Did you ever play Commandos? It was released back in 1998 by Eidos Software. You know, the guys who put out Tomb Raider, Thief, and Deus Ex–only three of the most successful videogame franchises ever.
Thief arguably invented the stealth mechanic. You could not win by going in guns (uh, bows) blazing. Instead, you hugged the shadows, avoided metal surfaces, and struck from behind–silently, if possible, to prevent the guards from raising the alarm. Seriously, forget the recent reboot and go back to the mothership; the first two games are still playable and enjoyable today. I’m still tinkering with a card-based Thief game design…but that’s another story.
Anyway, the year Thief came out Eidos also released Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, which also emphasized stealth but took a very different approach. Where Thief was FPS, Commandos was third-person and isometric. Where Thief was set in a medieval-ish world with steampunk and other overtones, Commandos was set in World War II–but with little pretension to historical accuracy. I mean, it was more accurate than, say, Wolfenstein. Not saying much there. But the feel they were going for was very “The Great Escape” as opposed to, say, “Inglorious Bastards”. You commanded an international array of stereotypes (British demolition expert; French vixen; American grunt, etc.) over a series of missions of increasing difficulty. Again, the trick was to stay silent and out of sight while going about your business assassinating Gestapo leaders, torching U-Boats, and generally winning the war. It was a ton of fun–and very hard.
And now Thibaud de la Touanne, himself a veteran of videogame publishers Gameloft and Ubisoft in Montreal, has come along with a game that brings back all the fun of the classic Commandos series called, unsurprisingly, V-Commandos. It was first released two years ago but a new print run from publishers Triton Noir has brought it to our attention. (Triton Noir supplied me with a copy of the game for this review.)
A typical V-Commando scenario sees a team of one to four specialists creeping up from the tunnels and sewers onto a map composed of rectangular tiles attempting to complete an Objective, which might be eliminating all enemies from the table, sabotaging an objective, rescuing and escorting a prisoner, or a wide variety of other possibilities.
Game Turns begin with a random event from a deck which is seeded according to scenario rules. Then commandoes move, fight, and take actions. These may set off alarms, which drastically increase enemy response and reinforcement, and you want to avoid these wherever possible. Then the bad guys activate according to “procedurally generated” (ie random) steps. Finally, victory conditions are checked, and unless time has run out a new Game Turn starts. The game flows easily and well. Movement is all about becoming or staying stealthy, and one neat filip is being able to grab a German uniform and bluff your way close to the enemy until you stabby-stabby. Combat is itself simple–as it should be in a game like this. Line of sight is extremely straightforward–you’re basically in range or you’re not, and most fighting is close quarters and very deadly.
V-Commandos comes with three Training Missions which gradually ease you into the rules. I found them slightly confusing at times, sending me hunting into the rulebook and BGG for clarifications; for instance, Training Mission 2 requires an understanding of Commando cards which is not references until later in the manual. Overall, though, I applaud de la Touanne for trying to make things easier for newbie commandos. Veterans of Squad Leader or even Memoir ‘44 might just want to jump head-first into Terrain Cards and Operations.
The next step up from the Training Missions are scenarios that V-Commandos calls Terrain Cards–which I think should be called Location Cards, as their names are generic locations (“Streets”, “Docks”, “Panzer Depot”). Each card has a tile layout and objective on the front and special rules on the back. They’re all different and have a lot of variability.
But where the game gets challenging and comes alive are the Operations, each one of which is historical or semi-historical and are composed of a group of Terrain Cards which are played through in sequence (sometimes with branching choices) and with special Operation rules. Operations are the meat of V-Commandos and can be played over multiple sessions.
V-Commando’s components and graphics are high-quality, with cloth draw-bags for enemy units and random equipment. The rules are well-written with few ambiguities and only a couple of spelling mistakes that I could catch. There are two expansions (Secret Weapons and Resistance) which add even more tiles, events, Terrains [sic], and Operations and makes the game playable by up to six. If you’re looking for a tabletop stealth game with a decent veneer of history, check V-Commando out.