A long time since my last post because of being busy and health problems. All well again now and normal service resumed.
Commands & Colors for time poor ancient and medieval wargamers
Since the 1970s I planned 28mm size armies for Belisarian Byzantines and Sassanid Persians. Over forty years later and still at the idea stage. Then GMT Games came to the rescue with Commands & Colors Medieval. This is the newest game in the Commands & Colors series and covers the wars of Belisarius.
The wooden block system means no working out an army list, preparing figures and painting. You do need to apply stickers to the blocks before playing but that’s an evening’s work. Much quicker than the weeks and months a model army takes. Do make sure you get the right stickers on the right blocks and the right way up though! (There are often spare blocks but not always in the size your need.).
I recommend storing the blocks for easy set up of games. I use business card holders for the blocks and other people suggest craft and hardware storage boxes.
What is the Commands & Colors series of games?
The games put the player in the role of a general commanding an army. This means you aren’t dealing with low level unit record keeping. It is the overall sweep of the battle you need to focus on. Is the left flank advancing or retreating, rather than how much ammunition left in company B.
Designed by Richard Borg the series has three distinct concepts. The first is a hexagon board dived into a centre area with left and right wings. The second is a set of command cards that allow the player to carry out actions. The third is units are depicted with blocks or models which when defeated award the opponent a color or flag.
The cards create a fog of war because you don’t know what card will come up next. Better commanders have more cards in their hand. You can also create a custom deck to suit scenarios or commanders. Combat is resolved through dice with unit status and tactical situation deciding how many dice are rolled. Dice rolls remove blocks or figures and potentially leaders and force retreats.
Like many wargames an occasional lucky or unlucky combination of cards and dice rolls is possible. Some people view the cards and dice as too much chance. Others see card management and allowing for dice rolls as part of the generalship in the game. Making and using a battle plan avoids random card play and helps your army act as a coherent force. Manoeuvring your army to create a tactical advantage does pay off. Games are quick to play because armies are abstracted to fit on the board. The idea of the system is to play a game, then swap sides and see who is best overall general.
Many variants have extra features. Commands & Colors Medieval has inspired action tokens, Napoleonics has a tactical card set and Battlelore has lore tokens for magic. These add more flavour and command resources. Or chances to make mistakes!
Find out more about the games
There are now many conflicts covered by the Commands & Colors approach. They range from ancient to modern. Fantasy and Sci-Fi is included too. A good overview see this blog post from Of Cards and Hexes for an overview. Lots more information on the Board Game Geek Commands & Colors pages and the dedicated website Commands & Colors.net.
Commands & Colors as an alternative to traditional wargames
I mentioned using this game as an alternative to figures. One thing it can’t do is give the flexibility a large model army has in working with many different sets of rules. However, the advantage of actually gaming the battles I wish to outweighs this. Also it is a good looking game with detailed artwork.
I see this system as a great way of playing historical games in an abstract and compact but satisfying way. I will continue to create model armies but use this system for ones I’ll never get round to. Plus there are versions of the game with figures too.
Commands and Colors – a list of what’s a available
There are many variations on the system. The list below may not be complete but check the links above on Board Game Geek and Commands & Colors .net. The established historical games have plenty of expansions too.
Ancients with blocks – Greece and Rome with six expansions
Medieval with blocks – Belisarian Byzantines and more to come
Sengoku Japan had figures but is changing to blocks – Samurai Battles is planned by GMT Games
American War of Independence and French-Indian War with figures – a Kickstarter with Plastic Soldier Company and Worthington Games which replaces command cards with action points
American War of Independence with blocks – now with an expansion for the French Army with more scenarios
Napoleonic with blocks – major combatants now covered in expansions
American Civil War with figures – Battle Cry was first in the series by Richard Borg but now long out of print
First World War with figures – British, French and German forces on the Western Front. Wide range of 15mm figures and tanks can be used with other rules
Second World War with figures – Memoir 44 has grown from Normandy to cover most theatres
Space fleet combat with models – you need a large table for the Plastic Soldier Company’s Red Alert because it uses a cloth instead of a board