It’s been nearly a year since I last played Commands & Colours Ancients so when Rohan said he wanted to give his newly purchased (from me!) 15mm Persians a run out “to check they weren’t duds”, I was only too happy to oblige.
Commands & Colours Ancients is a hex based boardgame which is ideally suited to being played with miniatures – in this case using 15mm scale figures based for DBx placed on a Hotz mat terrain cloth with terrain features overlaid.
The scenario we chose to play was the icon battle of Marathon (490 BC) using the GMT games scenario from their website. We modified the standard scenario rules to class the thinly spread Greek hoplites in the centre as Auxillia but without missile capability as they were not fighting in their usual formations.
For our first game, I took command of the Persians and Rohan the Greeks. The Greeks were slow to advance but thanks to a “Double Time” march, the Persian medium infantry from the centre and some light troops on the right were able to quickly advance and surround the isolated Greek hoplites opposite them. In the second turn, a “Medium Units” command allowed the Persian infantry to press their advantage while the Persian cavalry forded the river.
One of the Greek generals did attempt a spirited counterattack but obviously had angered the gods before the battle as despite rolling five dice in close combat when attached to a unit of hoplites, failed to do any damage at all to my own general’s unit.
By the end of the third or fourth turn, the Persian cavalry and medium infantry had wiped out the Greek right flank and most of the centre in a convincing victory before the hoplites on the Greek left flank had been able to advance at all.
In the second game, we switched sides so I commanded the Greeks and Rohan the Persians.
My initial hand of command cards was frustrating as it was almost exclusively centre and light cards so in my first turn all I could manage was some pretty lacklustre missile fire and couldn’t mobilise any of the medium and heavy infantry on my flanks. Fortunately Rohan’s first move was to play a left flank card which I could then “Counterattack” to get my hoplites trundling forwards to oppose them.
A “Double Time” on my third turn allowed me to press further forward and subsequently was able to destroy most of the Persian left flank with my hoplites, including one of the Persian generals for only modest casualties, helped by the timely use of a “First Strike” by own general’s unit of hoplites.
With the game still in the balance, the Persians did advance on the other flank with an “I Am Spartacus” command but unlucky dice rolling meant Greek casualties were minimal while the Persians had to pull back a couple of damaged units of light troops to conserve them.
Pinned between the hoplites the river, the Persian light troops in the centre finally fell before their cavalry were able to ford the river and come to their assistance. The final result was a Greek victory but not as decisive as the first game and the outcome could have been quite different of the Persian infantry general had not been killed so early in the game.
Despite both being slightly out of practice with the rules, the game was set up and two complete battles played to a satisfactory conclusion in a total of about an hour and a half. It’s difficult to think of any other sets of miniatures rules which could achieve this without the high levels of abstraction and ‘bathtubing’ you might find in a game like DBA. The use of hexes for movements removes all the minutia of unit placement and manoeuvre which can slow down other games terribly.
Although simple, Commands & Colours Ancients really does create a credible narrative for a battle in the ancient world, in an accessible and fun format. Every time I play, I can’t help asking myself why I don’t use these rules more often. With that in mind and inspired by my recent reading of Dan Mersey’s book on wargaming early Roman armies, I plan to dust off my 10mm Early Imperial Roman and Ancient British armies to refight the Conquest of Britain. You could probably manage the entire campaign in a day!