In my brain we haven’t played that many AmRev wargames, but talking it over with Grant we’ve chalked up a good number. [If you are interested, here is a link to a post Grant did last year listing out the games and their ranking. Gaming the American Revolution – Ranking the Games We have Played. We have played several since that time including Campaigns of 1777, Freeman’s Farm 1777 and C&C: Tricorne.] I’m at the point now where some of the names, places, and players are starting to be more familiar. A few of the key events stick around in my mind more from game to game, so I’m less completely lost in the history of the game. I say that because AmRev and ACW there’s a huge section of wargames that I’m just under-schooled on, which games and topics are some of the most beloved in the hobby. I like to tell myself that I’m not alone in my ignorance of the details of the topics, just like most people from outside the USA. Commands & Colors: Tricorne is an excellent jumping off point to anyone that is interested in learning a bit more about the American Revolution. The game includes a large number of scenarios covering the whole course of the road to independence. However, as you might expect, it does this at a much less detailed level than other conflict simulations.
Commands & Colors: Tricorne
The Commands & Colors system from Richard Borg is, at it’s heart, a light weight two player wargame. It uses a battlefield divided up into three sections to help reduce overwhelming command decisions for new wargamers and keeps the scenarios simple in their objectives. It’s a great introductory system, and the themes are numerous. Tricorne is the American Revolution title from Compass Games and comes in a 3 inch box chocked full of wooden blocks, stickers, a mounted map, terrain tiles and most importantly cards. From title to title C&C stays mostly the same with only a few changes. One of the major changes in Tricorne is the addition of more cards.
There’s the regular Command Card deck, a common deck that both players draw from. These are the cards that players will play to activate units on the board (two units on the right flank, or one in each of the three sections, etc.). But Tricorne also introduces Combat Card decks. The game comes with two separate decks, one for each faction, and they are both unique. The Combat Cards are a variety of different abilities and events that represent the differences between nations beyond just their unit composition.
For example, the British Combat Card deck includes things like bayonet charges, better drilling, and equipment. The American Combat Card deck includes extra rally bonuses, skirmish style bonuses and other items. Mechanically speaking none of these actions are game breaking or even that major, but thematically they add a richness to the game that differentiates itself from other C&C games. The other great aspect of the Combat Cards is accruing them. Most scenarios will start you with four or five, but to gain more you’ll need to employ certain Command Cards that will give you the option to draw more Combat Cards. I always enjoy, even in a simple form like that, seeing your command structure provide added benefits. You play a card that moves fewer pieces on the board, but allows you to draw extra capabilities for use down the line. Simple choices, but ones that keep the game fresh.
Combat resolves very typically, using custom dice that show the symbols of all the units in the game. If you’re trying to shoot infantry, then you need to roll infantry symbols, if you’re trying to stop cavalry then hopefully you roll the cavalry symbol. Combat also uses a set amount of dice in Tricorne. For fire combat you roll two dice if you don’t move and one if you do, regardless of how many blocks you have remaining in the formation. That’s different from, say, Napoleonics where a unit of British line infantry will roll one dice per block plus one for fire combat, so up to 5 at full strength without moving. So what does that do to gameplay? Well, generally speaking it means it’s much harder to wipe out entire units in combat with lucky attack rolls. With fewer dice being rolled it means you would be peppering each other in long lines or being forced into melee combat to break any lines. However, Tricorne also introduces some very interesting morale mechanics to keep the game from dragging out.
When attacking if you roll flag symbols that typically forces the defending unit to retreat a number of hexes. That’s standard across the entire series. But in Tricorne if a unit is forced to retreat they must make a rally check after conducting that retreat. They will roll a number of dice equal to the amount of blocks left in the unit, modified by present leaders, and unit quality. If they roll any single flag then they will remain on the board in their present state. If they fail to roll any flags then the entire formation routs off the board and gives a victory point to the opposing player. On reading and first implementing the rule we found it to be a little harsh.
We had a couple of occasions where entire full-strength units would rout due to unlucky rolls. With each dice having only two flags (out of six faces) the likely hood of a full strength unit passing that check using four dice is something like 80%. when the dice are that cataclysmic it can feel a little cheap. But luck is a cruel mistress. And it’s a way of keeping the game lite and on pace, which is important because this one is a little longer than most of the other games in the series.
But after we finished and talked it over it became apparent that the rally/rout check is actually very clever, from a historical standpoint at least. It’s designed so that units with 25% casualties are much more likely to stand their ground, which is obviously much more realistic. If I have a singular block retreat, it’s unlikely that they’d run back and charge the enemy in melee like I make them do all the time in Napoleonics! And think about the American Revolution, it was a conflict where mobility was very important, and skirmishes and engagements were often broken off as militia melted into the forests and hills, and British forces would regroup to strengthen numbers once again. So for me I think the rule serves a great gameplay purpose (keeps the games short enough), and a good thematic purpose. It took a little bit to win me over and not feel arbitrary, but I came round to it eventually.
So, should I get C&C: Tricorne?
Commands & Colors is a series where if you’ve played one you’ll be familiar with all of them. The great news with this one is that unlike, say, Memoir ’44 base game, it actually covers a really good chunk of the most famous battles in the American Revolution. So from an educational standpoint this is a great launching off point for your dive into the history of the American Revolution. Mechanically being lighter fair than most wargames it’s great for the classroom and great for teaching new players or younger players. For us seasoned vets there’s also a lot of game here too. Thematically this has a wide audience to appeal to, but more than that it feels quite different from other Commands and Colors games. The battles are very tight, and with units routing left and right, it will force you to really consider things like reserves and units in the rear and protecting them from being vulnerable to cumulative rout checks.
But ultimately C&C is also a series where you can just pick the theme you want and be happy. If you have to make a choice about which one to get, then just go with the one that tickles your fancy theme-wise. If you’re a collector then you probably already have this one. But for those in between just know that this one rates pretty decently with me. I enjoy this period of conflict at this scale and in this system. It’s easy, not crunchy, and feels great with your battle lines and combined arms with artillery and cavalry.
Compass did a great job with the production on this one, it comes in a 3 inch box that’s very thick and is packed to the brim. She’s a little on the pricey side with an MSRP of $109 but you get 12 battles and great looking components, the dice are customer and embossed (none of that stickered dice nonsense from the old days). If you can get it on sale I would highly recommend it. The second hand market is also a good way to snag a deal, but this one will be a mainstay in the collection long after other C&C titles have moved on.