After my very enthusiastic reaction to Commands & Colors: Ancients, Virago and Sigur decided to expose me to another variant of Richard Borg’s ingenious series of games. This time, it was to be Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. As another mate was also present, we played two parallel games. Virago and Nik had a Peninsular battle while Sigur and I played a scenario from the Austrian Army expansion. Our version of the 1805 Battle of Wertingen pitted me as the French commander against Sigur’s Austrian corps.
The rules are basically the same and many of the command cards were familiar. Shooting is, of course, more dominant. Terrain is now important, mainly because there is some (in contrast to the empty expanse of the ancient battlefields). Infantry can form squares, which is linked to an interesting mechanic reducing the command cards available for the player – this is supposed to model the loss of flexibility. The change that felt most significant was that attack dice are reduced in proportion to unit losses. While in the ancients version units with only one block left still attack at full strength, in the napoleonics version each block lost also means one die less.
In our game, the French decided to concentrate on their right flank. This was partly prompted by my deployment and the terrain and partly by the cards I had in my hand. With a combination of heavy cavalry, light infantry and grenadiers, I pretty much rolled up Sigur’s left flank. However, a sharp counter attack by his cavalry forced my infantry into squares, severely limiting my command abilities.
In the end, three of my infantry units were standing in square. Fortunately, a couple of reckless attacks by my reserve cavalry managed to drive the Austrians out of the town of Wertingen and secured the French victory.
Having finished our game and Virago and Nik having finished theirs, Nik and I were pitted against each other in a short game of C&C: Ancients. This one I lost rather quickly to the Carthaginians’ nimble and canny light cavalry.
Again I was very impressed by Richard Borg’s design. C&C: Napoleonics was exciting and although a bit slower than the ancients version, it was quick enough to still have time for something else. Working out how to best combine my troops and how to best use my cards was great fun. I did notice that I play those kind of games quite differently than miniature wargames: I play them much more ‘mechanically’ or ‘gamey’, meaning I tend to make quick calculations in my head and weight my chances in a more analytical way than I would in a game of, say, Sharp Practice. This is of course due to the variables being much more transparent – with hexes and fixed movement distances, you know exactly how far you will advance, how far the enemy will be able to advance etc. It feels a bit more like a game of chess in my head, which is something I don’t usually like. However, with the cards and the dice, there is enough friction to render too much planning futile, and the scenarios provide enough of a narrative to keep the game from becoming an empty exercise in abstract problem solving.
And in a rare show of spontaneous spending, I’ve just ordered a second-hand copy of Battle Cry, the American Civil War version of C&C. It will hopefully provide me with an easy and simple way to fight some of the larger Civil War actions…