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Cracked LCD- Dungeon! in Review

The first hobby game I ever bought was TSR’s Dungeon!, a game that’s seen a couple of editions over the years including a newly released one from Wizards of the Coast. I was six or seven and on vacation with my mom and dad at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Some family friends and their two kids were with us, and we wound up in a game shop at some point. I saw Dungeon! and had to have it. The parents thought it’d be a good idea to get us something to do in the hotel room, and that’s probably about where my birth as a game player occurred. I can still vividly remember playing the game and thinking how weird the monsters were- classic freakout D&D monsters like black puddings and such.

That was 30 years ago and a whole lot of game design innovations ago- but the game itself was originally published in 1975, the same year I was born. So this is definitely a vintage game and many modern gamers will shun it as a nostalgia trip. But I still love Dungeon! with all my heart, even though it’s definitely a stupid, outdated game by today’s standards. And by stupid and outdated, I mean that in the same way that The Ramones are. It’s defiantly old fashioned, simple, and direct and it really kind of flies in the face of the prevailing design idioms. The rules are almost negligible. I haven’t actually played the game in five years or so, but I didn’t even bother to read the rules before the first session with the new edition. It’s that easy.

It’s important to keep a couple of things in mind about this game, which is just about as simple and basic as a dungeon crawl game can be. One is that it is essentially the proto-dungeon crawl board game on which all others are based. This was Gary Gygax and company’s first attempt at putting Dungeons and Dragons into the context of a board game, and the idea is essentially to put characters on a map, put all the monsters on cards, and have the characters roll dice against a to-hit number on those cards. Beat them, and they hand you a treasure card which might be value toward victory or a magic sword. If you miss, they bite you and make you do stuff like lose a turn or a random treasure card. The whole thing is set up so that players have the liberty to explore any of the six levels they care to. But greater risks mean greater rewards.

It’s the inverse of games like Magic Realm and Mage Knight that seek to bring all of the detail and narrative of role-playing to a board game. It’s strictly about stabbing monsters and taking their stuff and trying to not get stabbed yourself and have your stuff taken. It’s closer to its ancestor Talisman in some ways and its roots lie in more traditional styles of family games. This is the other thing you’ve got to remember about Dungeon!- it’s not some highfalutin, fancy mechanic gamer’s game or anything like that. It’s intended to be a simple family game that anyone can play.

And to that end, it completely succeeds as long as you don’t come into it scratching your beard and harrumphing about its abstractions, elemental streamlining, and ruthless devotion to die-rolling. It’s good, dumb fun. It’s almost a litmus test, in my opinion. If you can’t kick back and enjoy a game of Dungeon! with all of its silliness, made-up narratives of failure, and loot-grabbing then you may not be the kind of person I like to play games with.

But you know who doesn’t get pissy about rolling dice, spend the entire game parroting Boardgamegeek.com dogma, or scratch their beards over “concerns” with the game mechanics? Kids. When I played this game for the first time I was a kid and I’ve played it far more as a kid than as an adult. This is the perfect game to introduce even small children to hobby-style board games, fantasy gaming, or even the very basic concepts of Dungeons and Dragons. Kids will make up their own stories and use their imagination to make the simplicity of the game into a narrative that’s far more fun than if the game had reams of flavor text and detailed combat mechanics and class differences. My son is only two now, but as soon as I think he can handle it, I’m playing Dungeon! with him.

And it’ll probably be this version, although I am somewhat disappointed at how bare-bones it is. Over the years, some editions of the game have added new characters and minor rules variants and additional material was published in Dragon Magazine. None of that is here, and it feels like a missed opportunity to make this the ultimate, definitive version of the game.

But what am I bitching about, this is a twenty dollar board game. Online you can find it for as low as $13. It comes in a flat, trim box and the components aren’t Fantasy Flight quality but they’re plentiful. There are no miniatures, just stand-ups for the characters. But let me repeat- this is a twenty dollar board game. So shut up about it, OK?

I’m glad to see Dungeon! back in print yet again. It’s one of the rare games that I have two copies of. Some years ago I found a shrinkwrapped copy of the 1981 version in an antiques store for $15, and since that was sort of my inception point in the hobby, I had to have it. It’s an important game for me, and really it’s kind of an important game to the hobby, a relic from a time when there was no internet for people to whine about made-up bugbears like “the luck factor” or balancing “issues”. It’s a relic from a time when a game being just plain fun was good enough.

Cracked LCD- Spartacus in Review

If you’ve seen the Starz Network’s blood-soaked sword-and-sandal show Spartacus, you may not be as surprised as other board gamers might be to find that the new game based on it contains a card called “Jupiter’s Cock”. Between that R-rated card (which you will, in fact, use to screw other players), a very specific rulebook admonition warning players “don’t be an ass”, and the subtitle “a Game of Blood and Treachery”, fans of brutally nasty board games rife with player interaction and bad behavior should be aware that they are in for quite a treat. Coming to us from Gale Force Nine, a company better known for miniatures accessories, Spartacus is something of a surprise hit. It’s a theme-first game like Dune or Battlestar Galactica and although it doesn’t quite ascend to those dizzying heights of genius design it definitely captures the visceral and gleefully trashy nature of the show without apology.

One thing that’s immediately striking about the game is that it’s something like Junta in that it’s a fairly simple take-that card game with an entirely different board component sort of welded on to it. On the front end, players represent the Dominus of one of Capua’s rival houses with the goal of earning influence to win the game. Influence is also something of a resource, controlling hand size and the play of Intrigue cards that may benefit you and your allies or do horrible things to your foes and former allies. There’s a neat design trick during the cardplay portion of the game in that players can- and in fact must- partner up to combine influence to play certain cards. This creates tons of conflict and opportunities for scheming and betrayal because there are virtually no limits on when money (or promises) can be exchanged, and no deal is binding. So you may ask the Batiatus player for his help to play a card that gives a target Dominus some money with the promise of splitting. But then that card may actually poison one of his gladiators and drop an injury token on him.

There are also reaction cards as well as Guards that can be played face-up as a kind of deterrent. They’ll thwart scheme cards, but there’s a die roll involved. The take-that part of the game is fast, fun, and practically guaranteed to piss somebody off. It’s the kind of simple, direct interaction that many games lack. It’s gruesome. Money changing hands, battle lines are drawn, and grudges develop that may even outlast the game’s playtime. Play it in the spirit of the game, and don’t be an ass about it. It’s in the rules.

Once everyone has had a go playing cards, there’s a round of trading where players can exchange assets or money and then a simple closed-fist auction. The market deck offers new assets for the Domini to bid on, including slaves (which the game calls “slaves”), gladiators, and gladiating equipment. Slaves generate coin and often have special abilities. Gladiators cost a buck a piece to maintain and they do their thing in the arena- where suddenly you’re playing a different game. One of the items up for bid every turn is the privilege of hosting a gladiator match. It earns your house influence, and you also get to invite two gladiators to fight. Hosting can be quite a powerful position because if your invitation is declined, a house can lose favor- and there may be situations where a house has no capable gladiator to send to the arena. Players particularly aggrieved during the Intrigue phase may bribe the Host to slot them against their adversary. Or the Host may pit a player with a tooled-up champion like Crixus against one with nothing to show but a no-name scrub to effectively fix the fight.

Once gladiators are selected, two figures are put on the hex-based arena board. All players get to wager on the outcome, which includes injury and decapitation outcomes that have a higher payout. The two combatants maneuver and throw tons of dice at each other in a simple but dramatic battle. Each gladiator has three stats representing a number of dice, and the dice are actually the hitpoints. Once someone runs out of one or more categories of dice, it’s over and the winning wagers pay out. The Dominus in charge of the winning gladiator earns game-winning influence.

The combat system runs a touch long with a few too many die rolls per encounter and I wish that it allowed for a little more complexity, but there are some welcome details. Gladiators that win consistently earn favor and can become in-demand champions, earning their Dominus money just for showing up. Faster gladiators can usually get a jump on their slower opponents and knock off some dice before the counterattack. And at the end of a battle that doesn’t end in a decapitation, the host gets to thumbs up or thumbs down the vanquished. And of course, bribes may be accepted to sway the decision.

If it’s not already abundantly clear, the designers of this game placed a very high premium not only on expressing the subject matter but also on player friction, drama, and alliances of convenience. In this sense, it feels something like a descendant of EON’s designs, whether the influence was present or not. It isn’t as tightly designed and there are some issues mostly tied to pacing and development over the course of the game. I think it feels too long- if this were an hour game, it would be this year’s King of Tokyo, no doubt, and I’d be penciling it in for a Game of the Year slot. But games can run three hours and it just isn’t quite that epic in scope. It’s a dynamic game with three major mechanical sections and varied gameplay, but there’s a sense of repetition as the game wears on with the same short-term goals every turn. I’m also disappointed that the game only supports four players- this is a game I’d gladly play with six- or possibly even more- players, even with an extended length. The larger field of people to screw over and put down in the arena could make this game legendary. I definitely feel confident that four players that like this kind of eye-to-eye bloodbath will have a great time with the game but I’d say that the two and three player option should probably be skipped.

Spartacus is a smart, fun design with a definite bite and it’s really quite unlike anything else on the market today. It’s an inexpensive title as well, with a $40 retail and decent components that include lots of images from the show. Surprisingly, there’s much more beefcake than cheesecake on display so if you’re into good-looking bare-chested men it’s a bonus feature in a package truly befitting mighty Jupiter.

Last Night on Earth Review

Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game from Flying Frog

I don’t believe there’s a meme in all of geekdom that’s been used and abused quite as much as the good old zombie. It’s been in films, books, comics and videogames that span the chasm between sublime art to complete trash. And speaking of trash, you’ll find a hundred of them in Zombies!!! which is perhaps the worst hobby board game ever committed to card and plastic. But game-playing zombie fans need not despair, because there are many better zombie games to try. One of them is Last Night on Earth, and the question is: how much better?

Well for starters, compare the box of Last Night on Earth with that of “generic zombie game #346”. Notice anything different? GZG #346 will certainly have some low-grade pop art on the front. Last Night on Earth, by contrast, features photo-based art of actors and actresses in costumes and special effects makeup. It’s a striking and realistic look (realistic enough to terrify my children) which is carried on throughout the card art. There’s also plenty of well-sculpted plastic miniatures of heroes and zombies inside the box and a pleasingly gloomy modular board. The photo art isn’t to everyone’s tastes: some people think it looks tacky. Personally, I love it and with the other high quality components I felt compelled to list this as one of the five best looking games ever made.

There’s also a CD in the box which is allegedly filled with “atmospheric” synthesizer music. A most unusual gimmick, but the less we say about this the better.

So we’ll move swiftly on to the game play. The rules are pretty simple. Usually one player is the zombie master and four heroes are distributed amongst the remaining players. Zombies move one space per turn and spawn continually at the board edges. Heroes can choose either to move or, if they’re in a building, to search for items. They roll a dice to determine movement, a mechanic that seems to be frowned on nowadays but which works perfectly well here since they can still choose to move any amount up to the dice roll, and get to see the dice before they decide to move or search. So there’s enough choice to keep things interesting. Combat is highest dice wins. Heroes roll more dice but need doubles to actually kill a zombie, otherwise simply fending off the ravenous undead and leaving it to fight another day. That’s the essence.

Last Night on Earth in play
Given the rules are so simple then, you might be surprised to find the internet littered with extensive FAQ’s about the game. The reason for this is that each side gets a substantial deck of cards with varied and colorful effects to put into play that modify the core concepts of the game in various ways. There are weapon cards for the heroes, and they’ll need them if they hope to kill zombies rather than just survive their attacks, and lots of event cards for both sides. Most add appropriate narrative and are exciting to use, such as an effect that suddenly traps a hero in a dark building full of zombies, or another that boards up windows and doors to limit zombie movement. A few are also silly such as the titular “Last Night on Earth” card that causes a pair of mixed-gender heroes to lose a turn. Mix in these card effects with a unique power for each hero in the game, and it appears to be a recipe for confusion.

So if the rules and cards and powers together end up as a chaotic mess, that makes it a bad game, right? Well, frankly if you’re stopping this game every few minutes to look up an official ruling for a card effect, then you’re playing it wrong. This isn’t a game where you should be examining rules minutiae to gain the upper hand. It tells a wild and thrilling narrative arc, and tells it well. It’s about throwing dice, slapping down cards, making zombie noises whilst exulting at the highs and complaining at the lows. Given that it usually plays in 60-90 minutes, the time frame fits the mechanics pretty well. If you can relax, play from the hip and just go where the ride takes you then most of the time it’ll take you on an exciting session of horror themed board gaming.

That probably makes it sound like a zero strategy game. And while it’s pretty lightweight, there’s a little more going on here than some people seem to give it credit for. Oddly this has very little to do with card play and management as is often the case in these sorts of games. Mostly you’ll play cards as you get them, or engineer situations where you can use them. No, the strategy is all positional. One of the more unusual and interesting mechanics is that the central outdoor squares are bigger than the indoor ones at the board edges, so you can cover more ground in open areas. Moving across the central area thus become a rather fraught exercise for the heroes. The zombie player has to try and distribute his undead to catch heroes dashing from cover to cover in a hideous parody of tag whilst being mindful of a rule that forces his pieces to attack adjacent heroes. It’s not too difficult, but it’s not entirely brainless either.

Last Night on Earth - some zombie cards

To improve both replayability and the storytelling angle of the game, it offers a variety of scenarios. The basic one just sees the heroes needing to rack up a certain number of zombie kills before a turn limit expires but it’s tense and fun for all that. Another sees the open center of the board replaced with a manor house which the heroes must defend for as long as possible, and that makes the most of the tactical side of the game. The rest are problematic because they all depend on the heroes drawing certain cards from the deck to win, so sometimes they’ll do it easily and sometimes it’s impossible depending on how the shuffle goes. Thankfully there are several very good scenarios you can download from the publishers website to replace those annoying search based ones and retain the replay value and variety offered by a scenario based game.

Genuine scares aren’t something that a board game can offer. You need to be too much in control of your fate and in possession of too much information when boardgaming to make fear a realistic possibility. Last Night on Earth therefore wisely aims at the tackier end of the zombie market and pulls it off extremely well indeed. From the shlock-horror artwork to the twist and turn game play and the B-movie narrative of the scenarios there’s a ton of fun to be had with this. It doesn’t always work: games occasionally run long and exhaust the value of the strategically lightweight gameplay, and sometimes the cards and dice don’t work their random magic and the game falls flat and lifeless. But mostly it does work, and the cheap afternoon horror matinee unfolding on the table before you will, like cheap features everywhere, suck you into its box of bad taste delights.

Rex: The Final Days of an Empire Review

Rex: The Final Days of an Empire from Fantasy Flight Games, a re-design of the famous Dune game from Eon

Over 30 years ago, the famous Eon board game design team released Dune, a game based on Frank Herbert’s famous science fiction novel of the same name, and so far ahead of its time that gamers in the early 80’s weren’t quite sure what to make of it. After a reasonable print run, it vanished, never to return again thanks to the legal complexities surrounding the licensing of Herbert’s intellectual properties. And in the meantime its reputation, fueled no doubt by its unavailability, grew, and grew, and grew, as did the price of second hand copies.

After heroic wrangling with the parties involved, Fantasy Flight Games managed to get hold of permission to reuse the mechanics, but not to place them in the Dune universe. So they instead opted to shift the action to their own Twilight Imperium setting and the result, after years of waiting, is Rex. The publisher sent me a review copy so I could find out for myself whether it was worth the wait.

Since this is effectively a reprint of the earlier game, I cannot reasonably review it without reference to its predecessor. The exalted reputation of Dune rested on two things. First, the astonishing manner in which it tied theme to gameplay with a minimum of fuss: the six asymmetric factions in the game worked and acted as you’d expect from the book and each play of the game felt like a grand re-telling of the nefarious political and military machinations of the book, but without ever seeming like it scripted the players into certain paths and with no more than a few pages of rules. The second was its extraordinary mechanics in which very little was random and nothing was hidden from all the players: everyone was allowed access to something that other people didn’t know. It that way it was very much in the vein of the carefully balanced, non-random, tight designs of modern European games, except this was the US of 20 years ago, and in a vicious conquest game that took 3-5 hours to play.

Personally, I had mixed feelings about Dune. Admired from a distance it was a hugely impressive design. At the coalface, though, I found that the game seemed fiendishly calculated to induce galloping paranoia in the players. The piecemeal nature of information sharing left you continually wondering who knew what. The bidding round, which saw everyone participating in an auction for face-down cards that might be useless or game-winners or anything inbetween, and only one player knew what each one was. The combat mechanic, where the belligerents secretly dialled the losses they were willing to take, added hidden attack and defence cards and hidden leaders, with winner wiping out the opposition. I found the glimmers of half-reliable information added up to a situation where I was almost paralysed by indecision, and the anxiety induced by the game went from beyond pleasantly tense to borderline unbearable.

The combat dial in Rex, source of much angst and paranoia here as it was in Dune

There’s also an unfortunate side effect to inserting economic and material aspects to a game that rests on Diplomacy-like negotiation between players. Namely, that the resulting alliance discussions can become lengthy and their implementation revolve around complex contractual arrangements. Different groups ended up with differing levels of details for these arrangements, but it always seemed to be an issue to some degree. I found these quickly became tedious and annoying, as I would rather have a game based more heavily around clever strategies than contractual small print.

But while it wasn’t entirely to my taste, there’s no denying that the wheeler-dealing and paranoid nature of Dune play was a near-perfect realisation of the machiavellian politics of the original books. And here, finally, we get to talk about Rex. Because of the theme shift, a generation of gamers who get to play this, and not Dune, are going to miss out on possibly one of the very best intermarriages of theme and mechanics in the entire history of board gaming. Everything has changed in Rex: factions have different names, slightly different powers, the board is fairly seriously different. The designers have struggled valiantly to manage the transition from Dune to the Twilight Imperium universe, but aspects of it grate badly. Why does collection of the games’ intangible currency of “influence”, for example, depend on the physical number of troops you have in an area? Makes sense with the original currency of spice, but with influence, not so much. Aficionados of Herbert’s universe are going to be disappointed with Rex, but that was always going to be the case. More unfortunate is that the partly-pasted theme detracts slightly from the pleasure and immersion of play generally.

However, the decoupling from the Dune universe also meant that the designers had more leeway to tinker with the mechanics of the game. Much has been made of the major changes, such as players now moving troops before paying to land more soldiers on the board whereas in Dune you landed before moving. That makes a difference to strategy, sure, but it’s actually a knock on requirement from some other smaller changes in the game. And it’s buried within those smaller changes that, for me, the most important alterations lie, alterations that might not have made sense if there was still an overwhelming need to include a theme of political plotting and double-dealing. Like the fact that all the useless cards got removed so that while there’s still a significant power variable in what’s on offer, your money is never wasted. Or that secret dealing or writing stuff down is no longer allowed. It’s a curious one, that, because seeing it spelled out in that fashion is very unusual, and therefore one might think that it was critical to the play, and yet gamers everywhere seem to be ignoring it and allowing the game to run like Dune.

This great sculpt of orbital battleships takes the place of Dune's storm marker in Rex

That is, in my opinion, a serious mistake. This isn’t Dune, but out of necessity a different game based on similar mechanics. It’s Rex. And without useless cards in the deck, the horrible anxiety of the bidding is lessened. Without the secret deals, and the ability to write out contractual details, the problem of overly-complex alliance terms falls away and with it some of that unbearable paranoia. And alongside that, the game plays much faster and more smoothly. Indeed, judging from other changes, I think that play speed a key difference between the two and an important design goal for Rex. There’s more currency in Rex, and stuff costs less, so people get more troops on the board, quicker. The board is smaller and troops move faster, so battles come earlier in the game and are more frequent. There are less rounds, so players feel forced to try and make decisive moves in a timely manner. This, with experience and played by the rules as written, is a 2-3 hour game rather than a 3-5 hour one. And that makes a big difference.

Simply put, Fantasy Flight have effectively Eurofied Dune. It’s shorter, tighter, more accessible than the original and the focus is more on leveraging its cool mechanics than on the details of inter-player negotiation. It’s not a Euro, of course, as there’s still a lot of diplomacy, a lot of backstabbing and lots and lots of violent confrontation, but it’s recast the old game firmly in the mold of modern design paradigms. They’ve even marginally improved the ability to play with less than six, a notorious problem with the original, although six are still required to get the most out of the game. And for my money, in modernising it, the mechanical play of the game has actually been improved. It’s just a shame that the wonderful theme had to be sacrificed along the way to get there.

Ultimately it’s a trade off. What Rex loses in terms of thematic integration and charm, it gains in playability. How much that’s going to bother you, and whether it’s sufficient to make you want to put in the money and time required to buy or make a copy of the original is a choice for the individual gamer. Personally, I still find the intensely neurotic quality and predictive aspects of play a little too much, although it’s better in Rex than in the original. But what’s undeniable is that the core mechanics remain utterly, compellingly unique in the genre of dudes on a map gaming, and you owe it to yourself to try them, even if you don’t buy them, in whatever form you feel best suits.

Commands & Colors Expansions Review

Commands and Colors Spartan & Spanish army expansions for the Ancients & Napoleonics base games
And so we arrive and the third and final entry in the series covering GMTs Commands & Colors games, looking at expansions. Ostensibly this is a review of the Spanish army expansion for Commands & Colors: Napoleonics game and the Spartan expansion for the Commands & Colors: Ancients game but in order to frame these properly, I’m going to have to delve more deeply into the system as a whole.

I have always said that Commands & Colors: Ancients is the best of this overly-large and diverse series, but only as a stand-alone game. If you’re willing to commit money and time to buying several expansions then ultimately, Memoir ‘44 by Days of Wonders pips it at the post in terms of game play, if not simulation value. The reason for this is simple: the Memoir ‘44 game has some important flaws, especially in terms of scenario design. Each of its three army expansions then does two important things. Firstly, they offer superior scenarios to those in the base game. Second, and more importantly, each has a simple new rule, applying to all the troops in the new army, that significantly differentiates they way they play from the basic Germans and US troops in the base game meaning you get more of the same fun from the base game alongside some interesting new stuff to revive your flagging enthusiasm. The best example of this is the Commissar rule from the Soviet expansion which requires the Russian player to select his command card a turn in advance, simultaneously making playing the army a very different experience, upping the tension and excitement in the game and encouraging the player to think and plan ahead more clearly. That’s a pretty amazing transformation for one simple rule.

The Commands & Colors: Ancients expansions, of which Spartans is, quite incredibly, the sixth and allegedly the last, have not followed this pattern. Instead each box has included the blocks and stickers for one or two new armies, one or both of which will have the odd new unit type for which there may be news rules or sometimes just slightly different statistics. There will be a whole bunch of new scenarios, one or two of which will give you some interesting special rules. If you’re heavily into history, then there’s plenty of value here. You’ll like that each army has new historically accurate artwork and is made up of an authentically proportioned unit mix, even if most or all of those unit types are identical to those of the base game. You’ll appreciate the fact that the new scenario books allow you to re-fight new and exciting battles from ancient history, even if quality-wise they’re no better than those in the base game. You’ll get a kick out of the overall novelty of the experience, even if strategically it’s no deeper than the base game, and no more exciting.

If you’re not so bothered about the history, then most of the new stuff will pass you by because in terms of actual game-play, most of the expansions simply don’t add enough new things to make them different enough from the base game to be worth your time and money. There are twenty scenarios in the base game, all of which are asymmetric and most of which are worth playing several times from each side, and for the majority of gamers that’s more than enough play time to exhaust interest in the system. There’s simply no need to go adding expansions to an already very good game.

Commands & Colors: Ancients Spartan blocks at the battle of Thermopylae

So what about Spartans? Well, for starters to play it you also need the first expansion, Greece & the Eastern Kingdoms, to make use of it. This is currently out of print, although a re-issue is in the works. Beyond what’s in that expansion, Spartans really doesn’t offer a lot of significantly new material. The single new unit is the Hoplite which is a standard medium infantry unit that can also be ordered by cards that affect mounted units, making them slightly more flexible than normal medium infantry. That’s pretty much it and I have to say I find that disappointing, possibly indicative of expansion fatigue. Alongside the Spartan army blocks, it has some other Greek blocks, such as the famous Silver Shields, which can be used in place of stand-in blocks in scenarios from the first expansion. Where things start to improve is in the scenarios: there are several very famous battles represented in this expansion, including two covering the battle of Thermopylae, which pretty much everyone must have heard of after the film 300. And they don’t disappoint: the Thermopylae scenarios themselves are the best of them. But, as I already said, there are a lot of very good scenarios in the base game. So this one really is for Commands & Colors fans with a particular bent for Greek history, and them alone. There’s simply not enough new and interesting here for more casual players to bother.

The Spanish Army expansion on the other hand, the very first of several planned expansions for the Napoleonics outing of the Commands & Colors system, is a closer match for the Memoir ‘44 model. Spanish blocks, in a horrible shade of dirty yellow, follow the same basic pattern as the French and British units from the base game but there are two important differences. Firstly Spanish infantry units suffer serious penalties for moving and firing, which represents their lower grade training and equipment compared to other European counterparts. Second the Spanish player has access to guerrilla warfare tokens which can be spent to cancel enemy command cards, effectively making him lose a turn. A whole turn, and yes, that’s just as powerful as it sounds. These two differences do what’s required and mean commanding the Spanish army requires significantly different approaches from base game troops. The nerf to moving and firing means you can’t confidently advance over open ground and trust to averages to limit the attritional damage you take, forcing you to find new ways to get to grips with the enemy. And this dovetails nicely, of course, with those guerilla rules, because they give you one possible way of doing just that. But mixed in are issues of timing, because tokens are limited and you’d better make sure you use them only when you need them.

They really could have chosen something other than dirty yellow for the Spanish blocks in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics

Scenarios, again, are at the same level of quality as the base game. There are also two new French unit types to add to the mix. It’s unfortunate that relatively few people will know much about the conflict between France and Spain during the Napoleonic wars (I didn’t) as it may limit interest and immersion in what, technically speaking, is a good and well-designed expansion.

So there you have it: possibly the longest introduction ever to two very short reviews, one negative and one positive. But it’s necessary, I think, because as the Commands & Colors system becomes more bloated with options, gamers need more information to make informed choices about what they do and don’t need. At least that seems a good excuse for my usual excessive verbosity, and I’m sticking to it.