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The Game

I liked Memoir '44 from the beginning, really, but I liked it as something of a family-friendly Eurogame -- a combat-themed game with simple, very abstract mechanics and lots of little toy soldier pieces, perfect for playing with kids. As I've played the M44 expansions, and especially as I played BattleLore, I realized that Borg's C&C system could deliver more depth and complexity than I first thought, but I still fundamentally thought of it as a gaming system that was unambiguously a game with no attempt made at simulation.

And then I played Commands & Colors: Ancients.

I mean, okay, C&C:A isn't a full out maximum-complexity wargame, and you're not going to confuse it with SPQR. But it's most definitely trying to be at least somewhat simulationist, and if you were asked whether it was closer to SPQR or Stratego, you'd pick the former. (Or at least I would.)

Perhaps an example will illustrate what I mean here. When I was going over the retreat rules with my eight-year-old before we played the first time (he's very familiar with M44 and BattleLore, but the retreat rules are different here), he was setting up the board, and placing some elephants.

"If the elephants are blocked from retreating, then the blocking guys should get killed, because elephants are huge," he opined.

I smiled, and told him that, no, that's not how it works, it's always the pieces that are blocked from retreating that get weakened. I explained it by comparing it to the similar mechanism in M44, where if infantry blocks tanks from retreating, the tanks lose strength rather than running over the infantry. It's just a game, it doesn't have to be realistic.

And then I read the next part of the rules, which explained that, by the by, if elephants are blocked in retreat, they trample the blocking units, which take damage.

That moment right there, when intuition about the real world conflicts with the normal operation of the rules, is when you know whether you're dealing with a game that leans toward the gamey side or the simulationist side, and C&C:A -- unlike both BattleLore and M44, in my book-- lands on the simulationist side. I'm not sure if this is because Borg deliberately wanted C&C:A to be a more complex and realistic game, or because the development team at GMT naturally leans that way while the team at Days of Wonder leans toward Euro-simplicity, but there you are.

At any rate, the overall effect of the simulationist "chrome" in C&C:A is to make a fundamentally simple and elegant game feel as if it has more and more meaningful choices in it, as if it's got more variety of action, as if it supports more tactical play (particularly around leaders), but especially as if it's more like a real battlefield. (A feeling enhanced by C&C:A having a setting that (unlike BattleLore) is genuinely historical and (unlike Memoir '44) is in a period that I personally find fascinating. Before we picked out a scenario, I sat down with my son and showed him a map detailing the conflicts between Rome and Carthage, explaining where all the major battles were and how the wars progressed. Seeing those same battles and generals appear in the book and in the game was highly nifty.)

Like I said up top, I really liked Memoir '44 from the beginning. I like it more with the expansions, and I like BattleLore more yet. In fact, I bought the C&C Series Fan microbadge on the strength of those two games alone. So when I say that C&C:A is my favorite game in the series by a substantial margin, that's not faint praise. The gameplay here takes an already-great system and elevates it to the next level. If you've liked Borg's other C&C games, you absolutely need to play this one; and if you didn't like them because they were too simple or abstract, you should give this a whirl, too, as it may just address your complaints. Highly recommended.

The Bits

Now, if you'll pardon a bit of digression, I want to talk about the physical quality and value of the game. There've been a pile of threads recently about GMT's production standards and high prices, and I figure it's worth addressing that directly in this review, because C&C:A will obviously get compared to Memoir '44 and BattleLore, and Days of Wonder is (at least in my book) the standard-setter in terms of production quality. So let's see how C&C:A stacks up against some of the best-produced games out there.

Units: This is the most obvious difference at a casual glance. Both M44 and BattleLore use sculpted plastic units, whereas C&C:A has wooden blocks with stickers. What I'm going to say may sound like a cop-out, but I really think that each game has made an appropriate choice. M44's small set of units (tanks, infantry, artillery, and nothing else in the base game) and simplified kid-friendly rules make the army-man approach perfect for it.

But C&C:A has so many types of units -- you've got a half-dozen types of foot soldiers alone! -- that sculpts would just get confusing (not to mention expensive to produce), and you'd have to end up using some kind of iconic system to clarify the units anyway. Given that reality and the more "serious" atmosphere of C&C:A, wooden blocks are a perfect fit. (Truth be told, BattleLore is at the borderline of what it makes sense to do with miniatures, and its iconic flags are the saving grace of sculpts that are difficult to tell apart at a casual glance.)

About the only downside of the blocks is that putting all the stickers on is a major pain. I did it during the football season, while watching games that didn't demand my full attention, and it took me multiple games to finish up just the base game; I don't have all the expansions done yet, even. But once they're stickered, they work well, feel solid, and generally have the same kind of quality as the plastic sculpts.

Box and Packaging: Days of Wonder's production folks make the best box inserts in the world, and GMT couldn't hope to compete with them. Wisely, they didn't try, and just gave an enormously thick and sturdy cardboard box with cavernous open space and baggies inside. I think GMT could have done better, even by their standards, by including rubber bands for the cards and a handful of mid-size Zip-lock baggies to separate out the armies (as opposed to the one huge Ziplock bag that you get, which holds all the pieces), but this isn't a big deal. Overall, the packaging is quality, if not up to the astonishingly great standards of Memoir '44. (Although to harsh DoW's melon a bit here, I hate the BattleLore packaging, which is virtually impossible to fit back into the box, is flimsy, and doesn't even hold the pieces all that well.)

Dice: Memoir '44 and BattleLore have custom dice. C&C:A has big dice with inset side panels that you need to sticker, like the movement dice in Runebound. Both of them work, both of them feel solid and look nice. No issues here either way.

Cards: The C&C:A cards are glossy where the DOW games have matte-coat cards. They're different, but both very high quality. No complaints here on either side.

Rules and player aids: This is where the respective corporate cultures of DoW and GMT get their purest expression. The DoW games have glossy, thoroughly designed rules that are instantly appealing and expose the fundamental simplicity of the game, along with little modular card-sized player aids that keep all the relevant unit and terrain rules out on the table.

C&C:A has a rule booklet that's full color and well-designed and organized, but… not amateurish, exactly, but sort of minimally designed. It fundamentally feels like a piece of technical documentation, and explains the rules in enormous detail that makes them feel more complicated than they actually are. That said, it does actually clarify some of the edge cases regarding terrain and line of sight that I've been uncertain about from the DoW rulebooks, so it gets points for thoroughness and attention to detail. Similarly, GMT's player aids are almost laughably complex four-page cardstock pamphlets full of charts and tables -- but they still work well, and have all the relevant information in a way that's easy to see, if perhaps busier than it might need to be. (And from a practical perspective, it's easier to keep a pamphlet next to me than to lay out a dozen cards on the table for all the various units and terrains in a scenario.)

Board: The C&C:A board sucks. There's no polite way to put it. It is, by GMT's standards, a "deluxe" board, which means it's printed on cardstock, but ugh. It doesn't want to lie flat, and it feels flimsy. If you're a wargamer, and plan on putting it under plexiglass, it's unobjectionable, but otherwise it's just unambiguously much worse than the M44/BL boards. That said, C&C:A expansions 2 & 3 both come with a high-quality mounted board (regular on one side, "epic" on the other, like BattleLore), which is every bit the equal of the DoW boards. If you get at least one of the expansions, you can throw away the chintzy board from the base game and then it's no longer an issue.

Price: Well, how's this for timing? Days of Wonder just cranked up all their prices as of 2/21, so the comparison is going to be a bit different today than It would have been a week ago. The upshot, though, is that C&C:A has a very reasonable price.

If you look at one of your standard 30% off retailers, like Thoughthammer, you've got Memoir '44 for $35, C&C:A for $45, and BattleLore for $55, which very literally puts C&C:A smack-dab in the middle of Days of Wonder's prices.

And what about the expansions? Here, I think C&C:A turns into an outright steal.

Memoir '44 has expansion packs that include one army (about 70-80 units), 40 terrain pieces, and 8 scenarios, for $25 a pop; they sell an extra board for $10; we'll ignore the terrain pack and air pack as there's nothing comparable in C&C:A.

BattleLore has small expansion packs that include 15-20 figures (essentially "mix ins" for an army, not a whole army) and 2 scenarios for $10-$15. They also have large expansion packs, with 30-40 figures and a handful of scenarios for $20. A extra board still costs $10.

C&C:A has three expansions. The first includes two complete armies (300+ units) and 20 scenarios for $38. The second contains two complete armies (300+ units), 20 scenarios, and a high-quality board for $38. The third contains one army (100+ units), 16 scenarios, and a high-quality board for $20.

If you try to match apples to apples, you'll see that C&C:A's expansion pack #2 is roughly the equivalent in M44 terms to two expansions and a board, which'd run you $60; and in BattleLore terms is something like 4-5 expansion packs and a board, which'd run you $70-$90. If we're going to be fair and note that the board in C&C:A Exp #2 is really the first board, and say that we don't need a second one for M44 and BL to compare, it's a bit closer, but C&C:A still ends up being cheaper on the expansion front, apparently because it's bundling together more stuff in one box.

Overall, C&C:A gives you a package that's right up there in production quality with the Days of Wonder releases (with the exception of the execrable board, which is economically fixed with one of the expansions) at a price that's extremely competitive. Whatever complaints people may have with GMT's other games, the C&C:A series shows that they're capable of matching up evenly against the industry's gold standard in terms of production quality.
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Nevin Ball
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Great job on your insightful, well-written review.
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Thanks.

As a side note, I'd also add that the eight-year-old enjoyed this game more than I expected; I thought that the move from toy-like minis in M44 and BL would put him off the game somewhat, but not at all, in fact. Go figure.
 
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Quote:
And then I read the next part of the rules, which explained that, by the by, if elephants are blocked in retreat, they trample the blocking units, which take damage.

That moment right there, when intuition about the real world conflicts with the normal operation of the rules, is when you know whether you're dealing with a game that leans toward the gamey side or the simulationist side, and C&C:A -- unlike both BattleLore and M44, in my book-- lands on the simulationist side. I'm not sure if this is because Borg deliberately wanted C&C:A to be a more complex and realistic game, or because the development team at GMT naturally leans that way while the team at Days of Wonder leans toward Euro-simplicity, but there you are.


Not to be too picky, but that sure sounds like how Creatures work in Battlelore too.
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jearles wrote:
Not to be too picky, but that sure sounds like how Creatures work in Battlelore too.


I've only played the historical scenarios (on the basis that the Lore roles have looked a bit too complicated for the eight-year-old), so hadn't played with the creature before. After looking at the relevant rules now, you're obviously correct -- but I think my substantive point is still true.

BattleLore's creature rules -- as interesting and complex as they are -- read like rules that are in place for gaming reasons, to make unique units more durable and give them special powers and what-not. It's hard to explain exactly what I mean by this, but I think the difference is that they're very clearly and deliberately making systematized rules that will let different kinds of unique units (hill giants, spiders, and I'm sure they've got future units all drawn up and ready to go) work within the context of the game. They're not saying, "Okay, so we've got giant spiders in the battle -- how do we best modify the rules to make the spiders have the same effect that they did in the real battle?" and not just because there were no real battles with giant spiders in them.

I'm not ripping on BattleLore, here, because I think it's a great game; and moreover, I think that a gamey approach isn't necessarily better or worse than a simulationist approach, but it is different in feel.
 
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Your scenario count is low for expansions 2 and 3...so it's an even better "value."
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I took the numbers off the GMT site, because I didn't feel like dragging the boxes out of the closet. Apparently their "at least sixteen" for the third expansion was conservative...
 
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John Earles
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Quote:
I'm not ripping on BattleLore, here, because I think it's a great game; and moreover, I think that a gamey approach isn't necessarily better or worse than a simulationist approach, but it is different in feel.


I never got the feeling you were ripping on BattleLore (or Memoir '44). You just tried to make your point by explaining how the Elephants work, and that happens to be one of the mechanisms that was carried over from C&C: A into BattleLore (which came after C&C: A as the 4th generation of the C&C system). I think Evading and the use of Leaders are more exemplary of the simulationist approach that exists in C&C: Ancients.

The introduction of Lore into BattleLore is without a doubt a strong indicator of a transition into a more "gamey" C&C implementation, while taking core concepts that were developed and fleshed out in Battle Cry, Memoir '44 and Commands & Colors: Ancients.

I've been very pleased with the various generations of C&C and how each new version highlights the flexibility that the system has to simulate battles (at a highly-abstracted level) in a wide variety of time periods. Just like yourself, many others feel the system is at it's best in an ancients battle.
 
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Yeah, it definitely seems more suited for the scale and primarily melee action of an ancient battle... which isn't to say that I'm not eagerly awaiting the Napoleonic version that Borg's supposedly working on.
 
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I was already used to the old board plus plexiglas, but the first time I've battled on the new one... I did appreciate not having the 1-2 mm gap in the middle of the field, and I realized that my plexiglas was not completely transparent, so now I appreciate having the full colors of the board too.

I've put the old board aside in the box with the spare parts.
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Seth Owen
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I've enjoyed the whole system enough that I've gotten all the games and I've enjoyed each on its own terms.
Battle Cry, of course, is showing its age a bit and never had any follow-on support so it's not comparable to the three systems that are currently in print. But I still enjoy it.
GMT is primarily a wargame company, so it's customer base is more likley to appreciate charts, but I think the individual cards used by DOW are a good choice for the nonwargamers that may try their games. You usually only need some of them on the table and they're more player-friendly. Both approaches seem very well-suited for their respective main audiences. Wargamers can easily adjust to the DOW way and anyone interested enough in the game system to move on to C&C:A after playing DOWs games will probably be ready for the move up in complexity, too.
 
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wargamer55 wrote:
Wargamers can easily adjust to the DOW way and anyone interested enough in the game system to move on to C&C:A after playing DOWs games will probably be ready for the move up in complexity, too.


What's interesting, though, is that I don't really know that C&C:A is any more complex than BattleLore, and it's debatable whether it's more complex than Memoir '44 in its full incarnation (with the Air Pack and all the expansions).

BL has Lore rules, which are more complex than leader rules; creature rules that, as John Earles pointed out, are comparable in complexity to elephant/camel rules; and goblins/dwarves that add more variance than warriors/auxilia/chariots.

M44, considered as a whole system, has Air rules, which are more complex than leader rules; special units like flame-throwing tanks and engineers that are more complex than the C&C:A units; special national rules for each army; and gobs and gobs of specialized terrain, from caves to jungles. (Admittedly, M44's base game is much simpler than either BL or C&C:A.)

The main thing is that C&C:A just presented in a way that embraces the complexity in big tables instead of trying to hide it in a bunch of simple cards that end up turning into a giant de-facto table when combined together.

I think that the payoff to C&C:A's complexity is a more simulationist game rather than just a more complex boardgame, but that's the flavor of the complexity rather than the amount.
 
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jearles wrote:
Quote:
And then I read the next part of the rules, which explained that, by the by, if elephants are blocked in retreat, they trample the blocking units, which take damage.



Not to be too picky, but that sure sounds like how Creatures work in Battlelore too.


And now I'll get very picky , the diffence is that in BattleLore, the creatures risk critical hits before any units would be trampled, whereas the Elephants risk no such fate. But, main point is understood - complexity and simulation exist in both games.

Overall, good, good review, does touch on the heart of the matter, as it seems to me anyway: while definitely a "board game" lots of elements of simulation too, usually in elegant ways.

I would propose though, that a game of Medieval Lore BattleLore plays very similar to C&C:A, and once the hero expansion comes out for BL, I think it will play even moreso similarly, on a complexity/simulation scale.

Anyway, I find all the C&C games a blast to play
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If I hadn't spent all the cash on Memoir 44 plus expansions, I'd buy C&C.

That's an insightful statement: DoW tends towards Euros and GMT toward wargamers. That's exactly the difference that I really like. Yes, you get larger charts to cover all the different unit types, and added rule overhead, but I find C&C adds just right amount to keep it light and yet add better variation.

I hope someday they decide to release a combo box with all expansions. I might pick C&C up then.
 
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Thanks for this great review! Owning BL and MM44 I've been interested in C&C for a while now - this makes me more anxious to get it - except for that darn board. That's the 4th or 5th time I've heard how lame it is. I guess I can overlook that for everything else that is offered in the game.
 
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Gamer DC wrote:
Thanks for this great review! Owning BL and MM44 I've been interested in C&C for a while now - this makes me more anxious to get it - except for that darn board. That's the 4th or 5th time I've heard how lame it is. I guess I can overlook that for everything else that is offered in the game.


Seriously, just get one of the expansions. Expansion #2 is a great deal for what it is, but if you don't want to spend that much at once, just get Expansion #3. Yeah, you can't use the scenarios or blocks without owning Expansion #2 (as they require the red Roman army from #2), but it's $19 and you get the vastly better board in the deal, so it's hard to argue with it. (And if you do get Expansion #2 later, well, poof, now you have a bunch of extra content in #3 that suddenly becomes usable.)
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GlennG wrote:
If I hadn't spent all the cash on Memoir 44 plus expansions, I'd buy C&C.
I'm glad I stopped at M44 base game, I enjoy it from time to time but if I had gotten into all expansions I would have missed CCA!

GlennG wrote:
I hope someday they decide to release a combo box with all expansions. I might pick C&C up then.
People having played Epic scenarios (I didn't have the opportunity to try them yet) say that they are a completely new experience. GMT would make a great marketing move if they offered more Epic scenarios as an introduction to a box with all the expansions.
 
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Ummm, to be fair to GMT, let's look at the math on this.

For the four games so far, we're starting with a retail price of $205.00. Okay, so figure it's possible to do some discounting by combining all 4 games. No soft map from the base game. Just 2 (maybe 4) player reference cards. One set of dice, not two (base game and 1st expansion had dice). Since this is Epic centered, does it come with a 2nd deck of cards? And 2 mounted maps?

And then, what sort of a box do they put it in?

I think we're looking at something with an MSRP of more than $150/160 here. Not very attractive to FLGS. And, when you think about it, not something very attractive for everyone who has been buying CCA all along... Do you really want a second set of any armies? It's only good for total new entry people... new entry people willing to spend over $100.

So we have a high ticket item that would not be attractive to retailers and does not have much of a market with those who have been supporting the game all along, with a high entry price for newcomers.

Somehow, I don't see that as a very wise marketing move.

Should GMT produce more Epic scenarios? Absolutely. Might they consider a package with something like, an extra mounted board, an extra deck, another sheet of stickers and a few blocks (it would be good to have a 4th or even 5th leader for some armies), and a few more items, plus a stack of scenarios? That might fly. Even players who already have a 2nd deck wouldn't mind a 3rd (if only because our 1st deck is looking worn already). Likewise another map would not be a bad thing, even for those of us who already have 2 mounted maps. That might have some legs to it.

And maybe the talk about a "binder" that would collect all the existing scenarios and a 3rd edition of the rules could also include more Epic scenarios. That too might fly, altho I don't know if folks would be willing to wait that long for more Epics (since I think a 3rd edition rules will take at least 6 months to do.)

But I really think the only viable "introductory package" that GMT could reasonably make would be offering a discount to people who buy the base game and several of the expansions at the same time. At one time, I recall GMT was doing this exact thing, but I don't see that on their site right now.
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True. I was thinking that someone playing an Epic scenario and seeing the huge list of "standard" scenarios available, would find it hard to limit himself to buying a single CCA box, with "just" 2 armies and less than 20 scenarios. But if you don't have the opportunity to try this, I realize that putting 150$ on the table as a start can seem risky...

Talking about boxes, one thing I don't understand is why the non-professional individuals can always find a way to store bits that the guys selling the game cannot. Or don't want to. Once I got the 6 armies on the table, I spent little time thinking about the best way to store them and made the boxes following some basic criteria (compact, cheap, easy to use).

How is this hard for people that have designed and played the game much more than any of us? When someone designs a game, shouldn't he think of what would be best for the player to improve his game experience? And storing is definitely a part of it. This should be included in the play-testing, a lot of games get fewer plays because of the setup/storing complexity and time. CCA as it comes out of the box is a bit scary, GMT should take into account that some people will not want (or know how) to finish the storing work...

We would gain time to play the game, and a lot of space in the galleries without all the storing solution files/images/threads!
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franchi wrote:
Talking about boxes, one thing I don't understand is why the non-professional individuals can always find a way to store bits that the guys selling the game cannot. Or don't want to. Once I got the 6 armies on the table, I spent little time thinking about the best way to store them and made the boxes following some basic criteria (compact, cheap, easy to use).


Making a one-off thing is completely different from making a manufacturable thing. It's the difference between winning a game of chess and writing a program that can win a game of chess.
 
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Keep in mind also that the "manufactured" version has to be able to survive shipping, which puts a lot more stress on the box/contents than the owner will just carrying it around.
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