.

Because Celles awards a significant chunk of points to holding particular territory, hunkering down behind rivers and in towns wasn’t a bad call. And, had I played safer at the start, the eventual cost to the Allies to retake those hamlets might’ve handed me the victory. As it was, they waited for daylight and the bonuses therein to reduce my force to atoms.

Germany, much as it did in reality, lost the Ardennes, though I’d like to think my version of it had some more reckless flair. Better yet, by the end, I was only a few points behind, having managed to hold those two towns with every ounce of luck my battered forces could muster. A stand worthy of something, the consternation in my opponent’s eyes at every missed roll, every limping move I made to cut off a killing strike, a delight.

At the end, that satisfying slurry amid the snow and spent motor oil made for a great afternoon. Celles doesn’t demand much from players to get started, yet it delivers an adventure from the first day to the last, a narrative of struggle wargames are so uniquely suited to pull off.

War Re-rolled

Like their tabletop brethren, wargames come in all sizes. Rather than dealing another hand of Hearts or resetting Concordia for another go, though, a wargame like Celles offers a more appealing replay: swap sides and see if you can do it better. Sibling Memoir ‘44 explicitly adopts this approach for standard games, though their shorter length makes that a viable afternoon event. Celles gets close, but I’d probably order pizza between games lest you get hungry by the end.

Once you’ve spun the map around, resetting those counters goes quick and there you are, facing the same traps you set yourself a few minutes ago. Will you advance the 2nd Armored into a smashing assault, or cede control of the towns early to keep your infantry alive? How about circling around the south end to cut off the German supplies?

Might just have to play a few more rounds to try out all the ideas and come up with plenty more.

Celles is a sampler-sized showcase of what wargaming offers, much like Catan or Dominion for modern tabletops. It’s a safe leap into the shallow end of wargaming’s vast pool, and one worth taking, if only to see how your forces fare in the snow.

Chits and Company

Chit-pulling wargames go beyond Celles too, with its publisher, Revolution Games, among many offering longer and deeper offerings still supported by the counter-from-the-cup draw. If you’d like to expand the size, consider Revolution’s Poland Defiant: The German Invasion. It’s a larger battlefield and playtime than Celles, with added complexity coming mainly from more units than additional rules, the best way to bolster a game’s difficulty.

Once you and your playing partners are comfortable, consider taking a jump up in scope with Roads to Leningrad or The Devil’s Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and WargamesNijmegen, which plays excellently solo as well. Both build off the chit-pull mechanic, letting you layer new ideas without building from the ground up.

Digging into wargames doesn’t need to be expensive, daunting, or long, Celles is proof of that. Give it and its neighbors a try and soon, with a little effort, a lot of caffeine, and some strategic cabin reservations, you’ll be spending winter weekends with friends and counters, immersed in the world of wargaming.

Cold, snow, and a swarm of tanks. I’m rolling in as the Germans near Christmas, my panzers crashing towards a river and a few towns, planning to cut off supply lines and in a war that’s gone, well, terribly. This time, with a handful of counters, a D10, and a tight map on the table, maybe The Battle of the Bulge would be different.

That’s wargaming for you: hope lasts till the first die rolls.

Opening Moves

Choosing Celles: The Ardennes by Revolution Games for an afternoon play wasn’t an accident: my enemy was a wargame newbie, so something with a gentler intro to hex-and-counter gaming seemed appropriate. From the first, the game matched my approachable dreams: coming in a sturdy bag with nothing more than a couple counter sheets, the rule book, and a map, Celles did everything it could to kill intimidation. This is a game for players who want to get to it, not spend days parsing tables or watching how-to-play videos.

And, given how thoroughly I was destroyed, I’d say it works quite well as a first run at the wargaming world.

Celles doesn’t stop its introductory advance at the presentation either, carrying it through into the rules of play: namely, chit-pulling. With broader games like Twilight Struggle or more dense tactical titles like Combat Commander, the brain-melting starts with simply deciding what to do with all the options at play. Like taking a chess board and tripling the pieces, it’s tough to know what to move first.

In Celles, that decision gets made for you as your hands dash into a cup, dish, or fancy hat to pull a division chit. You can then activate all (for most types) theWargames counters on the map for that division, or use the pulled marker as a sort-of wild card, activating any one unit of your choosing. That the latter is, shall we say, inefficient makes it easy to go forth with whatever Fate has given you.

For me and my hapless Panzers, that meant a rush from the southeast, snagging early momentum by surrounding allied infantry in their towns and mushing them off the map. This was worth more than territory: every enemy defeated provides points, with a few extra spots on the map providing end game bonuses. A far-off river also tantalizes with possible benefits, but for me proved to be a trap.

One I fell into, with disastrous results.

See, Celles runs its course along day and night turns up to and through Christmas of 1944. Every turn sees new units enter the battle for both sides, crowding your cup with more chits. As exciting as it is to see more tanks roll in, drawing the wrong division when you need your 2nd Panzer to run, run, and then run some more is both crushing and accurate to the state of battlefield chaos. Given that units are exhausted after they move, drawing the wrong chit at the wrong time can keep you from capitalizing on an enemy’s ill-luck or let your pal pulverize your panicked forces. Using the chits and their attendant activations to scheme out success at first seems like luck, but quickly transmutes to skill as units swarm the field.

As it was, my poor Panzers were caught out of position by the Allies’ 2nd Armored division, a marauding terror sweeping down from the north, using simple-to-parse rules for terrain to boot my tanks into the scrap pile. What’d been a promising surprise attack had flipped to disaster, and I had to rethink my strategy.

A Cold, Delighted, Defeat

I’m not one for concessions: knock out my queen on move three and I’ll still try to play you to a draw on the chessboard. Have me doubled up on the victory point track and I’ll still block your spaces, pursuing a hopeless tactic to see where it leads. Wargames indulge these instincts, and Celles is no exception.

Sure, my advance had been curtailed, my marauders mashed, but in chasing down my free-range forces, the Allies had left their infantry alone and, crucially, isolated. With a couple chit pulls, a reinforcement infusion, and a little help from the previously vanished dice deities, two of the three scoring towns were under my control, along with a plethora of bonus points racked up with captured counters.

Celles embraces speed, not just in its slim wargames rules, but in its playstyle. Alternating actions and an easy-to-parse points system for unit activations means battle whipsaws back and forth, those northern forests morphing too fast for long-term planning. Reinforcements might not show up, the Allies might not move the Wargames2nd Armored till the end of the day, or a wayward infiltration roll could shock the best strategies, keeping things light, frenetic, and fun.

But not without direction or cohesion: even as I took the towns, the Allies consolidated their outlying forces, looking ahead to the next couple days and accepting a short-term sacrifice later strength, even if victory’s final picture remained elusive.

Also missing were my vaunted tanks, whole divisions deciding to dodge away from the forests and leave my valiant stragglers isolated. My chit-drawing fingers doomed me to a scrambled fortification, the Allies bearing down on my slim numbers with little reason to fear.

Because Celles awards a significant chunk of points to holding particular territory, hunkering down behind rivers and in towns wasn’t a bad call. And, had I played safer at the start, the eventual cost to the Allies to retake those hamlets might’ve handed me the victory. As it was, they waited for daylight and the bonuses therein to reduce my force to atoms.

Germany, much as it did in reality, lost the Ardennes, though I’d like to think my version of it had some more reckless flair. Better yet, by the end, I was only a few points behind, having managed to hold those two towns with every ounce of luck my battered forces could muster. A stand worthy of something, the consternation in my opponent’s eyes at every missed roll, every limping move I made to cut off a killing strike, a delight.

At the end, that satisfying slurry amid the snow and spent motor oil made for a great afternoon. Celles doesn’t demand much from players to get started, yet it delivers an adventure from the first day to the last, a narrative of struggle wargames are so uniquely suited to pull off.

War Re-rolled

Like their tabletop brethren, wargames come in all sizes. Rather than dealing another hand of Hearts or resetting Concordia for another go, though, a wargame like Celles offers a more appealing replay: swap sides and see if you can do it better. Sibling Memoir ‘44 explicitly adopts this approach for standard games, though their shorter length makes that a viable afternoon event. Celles gets close, but I’d probably order pizza between games lest you get hungry by the end.

Once you’ve spun the wargames map around, resetting those counters goes quick and there you are, facing the same traps you set yourself a few minutes ago. Will you advance the 2nd Armored into a smashing assault, or cede control of the towns early to keep your infantry alive? How about circling around the south end to cutWargames off the German supplies?

Might just have to play a few more rounds to try out all the ideas and come up with plenty more.

Celles is a sampler-sized showcase of what wargames offers, much like Catan or Dominion for modern tabletops. It’s a safe leap into the shallow end of wargames vast pool, and one worth taking, if only to see how your forces fare in the snow.

Chits and Company

Chit-pulling wargames go beyond Celles too, with its publisher, Revolution Games, among many offering longer and deeper offerings still supported by the counter-from-the-cup draw. If you’d like to expand the size, consider Revolution’s Poland Defiant: The German Invasion. It’s a larger battlefield and playtime than Celles, with added complexity coming mainly from more units than additional rules, the best way to bolster a game’s difficulty.

Once you and your playing partners are comfortable, consider taking a jump up in scope with Roads to Leningrad or The Devil’s Cauldron: The Battles for Arnhem and Nijmegen, which plays excellently solo as well. Both build off the chit-pull mechanic, letting you layer new ideas without building from the ground up.

Digging into wargames doesn’t need to be expensive, daunting, or long, Celles is proof of that. Give it and its neighbors a try and soon, with a little effort, a lot of caffeine, and some strategic cabin reservations, you’ll be spending winter weekends with friends and counters, immersed in the world of wargaming.