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Subject: A Fresh Whiff of Grapeshot rss

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Cole Wehrle
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Background

A little over ten years ago one of my friends brought a shiny new copy of Battle Cry to the school game club. The club, held in the library on lazy Tuesday afternoons, usually saw a curious mix of Catan, old Avalon Hill titles, and Magic the Gathering. Battle Cry didn’t transform the club the way Catan did, nor did it commandeer our budgets and spare time like Magic, but for those who ripped through the scenarios over the next few weeks, it was something special.

Over the next several years the game system that would soon be identified as “Commands & Colors” saw variation and proliferation. Though Hasbro’s sock puppet “Avalon Hill” allowed Battle Cry to go out of print, other companies took the system and expanded it endlessly. Having played through the scenarios, I never bothered to purchase Battle Cry. But, as each of the new iterations came out I was pulled by a desire to jump back into the system. This drive was always dispensed by a cursory read of the rules when I identified nostalgia instead of design as my real motive. I still played each of the games as they came out, and even held on to a copy of C&C: Ancients for about a year. In each case the system never seemed to live up to the excitement of my school days or fit my current tastes. The moves seemed so obvious compared to the opaque challenges of other games. A game of Age of Steam always felt more bellicose than even the bloodiest games of Memoir or Battlelore.

Given my previous disappointment, I hadn’t planned on ever buying into the system. But, I’ve got a soft spot for the Napoleonic Wars, and when Command & Colors: Napoleonic appeared on the p500, I decided to take a closer look.

The Presentation

I started playing GMT games about four years ago, which is to say, before the mounted boards, color rulebooks, and heavy boxes. Not that their games ever looked bad, but recently GMT has printed some games that deserve blue ribbons for their appearance alone. C&C: N tops them all. The box is gorgeously illustrated and heavily built. The board is thick and hard mounted, similar to the other GMT mounted boards. The dice, which have caused quite a stir on BGG (but not on ConSimWorld) are a little smaller than the Ancients siblings and work great. They have a nice heft and size, and applying the stickers was a breeze, especially after getting through the blocks. It will take about 2.5-4 hours to apply all of the stickers to the blocks. The infantry blocks are a little larger than GMT’s usual blocks and all the units are remarkably well illustrated. In a stroke of brilliance, the unit illustrations have different postures depending on the type of unit, which makes identification a breeze once you get familiar with the units.

The cards are very pretty, but seem a little verbose. While it’s nice to have a thorough description of each card, it tends to boggle new players compared to the simple depiction of the sectional cards and I think they might have been better served by keeping that information on the player aid. The rule books are well illustrated and organized, but hide their excellent organization beneath a sea of bullet points and redundancies which make them easy to teach but hard to reference. I don’t mind the redundancies, but I wish they would have numbered the individual rules.

The terrain tiles are thin cardboard, more like the Ancients games instead of the thicker cardboard in some of the other newer GMT titles. Initially I was a little disappointed by their thinness, but I don’t think they could have fit any thicker tiles in the box. With the mounted boards, terrain tiles, copious player aids, rule books, and blocks, the box barley closes even when the components are in appropriately sized bags. Forget stuffing some Planos in there!

The Game

It will take between five and ten minutes to explain the differences of C&C: N to someone who has played a game in the Command & Color’s family. For the uninitiated I would set aside a good fifteen or twenty minutes to teach the system. Regardless of the ease of explanation, it will take a good deal longer to begin to grasp the tactical consequences and possibilities of the game.

The play book comes packed with fifteen excellent scenarios. My chief complaint against the Command and Colors games has always stemmed the sameness of the scenarios. This complaint holds no water against C&C: N. Each scenario is an interesting puzzle that rewards many rematches, even without switching sides. In addition to the usual flag hunt, there are also terrain specific victory points and fighting withdrawals which add a great deal of challenge, as well as flavor to each session. Each match will take about an hour to play through, though setting up may take a good fifteen minutes. Once both players have played a few times I’ve found that this pre-game setup comes down considerably. If the pieces are already out, a scenario only takes about five minutes. Like other games in the series, this comparatively long setup rewards playing a few scenarios in one session.

Units are divided into three groups, infantry, cavalry, and artillery (unlike the light, medium, and heavy of Ancients). Despite the many specific variations within each category, each grouping carries some unity. The types are linked to the tactics cards as well as terrain restrictions. Additionally, Infantry units are allowed to form into a square, which makes them an enticing target for ranged fire, but limits their vulnerability against cavalry charges. Cavalry get a bonus melee phase if they break through and have the ability to retire and reform in case of an infantry counter-assault, giving them a tremendous flexibility on the field. Artillery can perform combined arms attacks with a unit in melee to ensure their normally staggered orders don’t allow the target to evade destruction.

Unlike Ancients, whose lines and leader cards diminished the importance of sectional order cards, C&C: N’s sectional cards reassert their importance. While this seemingly added randomness may put off both newcomers and longstanding fans, I would argue that this tuning both fits the period and compliments the other aspects of the design. Because of the size of complexity of Napoleonic armies, the kinds of administrative failures that are abstracted by a frustrating hand were common in the field. Also, many units do not need to be ordered in order to perform an important role in the battle. Perhaps the best example I could give is the British artillery emplacement in Talavara whose soft power frustrates any attempt the French might make to cross the brook, encouraging a center-right offensive. The battle back and cavalry breakthrough rules facilitate the heroic charges without tying them up too much in the draw of the cards. Leaders are handled perfectly. Because of their “ignore one flag” bonus, a leader can be used to help hold key points on the battlefield, as well as to save a routing unit from disaster. Because the leaders represent command control staffs, any combat bonus would have been an overstatement. Most of their facilities would have emphasized operational planning rather than tactical action.

Conclusions
GMT has a sure winner here. For my money, C&C: N represents the pinnacle of the Command & Colors family. Beyond delivering a great set of rules and interesting units, Borg and his team have stuffed the box full of great scenarios that demand many plays. Anyone with an interest in the period who is looking for a short and engaging entry into their collection should look no further. Despite the ease of play and low rule-count, this is hardly a light wargame. The choices are as compelling as any Napoleonic game (well, maybe not a Zucker game), but without the length and complexity that usually weight those titles down.

Having played most of the scenarios I find myself already wanting more. August, and the Spanish, seem a long way off.
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Apex
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Excellent review.

One question for you about the unit graphics and poses. A few of the posts about this game mention the difficulty in telling specific types of infantry apart. Do you think a new player to the series who has not seen the block treatment as in C&C:A will have a hard time picking out differing types or is it as obvious as you make it sound?

I'm just curious on this one because it seems like the only real complaint I've heard and you specifically mention it as a strength.
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Cole Wehrle
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medlinke wrote:
Excellent review.

One question for you about the unit graphics and poses. A few of the posts about this game mention the difficulty in telling specific types of infantry apart. Do you think a new player to the series who has not seen the block treatment as in C&C:A will have a hard time picking out differing types or is it as obvious as you make it sound?

I'm just curious on this one because it seems like the only real complaint I've heard and you specifically mention it as a strength.


Thanks. Regarding the unit poses I think it is less a strength and more a good evasion of a potential problem. First off, the majority of the infantry units on the field will be line, so players new and old alike can easily remember that they have 1-3 lights on the field and maybe a guard unit. The individual names are small, and hard to read if looking at them on the field without the context of their illustrations. The illustrations have enough cues that will help your brain distinguish them without trouble. The lights have a different formation and oftentimes a different uniform color. So the rifles have dark uniforms, (so do the French lights) which makes them easily discernible from the Line.

I've played the game about ten times and identification has never been an issue. If it is, players could also change the formation of the blocks based on unit types, placing Line in lines and staggering Light infantry, for example.
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Dan Poole
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My 2 cents: The blocks are clearly labelled. I have never had any trouble whatsoever even coming close to getting the units confused. It just goes to show you some folks have to find something to complain about. Nice review btw
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Brad Heath
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Great review. My copy is on it's way and I can't wait to play this. With regards to applying the stickers I've always just applied them as necessary when playing CnC Ancients, just stickering up enough for each scenario as I go. You eventually get them all done
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mark motley
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Bravo! Great review!
I've read longer and even more complete reviews, but I don't believe I've ever read a more well written review on BGG. Thanks.
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Doug Acker
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Great review! You have caught the essence of the game for CCA veterans.
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Michel Sorbet
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I own the game and enjoy it a lot but I read your review with great pleasure.

Good work!
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Pavel Hammerschmidt
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During our first few games my opponent would mix up his British Grenadier Infantry with his Line Infantry. Both have red jackets and grey trousers. It might just be our age or poor eyesight but the names on the stickers are very small. It really only bothered us during setup after that.
Its a very good game overall and we play it whenever we have the chance.
 
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Pawel P
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I am addicted to touching the blocks
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Angelus Seniores
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a quick question regarding the rules, the square defensive formation for infantry is stated time and again, but are line and column formation also factored into the game (as it sounds as if only square and normal are used)? these are clearly as much part of the Napoleonic era tactics as the square.
a line formation should maximises firepower and column formation maximizes melee
 
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Cole Wehrle
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Angelsenior wrote:
a quick question regarding the rules, the square defensive formation for infantry is stated time and again, but are line and column formation also factored into the game (as it sounds as if only square and normal are used)? these are clearly as much part of the Napoleonic era tactics as the square.
a line formation should maximises firepower and column formation maximizes melee


Nope, those two are abstracted through the national bonuses.
 
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Phill Webb
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Cole Wehrle wrote:
Nope, those two are abstracted through the national bonuses.




Which is to say, yes, but in the subtle way of giving a melee bonus to the French and a ranged bonus to the British.

There's nothing you declare but the bonuses can affect the way you tactically approach playing the two different armies.

Phill
 
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Angelus Seniores
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that's a pity, that really takes the wind out of this game.
knowing when to use which formation was a crucial element on the Napoleonic battlefield and can mean the difference between defeat and victory, too bad it isnt included.
The national bonuses you mention are clearly not an abstraction of this, because the french did have superior melee qualities and the Britisch did have superior firepower with their better-performing rifles, which is on top of any bonuses their formation might have.
 
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Cole Wehrle
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Angelsenior wrote:
that's a pity, that really takes the wind out of this game.
knowing when to use which formation was a crucial element on the Napoleonic battlefield and can mean the difference between defeat and victory, too bad it isnt included.
The national bonuses you mention are clearly not an abstraction of this, because the french did have superior melee qualities and the Britisch did have superior firepower with their better-performing rifles, which is on top of any bonuses their formation might have.


I don't think a 1:1 comparison is useful year, those bonuses abstract several things and I think the French penchant for columns is one of them.

If the formation dance is something that appeals to you and you want a game of similar difficult to C&C you might check out Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion. It's got a sweet system and really captures what you're looking for at a level of difficult just a notch or so about C&C. In many ways I actually prefer that system but it doesn't receive the support it deserves. However, if you're inclined to some modding it's very expandable.
 
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