Thursday, August 6, 2020

Simple Wargame #1: Commands & Colors Ancients The Battle of Akragas 406 BC

Ken was over this past weekend (yes I'm posting this on Thursday...) to play a game of the outstanding "Commands & Colors: Ancients" boardgame.  I set up the introductory scenario "Akragas 406 BC" featuring the Carthaginians fighting the Syracusans for control of Sicily!  You can read more about the battle here.

 Would we change history?
This was the first game in a series of games attempting to explore "simple wargaming" and what that means. I received a significant number of feedback from my last post, including people who have volunteered to participate in the project, prompting me to enthusiastically continue! (I've already played 2 x games and am behind in my AARs!)

Rather than post a detailed revew of the CCA rules, and system, check out this page here to see what the Commands and Colors series is all about.  Readers of this blog will know that the Napoleonics version is an absolute favorite of mine - preferring to game it with miniatures versus blocks.  It's worth mentioning this was our first attempt at playing the Ancients version.  I liked it so much I'll be starting to paint my Ancients soon and basing them on single bases.
Ken and I begin the game sending in attacks against the flanks with cavalry or Carthaginian chariots. My "plan" is to use my heavy infantry in the center to move forward and smash enough units in the Carthaginian center to earn the 5 victory banners (earned when destroying units, leaders, or capturing objectives). I'm trying to arrange the cards to support a center assault but it's just not happening. My lack of discipline sees me using some very powerful cards in spoiling attacks that, while fun, do not serve to achieve the victory in the plan!

Ken and I really used Akragas to put the various unit types (there are many in CCA and that's a good thing) through their paces and figure out the combat and the rules, which are "dead simple" as Jonathan F put it on Norm's blog.  Still though, there are many small rules to learn!  To the game and the author's credit, every single question we had was answered, promptly, by the rules.  

We had a number of extraordinary things happen during the course of the game that really added flavor to the experience.  A heavy infantry attack annihilating a Carthaginian auxiliary unit, and the death of the Carthaginian General Hannibal Mago which took place during an epic duel between heavy infantry units.  Ken led throughout the course of the game, but I caught up in victory banners as my plan developed.  Still though, Ken killed way more units and we ended the game 5-4.  I thought I would take the opportunity to answer my questions now for CCA!

Simple Wargaming Questions: 

How long did the game take to play?  1.5 hours for the first game, and a little over an hour for the second game.

What was the Scenario?  The Battle of Akragas and the Battle of Crimissos River, the first two scenarios in the CCA scenario booklet.

Carthaginian Battle Lines stand ready to advance at Akragas!

Syracusan Heavy Infantry awaiting the order to move out!

What Happened?  Ken (Carthage) was definitely the more aggressive player and Ken was launching numerous attacks down the flanks, while my plan was to use my heavy infantry in the center to basically bludgeon my way to 5 victory banners.  It did not work!  I will say that both of us were trying to maintain a strategy without relying on the luck of the cards - which isn't easy especially when needing to react to a move or an opportunity provided by your opponent!  I was more aggressive in the second game, seeking to block the fords with Auxiliary units of Syracusans, forcing Ken to have to fight with everything on the west site of the river.  

There were numerous extraordinary things that happened and I must admit this is a favorite feature of mine in the Commands and Colors systems - namely that Generals can go down in the fighting and one seems to in almost every game I play.  Carthaginian General Magos was killed in an EPIC duel between heavy infantry units at Akragas.

Mago is killed in heavy fighting among heavy infantry units!

Who Won and Why?  Ken won both of these VERY close games and I feel like that happened because I was not disciplined enough in the first game, and not quick enough in the second game.  Units go down FAST in the Ancients version as there is no attrition to your combat rolls and so 1 block units are just as lethal as full strength ones.  I do NOT feel like luck was against me regarding the cards, but simply that I could have made a few better decisions.  The game was chock full of decisions about how best and where to launch attacks.  I also like that I can "soften up" the enemy with arrows or javelins before launching a ground assault.  That is a beautiful thing!  We will talk about that feature in more rules coming up...
Syracusan attack on the right going out to meet the Carthaginians!

Did You Enjoy the Game?  ABSOLUTELY HANDS DOWN.  This was great fun.  Not only did it have a superb ancients "feel" to it, but all of the unit characteristics you would expect were highly functioning and there on the table and you have to use them all to your advantage.  This was a wonderful diversion, and a very fun, tense, and exciting game.  So far not having played too many other ancients games, I have to say it's my favorite.

"Advanced" Questions

How many consultations occurred with the rulebook after reading?  Probably once per player turn at minimum.  It was our first games and I feel that the next game there will be less.  As mentioned though, the rules are so tightly written that 99% of our questions were answered.  It took up some time, but we were still able to knock out 2 games in an afternoon.

Was the scenario created for you?  Yes the game and the supplements have tons of scenarios I think there are 10 in the starter set and I have supplement 2 and 3.  Cannot wait to play those!  There are countless fan-produced scenarios as well on Commands and Colors dot net.

Did any troops perform remarkably?  Yes there were some instances where a heavy infantry unit wiped out an auxiliary unit in a single combat, or another heavy unit in a single combat.  While that was what came up on the dice, there are tactical decisions you can make to influence that roll.  Attaching a commander will enable you to count extra hits in combat when a certain symbol is rolled.  Additionally on the defense, units with 2 adjacent units bordering the defender lend "support" and a flag (retreat) may be ignored.

What were the victory conditions?  CCA shines here as there is really no "ties" or draws.  When one side achieves the specified number of victory banners (gained for killing units, leaders, or seizing terrain) you win.  Both games this was 5.

If the game was enjoyable or not enjoyable was it due to the mechanics, the outcome, or the tension?  I feel like it was a combination of all 3 of these factors.  
The mechanics are simple and fun and as stated on the box, they "conform remarkably well to the tactics of the period".  The outcome I felt was absolutely appropriate given the decisions made.  The tension created in the game from not knowing where you opponent is going to move next or what card he is going to play enables a kind of fun anticipation of waiting to see where the hammer will fall.  The troops also behave as you would expect large bodies of ancient troops to move and fight like.

In these games as I tried to enact my plan, I found myself hoping that Ken would not play a particular card so that I could put my cunning plans into action.  That whole anticipation of your opponent's turn and move really keeps the game interesting and fun.  

All in all this was an outstanding afternoon of gaming, and I feel as if I have never once had a bad game of Commands and Colors and I will most certainly keep playing them, and play them more often!

I would also like to offer a word of thanks to everyone who commented on the "Allure of Simple Wargaming" post with their thoughts, opinions, and feelings towards the project.  

I'd also like to give a shout out to Norm and Erik D for participating in the project with their own gaming!  

Norm's website is linked on the right hand side of this blog and his Simple Wargaming post where he played the Perry "Firepower" ACW rules I have always been fascinated with, can be found here.

Erik's blog link is here and for bonus points, he played my very own and Alex's "EAGLES CHEAPER THAN BRAIN CELLS" Grand Tactical Napoleonic rules!  Go check out his blog now!

WOW what an exciting project so far and there is more coming up!  Stay tuned and keep up with the Simple Gaming as we gather more and more data and information from you all on what makes a game a simple game, and why so many of us like them so much!  You might see a game from Mr Neil Thomas and his One Hour Wargames on the table!



  1. CCA is one of my favorites. It is a game that EVERYONE is willing to play. I play it with 6mm figures and it looks good on the table. Most games are finished in less than 45 minutes.

    1. Jonathan it is becoming one of my favorites as well although I'd like to play it with miniatures vrs blocks! I guess I have some serious painting to do!

  2. I played my first C&C game (medieval) last Thanksgiving. CCA immediately went on my Christmas list and my lovely bride hooked me up. Fantastic game and completely understand your feelings toward it.

    1. MEDIEVAL plays much differently than ANCIENTS, I think. Heavy cavalry is absolutely deadly in MEDIEVAL.

    2. Ski I was definitely hooked on the Napoleonic set and after playing the ancients game I'm even more excited. I cant wait to play more games!

    3. Jonathan I really want to try the medieval rules. A friend of mine has an outstanding experimental ECW version which was great fun to play.

  3. Excellent stuff.
    Your framework that describes the action works tremendously well and is a nice hook to hang the narrative and highlights off. Great outline for the blog posts. Great that tension, mechanics and outcome were all contributory.
    I'll try and get Saratoga done this weekend or next, with 'Hold the Line'.

    Oh and thanks for the rules amendments by the way.
    Have you seen the simple WWIII action at 'Megablitz and More' blog? I hope he publishes those rules soon.

    1. Darren I think their WW3 version is called NBC- NATO BRigade Commander. Try googling it might be out there somewhere to download?

      Bob C (portable wargame author) has a hex version of Megablitz called "hexblitz" which you can pick up cheaply on amazon.

  4. It is a clever system and has wide appeal. When we play, we get through a few games in the evening, helped by not really needing the rulebook, but by the end of the night, though I feel like I have had an evening of fun play, I also feel like I have had my fill, it is not something that I would want to play all the time or have as my sole Ancients ‘go to’.

    I think another area for me (and this is a personal thing) is that C&C doesn’t scream out at being a solo friendly game, which is a big part of my hobby. I know it CAN be played solitaire, but the intention of card play is that two players will be sat at this table. So it drops a point for me on the ‘simple’ scale for that.

    I do though enjoy it much more than Battle Cry (ACW), which despite it being of the same family, just feels a bit too generic for my tastes.

    So in my mix of essential ingredients for ‘the simple game’ I suppose I have just discovered that I would have to add ‘solo friendly to the list - but some players only ever play face-to-face and no doubt they would heartily disagree with my ‘essential’ element of simple :-) So that is a very personal thing to the individual.

    I should say that I am pursuing GMT’s SPQR as my ancients system ...... but this rule set has an alternative rule set actually called simple SPQR, which of itself is 16 pages (so perhaps not so simple) and the fact a ‘simple’ derivative rule set exists indicates how NOT simple the original is and so I think I am starting to see that my own exploration of the simple game at the moment is relying on meaty type games that get easier with frequent play and I am not sure that I like that as a definition of ‘simple’. perhaps this is revealing that there are not enough systems, especially boardgames, that sit in a sweet ‘simple’ spot for me.

    Anyway, sorry to rabbit on, I am only adding this as extended thought for your data capture.

    1. Norm once again my thoughts are aligning with yours. I love CCA, CCN, Tricorne, and my own home-grown Battlecry scenarios but they are not suitable for solo play without some significant modifications (cards would be out, replaced probably with pips or an orders system).

      The game was simple and I'm feeling that future games will be quicker. I'm very happy ri have tried it.

      I'm still looking for my go-to ancients rules. I was thinking Hail Caesar might be those rules, based off the Black Powder model. I will check out GMTs SPQR rules. Quick question - what about modifying the rules you wrote for the Battle of Hastings? Could those be suitably converted to Ancients?

    2. Steve, I regularly play CCA solo and it works fine "as is" with cards. There is more than one way to skin this cat for solo play.

    3. Steve, I think Hail Caesar could well be another sweet spot and part of their design intent. The Hastings rules is an interesting area for me. I have been thinking about going as far back as Kadesh and as far forwards as Wars of Roses and perhaps I should test the game engine before doing more 'thinking' on the subject. When written, they were intended to cover 1066 and then to add a Crusades battle in to make a quad. They are probably two thirds core rules and one third dedicated period rules, so each era visited would need a third of the ruleset to be dedicated and different, perhaps losing the 'simple' element.

    4. Jonathan,
      Please do tell! Myself and many others were discussing solo play with the CC series and how difficult it is.

      I've tried it myself with simply playing 2 hands. Is that how you do it?

  5. Oh - and for figures, looking at Sword & Spear from Great Escape Games as a possible ‘simple’ solution.

    1. I have those and completely forgot about them! They should have been on my list.

    2. Norm I thought I'd ask about Hastings. The time period you mentiooned is the period I would personally look for in an Ancients set (Kadesh to WOTR.)
      Hail Caesar is an interesting rules set. It would certainly answer the "familiarity" question as I have plenty of experience with Black Powder. I have never played it, though so I'm not sure.

  6. I'm also a huge fan of CCA,particularly played with figures as it looks stunning. Sadly we haven't figured out a way to do the card draws remotely during lockdown, so we haven't played a game since March. The card play is the core of the game, which also makes it hard to play solo, as it essentially a card game with figures attached.

    1. Cheers Martin. I'm a huge fan of CCA as well. I hope that came across in this post. I'm not sure how to play it solo (Jonathan F above says he has some methods for solo play). I can see where play-over-computer would not be practical as how would you manage the cards.

      I almost think youd have to remove the cards and use some other form of "orders" while
      retaining the combat system.

      The only thing that comes to mind for me is to remove the section cards so you only have the special cards and allow the other player an opportunity to either roll for his orders, or draw a special card (The GM would have the deck) for his turn. If he chooses to draw a card, he must carry out the actions in the card.

      That would keep a little bit of the flavor of the game but it wouldn't be CCA.

  7. Glad to see you really enjoyed your game which is, of course, the most important thing. I've tried Hail Caesar! and it just didn't click for me: ditto Sword & Spear which I found too gamey. In the end Neil Thomas' Ancients & Medieval rules ticked the box for me, an occasional Ancients gamer.

    1. Steve,
      I'm similar in that I'm an "occasional" Ancients player. I own the Neil Thomas Ancients and Medieval rules. Perhaps I should have listed them as well. I do need to paint a shed load of figures for them, however.

  8. I’m not surprised by your success with Command and Colors as it’s one of those games that people really like and certainly fits the bill for simple and fun. I’ve only played the ACW version and the WWII version myself and usually have fun while doing it. Though I really feel that you have to play it twice in an evening to get a full ‘gaming experience.’ 😀

    1. I agree, Stew. It's almost "light hearted" while retaining all of the fun and flavor of a more sophisticated rules set. I have enjoyed the ACW version with a home-grown scenario and that was a real dust-up.
      The BattleCry games are wicked fast. We played Antietam 3 times in an afternoon...that's just not right!!!!

  9. Interesting stuff. Try Stuka on BGG for good solo rules.

    1. Thanks Dave! Is Stuka the name of the rules? I could not find them!