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Posted on Aug 24, 2020 in Boardgames, Front Page Features

“Peace was without confidence and war was without mercy.” Edward Gibbon.  Commands and Colors – Medieval.  Board Game Review

“Peace was without confidence and war was without mercy.” Edward Gibbon. Commands and Colors – Medieval. Board Game Review

Rick Martin

Commands and Colors – Medieval     Board Game Review.  Publisher: GMT Games   Game Designer: Richard Borg   Price $75.00

Passed Inspection: well researched, easy to learn rules, great replay value, strong solo experience, beautiful components, new rules for inspired actions and excellent value for the money

Failed Basic:  must put stickers on the all the blocks – hundreds of blocks … 330 blocks …, also found it difficult to figure out how to create some scenario fortifications with the terrain included in the box

Commands and Colors – Medieval is the newest entry in the venerable Commands and Colors series.  It covers the 5th and 6th Century battles between the Byzantine Empire aka the Eastern Roman Empire and the Sassanid Persians.  It is expected that this will be the core game that will then be expanded upon to cover conflicts from the 7th Century to the 15th Century.


The components in Commands and Colors – Medieval are:

1 Medieval Core Rule Book and 19 medieval battle scenarios

1 Oversize Mounted Battlefield game board (11 hexes deep by 13 hexes wide)

4 Punchboard Sheets containing:

     45 double-sided Terrain Tiles,

     18 Victory Banner Tokens

     14 Inspired Action tokens

     12 Bow/Non-Bow Weapon markers

65 Medieval Command cards

8 Battle dice

2 Unit Reference Sheets

2 Inspired Action Reference Sheets

5 Block Label sheets

330 blocks (including spares): Purple Byzantine/Rome Empire units, Tan Sassanid Persians/Hun units comprising:

     148 small purple and tan blocks for foot units

     168 Medium purple and tan blocks for cavalry units

     14 rectangular purple and tan blocks for Leaders

For those who have not played Commands and Colors before, the series features wooden blocks of various sizes which represent infantry, cavalry, archers, etc.  Each unit is identified on a chart and is rated for class (either light, medium or heavy), movement points, fire range (range of missile weapons – spears, bows, sling bullets, etc), fire dice, close combat rating, close combat dice rolled, can they ignore hits based upon armor, special rules for close combat, can they evade, do they use momentum, and how far do they retreat if forced to.  There are also Leader blocks which represent a commander and his field staff as well as his guards.  Multiple blocks make up a given unit.  The units’ combat ability degrades the more blocks it loses.

All this information is presented on handy charts for ease of reference.

Units act by the playing a Command Card which is either a Section Card or a Tactics Card.    Section Cards dictate what sections of your forces can act and how they act.  The formality of ancient and medieval combat formations is represented by the game board being divided in to the left section, center section and the right section.  You have leaders and combat units in each section.  Section Cards allow you to, for example, move three units in your left section or co-ordinate your attacks by giving orders to one unit in each section.  Tactics Cards give you special commands to use such as forming a shield wall to increase the defensive rating of specific units.

Your hand size is limited by your Command.  Your Command is determined by each scenario’s rules.  Some leaders were just better commanders than others and some nation’s combat formations were more reactive than others and these factors are reflected in the scenario’s rules regarding Command.

While I have heard some players complain that the Command Card system is too limiting on the players’ strategies, I find it accurately simulates ancient and medieval warfare where command and control is limited to runners, horns, drums and banners trying to convey the wishes of the overall commander and section leaders.  It can be frustrating when one section doesn’t seem to do what you envision but this accurately represents the challenges of command during that time period.  This really makes you appreciate the effects of the telegraph and then radios on the command and control capabilities of an army.

Now before you play the game there is one ‘small’ (he, he) task that must be accomplished.  You must put stickers on the wooden blocks.  I cheated and just put the stickers only on the blocks I was using in a scenario but still . . . if put them on every block – you’re talking 330 blocks.  That’s a few hours of time.  I’m a pretty busy person between my paralegal work and my family, etc.  I would love to see a slightly more expensive option for the game where the cubes were pre-stickered.  You could either buy the “fixer upper” less expensive game or you could pay $30 more for the “pre-stickered” game.

What is the turn sequence?  Let’s talk about how you get your wooden army in to battle against the other wooden army.

1) The Command Phase – you play a Command Card

2) The Order Phase – announce the units and leaders you intent to command in to action

3) The Movement Phase – move those soldiers Centurion!

4) The Combat Phase – time to die!

5) The End of Turn Phase – draw a Command Card from the deck to end the turn

Units can move at different rates – of course cavalry units are the swiftest while heavy infantry tend to be pretty slow but some commands can increase the speed of the units or allowing them to charge in to battle for a shock attack against the enemy.

Instead of having their combat strength represented by a numeric representation as in other games, each unit has a specific geometric design of a specific color which represents its strength and unit classification (light, medium or heavy units).  When being attacked, the attacker rolls a specific number of dice.  The target is hit if the attacker rolls the target’s symbol on the dice.  If you roll a flag symbol, the target has to retreat.  If it is melee combat and you roll a helmet symbol, as long as you have a leader in the hex with the attacking unit or adjacent to the attacking unit, you score a hit.  Some units may dodge an attack or avoid taking a hit if they have armor.  If a leader is hit, you roll on a special table to see if the leader is eliminated.

For each hit scored, one block is removed from the target unit. When the last block in the op­ponent’s unit is removed, the unit has been eliminated, collect a Victory Banner.  When one side collects the targeted number of Victory Banners as defined in the scenario, the other side’s moral breaks and the battle is over.

I have to admit that for my review games, as you’ll see in the pictures which accompany this review, I slimmed down the unit count a bit.  Instead of four blocks to make up one unit, I just went with one block.  That way I could get in more gaming in a narrower period of time.

A new addition to Commands and Colors is the Inspired Action ability granted by certain leaders in a scenario.   These are special actions which may give the edge to one side or the other if properly used.

Some of the Inspired Actions are:

• Mounted Charge

• Foot Onslaught

• Rally

• Fire and Close

• Darken the Sky

• Move Fire Move

• Redeploy

There are 19 scenarios included in Commands and Colors – Medieval. 

They are:

Utus River 447 AD 9

Catalaunian Fields 451 AD (Roman Left)   

Catalaunian Fields 451 AD (Roman Right)   

Thannuris 528 AD 2

Melebasa 528 AD 3

Dara 530 AD 4

Satala 530 AD 5

Callinicum 531 AD (Phase 1)   

Callinicum 531 AD (Phase 2)   

Decimum 533 AD (Phase 1)   

Decimum 533 AD (Phase 2)   

Decimum 533 AD (Final Phase)   

Tricamarum 533 AD   

Lazic War 548 AD (Petra Mountain Passes)   

Lazic War 549 AD (Phasis River)   

Lazic War 550 AD (River Hippis)   

Lazic War 555 AD (Onoguris)   

Solachon 586 AD (Main Battle)   

Solachon 586 AD (Kardarigan’s Stand)  

The scenarios are nicely laid out with good visuals to help you set up the map board, place units and add terrain and fortifications.

Initially, I did find it difficult to figure out how to create some scenario fortifications with the terrain included in the box but after a few times setting up scenarios it became second nature.  I do wish that each terrain tile for fortifications was stamped with a unique identifier for ease of set up for newbie players like myself.

So how well does Commands and Colors – Medieval play solo in this world of the Covid 19 pandemic?  Surprisingly well!  Since the game is card based for movement and attacks, it’s very easy to have the card draw control your enemy.  In fact, there are at least five systems I have found for playing Commands and Colors – Medieval solo including one which is included in Commands and Colors – Napoleonics which, unfortunately, I do not own.  The system I used I found in a C&C fan group.  Basically, you pick which side you want to play.  For the other side, you draw two cards from the draw deck each turn and use the card which is most beneficial to your enemy. If both cards are equally beneficial, you flip a coin or roll a die to determine which one they use.  I found this system to be fast, simple and very engaging.

I also found the tactile nature of the blocks to be very pleasing.  The size of the blocks makes moving them around the board very easy for anyone. 

If it sounds like I really like this game, you’re absolutely correct!  I love it!  I plan on playing every scenario in the game and then moving on to Commands and Colors -Samurai!  I have become a Commands and Colors addict aside for the fact that I dread putting on all the stickers on to all the little blocks.

Go out and get this game if you love ancient and medieval warfare!  What are you waiting for – Rome to fall?

Armchair General Rating: 95 %

Solitaire Rating: 4 (1 to 5 with 1 being Unsuitable for Solo Play and 5 being Perfect for Solo Play)

About the Author

A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer. He designed the games Tiger Leader, The Tiger Leader Expansion and Sherman Leader for DVG and the solo system for Age of Dogfights.  In addition, Rick can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!

unit reference cards
Byzantine Forces
combat dice
command card
trying to avoid a trap
holding the fortress