A good friend of mine regularly sends me webpages about games and rules. To be perfectly honest, most of them I could care less about. Once in a while, though, he sends something that catches my eye. Commit the Guard caught my eye. A Napoleonic rules set that uses hexes and allows for fighting major battles looked interesting to an old board gamer like me who likes miniatures as well.
Two friends and I have only played once; the Corunna scenario, which is an introductory game with no reserves or leaders. Initial impressions; an extraordinarily well conceived game that is fun. In under three hours, we completed the game with only a few minor rules questions. All three of us were talking about how we could have played differently and that we should play the same scenario again soon. Just the fact that we were that enthralled with an introductory scenario says a lot. Rarely, does a game play so well, without all of the rules implemented, that the players discuss how to play that scenario again, as opposed to moving on to a more "serious" one.
Each unit is a large regiment/brigade/small division or artillery battery/battalion. Each hex is five hundred yards. Long range artillery fires three hexes; horse guns two for some perspective. On a 12 row hex mat (a Hotz 4" large mat is ideal) that is 18 hexes long, virtually any battle of the period can be fought. Borodino, Waterloo, Friedland, Ligny; these scenarios are available for download and all play on the same size mat. The rules come with Valmy and Corunna. Also, there is an army list download included.
The game play starts with one side activating his troops, conducting actions; firing, skirmish, movement, assault, reorder, etc. for all of his units, one at a time. Then he rolls for how much time elapsed (15 to 45 minutes typical with 90 possible in a turn with no close fighting). Then the other side takes his turn activating each of his units in turn and then seeing how much time that took. At the start of each players turn, he deals with moving his HQ and committing reserves. The timing mechanism is really clever and adds a level of uncertainty to game length with a simple chart.
Leaders and Reserves are quite unique in the game, although we have not played with them yet. Each player is represented by a leaders (Army, Corps, Wing). All lower level commanders are abstracted. In fact, only the player's leader is on the table and if they become a casualty, the player can choose from one of the other available leaders in the "pool" for that battle. Leaders have the ability to increase actions for a unit as well as assist in combat and rally.
Reserves are maintained off board, even if they would normally be occupying an area on the battlefield. Case in point, the reserve positions are there on the Waterloo battlefield, but the "deployment" of them is basically kept from the opposing player by allowing them to be committed to the table from off of it. It's a clever fog of war mechanism that prevents the enemy from knowing exactly where all of those troops are sitting behind those slopes.
The activations are done in a very simple yet effective manner. Each unit is activated and completed before the next one. Also, depending on a die roll, influence by a leader and unit quality, a unit has from one to three activations. It can only move once, but can perform others like fire, skirmish, rally and assault multiple times. Movement and combat quality are determined by the units morale rating and type, as well as whether it is "deployed" for action (facing a hex spine) or in column for maneuver (facing a hex side).
The decision making really comes forward in deciding the order of activations. Sequencing is everything. Effective fire from one unit with a support assault action from the same and/or others is critical to a successful assault, usually with another unit. Although, with enough available actions a brigade could fire, support assault, and conduct the assault all on its own.
Cavalry is handled in a similarly straight-forward yet elegant manner. It can opportunity assault a nearby enemy during your opponents turn. Infantry can form emergency square when inactive. Cavalry have inherent firepower reflecting horse guns, etc. so they can chase an infantry unit into square and then offer some fire against it.
The game really plays well; almost surprisingly so. Really it approaches genius in my opinion. Granted, as I said, we haven't tried leaders and reserves, yet. And these are a large part of the game. I may try to reprise this review in a few weeks after some more plays. Still, it's really clear to me that those who are looking for a game that allows you to fight battles, historical ones; that's clearly written and has some truly unique and clever mechanisms; that touches that desire for fighting the battle and not the rules, will not be disappointed. Cannot recommend these rules enough. Get them. You will play them often. Great for any age, too. I suspect within a year or so we will see these at conventions everywhere. They're that good.