A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Solo Campaign - Commands & Colors Grand Tactical Variant

This post is going to look at what, if anything, I need to do to GMT's Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) rules to allow them to handle bigger battles. If you are not a CCN user, or could not care less, some of the reasoning might still be of interest. If you would like to see the rules of CCN, you can download them from here.

Last year I put a lot of effort into developing my in-house grand tactical Napoleonic rules, which - through lack of inspiration - kept their joke working title of MEP (short for moins est plus). I did a lot head-scratching and testing, and eventually carried out a refight of Salamanca (Los Arapiles), which in hindsight may have been a tad over-ambitious. The reason this all becomes relevant again is because I will need some means of managing very large battles for my coming solo Peninsular campaign. I have banged on about some of this in previous posts, and thus I will try not to say all the same things again, but I must explain up front that by Grand Tactical I mean that the units on the tabletop are brigade-sized.

My MEP version of Salamanca threw up a number of issues to do with command and activation, and especially with the endless chore of managing skirmishers and artillery, which really became a problem. So much for streamlining the game and abstracting unnecessary levels of detail! Around the same time, I became acquainted with CCN, and since then I have become a devoted user, relishing what I have previously described as an order-of-magnitude improvement in playability over my previous rules - the CCN mechanisms and systems are developed from other similar games, are tested and proved to a commercial boardgame standard, and they hang together and actually work. I mean quickly and logically. The feel of CCN, as I have also said before, is like the old, fun battles I fought when I was first involved in wargaming, the chief difference being that the game doesn't have all the old holes and patches that used to stop the flow and cause arguments.

CCN obviously is not going to be everyone's cup of tea - although I use miniatures with the rules almost exclusively it is, after all, a hex-grid boardgame, which is a major turn-off for many. Also it does not allow you to enjoy deploying your column into line, or handling skirmishers, so if that is your favourite part of Napoleonic warfare you should look elsewhere. For me, it works well. The card-based activation system is simple but challenging (and avoids the exhaustion which comes from marching entire armies pointlessly around the table), the special battle dice are easy to use, and the games run quickly enough to come to a successful conclusion, which is a colossal plus in my book. A regular feature of my wargames over the years has been the feeling of disappointment when I couldn't raise the enthusiasm (or the opponent) to finish off the previous evening's unfinished epic. 

In the Introduction to the rule booklet for CCN is the following claim:

The scale of the game fluctuates, which allows players to effectively portray epic Napoleonic battles, as well as smaller historical actions. In some scenarios, an infantry unit may represent an entire division, while in others a unit may represent a single regiment or battalion. The Napoleonic tactics you will need to execute to gain victory conform remarkably well to the advantages and limitations inherent to the various Napoleonic national armies of the day and the battlefield terrain features on which they fought.

OK - if we gloss over the promotional overtones, the scalability bit is very interesting. A quick read of the example scenario booklet which comes with the game makes it obvious that the scale of the Waterloo scenario is obviously rather larger than Rolica. If this nice, crisp game is really scalable in this way, then this is a most attractive idea. Here was the starting point for my previous consideration of what adjustments would be necessary for a grand tactical [my definition] variant of CCN, which, to save typing, I shall have the conceit to call GTCCN for the time being. Adjustments? - hmmm - if it works in its basic form, the best approach is to leave it alone if possible, not easy for a life-long tinkerer/improver/wrecker.

So I set myself a First Objective, which was "only change the game if it is really necessary to do so in order to avoid scaling distortions".

This is all about putting another tick on my list of things to do for the campaign, since a set of rules for big battles, compatible with CCN, is required. I shall move on to run a test battle using this trial version of GTCCN – it will probably be after the holiday period now. This trial was going to be another shot at Salamanca, but I may try something else. My definition of what constitutes a big battle is up for grabs – currently I am thinking of a battle where the number of CCN units (including Leaders) on either side would exceed 30, but I may change may mind when I see how it looks.   

I must point out at this stage that one of GMT's future expansions to CCN will be a larger, Grande Battle [sic] version, similar to the Epic version of Commands & Colors: Ancients or the Overlord version of Memoir 44 from the same originators. These games are primarily intended as multi-player games on a double-width board, and are thus designed as wide versions of the same-game-with-more-units, rather than the same-game-with-bigger-units which I am looking for. Thus, though I am sure CCN Grande Battle will be a terrific game, my ideas for GTCCN are heading in a different direction, to meet my need for a big battle manager in my own campaigns.

What I'll do here is set out the areas I have considered - I hope this becomes structured enough to follow! - and list the rule amendments I have developed. Bear in mind that I am trying hard to make amendments only where the scale change makes it necessary.

Ground Scale

If we are going to have more men in a hex, it stands to reason that there is an implied change to the ground scale. CCN does not state scale assumptions, which is sensible since each scenario is designed to fit a specific battle onto the board, so I’ll base this exercise on CCN rather than going back to metres/paces and starting the game design from scratch. In CCN, a combat unit (for example, an infantry battalion, normally of 4 "blocks" strength) will occupy a hex. It is possible to add a Leader to the same hex, but otherwise one unit to one hex is the rule. For reasons which are not very scientific, I sort of visualise a 4-block battalion is some parody of Column of Grand Divisions, 2 wide by 2 deep. It would be very convenient if in GTCCN a battalion were represented by a single block (let's see you deploy that into line!), which is half as wide on the board, which effectively doubles the ground scale - in other words, whatever the size of a hex is in CCN, it is something like twice that in GTCCN, and the terrain features depicted in the hexes become twice as big.

Time Scale

Righto - what does that do to the movement rates? In CCN, infantry may move 1 hex - there are some exceptions for light infantry, but 1 hex is the norm. Easiest approach is to leave that alone and assume that the turns last twice as long - so the implied time scale (whatever it was) is doubled, and infantry still move 1 hex - all movement rates are unchanged, though they are twice as far on the ground. That was easy.

Sanity Check - Artillery Units   

A faint klaxon sounds when you consider artillery. A battery in CCN is 3 blocks strong, and occupies a hex, and CCN also has the concept of a “reduced” battery, i.e. one that has only a single block remaining. Using the same approach as for the infantry, we can scale things down by making the standard 6-8 gun battery a single block, so that the “reduced” battery unit becomes the standard arrangement for anything less than a massed grand battery. Insisting on such a reduced battery occupying a hex on its own doesn't seem right, so I have adopted an approach for artillery whereby a battery may be deployed in two different ways:

(1) Up to 3 such batteries may be brigaded together as a single Grand Battery, which is a unit in its own right. A 3-block battery of this type is just like the normal CCN battery, apart from some trimming of the ranges (see later).

(2) Otherwise, batteries will normally be used in a divisional role, at 1-block strength, and will correspond to CCN’s “reduced” form. A big change here is that they may be attached to (or separated from) a brigade in the same way that Leaders are handled in CCN. This will require specific orders, and my original feeling was that they should only be allowed to join a brigade from the same division, but I've dropped that idea for the moment because the game may be tricky enough without that constraint. A brigade may have both a Leader and a battery attached, though no more than 1 of each. A Leader or Battery may be given orders along with a brigade if they are attached, but they are really distinct units, and count as Victory Banners in their own right if lost. Thus, for example, a brigade with attached battery which receives an Artillery hit on the battle dice will lose the battery, and a Victory Banner is awarded to the opposition, though the rest of the brigade is still in the field.

Missile Ranges

In CCN, there is Melee Combat (which is what you do to people in the next hex – and note carefully that includes short range fire as well as the use of bayonets and swords, so all canister fire is included in Melee) and Ranged Combat (which is firing at people further away). Ignoring tactical variations, CCN gives ranges thus:

Muskets             2 hexes
Rifles                  3 hexes
Horse Artillery   4 hexes
Foot Artillery      5 hexes

Since the ground scale has changed, we have to trim the ranges down. My approach is a touch crude – I simply reduce all the ranges by 1 hex. This means that foot artillery can now probably fire a bit further than in the original game, but they are so ineffective at extreme range that I am hoping it will not be a problem. If we adopt a range for muskets of 1 hex, then we can make this part of Melee Combat, and muskets will no longer carry out Ranged Combat. [I make a careful note at this point to check later that I haven’t devalued infantry by this assumption.] Thus my revised table for GTCCN becomes:

Muskets            none - included in Melee
Rifles                 2 hexes
Horse Artillery   3 hexes
Foot Artillery      4 hexes

Mixed Units

The units are now to be brigades, which includes Grand Batteries. To keep the game playable, I outlaw brigades of infantry mixed with cavalry. The “blocks” within a brigade will now represent the constituent battalions, cavalry regiments or attached batteries. Note that either type of artillery (foot or horse) may be attached to an infantry brigade, but only horse artillery may be attached to cavalry, and that horse and foot artillery must be kept separate when forming grand batteries.

Although the idea has been to avoid considering the detail of the scales, assume that an infantry block represents a battalion, a cavalry block is a regiment, an artillery block is a battery of 6-8 guns. It would be nice to have a one-to-one mapping of regimental blocks against a historical OOB, but, if working from historical numbers, allocate (about) one block per 600 men for infantry, per 300 men for cavalry, per battery (company) for artillery. If you can represent each unit which was present with a block then that is terrific, but the total for the brigade is the important thing. Thus a company of 50 men from the 5/60th Rifles attached to a brigade in the original OOB is insignificant on this game scale – you don’t get a Rifles block just for that.

Note also that Ranged Combat is now going to be carried out at block level. If a brigade contains one or more Rifle blocks, and/or an attached battery, these blocks will be able to fire individually if the brigade has orders – and remember that 1-block artillery batteries correspond to “reduced” batteries in the CCN rules.

As an example, the British Light Division in the Peninsular War might consist of

1st Brigade
            1/43rd Ft            (750 all ranks)
            2/95th Rifles       (400)
            1st Cacadores    (500)
2nd Brigade
            1/52nd Ft            (800)
            1/95th Rifles       (550)
            3rd Cacadores    (500)
plus a horse battery

In GTCCN, each brigade would be represented by single unit of 1 British LT + 1 Portuguese LT + 1 British RL (rifle light) = 3 blocks, which would move and melee (on average) as British Light Infantry, and would be entitled to 1 block of rifle-armed Ranged Combat. And, of course, the 1-block HA horse battery may be attached to either of these brigades, or may be left to operate on its own.

Though this may appear disrespectful, in my game the French Léger regiments are classed as LI (line infantry), not LT – I consider this appropriate for the Peninsular War.

A brigade will move at the rate of its slowest block type – thus mixed light and heavy cavalry may move only at heavy cavalry speed.

A brigade will carry out Melee Combat as if it were all of its predominant type – if more than one type is equally represented, the owner may choose. A brigade of 1 Grenadier battalion and 3 of Line will fight as Line. A brigade of 2 light cavalry blocks and 2 heavy may fight as heavy or light cavalry as the owner chooses (though its moves are limited to the slower, heavy cavalry rate).

Losses to a mixed brigade – if they are not obvious from the Battle Dice results (e.g. an artillery symbol) these will be from the predominant type; if more than one type is equally represented, the owner may choose.

If a cavalry or infantry brigade is eliminated which has a battery attached, the battery will be lost also.

Numbers of Battle Dice

For infantry and cavalry units, the rules are the same as for CCN, though only eligible blocks may use Ranged Combat.

For artillery, there are some changes to the rules - the bonus for Guard artillery is dropped, all ranges are reduced, and the numbers of battle dice are now thus:

Foot artillery (3-block Grand Battery) – 4 dice for Melee, and 3, 2, 1 dice at range 2, 3 or 4 hexes respectively
“Reduced” (1-block) Foot artillery – 3 dice for Melee, and 2, 1, 0 dice at 2, 3 or 4 hexes

Horse artillery (3-block Grand Battery) – 3 dice for Melee, and 2, 1 dice for range 2, 3 hexes. No fire at range 3 is permitted if the battery moved.
“Reduced” (1-block) Horse Artillery – 2 dice for Melee, and 1, 0 dice for range 2, 3 hexes.
The CCN rule whereby a “reduced” horse battery may not move and fire is dropped, since 1-block batteries are the norm in GTCCN.

Squares in GTCCN

Essentially, the rules for forming and fighting in square are the same as for CCN. If a brigade of infantry is ordered into square, it may mean that the whole brigade forms one big square or – more likely – an array of battalion squares. It doesn’t matter – the GMT-supplied marker indicates that the brigade is now in square. A special rule is now needed if the infantry has an attached artillery battery.

I assume that the gunners will take shelter inside the squares as necessary, so they do not influence the Melee Combat involving the square, with a single exception – if the attacking cavalry roll an artillery symbol on their single permitted Battle Dice, the artillery are lost.


In GTCCN there will be a higher proportion of these, since generals down to Divisional level will normally be represented – in addition a detached brigade with a specific role may also be allocated a Leader if the scenario requires this.

You may attach a Leader to any unit you like, as in CCN, but – unlike CCN – he allows them to ignore a Retreat result from combat only if he is in their chain of command. He will, in any event, still be at risk of being lost even though he is not able to influence their Retreats.

Command Cards

The only implications for the normal Command Card pack are that the “FIRE AND HOLD” cards (of which there are 2) will no longer offer any advantage for musket-armed infantry (though rifles and artillery will still benefit) and the extra bonus for Guard artillery on the “BOMBARD” cards (there are 2) is no longer applicable – all artillery is the same in GTCCN.

Victory Banners

Scenario requirements for victory for GTCCN will need rather inflated numbers of Victory Banners, to allow for the increased numbers of Leaders and the likely numbers of lost divisional batteries. Remember that if a brigade with attached Leader AND attached battery is completely eliminated, and the Leader is lost, that is THREE Victory Banners.

Initial recommendation will be to add 3 or 4 to what you would expect the normal CCN Victory Banner requirements to be.

I’ve done it again – I started out very pleased with the small amount of change I had introduced, but my usual windy explanation means that this looks like a whole pile of stuff. I had intended to summarise the rule changes at this point, but I think this has gone on long enough. If I feel brave in a day or two I may do this, though.


  1. Cards... oh how I hate cards that dictate when an action can occur. Kind of takes some of the planning out of it, don't you think?

    Several years ago a friend of mine had an idea for creating our own Napoleonic rules based off of Fire & Fury. The simple variant ended up evolving into a separate set of rules and due to constant tweeks and revisions, people had a difficult time keeping up with it.

    It became only playable amongst the most devoted Napoleonic players or for solo gaming (as on my blog for Salamanca for example). The problems come from the fact it's difficult to get people to want to play along. Somehow you can always find some new adjustment and it becomes a giant vacuum for your spare time that you could spend painting or gaming a commercially produced rule set.

    I do not believe the perfect set exists, but there are some good ones, plenty of mediocre ones and many that are wretched and few ever go near. I wish you the best of luck, but I am unsure I share your optimism since I've gone down that path already. If all you ever play is solo then it won't have many of the negative side effects.

  2. Votre Majeste - I'm not sure which path you've gone down that I should avoid! My tweaking of CCN is deliberately to be as little as possible - the game works very well as sold, so change should be minimal, but the existing game really needs a few fixes to cope with brigades.

    I do play with human opponents (well, we haven't checked the DNA, but I believe they're human!) so - as you say - I shall have to be careful that I don't generate an unplayable freak in the GT version.

    Command cards - a year ago I think I shared your view, but the cards in CCN work well - you do develop a strategy, even a plan, which you try to manage through the hand of cards you are dealt. It does seem artificial when you think about it, but it's no more artificial than (for example) command radius measurements, and it's quicker and easier than any activation system I've used before. Like you (I think) I am quite a fan of Mustafa's Grande Armee, and especially of Fast Play Grande Armee, the command system of which I borrowed for use with my own rules - it was OK, but I found that for big battles it was an awful lot of work. I think that's my main problem with command and activation systems - the battles are silly if you don't have them, but it's very easy for them to take over and bog the game down in admin.

    A player turn in CCN takes about 5 minutes max - that keeps the game tight and interesting - the turns are short and limited in scope, but a lot happens quickly, and that is largely down to the activation card system. That's also why the games finish in a couple of hours.

    At present I'm pretty happy with the way things are going, so I'll have to make sure I don't try to improve things and spoil the game - I always have in the past!

    Cheers - good to hear from you


  3. Lord have mercy. I don't know CCN but I have Battle Cry which is kind of the same thing. So Im interested but I cant read all that. How about a summary for thos of us with a life to live?


  4. I was both tired an busy when I read this the first time so put it aside until I had time to think. Unfortuanately, having thought, I find I don't really have any comments worth saying. Not being easily deterred by such minutae, I shall press on.

    Over all this looks like it should achieve what you are after. The problme I always have with this sort of scaling up and back, is figuring out the difference between what I want to include, what I need to include to avoid not breaking history too badly and what will break the game if I do include them.

    Your artillery rules look like they would work and I like the idea of having guns included but I wonder if thge presence of the battery had been "factored in" then perhaps infantry brigades with a battery attached could have been allowed to attack at 2 hexes with this reflecting the effect of the attached guns? Not as much fun as tracking all those batteries though. Not being up on details of the Peninsula, was it common to attach/detach batteries in the middle of an engagement?

    The inclusion of the Division commanders is also interesting. In a campaign setting, I would think it would aid character and story development. I've gone the other way, from representing every level I could, I'm leaning towards "factoribg in" the middle management unless playing a multi-player game.

    I look forward to reading about the first tasting of the pudding. Hopefully it'll be as good as it looks if not better.


  5. Ross - my compliments on reading this lamentably long-winded post and understanding the subject matter so well - I couldn't do that!

    I've tried to avoid thinking about the fact that all this cunning plan to attach/detach batteries is just a means of getting around an inconvenience which comes directly from the use of hexes...

    Detaching batteries - I think in defence, or when manoeuvring, having the battery tucked in with the brigade would be convenient, but sending the brigade in with the bayonet is maybe different. If it's horse artillery, I think the battery can advance with them and fire (a bit) - I think a foot battery would be parked on a hill somewhere while the infantry went in - they would try to support, probably. That's as far as I'd thought it out. One thing I constantly wonder about is the how little we read about what the divisional batteries did. Occasionally there will be a famous deployment - Dyneley's half-battery at Salamanca is one - which gets into the history, but mostly we just know they were there somewhere.


  6. Mon cher général Foy, the path that I speak of is the tweak! It always starts off with the best of intentions [quite similarly like the path the hell being paved with the best of intentions].

    You say to yourself, "Oh how could anyone be so blind! This author didn't play test this set as well as I did. If the author had only did (insert first change here) and then added (add second change here), then all would be fine. It wouldn't hurt to adjust (insert next proposal here) since we're changing (ideas 1 & 2). Well now that gives me another idea..."

    It never ends. If you possess the rare super human restraint to limit it to one or possibly two minor tweaks and can find players to play consistently, wonderful! You will have achieved more than most who have tried such tasks. Keep us updated every couple of months and see if it doesn't wear you out trying to remember the changes and if the changes inadvertently impact another rule or outcome you hoped to change for the better. Do let us know.

  7. Votre Majeste - well, I used my own rules since about 1976, and it went OK, though I would have hated to provide version-management support for more than the 3 or 4 people who were involved.

    I agree entirely - to maintain a "living" (dying?) ruleset requires you to be very organised and keep the documentation fresh. The use of a commercial game (CCN) is a big step towards the mainstream for me, and I shall certainly keep the tweaks to a minimum. Maybe GMT will one day produce an official big version of the game - in the meantime I have to get by.

    A number of people emailed me and said "Oh, you should just use Polemos" or whatever, but I really don't want to set about learning yet another game unless I have to. Whenever I learn a new set of rules (and Big Battalions, Fast Play Grande Armee, Piquet and Le Feu Sacre were recent examples) I find a lot of good ideas, but there will be something in there that irritates me, and I start tweaking immediately. Adopting a complete game, warts and all, seems like a good strategy, but as often as not I find it isn't good enough to make up for the irritations! I was not comfortable with some of the tactical things which get swept under the carpet in CCN, but the game works so well that I have forgiven it, and I can always use other rules for a smaller battle.

    For big battles, if I wasn't using CCN, I would consider the new Napoleon at War rules, which are simple and grew out of the NapoleoN Miniaturas set - there's some nice features in there, but also a few things I would tweak right up front - rules for occupying buildings, for example.

    I had been waiting for the appearance of Sam Mustafa's "Bluecher" rule set, but that seems to have tweaked itself into oblivion for the foreseeable future.

    Enough of this - I agree with you! Have a great Christmas


  8. Since all Musket units no longer can Fire, this seems to be a HUGE change to the rules. You could close on most infantry now without the huge volley you would typically have to face.

    I'm looking to use CCN at an operational level also but I could not bring myself to deliver such a huge rule change.

    1. I'm confident you will come up with something much better, but consider the following. By doubling the ground scale, a hex becomes something like 300 to 400 paces across. The huge volley awaiting attacking troops would not be at this range - it would occur when they were in the adjacent hex, on my amended scale. Thus the crippling volley would, in CCN terms, be part of melee combat.

      The way to avoid losing this effect is to boost the melee potential of defending infantry - that makes more sense to me than allowing them to fire at modern, automatic weapon ranges.

      I'll be very interested to hear how you get on.

      Thanks for getting touch - bonne chance - MSF

  9. I know you don't want infantry to fire so far but.....
    In practice, the infantry approaches the defense, takes the fire, and then melee. If you keep the current CCN rules wouldn't the effect stay the same? You advance to 2 hexes, you take the fire, you move into melee. Yes, if you calculate a hex distance the fire happens a little too soon at 400 paces but our rules are still working correctly to simulate the assault. "only change the game if it is really necessary to do so in order to avoid scaling distortions"

    I think your reasoning on the artillery works fine. We can't have artillery hitting repeatedly at 2000 yards away.

    I like your blog on this. Just wanted to put in my two cents. I'm going to playtest operational rules first with blocks and then collect my 10mm army to run this.

    1. Hi Neal - I am genuinely appreciative of all input on this. The easy option would have been for me to use the game as is, reduce numbers of units and crack on. We know it works like that, but I wasn't comfortable with some aspects of what this would imply, as I probably explained in too much detail! The musketry issue is something I spent a long time thinking about, and I was never sure I got anything close to a good solution. If we leave musketry range at 2 hexes, I agree that advance to melee works because it is just following Mr Borg's well-tried mechanisms - I worried about what happens if they don't advance to contact, but just sit at 400-800 yds pinging at each other, how that kind of distant capability lines up with the size of the cavalry move etc etc. On balance, I felt that the intuitive definition of melee could be widened to include all sub-200-yard exchanges between infantry, including all musketry. It does feel a bit strange, but I felt it was less strange than some of the anomalies which emerge if you don't do it like this.

      I really would be interested to see how you approach this whole subject - at best, I was making it up anyway! If you don't want to put comments on this rather old blog post, I'd be very pleased if you want to email me through my blogger profile. It's one of these areas where all clues are most welcome. I really was not trying to improve on the original game, just to use its excellent mechanisms with a wider range of types of battle.

      Best regards - Tony (MSF)

  10. Tony,

    I did complete my operational level CCN. I built and ran the battle of Vitoria.
    Ran several play tests with the group and ran the battle at Hurricon here in Florida.
    The only tactical rule change was to remove one hex of range from the artillery.
    There were also some strategic Overlord type rules to handle multiple commanders on each side.

  11. Tony,

    I did complete my operational level game by running the entire battle of Vitoria. 3 by 10 mile area if i remember right.


    The only tactical rule change was artillery one less range.
    The strategic rule change was some card stuff to handle multiple commanders.

    Next up battle is Borodino for the Russian Expansion.


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