The RockyMountainNavy family loves the Commands & Colors family of lite wargames. I say “lite” in reference to the rules because these games, often coming with many wooden blocks, are anything but “light” on the shelf! The RockyMountainNavy Boys play the heck out of their copy of Memoir’44 (Days of Wonder, 2004) and over the years we have added several other games in the family to the collection. The latest arrival, a present on my birthday from the RMN Boys, is Commands & Colors Napoleonics, 3rd Edition, 4th Printing, from GMT Games (2019).
Commands & Colors Napoleonics (C&CN) is a block version of the game (as compared to the little plastic minis of Memoir’44). The game ships with nearly 400 wooden blocks of three sizes and three different colors. Most any Commands & Colors owner has a story about how long it takes to put stickers on all those blocks. What I’ll tell you is that it is very therapeutic; there is a certain calm that comes over you when working through the stickers and watching your armies form in front of you. In many ways it’s not all that different a feeling than corner-clipping counters—repetitive, even a bit tedious, but extremely satisfying in the outcome. In some ways stickering-up wood blocks in Commands & Colors helps me relate to miniatures wargamers who spend all that time basing and painting figures for their army.
War Engine the Napoleon Way
Commands & Colors Napoleonics builds upon the long-proven war engine of the Commands & Colors family of wargames. All Commands & Colors games share a common baseline set of rules. Using a set of Command cards, players first play a Command card, then Order units, Move those units, conduct Combat, and then Draw a new Command card. Units themselves often are just a few types and the rules for movement and combat of each is easy to remember (or easily referenced on a single player aid card). This baseline set of rules is easy to learn and follow and helps make the game just as easy to teach or learn for beginners and Grognards alike.
Like every Commands & Colors game, Commands & Colors Napoleonics also uses special “flavor” rules to recreate battles of this period. In the case of C&CN the rules are 6.0 NAPOLEONIC TACTICS AND ACTIONS which introduces “Cavalry Retire and Reform,” “Infantry Square,” and Combined Arms Combat.” These rules, covered in a little over 3.5 pages of well-illustrated rules, work hand-in-hand with the colors of blocks, the images on units, and text of the Command Cards to make this C&C game “feel” Napoleonic.
Levee En Mass (Market)
If I have a quibble with Commands & Colors Napoleonics it is the components. Not the wood blocks—I had only a few useless blocks included—but in the quality of the terrain tiles and cards. The hexagonal terrain tiles seem a bit thin to me; they are perfectly functional but just seem thin. Same goes for the (few) cardboard chits in the game—thin. More importantly, the cards also seem thin to me. I occasionally sleeve my cards, but usually only when I feel they need to be protected and I question their durability. This is one of those times. I also am not a fan of the dice included. Not only did I have to sticker them myself, but they seem too large and heavy. I own a dice tray and use it when necessary but generally avoid doing so as it adds another component that demands real estate on the table which is not always available. For myself, a fully laid out game of C&CN takes up the entire 3″x4″ gaming table in the loft; I simply don’t have room for a large dice tower or tray.
Napoleon’s True Colors
Quibbles over components aside, I will admit that Commands & Colors Napoleonics looks beautiful on the gaming table. There is real beauty in seeing lines of blue French soldiers squaring off against red-coated British. The highly visual element of C&CN is a great part of the charm of the entire series—the game simply looks good, is easy to learn, plays with just enough theme, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
First Play – Battle of Rolica, Aug 17, 1808
In my Battle of Rolica, Wellesley got off to a slow start with only his left flank advancing (all the Command Cards initially were for the left!). However, aggressive action by a lone French Hussars (Light Cavalry) unit forced the British infantry into squares that slowed the advance buying time for French infantry to arrive. In a series of devastating melee actions the British infantry collapsed. Wellesley was furious because his leader on that flank, Fergusson, hung back behind the lines and therefore was unable to rally the infantry to stand. Even a desperate charge by British Dragoons (Heavy Cavalry) to seize the initiative was repulsed when the French Foot Artillery got a First Strike (battle first when attacked) and used canister at point-blank range to mow down the hapless riders. Apparently unable to get a courier through with orders (again, no Command Cards for that flank), Wellesley watched his left flank disintegrate with only a lone Foot Artillery unit left to halt any French advance (bolstered by Fergusson—finally).
As Wellesley watched his left flank disappear, he took some solace in watching his Portuguese allies on the right finally advance. They actually made it parallel to the French main line before a foray by two French line infantry units struck out. Again, the Gods of War (and Luck?) smiled on the French who drove the Portuguese back to their starting positions. As night feel, Delaborde held the field, but Wellesley had a strong center that might make the next days battle interesting.
At this point the battle ended with the French having gained the requisite five Victory Banners to win. My Battle of Rolica was a classic Commands & Colors game with Wellesley never seemingly having the right “cards in his hand” and being frustrated commanding his forces. Delaborde started out with a “poor hand” but was able to order units at just the right moment to arrest any British advances. His right flank far exceeded all expectations and seemingly couldn’t be stopped. Along the way I got to play all the new Napoleonic-era rules of Cavalry Retire and Reform, Infantry Squares, and Combined Arms. It felt grand and epic like one imagines a Napoleonic battle to be.
I’ve already gone ahead and placed P500 orders on GMT Games for what else is in production for Commands & Colors Napoleonics. I will be checking my favorite FLGS and online retailers to see if I can get some expansions at a fair price.