'Battle Command' is yet another attempt to make a simplified war board game for kids that adult gamers might play (with them) too. The Rules state that the game is for 2 to 4 players from 10 years of age to adult. It was produced in 1988 by Precision Toy, and one has to say that the physical quality is good. The largish rectangular box is solid and the artwork attractive - it says action-packed without being as garish as many such games.
The board is the map of the battlefield with mountains, forests, a river and ford crossings at a number of places, nicely rendered, in full colour and mounted,
The little plastic game pieces are also well-made miniatures of tanks, APCs and ‘modern’-looking airplanes. Quite small and fiddly for large hands, and not highly detailed, but they are perfectly adequate and look quite cool on the map.
There are 15 pieces for each of the 4 forces, in green, brown, yellow and (sky) blue. For a 2 player game only 2 armies are used. Two D6 dice are supplied, together with a clearly written Rules leaflet, and a tiny supplemental sheet with some very basic ‘Quick-Play Version’ instructions.
The game fits somewhere between 'war' games that are either roll-and-move or highly abstracted with checkers- or chess-type rules for moving and capture, on the one hand, and simple wargames that do attempt some more realistic mechanics and/or combat, on the other. On the plus side, terrain such as mountains and forests does affect movement costs for ground-based units, and the river is impassable except at the fords, but Planes’ movement is unaffected in both respects. It is also quite neat that your base has the units’ starting places subtly marked out, and that in order to be part of the action Planes must first ‘take off’ down the runway!
There is also ranged fire combat up to 2 spaces away (rather than ‘land-on-a-piece-to-capture-it’), and there can be ‘Disabled’ results in addition to ‘Destroyed’ or a ‘Miss’.
Units types are differentiated a little by the fact that APCs are more fragile than Tanks or Planes - they are destroyed if hit, rather than ever being disabled. Disabled Tanks and Planes can be restored or captured by bringing an APC alongside (and it surviving long enough ...!). There is a little combat results table setting these outcomes out, which is called the ‘Battle Chart’.
You will have to protect your APCs, though. You win the the game by being the last person with an APC left on the board (and conversely you are out of the game when your last APC is destroyed).
And it’s also possible to capture another player’s base by destroying or disabling the forces still located there and moving one of your Tanks or APCs on to it.
Not So Good Aspects
So far, so good. But on the minus side, movement is determined randomly by rolling the 2 dice and moving one or more units up to a total of the number rolled - so your turn’s allowable movement could vary from 2 to 12 movement points! Also, success in combat is equally risky for attacker and defender, as each simply rolls one D6 and the rolls are compared. Highest wins. So you have an even chance of being hurt by the counterfire when you attack, irrespective of the unit types - EXCEPT where 2 or more of your units attack the same enemy piece, called a ‘Group Attack’. In a Group Attack, only the first attacking unit can be disabled or destroyed by the target’s dice roll .
Furthermore, the combat capabilities of the units are identical in terms of range and damage inflicted (eg, Tanks and APCs are equally deadly), but Tanks cannot attack Planes (except to counterfire when being attacked) - unless the Tank player has lost all their Planes (?).
Nor does terrain have any line of sight (LOS) effect when firing on an enemy unit.
The ‘Quick-Play Version’ offered by the extra mini-sheet is a simple land-on-to-capture variant, with none of the combat rules. Sure, it’s pretty lame, but it would make it more playable with younger kids or beginning gamers who could be scared off by notions of ranged fire and variable combat results.
The Rules also give a few optional variant possibilities, to make the game shorter (ie, less units each) or longer, and [in a word from the Marketing Department] a version which combines two copies of the game "so that each player receives double the regular amount of armies"!
And lastly, the Rules also give you a leg-up by providing some "Strategy Secrets". Sorry - I simply have to quote them in full:
A. Study the ‘Battle Chart’ to discover the strengths and weaknesses of each gamepiece type.
B. Gain air superiority.
C. Capture bases so you can move your captured planes to the front quickly.
D. Group Attack.
So there you go then ...
By now, it will be obvious that I think that this game has a number of features in its favour - from the physical production quality to some aspects of the game mechanics that edge a little towards reality. But IMO factors such as the dice determining both a player’s total turn movement and the random outcomes of combat mean that it ultimately will be somewhat frustrating and (therefore) tedious to players wanting a bit more challenge and strategy (or tactics).
Still, if you’re looking for a military-themed game that can be pulled out with the youngster(s), that is not as mind-numbing as roll/move/capture, this could be that game. And it could well open the door for them to wargaming as a hobby, or at least an interest. However, it is unlikely to be satisfying on an ongoing basis for more experienced players.
As a closing comment, I would also add that this is another game [see some of my other reviews of simplified wargames] that could be quite a lot better with a relatively small number of rule tweaks. Its components and parts of the rules are good. Some very modest changes to movement allowance, relative firepower, LOS, and combat outcomes would actually increase the complexity of the game very little, and could make Battle Command more satisfying and quite fun. In some ways, I almost feel that Battle Command’s positive features even deserve this. I really should get around to it sometime ...
[Thanks to herman_the_german (G. Gomez) for allowing me to use his excellent pics in this review].
It's nice to see this game get some attention and even affection. I stumbled on a copy many years ago marked-down to $2 at a long-out-of-business toy store outside Hanover, PA.
For the components, I wish I'd have bought three or four.
The game is a fun light diversion, excellent for kids. The "Group Attack" feature actually teaches the benefits of coordinating units in mass while balancing economy of force (reflected by the only-defend-against-the-first rule and also by the dice-movement system).
The dice rolls tend to even out in a game, and aren't so much more random than the card draws in a C&C-style game.
Nice little game; thanks for shining a light on it.
Woo! Gonna get some
44, that's me!
Five second of thought variant:
Movement: Players may move 6 spaces total and attack, or 8 spaces total but may not attack.
LOS: Mountains block LOS. No ranged attacks may pass through mountains.
Attacks: For adjacent spaces, attacker rolls 2 dice and chooses highest total, defender only rolls one. For ranged attacks, no changes.
Terrain: Mountains grant occupier one additional attack dice for ranged attacks (choose highest). Mountains grant defender one additional defense die for all attacks (same). Forests grant defender one additional defense die (same).