This is the third of my reviews of Gio Games "Histo Command Dice" series of games, covering the re-release of their Napoleonic game Advanced Vive l'Empereur (hereafter, "AVE"). For my reviews of the other Gio Games titles, see:
"War to Axis: Warfare in Normandy": http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/518657/
"Yankees & Rebels": http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/517922/
Because a number of wargamers find the Commands & Colors system a bit too light and/or ahistorical for their tastes, this review is designed to help those gamers determine if AVE is a good fit for them.
Map: The map is 67x49.5cm and divided into a hex grid of 21 columns and 13 rows. Each hex is 30mm across (the rules say 40mm). Compared to the Commands & Colors games, this is over twice as many hexes, which allows for additional maneuver room. The map is dual-sided: one side has a pre-printed map of Waterloo, and the other side is blank. The game provides 180 hexagonal terrain tiles for simulating other battles.
Units: Each unit in the game is composed of a stand-up cardstock figure placed in a plastic stand and a number of plastic chips indicating its strength. As in Commands & Colors games, infantry units, line or elite, have 4 elements (the figure + 3 chips), cavalry units, light or heavy, have 3 elements (the figure + 2 chips). Artillery (horse, medium or heavy), unlike the Commands & Colors games, has 3 elements as well. As units take damage, chips are removed; when the last hit is taken, the figure is removed and the unit is considered eliminated. Figures for French, British and Prussian units are included in the game. There are Russian, Austrian, and other units available for free download from the Gio Games web site.
Dice: The game includes 5 unmarked black dice, 3 unmarked white dice, plus one each conventional six-sided (d6) and one ten-sided (d10) die.
Before playing, players must attach stickers to the unmarked dice. The black dice, used for unit activation will each be given one Flag, one General, one Cavalry, one Artillery and two Infantry stickers. The white dice are used for special actions such as reaction attempts and Rallies, and receive French flags, English flags, and Prussian flags (2 each). Note: some of the Gio Games additional scenarios use other nationalities. Die stickers with French, Austrian, and Russian flags can be downloaded from the Gio Games web site.
Cards: There are twenty cards used in the game, 10 per player. Each player receives 7 Order cards (2 cards each ordering up to 5 units in the left, right, and center sectors, and 1 card ordering up to 2 units in each of the three sectors), and 3 Automatic Order cards (one each ordering Infantry, ordering Cavalry, and ordering Artillery). The cards must be cut apart before use. The cards are printed in Italian, but English versions are available for download from the Gio Games web site. I placed these cards in sleeves for play. Also on the sheet with the cards are small chits needed to track the units activated by both players. For easier handling, I mounted these chits, which are plain cardstock printed on one side, to some blank 1/2" wargame counters that I happened to have.
Rules: The rules are 7 pages long. The first 4 pages cover the game rules, while the last 3 pages cover scenarios for Waterloo, Quatre Bras, Ligny, and a hypothetical scenario. Additional scenarios are available on the Gio Games web site (http://giogames.it/VLEscenari.html/). The English translation of the rules is easily understandable, but there are a number of errors in phrasing and grammar that could use cleaning up. I noticed one minor error: "step 3" in the battle round sequence is duplicated, making the reference to "repeat steps 3 and 4" in need of some interpretation. The rules for the game are online at the Gio Games web site: http://giogames.it/
Of the three Gio Games titles, AVE (the earliest published according to the BGG database) shows the most resemblance to Richard Borg's Commands & Colors system. Like Commands & Colors, the board is divided into three sectors (left, right, and center), and like Commands & Colors, players play cards to activate units in each of the sectors, but after that, the games begin to diverge. In this game, the sectors are 7 hexes in width and 13 hexes deep.
Game Turns and Victory Conditions:
Each game turn, representing 1-2 hours of time) is divided into 6 rounds. Games can last up to 6 turns or until one side achieves its victory conditions. The enemy army is immediately defeated if any of the three sectors has no enemy units in it. Otherwise, players try to eliminate a number of enemy units as specified in the scenario. During each round, players carry out the following steps:
- Secretly choose one card from their hand, and reveal them simultaneously.
- If a player plays an Order card, the black dice must be rolled to see what types of units in the given sector(s) can be given an order. (For example, if a player plays a left sector card and rolls 1 infantry, 1 artillery, 1 cavalry, 1 flag, and one general, the player would be able to give orders to the corresponding units in the left sector: 1 infantry, 1 artillery, 1 cavalry, 1 general or unit with an attached general, and 1 unit of any type.) The Automatic Order cards always activate 5 infantry, or 5 cavalry, or all artillery units, so no roll is necessary. Each player takes a number of order chits corresponding to the number and types of units activated, which are placed by each unit as it is ordered.
- Players alternate giving orders to one unit at a time. A player who plays an Automatic Order executes the first order, otherwise, the player who is able to activate the most units gives the first order. In the case of a tie, the French player gives the first order. The player moves and/or participates in combat with the ordered unit.
- When all players have ordered all their allowed units, players form their hand for the next turn. Unlike the Commands & Colors games, the hand of cards is determined by player choice. Players use 6 of their 10 command cards each turn. During the following turn, they must use the 4 cards not used in the preceding turn, plus they may choose any other 2 cards. Thus, players cannot complain about getting a "bad hand".
Infantry units may move 1 hex and participate in combat, or move two hexes and forfeit the ability to initiate combat. Cavalry, may move up to 3 hexes and still be able to initiate combat. Horse artillery is the only artillery unit capable of both moving and participating in combat. Other "foot" artillery units must choose to do one or the other.
Units must stop moving when entering terrain such as woods, farms, towns and streams. Units must also stop if they move adjacent to an enemy unit, thus giving units the traditional "Zone of Control" limits. Units receive 1 extra hex movement if they spend their entire movement moving along roads.
There are a number of special movement actions. Infantry, while moving through a town, may "drop off" one of their chips to form a one strength "garrison" unit. Garrisons may not move, but are capable of combat against adjacent enemy units. An infantry in clear or hill terrain may forfeit its movement and combat to change formation between line and square, making them much less vulnerable to cavalry but more vulnerable to infantry and artillery fire. All units may test to react to a cavalry charge (infantry form square, cavalry counter charge, and artillery fire). Units perform the test by rolling a number of white dice; any result showing the defender's army flag allows the unit to react as desired.
Unlike the Commands & Colors games, and, indeed, the other two available Gio Games titles, units in AVE have facing, which may be altered at either the beginning or end of a units move. Foot artillery is able to change facing before firing. Units may test to change facing if charged by cavalry.
Units which are 4 hexes away or not within line of sight may roll white dice to Rally (recovering up to 2 lost elements). By default, a unit rolls 3 dice, with infantry militia rolling only 2 dice and elite infantry rolling 4. For each friendly flag rolled (up to a maximum of 2), the unit may recover 1 element.
Combat is determined by a relatively conventional method for a game with such similarities to the Commands & Colors series. In AVE, each firing unit has a target number called "Fire Value" which it must roll equal to or less than to cause hits. This Fire Value is modified by various environmental (e.g., firing on a unit in cover) or tactical factors (e.g., cavalry attacking a unit's flank or rear). For example, a unit of English Line Infantry has a Fire Value of "10" at a range of 1 hex and a Fire Value of 5 at a range of two hexes. A 10 sided die is rolled. If the die roll is less than or equal to the attacker's modified Fire Value a hit is caused. For each increment of 10 in which the die roll is less than the attacker's Fire Value, an additional hit is caused. For example, if an attacker had a fire number of 16, a roll of 5 (11 less than the required Fire Value) would cause 2 hits.
Once the attacker has determined the number of hits, the attacker rolls a 6 sided die to determine how those hits are allocated. For example, if 1 hit is caused, the results can range between no losses and a 1 hex retreat, to 1 hit and a two hex retreat. Infantry units may not cause more losses than it has remaining elements.
There must be a pent-up need for simple easy to play Napoleonics games, because there are a number of games on the subject to be produced in 2010: GMT, of course, is producing Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, Worthington is producing Napoleon's War: The 100 Days, and Fantasy Flight is producing their Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion. In addition, Victory Point games has produced a number of their "Napoleonic 20" series of games (e.g., Waterloo 20, and has more on the horizon.
Unfortunately, because of AVE's limited availability in the US (it is currently only carried by Noble Knight Games), and because other soon-to-be-released games will include glitzy plastic figures, AVE is likely to get lost in the shuffle. If Gio Games wants to sell their game in the US, I'd suggest they do a quick revision of the English and seek some better US distribution channels before these other anticipated games are published.
By itself, the base AVE game is not a great value, since it includes only 4 scenarios (one of which is hypothetical). The addition of freely available scenarios on the Gio Games web site is a welcome addition. It is commendable that additional armies are available for download free. It would be nice to see them available in a printed expansion (including the additional required white dice) for those not wanting to take the "print and play" route.
AVE is interesting for adding some nice mechanics to the Commands & Colors system. I think many of the mechanics would be nice additions to the Commands & Colors game Battle Cry and other C&C-like games such as Worthington's Hold the Line. Both games would benefit from having a larger board, more movement options, reactions, and the ability to have deterministic card play.
- [+] Dice rolls
kentreuber wrote:additional armies are available for download free. It would be nice to see them available in a printed expansion (including the additional required white dice) for those not wanting to take the "print and play" route.I'd like to see this as well. I'd have gone in for another copy of Advanced VLE if it contained the Russians and Austrians in professionally printed form.
- [+] Dice rolls