The Commands and Colors Series is a simplified and introductory wargaming system designed by Richard Borg. The system is fairly simple and uses a deck of Command Cards, which can be classified as Section cards and Tactics cards, that are used to take actions with various groups of units on a hex board that is divided into 3 sections, including the Left, Center and Right. There are also custom Battle Dice that represent hits, retreats and special actions. The units on the field of battle are made up of figures or blocks. The series have volumes representing various different historical periods, including both modern and ancient, and I have found that there is something to like in the series for anyone’s taste. We have now played every volume in the series with the exception of Battle Cry, which we own but just haven’t had the time to get to the table yet. Here are my favorite volumes and I am sure your tastes will differ from mine.
3. Commands and Colors: Ancients from GMT Games
Commands & Colors: Ancients depicts warfare from approximately 3,000 BC to the opening of the Middle Ages in 400 AD, which is quite a spread across time encompassing different strategies, tactics and even technology. CC: Ancients uses the standard card activation system which identifies a number of units that can take actions in one of three areas on the board, including the Left, Center and Right. This card system is standard to the series and really keeps the game light and fun as you sometimes simply cannot control take the actions you need to in order to win the game.
One of the reasons that I like Ancients and how it implements the system is that the scale changes during each of the battles represented. This means that some of the scenarios will have an Infantry unit representing an entire legion of fighters, while in other scenarios a unit may just represent a few warriors. This flexibility makes the game really interesting and you have to learn how best to use each of your units in each of the settings. This really adds to the replayability factor as well because you are learning from each scenario.
The unit variety in this one is interesting as compared to other games in the series such as Battle Cry and Memoir ’44 as each of those volumes had just three types of different units. In Ancients though there are multiple different types or classes of Infantry. Units are rated according to their makeup and in some ways their tactics and are placed in three neat and tidy categories including Light, Medium and Heavy. In the ranks of the Light Infantry, there are the standard Light Infantry, Auxilia, Light Bow and Light Sling for example. In looking at the other types of units there are Cavalry, Chariots, War Machines, Leaders, and the best part Elephants. The game comes with very clear and well done player aids that outline the different abilities of each type of unit and help you with an understanding of their movement, combat dice and any special abilities.
The final best thing about the game is the number of different engagements portrayed and how each of them uses different units and will require you to think on your toes about how best to utilize your assets. The battles covered include Akragas, Crimissos River, Ticinus River, Lake Trasimenus, Cannae, Dertosa, Castulo, Baecula, Ilipa, and Zama. All in all, I find Ancients to be a simple yet fulfilling gateway to the series and would recommend it heartily to anyone interested in getting on board.
2. Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare from PSC Games
I have always been a fan of Sci-Fi games and just love the theme so much that I had to include Red Alert: Space Fleet Warfare on this list. Red Alert is a bit different than the other volumes in the system. The first difference is that this game uses very high quality hard plastic miniatures to represent your units on the board. Each class of ship has a different sculpt for each side and this is a major attraction for me to the game. There is something to be said for moving miniature capital ships around the board while making laser sounds and engine noises as you go. Great fun! I also saw some criticism out there about the ships being hard to tell apart and this makes the game not enjoyable. Well, I think that is not the case as each unit as a cardboard chit that you place with the formation to tell you their range for fire so there really is no confusion.
The first major difference though is that the various ships all have their own roles, and the defense of each ship type have against each other help to create a thematic experience for the game as you really have to think about how you are going to get involved in combat and how you will win. For example, a Strike Class ship attacking a Capital Ship will have 1 blast symbol ignore whereas a Fighter Class ship will have 2 blast symbols ignored. I really liked the Attack back feature which makes you second guess your decision to close in on ships sometimes as if you roll poorly, even though you should win, and your opponent survives they can fire back. Flagships are also a nice addition as they have to have hits against them confirmed which was something new.
The final aspect that I really liked was the mini-economy of managing you stars which can be used for a number of actions including the ability to spend a star to move your ships group an extra space to change range, to battle back even if you normally can’t, or to perform a pursuit move and additional combat.
I probably like Red Alert because it is in space but I thought the system used recognized the inherent differences in types of ships in combat and used some interesting rules to reinforce these differences. I also think that this system could be used to do a C&C: Pacific which would see different capital ships fight it out on the high seas of the Pacific Ocean during World War II. Wouldn’t that be fun?
1. Commands and Colors: Napoleonics from GMT Games
I will be honest with you, when we first played Commands and Colors, I was really leaning toward Ancients as my favorite one. But that all changed once we got the grand daddy of them all on the table in Napoleonics. To me, I really enjoy the added layers of depth to this one. It has six expansions for a reason as they have tried to capture the intricacies of each nation and their unique abilities and fighting styles to make for very highly stylized game.
Of all the C&C games this one is on the richer end of the scale, especially as you add in the expansions. The little bits of chrome make the combats more tactical. You can put your infantry into square formation to counter cavalry charges, but that comes with it’s own sub set of limitations. Each nation has their own special ability, and then each of their units have their own characteristics. An example of which are the Spaniards’ Infantry being straight up not as good as others. They roll dice equal to their number of blocks -1 for example. Each faction has strengths and weaknesses which gives you a little more to think about. Again, nothing overwhelming, and nothing you can’t handle but Napoleonics just has that extra richness and detail that brings the game to life and makes each play feel different from the last.
There are a few new differences in this one. Leaders play a very important role on the battlefield. They don’t add to attack but keep units in formation and from breaking. You must try to keep the Leaders away from the front line because they can become casualties but you need them to keep order on the battlefield as they will allow units to ignore some symbols.
Another major difference is in how units do when they are reduced. In all previous versions of the C&C system, the number of remaining blocks in a unit was not factored into the strength of that unit’s attack. If they had three units left, they would still roll their maximum 2 dice. But now that has changed and I really like this one. The basic attack strength of a unit is equal to the number of its blocks.
The color and the pageantry of a Napoleonics battle is hard to ignore and this one has a lot of substance to the game that the other volumes don’t approach. I will play Napoleonics at any time and relish the chance to learn new strategies and try out new tactics with the multitude of different units found in each expansion.
In the end, Commands and Colors is a fantastic system that has a little bit of everything that will appeal to any wargamer’s taste. I recently played Tricorne and man was that a fascinating experience. We also played the new one from GMT from 2019 Medieval and enjoyed it, and actually really liked some of the new additions, but just were let down by the theme. If you haven’t tried C&C yet, what are you waiting for? Pick a historical period you like and give it a try. You won’t be disappointed!
What is your order of preference for the various volumes? Let me know.