Commands & Colors Napoleonics: Russian Army Expansion – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: adds a vital army to the C&C Napoleonics system, balanced scenarios
Failed Basic: some scenarios too defensive, slow release schedule on these expansions
Some things belong together. Chocolate and peanut butter. Abbott and Costello. Napoleon and Russians. So it was a great day in gaming when GMT released the Russian Army Expansion for their Commands & Colors: Napoleonics game system. Built around the card-driven Commands & Colors system originally introduced in the now-classic Battle Cry game, prior offerings in the Napoleonics series provided us the French, British, Portuguese, and Spanish armies. And now, the Russians take the field in this much-welcome boxed set.
Open the reasonably priced box (about a quarter per new unit block) and you get a scenarios book, two army folders (for the Russians and updated French statistics), two quick reference cards (one for each player; both cards have unit statistics for the Russian and French armies), eighteen double-sided terrain hexes, a Russian Infantry In Square card, nineteen game markers for the Russian player, nine Victory Banners, four In Square markers, and six Paper Strength markers.
You also get 220 wooden blocks; most are dark hunter green for the Russian units, and a few dozen dark blue blocks for the French units. There are four sheets of beautiful full-color stickers representing the twenty-one units in this expansion. It will take you about two hours to place the stickers on all of the blocks; be careful when doing this as several of the stickers on each sheet are marked as “spares” and many of those are not to be applied on the blocks; they are meant to be used to replace lost pieces in the future. If you place some spare Russian units on blocks, you might not have enough blocks to make up all of the units needed for some scenarios. So use the spare stickers last.
The Russian army contains fifteen different units, from the base “everybody has them” units such as Line Infantry and Horse Artillery to the Russian-only Cossack Light Cavalry, along with four Russian Leaders. The French units in this expansion are simply extras of units that were released with the base game over two years ago; Line Infantry, Young Guard Infantry, Old Guard Infantry, Guard Foot Artillery, and an extra Leader.
None of the French infantry units have had their statistics changed from the base set. The French cavalry units have been updated, as they were with last year’s Spanish Army Expansion; most cavalry units get an additional die in melee combat, and Heavy Cavalry no longer ignores one Flag result in combat. The Russian army units are pretty much on par with the other European powers in the game with three big exceptions. Russian Line Infantry units only have three blocks instead of the usual four, although at the start of the game some may get increased to four (more on that later). Cossacks only have two blocks per unit and retreat three hexes per flag result, but when destroyed they do not count as a Victory Banner for the French player; Cossacks are literally cannon fodder for the Russians. The Russian Guard Heavy Cavalry, on the other hand, have six blocks per unit, roll an extra die in melee, and ignore two Flag results. Take that, French invaders!
Some of the scenarios make use of what they call the Pre-Battle Mother Russia roll. After set-up, the Russian player rolls a number of battle dice equal to his command hand. For each Infantry or Artillery symbol rolled, he can add one block to a matching unit; every Cavalry symbol means he gains an extra Cossack unit; a Saber symbol allows the Russian player to set up a two-hexside Field Works in a hex with an infantry or artillery unit; and a Flag symbol allows the Russian to choose any one of these actions. If a unit gains an extra block, place a Paper Strength marker with that unit to remind you that you can increase it by an extra block when rallied.
Other than that rule, there’s not much new in this release for the Commands & Colors: Napoleonics system. The base system is good as it is and doesn’t require much change. There are expanded explanations of victory Banner conditions to reduce the wordiness of scenario details. New terrain types include church, marsh, and lake hexes (which are frozen in some scenarios and allow movement and battle), and two-sided and four-sided field works.
Along with the Russian units, the scenarios are the meat of this supplement. There are twenty battles included, from the 1806 battle over Poland at Czarnowo to Napoleon’s twilight, Craonne, in 1814. These include three scenarios based on Eylau and four built around Borodino. The scenarios are pretty well balanced and include some good scenario-specific rules; the French infantry at Krasnoi start at half strength due to “General Winter,” while the three 1814 scenarios have French Line Infantry as new conscripts who do not receive +1 battle die in melee.
The Army Reference folders are re-vamped with the same information provided but in a slightly easier formatting. One nit I have to pick is the use of colored squares instead of numbers to indicate how many blocks each unit starts with. Are Arabic numerals going out of fashion? And as with the Spanish Army Expansion, many units now have small unit icons on the stickers to “assist players in set-up and unit recognition” as GMT puts it. So Horse Artillery units have a horsehead on them. Along with big letters spelling out HORSE ARTILLERY along the bottom … Stop the post-literate madness! Trust me, anyone who is interested in re-enacting Friedland is probably able to read unit types and numerical strength.
Many of the scenarios have the Russians dug in behind entrenchments—sometimes called field works, sometimes called redoubts (GMT editors—make up your minds!) which can lead to a static game, with the Russian player sitting and forcing the French player to waste himself on attacks against strong positions. Historically accurate, yes, and a strategy able to be defeated by patient French players working their way to flank Russian positions, but it makes for a long and sometimes frustrating game. How about a Czar Displeasure rule: if the game takes longer than, say, thirty turns, the game is a draw as the Russian commander the player is portraying gets sacked whether he ultimately wins or loses?
I know I’m not alone among C&C Napoleonics players to grow impatient with GMT’s release schedule. The base set came out late in 2010, the Spanish Army expansion was released at the beginning 2012, and now a year later we get the Russians. Following that schedule, we should be able to game The Battle Of Three Emperors next summer when the Austrians get released, and a few Hundred Days battles sometime in 2015 when the Prussian army comes out. Don’t even ask about the minor states. Come on, GMT, give us the Austrians by year’s end and the Prussians in 2014, and instead of giving us more French spares add a sheet of minor powers stickers and plain beige blocks with each new expansion (the minor powers can have different colored borders on the stickers to differentiate between, say, Swiss and Poles).
As I said at the start of this article, some things belong together. Napoleonic wargames and GMT are two more items on that list. The Russian Army Expansion is a great release for their Commands & Colors: Napoleonics system. The scenarios selected are a great representation of the French-Russian conflicts during the early 1800s, balanced and with a nice mix of units. The Russian Guard Heavy Cavalry will definitely give French players a run for their francs, and the Cossacks are excellent musket-ball catchers, the ultimate skirmishers. The French and rules lawyers don’t get much out of this boxed set, though defensive-minded players will make good use of the extra redoubts / field works hexes.
Armchair General Rating: 91%
Solitaire Rating (1 is low, 5 is high): 2
About the Author
Sean Michael Stevenson has been gaming since the SPI days of the late 70s. His gaming collection includes over 1700 games. He has authored two prior reviews for Armchair General of this series of games; the base set of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics and the Spanish Army Expansion.