HexWar continues to port their library of ‘lite’ iOS wargames to the PC with titles such as Tank Battle: North Africa and Civil War: 1863, which have just been joined by a conversion of the like-titled cards and dice board game, Command and Colours: The Great War (TGW). Not having played the well-received WWI game, I have to say I at first didn’t care much for this PC version, yet I attribute almost all of my initial disapprobation to the fact that it was in development for the majority of my time with it. Therefore, some, err… kinks might be expected (along with a learning curve!), which have mostly been resolved, such as certain cards not appearing to play properly. More later on. (Note: I write from the perspective that readers are nearly as new to TGW as I am; those familiar with the board game’s mechanics, please bear with me.)
As mentioned, cards and dice form the basis of the system, the former allotting movement while dice resolve combat. Cards are sorted into two decks, Command and Combat; the former are played first (caveat: see below), one per turn, enabling various attacks ranging from Probes to Assaults. ‘Section’ Command Cards restrict the number of units as well as their playable sector – Left, Center, Right – while ‘Tactical’ Command Cards allow activation in “across the battlefield” as well as perhaps enabling movement and/or combat not otherwise permitted. Combat Cards generally allow extra abilities – for example, activating other units not in play from one’s Command card; ‘spying’ on the enemy; receiving replacements – or the opportunity to interrupt the opponent during certain phases with either counterattacks or movement prohibitions. As to the customised dice, they’re useable in either close- or ranged combat, the number permitted adjusted by range; also subject to varying modifiers, certain results can be ignored, such as ranged retreats on entrenched units.
Customary to virtually all wargames, and especially considering the era, one might expect terrain – especially trenches, wire, and shell craters, as well as forest and buildings – to have movement, LOS, and/or cover effects. Generally, buildings and forest stop movement for a turn whilst also blocking LOS and providing combat (dice) adjustments, while wire only stops movement. On the other hand, trenches do not affect LOS or movement, but do offer greater defensive modifiers (surprise, surprise!).
Off-board artillery plays a major role in TGW, once again as it should. In certain scenarios, shelling of No-Man’s-Land is conducted by the AI – disconcerting when it’s initiated by your side and falls amongst your own troops! However, this appears to be for terrain effects only – i.e., cratering and destroying emplaced wire – since units emerge unscathed as far as I have been able to tell. Otherwise, when to use your reserve artillery assets becomes another important tactical consideration.
Other features include a system of HQ Tokens; each side starts with a certain number, which are optionally augmented in place of a Combat Card each turn (Command Cards are replaced automatically, while starting numbers of cards, in addition to deployed forces and objectives, vary by scenario). HQ Tokens can be spent on unit activation during the Movement Phase, plus aforementioned artillery strikes, or simply to play a Combat Card. I can advise that this feature seems to be the crux of the system: How many tokens will be enough? Will a try for that key Combat Card draw be worth forgoing your two tokens this turn (considering, at the same time, that Combat Cards in-hand are limited)?
Victory is determined through earning Combat Medals, awarded for eliminating units and/or taking objectives, again depending on the scenario. Specific objectives also vary, perhaps in combination with one another, such as achieving breakthroughs and managing time constraints. It is important to understand and pay attention to these, as, for example if the attacker is under Time Pressure, the defender receives a (Permanent) Victory Medal upon playing a Recon Command Card. The underlying ‘logic’ of this particular rule is a bit puzzling, but…
In any event, I must say I’m moderately impressed to see Vimy Ridge (I am Canadian, in case you’ve forgotten!) comprise the final four of the 16 more or less linked scenarios, which include two non-historic tutorials as well as five ‘battles’ each from Loos and the Somme. They are not required to be played in order, but as usual introduce slightly increasing complexity, albeit not so much that later TGW scenarios seem unplayable without a lot of prior experience. Multiplayer is not supported other than hotseat, while either side can be player- or human-controlled; the AI can be set to Lieutenant, General, or Field Marshal level, though I haven’t had enough time with the game to test the differences.
WHERE TO, GENERAL?
As mentioned, the board game has been praised, and this PC version appears to recreate the experience (at a lot less money!) with but a few quibbles and one caveat mentioned above. First, I’d like to see a downloadable and searchable .pdf manual; the in-game version is quite hard to read: tiny, sometimes blurry print (at certain resolutions), even on my brand new GeForce 1070 (no, it has nothing to do with age, Joe!). Speaking of resolution, the maximum available is 1920×1080, which is fine, but certain others – e.g., the lowest, at 1280×720, even on maxed ‘Fantastic’ setting, which start at Fast – renders a somewhat fuzzy play area, let alone readable printed matter/tooltips. (A Fantastic setting of 1200×900 seemed a reasonable compromise for me on a widescreen.) Yet, despite Forest resembling piles of boulders at certain angles, odd mushrooms at others, the graphics are quite good otherwise, with a top-down 2D perspective unlockable to a zoom-able 3D field of view scrolling right up and personal in the face of little soldiers detailed down to their brass buttons.
Even so, it seems that certain bugs may continue to infest TGW, since I still run into situations where a card doesn’t play properly. For example, the Counterintelligence and Counterattack Combat Cards seem bugged; in more than one instance multiple copies of two different cards were shown to select from instead of the entire discard pile, and then the selection appeared to be made for me while I was attempting to ‘scroll’ through the options. In another case I was reviewing my Combat Cards and somehow accidentally discarded one (I only had three, of a maximum five at the time). Finally, while I initially thought that the mechanism to play a Combat Card ‘alongside’ one’s Command card was bugged as well, after a great deal of experimenting I realised that the cards must be read literally: “Play alongside your command card [my italics]” means to literally play them simultaneously – side-by-side, not one after the other. It doesn’t help that the documentation doesn’t specify this, and it’s easy to miss the (very) faint silhouettes of their back symbols over the board in their play spots. This really needs to be more explicit, especially since the game plays so differently from almost anything I’ve tried, and is not exactly intuitive – which is not necessarily a bad thing, I will add. In any case, I trust that such vermin and quirks will be resolved very soon – if not already, since a couple of updates have been posted while I write – as it goes without saying that they’re frustrating and detract from play.
In the meantime, The Great War recreates a reasonable simulation of WWI tactics of advance, bog down in no-man’s-land, retreat, repeat, without recreating the drudgery of trench warfare (a bane of other period wargames). It also appears that most scenarios can be played in under an hour or so, and yet replay value should be quite high, judging by the myriad tactical options offered and the difficulty of mastering them. Moreover, doubtless expansions are planned, hopefully including tanks, received by the board game a little over a year ago. Thus, I may be revisiting Vimy Ridge for a while yet.
Command & Colours: The Great War is available on Steam.
Editor’s Note: We have tried to make sure that our article is as accurate as possible with regards to technical & gameplay issues. Hexwar was contacted directly when required – however, TGW has received several updates since launch and during the author’s play-time, so some information may be slightly out-dated at time of publication.