Inside the Box: Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: The Russian Army

February 18, 2013

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 Russian Army is the second expansion in the latest iteration of Richard Borg‘s C & C system. Published by GMT Games, it retails for $55, but can often be found between $30-35 through the usual online sellers. It was shipped out to P500 subscribers just last week, and mine arrived in the mail on about three days ago.

I don’t want to sound like an mp3 on repeat (broken record?), but the first thing that catches the eye is the box itself. It is incredibly sturdy and bright with an evocative painting of Napoleonic troops charging. The strip at the bottom of the box is a nice dark green, which matches the colors of the Russians. (I was surprised to see in the last expansion that the strip there was brown, which did not match the yellow of the Spanish troops contained within.) However, if you are collecting all expansions in this game set, you’ll quickly realize the mistake seen below:

Notice what I've highlighted in red.

Notice what I’ve highlighted in red.

Yup, that’s right folks, even though the Spanish expansion is clearly marked “Expansion Nr. 1” on the box, and this expansion says “#2” on the rulebook…the cover remains blank. The same goes for the box spine, which means if you store your games on a bookshelf like me, you’ll see “Expansion Nr. 1” next to “Expansion”. Whoops.

Flipping the box over, you get the usual information about playing time, etc. It’s a bummer that Napoleon still is wearing Le Bicorn Invisible. For those keeping score, this is the third time this has happened. Someone nudge their production coordinator; I think he’s asleep at the switch.

Nice hat, Emperor.

Nice hat, Emperor.

Thankfully, once the box is opened, these problems seem to dissipate somewhat. Again we’ve got 220 wooden blocks, some charts, cardboard bits for the Russians, a scenario booklet, and lots and lots of stickers. Again I was hoping for a fix for “Give them the Cold Steal” from the first edition, but no dice.

Get stickering!

Get stickering!

While I’ve already explored at length how the Spanish expansion was a step down in terms of production quality, I think GMT has upped their game once again. The terrain hexes are back to the original thickness, so there’s no cheap feel there, and the same goes for the other cardboard chits:

Ah, back to what we love!

Ah, back to what we love!

Speaking of cardboard bits, you get some new terrain including frozen lakes and redoubts in woods:

Almost siegeworks.

Almost siege works.

The decision was made to continue including the little heavy, light, and cavalry symbols on the unit stickers. From a distance they still look like smudges, but I’ll deal with it. The blocks themselves are gorgeous, with the Russians being a rich, vibrant green:

Ooh!

Ooh!

I also like that the decision was made to stick with the new style of unit reference chart, which is easy to read in the heat of battle. In addition, the scenario book (20 scenarios!) with the new rules about the Mother Russia roll is well-written and the images are sharp. The Russians look like a sturdy bunch who will give the French a run for their money, especially in the larger scenarios, some of which go to 10 victory banners.

One thing that others have noticed is the quality of the paper used. There’s something a bit rough about it; when I handled the scenario book and the sticker sheet, it felt like very fine sandpaper. It’s not overly unpleasant, but it is noticeable and some won’t like it.

Overall, I would consider this a step up from the first expansion, but one step down from the base game in terms of components. Maybe when the Prussians and Austrians come out, we’ll get some of these final wrinkles ironed out.


Infiltration: A Few Zettabytes Later

February 6, 2013
Gabriel

Gabriel at work.

Gabriel finally found the motherload – Cyber Solutions, Inc sever room. He jacked in and started extracting zettabyte after zettabyte of data files, knowing Hugo was right behind him. He pulled up an augmented reality screen during the download and checked the alarm level. Still at three, he thought, although the security will be here soon. Gabriel scratched at his shoulder where his cybernetics attached to flesh. Something wasn’t right, Hugo should have burst through the door by now and started his own download. He pulled up surveillance feed of the facility. He found Mr. White had dispatched James Harris, Cyber Solutions in-house security, with a well placed shot from his flechette pistol but was wounded and slowly making his way to the exit. Gabriel continued scanning, the itch getting stronger. There was Hugo, in the shipping yard, he had accessed a terminal and was talking to an AI secretary. Yes, Hugo, thought Gabriel, get her to turn down the alarm and we’ll clean this place out! The alarm monitor spiked and raced up to five. “Hugo, you jerk!” Gabriel shouted. He should have know he’d be double crossed.

Infiltration is semi-cooperative game of a cyberpunk styled cooperate heist. Having a fondness for books like Neuromancer and Snow Crash and games like Shadowrun or Syndicate, Infiltration was a must buy for me. While the game is fun, has a strong narrative, and builds tension nicely, it isn’t without its faults. Most games end far to early. The game is divided into two “floors” and most of the second floor often not seen as the proximity dial (the timer for when the game ends) advances faster than the operative can move through the building. And items, while, interesting often go unused because they are too situational.

It is often all to easy to point out the faults of a good game. When everything else stands out as fun, the lees fun parts become more apparent. Fortunately, Infiltration lends itself to variants very easily and even lists a number of them in the rulebook. Here’s what I’ve found makes the game more fun:

  • Use the “Extract” cards rather than the download cards, this makes the player spread out a little more and increase the risk/reward factor.
  • Consider starting the alarm timer at -1 for the traditional 2 floor layout to let operatives get deeper into the facility.
  • Use 6 items rather than 4. This give people more opportunities to use their items and provide greater variety in actions taken.
  • Try a 4 x 4 grid layout where there top two rows are floor 2 and the bottom two rows floor 1. Advance lets you go forward or right. Retreat goes back or left. Adjacent means only those cards in the same row.

Give them a try and let me know what you think. I’ll keep experimenting too.


Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: Russian Expansion Preview

February 5, 2013

After the awesome game-giving generosity of my family at Christmas, I am eagerly awaiting the next few expansions to C&C: Napoleonics. Word just came out today that GMT Games is charging the credit cards of those who preordered the Russian expansion and games will be shipping toward the end of this week. Getting this sort of news causes me to obsess more than a little about what might be in the box, but luckily C&C:N dot net spilled the beans today. You can now go here to check out the rules pertaining to the new army.

(From what I can gather, GMT Games sent advance information about this expansion to Michael Dippel, who creates the Napoleonics VASSAL modules free of charge so folks can play it online. Then on the day the credit cards were charged, Alesandro Crespi, who runs C&C:N dot net, was allowed to release this info. What an awesome sign of a board game publisher trying to strengthen the community people who play its games!)

So, how do these forest green fighters stack up against their opponents?

The Russians will field 15 different types of units: 6 infantry, 6 cavalry, and 3 artillery. I’m most impressed by the infantry, most of whom can ignore one retreat result in combat. So if you pit them against the other major nations, this is what you get:

British: Excellent at ranged fire.
French: Excellent at melee v.s. other infantry.
Spanish: Awful at everything (but hey, they’ve got guerillas)
Russian: Excellent at ignoring retreat results (to a point)
Austrians: Still unknown
Prussians: Still unknown

At the same time, Russian cavalry aren’t bad either, and in fact I’d say that they just squeak past the French in terms of ability, though I would guess they’ll be rare in the scenarios. Most cavalry field 4 blocks, and the elite units can often ignore two retreat flags.

The other thing that makes the Russians unique is unfortunately-named “Pre-Battle Mother Russia Roll.” (Say it ten times fast!) Some infantry units will be set up at partial strength (3 blocks), and then after a pre-battle roll of the dice is made, a few of those infantry can be beefed up to their “on paper” strength of 4 blocks. If one gets a different result, he or she can place fieldworks hexes or Cossacks. I’m particularly interested to see how the latter play out, as they are 2-block cavalry units that will not hit on saber results (making them weak in melee) and retreat 3 hexes per flag rolled against them (making them very apt to run away). At the same time, killing them off doesn’t net the French player any victory points, so you really can just send them at Napoleon’s columns in an attempt to break them up.

All in all, this looks like a strong addition to the Napoleonics line, and I may alter my routine, skip over the Spanish for a bit, and get the Russians to the table!

Expect an “Inside the Box” review soon. I’m interested to see if the disappointing drop in quality we saw in the Spanish expansion has been corrected.