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Subject: First Impressions after one play: Depth, or Just Complexity? rss

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Peter B
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We've just finished our first playthrough of a complete round of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, playing through the Roliça (first position) scenario. I think it's a good time to discuss my early impressions of the game.

Needless to say, some of these are preliminary in nature, and it may turn out in the fullness of time I'll change my mind. But first impressions matter, and they matter a lot, so I want to jot these notes down while my thoughts are still fresh.

Components

The components, with one major exception, are of superb quality. The board is a solidly-built mounted board with large hexes and three sections - left, center, and right - with a pleasant neutral green background.

Of course, being a Commands & Colors game, it also comes with approximately 68,200 wooden blocks in varying sizes - royal blue for the French, scarlet red for the British, and brown for the Portuguese (sorry, Portugal.) Likewise, there are 136,400 stickers, which are applied to each side of the wooden blocks. The images on the stickers seemed a little more distinctive to me than most of the artwork in Commands & Colors: Ancients.

One major change in the system is that unit hits are not determined by whether a unit is light, medium, or heavy, but whether they are infantry, cavalry, or artillery. Within each type of unit, there are subtle differences: for example, infantry might be light infantry, or line infantry, or grenadiers, or guards, and so on. This is indicated by a narrow band in the appropriate color (blue for infantry, yellow for cavalry, red for artillery) with the name of the subtype written in black letters.

You'd think labeling the units would be helpful, but I think it is problematic. While putting stickers on the blocks, the text was perfectly readable. In play however, both of us found ourselves constantly squinting at blocks, trying to distinguish whether a given unit was a Light or Line infantry. If you've played Commands and Colors: Ancients, you may be familiar with how troublesome it can be to distinguish auxilia from light infantry, at least until you memorize the picture. This, I think, is just as bad, and possibly a little worse. Perhaps they just needed to have picked a different typeface, or perhaps I need the "megablocks" version of the game with blocks that are the size of Saltine crackers.

The cards are nicely done, have clear text, and seem of slightly higher quality than those from C&C: A, though this may be my imagination.

Victory banners are no longer wooden blocks, but are instead cardboard chits which have the British flag on one side and the French flag on the other. This seems like a reasonable change.

The game comes with multiple player aid cards that are notably worse than the equivalent cards from Commands & Colors: Ancients. The Ancients cards tell you practically everything you need to know to play the game. The Napoleonics player aids are missing unit range, which seems like an awfully large omission (most infantry, for example, can fire from a range of 2 hexes, but light infantry can fire from 3) The beauty of the Ancients player aid was precisely that I could give them to someone who hadn't read the rulebook, and they were 80% of the way there.

The biggest disappointment, for me, is that GMT is still including ridiculously cheap-looking dice in the game, which the player then stickers. In a game where nearly every other component is, from a physical standpoint, first-rate, the dice are an embarassment. It's a bit like going into a fine French restaurant and being served a glass of champagne, some escargot, and cold spam in a can. They stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise beautiful package. There are plenty of ways to substitute better dice for the plastic pieces of junk included in the box, but it's a real shame that anyone should even have to think about this at all.

Each die has 2 infantry symbols, 1 cavalry symbol, 1 artillery symbol, a retreat flag, and a close combat hit ("crossed swords"). So infantry combat will be substantially bloodier than in Ancients.

Playthrough

I played the French, my opponent played the perfidious British. Historically, the French at Roliça were forced to retreat by the future Duke of Wellington. Two turns into this game, it looked like we were heading to the same result. I had managed to eliminate half of the British artillery when they moved them too close to my defensive lines, but beyond that, it was looking fairly grim. Portguese light rifle infantry, hiding in the woods off my left flank, repeatedly peppered my light infantry with shot, crippling them by the second turn.

At this point, I decided that it was worth taking some risks to try to get out of the situation. Using a Cavalry Charge card, I dispatched my two units of light cavalry on my left and right flanks to engage leading units of the Portuguese and British infantry. I fully expected to lose them in a counterattack, but my hope was that if I could hold the right flank in the river crossing, I might be able to make something interesting happen.

My opponents decided this would be a good time to test the system's new "Infantry square" rules. Forming a square has a few interesting consequences that aren't immediately obvious from the rules. The square means your infantry will take less potential damage (only 1 die) from cavalry; but it also means that it will only deal 1 die of damage in return. Furthermore, the infantry unit then cannot move until it comes out of square; you lose a random card from your hand for as long as the unit is in the square, and, most importantly, the unit cannot leave the square as long as a cavalry unit is adjacent.

It wasn't clear from the rules whether the cavalry still received its extra die from the Cavalry Charge card while fighting an infantry in square. We decided to rule in favor of the infantry, and only rolled one die. Both infantry survived the attack, and with lucky rolls did minor damage to both cavalry. Thing were looking rather grim. On the next turn, the British eliminated my light infantry.

At this point, I decided to risk it all on a Bayonet Charge. This card is ridiculously powerful, particularly for the French, allowing 4 infantry units to move 2 hexes and still engage in melee. Thus, 4 units of my line infantry left their secure redoubt on the hills and charged down into the British/Portuguese lines. French units naturally get an extra die in melee combat, effectively neutralizing the cover that the allied units were trying to use. On the next turn, luckily, I drew a second Bayonet Charge. That was enough to finish the battle off: within two turns, I had decimated their infantry and won my fifth flag.

Complex, or Just Complicated?


Most of the discussion online about C&C:N has focused on the rule change wherein a unit deals less damage as it loses blocks. In my opinion, this is probably the least important new rule. There are a lot of additions to the system here. It's going to take a few more playthroughs to answer the question "Is this deep and complex, or simply more complicated?" For sure, there are more options at your disposal in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics. Those of you who felt that the line tactics in its Ancients brother were not sophisticated enough will probably enjoy it. In addition to the above-mentioned rule about infantry squares, there are also combined-arms attacks, where artillery can assist a unit that is involved in a melee assault. There are victory point locations (familiar to Memoir '44 players) where you can earn a banner for reaching certain locations on the board. There are cavalry breakthroughs and bonus attacks. And there is a lot of terrain in use throughout the game.

So there's a lot to mull over here. On the whole, I like the game. I think the interactions of all the new rules are likely to add a lot of depth to the system. On the down side, the level of commitment required is higher; the matrix of exceptions and behaviors seems higher than that in the Ancients game, and that might make this less accessible and -- time will tell -- slower playing. But my first impressions are very positive, and I'm looking forward to the chance to play this again soon.
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BrentS
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peterb12 wrote:


It wasn't clear from the rules whether the cavalry still received its extra die from the Cavalry Charge card while fighting an infantry in square. We decided to rule in favor of the infantry, and only rolled one die.


Good initial review and AAR. The narrative you've been able to generate from your session is very encouraging.

You ruled correctly in the above situation. From page 16 of the rules:

Quote:
If the cavalry unit is not eliminated or forced to retreat from its hex, the cavalry unit may melee against the infantry square with a maximum of 1 battle die. Combat cards and unit type will not increase the number of battle dice the cavalry unit may roll against the square.


Brent.
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Tanks Alot
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If you cant see the pieces well, lay them down flat and you will find its much easier to read for both CCA and CCN
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Mike Stevens
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Nice review Peter. Thanks for taking the time to post it. I dont own this yet, but a buddy of mine has a copy and we are supposed to play later this week. I cant wait.

Congratulations on being the FIRST French army to not surrender and actually win a battle
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Keith

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Interesting. So the side consequence, without having played this of course, sounds as though you want to get your cav to force the infantry into squares to pin them. Then you follow up with an infantry assault?

Interesting. I wonder if that may become the CC:N equivalent of ASL's move an AFV to pin a squad tactic.
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Peter B
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charlescab wrote:
If you cant see the pieces well, lay them down flat and you will find its much easier to read for both CCA and CCN


We do play that way. It's particularly a problem for infantry units - partially because they are smaller, but also because black text on blue is harder to read than black text on yellow.
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Patrick Leacock
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peterb12 wrote:
... Furthermore, the infantry unit then cannot move until it comes out of square; ...

The infantry can come out of Square when they are ordered to move or combat, so the formation itself is not a handicap to movement. It is only a handicap if they are adjacent to enemy cavalry, in which case, as you said, they cannot come out of square or move.
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Lionel Jacques
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Great initial AAR - thank you for taking the time and sharing your impressions. I do hope you'll follow up with another one or two in the future as you come to grips with the nuances - it will be great to see which way you end up leaning.
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David
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Enjoyed the report. Tempted me to put this on my watchlist again.
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Bart de Groot
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Thanks for your review, I enjoyed reading it. I already ordered the game some time ago, but I am resigned to it taking a while longer before it reaches me here in Belgium. I feel this game will speak more to me than C&C:A, despite the huge number of exceptions and complications.
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Henri Harju
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Nice write up.

One question, is the game still all about flags or are there more missions/scenarios with objectives? I'm getting a bit tired of the "flag hunt" of CC:A. . .
 
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Jonathan Davis
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About half of the sscenario includes one to three geographic objectives that are worth flags.

Peter Berger wrote:
The game comes with multiple player aid cards that are notably worse than the equivalent cards from Commands & Colors: Ancients. The Ancients cards tell you practically everything you need to know to play the game. The Napoleonics player aids are missing unit range, which seems like an awfully large omission (most infantry, for example, can fire from a range of 2 hexes, but light infantry can fire from 3) The beauty of the Ancients player aid was precisely that I could give them to someone who hadn't read the rulebook, and they were 80% of the way there.


This is actually wrong in two ways. Only Rifle Lights get the 3 hex range, and it is listed by their entry on the national unit reference card in the 'notes' section.

It's a bit confusing in that you have the ranged fire and melee dice reference, which is about the same size as an ancients unit reference, but then each player aid has a two page spread more fully enumerating the characteristics of the national units: two for brits/Portuguese combined, and two for the french.

I think the player aids still tell you all you need to know, it's just split across more tables due to the greater numbers of units. It can take a while to learn where everything is, but it's all still there.

Peter Berger wrote:
So infantry combat will be substantially bloodier than in Ancients.


I thought this too, but I think that while it is true for ranged combat, it isn't necessarily so for melee combat.

Consider: Most infantry killing in ancients was done with heavy infantry with leaders. In which case, you'd score 'kills' half the time: whatever color matched, the sword, and the leader symbol.

Here you also can get 'kills' half the time while meleeing infantry: two infantry symbols, the sword symbol. But you lose combat power as you lose blocks.

So a melee attack is likely to generate fewer losses total in Napoleon than in Ancients, as in Ancients the battle back of the defenders was not reduced by the losses they had just taken.

Additionally, leaders don't provide additional hits/bonus battle opportunities.
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Kevin Duke
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Take some time to observe "patterns" in the unit type art.

You'll find all the heavy cavalry share a similarity of pose and the light share a different similarity. Likewise your grenadiers...keep looking.

I think it will be faster to "learn" these once you pick up on the pattern.
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Cole Wehrle
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kduke wrote:
Take some time to observe "patterns" in the unit type art.

You'll find all the heavy cavalry share a similarity of pose and the light share a different similarity. Likewise your grenadiers...keep looking.

I think it will be faster to "learn" these once you pick up on the pattern.


I noticed that too. What wonderfully subtle graphic design and illustration!
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Peter B
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davisjh wrote:

I think the player aids still tell you all you need to know, it's just split across more tables due to the greater numbers of units. It can take a while to learn where everything is, but it's all still there.


I didn't even SEE the "national unit" tables, until you pointed them out. Which means that we missed the bit that British Light infantry had 5 blocks, for example.

I dunno. I'm sure you're right that it is "all there" in some sense, but the point of a player aid card is quite specifically to put it all there in one place. Maybe I'll take a crack at making a single-page PDF that summarizes the important points more concisely.
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Jonathan Davis
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I do wish it was obvious which national unit table you'd picked up from the outside. I'm forever having to open them and find out I have the wrong one.

I guess one could always fold them 'the other way'.

I like your idea of a single page PDF...I think a double sided landscape mode page should be enough to include all the unit information.
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peterb12 wrote:
charlescab wrote:
If you cant see the pieces well, lay them down flat and you will find its much easier to read for both CCA and CCN


We do play that way. It's particularly a problem for infantry units - partially because they are smaller, but also because black text on blue is harder to read than black text on yellow.

Another idea is to use different formations fore lights vs line... maybe have line in a straight line or a 2x2 block and use lights in a diamond pattern.

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Chris McDonald
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peterb12 wrote:


I didn't even SEE the "national unit" tables, until you pointed them out. Which means that we missed the bit that British Light infantry had 5 blocks, for example.


What's up with that, by the way? Looking at pictures of the national unit tables (I don't own the game), British light infantry units are better than line in every way: faster, tougher, harder hitting in melee and ranged combat. I would have expected them to be weak in melee, but then I know basically nothing about Napoleonic warfare.
 
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Tom Willcockson
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Just got the game in today and it looks really great, thank you GMT! I only decided to get in on the P500 for this one at the last minute and I am glad that I did. Cant wait to get all the blocks stickered and take it out for a spin. Not really all that bothered by the dice. The ones that came with the first C&C Ancients did suck pretty badly, but these are much much better than those. A little light perhaps but not all that bad. I am really hoping that once we run through all the Napoleonic modules they will cover the American Civil War. I know this would conflict with Battlecry, however I would still love to see a more expansive version done in the C&C system.
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Dan Hanegan
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cfmcdonald wrote:
peterb12 wrote:


I didn't even SEE the "national unit" tables, until you pointed them out. Which means that we missed the bit that British Light infantry had 5 blocks, for example.


What's up with that, by the way? Looking at pictures of the national unit tables (I don't own the game), British light infantry units are better than line in every way: faster, tougher, harder hitting in melee and ranged combat. I would have expected them to be weak in melee, but then I know basically nothing about Napoleonic warfare.


For most Napoleonic armies, light infantry were relatively elite units. They often had better physical conditioning than the line units, and they were trained in skirmishing, which line units generally were not. Sometimes they were even paid more. It makes sense for light infantry to be more generally effective than line, though they should be less common.

I am at a loss, however, to explain why French light infantry does not get the same 5 block advantage of British infantry. This seems to be a bit of British patriotism on the part of the designer, rather than reality.
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Jonathan Davis
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cfmcdonald wrote:
What's up with that, by the way? Looking at pictures of the national unit tables (I don't own the game), British light infantry units are better than line in every way: faster, tougher, harder hitting in melee and ranged combat. I would have expected them to be weak in melee, but then I know basically nothing about Napoleonic warfare.


The 'light' is a bit of a misnomer, at least to someone coming from a 'light/medium/heavy' infantry background in Ancients.

Napoleonic Light units were basically elite line units, drawn from the best soldiers in those line units and armed the same way and getting some additional training and I believe more Voltigeurs, in the case of French Light infantry. So they'd be no worse in melee.

I find the 5 block British lights very surprising (though there are only 2 units of them in the game) However I'm more surprised that the French Light do not get the +1 in melee that their line brethren do. French 'light' regiments routinely were used to storm defended positions - which you wouldn't want to do in game. French Light infantry was very highly regarded.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that the quality of French troops declined after 1805-1807. A light infantry unit from 1805 would be markedly different from one after the retreat from Russia, for example. Perhaps we will get different national unit reference cards for different years?
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Chris McDonald
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davisjh wrote:
cfmcdonald wrote:
What's up with that, by the way? Looking at pictures of the national unit tables (I don't own the game), British light infantry units are better than line in every way: faster, tougher, harder hitting in melee and ranged combat. I would have expected them to be weak in melee, but then I know basically nothing about Napoleonic warfare.


The 'light' is a bit of a misnomer, at least to someone coming from a 'light/medium/heavy' infantry background in Ancients.

Napoleonic Light units were basically elite line units, drawn from the best soldiers in those line units and armed the same way and getting some additional training and I believe more Voltigeurs, in the case of French Light infantry. So they'd be no worse in melee.

I find the 5 block British lights very surprising (though there are only 2 units of them in the game) However I'm more surprised that the French Light do not get the +1 in melee that their line brethren do. French 'light' regiments routinely were used to storm defended positions - which you wouldn't want to do in game. French Light infantry was very highly regarded.

On the other hand, it is certainly true that the quality of French troops declined after 1805-1807. A light infantry unit from 1805 would be markedly different from one after the retreat from Russia, for example. Perhaps we will get different national unit reference cards for different years?


Thanks to you and Dan for the explanation. It makes sense if light=elite. It sounds like the 5-block British lights may be a product of anglophilia?
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Ken McGechaen
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By 1808, and certainly in the peninsular, French light units were becoming mere shadows of the units of the Grand Armee that defeated the Austrians, Prussians and Russians between 1805 and 1807. The title was largely honorific, and light units were increasingly deployed in the same role as line units, being filled with conscripts and raw recruits as the voracious nature of Napoleon's armies used up the veterans of previous campaigns.

However the British, and King's German Legion for that matter, were composed of volunteers, and under the reforms pioneered by Moore at Shorncliffe, the Light Brigade and then the Light division ultimately contained some of the best units in the peninsular, and possibly the entire Napoleonic Wars.

Hence giving British Light Infantry an extra block compared to their French counterparts would seem entirely justified, this being countered by there only being two units of British Light Infantry. It should also be appreciated that even the British did not employ their light battalions, as distinct from their rifle battalions, in a primarily skirmishing role, and so facing a unit of British Light Infantry should be a daunting task.
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Chris Bailey
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You have to STICKER the dice? Seriously???
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Glen Oberhauser
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Yup. Just like C&C:Ancients and Battle Cry. These are nice, heavy dice. Plus, you won't have to worry about the colors rubbing off like the Memoir and Battlelore dice.
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