Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Introduction to Commands and Colors: Ancients

(This is a piece I wrote c.2006 for Keith McNelly's now defunct e-zine "Across the Table".  I have posted it mostly as-is, but dropped one paragraph. Note that it was written for a miniatures gaming audience in New Zealand who had not heard of the game before)

Introduction to Commands and Colors: Ancients.




Commands and Colors: Ancients is a fast-play board war game designed by Richard Borg and published by GMT games.  The board employs hexes, and the pieces are wooden blocks.  Also included are command cards, custom dice, rules/scenario booklets and quick reference sheets.  The base game provides the armies of Rome and Carthage while the first expansion adds troops for Greece and Persia.  The forthcoming second expansion is entitled "Rome and the Barbarians" and will include Roman (probably of the Marian or Early Imperial variety) and "barbarian" armies. 

Commands and Colors (hereafter called C&C) converts very well to miniatures.  All that is needed - aside from the miniatures, of course - is a suitably sized hex-cloth or hex-board, which can be home made easily enough or purchased from Hotz or Kallistra.  The following is a brief introduction to the C&C system.

Units.

In C&C all units can take a set number of hits before being destroyed: 4 hits for foot, 3 for cavalry, and 2 for special units such as elephants and chariots. 

There are three main types of troops, all coded by colour and symbol: heavy (red triangle), medium (blue square) and light (green circle). Each type has sub-types. The medium class, for example, contains medium infantry (4 attack dice, 1 movement), warriors, (4/3 attack dice, 1/2 movement), medium cavalry (3 attack dice, 3 movement) and camels (3/2 attack dice, 3 movement). Each sub-class has its own distinct abilities.  In addition, leaders can attach themselves to units and affect combat results significantly. 

Special rules apply to some types of unit: most light troops and cavalry can evade enemy charges; warriors can move an extra hex if charging into combat; auxiliaries can move 2 hexes if they do not fight at all.  Elephants and chariots have a number of rules to reflect their special abilities.  

The Board.

Battles are played out on a hex board of 9 by 13 hexes.  The long side is divided into three sections to indicate the left, centre and right of the battlefield.  The scenarios in the booklet are all based on historical encounters.

The Dice.

The dice in C&C are of the standard 6-sided variety, but with symbols on the faces.  Three of the symbols are coloured.  A red square indicates a hit on a heavy unit, a blue triangle indicates a hit on a medium unit and a green circle indicates a hit on a light unit.  A helmet symbol indicates a hit if there is a friendly leader in the same or an adjacent hex.  Crossed swords indicate a hit if the attacking unit is a heavy, medium or auxiliary unit, while the flag symbol indicates a retreat.

In ranged combat hits are only ever scored on colours, never on swords or helmets.  Flags count as usual.

On the play of the rally or I am Spartacus cards, the dice are rolled to rally/activate units.  In that case, any colour rolled rallies/activates one unit of that type; any helmet rolled rallies/activates a unit of the player's choice.

The Cards and the Turn.

Depending on the historical scenario being fought, players start the game with a hand of 4 to 6 cards.  Each card allows a particular class of troops (e.g. light units), troops in a particular area (e.g. 3 units left), or troops near a leader (e.g. leader’s hex +4) to be ordered.  At the beginning of the turn, the first player selects an order card from his hand, plays it and carries out the move.  A new card is drawn to end the turn.  The next player then repeats the cycle and this continues until a winner is determined. 

The cards allow planning, but also mean that there is a healthy dose of uncertainty in the game.  Sometimes a player will get poor cards for a stretch, which can be frustrating, but the luck generally evens out.

Battle.

Combat is simple, but with many variables.  There are three types of combat: missile, ordered close combat, and "battleback."  Ordered missile units in range of the enemy may roll 1 or 2 dice, depending on whether they have moved or not, and have a 1 in 6 chance of scoring a hit and a 1 in 6 chance of forcing a retreat for each die thrown.  Ordered units adjacent to the enemy can choose to undertake close combat.  A certain number of dice are rolled (heavy infantry roll 5 dice, light infantry 2, etc.) and hits are scored on the roll of appropriate symbols.  If the enemy unit is destroyed or forced to retreat the attacking unit may advance into the empty hex and may in some circumstances be able to make a second attack.  If the enemy unit is not destroyed or forced to retreat it may "battleback" and attack as if it had been ordered. 

If forced to retreat, units must move their full movement allowance towards their own baseline.  If this is impossible, units must take 1 hit for each point of unused movement.   Supported units or units stacked with a leader can ignore one flag roll, so it is important to plan accordingly.  Retreat is especially dangerous for units with high movement rates.     

Morale.

Morale is not treated separately in C&C; it is factored into the combat and movement system.  Unit hits model casualties, disorder, and the loss of morale; all of which eventually turn the unit into a disorganised rabble which is no longer effective in the field.  This is the point at which the unit is removed from play.  Command cards also indirectly model the influence of morale states on movement in the same way that pip dice do. 

Victory and Defeat.

The play of turns continues until one of the armies overcomes the other.  This process is measured in banners.  A banner is gained each time an enemy unit or leader is destroyed - or sometimes when an objective is taken - and as soon as a player has won the required number of banners he is declared the victor.  It is common for players to switch sides and play again with the highest number of banners overall determining the victor.

Comments.

C&C is an abstract design.  Some people may not be comfortable with a game on ancient warfare that does not (for example) explicitly differentiate between units of different armour or weapon class.  In C&C all units of the same class function in the same way no matter whether one represents Roman triarii or a Macedonian phalanx.  What C&C provides is a fast moving, fun game that requires the use of tactics to win.  As with many rulesets, whether those tactics are realistic or not is open to question.

C&C tries to be a good game, not a simulation.  It gives a feel for ancient warfare but not at the expense of simplicity and playability.  However, the system can bear some tinkering, so additional levels of detail can be added fairly easily and without destroying the essence of the game.

At around US$50, C&C:A is not cheap unless you intend to play it as a boardgame also.  I have the base game and the expansion, and can honestly say it has been excellent value for money.  I have probably played around 60 games in 12 months, and it stands up well for solo sessions, too.

For anyone interested, a quick google search will yield a wealth of information about the game including the living rules, user-created scenarios and army lists for pick up games.


16 comments:

  1. Thanks for this! I've owned the game for quite awhile, but never had a chance to play it. I own and play the other C&C games, but I know this has some differences, and I hate having to learn new rules by myself--it's always better to learn them from someone.

    Best regards,

    Chris Johnson

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    1. Glad it was useful for you, Chris. Hope you get a chance to give it a go at some stage.

      Cheers, Aaron

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  2. I too have owned a copy for quite a few years, but never played it - I ran out of gas after putting all those stickers on the blocks! Of course I already have Roman and Carthagenian armies and a hex grid surface, so...

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    1. ... you might just have backed yourself into a must-try-the-game corner there, Peter ;-)

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  3. Good review, Aaron!

    I have been playing C&C for several years now and enjoy it more all of the time. It ports extremely well to miniatures play and has provided many exciting games. Yes, GAMES not SIMULATIONS!

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    1. Spot on, Jonathan. As a game it's brilliant, so the trick is to enjoy it for what it is and not to wish it were something that it's not!

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  4. I played a C&C game at a con once - Romans vs. Germans, IIRC. As you stated, very fast-play, and clean results. What I wonder is if the hex-based system allows for terrain such as hills, etc. I guess so - as long as their hex-based. Best, Dean

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    1. Yes Dean, there are hills aplenty, depending on the scenario. Tricky to get hex hills to look good though, I find! But that may well just be my poor terrain making skills :)

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  5. Great article, and so cool that you've been published. I do love C&C.

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    1. You should write something for Slingshot, Monty. Your painting technique, a rules or figure review, a battle report; anything you fancied. It would go down a treat, I'm sure!

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  6. Excellent introduction Aaron. Apart form being a great game C&C is also a great resource with scenarios for most of the major battles of antiquity which convert easily into scenarios for other rule sets.

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    1. Thanks Mike! I have a massive whack of Persians to paint up to use with C&C, so when I get around to them I'll be looking at your army for inspiration!

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  7. I'll have to point some of the boys in this direction for the rules alone.

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    1. Can't go wrong with rules online, Fran! BTW, if you check out the vassal module you can get the card deck info too...

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  8. Replies
    1. Thanks, Andrew! The review's old, but the rules are still pretty good.

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