Francis K. Lalumiere
(Originally posted on BoardGameNews.com)
This is the fourth expansion in the Commands & Colors: Ancients series. And it’s Roman all the way. Rome against the Parthian Empire, Rome against the Goths, Rome against the Britons, heck, Rome against itself. This package bridges gaps here and there with a slew of battles left out of previous expansions.
More blocks, more rules, more fights -- but only a handful of cards to deal with it all.
There’s a whole new army in there, but purple this time. (Purple is the new red!)
The box also holds blocks and stickers representing new units sprinkled over several different nations, from the cataphract camels of the Eastern kingdoms to the brand new heavy cavalry of the barbarians.
In addition to the camels, both the Roman and Eastern kingdoms heavy cavalries are handed a cataphract version. The cataphract camel/cavalry is identical to the unit it is derived from, except that it can ignore one sword symbol in combat.
And while they are not technically units, the baggage wagon and the wagon laager are two new blocks that find their way to the battlefield in several of the new scenarios. They lie flat on the board and can move in the case of the baggage wagon, but may not attack. Both types of blocks affect the battle ratings of units in their hexes and essentially function as a special target: each destroyed enemy baggage wagon or wagon laager earns the attacker one banner that cannot be lost.
(Though one particularly exciting scenario -- Antony’s Siege Train -- rewards the Roman player with a banner for each one of his baggage wagons that he manages to move off the map before Phraates’ cavalry can close in for the kill...)
A new terrain type shows up in the expansion: the bridge. Tiles include bridges across straight river segments as well as bridges across bent river segments. A bridge means that a maximum of two battle dice can be rolled for close combat into or out of the bridge hex. Ranged combat out of the bridge hex is limited to one die, although a foot unit on a bridge can ignore one flag result.
There’s another "new" terrain tile in the box: the fordable river. This one doesn’t introduce new rules to the game, however, as fordable rivers were used in previous scenarios -- going back to the base game -- that simply stated that the whole river (or only specific sections of it) was fordable. However the new tiles now make it possible to physically represent those rules on the battlefield.
As in previous expansions, black blocks sporting a star sticker are included to designate special units on the battlefield. In this case, we’re talking about the Praetorian Guard. Those guys score a hit for each leader symbol they roll in close combat and can ignore one flag result. Talk about autonomy.
Caltrops are introduced in this expansion, and they are a delight to use. When caltrops rules are in effect, infantry units that evade an attack from mounted units can scatter those little spiked balls while stepping back. This means that any sword rolled in the attack is converted into one hit on the attacking mounted unit itself.
Finally, the Para Bellum system is introduced here, where some battles are fought as a sort of mini-campaign. In some cases, the same battle is fought thrice, while other instances link three different scenarios together.
Basically, whoever accumulates the most banners over the course of a Para Bellum series is declared the winner. But things are not that simple: each unit eliminated during the course of a Para Bellum battle needs to be successfully rallied after the dust settles in order to return to the battlefield in the series’ next engagement.
You’re probably used to it all by now: the wooden blocks are of a good quality, the stickers look good, the scenario book is very nice, and the new terrain tiles are as thick and sturdy as the previous ones.
So what’s there more to say?
For starters, two beautiful black wooden card holders are patiently waiting inside every Imperial Rome box. I personally don’t use them -- I’m simply too accustomed to holding my command cards in hand -- but I can see why some players have been clamoring for this. And they won’t be disappointed.
Once again GMT is giving us a bunker-style box that is both big enough and strong enough to hold all of the Ancients stuff and not complain one bit.
There was a glitch with the new Roman auxilia infantry, though: the stickers and reference sheets were printed without the white halo around their green circle, making them look pretty much like regular light infantry. Not good.
So GMT had those stickers printed again with the correct symbol and made sure to include two extra corrected stickers so that one could be applied to each of the reference sheets.
However, the scenarios themselves remain uncorrected; so be careful when you get to scenario 14 (the battle of Hormuz). From here on out, Roman auxilia units are in disguise...
While I haven’t had a chance to play the entire thing yet, I’m satisfied with the additions proposed in this fourth expansion. I especially like GMT’s tradition of churning out tons of scenarios for each new package: players are treated to 24 battles in Imperial Rome, which are sure to keep most of us occupied for a while -- especially if you jump into the Para Bellum system and go through the same engagements several times.
I like the new cataphract units, I’m having a lot of fun with the baggage wagon and wagon laager blocks, and the new battles feel fresh despite the fact that I’ve played Ancients over 100 times.
But I’ve got to admit that the Roman veneer is starting to wear thin. I feel it might be time to move on to greener pastures if the system is to keep shining the way it’s done so far.
I don’t know about you, but early medieval warfare sounds mighty sexy to me.
Nice review for a very good expansion. Thanks a lot!