The Commands & Colors system helped me enormously in coming back to the wargaming hobby after break of many years. It was 2013 and Commands Colors Ancients landed at my doorsteps. I was simply captivated with the simplicity of the rules which created very deep and interesting tactical decisions; beauty of the components; replayability and multitude of scenarios; historical narrative and possibility to reenact some of the most famous engagements. I spent a lot of time soloing the game and than introduced my colleagues to the system.
Nine years have passed, I am playing now pretty broad array of wargames from various publishers. C&C is not landing at my table as often as in the past; still, it will always have a specials place in my heart and great sentiment 🙂 Of course, across the years I played also other games with that system. As my Chronicle shows, I am approaching 1000 sessions with that series – thus I decided to share my personal & subjective ranking of the titles in this genre.
So welcome to the fantastic world of Commands & Colors. Mr Borg – thank you for bringing this to us!
Other articles in the series:
While the system is pretty popular and widespread, I would like to briefly summarize its general concepts so we are all on the same page:
- The heart of the system is the command cards set(s) – which drives movement, creates a true fog of war and presents both challenges and opportunities.
- The second fundamental element are dices. The battle dice system resolves all combat efficiently and quickly, pretty well creating qualitative differentiation between units (be it via number of dices or ability to ignore hits from inferior / weaker formations)
- The games last usually up to 1 hour (depending on title and version – regular vs EPIC), are played on hexagonal map, most usually 9×13 or 11×13 hexes in size
So, without further adieu, let us look at my personal, subjective rating of the games!
Top 3 positions
1) C&C Ancients by GMT Games (total plays 640)
Ok, you are not surprised, don’t you? My first C&C game, the one which was a true cornerstone in my come-back to wargaming. And – if you look at the number of plays – also my most-ever-played-game-of-all. It is hard for me to express enough how I like it and appreciate the design. This is also the only C&C game I get to know so thoroughly that I played all official scenarios.
Let me go a little deeper into why this title appeals so much to me:
- simple rules system which still reflects all the advantages and weaknesses of the units of the period; really, no tweaks are needed!
- relative ease to learn the game with relative difficulty to really master it
- six expansions and tons of fan-made scenarios allowing for endless hours of joy
- fantastic components – the blocks feels great for the epoch, and while there were voices that miniatures might be better, I would never exchange wood for plastic
- very brutal, bloody and straightforward fight – some other C&C systems feature pretty prolonged fights; here, once Heavy Infantries get to each other, you really have an ancient-style, quick and devastating fight, often resulting in total carnage!
All this creates a very thematic, engrossing and interesting experience for a veteran of wargames or newbie looking for an entry point into that fantastic hobby.
If you would like to learn more about CCA, have a look at great articles by Brent:
- Skirmishing and Evasion in Command & Colors: Ancients by BrentS
- Breaking The Line, Holding The Line in C&C: Ancients by BrentS; Part 1
- Breaking The Line, Holding The Line in C&C: Ancients by BrentS; Part 2
- Breaking The Line, Holding The Line in C&C: Ancients by BrentS; Part 3
2) C&C Samurai Battles by GMT Games (total plays: 35)
The second position is taken by one of the newest titles in the series. GMTs Commands & Colors Samurai Battles is a great re-implementation of this classic title from Zvezda company. The game allow players to portray important engagements of Japanese history – mainly 15th century AD. To do it players will have not only standard blocks and dices but also two decks of cards – Command and Dragon ones. The Honor and Fortune system is great and adds another dimension to the tactics and strategies employed by opponents.
What I really like is grouping some of the scenarios into the linked, chronological and logically connected sets. This usually means some particular battle being separated into couple of phases. That process can be done based on timeline with battle interlude, main action and final phase. But we shall also see the split based on troops location – like overview scenario, left flank, right flank, etc. I find both approaches enjoyable and allowing for much closer familiarization with the particular historical event.
I can definitely recommend this both to veterans of the system but also to new players who would like to familiarize themselves with fantastic world of Commands and Colors.
3) The Great War by PSC (total plays 80)
The third place is taken by very interesting title. Many players, when PSC (Plastic Soldiers Company) announced World War I themed game, thought it is impossible to create a quality product on tactical level about that seemingly static, trenches-centered conflict. Well, they were wrong and another spark of genius of Mr Borg was delivered to us here.
Still, the beginning was not easy as the basic version used very hard plastic (easily broken when assembling figures) plus amount of scenarios was limited. However, with Expansion 1 (Tanks) and Expansion 2 (French Army) the game is great and proves to be tremendous product. Especially the addition of Special Personnel makes each scenario unique and interesting. Should you be interested in some of my strategy considerations, do not hesitate to have a look : Strategies – The Great War.
Now, the sad news: everything seems to confirm that PSC decided to discontinue that series. This is a real pity, as we really got here something extraordinary. Still, the hope dies last so maybe somewhere in the future….
Below I am presenting – with only short comment – other C&C games I played. They are sorted by number of plays as I do not differentiate so much among them, just provide my comments and brief impressions about each.
C&C Medieval by GMT Games (total plays: 64)
When it was announced, I had great expectations as for me it was a spiritual ancestor for the Ancients. And to be honest – I was not disappointed! Some players tend to see medieval period only as the one with knights, and France vs England. Nothing more erroneous! The Byzantine vs Sassanids struggles are very interesting and thematic while Inspire mechanics are quite unique to the system. We also got the news about Crusades expansion – unfortunately it is still in works and nobody knows when we can expect publication.
As and add-on, I was so interested in that title and how it compares to Ancients that I created special series of articles regarding this: C&C: Medieval vs Ancients Comparison. Enjoy!
C&C Napoleonics by GMT Games (total plays 63)
I know, I know – for many that would be #1. Well, from historical point of view this is not my period, and while I appreciate mechanics, I am much more prefer Ancients theme.
This is probably the most complex implementation of C&C system, with the strength of unit depending on number of blocks. This is also – just like Memoir’44 – one which underwent serious redesign with its expansions – Tactic Cards, EPIC & La Grand Battle scenarios, other small rules – that really improved the flow of the battles and allowed for deep, complex and interesting play. So if you like that epoch, definitely try it!
Memoir’44 by Days of Wonder (total plays: 58)
Memoir’44 brings another interesting story from the past which I would like to share here. Long time ago when I got C&C Ancients, one of my best wargaming friends decided to acquire Memoir. So as a good buddy, I played with him that title pretty extensively. We started from base version, but very quickly – due to his birthday – he got multiple expansions, like Winter Wars or Overlord.
For me, the game is unfortunately too simplistic for WWII – especially in its base version. Still, I really appreciated large-format battles in that system, playing many D-Day Landings scenarios like: Juno and Gold, Utah and Airborne and Omaha and Utah. Those I can definitely recommend!
BattleLore 1st edition by FFG (total plays: 17)
I played it only via Vassal, as two Mini-Tournaments – and only historical scenarios, not a fantasy ones. I tested the game, I liked some mechanics but in the end was not so much thrilled. Having the C&C Medieval now in place, it is probable I will not come back to that position soon.
Other titles – not enough plays to fully evaluate
Just as title says, these are the games where I would definitely love to play more to be able to share my full impressions. I am setting the threshold at 15 scenarios and once below games hit it, they will jump to the upper category.
C&C Tricorne by CompassGames (total plays: 11)
One of the newest additions to C&C series, played by me for the first time to commemorate 4th of July (Independence Day). I appreciate the rally mechanics and morale effect in that game – this is definitely something unique. So far our engagements usually end in two lines facing each other, trying to blast the enemy into the oblivion. Still, I like the mechanics and will for sure come back to it – especially as we have already two expansions to this!
Again, played only once as a Vassal Mini-Tournament, this was very interesting and bloody game, where leaders were falling like flies. When GMT reprinted the title, I immediately acquired the new version – and will probably will not come back to the old one anymore.
Got to know the game during the COVID lockdown, playing with friends via Vassal. Really liked the mechanism of setting up the forces, paying for battle back, additional move and other features with star tokens. What was missing for me was a complete lack of theme – well, Rebellion and Imperium again? That game might be so much better should proper focus be put to the theme. I can imagine using the Red Alert mechanics for some of the cavalry battles – would be fun to test!
Battles of Westeros by FFG (total plays: 1)
Freshly acquired by me title, which is built on Battle Lore concepts (same designer). So far I just played once but will be testing further. Definitely most unique from all Commands & Colors games I played so far.
Ok, let us admit it – I am big fan of Commands and Colors system. And I have a feeling that everybody can find here something for himself – be it from a thematic perspective (from Ancients to World War II), or a complexity perspective (from Memoir to Napoleonics). The system created by Mr Borg is vast, with very flexible rules. What strikes me most is how small changes and tweaks can result in completely different experience. If you have not yet, definitely try it!