My first buy of 2011 was a semi-impulse purchase of Battle Cry (an American Civil War version of the Commands and Colours game system). I noticed it at a local comic/toy shop and thought 'oooh...should I buy that?'! I left it, though, and went home. At that point I decided I did want it so went back the next day and got it. It's no secret that I like games that are easy and quick to set up (and by that I mean assembling and painting figures and terrain) which is one of the main reasons I like Commands and Colours Ancients (CC:A), so Battle Cry seemed like a reasonable addition to the collection. In particular, I like the portability of the CC games which are, literally, wargames in a box! Most people's initial impression of the CC games is probably that it's a board game, but it really isn't. The system was designed for miniatures but for some reason it's produced as a board game rather that a paper rule set with various supplements.
So, with CC:Napoleonics pretty much on everyone's radar at the moment I thought I'd do a quick comparison of Battle Cry (BC) with CC:A. The box I got was the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War edition which is not, I believe, just a reprint, but includes some tweaks and all the scenarios from the original game plus supplements, so that's a meaty 30 scenarios in all compared to 15 in CC:A.
First off, the actual production of BC is nothing short of lavish. The board is good quality and sturdy, the cards are nice and glossy as is the rule book (which contains the scenarios). The hex terrain tiles and various counters are all made from heavy card and the plastic figures are nicely detailed. The box comes with a plastic tray insert with compartments for all the various tiles, cards, dice, tokens and figures which is very appreciated. Contrast that with CC:A which came with no tray which means all the terrain tiles, cards, dice and blocks are all loose (all my blocks are segregated in zip-lock freezer bags, which I thought absolutely necessary if you want to set up a game in less than half an hour!). Finally, the dice in BC are properly engraved, nicely-sized dice and not just cubes you have to put stickers on. The dice in CC:A are my biggest bug-bear with the game...they're massive, clunky things!! Given that I picked up BC for £45 which is actually cheaper than I picked up CC:A for, then BC wins by a mile!
The first section there is more of a comparison between different companies productions (Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast for BC and GMT Games for CC:A). The game mechanics themselves are very similar, unsurprisingly. However, BC is a actually a lot less complex than CC:A. In BC you have three troop types -infantry, artillery and cavalry. In CC:A there are also infantry and cavalry, but they are graded as Heavy, Medium and Light and that is what you are trying to throw against.
Also, in BC, the generals are a lot less important and do not have a symbol on the dice. They simply allow a retreat to be ignored and allow activation of attached units on leadership cards (usually with an extra dice in combat). In CC:A they have all those benefits plus a distinct effect on combat with leader symbols on the dice hitting for any units attached or adjacent.
Next is the major difference in the games - firepower, of course! In CC:A, light infantry can fire a couple of hexes (three for bows) and generally do little damage, as only unit symbols and flags count. In BC, infantry get 4 dice and lose 1 for each hex past the first to the target (so 4 at a unit in adjacent hex, 1 at one 4 hexes away). Artillery get 5. Cavalry get 3 but must be adjacent to attack (at first I was surprised at cavalry having to be adjacent as it felt like melee but they weren't generally used in the mounted, sabre-wielding role, but you can rationalise the short range as representative of the smaller numbers in a regiment, plus the fact that a portion have to hold the horses). So firepower degrades nicely over range. This feels pretty good.
Associated with the firepower is the lethality of attacks. With the absence of a leader symbol on the dice it means there is a face going spare and it has been filled with another infantry symbol. Given that crossed swords always hit in BC it means that, against infantry, every dice has a 50% chance of hitting. In CC:A there is only one symbol for each grading and swords only hit for Medium and above, so the light infantry are really there to harass and it's the Mediums and Heavies that are the killing machines. The addition of a leader means you can achieve a 50% for each dice, but on the whole it's easier to get hits in BC than in CC:A.
I always thought that CC:A is a very simple game that you can teach a new player in minutes (and I mean that!), so I was interested to see just how an even simpler version would play as well as the obvious difference in warfare. I have to say I was not disappointed! In CC:A it's very much about getting your battle lines organised and into the enemy. Victory flags are mostly won through getting light troops behind targets and getting the heavies into the fight as soon as possible. BC felt completely different. Getting close to the enemy, especially one in terrain or dug in, is suicidal unless you're very confident of winning in one go, and artillery can really close off avenues of attack. I found that troops were generally moving into terrain a lot more (and the scenarios tend to have a lot more terrain, understandably) and blasting away at each other until the opportunity for a bayonet charge presented itself. So terrain becomes incredibly important, infantry are much more lethal, but are in turn killed a lot more easily. Throw in trenches and earthworks and all the flavour of the ACW is there!
Commands and Colours as a game system is simply brilliant! The same easy mechanics, with some simple tweaks, can satisfactorily (at least for me) represent warfare as widely different as Rome going head to head with Carthage and the ACW, which is really the first glimpse at modern warfare! As mentioned, CC:N is grabbing all the headlines at the moment, but I would heartily recommend Battle Cry to anyone as a fun, easy and quick game that really does play like a miniatures game and captures the flavour of the period. Of course, ditto to CC:A! It sort of feels like I'm criticising CC:A here, but I'm really not. I still love that game and would probably love Memoir '44 and CC:N if I ever got them! However, I have Napoleonic and WWII minis so I can get my fix that way. CC:A and BC really do fill a hole in my gaming spectrum, though, which is another reason why I'd urge people to consider them...they're a really cheap and accessible way of getting into period you don't currently have the minis for!