Inside the Box is an in-depth look at the contents of a board game. It covers the quality, quantity, and aesthetic value of what is found inside the game box.
Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army is the first expansion in the latest iteration of Richard Borg‘s C & C system. Published by GMT, it retails for $55, but can often be found between $30-35 through the usual online sellers.
As with all GMT games put out in the past two years, the box is sturdy and colorful. The cover painting, a group of beleaguered Spanish troops around a battery of cannons, really catches the eye. The back boasts a playing time of 1 hour, which is, I think, rather optimistic. The only eyesore is a graphic of Napoleon with a transparent bicorn hat on his head. Whoops.
Opening up the box, you’ll find a bag of 210 unit blocks, colored blue for the French and a dirty yellow for the Spanish. You also get 3 sheets of unit sticks, a rulebook with 18 new scenarios, 2 National Unit reference cards (one with all the Coalition forces, one with the French forces), 2 unit reference cards in a new style, and 1 sheet of terrain hexes. (Secretly, I was hoping for a correction for the card “Give Them the Cold Steal,” but no such luck.)
All together, the components are a step down from the Napoleonics core game, unfortunately. There are three reasons for this. First, the muddy yellow color for the Spanish blocks was a poor choice. Compared to the rich brown of the Portugeuse, the bright red of the British, and the royal blue of the French, the Spanish army looks…well, pretty bad. Even a few more coats of yellow would have worked, but it looks like the paint is so thinly applied that the dark grain of the wood comes out and the effect is not pleasant.
Second, a decision was made to include small identification symbols on some unit types. Grenadiers now have a silhouette of a bomb, heavy cavalry have a trooper’s helmet, and light infantry have a bugle. This seems to me unnecessary–each unit already has its name printed at the bottom of each block–and from a distance, these symbols look like smudges. Worst of all, in scenarios that combine the base and expansion sets, you’ll now have some units with symbols and some without, which will probably just cause confusion.
Third, the terrain tiles, square track, guerilla tokens, and victory banners, which all come from one cardboard sheet, are incredibly thin. GMT has stated this was a mistake on the printer’s part, one that they decided not to rectify. The result is some components that feel very cheap when you’re handling them.
While these three definitely detract from the over quality of the product, I think the uniqueness of the Spanish army still shines through. Just glancing over the rules, I could tell these guys would be very fragile in the field and yet powerful because of the guerilla special ability. I am also very happy that GMT made the choice to include two kinds of player aids: I do not like the original style (which you still get here) because of all the flipping you need to do to get some basic information. The new style, however, is excellent. The new handout is just 1 double-sided sheet, and actually easier to navigate than the larger one.
Overall, I’m feeling a bit iffy on this expansion from a components perspective. Unfortunately, it feels like a rushed product when you consider the cardboard thickness, the paint quality, and the strange unit symbols. The system is still great, however, and Mr. Borg’s design is strong. It’s just that the execution on GMT’s part leaves much to be desired here. Let’s hope they get the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian expansions right.