Command and Colors Napoleonics: The Spanish Army – Boardgame Review
Commands and Colors: Napoleonics—Expansion #1, the Spanish Army. Publisher, GMT Games. Designer, Richard Borg. $55.00
Passed Inspection: Beautiful playing pieces; player aid cards are great quick references for all units; having another army in the mix really opens up possibilities for playing multi-nation battles
Failed Basic: Costs nearly as much as the core game; Spanish Army has a bad tendency to rout; like Napoleon, I want out of Spain
Although Armchair General‘s editorial policy generally is to review only stand-alone games or a series of expansions, since this is the first expansion to a well-received game the decision was made to review it and give players an idea of how GMT looks to handle future expansions to this system.
The first thing you notice about this is that for an expansion it’s almost as big (and pricey) as the original game! Open the box and the components are gorgeous. You get 144 yellow wooden blocks for the Spanish army, 65 dark blue blocks for more French units (just what Napoleon needs, reinforcements), and 4 sheets of full-color unit stickers to apply (Columbia Games–like) to the blocks. The Spanish get their own Square Formation card and 4 Square markers, 9 Spanish victory Banner markers, and 6 Guerrilla Action markers. The expansion also includes 17 new terrain tiles, mainly more hills and woods but also featuring two new terrain types.
You get a Scenarios book with 18 battles; the scenarios book includes a few new units and terrain features rules (more on those later). You also get updated Nationality Folders, one for the French and the other for the British/Portuguese/Spanish Allies. A great addition to the system is the double-sided, full-color player aid card (two identical cards, one per player) which presents game statistics for every unit in the game, easily readable at a glance: movement, ranges and firing strength, melee strength, any special abilities the unit has such as ignoring a Flag result, etc. This is a wonderful reference for quick consultation during battles.
New terrain tiles and the Guerrilla Action token
The new terrain features are Walled Farm—an excuse for new artwork; it is treated the same as a Town hex—and Two-Hexside and Four-Hexside Fieldworks (now called Redoubts) which otherwise work the same as the Three-Hex Fieldworks terrain in the original set. New units join the fight, both French cavalry (just what Napoleon needs, more cavalry). First are the Lancers, a unit that re-rolls Flags; the retreat result still applies, but any hits and Flags on the re-rolls also score as the Lancers ride down the fleeing enemy. The other newbie to the Commands and Colors: Napoleonics battlefield is the French Light Guard Cavalry, a four-block unit that ignores two flags rolled against them.
One new rule that I had some problem wrapping my mind around concerns the Guerrilla Action markers. The Spanish Player begins with one of these markers in some scenarios, but in every scenario he can gain a Guerrilla marker by playing a Scout card and drawing only one card (Scout normally allows you to draw two replacement cards). When the French player plays a command card, the Spanish player can spend (discard) one Guerrilla token to attempt to cancel the French action. The French player rolls one die: if it’s a saber he can continue his turn with the card he played; otherwise, he draws a replacement card, and then it becomes the Spanish player’s turn. This means the Spanish effectively have a 5 in 6 chance of taking two turns in a row.
My problem with the Guerrilla token rules is twofold. First, I can cancel a single section Scout card as easily as I can cancel a Forward (two units per section) command card? And what, exactly, is the logic behind the token? The Spanish guerrillas didn’t usually take to the battlefield, they ambushed French soldiers and cut supply lines; they were a strategic drain on the French more than a tactical asset for Spain, so I just can’t see how Guerrilla Tokens can be used to cancel French command cards. In the scenarios I played through, the Guerrilla Tokens didn’t cause that much of a game imbalance, but two Cavalry Charges were prevented along with a Center Attack that would have ended the game three turns earlier. I played a few scenarios using my own Guerrilla rules—trade in a Guerrilla token for two blocks of Militia along any mapedge hex; spend a token to reduce the French player’s command hand by one (he has to discard a card without replacing it); or cancel one French victory banner. Again, the tokens didn’t cause any game imbalance, but this method just felt better, especially when those two Spanish Militia troops appeared right behind lonely Leval and blew the French general away. Guerrilla warfare 101: don’t leave your officers exposed.
The Spanish army as presented is weaker overall than their French opposition, with two drawbacks; Spanish infantry (except Grenadiers) actually lose one die when they move before melee combat, and all Spanish troops retreat two hexes for each Flag result. That double retreat was the death of several Spanish units forced off the map edge. Most units match up well—I’ll send Spanish Grenadiers against their French counterparts any day—and the Spanish can put up a good fight, but losing a die when charging into melee and that two-hex "Run away!" retreat tends to make them the poor stepchild of the Napoleonic battlefield.
As mentioned before, along with a full complement of Spanish troops you also get a massive reinforcement of French units, mainly line and militia infantry along with heavy and light cavalry. For some reason, with this expansion GMT has decided to add icons to differentiate the unit types; a cavalry helmet for heavy cavalry, a grenade symbol for grenadiers, and so on. I guess having the word GRENADIER along the bottom of the unit wasn’t enough …
With the addition of Spanish army blocks you have options to run other forces including the smaller powers. The Bailen scenario uses British and Portuguese units to represent Swiss Mercenaries, with a basic write-up of Swiss statistics (one die per block in melee and fire, move and fire at half-strength rounded down, one hex retreat per Flag). As long as you don’t mind the color schemes and uniform details being wrong, use the Spanish as Austrians and Portuguese as Papal States.
Which leads me to the only negative point of this review: I’m sick of the Peninsular War. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a fascinating period of history to study and to game. I completely understand why the first Commands and Colors: Napoleonics started off with the British and Portuguese armies in addition to the requisite French. But I want Russians, Prussians, and Austrians. Give me Cossack charges and Archdukes, let me re-enact The Battle Of Three Emperors. After two boxed sets and thirty-one scenarios, when it comes to the Spanish Campaign, no mas.
This is a solid boxed expansion for a long-lived game (The origin of the system, Battle Cry, came out in 2000!). The two-sided player aid card that lists every unit for all armies is a GREAT idea that should be carried forward into the future expansions. The new units add flavor and tactics to the game, and having a fourth army really opens the door to gaming other armies, including lesser nations and units such as Royalist French (pro-British), Irish (pro-French), and mercenaries; I hope GMT will give us stats for various nationalities and specific units, which wouldn’t require their own blocks—just use other army blocks mixed in (a high-morale French Line Infantry unit being represented by Portuguese blocks, for example). The downsides are that we’re still gaming in Spain, the Spanish tend to lose big when they lose, and this expansion costs almost as much as the core game.
GMT already has expansions for the Austrians and Russians scheduled for release, and if they’re like this set the Commands and Colors: Napoleonics game will soon be considered a classic. And a welcome relief it will be to see some white and green uniforms on snowy battlefields of central Europe!
Armchair General rating: 85
Solitaire Suitability: 2 out of 5, with 5 representing high solitaire suitability (knowing the tactical cards of both sides tends to change game play significantly)
About the author
Sean Stevenson has been playing wargames since the SPI days of the late 1970s, and his gaming collection now includes over 1700 games. He has just opened a gaming shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.