Commands & Colors: Ancients is a worthy successor to such old-time ancient-period wargames as SPI PRESTAGS (Pre-Seventeenth-Century Tactical Gaming System). Like them, it does a good job of capturing period feel and tactics, at least insofar as we can reconstruct them from historical sources. It has the advantage of drastically simpler rules mechanics, and so is easy to learn and quick to play.
C&C:A has earned a lot of praise and popularity from wargamers. Most who have played this game and its siblings using variants of the same rule system (the original Battle Cry and Memoir '44) seem to agree that C&C:A is the best of three remarkably strong games. But perfect it is not.
While designer Richard Borg's system of using tactical cards to order units does a far better job of modeling the "fog of war" than most games manage, sometimes it can be a little too restrictive. Additionally, a commendable desire to keep the rules simple sometimes produces results that seem unreasonable. These problems can be fixed without much difficulty; this page is partly about how to do that. The rest is notes and reviews on various scenarios.
C&C:A's design encourages tinkering and variants. The rules are written in such a way that it is easy to change things like unit combat statistics and damage allocation in small ways with relatively predictable results.
As written, the rules require leaders who survive a kill check to evade towards their side's map edge. You can modify this to allow leaders to evade sideways or forward if they can move one hex and end their move on a friendly unit.
I no longer recommend this rule, as I have come to think it's a good idea to require a lone leader to spend the forward move needed to reunite with a unit.
Give players the option of discarding a card from their hand in addition to playing one. When a player does this, their end-of-turn draw is two cards rather than one.
I find this eliminates the problem of getting stuck with cards you can't really use, effectively reducing your hand size. Of course, there's an argument that it subverts the designer's intentions by giving both players more tactical flexibility than they ought to have. But it still seems to lead to historically reasonable results, which suggests it's not bending the system too far out of shape.
Many of the scenarios aren't very balanced. They're historical, and historical battles often weren't. Because they play quickly, one way to cope with this is to play each one as a flip-flop set: twice in a session with the players swapping sides, then adding up total numbers of flags.
The number before each scenario is the number used for it at the CCA fan site; hundreds digit indicates the expansion (0 for base game) and the low two digits are the sequence number. The following are fast links to each note:
This first scenario is a fairly straightforward power-vs.-maneuverability confrontation. If the Syracusan general can bring his heavy infantry to bear squarely against the opposing line, he will win. The Carthaginian must maneuver and hope to pick off five Syracusan light units before that happens.
I think the advantage is slightly with the Syracusans in this senario. Their missile troops have better range, which tends to prevent the Carthaginian skirmishers from doing much to disrupt the Syracusan heavies. And the only real mobile striking force Carthage has is the chariot and light-cavalry pair on his extreme left; a flank attack against the Syracusan right is thus about the only way Carthage has to secure the initiative. If that fails and the Syracusan makes no large exploitable errors afterward, he's got a lock.
I think I might rebalance this by giving the Carthaginians six command cards rather than five.
Syracusan hoplites try to bushwack a larger Carthaginian force as it crosses a river. I think the outcome of this scenario depends a lot on the luck of the Syracusan draw; the first time I played it, I got to play two Line Command cards on the first two turns and the result was a lopsided massacre and rout of the Carthaginians.
The second time I played the Carthaginians. My card luck was good and I managed to execute a successful right-flank attack with my Sacred Band heavies and chariots. This destroyed the Syracusan line, but the Sacred Band was nearly wiped out in the process (down to one block). I have to count that as a Carthaginian tactical victory but (given the scenario conditions) actually a strategic defeat for Carthage.
Carthaginians with 6 cards and 3 elephants against pre-Marian Romans with just 4 sounds like a slaughter in the making, and that's how it was historically. It is actually possible for the Romans to win this one (I did it), but it requires aggressive use of light infantry against the elephants and a hard focus on taking out the Carthaginian cavalry before the lines close.
I still think this one is unbalanced. I'd give the Romans 5 cards
This scenario hands the Carthaginians the interesting challenge of managing an all-cavalry army. On the one hand, otherwise powerful cards like Line Command stop being useful. On the other hand, a Mounted Charge at the right time can wreak havoc on the Romans.
The Romans have to somehow keep the Carthaginian center from engaging their light infantry, which simply cannot long survive close combat with heavy cavalry. The targets of opportunity for the Roman are the light cavalry on the Carthaginian wings — but, because of the evasion mechanic, they have to be attacked from fairly far forward before they are likely to take real damage. The Romans must, somehow, take the offensive.
I think this scenario tilts towards the Carthaginians. Giving the Romans another command card might help.
Mago's ambush unit adds an unusual touch to what would otherwise be a fairly standard line-on-line slugfest. In my first game I played the Carthaginians and lost; two Roman Line Commands hemmed me in, and skillful Roman use of fire combat disrupted my elephants and heavies before I could get use of them.
Can't evaluate balance on this one yet; it may be slightly pro-Roman, or I could merely have that impression because my opponent's card luck was good. More plays should be revealing.
First time I played this one was as a flip-flop set; the score was 6-3/4-6 and I lost.
In neither game did the Roman right/Carthaginian left see any combat at all. The Romans have to get their units off the lakeshore line or be dispersed by forced retreats. Conversely, the big variable for the Carthaginians is how quickly the warrior infantry can close with the Roman line and what damage they do when they get there.
I think this scenario is (despite its complexity) very well balanced, better so than the Crimissos, Bagradas, or Ticinus River Scenarios. I wouldn't change a thing.
I played the Romans in this one, giving the stronger Carthaginian side to my opponent. I was, of course, aware of the historical Roman commander's blunder - overcommitting against a weak center only to be pinned and crushed from the flanks by the superior Carthaginian cavalry. With this order of battle and the Roman's weakness in cavalry, the only real option seemed to be to repeat Varrus's plan with beter execution — hoping to engage the center and inflict enough unit kills to win before my flanks collapsed.
I got three Line Commands early and used them to move the entire Roman formation forward as a block. The Carthaginians' right-flank attack stalled out, and their left-flank attack forced my right flank back, but it remained in fairly good order. Crucially, though, Varro (my right-flank leader) died early.
Then my opponent actually engaged in the center rather than pushing the right flank attack! She explained that she wanted to trigger the main engagement where her units would still have retreat room. But the weight of my mediums told and after two turns her center was punched back and shredded. Then she pressed the attack on my right flank until it collapsed. At this point both of us were headhunting units for the last flag and it was down to dice rolls; she got there first.
I think this scenario is quite unbalanced in favor of the Carthaginians. Between their cavalry superiority, two more command cards, and their lights' ability to evade, they will normally be able shape the battle pretty much to their liking; the fact that they almost controlled that shape anyway even with my three lucky Line Commands is the best possible evidence for this. The designers set out to force something not far from the historical movements and results and succeeded quite well.
To rebalance this, I'd start by giving the Romans competent command (5 cards). But it's probably best to play it as a flip-flop set and give the win to the player with fewest total losses.
At first sight this scenario may look pretty seriously unbalanced. "Just 4 command cards for Carthage?", you'll wonder. Don't. Used properly, the Carthaginian flankers will crush the Romans with ease. I won this handily, 6 to 1, without moving the Carthaginian infantry line at all and firing from it exactly once. Your true slaughter-makers are the elephants and heavy infantry; waste no opportunity to move them forward and engage aggressively.
The Romans, on the other hand, want to close with the enemy line. where their mediums will have the weight advantage. They need to use their light troops to disrupt the enemy cavalry with fire combat; this is especially true on the right flank, where the enemy elephants will wreak havoc if they aren't maddened into rampage and retreat.
This one plays fast. Do it as a flip-flop set.
Fairly generic Roman vs. Carthaginians brawl, light on the elephants except for the odd contingency that the Romans go to 6 cards on their third kill (presumably corresponding to Consul Gracchus's second speech to the slaves).
I narrowly won my first game playing the Carthaginians, but cannot draw balance conclusions as card luck was very poor for both sides and therre were many surprising unit-kill die rolls.
An interesting scenario that departs from the usual line-facing-line setup. More balanced than it appears; it's neither as easy for the Romans to punch through the Carthaginian center as it looks, nor easy for the Carthaginians to bring Mago's forces into the fight.
I played this as the Carthaginians and lost, narrowly. The Romans must play simple offense, keeping their troops in close formation and not leaving stragglers for the enemy to pick off. For the Carthaginians it's a maneuver game; beware the Roman heavies.
As with Baecula, play this one as a flip-flop set because it tilts towards the Romans - I played both sides and the Romans won convincingly both times. The disparity in actual combat strength is small, but it is amplified by the fact that the Carthagibnians get only 4 command cards to the Romans' 6. If the Carthaginian player gets lucky a serious elephant-trample through the Roman mediums and heavies might even the odds.
A side that gets its troops onto the river first and holds a move card for that flank will have an advantage there, because the opponent cannot engage other than by moving onto the other river and stopping first, making itself vulnerable.
This scenario depends on whether Darius can pull off an envelop-and-crush with the numerically superior Persians before Alexander punches his heavies straight through, shattering the required number of units on the way.
The early battle didn't go historically because I'm a much more aggressive general than Darius. My heavy chariots, elephant, and heavy cavalry chewed up the Macedonian center pretty thoroughly, actually blowing two entire units (including the Companion Cavalry) out from under Alexander. And my cavalry was successful on both flanks, as well. But the tide began to turn when Alexander joined a Macedonian heavy infantry unit. He and Craterus punched straight up the middle with a line of three heavies and blew Darius off my board edge. Finis.
This one is well balanced; Darius being two command cards down compensates nicely for his numbers advantage. The Macedonians better pray he doesn't get a couple of early Line Commands, though; that could seriously constrain Alexander's room to maneuver.
Macedonian infantry and cavalry (with Alexander as a special leader) against Indians with archers and elephants. This is a big, fun brawl. Historically, this is the battle that gave the the Diadochi (Alexander's generals) a vast desire for elephants in their armies — and, in fact, the elephants are key to the battle. They will wreak havoc on the Macedonian mediums and heavies if the Macedonian player doesn't learn how to counter with light infantry harassment tactics.
I got the Indian side. I think the slightly exotic weapons mix (heavy on longbowmen and elephants) makes it more fun to play, but on the other hand the Macedonians have the Alexander leader unit. His bonus battle die and morale effects make the Companion medium cavalry he starts with pretty nasty, but there can be worse fates for the Indian player — as I found out when I shot the Companions to ribbons and my opponent moved Alexander onto a heavy infantry unit. A six-battle-dice attack is no fun to be on the receiving end of; it will chew opposing units up pretty fast even when they evade.
Overall, well balanced. In my opinion one of the best compositions anywhere in the GMT scenario books.
Elephants on both sides lead to entertaining chaos. Much of this scenario depends on just how much havoc each side can wreak with the things.
I gave my opponent, who was just learning the game, Antigonus and the command-card advantage. He promptly ran an elephant into my center, demolished one unit of heavies, and did half damage to a second. He followed this up by running Peithon's cavalry down to my camp hex for the extra banner. It was looking pretty dicey for a while; he was up 4 banners to 0 at one point with two of my elephants gone. The Silver Shields and my medium infantry retrieved the situation by punching through his center.
This one is well balanced, with similar tactical challenges for both sides and Antigonus's command-card advantage compensating nicely for Eumenes's slightly higher weight of metal.
This was the so-called "Battle of Kings", a pivotal confrontation in the Wars of Alexandrian Succession. I played the Seleucids. Antigonus's cavalry-heavy right moved aggressively against my left, which is what happened historically and completely logical given the order of battle. Ahistorically, my left got handled pretty roughly but did not entirely collapse. The Antigonids later sortied against my right flank and knocked it around pretty seriously as well.
As in the original battle, moving my heavy infantry up the center proved decisive; they inflicted critical losses on the opposing line. My opponent cooperated by using a line command to move his center forward; I think, in retrospect, that this was an error.
I think my opponent's attempts at flanking were entirely correct. The Antigonids need to hit hard, fast, and early while the Seleucids have no retreat room. The OB gives the Seleucids a significant advantage in a general engagement, especially if they can deploy the elephants in their rear line effectively.
Thus I'd say this scenario favors the Seleucids slightly, especially since they start with 6 command cards to the Antigonid 5. I don't think I'd change it, though; good tactics and execution by the Antigonids can negate the Seleucid advantage, and that challenge is what this scenario design is about.