In the good old days there were several games publishing companies promoting board war games. The General of these was Avalon Hill, and they covered virtually every war and battle you could think of and then many more obscure and almost unheard of. Every body agreed that Avalon Hill were the best, but also almost every body agreed that Avalon Hill’s rules sucked big time. Reading a set of AH rules was akin to taking a degree in law, physics and history all at the same time. Every section was headed, then paragraphed, sub-paragraphed and then split into addenda. So despite their power and popularity once other companied came along offering playable war simulations with rules books that you could read, understand and digest whilst drinking a coffee and munching a muffin Avalon Hill bit the bullet big time.
One of those new companies is GMT from Hanford California. They have set in motion a system whereby they should never, under normal circumstances, go bankrupt. They have done this with their 500 Club idea. The company announce a new game and set a slightly lower price than the regular store price for it. They then take orders, but no money, until they have a guaranteed 500 sales, then they go ahead and print the game, obviously printing more than 500 but never enough that they could go out of business due to any cash flow problem. This way everyone is happy.
There are two main types of GMT war games, those that use counters and those that use blocks. Most of them use cards in one or many different ways. Games with counters are the more traditional war game, with players having small square counters in their sides colours and printed with all the necessary information for the discerning eye. The full definitions being found either in the rules booklet or on a rules reference sheet. Counter style games also generally take a little longer to play and often require more thought and planning than their block game rivals.
Block games are colour coded wooden blocks, not dissimilar to those found in a child’s play set. Prior to the first game the players have to peel stickers from a sheet and position them on the correct blocks (as shown in the rules). Whereas counters are either face up for each player to see, face down so hidden from the enemy until they are uncovered, or in stacks so that there may be a surprise in store for the opponent if they have not positioned scouts to see and relay data to the HQ. Blocks are generally standing on an edge and facing their owning player so he always knows what troops he has available.
Over the past few years GMT have published and expanded a game system called COMMAND & COLOURS, created by Richard Borg and designed around the block system. The idea is that the basic rules for each game remain the same with only the circumstances and situations of the battle or war determining any additions. This system works extremely well for Ancients (anything BC up to around 450AD) which includes the Holy Roman Empire, Persians,Spartans, Macedonians and Greeks (and, of course,many, many more) and then continues to work with a new but similar basic set for Napoleonics (battles at Waterloo, Austerlitz and Borodino being among the favourites) and beyond. All you need is the basic C&C boxed set for the period and then you can choose your battles from the expansions available, really it is learning one system to fight many and varied battles and wars.
The mainstay of the Command & Colours games are the Command cards. These are a deck of cards available randomly to each player that determine which units can act in the round. Players have a hand of cards to choose from and replenish at the end of their turn. The combat area (playing board) is divided into three sections, Left, Centre and Right, and the set up for each battle places troops as near as possible to the situation they were in during the factual battle. The card played states which section, or sections, of the board the units will move and/or fight from (units can cross the section lines and still be active) and how many units can be activated.
Dice are rolled according to the attacker and defender, modified for cover, terrain etc, and the result of that single combat decided. Players continue to take alternative turns until one of them has achieved the goal for the scenario.
If you are interested in historical battles and playing them out on your kitchen table I would suggest you first find a local wargames club and go and see if your expectations are reached. These games are not inexpensive so buying before trying isn’t really a good idea. Most wargames clubs are happy to see new faces and most wargamers are more than happy to explain and assist.
Happy Gaming.

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