Saturday, March 15, 2008

Commands and Colors: Ancients

The next game I have played in my quest to play everything in my collection is the excellent Commands and Colors: Ancients, by Richard Borg. This game is part of a series of games that utilize the same basic mechanic, though each game is customized to reflect the technology and tactics in use at the time. Actually, what I played was a scenario from the first expansion pack, which focuses on Greece and their battles with the Eastern Kingdoms, which generally means the Persian Empire, but not always.

All games utilitize the same playing board, which is 9 hexes deep by 13 hexes wide, and is divided into 3 wings (left, right, and center). Orders are given to units by use of command cards, the number of which varies from scenario to scenario. For example, I played a scenario of the battle of Marathon, and the Greek player got six cards, while the Persian player got five. The cards allow you to give orders to a number of units, or to take special actions. The trick here is that sometimes what you really want to do is to attack with some units on your right flank, but all of your cards are for units in your left or center wing, not the right. Or, you have heavy units to move, and thus need two cards to get them into contact with the enemy, but you only have one. So, do you march them forward, putting them in missile range of the enemy, and hope to draw that second card, or do you sit and wait? This is the key to strategy in the game. It can be highly frustrating to people who prefer much more detailed historical simulations, but it helps emulate the "fog of war" concept, as well as the fact that before the advent of radio communication, command and control was much less of a sure thing, and sometimes your wing commander was dumb and wouldn't do what he was told, or would screw it up.

I really like this game. It is a fairly light treatment of the subject of warfare in the ancient world, but it is a lot of fun. Each scenario takes two hours or less to play once you know the rules, so it isn't a huge time commitment like Rise and Fall of the Third Reich or Twilight Imperium. I should also note that the scenarios are usually set up for historical accuracy, rather than providing each player an equal chance at victory. Thus, sometimes one side is just hosed before play even begins. The best way to handle this is to take advantage of the short play time and play each scenario twice, with the players swapping sides. Thus, if one player wins both times, they are clearly the victor, and not simply the happy recipient of a good starting position.

No comments: