Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Feb 6, 2007 - Battle Cry Review (part 1 of 4 on the Command and Colors games)

This is part one of a four of a series of reviews I’m doing on the Richard Borg Command and Colors series. Each review will look at the game in its own light, as well as how it compares to the others in the series.

Battle Cry, which was released in 2000 by Avalon Hill/Hasbro, was the first game of the Command and Colors series to be published. The game was a light war game style game set in the Civil War. The mark of this game was the simplistic system for combat, as well as a card driven order system.

For each game, players take one side (Confederate or Union) and set up the game board according to the scenario booklet. The game board, which is made of large hexes, is divided into three sections (left and right flanks, and of course the middle). The setup consists of placing and terrain hexes on the map (to simulate different battlefields) and then placing infantry, cavalry, artillery and on occasion, a General unit. The setup for each scenario is set and doesn’t allow for any player configuration. The scenarios also indicate how many command cards each side starts with and which side moves first.

Each player takes his turn by playing a command card from their hand. The card indicates which section (left right middle) the player may order units, and how many units may receive orders. First the player chooses which units to order, then the selected units may move. Units have different movement restrictions on how far they may move, and if they can participate in combat if they move. After all movement is completed, combat is resolved. The player rolls dice depending on their distance from the unit being attacked and may modify the number of dice rolled based on terrain, whether a general is attached to the unit and possibly card modifiers. The die have unit symbols indicating if a unit has been hit or must retreat or been missed altogether. For this game, the die have two sides indicating infantry, one side for cavalry, one side for artillery, one wildcard hit (crossed sabers) and one retreat symbol (flag). If the symbol matches the unit under attack, that unit loses a “portion” of its strength. Infantry have 4 strength, Cavalry 3, and Artillery 2. Each flag is the number of spaces a unit must retreat back to their side. If a unit is blocked from retreating, it loses strength. If a unit must retreat off the back of the board, it is lost, regardless of strength (this is a major difference from the rest of the series). A unit always fights at the same power, regardless of how “wounded” it has become. When a unit is completely reduced in strength, the opposing player receives a standard bearer from that unit indicating a victory point. Scenarios are typically played to 6 VPs, first to get 6 wins.

The components for this game are a mixed lot. The plastic army pieces are quite good in blue and grey and there are colorful flag stickers for the standard bearers. The board and terrain hexes are good quality and will stand up for many plays. There are plenty of dice and they are of a good weight. They are however, the standard dice that Avalon Hill/Hasbro put out with a large number of games during this time, and so require stickers be applied to each side. This is not only tedious, but annoying if you are the least bit anal about this sort of thing. The cards are large and plain, but are not what you would consider standard cardstock, but rather cut cardboard with only the thinnest of finishes. The instruction booklet is quite plain and mostly black and white text (though it was printed on glossy paper – go figure). Though fairly spartan, the instructions are straight forward and its easy to follow.

- It a fun light battle game.

- Though not the best of the series, the pacing and way the battles play out are more “realistic” as far as feel for this era go than say Memoir 44.

- Games are played out quickly.

- Balance. A large part of this series is the balance factor. Though a scenario may be biased, by each player playing both sides and the winner being determined by the total of the two scores, any imbalance from the basic setup is neutralized.

- Easy to play via Email. This one plays very well over VASSAL, as each player’s turn is mostly self contained and requires little feedback (in over 18 games, direction of retreat has almost never been an issue). In fact, nearly all my playings have been via email/vassal.

- It’s not a simulation. True war gamers cringe when people call this a war game (even a light war game).

- It can take as long to setup as it does to play. Setup in this Command and Colors game is one of the faster ones, since the units are almost always infantry, but it still takes a while and this C&C game tends to use the terrain.

- If you somehow find a new copy of this out of print game, putting on all the pennants is a pain. The dice are also a bit of a pain.

- The cards aren’t the best and I have to question how long they’ll last.

- As I mentioned, this game is out of print. Though not impossible to find (as of early 2007), it does fetch a good price point on EBay, even for used copies.

- The entire game system is full of random goodness. From the cards to the dice that determine casualties. A well played game doesn’t always mean victory.

This one is a solid 8 for me. I enjoy the differences of this from the others – slower early part of the game with a furious mid-game and often a quick endgame (though on occasion, a bad hand of cards can draw out the game longer than it should). The pace of play, for me, simulates the battles for this era perfectly in such a light game. The system has its randomness, but I can accept that especially since it will even out over the course of a number of games.

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