Before I write the review I want to offer my deepest and most sincere apologies to Thibaud and Triton Noir. I am often asked why I write the majority of the reviews myself especially as it takes time to play each game enough to be able to cover most points. V COMMANDOS is the main reason why I write the reviews myself. I actually gave this to someone else to review (I am not mentioning names as they are embarrassed enough already) and I waited for the review to arrive. Over time, my bad I'm afraid, I had played and reviewed 30-40 or so games and published the majority of 1000's of Press Releases and V COMMANDOS was out of sight out of mind.
I received an email from Triton Noir politely enquiring about the review and I promised then to chase it up. I finally got the game back and set to playing it myself. I am making no excuses, I take full responsibility. My promise to companies who support GGO is that their games will be played and reviewed. It may take a while but what has happened with V COMMANDOS is why I am not the fastest reviewer in the West.
I have written the review below from my findings of playing V COMMANDOS and not in any sycophantic way of an extra apology. What I have written is what I mean. I hope Triton Noir will accept my apology. Sincerely yours. Chris.
Note: Since writing this review I have been made aware that the second ecition is due to be launched in game stores in the near future (it's now Feb 2018 for reference) and that there have been some changes made, nothing major, after listening to player's feedback. I stand by my review that the game from the box played really well and flowed sensibly and easily and that apart from the few spelling errors I never had cause to worry about any of the Rules. Perhaps the situations never arose or we just played through regardless but my notes made during play have no mention of possible problems. Anyway at the end of this review I have listed the differences thanks to Triton Noir.
V COMMANDOS is a 1-4 player cooperative game set in the Second World War around 1940. The game design is by Thibaud de la Touanne with highly detailed and eerily atmospheric illustrations by Vincent Filipiak, Bruno Tatti, Guillaume Briet, Grelin, Kuru and Vincet Parot. Its Rulebook is a credit to the Graphic Design and Editing of Büro K Design, Thibaud de la Touanne, Quentin Van Oycke, Marine Boissière, Fabrice Lamidey, Sandra Grès, Kurt McLung and Michel Ouimet, although it would be amiss of me not to mention something that has no bearing on the game but if I am to praise those who worked on it I should also point out that on the back of the Rulesbook the big bold word ENEMY appears as ENNEMY. No more mentions of grammar, I promise.
The aforementioned Rulesbook has 24 pages littered with fine illustrations but surprisingly very few examples of play, though it has numerous Hints and Tips plus definitions of how Commandos would act in given situations. Therefore when reading the game through for the first time you can envisage the action in your mind as the words leap from the page with supreme ease. The Rulesbook makes it not only an easy to play game but also one that is easy to learn. It is also a game where as you are playing against the system the players have to keep their wits about them, plus they need a little luck to insure they continue unseen.
V COMMANDOS came to life via insure and did very well in reaching its requirements very fast. It comes in a box with a strikingly visible front cover that draws you to it. The sealed box is quite heavy, and on opening it you can see the reason for its weight - tons and tons (okay I am exaggerating a little, maybe it's hundreweights not tons ) of heavy, durable card, counters, game boards, cards, tokens and dice, it's a variable feast of colour and design. My wife is not a great fan of wargames that use counters, but it is mainly the games that use centimetre square counters on which there is a host of detail that she doesn't like (one reason is because they are too fiddly and the other because both of us are not so young now that our eyesight struggles with the information at hand).
The counters in V COMMANDOS do not meet the criteria of the wargames disliked by Fran. There are some small counters but most are quite large and all are well defined in colour and design. The Army Units are shown from a top-down perspective and the counter surrounded by the colour and design of the represented Nation, making them immediately recognisable at all times during play. These large round counters personify Commandos in Stealth mode and Visible, in German uniform or Critically hurt and Regular German (enemy) units with MP40 submachine-guns and Mauser rifles, 5 with Sledgehammers, as well as 10 Special units. I suspect that at some time the designer had hoped to include miniatures in these roles but perhaps the cost would have put the price up quite heavily. It already costs around £75.00 putting it in a similar price region of the original Zombicide (actually about £20.00 higher if you search the internet) which includes 71 highly detailed plastic miniatures (the minis plus the word Zombies ensured that sales would go through the roof). V COMMANDOS wouldn't play any better if it had miniatures but it would be somewhat more visually attractive, even though the counters are beautifully produced.
V COMMANDOS is an impeccably excellent game that captures the very actions Commando units would take on secret missions. The key to the game is Stealth but it can also be a series of puzzles and challenges as you need to plot and plan every move and action you are going to take. The very first Training Mission in the separate Training Manual is basically a mental challenge concerning who to move and when and where to move them. You will require a little luck of the dice or perhaps, if you feel confident enough, a quick back-stab. The latter will result in you failing the actual Mission as you will be out of Movement and unable to reach your objective, but, especially if you are playing solo, it will give you the opportunity to practice thinking in Stealth and Commando modes. In the first Training Mission each Commando has just 3 Action points for the whole mission, but in the game they have 3 APs per Turn. One AP is used to move from one tile to the next as long as there is an open door or way through. To move Stealthily from one tile to an adjacent Medium sized tile cost 2 APs but if there is an enemy unit in the area they move into a Die Roll Stealth check - roll one die for each enemy unit and hope not to get 1s or 2s as these result in the Commando becoming visible and losing their "invisibility" (aka Stealth mode). The One's and Two's on the supplied dice each have an "eye" icon next to the number denoting that Stealth mode is lost. Any movement or noise made by the Commando in an area where enemy units are results in a dice roll. This generally means that although in most missions you have to rely on Stealth, you cannot put all your trust in Stealth; that's a challenging conundrum.
This is one of the better wargames or boardgames that plays with one solo player. This is probably because no matter how many players you have out of the 1-4 you are always playing against the game's Artificial Intelligence. You can play through the Training Missions solo or with friends, in fact I seriously suggest that you do as there are only three of them and they play quickly while teaching you the basic aspects of play such as how to reach a directive, how to use explosives and how deadly war is - get injured and you're dead; you also get to use certain pieces of equipment that are deployed as tiles, mostly small and round but others are different shapes and colours. From these Missions you will always learn the importance of the +1 Action Tokens, don't waste them as they can truly be the difference between remaining stealthy (hidden) and becoming visible.
One of the excellent things about V COMMANDOS is that you can play an actual game, not just a Training Mission, in under 30 minutes or you can expand it to be virtually as long as you wish. You have in the box all the necessary pieces to create your own Missions of whatever type and length you want. You can play against the clock, as well as against the game mechanics, you can play in pairs - on the same side and same Mission but approaching it from different angles, or ... well basically you can play any scenario you can think of, within the limits of the board pieces - ie you can have an Indoor or Forest mission or a mixture of both but you can't have a mission set in Siberia or in the Russian Winter as you do not have snow tiles or units with snow suits or skis - but they would make a heck of an expansion for later on.
As said earlier I would have liked to have been playing this with Miniatures rather than Counters but as the game has so many different counters I was disappointed in the number of ziploc bags that came with the game - it just wasn't anywhere near good enough. On the good side the game is dual French/English and for this there are Rules and Training books in both languages, but even better there are also decks of cards in each language, making it much better to learn and play rather than have a Card Glossary in the Rule Book to explain the text on each card.
I really like the combat mechanic where each terrain game tile has a +number on it which is the number required to hit (or over) eg a 3+ means "visible" units on this tile are hit on roll results of 3 or more; Stealth Commandos do not take any damage, but if they fire when Stealthed they immediately become visible and thus liable to return fire. The difference between Commando firing and hitting and the Enemy firing and hitting is that if a Commando shoots an enemy and hits once that enemy is eliminated, whereas if a Commando unit takes a hit a -1 counter is placed on the unit's character card and damage builds up until death occurs. To determine how many dice are rolled each Enemy unit has little white blocks printed on it, each white dot represents a die. The Commandos don't have these dots on their counters, instead they rely on the weapons they are using - weapon counters have an illustration and name of the weapon and a number of white dots.
This mechanic works extremely swiftly and prevents lots of cross referencing usually associated with wargames - the terrain tile on which the target stands is the number required to hit the target, it really is that simple. However the game is more about stealthily creeping around and keeping the enemy guessing (it is actually quite fun attempting to outguess a game mechanic). There are 9 pairs of Operation cards (or Missions). On one side of one of the cards it shows the necessary terrain cards required, the flip side shows where on the Map of Europe, the action is to take place. The second card describes the mission buildings (1, 2, 3, 4 or 5) and gives the basics for play. The flipside is a precis of the actual wartime occurrence you are about to take part in.
The second deck of cards are the 26 Terrain cards; each has a sepia coloured action-photographic illustration which shows how futile warfare can be on the one side while the flipside has a visual description of the building and the deployment of all the necessary mission tiles. These cards create the terrain on which the action will take place. As there are so many Operation cards and Terrain cards it is going to take you a fair while to play through every one of the 234 possible permutations of Operation and Terrain setups, but it's going to be well worth trying. You can of course combine Operations and Terrain setups to create your own situations and naturally there is nothing to prevent you from changing the objectives, thus this game is almost infinite.
The back outer cover to the Rules beautifully describes the Game Turn in full content in just 4 sections:
1. Game Turn - in 4 sections (Event Phase - at the start of each Turn an Event card is played), Command Phase (V Commando Actions), Enemy Phase (reinforcement, moving and shooting), End of Turn (check for Victory.
2. V Commando Actions: Commandos have 3 APs to spend each. There is a long list of Actions and their costs from 0 to 2 action points).
3. Enemy Phase: Reinforcement, Movement and Shooting - described in reasonable detail. As long as you already have read the main rules these should be all you need.
4. Stealth: Becoming Stealthy and Becoming Visible - the how's and why's of each.
Like all good soldiers your Commandos should do their utmost to clear each terrain tile before moving onto the next. If you don't play this way, with a feeling for each situation, then you will lose the atmosphere and reverence the game is asking of you in this type of warfare. Just running through each door until you reach an/the objective is possible but you will trigger every alarm and warn every enemy unit in range (and that will be many, very many) and your campaign/Mission will be blown and over - you lost. Many missions end if even one Commando dies, others can still be concluded successfully if just one Commando gets out alive as long as the objective has been reached and completed. It is in these missions that the Davy Crockett factor can come into play - having your Commando protecting the Six of the others while they make a run for safety. It doesn't happen often and you have to work to make it a possibility but if you get to do it there is a lot of admiration and satisfaction to be had.
Commandos and enemy troops often had to dress in the opposition's uniform to gain entry into various places so they could do whatever the mission required. Commandos wearing this disguise can penetrate enemy positions and pass by enemy units without detection. Generally Commandos are always stealthy on small tiles but need to use an extra Action Point to go stealthy, move onto, Medium sized tiles. Disguised in enemy uniforms means that all terrain tiles count as small tiles and thus the Commandos remain in stealth mode. Unfortunately all other stealth rules count so making any noise, firing a loud weapon, getting too close to an enemy unit etc will cause visibility in which case you swap your character tile piece shown wearing the enemy uniform back to the regular player Commando counter on its visible side.
The Terrain tiles also have circular spaces printed lightly on them for where the unit counters that enter the area or building can be placed. These spaces are very lightly marked, just visible without spoiling the artwork of the tile. I like this a lot - it's good to have these spaces there, but they are not so prominent, and thus the playing area looks just like unmarked terrain tiles, not overlaid with a heavy grid of hexes or squares etc like so many wargame boards are. The Terrain cards look a little confusing but page 15 of the Rules book describes fully how they should be used. In fact the Rules are so well written (okay there are a few spelling mistakes which I have already said I am not going to list) that the game is an absolute delight to play. It is as much fun as a two-player game as it is a three or four player game. It works well as a one-player game but as most GGO readers know I am not that fond of playing with myself.
Apart from the Core Set which was available on Kickstarter there are a few expansions that were also on KS but may be still available from TRITON NOIR. These include:
- New playable characters : the Spy and the French Résistante.
- Additional enemies including new German Officers (who act as a living alarm) and Guard Dogs (excellent at spotting hidden commandos).
- New Operations that can be combined with the core box to allow games up to 6 players.
- New supplies: MG42 (high powered machine gun) and Air Drops (multiple supplies and weapons).
- New Objective Cards: sabotage rails, free a counterfeiter, sneak British pilots out of occupied France, free civilian hostages, etc.
- New playable characters: Mortar Gunner and Intel Officer.
- Additional enemies including new elite German Paratroops and Goliath tracked mine.
- New Operations that can be combined with the core box to allow games up to 6 players.
- New supplies: Panzerfaust (destroy anything!) and Mortar.
- New Objective Cards: sink a U-Boot containing plans for a German atomic bomb, destroy a train transporting Me-262 jet planes, steal an Amerika Bomber and kidnap a German pilot to fly it, sabotage a V1 rockets fuel depot, etc.
You don't have to be a WWII aficionado to play V COMMANDOS. It is as challenging as a puzzle game but with the addition of the game playing against you. The limitations set on movement etc are a real pain and rather frustrating but it is indeed these that make this a thinking person's strategy game. Wargamers should enjoy it, boardgamers will love its intricacies, anyone with an interest in the Stealth services of the war will find it scintillating. The fact that you can play an entire satisfying game in 30 minutes or have a deeply challenging 2-3 hours at the table make it one of, if not, the, most flexible boardgames available, especially in the war game genre.
- V-Commandos base game operations and terrains are set for being played with the base game alone (do not use any items from an expansion).
- Enemy reinforcement step: a fast way to place enemy unit tokens is to blindly pick up a pile tokens from the enemy reserve. Do not look at this pile (these tokens and the side used, must be randomly selected), then place them on their destination tiles. Place back the potential remaining tokens from the pile in the enemy reserve.
- Commandos come into play at the beginning of an operation: the first thing to do for each commando is to spend 1 action to perform the "Moving" action (or 2 actions to perform "Moving Stealthily onto a Medium Tile") to enter a tile containing an opened trap door.
- [NEW! Dec. 6 2017] A visible or stealthy commando may interact with an objective token protected by enemy unit(s).
- "Spotted" tokens must be placed in the equipment reserve during set up.
- When 2 terrains are played at the same time, if an alarm is triggered on one terrain, it does not automatically trigger the alarm located on the other terrain.
- Each commando has 3 action points (AP) per turn. Example of what a commando could do during a turn:
>>> Start his turn with 3 AP
> Move (1 AP cost) - 2 AP remaining
> Pick up an equipment token (0 AP cost) - still 2 AP remaining
> Pick up another equipment token (0 AP cost) - still 2 AP remaining
> Move stealthily onto a medium tile (2 AP cost) - 0 AP remaining
> Blow up a TNT (0 AP cost) - still 0 AP remaining
>>> End of turn.
- Officer (tan side): the ability giving +1 shooting die is for 1 shot only and must be played immediatly after receiving it. This action costs 0 action, so it can be performed during another commando's turn to give him this bonus (see « When to execute an action costing 0 action? » p.6).
- TNT charge: all tokens are removed from the tile hit by the explosion, except for "trap door", "alarm", "door" and "nest" tokens.
- Reward after elimination (p. 8): ALL enemy units eliminated by the shot are simultaneously replaced by the same quantity of equipment tokens.
- Any escorted character following a commando exiting a terrain through a trap door is removed from play.
- Card / Operation / "Silence": the 3 Terrain cards are "Blockhaus" (not "Bunker"), "Cliff" and "Battery". Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- Training booklet / "Training mission 3": one of the 6 cards to remove from the Event card deck is "All is quiet." / "Sniper !!", (not "All is quiet." / "Don't venture out there fellas.").
- Card / Terrain / "Ruins": during set up, the small tile bottom left with a blocked trap door must be placed on its outdoor side. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- [NEW! May. 31 2017] Card / Terrain / "Cliff": 1 action on each objective (instead of 3). Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- [NEW! Jan. 21 2017] Card / Event / "Don't Shoot !": the Spitfire shoots commandos wearing German uniform too. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- 66 equipment tokens (not 76, it is a typo in the booklet: the quantity of tokens in the box is correct).
- 2 punchboards of tiles are in double (named "V-Commandos_CORE_Tiles_Punchboard_A_01" and "V-Commandos_CORE_Tiles_Punchboard_A_02").
- It is normal not to have any allied weapon token (they are printed on the commando cards).
- The white tokens with a black silhouette may be used later to customize your game with new printable characters.
- V-Commandos: Secret Weapons operations and terrains are set for being played combined with the base game, but not with another expansion.
- Gas and enemy units: during enemy movement step, the enemy units move onto tiles even if they contain gas (those not wearing gas masks are eliminated).
- Smoke grenade: a tile hit by a smoke grenade is considered a small tile, including for shooting characters located on this tile.
- The enemies act simultaneously during each of the enemy steps. If an enemy unit enters an empty Goliath nest during the enemy movement step, the Goliaths on this terrain do not move during this step (they were not activated when this step began because there was nobody in the nest). But any Goliath can explode during enemy shooting step (now that there is an enemy unit in the nest) if it is on the same tile as a visible commando.
- Card / Commando / "Mortar Gunner" (tan side): when using the mortar, if 2 or 3 dice hit the tile successfully, eliminate 1 additional enemy unit. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- Rulebook / Mortar: when using the mortar, the alarm is triggered on targeted terrain.
- Card / Commando / "Butcher" (tan side): ignore gas when wearing a German Uniform: [P] icon on both sides of the card (not [1A] icon). Perform a close combat attack when visible: [1A] icon on both sides of the card (not [P] icon). Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- V-Commandos: Résistance operations and terrains are set for being played combined with the base game, but not with another expansion.
- [UPDATED! Jan. 13th 2017] Resistance fighters & allied pilots: can shoot, if the players want, each time a commando on the same tile performs a "shooting" action. The Resistance fighter / pilot then becomes visible.
- Gas and enemy units: during enemy movement step, the enemy units move onto tiles even if they contain gas (those not wearing gas masks are eliminated).
- [NEW! Jan. 5th 2017] Card / Event / "Never Alone": "During this turn, every time 2 equipment tokens from the commandos are given (discarded) to the Resistance, eliminate 1 regular enemy unit alone on a tile". Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- [NEW! Jan. 9th 2017] Card / Commando / Spy (tan side): Special abilities cost must be switched. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
If you supported us during the campaign (Kickstarter and Backerkit), you will get these extra bonuses in your V-Commandos box:
The 2 tile punchboards (Kickstarter bonus)
- 10 tiles (1 large, 2 medium and 7 small) including the cable-car tile.
- 30 Regular SS unit tokens. Note: the guard dogs announced during the campaign are in the V-Commandos: Résistance expansion box, we replaced them by additional SS tokens.
SS Enemy units (black uniforms with red armband)
- 10 Special SS unit tokens.
- 1 German Minister token.
- Death Cheater commando card (EN + FR) + 2 tokens.
- Gander commando card (EN + FR) + 1 tokens only.
- Sergeant Bruno commando card (EN + FR) + 2 tokens.
- VF Inter Officer commando card (EN + FR) + 2 tokens.
- Anneke commando card (EN + FR) + 2 tokens.
- Jamie Finnlock commando card (EN + FR) + 2 tokens.
- 1 pair of "Helmet" Operation cards (EN + FR).
- 1 pair of "Freyja" Operation cards (EN + FR).
- 1 pair of "Starter" Operation cards (EN + FR).
- 1 pair of "Celcius" Operation cards (EN + FR).
- 1 "Cable Car" Terrain card (EN + FR).
> All the stretch goals for the expansions are box upgrades (included in the retail versions too).
- For each Kickstarter character added to the commando pool, remove another commando (you must always have 5 commandos if you play with the base game and 8 commandos if you play with an expansion). Gander is an exception: it is simply added to the commandos pool.
• Death Chater, Gander and Sergent Bruno can be played with any of the boxes.
• Anneke and VF Inter Officer must be played with V-Commandos: Secret Weapons expansion.
• Jamie Finnlock must be played with V-Commandos: Résistance expansion.
- SS tokens can replace their equivalent (same number of dice on the token) in the base game. The total of tokens in the enemy reserve must always remain the same as the one indicated in the base game rules. SS do not have special rules, they simply allow a new visual appearance.
- The 4 operations are set to be played with V-Commandos base game box.
- "Gander" is considered as a commando wearing a uniform. He can be visible (triggering the alarm). He needs to spend 1 of the actions of his master to go back to cover (this is symbolised by using his uniform again, in the same conditions as wearing a uniform for a commando). Furthermore, Gander does not count as 1 commando when selecting the commandos for an operation, nor regarding the limit of commandos on a terrain. For example, if 2 commandos and Gander enter on a terrain for 2 commandos, the alarm is not triggered.
- Card / Commando / "Anneke" (tan side): her starting equipment also includes another grenade token and a Panzerfaust. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- Card / Commando / "Death Cheater" (tan side): the ability allowing to reroll dice hitting the Death Cheater can only be used once per turn and only for up to 4 dice. Download corrected card (download the back of this card).
- Card / Commando / "VFInter Officer" (blue side): using the Goliath controller costs 1 action (not 2). Download corrected card (download the back of this card).