2-8* players (2-4 with core, up to 4v4 with 2 core sets), Competitive (Co-op mode with expansion), Strategic WW2 point capturing war battling
Publisher: Bad Crow Games
Release Year: 2021
Company of Heroes is a videogame that I have loved for a very long time. It is one that I’ve put many, MANY hours into playing and when I heard there was a board game I was initially skeptical. “Could this board iteration of a beloved videogame live up to the very high expectations that I had”, I thought. Let’s find out.
Overview of Gameplay
The game is designed as either a 1v1 or more team based battling game. So, in essence you could battle 2v2 or 4v4 if you have a couple core sets. There are rules for a 3 player game where one side controls 2 armies and the other two players each are on a team against you….but I wouldn’t recommend that. Let’s talk about the 1v1 version first. The game comes with multiple different double-sided boards that can be pushed together to form bigger maps so starting out you can choose to either use a single board or two to create your battle map depending on your preferences. On these maps there are control points that represent four different resources in the game: Ammo, Manpower, Fuel and Victory Points. Your ultimate goal in the game is to be the first to reach a certain number of VP’s (based on the length you want to play) with the average length game being 15 VP’s.
Let’s talk about the turn structure and I’ll circle back around to the control points in a sec. A typical round consists of players moving around the map using three sets of three cubes called CP’s (Command Points). You can only move a single unit a maximum of three spaces per round but can spend the three cp’s on any units of your choosing for each set. For example, you spend 2 cp’s on your jeep to move two spaces and the third cp on your tank to move one. Then the next player does the same, then it comes back to you to spend the next set of three etc etc. Any cp’s that are not spent during your turn for that particular set are forfeit. Once both teams have spent all their cp’s moving and positioning their units they will move on to the attack phase.
Now, during the attack phase you first check if any units are pinned by machine gunners in which all they can really do in that situation is retreat. Otherwise, players will take stock of the battlefield and resolve battles by rolling dice for defense simultaneously. This is done by referencing a grid to determine if what is attacking can actually hit the unit or if the defending unit gets to roll a die to determine if the attack misses. I’ll talk about this more during the review but suffice it to say, this is my least favorite part of the game. If you damage an enemy unit you will gain an experience point token and if you completely destroy a unit you also will gain a VP. Once all the battles have been taken care of player will move to capture points and purchasing/upgrading units.
During this phase you will check over the battlefield to see if you have any units on those precious control point spots that I mentioned earlier. If so, you can now place one of your flag tokens on that spot on the board and increase your income of that particular resource on your player board! As the game progresses, these points may change hands so if you lost one you will likewise decrease your income. Then you will gain the amount of each resource in your stockpile tracker based on how much of each income you have of each. So, let’s recap: Income = control points + 1 (since you have to start with SOME sort of income cept VP’s), Stockpile = amount that resource control points generate to spend each round. After adjusting your income and stockpiles, you then get to SPEND SPEND SPEND!!! Spend all that loot that you gained on new units or new buildings or upgrades! This is arguably the most fun part of the game. You see, each different resource is needed for different things and really depends on how you want to specialize. You need the Manpower resource to bring out your infantry troops, you need the Fuel resource to bring out your light vehicles and tanks, the Ammo resource is needed to upgrade your units with new and powerful abilities that will aid you on the battlefield. And let’s not forget the VP resource! This one doesn’t let you buy anything BUT gains you Victory Points during the income phase. Control just two VP control points during a round and there is an extra 2 vp’s not including the vp’s you gain from destroying units. These are game changers.
When players start the game there are only 2 infantry units available for purchase and 1 light vehicle. Of course players only start with 4 stockpile of each resource which is enough to MAYBE buy 2 units anyway. BUT, as you progress in the game you can also spend those resources on buying new buildings. These take the form of cards that you can flip over to reveal three more units, perhaps different kinds of infantry, light vehicles or maybe some light tanks. Each army comes with three cards (buildings) with the first always being accessible at the beginning. The third building has the armies heavy hitters, their larger, more powerful tanks. You won’t be accessing these babies until towards the end of the game as you will need to acquire a decent amount of control points to build up a nice income to afford them.
After everyone has spent to their hearts desire they place their newly acquired units on their side of the boards spawn points to bring them in for moving next round. Which brings us full circle! Movement > Attack > Income. It’s a game that has a nice streamlined round system with some intricacies built within each. First player or team to 15 vp’s is the winner.
The components and boards are all excellent quality. The game boards specifically are just simply awesome. The artwork on them looks great and the colors really stand out. There are a multitude of designs on each of the double-sided boards so you can mix and match different environments to create some truly interesting strategic situations. The best part is that the game comes with a manual full of different board setup scenarios for different player counts. The ONLY thing I would say is that you NEED to pick up both of the terrain packs for this game. I own the terrain pack 1 and it adds plastic buildings for the building locations on the boards and it adds actual plastic flagpoles for when you capture resource spots. Without that terrain pack you are left with just the flat building picture on the board and with little cardboard flag tokens that also sit flat on the board. Without the plastic 3d props SO much theme is sucked right out of the game. Plus, it’s VERY hard to see those tiny little cardboard flag tokens in the middle of all the troops later on in the game. The plastic flags stand tall and proud showing who controls what. Now, I DO NOT own the Terrain Pack 2 to my great dismay. When playing as the British army I found that they LOVE to toss down emplacements all over the place. The core set includes some little dark brown flat discs that we lovingly dubbed, “Biscuits”. These things similarly blend in with the board and are hard to notice…BUT Terrain pack 2 comes with plastic miniatures for these as well. UGH what I wouldn’t give for Terrain Pack 2 right now. Let’s just say that both the Terrain Packs IMPROVE this game immensely both in look, theme AND usability.
I like the little plastic holders for the infantry troops which makes it easy to see at a glance how much life they each have. However, the vehicles are a little more fiddly. There are a few plastic holders for them too but they take up an entire hex space on the board and can really get in the way when trying to move them through other armies. I vastly prefer just setting the vehicles without the holders in this case…HOWEVER, if a vehicle has any upgrades you will want to set those dice next to it to mark them as such. BUT, this creates a new issue, when assigning attacks they are the exact same dice as used for showing what upgrades a unit has which leads into a very confusing mess of dice. Yes, I’m slowly building up to my biggest complaint of the game, the attack phase (skip to Fun Factor if you can’t take it any longer).
Overall though I found the components very well done and of a premium quality, I mean the player boards are made of this plastic material AND are double layered!!! You won’t be disappointed with the core set in any case BUT I do highly recommend picking up both terrain packs to increase the theme and usability of the game.
The box is a deep beast about the size of Mansions of Madness 2nd edition if you are familiar with that game, and it uses every inch of it let me tell you. It has a nice plastic insert to hold all the tokens and plastic bits and bobs. Plus each different army has its own respective plastic insert that holds each different vehicle separately nice and neat. It’s super easy to just pull out whichever army you are using, set it next to you and just PLAY. To be honest, for as sprawling a game as this, it’s super easy and fast to setup. That said it’s HEAVY, and already the bottom of my initial box is fraying and splitting as well as the lid has already split down a corner. To the credit of the publisher, they have already sent me a complete replacement for the damaged box!
Visual Appeal /Theme
Visually the game is just stunning! The board artwork looks glorious and really pulls you into the surrounding landscapes. The miniatures are very well done and weighty so they feel premium and look imposing on the battlefield. I really got a sense of unease when I was positioning my scout car on a capture point only to then notice a Sherman tank hidden behind a house that I hadn’t seen before, creeping up on me. That said, part of that amazing feeling was in part due to the house miniature there. Without that terrain pack 1 I would have seen it and it wouldn’t have been nearly as foreboding. I seriously believe this game requires both terrain packs to get the FULL thematic feel for it.
The rulebooks are broken into a “Basic” and an “Advanced” set of books. The basic goes over the..well…basic rules to play and the advanced adds in a few little odds and ends on top of that. But, the thing is, there are so few advanced rules these could have EASILY been rolled into the basic ruleset and just been called the Rulebook. It actually makes it more complicated the way it’s currently setup since the “advanced” rules are things that seem to be obvious when playing. Like, why WOULDN’T I play like that? The good news though is that I have heard from the designer and they are reworking the rules into a 1.5 ruleset that will combine these into more streamlined rules. I haven’t seen these yet so I cannot comment.
Overall, I wouldn’t say the rules as they are, are “Good”. I had quite a few fringe questions pop up during our plays where I had to feverishly flip through both rulebooks to try to find an answer. Sometimes it was about the meaning of a keyword, like camouflage or something, those were easy. But other times it was questions like, “if we run out of flag tokens (from the terrain pack) can we capture a spot?” just fringe questions like that. Plus, I also had difficulty in understanding certain aspects of the gameplay, such as the movement. Took me a few reads and rereads to wrap my noggin around how it worked.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor of General Gameplay
First off, the player interaction is incredible. The battling and strategic movement between the players is just FUN. Spending some of your CP (movement cubes) to position a unit behind a building but then watching as your enemy moves across the river with his mortar team. BUT THEN, you zipping your jeep across the bridge to flank the mortar team only to see them move in a bazooka team into the building next door. I mean the back and forth is tense and exciting with players on both sides constantly standing up and moving around the table to get a better birds eye view of the battlefield.
BUT, let’s finally discuss those pesky attack dice (or I should say “defense dice”) that I’ve been alluding to. When battle occurs you don’t “attack” the enemy per se, the enemy “defends” against your attack. That needs to be drilled into the head of everyone playing from the get go to help alleviate any confusion around this. I think this is the biggest barrier to this system right out of the gate. It flips the usual combat mechanic you find in any game on its head. Beyond that, when you defend you are placing dice down next to the unit getting attacked that match the damage symbols from the attacker. Now, this is where the biggest fault starts to rear its head. Firstly, you are using the exact same dice for attacking/defending/upgrades/rolling for successes. This creates a huge fiddly problem. When an attack occurs, sorry, when a DEFENSE occurs, you will lay a number of dice matching the symbols from the attacker next to the defender. Making sure they don’t mix in with the defenders own upgrade dice (since they are the same). Then checking the defenders health color which dictate whether it’s infantry, light vehicle or heavy vehicle OR emplacement and then matching that color to a grid to see what each symbol of the dice that have been placed does. Sometimes it will just HIT and you lose a life point off that unit. Other times there will be a shield icon, in which case you have to roll that particular die, if it rolls a green or black symbol, the attack misses. If it rolls a red symbol you get hit.
I mean, this is all just too much. First thing I would change, get rid of this confusing grid layout that you have to constantly double check for defending. Simplify it instead of defending, make it attacking. Two of the symbols are pictures of infantry and a tank, which add to the confusion of how they damage units. The building damage system is even more confusing with units inside a building getting an automatic 2 dice for defense rolls BUT the building can also take damage….but how? The grid shows it doesn’t take damage during infantry or tank attacks but the rulebook makes it sound like it will always take a damage regardless if the units inside are hit or not.
Ultimately, I would create a separate batch of Attack dice just for battles and not reuse the dice that you use for upgrades to monitor all that for ease of understanding. I would also as an aside, use RED pipped dice to track health damage on vehicles and not gray dice. But that’s just me. One other thing that would help with understanding, the particular words used when naming and/or describing the units. For example, the Soviets have a small tank called the T-70 Light Tank you can purchase, however it has a red heart, dictating it as a “Heavy” vehicle. This is just another thing that breeds confusion, it reads as a light vehicle but in actuality it’s a heavy vehicle, which is a HUGE variance when it comes to battle.
Optimal Player Count/Replayability
I’ve played a 2v2 game, a 2v1 game and a 1v1 game. I can tell you the 1v1 game was my favorite and the only way I’ll play going forward. The game was designed in such a way for team games only (other than the 1v1 of course) so playing a free for all or odd number of players is unfortunately off the table. (ALTHOUGH, I have also read that the designers are working on a Free for all mode! Squeee!) But as of the time of this writing it is what it is. The 3 player 2v1 wasn’t great, trying to control two different armies that both feel mechanically different wasn’t easy when going against two players each controlling a different army and able to coordinate each themselves. On that topic the coordination between two different armies is also a little off since each army, to their credit, does play very differently. The Soviets for example have lots of cheap tanks they can get out early but the Germans have HUGE tanks that are really expensive that come out later. Plus, it’s hard to coordinate tactics with your teammate when the other team is sitting directly across from you obviously listening in.
Now, the 1v1 is frickin AMAZING. Going headon with another player in a battle of wits and tactics and with the plethora of board selection and since each of the four armies are so different. AHH!!! It’s Heaven! I could spend 2 hours playing a game of this, and then immediately change up the board state and pick a new army and play it again right away. The amount of replayability is really high with just four armies to choose from as you also have a large amount of Commander cards to choose from for each! Now, these I haven’t talked about yet. Each army has a stack of commander cards that they can slot in their player boards that unlock new and exciting abilities for their army. And let me tell ya, each one is viable. Like, for the Germans I naturally gravitate towards the commander card that unlocks the powerful Tiger Tank, since you cannot build that from their buildings normally. BUT, it’s so expensive and hard to acquire…..do I instead focus on enhancing my machine gunners? The Americans have a commander that adds a 50cal gun to the back of their Jeeps to make them a menace to troops everywhere.
Positive Final Thoughts
Extremely WW2 themed, with excellent components and OOGLES of replayability with all the different maps/boards with armies/commander cards. This is my GO-TO WW2 skirmish game easily.
Negative Final Thoughts
The battling could be better if the dice and grid based combat system was cleaned up a bit. To me, this is the only thing holding this game back from greatness. The rulebooks need to be condensed and a bit clearer in some regards. Everything else is gravy.
The Bottom Line
Even with my distaste for the combat system, I simply LOVE this game. And to be clear, it’s not that I hate the way the combat works…..it’s just that it’s muddled and messy. Too many uses for the same dice and with the grid it just comes off as a bit unpolished. EVEN with that, I would play this over my, now, second fav WW2 skirmish game Memoir ’44. This is a game that will ALWAYS have a place in my collection.
The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE
2 thoughts on “Company of Heroes”
Great review, as always!. One quick question. Are you familiar with the Second Edition launched today June 28, on KS?. Do you know if they fix some of the complaints you mentioned?. Thanks!.
Thanks! I am aware of the newly launched Kickstarter but unsure if any issues I mentioned were addressed.