A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Commands & Colors – the “Battlelore” Tweaks

Battlelore; the big guy on the left suggests this is not the Wars of the Roses
There should be some kind of regulation against old fools like me quoting things they do not understand – I had never heard of Battlelore until a couple of weeks ago, but I am assured that is huge and well-established. As everyone on the planet apart from me is probably well aware, it is a board-cum-miniatures game designed by Richard Borg and launched in 2006, which uses his Commands & Colors game system and is set in a world(?) of fantasy and mythical pseudo-history, and very good it looks, though it is not really my cup of tea.

Why is that, then? Why do I have this unreasonable prejudice against fantasy and sci-fi wargaming – is it simply that I am old and lacking imagination?

Well it might be, to be truthful, though in fact I am not really prejudiced against these categories of gaming. In principle, the idea of fighting games which do away with the limits imposed by recorded history and its technologies (and life forms) is exciting, and I can well understand why they have such an appeal. My doubts about them – the reasons they do not rock my boat – are entirely personal, and probably do not stand up to very much examination, but here they are, for appropriate mockery:

(1) A lot of this is based on cult movies or books – which is not in itself a criticism (after all, a lot of my wargaming is based on cult books written by Charles Oman and Donald Featherstone, amongst others), but many of the ideas and themes become repetitive and derivative. For example, someone who goes to the trouble of creating a fantasy world which is very obviously a crude and inferior rip-off of the works of Prof Tolkien or similar is actually displaying rather a lack of imagination, as I see it, though he may well be driven by a very shrewd commercial awareness. Not a real problem, and if the games are enjoyed by a great many fans then good for them.

(2) My suspicion that the imagination deployed is less than free-flowing is confirmed by the copious documentation for the games and their expansions; giant spiders, now there’s a really unusual idea (yawn), but there are very strict published tables of what these spiders are allowed to do, so play nicely, please. Whoever’s imagination this is, it had better not be yours, and don’t you forget it. Far from being a free-form, open-architecture playground for the creative soul, fantasy gaming is complex, fiddly and beset by heavy documentation which makes 1970s Ancients national championship games look very casual indeed.

(3) Much of it is heavily fashion-dependant, and bolstered by branding and commercial copyright. All those spotty people who hang around GW shops (how did you guess I would get to them eventually?) will mostly move on to other fads, which means that wargaming will become The Thing We All Did Last Year, which means that historical miniatures gaming, for example, might not be high on the list of potential Next Big Things for these guys. 

My cup of tea

Right, that should irritate a few people, for a start.

Iain has been on holiday in Scotland with his daughter, and yesterday he took the time to drive here from Aberfoyle, to say hello and have a quick wargame, which I appreciate very much. Sadly the day was wet and foggy, so the Front of Beyond was not at its most attractive, but the wargame took place. Iain took pictures, so I hope that some of those will appear here in due course.

Laying on a game for an experienced wargaming visitor requires a bit of unaccustomed thought, I discovered. Most of the games I play these days are solo, and the social games I play with friends are usually because I bully them into taking part, so there is not a lot of pressure to make the game balanced or anything. Normally, here, no-one gives a toss who wins, so my approach to scenarios is relaxed to the point of being horizontal. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Iain is likely to be at all precious about the occasion, but I would be very sorry to waste his time – especially considering the travel involved – and he has no previous experience of Commands & Colors, so it would be doubly embarrassing to turn him off completely.

For the first time I can remember, I spent a while looking through the published scenarios – an area on which have always thought that regular CCN players are excessively fixated – to find something suitable. I was also using my widened table, so I came up with a game which was a stretched (17 hexes x 9) adaptation of GMT’s San Marcial scenario from the Spanish Expansion set. To cope with the larger armies and the bigger field, I also adopted a Battlelore tweak for the use of Command Cards (which seemed a good idea, but added to the risk of screwing up the game through unfamiliarity). I’ll set out this tweak, which was the main reason for this post, below, along with some further ruminations on CCN.

The game went well enough. I gave Iain command of the attacking French army, on the grounds that the Spanish have only one strategy – stay put on the hills, hold your fire and roll good dice when the French arrive. In the real battle of San Marcial, Soult failed to dislodge the Spaniards and gave up. Iain’s experience was similar, but my initial reasoning was that at least he would have something to do if he was attacking. No doubt we’ll discuss it further when he gets home from his holiday; he found CCN interesting, not least because it has a character of its own, and he picked it up very quickly despite my stammering explanations, but it will certainly not replace Black Powder as his game of choice.

There will be more about the actual game when the photos become available. Here is the Battlelore tweak for the big game, as promised. One of the characteristics of Commands & Colors style games is that the Command Cards restrict each turn to a small number of units, and for a big army on a big field that can be too piecemeal an approach.

The Battlelore tweak allows you to use more than one card per turn and, unlike the full Memoir 44 Overlord or Epic-sized CCA games, it allows you to work with a standard pack of Command Cards, with a very small amount of amendment (which is especially attractive if, like mine, your brain is full and easily confused).

Battlelore Epic rules applied to C&C Napoleonics

This works with an enlarged C&CN map (e.g. Battlelore Epic standard is 17 x 13) and with a single standard Command Card deck.


The Command Cards are of two types: Section cards (which refer to the left, centre and right of the battlefield, and carry an icon showing arrows) and Tactic cards (which do not).

An extra “Epic” card draw deck is created with three Command Cards drawn from the Command deck, visible (and available, in their turn) to both players. If, at any time, when it is first created or when it is replenished to bring it up to 3 cards, the Epic deck does not show at least one Section card, discard all 3 cards and take 3 new ones until it does.

During the Command phase of his turn, a player may either:

Play a single Section card, which may be from his own hand or may be from the Epic deck, or

Play two Section cards, one of which must be from his own hand and one must be from the Epic deck, or

Play a single Tactic card, which may be from his own hand or the Epic deck

At the end of his turn, when the cards used are replaced, the player’s own hand must be brought back to strength, and the Epic deck must (if necessary) be made back up 3 cards, at least one of which must be a Section card.

When playing two Section cards, the orders on both cards are carried out.

When a Section or Tactic card played activates a number of units equal to “Command”, this is the number of cards in the player’s hand, not counting the Epic deck.

Some cards have a slightly modified interpretation:

“Scouting” Section cards offer a chance to draw two cards and discard one of them; this does not apply if the card came from the Epic deck.

“Elan” Tactic card: ordered units battle at +2 dice for the entire turn, and the Command deck and discards are combined and shuffled – the Epic deck should be discarded and replaced at this point.

“First Strike” Tactic card: if this card is drawn to the Epic deck, discard it and draw another card.

Partly as a result of the brief discussion of CCN with Iain which was possible after the game, and various ideas I have been nursing for a while, I may have some further tweaks in mind.

First off, I am now in favour of simply discarding the “Short Supply” Tactic card whenever it appears, and drawing again. I find this card does not sit well with the overall game.

Next, I am not really very comfortable that the role of a Leader in the game is simply to prevent his troops from running away and avoid being a casualty himself. One of the things that I found hardest to come to terms with in CCN is the lack of army structure – any general can attach himself to any unit. That’s OK – it’s the game rules, but it is counter-intuitive based on all my past gaming. To give a Leader a rather more proactive job in CCN, I like the idea of allowing his troops to gain an extra die in combat if he is attached to them, in return for which the Leader casualty test will require only a crossed-sabres result on a single die for a hit. The trade-off is that the Leader adds to the fighting ability of his men if he puts his own neck on the line, but he has a higher chance of being hurt.

I’m not going to do anything drastic about this until I have seen what is coming in the mooted Marshals & Generals expansion for CCN – it looks as though the role of the Leader may be about to be jazzed up a bit, so I look forward to that. It is, in any case, possible to put a Leadership rule tweak in any particular scenario, so I could try out a few ideas in solo games.

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