Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Commands & Colors

Richard Borg is most known for his design of the Commands & Colors series of games. The series started with the design of Battle Cry, a Civil War themed war game with easy to learn mechanics and fast gameplay. The system is best identified for three key elements; a hex board divided into three sections (left, middle, right), units being divided into categories (whether is be color or type) and cards that are used to activate certain units.

The game board also features a modular and customizable design. The board itself is bare and has no features, but the game comes with stacks of hexagonal cardboard terrain features that quickly turn a large, flat field into a hilly landscape or a dense forest. These terrain pieces allow for an almost endless variety of scenarios and battlefields.

The differentiation of the units is important in combat when it comes to the attacking die rolls. The dice have different colors or symbols that correspond to each group, depending on the game. When attacking, a certain number of dice are rolled, depending on the attack value of the attacking squad and the object is to roll the symbol corresponding with your target. For example, in Memoir '44, if you are attack a tank, you want to roll the tank symbol and in Battlelore, if you are attacking a red cavalry unit, you want to roll the red helmet. This mechanic makes combat very fast and easy to follow but still adds a nice amount of luck and tension.

The deck of command cards come in two varieties, section and tactic. The section cards allow you to order a certain number of units on the different parts of the battlefield, such as move 2 units on the left flank. The tactic cards are much more powerful and versatile, allowing for things such as order 4 infantry units anywhere on the board, or allowing certain units to move father or attack with additional dice.

Since the publication of Battlecry, there have many other games in the series covering a wide range of time periods. Commands & Colors: Ancients warfare from the begging of military history (3000 BC) to the  Middle Ages (400 AD). This installment also has expansions that add in other armies such as Roman, Greek and Egyptian. Next up (chronologically) is Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, which depicts the campaigns in the Napoleonic Era, focusing on England against France. Then there is Memoir '44 which takes place in World War 2. The base game is Axis against allies, but this one also has many expansions that add in Russia, Japan and various terrain types. Battlelore is a fantasy-themed version of the system that is based on the Hundred Years War and features dwarves, giant spiders and ogres as unit types.

Despite using the same basic system as the skeleton of the game, each game has its own personality and tweaks to the ruleset. Some games focus more on keeping your units in tight formations while in others you can spread out more. Some rely more on ranged attacks while others have more melee combat. Battlelore also has an additional deck of cards called the Lore Deck which allows the players to collect magic points to spend on powerful attacks and maneuvers.

This year will see the release of two new games into the family. Abaddon is a sci-fi themed game that features giant mechs in battle. This one is interesting because it does differ in some of the key elements that I mentioned above. First and most obvious is that the board uses square spaces, not hexes. Also the funtion of the cards and dice are switched. With the dice being used to select which units can be ordered and the cards are used to resolve combat. I am interested to see how these changes will affect the gameplay and the experience.

The other new new release is Samurai Battles. This one features combat in feudal japan between armies of samurais. The interesting thing about this one, is that the game actually comes with two completely different rulesets. It has the Commands & Colors rules as well as rules based on the Art of Tactic game designed by Konstantin Krivenko. This is the one I am most looking forward to as I am very curious how the two systems will compare.

All in all, I a fan of the Commands & Colors system. I haven't played as much as I'd like but I love Memoir '44 and Battlelore is pretty good too (although a little clunkier, in my opinion). I hope to one day be able to play more in the series to really get a good understanding of it.

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