The Great War: Initial Impression
“My centre is giving way, my right is in retreat, situation excellent. I attack.”
― Ferdinand Foch
Now I'm a huge Commands & Colors: Napoleonics fan and I do enjoy the other card driven battle games so I was always going to enjoy this game as long as they didn't completely make a hash of it. So please bear this in mind when taking on board my opinion.
The components, are of superb quality. The board is a solidly-built mounted board with large hexes and three sections - left, center, and right - with an appropriately thematic muddy no man's land style background.
Of course, being a Commands & Colors game, it also comes with markers for the different forces. Unlike Napoleonics and Ancients these are in the form of miniatures rather than blocks. These look great on the board with the British/Commonwealth forces in brown and the Germans in Grey. These models are about 6mm tall on average a scale which makes them fit in the trenches on the tiles which is a nice touch. Speaking to the guys at Expo the scale also means the artillery pieces and tanks coming later can be done closer to scale. This avoids the Memoir 44 issue that always bugged me where the soldiers were bigger than the tanks.
The only downside to the miniatures I could see (aside from getting them out of the sprues) was that if you had them all in a single container finding the machine gunners, mortars and bombers may be a pain.
There are two decks of cards, the command cards which are the standard 'attack left', 'probe centre' that we expect in Command and Colours games. The second is the combat cards, the sneaky tricks and boosts to your forces that you can use to your advantage. The cards are nicely done, have clear text for the command cards and artwork for the combat cards in a similar style for Memoir 44 (albeit for WW1).
Victory banners aren't wooden blocks or tiny little flags like other games, but are instead large cardboard circles with the British flag on one side and the German Empire flag on the other. These are far easier to track VPs with that some of the other games.
The game comes with 2 double sided player aid cards, one side for terrain and one side for the units. The small variation in units helps here as does the troops on either side being symmetrical. A note on what the dice symbols mean would have been nice on the reference sheet for newbies.
The dice are not the horrible plastic sticker monstrosities that we saw in other Command and Colours games. These are wooden dice with smooth edges at a size where my better half is able to roll 4-5 at once (something she couldn't do with the plastic dice in other games). The symbols on the dice are clear, vibrant and easy to understand.
Each player starts with a set number of command cards. These allow you to activate your units and will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played this type of game before. Attack left orders 3 units in the left section for example.
Each player also starts with a set number of combat cards, these do a huge range of things from allowing you to battle back in close combat to moving extra units or negating cover bonuses etc. Each of these cards cost HQ points to play and you can never go over your starting limit.
HQ points - each player starts with a set number and you gain more by rolling the HQ symbol on the attack dice or at the end of your turn. These points allow you to play the Combat cards or to call in off board artillery support.
Off board artillery - most missions ( I think all in the book) have some degree of off board artillery support. This has a number from 3-5 I believe and reflects how many dice you can use when rolling for artillery. Artillery is ordered like any other unit except they aren't on the board, ordering artillery costs HQ points and each point spent allows you one of the artillery dice to use at the beginning of your turn. E.g. A 3 strength artillery will cost 1-3 HQ points to fire and one of your orders from the card you played. If you spend 1 you only get a single dice, 2 for 2 dice and so on. Artillery then picks a spot in the section that was ordered and rolls the artillery dice which are d6. If you roll 2 or more of the same number those rounds hit. Any other numbers scatter off according to the scatter template, as the board is hexes it is impossible to get a direct hit with one dice. For each dice landing on an enemy unit you roll one attack dice and deal damage accordingly. If you ever get 3 direct hits on a trench it collapses and a crater is placed on top reducing the cover bonuses to the troops in the space.
Combat is straight forward and similar to memoir '44 as you don't get less dice as you lose units unlike Napoleonics. This helps keep the game bloody and furious, especially in the trenches.
At the end of the turn you draw a new command card then have the choice of gaining 2 HQ points or drawing a combat card and a single HQ point. If you don't play a combat card that turn you can also discard one of your combat cards. This helps you get rid of combat cards that don't help you to get a chance of drawing a better one.
So myself and my other half got to play the first Somme scenario. I took control of the Germans fighting to hold off the British attack ably commanded by Colonel Emily.
The Germans were heavily outnumbered with two machine gun emplacements on the front line and a solitary infantry unit to delay the British. Further back a mortar team and a machine gun occupied the fortified farm buildings, behind them and rushing to support at the very back of the defences were two infantry units. Across the narrow strip of no man's land the British had a lot more infantry, but time is against them in this mission. With 6 VPs being the target and one being gained for killing an enemy unit (standard in C&C), 1 for each British unit exiting the German board edge and 2 for each fortified farm held by the British this encourages the British to attack. The German's meanwhile were able to gain victory points by playing recon cards and instead of gaining the benefit from recon of drawing cards and choosing which to keep at the end of the turn they could get a VP instead. This effectively gives the British a time limit.
Both sides started with a handful of command cards (6 British and 5 German IIRC) and 2 combat cards each. Then the game opened with a preliminary bombardment by the British. This serves two purposes, 1 is to make gaps in the barbed wire and the second is to make craters for advancing infantry to hide in. This means scenarios with bombardment can play very differently each time as different gaps open up. The bombardment is resolved by going to each row that is marked with the bombardment arrow and rolling a dice and moving along that many spaces, then placing a crater there unless it is a trench, handily the barbed wire has craters on the back meaning you just flip them over. Once this is resolved for every row you now hopefully have some breaches in the wire to exploit and extra bits of cover. In this game there were two breaches both in the centre but close to each flank section with some shell holes close by for a bit of cover.
The British immediately surged forwards into the shell holes near the left flank of the german line. The german machine guns nearby causing a few casualties but nothing too serious while the resrves started their long slog up from the rear trenches. The British responded by playing their first combat card that meant the machine gun team slowing their advance was out of supply and had to move to the rear severely weakening the german left which was now held by a single infantry squad with the reinforcing infantry still a way off.
The German counter attack on the left started with heavy bombardment from the off board artillery, the central mortar teams and some small arms fire from the german infantry that did little to the British Troops already in the trenches, proving that infantry in a trench is pretty mch invulnerable to anything you can throw at it.
The British continues to push on down the trench system while bringing up some extra troops to support the push and create more problems on the other flank by cutting through the barbed wire while the germans were preoccupied with getting the British out of the trenches. Unfortunately for these brave souls the Germans pushed hard on the left, the infantry reinforcements finally arrived and began pushing the British out of the trenches while the machine gun redeployed and catching an enemy force in no mans land showed why cover is so important in this game. I played a machine gun combat card alongside a command card that allowed both my machine guns on each flank to fire twice. One squad was annihilated on the left while the right squad was driven back into the cover of their own trenches.
Despite this set back the British attack on the german right found new life and continued to whittle down the meager forces defending on the left. What followed was a back and forth for control of the trenches that was eventually won on the left by the British after they managed to suprise and ambush a german counter attack annihilating them in the process. Thus the German left was horribly exposed with only a single machine gun team left to hold off the British.
Then the attack on the right came in a mad dash across no man's land two British squads made it into the trenches near the machine gun team and their supporting infantry. It took a reckless charge and some helpful lice to push the British out of the trench back into no man's land where the machine gunners could tear them apart. The German success was short lived however as the second wave hit back with grenades clearing the German infantry from the forward trench.
Things were getting desperate for the Germans as they called in artillery bombardment after bombardment to try and slow the British advance. They even resorted to gas attacks to buy themselves time as every recon card I played was ticking up my VPs. It was suddenly 5 points all as a British unit escaped the board on the left. Luckily my artillery bombardment has slowed 4 units isolating them in no man's land together. The Artillery fired again this time the order was sent back to unleash all kinds of hell as I played a card allowing me to fire twice with an extra dice. With the British grouped so tightly I was hoping to finish one of the units or at least send them scuttling back into the trenches. Then disaster hit the German's as news filtered back from the batteries that they were low on ammunition. This meant each shot was only worth a single dice so my massive artillery bombardment was a complete waste of time as it inflicted next to no casualties.
Buoyed by the lack of artillery the British surged forwards and overwhelmed the Machine gunner on the right with weight of numbers. Winning the game by a single point, a point which would have gone the other way the following turn as I'd just drawn the recon card I'd needed to give me that VP. What a game, it was back and forth. Mistakes were made on both sides but we both had a whale of a time. The combat was quick and easier to calculate than Napoleonics (I love the reducing strength but I don't think it would work as well here). With the battle seeming to be swinging towards the Germans with their counterattack before the British came from behind at the end to snatch it at the death.
A solid addition to the command and Colours family and a much needed WW1 Battle game. Getting my own copy I have no complaints at all and look forward to playing again and again in future. The only downside at all is getting the minis out of the sprue is tricky especially for the British where the connection is attached to the bayonets on some models so require very careful cutting so you don't damage the bayonet.
Thematically this game felt very good (or depressing). When you see how quickly machine guns and artilery can tear apart infantry in the open you wonder what ever possessed Rawlinson to order men to walk not run across No Man's Land at the Somme. As it's a century since most of the battles in the book took place. The Battle of Loos for example is represented in the book over 4 scenarios which took place between September and October 1915 and I know I will certainly be playing these scenarios come the end of September to commemerate those that died at a little known battle that amassed around 80,000 casualties. I can't wait to see the expansions, speaking to the guys at Expo they talked about models for the offbaord artillery, more scenarios, French, Russian, Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, American forces and tanks to name but a few. With hundreds of battles occurring in WW1 all across the globe many lasting for weeks we won't run out of material anytime soon. The board also has minimal trim on the edges suggesting they have already thought ahead to an epic expansion where you can put two boards next to each other.
BoardGameGeek original linkhttps://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1379012/initial-impressions