Commands and Colors Samurai Battles is a tabletop wargame and was originally released in 2012. The original release included two sets of rules, The Art of Tactic by Konstantin Krivenko and Commands and Colors by Richard Borg. This version features a revised rulebook, even more scenarios to play, and uses the Commands and Colors signature wooden blocks to represent the units.
Games of Samurai Battles take place on a hex board, where units are deployed according to the scenario. Each turn, players move their units around using command cards, which have special effects, and also detail which lane units can be moved in. The hex map is divided into three lanes, left, right and center, and most command cards allow a number of units from one or more lanes to move.
Samurai Battles features a variety of units to use in the scenarios. These range from mounted samurai to peasant infantry. They are all represented by colored blocks, with stickers images of the units on them. Red and blue colored blocks are used to identify which troops belong to each player, and the number of blocks tracks the hit points left for each unit. From a distance, it's hard to make out clearly from the images which unit is which, so you will find yourself leaning in to check often. Each unit also has unique stats and abilities which are all listed on reference cards, after a few games, you will refer to the reference sheets less and less as you learn how best to use each, but to start with, you will be referring to them a lot.
Units include mounted samurai, who are capable of moving and entering combat on the same turn, peasant levies, who can link up with other levies units to swarm their enemies, and arquebusiers armed units, who can't move and fire, but have a long attack range.
During battles, units roll an amount of dice determined by their unit type. For example, samurai spearmen roll four dice, and ashigaru bowmen only roll one dice if they move and attack. Each unit has a colored shape on their tile, and attacking units hit when rolling the opposing unit's symbol on the dice. A pair of crossed swords also scores a hit, unless the attack is made by a lower class unit against the armored samurai. The dice also have an honor and fortune symbol, which earns the rolling player tokens, and finally a flag symbol, that may cause the targeted unit to retreat.
At the start of the scenario, and during the game, players gain honor and fortune tokens. These can then be spent on leaders adding extra dice to your unit's attacks, and on powerful Dragon cards, which provide powerful in-game effects. Honor and fortune tokens are discarded when units retreat during combat, and if the retreating player doesn't have enough tokens, the unit could suffer further losses. At the end of their turns, players can either draw a dragon card or gain two honor and fortune tokens, and maintaining a hand of cards, and the tokens to use them is a constant thought throughout the game.
Commands and Colors Samurai Battles includes forty scenarios for players to play through, based on historical battles from 1517 to 1615. Fans of the era will find a lot to love battling through the games and finding the best use for their troops. The Command and Colors system is very entry-level friendly and easy to learn, but the rulebook could be better laid out. It has some fantastic example graphics in some parts, but others that could benefit from picture examples, are just plain text. The ease of the system means that it doesn't affect the speed of picking it up, but it is noticeable when you start to work through the rules.
The wood tiles used for the troops are robust, and the two colors stand out, even though the blocks are a signature element of Commands and Colors, the small stickers on them are hard to see. Large tokens to represent the troops, with dice or a token stack to track wounds might serve better at making it easy to identify troops on the map.
The fast pace and simplicity of the system make Commands and Colors Samurai Battles a great entry-level game for anyone interested in wargaming, making it a great bridge from board games to wargames, or for any new player looking to get into wargaming, without the hobby side that miniature games require.
The Bottom Line
Commands and Colors Samurai Battles is very easy to learn and play, and the forty scenarios offer a huge amount of playtime, even if only playing each scenario once, on both sides. Repeat plays still offer a great challenge and experience. The rulebook could do with some more image examples, and the wooden blocks can be hard to read, but it doesn't take away from the solid rules, pace, and overall experience of the game. Veteran wargames will find a great system, with some interesting scenarios. Beginner wargamers will find a great entry-level game and fans of the samurai era will enjoy the historical battles and exploring the use of the different units.
Get This Game If:
- You want an easy-to-learn wargame with depth.
- You want a great entry-level wargame.
- You're a fan of the samurai era.
Avoid This Game If:
- You want easy-to-see units on the battlefield.
- You don't want a wargame.
The copy of the Commands and Colors Samurai Battles used to produce this review was provided by Asmodee UK.