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A Review of GMT’s latest Expansion set (No.6)

Contents

The box and contents are up to the usual robust GMT quality and the artwork is, as ever, a delight to the eye. The rules are clearly written and my games group found no rules that were open to debate. The only item we had any criticism of was the cardstock Courier rack. This is supposed to hold 5 Command Cards, but was only wide enough to take 4½. I suspect this was to allow it to fit into the box. During play, the rack tended to flex and shed its contents. However, this is a very minor inconvenience and easily rectified with a little ingenuity and extra cardboard and glue.

Our group is four players, so we were unable to try the “La Grande Battles” version, which requires 8 players. However, the game mechanics are no different, it is just the way the players are divided up and the Command Cards are distributed that is a little different.

Our group is familiar with the Commands &Colours :Napoleonics system and the purpose of this review is not to deal with the original game or earlier Expansions – I shall assume the reader’s familiarity with those – but specifically with the Epic Expansion. I will say, however, that, despite some reservations concerning historical accuracy with some of the scenarios, we enjoy C&C:N enormously.

I shall now pose myself some questions and answer them on the basis of our experience:

1.     What does Expansion 6 Add to the C&C:N game system?

The whole idea of the Epic system is to allow players to play bigger games(on the bigger boards) and to introduce the command and control issues related to a chain of command with orders issued via couriers. The two Card decks supplied with the “Generals, Marshals & Tacticians” Expansion (No.5) are used. The two sides receive hands as designated in the Scenario chosen and then five Command Cards are added to the Courier Rack (face-up). These cards are available for the commanders to select and play in their current turn. One of the players on each side acts as the Commander-in-Chief and the other is his subordinate. The C-i-C chooses a Command Card from his hand and one from the rack. He gives one of these cards to his subordinate and plays the other himself. He and his subordinate may not discuss how the cards should be played; effectively, the card given to a subordinate represents a written order sent by the C-i-C via a courier.

This can lead to uncertainty on the part of the subordinate and frustration on the part of the C-i-C when he sees the card used in a way he had not intended.As it did several times in our replay.

2.     What scenario did you play?

We played the Austerlitz scenario on one of the Epic Scenario cards. First one side was French and the other Allied (Austrian & Russian) and then we switched for a second game to ensure that any inbuilt advantages and disadvantages were evened out. In fact, in the first game my colleague and I as Allies suffered badly from “die roll collapse”– we rolled artillery hits when we were firing at infantry and infantry hits when firing at cavalry – and “card draw frustration” so we experienced a severe kicking. In the second game, luck was more evenly distributed and we (as French this time) were gradually gaining the upper hand when time was called.

3.     What are your impressions of “Epic”?

It’s a very clever addition to the C&C:N system. The whole concept is brilliantly conceived and increased our enjoyment enormously. The larger boards provide a much more aesthetically pleasing experience and allow mistakes to be rectified with the greater number of troop blocks available in the scenarios. Although we played with four players, Epic can accommodate six or eight players with some minor changes to card selection and distribution and this should serve to heighten the command and control issues mentioned earlier.

Finally, the games last longer and are more absorbing during play.

4.     Any negatives?

Nothing serious but there are one or two frustrations/reservations about some aspects of C&C:N generally – some of which Epic does not, itself, resolve. The first, which Epic does partially address, is historical accuracy. Because of the limited space available on the basic boards, the terrain and ground extent in some battle scenarios is rendered inaccurate. Epic boards allow for more accurate representations of space and terrain. There are some troop types in some of the expansions which it is hard to reconcile with history – especially in terms of how they behave. For example, Spanish cavalry in the Peninsular War was very poorly supplied with horseflesh and none of their mounted units could really be classed as heavy; also, they had only one Cuirassier Regiment (Coraceros de España) but this is represented by 3 blocks in the Spanish Expansion (No.2) which is something like brigade strength.The British “Rifle Light” infantry (presumably representing the 95th Rifles) was historically quite strong numerically and yet is given only three blocks for a unit.

However, this should not be taken too far – C&C:N is primarily a board game using Napoleonic period battles as its theme. It is not an historically accurate simulation and was never intended to be such. However, the games feel like Napoleonic battles and I, for one, can forgive any historical inconsistencies because I get an excellent game every time I play.

5.     Summary

I’ve only played the two games of Epic but having played half the Peninsular War as a campaign using the basic game and Spanish Army expansion, together with “Generals, Marshals & Tacticians”, I know the underlying game system and can honestly say that “Epic” has improved things greatly. My plan is to re-create the PW scenarios with as much historical accuracy as I can and play them on the Epic (and maybe the Grande Battles”) boards. I’m certain the scenarios and the experience will improve with the additional space and terrain tiles that the bigger boards provide; plus, if I can persuade my club colleagues to join in, the command and control aspects will make for even more enjoyable gaming sessions. Can’t wait!

Review by Michael Oliver
Renowned expert on Napoleonic Battles & the Peninsular War and Co-Author of several books (with Richard Partridge)

   

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015