Friday, March 30, 2007

Battle of Nebraska

Another game night over at Eric's - this week's selection was GMT's Command & Colors: Ancients (C&C:A), and Eric selected The Great Plains scenario (leading, once again, to the tongue-in-cheek title of my post), where Roman forces lead by Scipio Africanus (probably not yet called that) and Hannibal faced off towards the end of the Second Punic War between Rome and Carthage. We are, once again, in an historical epoch I'm not terribly knowledgeable about, so I won't say much about that side of things. About the game, though, I do have some thoughts, added to by the fact that I had just played BattleLore (what I call a "sibling" to C&C:A - both released in relatively close proximity to one another, as opposed to Battle Cry and Memoir '44, which I call "ancestors"). We played twice - switching sides after the first battle, and managed to get in both games in a bit under two hours, which was nice.

I really enjoyed C&C:A, somewhat more than I did BattleLore, which while a lot of fun, seemed much more chaotic. Here, there was definitely more of a feel of having a good idea of what the possible responses to one of my moves would be - no Lore wackiness. I thought that was a good thing - but I can see room for differing opinions here, as sometimes a lighter, wackier game may fit the bill more (even for me), but in general, I think given a choice between BattleLore and C&C:A, I'll normally go with C&C:A.

Major differences between the two, beyond the absence of the Lore element found in BattleLore (which, while pretty major, seems also pretty obvious):

Leaders are probably the major difference. Leaders are individual pieces in this game, and they have an appropriately significant effect on the game.
  • Leaders increase the odds of units they are attached to (share a space with), or any units adjacent to that space, of getting a hit. One of the sides of the C&C:A dice is a leader symbol (a plumed helm), and units with leaders attached score hits on the appropriate color, and leader symbols (and possibly another symbol, depending on the unit). So having a leader attached or adjacent ups the odds of a hit significantly. This element makes keeping leaders involved with attack - however, there is an element of risk, as well, as leaders count as victory banners in their own right, so if an attached united is defeated, AND the leader is killed (checked separately), there is the potential loss of TWO victory banners. This tension between wanting your leaders up front and wanting to keep them protected makes for some interesting decision angst during the course of a game.
  • Quite a few of the command cards have effects based on leaders or leadership - things like activating a leader and up to three units in a group adjacent to the leader, or that sort of thing. This tends to make you keep your units in cohesive groups, as that increases your options as far as moving and attacking with them
  • Leaders allow an attached unit to ignore one retreat flag rolled against them. This can be a big deal, as retreat is much harsher in C&C:A than in BattleLore
Battling Back is somewhat similar, but it's always an option as long as you are not eliminated (or forced to retreat), regardless of whether you are supported. Support (two adjacent units) does give you the ability to ignore retreats, however, which is a big deal in C&C:A, as retreats make the unit move one full MOVEMENT, rather than just a hex. This is especially important for cavalry, as they move quickly, but also retreat quickly when forced to.

Another element is the differences between units - there are roughly the same number of unit types in C&C:A as BattleLore, but the differences between units are greater. For instance, light infantry can attack in close combat with 2 dice (and attack ranged at a range of 2 hexes), while heavy infantry can attack with 5 dice (but only in close combat). Heavy infantry isn't very mobile, but they hit hard, and you think twice before attacking them, since they will likely Battle Back (unless you manage to make them retreat, or score enough hits to eliminate them). And note, the scenario I played didn't even use two of the types of units - I've yet to play with Elephants or Chariots, which are definitely quite a bit different still.

Finally, the command deck seriously emphasizes keeping units in line formation - quite a few command cards (separate from the leadership cards previously mention) allow a line of units all adjacent to advance and attack (if possible).

I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these elements incorporated into BattleLore in the future (especially more unit types), but some I think would be difficult to bring in - the primary effect of Leaders is tightly tied to the availability of command cards that use them. Also, the role of Leaders in C&C:Ancients seems entirely appropriate for the type of battles being fought - they would seem less so for the medieval battles of knights and archers that is the starting point for BattleLore.

In short, of all of the Commands & Colors games I've played (which, at this point, includes all of the published ones - although I've not played any of the Memoir '44 variants published as expansions), C&C:A is the one I find most interesting. I was initially a bit overwhelmed by all the different unit types, but I actually think the blocks as used by GMT are easier to tell apart than the figures used by Days of Wonder for BattleLore (although the flags/banners in BattleLore do simplify this considerably).

With that - I must be on my way. We won't be having a game next week, as I'll be out of town at the Gathering of Friends in Columbus next week. Many games will be played, but none of them with Eric, so I won't be blogging about them here.

In a couple of weeks (after my return), we'll be playing something, but I haven't made my selection yet - I'm thinking of trying another Combat Commander scenario, but I may have some other ideas in the intervening couple of weeks.

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