Commands & Colors: Ancients Campaign Report


Commands & Colors: Ancients box cover

Year Published: 2006

Players: 2

Playing Time: 60 Minutes

BGG Link: Commands & Colors: Ancients

My C&C:A Review

Credits: Historical Background notes are adapted from to the Commands and Colors System website.

Scenario pics taken from VASSAL game engine, from the sessions detailed below.

Carthaginian General: Me
Roman General: An online acquaintance, hereafter known as {R}.
My thanks to {R} for onboarding me into the game, agreeing to these reports being posted, and for providing lively competition and occasional strategic advice. His words of wisdom undoubtedly allowed me to provide more of a challenge in various battles as I learned the system’s intricacies.

Battle #1: Ticinus River (218 BC)

Historical Background
Hannibal arrives from across the Alps, having lost numerous troops but also possessing better trained cavalry units and more strategic acumen than his Roman counterparts. Historically, this would be the first of several victories for Hannibal, well before the Romans began to realize the threat he posed.

Full Historical Notes

Ticinus Battle Report
Carthage’s heavy cavalry walked softly with their big stick. Or rather, they didn’t walk at all for a while, allowing the flanks to attempt a pincer maneuver first.

Carthage’s right flank was pushed back, but the Romans overextended themselves here, with one cavalry unit getting hemmed in on the opposite side of the map. Forced into an impossible retreat, the unit disintegrated without nearby allies.

The Carthaginian heavy cavalry took advantage of the chaos, ramming forward in a charge that broke the last of the Romans’ morale.

Final Score: Carthage wins, 5 banners to 4.
Notes: Beginner’s luck for me? Possibly, though the early scenarios in this historical line of battles seem to be weighted toward the Carthaginians somewhat, matching the historical outcomes. It’s not beyond swinging to a Roman victory, of course, but I feel as though Carthage was suggested to me purposefully as the newer player, as the scenario is more forgiving toward them.

Battle #2: Trebbia (218 BC)

Historical Background
The Romans learn very little from Ticinus, fording the map’s river and facing Hannibal cold and hungry. Meanwhile, Hannibal’s brother Mago lays in wait with hand-selected units, hoping to ambush the oncoming force.

Trebbia Battle Report
First encounter with the elephants! Much like Ticinus, the early fighting was on the Roman left flank, with Carthage curving around and down toward the river, and pushing Roman forces largely into the center and right.

Mago’s ambush was then sprung, though I lacked the command cards to activate his three units more than once. Still, they did their job, leaping onto the unmoving rear guard of the Roman flank, removing one unit entirely, and providing an ominous reminder the rest of the time that enemies existed on both sides of the Roman army.

Finally, I pushed my elephants to the fore, and they did an admirable job stomping around before one was eliminated. My Medium Infantry proved to be the main heroes, however, one unit improbably surviving multiple attacks that should have finished them off.

While Carthage had the lead throughout, in the game’s penultimate round, the Romans rambled off a furious multi-front attack that got them within two kills of victory and tied them with Carthage for the lead. But it wasn’t quite enough of a push. I didn’t quite finish them off in the next round, still lacking a final banner, but all of my weakest units were already picked off. Given a second turn to finish the job, Hannibal himself led a multi-front cavalry charge that met and exceeded the banner count for the scenario, decimating the Roman cavalry and leaving mostly only infantry units.

Final Score: Carthage wins, 9 banners to 5 (only 7 required for victory; we played out the final turn even past the victory kill).
Notes: Another scenario weighted slightly toward Carthage, but I did a better job feeling as though I earned this one. Elephants aren’t world-killers, but like any unit must be utilized intelligently.

Battle #3: Lake Trasimenus (217 BC)

Historical Background
Another Roman defeat, owing to rushed orders given by the largely ineffectual general Flaminius, who did not account for the terrain or heavy fog in laying out his troops and preparing for Hannibal’s assault.

Trasimenus Battle Report
Rather than charging immediately, the Carthaginians opted to take the high ground, trusting its ability to provide a long-term advantage. Their troops fanned out into the hills in the opening turns.

On the Roman right flank, a single Carthaginian infantry unit headed forward, only to retreat and draw back with the others. Guarded by the impassable steep hills to their right, they tried to goad the similarly cut-off Roman forces further away from the main Roman force, Hannibal himself waiting to charge from the flank on the opposite end of the hill line.

Alas, the Romans didn’t take the bait, and a light cavalry charge on the opposite side went disastrously for Carthage. This put them on the back foot the entire battle.

Seeing that the Roman ranks still had their backs to the lake, Carthage pushed forward, breaking the central Roman line and attempting to rout the other units following this blow to Roman leadership. However, the Romans fought valiantly despite the tough, cramped quarters, taking out as many units as they lost. Among them were two unlucky Carthaginian generals. While Hannibal waited for an ambush that never came, his armies lost the conflict on the front lines.

Final Score: Rome wins, 7 banners to 3 (6 required).
Notes: Flaminius was killed, at least, matching historical precedent. Lessons were learned, though, including that real-life opponents are perhaps not so naïve as historical generals. {R} wisely gave me no excuse to deploy Hannibal with his heavy infantry. Some poor luck with General loss doomed me, but I was in trouble even outside of those losses.

Battle #4: Cannae (216 BC)

Historical Background
The site of Hannibal’s greatest victory.

Battle Report
Having learned some lessons at Lake Tras, I used my early orders to maneuver my troops around to place Hannibal and his heavy infantry front and center, and similarly advancing other heavy units that would risk not becoming involved at all if I didn’t prioritize them early.

This brought with it some early momentum, but I got too greedy with Hannibal, going blow for blow with another heavy infantry unit attached to a general. Hannibal annihilated one unit in a single turn, but then the same happened to him. Their most prolific general killed, Carthage charged on both flanks with cavalry and heavier infantry units, inflicting losses on the Romans but also leaving their light center infantry exposed. The right-most Roman general was forced off the map, his unit destroyed but able to flee instead of adding a victory banner for the enemy.

The Romans showed a preference for ranged attacks, whittling down units with numerous volleys of arrows. Carthaginian slingers volleyed back, though not in as great of numbers.

The Carthaginian light cavalry charge on Rome’s left-center was disastrous, forcing the center line into defensive formations designed to mitigate losses. Roman center infantry threatened to overwhelm them.

But meanwhile, Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal, riding with medium cavalry and an adjacent unit of heavy infantry carved up the Roman right flank, having first forced a general off the map, then breaking lines, forcing retreats, and scoring numerous kills. Had the battle continued, Carthage’s center line would have been outmatched and in serious trouble. But Hasdrubal’s heroics brought Carthage a win.

Final Score: Carthage wins, 7 banners to 5
Notes: Overextension and a misunderstanding of the timing of light cavalry charges put me on my back foot, despite ostensibly having a superior force. More judicious use of cavalry, perhaps in “cleanup” duty instead of a main offensive, should help me in the future.

Battle #5: Dertosa (215 BC)

Historical Background
Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal tries to unite their forces, but he finds himself overmatched against an encroaching Roman force.

Battle Report
The central infantry of Rome on the map were an imposing, intimidating presence, so I used some powerful opening cards to actually back up in the center, and move toward the flanks. This made a mess of my force coordination, but gave me ample time to plan, since the slow-moving infantry would take many rounds to cohesively close the distance.

A third of the way through, two chaotic globs of Carthage forces didn’t look too impressive, but I’d minimized the points of attack for the infantry.

A failed cavalry charge was reversed for me, but the losses merely weakened the units rather than giving Rome solid kills. Even with a dour long-term outlook, I took a small lead.

While the Roman infantry continued to try to close further, their lighter infantry on the flanks became vulnerable to my attacks. Hasdrubal finally threw himself at the enemy general, Publius Scipio. Both units were destroyed, and the generals found themselves floundering for allies. However, Hasdrubal had done the worse damage.

Then the elephants struck. With a powerful card granting them an extra die and movement, a lone elephant unit took out two units (heavy infantry and medium infantry) at or near full strength in a single round.

Reeling from the elephant charge, Rome avenged their losses with a furious penultimate round that saw much of their infantry finally find purchase against the weaker Carthaginian front. But it was too late, and a trapped Roman cavalry unit became the battle’s final casualty.

Final Score: Carthage wins, 6 banners to 5
Notes: I suspect the only thing separating this from being a touch embarrassing was the fortuitous elephant charge. The early cavalry charge was ill-advised, and I had a single unit in the center region for most of the battle, which doesn’t seem sound. But I also feel justified in using early moves to back up and vacate the center, using my superior mobility to avoid the worst of the Roman infantry. Had we played to “last man standing,” the remaining Roman infantry likely would have been able to clean up my forces without much issue. But given the premise, I thought I handled myself well, albeit with an 11th hour save from the furious elephants.

Battle #6: 2nd Beneventum (214 BC)

Historical Background
The Roman general Gracchus forms an army comprised mainly of slaves, then offers them their freedom should they win the battle. Their fervor carried Rome to victory on this day.

Battle Report
The initially strong Carthaginian left flank was beaten down by numerous Roman orders on that side and an ineffectual elephant unit that perpetrated some friendly fire on adjacent Carthaginian units.

Decimated on that flank, Carthage brought its leader Hanno to the fore on the opposite flank, along with other strong, adjacent infantry units. They made some progress on that side while Rome swung its line around slowly, circling toward their left to envelop the weaker forces of Carthage.

In the end Hanno’s influence wasn’t enough to bridge the gap, and a desperate last push from light infantry units of Carthage had a slim chance of ultimate success, but crashed uselessly against the main Roman line.

Final Score: Rome wins, 7 banners to 4
Notes: I keep trying light cavalry charges that don’t work. I don’t actually think this one was ill-advised as previous battles. The enemy units I attacked were appropriately weakened first. It was just some bad luck. But they’re definitely more to pick off stragglers than as a main offensive force.

Battle #7: Castulo (211 BC)

Historical Background
Rome retreats away from a superior Carthaginian force, only to be blocked and surrounded. A fierce battle ensues, with the Roman general Publius Scipio losing his life and his army.

Battle Report
Carthage starts a bit scattered, but with more forested areas in which to quickly hide. I managed to form a coherent line and transfer one of my generals to a Warrior unit that provided a consistent threat.

We both fell victim to ill-advised cavalry charges. Even though all I tried to do was pick off stragglers on the ends (the usual role of cavalry in this era), a swift counterattack by a heavier cavalry unit destroyed two of my light cavalry in a single turn.

However, this merely evened the score, as Rome’s ranged attacks did little, and Carthage’s leader-bolstered line produced fewer obvious weak points.

A massive Line Command card allowed me to order something like 9 units in a single round, which set the stage for two of my three leaders, and an adjacent full-strength Warrior unit to run through the Roman ranks like a buzzsaw. I was overextended by the end, and unable to bring the absolute wings of my forces to bear. But it was enough, barely.

Final Score: Carthage wins, 9 banners to 7 (8 required)
Notes: Maneuvering both my hand of cards and my troops to make full use of the Line Command card, then also being able to follow up on it, is what won me the battle. These sorts of long-term plans are what make good C&C battles. I’m happy I was able to pull this one off, as several similar plans have been left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, in previous battles.

Battle #8: Baecula (208 BC)

Historical Background

Publius Cornelius Scipio modifies traditional Roman tactics to encircle a fortified hilltop area, rather than push head-on. This results in a Carthaginian retreat, as Hannibal’s brother realizes he is outmaneuvered.

Battle Report
Without cards to support my light infantry along the hill line, I retreated them, conceding the high ground to the Romans. But then rallied and met them on and around the hills as they advanced.

The fighting was more protracted as usual, as both sides maneuvered within the hills to limit dice rolls from the other side. Eventually, Carthage pushed its heavy infantry to the other side of the hills, along with its leader Hasdrubal, where Roman medium infantry was approaching. These heavies did some considerable damage. The Romans made for one of Carthage’s camps, which would have given them a final victory condition. But Hasdrubal’s forces did their work a round earlier, securing the Carthaginian win in a nail-biter.

Final Score: Carthage Wins, 6 to 4.
Notes: Once again, the counterintuitive instinct to retreat at the start proved successful. Here, it was with a hilltop position, so it was perhaps more dubious. But it also allowed me to meet the Romans with a more equal force, rather than hoping the hills could be held in their initial assaults. Capturing a particular hex as a victory condition (camps, in this case) is cool, and I wish C&C:A had more of it. This is very present in some others that use Borg’s C&C system.

Final position of Baecula, with the Romans set to take over my camps in the reat but not quite having enough time to do so.

Battle #9: Metaurus (207 BC)

Historical Background
The site of Hasdrubal’s death, and a cunning and calculated risk by the Roman general Nero, who duped Hannibal by leaving part of his forces behind so that Hannibal did not suspect Nero was leaving to engage Hannibal’s brother.

Battle Report
Some initial ranged attacks and cavalry prodding overextend themselves for the Romans, and Carthage pushes them back, inflicting losses.

However, the advantage was short-lived. A massive Line Command order pushes (nearly) the entirety of Rome’s superior infantry units forward at once. The aftermath of this push isn’t an immediate advantage. But it weakens several Carthaginian units, which are forced to fight on instead of retreating, in lack of better options.

Final Score: Rome Wins, 7 – 3
Notes: Carthage seems overmatched in this one, which is fine in the more typical “play both sides” format, but it quickly forced me into some risky decisions here. Still, I’m not displeased. {R}’s Line Command was well-prepared. There was little I might have done even if I knew it was coming.

Battle #10: Ilipa (206 BC)

Historical Background

Scipio, the general responsible for many Roman victories during this period, outmaneuvered the Carthaginians and secured all of Spain for Rome in the process.

Battle Report
Some early Roman arrow volleys did damage. Worse still, they spurred Carthage’s front-rank elephants into retreat, dealing damage to their own forces in the process. Before a single Roman unit had taken damage, Carthage was reeling.

Some ill luck followed with advances that should have mathematically secured a few kills, but instead only spurred weakened Roman units into retreat instead of vanquishing them. Missing these crucial equalizers, Carthage turned to desperate maneuvers, quickly succumbing to the overwhelming Roman forces.

Final Score: Rome Wins, 7 to 3.
Notes: My most lopsided defeat yet. {R} acted smartly in using my own elephants against me. A less bold opening strategy may have allowed me to be more resilient in the fight. I was on the back foot the entire time, and also failed to draw a single Center command card, where my most formidable forces sat. There are many ways to pivot around bad luck in this game, but I was unable to find them here.

The start of Ilipa, the doomed elephants looking as though they may help things instead of routing their own forces.

Battle #11: Great Plains (203 BC)

Historical Background

Scipio pushes into Africa, engaging Carthage while they attempt to prepare a siege. The Carthaginian forces are routed, leading them to recover Hannibal from Italy to hold the tide against the encroaching Roman armies.

Battle Report
Heavy cavalry proved to be the MVPs here, and were an absolute terror and thorn in the side of the Romans for the battle’s first half. Maneuvering two such units – attached to leaders – on the Roman left flank, I pieced together four straight turns of activating both, and a 5th where one was activated again. They hammered the Romans over and over, then slipped away via strategic evasions when the Romans would attempt a counter-attack.

The battle was 3-0 before much of anything else had happened, and even though the heavy cavalry spent the battle’s second half largely inert, their early influence proved decisive. My Carthage forces were actually quite weakened and scattered near the end, but I could afford some confusion in the ranks to ensure I was focused on closing out the final kills.

Final Score: Carthage Wins, 7 to 3
Notes: A case study in how proper use of unit types can be devastating. Even heavy cavalry are not the most formidable forces on the field during this period of history (that would be the most elite infantry), and the game reflects this. However, utilizing the heavy cavalry’s decent attacking ability and mobility allowed me to harrass Rome for a while before they no longer served a purpose in the fight. This is the opposite of my cavalry use in many of the earlier battles where, spurred on by my own ideas, I rushed them into the fray with too little support or escape options.

Battle #12: Zama (202 BC)

Historical Background

A passing of the torch in military might in the world, Hannibal quickly musters an army and fights the young but intelligent Scipio. Both generals plans work to an extent, with flank pushes by the Romans that drive Carthage’s cavalry out, and an elephant-bolstered center push that sees some success on the Roman center. But ultimately, the training and flexibility of Scipio’s forces win him the day.

Battle Report
Rome attempted to shoot at Carthage’s elephants to start the fight, hoping for a stampede retreat much like they’d induced at Ilipa, which had me reeling before I’d ever issued a single order.

Here, the earliest volleys missed, and I was able to clear out some room around the beasts, minimizing the risk of stampede.

Carthage pressed the Roman right flank, extending deep into their side of the board. Elsewhere, the heavier Roman infantry marched methodically onward, striking at the Carthaginian center and right in equal measure.

Both sides inflicted injuries, but failed to score several kills. This left the board rife with weakened targets. These became the focus, but neither side could gain a clear advantage. A cavalry charge by Carthage could have ended it with some luck, but instead inflicted roughly equal casualties on both sides. A Roman offensive similarly could have ended it

Finally, with Hannibal ironically never entering the fray, Hasdrubal on the Roman right jumped forward with a few units using a Double Time command card. Attached to only a 1-strength unit, but able to bolster the surrounding units, he and his allies dealt the final blow to the Romans in a tight, tense conflict.

Final Score: Carthage Wins, 8 – 7
Notes: This is the most epic scenario in the base game of C&C:A and it did not disappoint. The pendulum of Fate refused to swing too far in either direction, leaving us both nervous and excited during the last half dozen commands or so.

Couldn’t have asked for a more fitting conclusion, despite the fact that history went the other way, with a defeat at Zama foretelling Carthage’s and Hannibal’s downfall. Here, in our alternate history, that outcome was staved off for at least another day.

The final state of our Zama battle, and the Second Punic War as a whole.

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