When I first started playing Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, I promised myself I would play through the entire base game without ever repeating a scenario. As of 1/1/2013, I can say, “Mission accomplished!” Yesterday I met up with a new acquaintance at the Fantasy Flight Event Center in Roseville to play through the first scenario of the Spanish expansion, the Battle of Balién. Thankfully we had enough time to set up, play, switch sides, and play again. In both cases the French won, once by a margin of 3 banners and once by a margin of 4 banners.
I didn’t feel very comfortable bringing my camera into the gaming area, but I do feel just fine discussing my first thoughts about the Spanish army: They are horrible. Like whoa, dude. We are talking about huge penalties to ranged fire when they move, huge penalties to melee attacks when they move (!), and massive retreat penalties. (Which might lead everyone to wonder, “Who the heck would ever want to play this expansion?”)
Full disclosure here; both my opponent and I played the Spanish completely wrong. Once we had realized it, we didn’t really have time to have a third go-around, so we will just have to explore them further in our next meeting.
The guerilla rule does make the Spanish a bit easier to play. Basically you can spend guerilla tokens to cause the French to lose a turn. When my opponent played his token in the first bout, he did so to stop my Frenchmen from snatching up the last two banners. In the end it gained him one more turn, but didn’t improve his position any (I never received a guerilla banner in our second bout). On my drive home, I thought about the guerillas as they are represented in the game and had a little gaming epiphany. Guerilla tokens should not be used to cancel a devastating French play (like Forward!, where 9 units get activated). Instead, they absolutely must be used after a successful Spanish play (again, like Forward!).
It’s like this: The Spanish are so brittle that even if they have one successful turn, they will give up banners on the French’s next turn. So it is absolutely imperative that a player saves two similar cards, makes his first move, does some damage, cancels the French player’s turn with a guerilla token, and then follows up his previous gains with a second card that capitalizes on the first. It may be as simple as two Attack Right cards in a row, or as complicated as Le Grand Manoeuvre followed up by a Bayonet Charge, but it absolutely must do significant damage to the enemy. At first I thought the Spanish should be played defensively, but now I’m seeing that they need to only do so in preparation for very bold assaults.
Guerilla tokens are so critical to Spanish victory that I am theorizing that a Counterattack card, which allows a player to mimic his opponent’s last card play, should practically always be held in the Spanish player’s hand–until the French plays a Scout card. Then the Spanish player can play Counterattack, mimic the Scout card, and pick up a guerilla token. (This is the only way a Spanish player can gain more guerrilla tokens: Scout). If the Spanish player can ever get two guerilla tokens, he needs to use them back to back in order to have three uninterrupted turns.
Who says you don’t learn from losing? I’m very excited to test this out in a few weeks.