Command and Colors Variants
So, I played a game of Memoir ’44 with Don this weekend while waiting for a program to finish installing and, let’s just say it was sort of a shock. Don and I used to play a lot of it, so I was pretty used to how it played. But now that I have had a steady diet of BattleLore of late (really, reacquainting myself with the rules), and Command and Colors: Napoleonics prior to that, I must say I was shocked at how “primitive” the Memoir ’44 rules felt. Immediately after that I started playing Memoir ’44 Online and I can say the feeling did not go away.
So, for me the progression of being introduced to Richard Borg’s games was as follows:
Command and Colors: Ancients
Every Memoir ’44 expansion, as they came out
Battle Cry! (Avalon Hill, not the 2010 Hasbro re-issue)
Every Command and Colors: Ancients expansion
Every Battlelore expansion, save the last three
Command and Colors: Napoleonics
The last three BattleLore expansions
I am at the point now that I pretty much buy every expansion as they come out, but I honestly have not played every scenario of every game. Given the situation with copies being scarce, out-of-print, and/or not being re-printed, once I know I like a system, I pretty much the expansions “just in case”. (In helps to have a lot of storage space available when you are afflicted with such mental disorders.)
By the way, I haven’t even mentioned the games that are Borg-like, such as Battle of Westeros or Clash for a Continent (Hold the Line). Fortunately, I have not gotten the expansion bug for Battle of Westeros (yet) despite the fact that I like the game.
It was as I was recovering from my shock at how Memoir ’44 played (compared to BattleLore) that I started to go over in my mind the differences between each game system. These were the areas that I thought about:
- Number of limited resources to manage
- Ratio of movement to combat range
- Terrain effects
- Number of dice thrown (in battle)
- Dice thrown reduced by range?
- The Odds of Hitting
- Battle back?
- Evading combat
- Dice thrown reduced by “casualties”?
It is the combination of how each of these elements are modeled that makes each game unique. And it is the model, or lack thereof, that makes some of these games surprisingly different.
Number of Limited Resources to Manage
What I mean by ‘limited resources’ is the number of game mechanisms that require management by the player, giving them strategic or tactical choices. The Command card hand is the primary example. All of the games in this series have that element in common. Also, all have the players manage about four to six Command cards in a typical game, although that can rise with Epic/Overlord sized games, or games with allies.
However, Memoir ’44 also has Combat cards (Urban and Winter, so far) as an additional resource for the player to manage, offering richer play. BattleLore is by far the leader, with Command cards, Lore cards, and Lore tokens to manage (the last in both a common pool and associated with special units). With the Heroes expansion, the play gets even richer.
Ratio of Movement to Combat Range
This aspect determines how effective ranged combat (any combat that occurs between non-adjacent units) is in comparison to close combat (any combat that occurs between adjacent units). Another way of looking at it is whether the game is played in slow motion or not.
Memoir ’44 has a combat range of 3 hexes for infantry and a movement of one to three hexes. This gives a ratio of Movement to Combat Range of 1:3 for typical units and 2:3 for elite units. BattleLore, on the other hand, typically has a ratio of 1:2 for archers (however it is more like 1:4 for heavy infantry). Command and Colors: Napoleonics also has a 1:2 ratio. Battle Cry!, on the other hand, has a ratio of 1:4!
So, what does all of this mean? Well, the lower the ratio, the more effect ranged combat has on the game than close combat does. It is not the sole factor, of course, and other elements may make ranged combat more or less effective, altering the game balance between ranged and close combat. Another effect of a lower ratio is that it feels more like it is running in slower motion. A game that requires you undergo three rounds of ranged combat before you get into close combat will feel slower than if you only undergo one round of ranged combat first.
This is probably the hardest part of switching between the games. Terrain typically has two effect: movement, and combat. Movement effects, if any, are forcing the unit to stop upon entering the terrain feature. Woods are a good example of consistency, when it comes to movement, in that you have to stop when entering this terrain (although there are exceptions by unit type, in most games). Where the games typically differ is in the effect on combat. In general, there are two combat effects: line of sight and battle dice reduction.
Again, line of sight is pretty consistent between versions, with only Battle Cry1 being different with regards to hills. The greatest differences are in battle dice reductions. In most terrain in Memoir ’44, for example, a unit moving into terrain cannot battle on the turn it moved. There are some exceptions, of course, but for most terrain that holds true. In BattleLore, however, it is the exact opposite; being forced to stop on terrain rarely causes the unit to forego an attack.
The reduction in battle dice, however, is not equally applied. For example, a hill in Memoir ’44 causes the reduction of a single battle die, unless going from hill to hill. In BattleLore, however, as the average dice thrown is between two and four dice, fighting uphill causes between zero and two dice lost while fighting downhill or across can cause up to one die lost (but rarely any). Woods are even worse.
Terrain probably has the greatest effect in Command and Colors: Napoleonics, especially against cavalry. There are typically effects for fighting into and out of terrain, so fighting from woods to woods, for example, carries the effect of the attacker fighting out of their hex and fighting into the defender’s hex. Terrain frequently reduces cavalry attacks to zero dice, which makes terrain much more dominant in battle than in say, Memoir ’44.
1 Here I am referring to the older Avalon Hill version in the blue and gray box. Not the newer version published in 2010.
Number of Dice Thrown in Battle
The number of dice thrown generally indicates how fast units are removed. Memoir 44, for example, generally throws one to three dice. Command or Combat cards can raise that up, but usually only by a single die. BattleLore and Command and Colors: Ancients on the other hand use throw dice based on the color of the unit, so the number is typically two to four dice thrown. BattleLore in particular can often have this number increased substantially by weapons, Command cards, or Lore cards. In a recent game I saw an arbalest shot throw seven dice, due to Command and Lore card modifications. (Ironically, it only inflicted one hit!)
Are Battle Dice Reduced by Range?
This is one factor that differentiates Memoir ’44 and Battle Cry! from BattleLore and Command and Colors: Ancients or Napoleonics. The first two dictate the number of dice according to the range of the combat, while the remainder do not (although they may differentiate between ranged and close combat).
This factor, along with the number of dice thrown, tends to make Memoir ’44 the game that throws the fewest dice in combat. It would be the least bloody game, if not for the next factor.
The Odds of Hitting
The basic chance to hit in ranged or close combat dramatically affects the speed of the game. In Memoir ’44, the most common unit is infantry, which is hit 50% of the time. Even armor is hit 33% of the time, so despite this game throwing the fewest dice on average, it tends to be bloodier. (Artillery is tough to kill, having only a 16% to hit it.) In BattleLore and Command and Colors: Ancients the basic chance of hitting infantry is 33% and mounted generally even less2.
Command and Colors: Napoleonics is a little different, in that close combat is deadlier. Generally the chance is 33% in ranged combat and 50% in close combat, while cavalry and artillery are 16% for ranged and 33% for close combat. But, like Memoir ’44, it singles out infantry for a higher ratio of loss than in the color-oriented battle systems.
2 Mounted generally can ignore one Shield hit, which occurs 16% of the time on each die. As they cannot avoid all Shield hits, it is hard to calculate the average chance to hit a mounted unit.
How Does Battle Back Work?
Most people will say that the battle back mechanism is probably the greatest differentiation between the systems. There are basically three battle back mechanisms:
- You cannot battle back. All battles occur because you played a card and ordered a unit.
- You can battle back, but only under certain conditions. Ensuring those conditions exist as often as possible becomes strategy for play.
- You can always battle back (assuming you are not destroyed or forced to retreat).
The ability to battle back is probably one of the most fundamental differences in how the game mechanics affects strategy, in this series. In Command and Colors: Ancients (or when using the Battle Savvy rules in BattleLore) you have a tendency to be more careful in the attack, as a failed attack (i.e. one that does not destroy the enemy or force him to retreat) can hit you back for free. In BattleLore, without the Battle Savvy rules (or using the Iron Dwarves), unsupported units tend to draw a lot of attacks, including from units that are themselves unsupported.
In Memoir ’44, where neither battle back nor support (the ability to ignore retreats due to having adjacent friendly units) exists, units tend to do the opposite, they do not cluster up (as blocked retreat paths cause extra casualties) and they tend to attack unsupported with much greater frequency.
Can You Evade Combat?
Another nuance with the rules is the ability to evade close combat, generally with mounted units from foot units. Both Command and Colors (Ancients and Napoleonics) support the concept, but ironically BattleLore does not directly (it does support it through the play of Lore cards). I think this mechanic allows players to be more aggressive with their mounted troops against enemy foot troops.
Are Battle Dice Reduced by Unit Casualties?
This is, of course, what makes Command and Colors: Napoleonics unique, as it is the only rules in this series which reduces the number of battle dice thrown due to taking casualties (i.e. losing figures in a unit). A number of people have complained that they all don’t do this, but there have been some pretty good discussions about why the ‘constant power’. (Here is one on the Command and Colors: Ancients forum on BoardGameGeek.)
Bottom line, if you don’t like constant power, Command and Colors: Napoleonics is your only option … unless you play any number of decreasing power variants for all of the other games out there.
Well, this started out as a rant about how much less I like Memoir ’44, now that I have played a lot more BattleLore. That said, Memoir ’44 Online is pretty addictive, even if it does cost about $0.08 to $0.12 a game (it truly does beat Vassal in most regards), so I guess I won’t be giving up Memoir ’44 anytime soon. It might be interesting to try some variants using the factors listed above and mixing and matching them with existing games. Memoir ’44 with battle back, anyone?
Posted by Dale