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.


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.


Commands & Colors: Napoleonics: Spanish Expansion, Guerillas

January 24, 2013

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?”)

Charge!

Charge!

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 tokensScout). 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.


C & C: Napoleonics: Salamanca (Right Flank)

July 30, 2012

My brother Mike came over on Friday night and we did battle in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics once again. Like last time, Mike took the redcoats while I took the forces of the Emperor in the Battle of Salamanca (French right). I again enlisted the help of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who through some zany time machine plot I still refuse to go into, was now three months old and giving me strategy tips. You may remember that last time I won by s sizable margin; I was looking to repeat.   Here’s the layout of the map at the start:

17 Allied units v.s. 14 French units.

 With one game under our belts relatively recently, we had to look up no rules and cruised right along. My plan was to simply wait behind the hills in front of my lines and use timely bayonet charges to rip the British to shreds. Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way in the end. Mike got a great starting hand with a lot of center activation cards and began advancing his line. (Apologies for the cell phone pics that follow)

They’re fording the river!

However, the action began in earnest on the right, where my impetuous French cavalry mixed it up with British artillery. This did not go well:

Horses and canister do not mix.

“Let’s just quit while we still can,” General Josie suggested. “I need to get to bed anyway.” “Nev-ar!” I retorted in my worst French accent, and ordered more units.

“It looks bad for us, Dad.”

The British continued to exert pressure on the French right, bringing up heavy and light cavalry to mix it up. I was forced to form square, but to no avail. Meanwhile, British riflemen had taken the town in the center of the map and were peppering my infantry at the same time:

“Never surrender!”

While the center lines traded potshots, I finally got some cards to activate the French left and drove back a strong force that was advancing toward the hills. I gently reminded Mike of how combined arms attacks work when I rolled eight dice in one attack:

“See? No way you can win.”

As Mike brought more crack troops up on the left and the right, I began shifting forces away from my center to reinforce those flanks. However, the cards were against me. We were both losing units at a quick clip, and were tied at 5 banners apiece.

The map quickly empties out…

The tension in the air increased dramatically as we both realized the game was nearing its end. Mike made what I thought was a dumb move, manoeuvring a unit of Guards Grenadiers into a river on the French left within easy range of my cannons. At the same time, I didn’t actually have the cards to destroy it, and when the redcoats swarmed my last block of artillery, it was all over.

What I had to endure as my opponent gloated.

And with that, the British won, 6-5. In truth, I learned quite a bit in this scenario. First, as I only had been given one unit of cavalry, I should have done a better job of protecting it. It had far more value as a potential threat, and its presence throughout the scenario would have made Mike think twice about advancing infantry on my right. However, once I got them beat up, he had no reason to hold back from sending cavalry across the river. This forced my infantry on that side to form square and eventually get destroyed by musket fire.

Also, I’m starting to see a pattern in how our games develop. Usually we are reluctant to get involved in the center of the map because it  comes down to who has the better dice rolls and cards; in short, it gets really bloody and chaotic in the center unless you’re cautious about it. This reluctance means most of the action gets driven to the flanks, where we often have fewer units and thus more room to manoeuvre. Once those flanks are decimated, the game is almost over and we’re more inclined to activate units in the center. (This, by the way, is not something I think I would have ever caught on to if I didn’t blog about these sessions…maybe all this writing is actually making me a better player?) Anyway, I need to think about this a little bit more and see if this realization can be somehow turned to my advantage in the future.

Now that summer school is over and I have a little bit more time off, expect new sessions reports soon!

 


C & C: Napoleonics: Salamanca (Left Flank)

July 2, 2012

After a long hiatus during which my second child was born and my seventh year of teaching came to a close, my brother and I finally sat down on the eve of my birthday for another match up in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. After my loss at Redinha in March, I was spoiling for a good fight and got one.  Mike took the redcoats while I took the forces of the Emperor in the Battle of Salamanca (French left). I also enlisted the help of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who through some zany time machine plot I won’t go into, was two months old and sleeping against my chest in a baby sling.  Here’s the layout of the map at the start:

15 Allied units v.s. 13 French units.

My initial plan was to use the two diagonal lines of hills in front of my troops to funnel the Allied troops towards me, unable to support each other, but “no plan survives contact with the enemy.” The early action took place on the French left, as I advanced some light cavalry and infantry to tangle it up with the Portuguese heavy cavalry:

What a mess!

My light troops quickly got in trouble and had to form square (I’m a little rusty!), but a few well-timed cavalry charges and volleys sent the Allies a-running:

Better luck next time, guys.

We skirmished a bit on the French right as we refreshed our hands, and then the action began again on the left in earnest. My French lights starting chewing up Portuguese infantry units, and they even killed a leader. In fact, the whole game they never took a scratch and were responsible for earning three banners!

“Apprêtez-vos armes…joue…feu!”

Again the focus shifted to the French right. I had manoeuvred line infantry and light cavalry against the right edge of the map, taking fire from the elite British light infantry. After whittling them down with artillery fire, I was able to use a classic hammer and anvil move. French light cavalry and line infantry both advanced on the British lights, forcing General Mike to decide: form square or not? He did, and while the cavalry inflicted no damage, the French column smashing into his square definitely did.

Caught between…um…a saber and a bayonet.

The end result.

With his right and left flanks battered, Mike tried to adopt a more defensive position, but it was too late. His British light cavalry got caught in between my line infantry and light cavalry on the French left, and it was all over. We finished the scenario in about an hour, with the French taking 6 banners to the British’s 1: 

The face of defeat.

After a three-month absence, we had to look up a few rules, but I was happily surprised at how much we had retained in the meantime. This scenario also reminded me that, when possible, we need to reverse roles and play the same scenario twice in succession. Then we can determine a winner by adding up the total number of banners taken.

 


C & C: Napoleonics: Combat at Redinha Scenario

April 1, 2012

Just one day after my victory at Bussaco, my brother and I sat down for a third time to play Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. After pouring some fine homebrew, Blockade Runner ESB, into pint glasses, our version of the Combat at Redinha commenced. Once again Mike took the doughty Allied forces, while I played the upstart French.

Setup
First let me say that this looks like one of the most balanced scenarios in the base game. Again the Allies have a fun mix of average and specialized units, including the Guards Grenadiers and Grenadiers. The French have fewer units, but I believe that the terrain, including two large stands of trees on their left and right flank, favors them.

Early Battle
With a few games under his belt, Mike was definitely more cautious at the start. He gradually linked his left and center armies, pushing for the stand of trees on the French right, which I quickly vacated. Specifically, I wanted to pull my horse artillery back a bit so it could cover the gap in the hill line in my right-center:

Notice the gap between the hills in the right-center of the board. I'm trying to move my horse artillery to cover that gap.

The action then heated up on my right flank as the British made a hard push and I couldn’t evacuate my line infantry in time (1 banner to the British), though I did chew up the British lights a bit to the point where they were a non-issue the rest of the game. Undaunted, Mike sent in his light cavalry to tangle with my own, resulting in my unit being severely depleted. I then moved them out of the way and gave his troopers a face-ful of canister!

The impetuous British cavalry drive home the attack…
…only to be destroyed by a 1 in 216 roll from General John.

Mid Battle
As the British brought fresh troops forward, I linked the French left and center and waited for the final blow. I realized too late, however, that I had made a critical mistake. In letting the British come to me, I was largely backed up against my side of the field, which meant very little room to maneuver (or is it manoeuvre?). To make things worse, I kept pulling cards for the right section of the battlefield, where very little was going on. The British Guards Grenadiers came forward and pushed my skirmishers out of the woods. I cringed and waited for the final blow to fall…

The British begin their final push.

End of Battle
Once again, it all ended in chaos and carnage. Mike advanced a strong line of British Grenadiers and Portuguese line infantry. They took the hills in the center of the map and stared down on the center of my line. The battle looked like it might be decided by dice alone…that is, until my opponent pulled out his “Fire and Hold” card. With three rolls of the dice, he wiped two of my units from the field and left the remaining three in the center the worse for wear.

The French get peppered by musket fire.

Again, the cards weren’t coming. I feebly fired back and moved over another unit of line infantry, hoping to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. But one more volley from the Allies and it was over:

Alas, the bitter end.

Although I lost by a wide margin (6 to 3), I learned a lot in this scenario about keeping enough room behind you to effectively maneuver and cycle fresh troops and depleted units. This was one of my favorite plays of C&C:N so far, in part because my brother is getting really good at the game!

Stay tuned for more Napoleonics goodness in a few weeks…

 


C & C: Napoleonics: Bussaco (Ney’s Assault) Scenario

March 11, 2012

Last Saturday while our wives were out at the spa and our dad was watching his favorite grand-daughters, my brother and I sat down for a third time to play Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. Having played the first Bussaco scenario against Russ a week before, we immediately headed to the French right flank during the same battle and played Bussaco (Ney’s Assault). Mike once again took the British, and I sided with the French. The Allied forces have a fun mix of British and Portuguese line and light troops with some specialized units (like the Guards Grenadiers) mixed in. The French, meanwhile, have their usual assortment of line and light infantry.

Setup
As the scenario opens, the British have an advance skirmish line made up of Rifles, lights, and Portuguese light troops in the center, and their main force scattered in the rear. The French, on the other hand, have a nice set of intact lines. We cracked open a Flemish sour ale and started playing.

The start of the battle.

Early Battle
My first goal was to eliminate Sharpe’s Rifles in the town of Sula, as their superior range makes them a huge threat. In fact, their position means they can take shots at any Frenchmen advancing in the entire center section. So I quickly moved up some light and line infantry and whittled them down to one block strength. (Mike then wisely ordered them to retreat.)

First things first: Kill Sharpe!

That done, Mike and I traded some fire on French right flank. In the end, I withdrew my troops; the forest makes for a nice, safe approach, but the French still face some Portuguese troops sitting on a hill, and I just couldn’t get my artillery up fast enough. As Mike marshaled his forces, it was clear this was going to be decided in the center.

Mid Battle
As Mike worked to bring together a line in the center, I brought my left and center together to form a powerful, linked line of infantry. (Unbeknownst to my opponent, I was also building up an entire hand of left section cards, hoping to make a move on the Portuguese line infantry and British cavalry on that side, but it never panned out.)

My left center midway through the battle.

I anchored my left-center line in the town of Sula, and stretched my troops toward my own end of the map from there. Some of my units had taken a beating from the murderous musket fire of the British light troops, so I cycled weak units to the rear and brought fresh ones up. Meanwhile, Mike brought his line together and prepared to assault.

End of Battle
I’m proud to say that this one ended in total carnage. General Mike played a “Bayonet Charge” and sent his Allied troops howling forward. They did a bit of damage and destroyed one unit, but he couldn’t have known that I had an “Assault Center” up my sleeve.

After the Allies’ charge.

I laid the card down and ordered two full strength French line units, one 3/4 strength line unit, and one French light cavalry. They all engaged with the enemy infantry and wiped them out (3 banners). The cavalry achieved a breakthrough too, and managed to nab the last lone British light infantry block for the victory. 4 banners in one turn–wow! Mike was truly stunned; he had thought his charge might bring him within the grasp of victory, but, alas, it only hastened his defeat.

The map at the end. Mike’s “losing face” makes another appearance.

Despite the way this one ended, I think it is a rather balanced scenario. The French get the forests for a covered approach on both flanks, while the British have a lot of hills. The town in the center will inevitably become the heart of this battle, though, and it was definitely true  on Saturday.

Stay tuned as my brother and I sit down to play the next scenario!

 


Inside the Box: Commands & Colors: Napoloenics: The Spanish Army

February 27, 2012

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.)

The contents of this expansion.

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.

Spanish and French blocks.

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.

The new terrain tiles (left) v.s. the old terrain tiles (right).

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.

The new charts (left) v.s. the old charts (right).

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.


C & C: Napoleonics: River Coa Scenario

February 20, 2012

Last Sunday I taught my brother the ins and outs of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. He and I played a fair amount of Ancients between 2006-2008, so this was just a new twist on an old favorite for him. True to my vow to never return to a scenario until I had played through all of them once, I picked the next on my list, the Battle of River Coa. While this is a small scenario, it’s still fascinating; the British can exit units off the map via the bridge over the River Kwai Coa for victory banners if they choose. Also, each player only has four cards in his hand, so forming square drops your hand size by 25%! After a brief rules explanation, we were off and running.

Early Battle
I knew I had to drive hard to catch Mike’s units before they exited the map, but my cavalry started far away from his units. With few cards to move my cavalry, I instead advanced my infantry in the center, intent on knocking out his Portuguese light infantry before they could exit. (Also, the French infantry in the center start in range of the British artillery, so your only options are to retreat out or range or close and do damage.) Along the way, my units took some hits, but I was successful in knocking out one enemy unit.

The French center advances. The exit bridge is to the left.

However, in my haste to catch some of his units furthest away from the bridge, I advanced some unsupported light cavalry on my right, intent on catching his Rifles napping. Mike quickly formed square and sent some line infantry sailing in to drive my cavalry back and inflict heavy losses. Later on I attempted to bring in some infantry support, but they never really got in the fight.

Mid Battle
As the battle progressed, I worked to cycle out hurt units in the center and replace them with fresh troops. This worked well, and I actually managed to destroy a few British artillery units at the same time. Meanwhile, a few more British units exited the map and we were tied 3-3. Eventually the card draws started working in my favor, and I was able to move some heavy cavalry up my left flank. In a moment of daring, they vaulted over the breastworks of the beleaguered Portuguese light infantry, who were promptly cut down.

My heavy cavalry decimated the Portuguese cazadores. 

Set back on his heels a bit, my brother did what any good board game general would do–he suggested we sample some beer! I was ahead, 5-4.

General Mike distracts me with beer: Widmer Brothers’ IPA, to be exact.

Late Battle
After the break for beer, the few remaining British units set up in the most defensive posture possible on the hills in the center and on my right flank. I took my time, cycled in fresh troops, and brought up more heavy cavalry to fully block off the approach to the bridge over the River Kwai Coa. I focused on my goal and used the the tactical advice I received from a recently-arrived comrade, fresh from a rejuvenating nap:

Getting some help from my military advisor, Colonel Sweetpea.

The British tried to end it all in a grand charge of heavy cavalry, but my seasoned grenadiers took them out and thus ended the battle. The French won, 6-4.
My brother’s “losing face.”

This was a simple, short, and exciting scenario. The overwhelming size of the French force is mitigated by the distance they have to cover before the British slip away, and the small hand size makes every decision to “form square!” agony. I look forward to playing this again once I’ve played through the entire scenario book once. If I play the British in the future, I plan on moving my crack rifles into the fortifications that protect the approach to the bridge. From there,  they can pick off any French troops trying to cut off the Allies’ only exit.


Commands and Colors: Napoleonics—The Best C&C Game Yet?

September 25, 2011

(Folks, let me open by stating emphatically this is not a review. We don’t do reviews at Margin of Victory. Rather, this is a simple explanation of why I believe Napoleonics to be the best Commands & Colors game yet published.)

I’ve only played five games of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. And yet already I know it to be a more interesting game than its cousin, Commands & Colors: Ancients, which I played the heck out of between 2005-2008.

The same card-driven mechanic is in play here, as are the left, center, and right divisions of the battlefield. Light, medium, and heavy units are now infantry, cavalry, and artillery units (all of which have some weaker and stronger versions). So on the surface, it’s basically the same game, just with a few tweaks. What’s amazing is that Richard Borg gave players more choices in Napoleonics without making the game much more complicated.

Look familiar to some other games you've played?

The three important additions are Napoleonic-era tactical decisions:

Cavalry Retire and Reform: In the face of an infantry melee attack, cavalry may evade. This works exactly the same as evasion in Ancients, it’s just that only cavalry get this option now.

Form Square: In the face of a cavalry melee attack, infantry may assume a square formation. The defending player must have a random card taken from his hand, which is then placed out of play until his unit resumes its usual formation. Attacking cavalry may only attack with one die, regardless of other benefits. The infantry battles back with one die, but if they score a retreat result on the enemy, the cavalry must move one hex away from the square (a “bounce flag”). This formation is great if your infantry get cut off and are on their own. It’s a very tough choice if they are facing both enemy cavalry and infantry, as their ability to defend themselves against the infantry is vastly reduced.

Combined Arms Attack: While attacking, you may order one cavalry/infantry AND one artillery unit to attack at the same time. You roll the normal melee dice for the cavalry or infantry unit, but you also get to add the ranged combat dice of the artillery unit in the same roll. Yup, you might be rolling 8 dice in a massive assault.

On my first read through of the rules, I didn’t think these tactics would change the flow of the game much. But about halfway through my first game with General Rick of the allied army, it was clear they were going to matter quite a bit.

In the Rolica (first position) scenario, a unit of my French light infantry found itself way out ahead of the rest of my army. Having taken earlier losses, they were at half strength and facing British heavy cavalry and line infantry. Rick ordered both units and chose his cavalry to attack first. I formed square, knowing I would likely survive the attack but also realizing that my troops would get cut to ribbons by the line infantry attack a moment later. However, if I had not formed square, his cavalry likely would have destroyed my unit, received a bonus move, and received a bonus attack against another unit. So while I lost the unit to the second attack, I denied him a breakthrough.

The game ended when General Rick executed a perfect combined arms attack. Using cards that allowed his units to move extra hexes, he arranged it so some British artillery was on a hill, firing directly down on my troops (whoops!). Then he brought some line infantry up, ordered both units, and crushed my line in a devastating combined arms attack. He rolled 8 dice in one mighty attack (4 for the line infantry + 4 for the artillery firing at point blank range). Needless to say, this caused one of my full-strength units to magically transform from neat rows of blue-coated musketeers to a pile of corpses and, alas, my French lost the battle.

I enjoyed Ancients, but I like Napoleonics even more. I feel like I have more tactical decisions to make, and thus more control over the battle. Once I factor in the varied landscape in each scenario (no more featureless plains like in Ancients) and the specialized units (rifle infantry! horse artillery! cuirassiers! oh my!), I think I’ll be playing this game for a long time to come.

"Uh oh. Form square? Stay in line? Either way, I think we're screwed, guys."