This highly regarded series of solitaire titles began in 2008 with the publication of the original version of Field Commander Rommel. Field Commander Alexander was released the following year, and then Field Commander Napoleon in 2011. The most recent title, Fleet Commander Nimitz, was published at the end of 2014.
Despite the broad span of eras and forces represented, there is a commonality in the key mechanisms of these games both in terms of how forces move and how they then engage in combat. For the player, movement and combat is sustained by a currency of resources, (the term varies), which must be spent to move, fight and refit or add forces. The non-player units will move and fight via orders randomly determined by die roll. These orders will move forces to particular locations (all maps are area – or in Nimitz, nodal point based); or will have them attempt to initiate combat by moving towards a player force; or instruct them hold in place. Different orders are applied to forces in different locations, or to large assemblies forces in the same location.
Non-player forces will be augmented by reinforcements linked to tables referred to at given points in play, or by operational chit draw.
Units characteristics are portrayed in combat values and, in FC Napoleon, an activation rating as well – basically a representation of subordinate command ability. By contrast, FC Alexander units have a speed rating, which is most readily interpreted as an ability to strike first.
Combat is by a simple “to hit” die roll range. There is no direct expression of odds. Elite units will have a greater chance (larger die result range) to inflict a hit. Furthermore, such units also have a superscript number next to their main combat strength, and if a combat roll is equal to and lower to both numbers, the unit will cause a second hit to its target – which is often enough to destroy the attacked unit.
All series games have a range of player and non-player battle plan counters, and some, commander insight counters. These provide die roll advantages and, in the case of the insight counters, can either further nuance a particular battle, or, in the case of FC Alexander, add potential advantages and effects to the broader campaign.
Battle plans become costlier in resources the more effective they are. They do not reflect planning as much as wielding particular material advantages as well as the occasional twist of fate.
Many of the campaign scenarios from all four games have tight time limits to achieve even the lowest level of victory. This exacerbates the dilemma of the player between pushing forward with forces (at supply cost) and pausing to replenish forces and spend points on new and restored units.
Field Commander Rommel
Covers three campaigns from Rommel’s World War Two career – the advance from the Meuse and then deep into France; the North African campaign from early 1941 to late 1942; and the Normandy campaign of 1944.
Unit scale varies by campaign – regiments for Ghost Panzer dash across France; divisions down to notable regiments for North Africa; divisions for Normandy.
The scenarios all use their own campaign map, which includes all the charts and tables to play that particular game, as well as some special rules and options to vary the campaign environment.
Rommel’s 1940 scenario features only those units Rommel commanded, or those directly engaged against him. Its options include faster Allied reaction; directing the advance towards Brussels; greater Allied aggression; and prioritizing the capture of Paris.
Options for North Africa include the capture of Malta and Hitler offering more material support for the campaign.
For Normandy, the campaign can be nuanced by, amongst other things, worsening weather; a more active Luftwaffe; and on the negative side of things, the Allies achieving maximum surprise.
Negative campaign influences lower the bar of victory, but offer greater difficulties to overcome.
There are no insight counters in the Rommel game. Battle plan counters (chosen and bought with varying supply cost by the player beyond an initial free quota; randomly drawn for the non-player), will influence combat results usually by adding die roll modifiers.
Battle system based on hits – units being mainly two-step forces. Successful forces could be upgraded to an elite status. Hits to non-player forces are to weaker forces first; the player chooses how to distributes hits to his own units.
Field Commander Alexander
An appreciable move on from the Rommel game, especially in modeling Alexander as a personality and creating an ambience of the broader campaign world. Insight counters, which reflect the actions or even the mere presence of Alexander in his world, can be played to influence battle itself, or promote other opportunities on-map.
Alexander’s battle ability improves with victories, albeit at the risk of his dying in combat and thus ending the game in defeat. A “progressed” Alexander can often win a battle by himself by targeting the enemy leader.
The game also features prophecies gleaned from Oracle spaces – fulfillment of which, as game tasks, allows the purchase of insights and adds intimidation to Alexander’s armory.
Campaigns presented include Charonea; The Granicus; Issus; and the substantial campaign across the heartland of the Persian Empire leading to The Hydaspes and the subsequent retreat to Babylon. The scenario maps contain both campaign rules and options: options increase the difficulty of the campaign by adding enemy-favourable and historically grounded what-ifs; campaign rules specifically tailor the campaign environment to historic realities.
The Siege of Tyre is also present, and as a siege, has a large number of specific rules, as well as a different sense of scale and overall gameplay.
Units represent particular force types rather than specific commands.
Most enemy forces are essentially static – either generated to garrison key points, or to join the musters already present on the historic battlefields. The key battles of the period must be fought as part of the campaign’s requirements.
Simple mechanisms convey the danger of the Macedonian army wearing away by constant and under-supplied marching.
Combat is by routines similar to FC Rommel, with the added “Alexander Factor,” and the first move towards an abstracted battlefield. BGG files contain actual battlefield sheets designed by players. Battle plans are presented with a flavor of ancient warfare.
Field Commander Napoleon
A massive game covering just about all of Napoleon’s campaigns from the 1790s through to Waterloo.
Numerous campaign maps cover the “stage” of the Napoleonic era, with many maps containing special rules to finesse the campaign being played. For example, the grinding attrition in Russia is presented by progressive step reductions to French forces.
Units will most often represent corps of infantry and cavalry, although artillery can also appear, as well as garrisons and fortifications.
The modeling of Napoleon and the campaign-period world is not as pronounced as in FC Alexander, but where applicable is telling in effect. The presence of Napoleon enables the player to gain insight counters, which are more combat-orientated than the overall mix in FC Alexander.
The game with arguably the greatest sense of time pressure to achieve levels of victory.
First FC game supplied with an actual battle map.
French mobile forces able to be in column or line on the battle map – some battle plans require or are optimized by a stated formation. Non-player forces must be in column.
Cavalry is powerful but fragile – one hit destroys it.
A Fog of War table further randomizes battle conditions, though the employment of scouts by the player (at supply cost) can improve results in favour of the French.
Battle plans and non-player default orders drive the battle – but the player has scope for tactical finesse, and must assess the field in order to place the right unit with the right plan to the right place.
The failure of certain insights and/or battle plans can be particularly disastrous, given that some require forces to absent themselves from the field, and many require an on-map force to pass an activation check. If the check is failed, the force is rendered static and often left out of position.
Defeated armies (a force outnumbered by 3 to 1 or more) will be pursued off the battle map during a rout phase. This concludes the battle.
Fleet Commander Nimitz
The first in the series to take to the water; however, numerous basic mechanisms are held in common with earlier titles – movement provisions, reinforcement, refit etc.
Scale is individual carriers; single battleships and pairs of given battleship types; heavy cruisers and destroyer screens; submarine forces; bomber and fighter groups; infantry/marine divisions and battalion-sized garrisons.
There are no insight counters.
American naval forces can be “out of commission” (passing through “Return to Port” boxes) for a number of turns after any turn in which they have been deployed at sea. This should prompt the player to be cautious about over-committing on any given turn. Longer return periods are required in the later scenarios.
Combat occurs on a multi-location battle map (coastal and ocean areas for both sides, infantry and airfield positions) for a randomly determined number of turns.
Scenarios cover one year of campaigning – 1942; 1943; 1944; 1945. The full campaign scenario is essentially a bolting together of the above, played one after the other, and does not permit a full campaign, narrative flow to evolve.
About the Author
Paul has been involved in the hobby since the early 1970s. Of largely Belgian ancestry on his father’s side, and English (Yorkshire) on his mother’s, after finishing his education he worked in tourism and student services, and also spent some time in the former West Germany. He met his wife Boo in 1990, and they married a couple of years later.
Paul hails from a long line of former servicemen – one grandfather was a sergeant in the BEF of 1914, whilst two of his great grandfathers were killed serving with the Royal Navy. His own father, who was born in Britain, served with the army in Malaya in the early 1950s.