Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Commands and Colors Napoleonics

Plays: 2Px1.

The Game

I've played Memoir '44 and Battlelore before, but have never been a big fan of the commands and colours (C&C) system. Commands and Colors Napoleonics is one of the latest games in the series. Allen bought it when GMT Games had a special offer, so I offered to teach him to play.

First, some basics about the system. Each C&C game comes with multiple scenarios depicting battles fought between two sides. The scenario needs to be set up before you can play - different types of units and their positioning, terrains, and other scenario specific rules. Each player has a hand of cards. On your turn you play a card and usually use it to order troops to move and attack. The board is divided into 3 sections - left, centre and right. Cards usually specify a number of units in a specific section that you can activate. Some special cards have special abilities, e.g. mirroring the card just played by your opponent. Each unit has a number of blocks or figures. Whenever a unit suffers casualties (determined by die rolls), blocks are removed. If you completely eliminate an enemy unit, you earn one victory point. Sometimes some objective hexes also give victory points. First to achieve a certain number of points, depending on the scenario, wins.

The command cards. Most of them are of the type on the left, specifying which sections you can use them on and how many units can be ordered. Special command cards have text descriptions explaining what they do, like the one on the right.

The dice. If you are attacking an infantry unit, then each blue (infantry) side rolled is a hit. Crossed sabers are hits if it is a melee attack (as opposed to a ranged fire attack). If you roll a flag, the targeted unit has to retreat.

There are many C&C games depicting battles in different eras. Each has unique rules bringing out the flavour of warfare in its period. In Commands and Colors Napoleonics the three basic troop types are infantry, cavalry and artillery. Only cavalry cannot shoot. All can fight in melee, although the "melee" of artillery is actually firing at point blank range. There are leaders, who bolster morale and can make the units they are attached to stand their ground firmly when normally they would be forced to retreat.

Some other aspects of the game:

  • There is a Battle Back mechanism - if a unit being attacked does not retreat, it strikes back at its attacker. Leaders prevent retreats. Being adjacent to two friendly units too, so keeping formation is useful.
  • When infantry is attacked by cavalry, they can switch to a Square formation, which make them harder to hit (by cavalry), but their effectiveness in battle also reduces.
  • Cavalry can do Breakthroughs. When an attacking cavalry unit is able to force its target to retreat, it can move and attack again, punching a hole in the enemy line.

Similar to other C&C games, terrain matters a lot, so it's good to grab defensive terrain (which forces your attacker to roll fewer dice when attacking your entrenched units). Some terrain hinder movement. Some are impassable.

The Play

It was Allen's first time playing a C&C system game, so I let him play the French, which had the best land army during the age of Napoleon. I didn't realise that specifically in the first scenario, the Allies (English and Portugese) had a much bigger army than the French, so it was probably harder to play the French. The French were mostly camped on hills, while the Allies were to try to outflank them on both flanks to reach two objective locations (each would be worth 1VP if held by the Allies). So in this particular scenario the French needed to play defensively, to try to hold on to the hills while at the same time not letting the Allies easily outflank them. The Allies needed to make use of its superior numbers to either eliminate enough French units, or try to capture one or both of the objective locations to reach the required number of VP's (5).

One costly mistake that Allen made in the early game was advancing off the hills and coming close to my firing range. I quickly advanced my units into firing range and opened fire. I advanced them into some forests, which protected them from gunfire. I had Portugese troops on my right flank, and advanced them carefully. Allen left his positions to attack my advancing troops, and I counter-attacked and whittled down his units. I had some amazingly lucky die rolls in the early game, and also some rules mistakes we made benefited me. Oops. Given these many factors, the battle should have been a piece of cake for me, but it took longer than expected to end the game. It took quite some time to eliminate enough units, because weakened units were sent to the back and it was hard to catch them.

I played the Allies (English and Portugese). The English have red blocks (foreground), and the French played by Allen have dark blue blocks (background). Normally players are supposed to play with the blocks standing upright, but we preferred to have them lying down. I guess we prefer the bird's eye view.

Early in the game (1st scenario). Allen had just advanced two of his infantry units in the centre off the hills.

One special command card allowed me to quickly advance many units, and I did so hoping to quickly catch Allen's retreating weakened units. One of my advancing units marched up right next to one of his artillery units, and was shot to pieces at point blank range. I had a leader with that unit, who almost got killed. Thankfully he wasn't, else it would have been one more point for Allen. My leader had to scurry backwards to seek protection from another unit. My other advancing units were more successful, managing to catch and eliminate some of Allen's weakened units, so finally I reached 5VP's, four by eliminated units and one by the objective location on the right flank.

On the right half of the board my units had advanced far forward. In the top right corner some were now cornering Allen's lone cavalry block guarding the objective location which was worth 1VP to me. In the centre, four of my units had advanced onto the hills, trying to chase Allen's weakened units which had retreated from the hills. I had one infantry unit lead by a leader standing right next to Allen's artillery unit.

My infantry unit which was right next to Allen's artillery unit had been completely wiped out. The leader had now retreated to join another infantry unit hiding in a forest. My cavalry unit on the left flank had now advanced towards the town.

The last French unit I had to eliminate to win the game. Hiding in a town meant it was very hard to kill (attacker rolls 2 fewer dice than normal). I had to completely surround it before I could kill it.

The Thoughts

Winning the game certainly left a better impression (for me). I just hope I didn't "pull a Twilight Struggle" on Allen again. I had taught him Twilight Struggle, and in his first game defeated him soundly (I swear I didn't intend to go hard on a new player, I simply drew the right cards and had lucky die rolls); and soon after that he traded away his copy of the game. In hindsight we should have restarted the game and swapped sides when I discovered something was not right. Allen, we should do a rematch, switching sides, OK?

Overall Commands and Colors Napoleonics feels very similar to other C&C games that I have played before. Maybe I don't play C&C games much, their differences don't stand out very much for me. And it has been a long time since I last played a C&C game. C&C games are on the lighter side of the war game spectrum, but among these C&C games there are differences in complexity. I tend to like the more complex ones, like Commands and Colors Napoleonics, because the luck factor is smaller. There are things you can do to mitigate luck and to help you survive unlucky streaks with card draws. Coming back to a C&C game after such a long time gave me some new appreciation of the system. I now appreciate more the need to plan and manage your hand of command cards. It's often good to save up a few cards that work well with one another and then play them one after another. E.g. by playing a few left flank cards in succession, you will be able to launch an effective left-flank attack. If you are short on cards on a particular flank, you may want to consider rearranging your units into defensive positions and/or formations with whatever cards of that flank that you have left. In the past I used to think that you are heavily restricted by the luck of the card draw. Now I'm starting to see ways of mitigating luck.

In summary, this is a 2-player-only battle level game, with an easy-to-learn system, and some luck and uncertainties (just like real battles). Be prepared to spend some effort learning the unit and terrain characteristics, but once you get a decent grasp of these, this becomes a brisk and rewarding game.


DRoach said...

Just when I had started to convince myself I did not need this game you reviewed it. Are there any other Napoleon Era games you would recommend besides C and C.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

:-D sorry DRoach...

Regarding other Napoleon Era games, I can only think of Manoeuvre and Waterloo.

Manoeuvre has fewer pieces and a smaller board, but is not necessarily much simpler than C&CN. You are also restricted by card draws, and you have to manage your hand carefully, more so than C&CN. In Manoeuvre you get 8 different armies, and battlefields are randomly set up.

Waterloo is by Martin Wallace. I'm not sure whether it is easy to find. It is, of course, about a single battle. It is more complex than C&CN. I found the combat resolution a little annoying because of the need to constantly look up tables and the many die roll modifiers to add up. But it is a more detailed game.

Blunt Force said...

A little to simple for me but this game is ok.