Jim Owczarski, 30 June 2021
Love it or hate it, and there do not appear to be many of both minds, the Commands and Colors system is both wildly popular and tremendously influential. Each of the games using the system, including Memoir ’44, offers good quantities of “history-light” battles, has clean rules, and can typically be played in an hour or less. Some dislike the card-activation system, others the generic nature of it all, but it has outsold its competitors and outlasted its critics. It has also, I believe, influenced other designers and publishers to take up simpler, more accessible systems. Its “toy box approach”, what with multiple battles able to be played on a single, reasonably-sized map, using hex tile overlays, has proved popular in other systems.
I am, of course, a fan, although I some time ago gave up the wooden blocks for digital toy soldiers on Tabletop Simulator. I own just about everything one can own for all of them save Red Alert and Samurai Battles. And I have written at length about my affection for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics in its “true”, epic format.
It is also true, however, that the Napoleonic version of the system has improved a great deal since its release in 2016. Several new army sets have been released along with nation-specific rules for each. New terrain types have been added to better represent the ground at particular battlefields; some of the hex overlays applying, as far as I can tell, to a single battle. The Generals, Marshals, Tacticians expansion added a more robust card deck and the deck of tactician cards. Most notably, scenario design is now significantly better. I do not know what occurs in Mr. Borg’s shop of wonders, but they have become more detailed, their descriptions more complete, and their maps better considered. Having more unit types – even for “starter” armies like the British and French — has certainly helped.
Quatre Bras, though is in the base box and a revised version has not emerged. While, as will be seen, it remains a solid scenario, one might wish for a revised version, perhaps even an epic one, in the future.
To the thing itself, then:
The Ruleset: As said, Commands and Colors: Napoleonics. This scenario comes with the base set.
Can I Still Buy a Copy?: Yes. Presently en route to its fourth printing.
How Many Players?: Two.
How Long Did It Take?: With a fair amount of chit-chat, a little over an hour.
How’d It Play?: The map is necessarily abstract. I was surprised at the decision not to include the famed “four arms” while at the same time representing the stream that flowed by Gemioncourt. This is particularly notable as the stream does not impede movement. Then again, roads have no effect in this iteration of the system, so I suppose that is to be expected.
This being the base set limits proper troop representation. I understand completely the desire to shoehorn Waterloo and Quatre Bras as a lure to bring Napoleonic nuts into the base set, but the emphasis in most of the scenario book is on the Peninsular War. As a result, the non-British and French units are represented by a small number of brown Portuguese blocks. No allowance is made for the troops from Brunswick, Hanover, and Nassau who figured significantly in the battle. Also, because the highland regiments had yet appeared, the bloody bagpipes get no blocks or characteristics of their own. It will be noted that some of this is corrected for in the video below.
The rules remain excellent and served the battle well. In our play-through the French looked to roll, but never could quite get the cards they needed to coordinate their attack. They also, as is so often the case with wargames, found the dice on their bad side in a pair of critical combats. There is no doubt, however, that fresh cards and dice could see this one swing either way.
Score Now: Allies 2.5, French .5, and one draw.
A few images from the game as played:
click images to enlarge
The video of the event is here (best to start at 1:21:00):
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