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Posted on Mar 17, 2006 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

Command & Colors: Ancients – Boardgame Review

By Peter Bogdasarian

A player can use fast moving units to get behind the enemy line and cut off his retreat, creating the potential for a real slaughter if he inflicts several retreats on an attack, but there is a drawback to such a plan – since there is no facing for units, it’s just as easy for the defender (should he survive) to cut off the attacker’s line of retreat and turn the tables on the flanking attack. In this respect then, the game is too forgiving, as most ancient formations did not deal well with having enemy troops striking into their flanks or rears.

Ranged fire is good for pecking away at harassing enemy forces and driving back unsupported units. Because players will be rolling only a few dice per attack, with only a low chance of hitting (only unit symbols and flags count), it will take some time to wear a unit down with ranged fire. Better equipped missile units (bowmen and slingers) receive an additional hex of range, allowing them more breathing room when faced with advancing enemies.

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cnc_007.jpgClose combat is rather more savage – potentially for both sides! There are more dice used than in ranged fire and hits are more frequent as well (crossed swords count). However, if the attacker fails to drive the defender back, the attacked unit may launch its own counterattack, getting its own licks in for what it has suffered.

Should a unit be wiped out by an attack, there exists the opportunity to make a ‘Momentum Advance’ into the gap and even attack again, under the right circumstances. A successful sequence of attacks can thus lead to the rapid collapse of a battle line, encouraging players to think about how best to order their attacks.

Some units are also capable of evading close combat – these are principally skirmisher troops, though all cavalry can evade the attentions of enemy footmen. When a unit evades in close combat, it forfeits its chance to counterattack –in exchange for reducing the enemy’s chance to inflict losses upon it. Because the unit is already making a retrograde movement, it is immune to retreat results, which can be a lifesaver for units which might otherwise flee the field.

cnc_009.jpgSo how does the combat system measure up? I would describe it as so-so. Armor is given little attention in the system – heavy infantry eats up enemy heavy infantry just as fast as it does auxilia and medium infantry. Missile weapons, meanwhile, end up being especially potent in situations where the enemy must retreat – light cavalry, in particular, can all but disappear from a lucky fire combat roll. Casualties have no effect on the combat power of a unit so well-used units fight just as well as fresh ones (they just have more to lose). The ability of infantry skirmishers to evade enemy cavalry attacks also raises some eyebrows – just how fleet of foot are the velites depicted in C&C: Ancients?

As the above explanation shows, the rules are fairly straightforward and possess few ambiguities – rules questions have generally been answered in a timely fashion and a FAQ is being kept up on the official support site for the game.

The game ends when one player achieves a set number of victory points. Unusually, the amount required is the same for both players, regardless of the potential imbalance in the two armies. It is here that some of the schizophrenia in the motivations of the game evidences itself.

If C&C: Ancients is primarily focused on being a casual game (and so many of its other abstractions are justified by such), then handicapping the victory conditions to reflect a 50-50 balance shouldn’t present a problem. Yet, the game shies away from doing this, choosing instead to require the disadvantaged player to perform just as well as the other guy. The end result is that the sudden about-face from emphasizing the "game" to emphasizing the "history" can feel very awkward at times.

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The game comes with everything shown here (box, blocks, cards, dice, stickers, map, terrain hexes, and player aids).

C&C: Ancients definitely fills a niche – in the boardgaming world, its only modern competition is the much more complicated, even less balanced Great Battles of History series (also by GMT). For that reason alone, it may be a must buy for some folks. With the right fall of cards and dice, it can be a very tense game to play and provide its share of memorable moments. One does wonder though, if a little more development and design couldn’t have smoothed over its remaining faults and turned it into something truly special.

Other Features

Solitaire Suitability: Concealed hands add a certain amount of tension to the game, but there is often an optimal card play for gamers and knowledge of the opponents’ hand influences play less than one might think.

PBEM Support: A VASSAL module is available.

General Comments

Playing Time: 45-90 minutes, including set up and take down.

Complexity: I would peg C&C: Ancients as being a few steps up from introductory complexity. There are a large number of units, each with their own special rules, and a first-time player will need to take in a lot of information to get the most out of his units and cards. As players become more familiar with the system, most of the perceived complexity will drop away.

Replay Value: With ten scenarios in the box (and two more promised in GMT’s support magazine C3I), there’s a fair number of situations to play out with C&C: Ancients. The need to play cards to activate units helps prevent ‘perfect’ plans and forces players to adapt to their hands, though most playings of a scenario will often follow a similar course.

Expansions: GMT recently announced the first expansion for C&C: Ancients is available for preorder on their website. The new offering covers the Greeks and the Eastern Kingdoms (the Persians, the Scythians, and the Indians). With 300 blocks and 20 scenarios, it represents about as hefty a package as the original game – and is priced about the same.

GMT also intends to publish some scenarios in its house magazine C3I. Since C3I normally comes with a countersheet and a map in each issue, players of C&C: Ancients may find it an expensive purchase if they are only interested in the scenarios for their game.

Armchair General Score – 82%

34/40 — Gameplay
12/15 — Components
17/20 — Rules/Documentation
13/15 — Replay Value
06/10 — General’s Rating

Command & Colors: Ancients at GMT Games

Discuss Command & Colors: Ancients on the Armchair General forums.

Author Information

Peter Bogdasarian first got inducted into wargaming when his dad taught him Kriegspiel (AH) at age six. He’s been playing ever since. Peter assisted with the playtesting and scenario design for the Lock’n Load products Forgotten Heroes, ANZAC Attack and Band of Heroes along with playtesting Firefight Games’ Best Laid Plans: Hue and Columbia Games’ Crusader Rex. He is licensed to practice law in the state of New York and is currently finishing up a Masters of Law at George Washington law school. What little time is not used up by his education and gaming is spent in Arlington, VA.

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1 Comment

  1. who ever came up with this fantastic game, must have an imagination. I just bought the game, plus an expansion, and plan on buying another.

    Good job and thanks

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