V-Commandos is, in everything but name, a board game adaptation of 1998's stealth strategy game Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.
Kickstarted back in 2014, the game has recently been released to retail, and over the last few months I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it.
It works like this: players choose from one of a small roster of Allied special forces operatives, then take those characters into battle in either standalone missions or operations (this game’s name for campaigns). V-Commandos is turn-based, with each commando given a certain number of action points per turn to do things like move, use equipment and engage in combat.
Each mission will have an objective, whether it be to steal some radar parts and escape, blow something up or escort a character from one end of a map to the other.
Trying to stop you are some Nazis. AI Nazis.
Not actual robot Nazis, this isn’t a Wolfenstein game, but in V-Commandos nobody gets to play as the Germans. If during the course of a turn you walk into the open or fire a loud weapon, then that player becomes “visible”, and the guards will automatically start heading towards you. If not, at the end of every turn they’ll patrol the map in a random direction, potentially walking straight into the room you thought you were safe hiding in.
A lot of games I’ve played recently that involve a team of players going somewhere to kill loads of dudes and steal/break some stuff let most people team up, while sitting one player down to control the bad guys. In some ways/situations, I can see the appeal in that. In Imperial Assault, for example, it means someone gets to play as Darth Vader.
But in V-Commandos, putting every player on the same team makes this one of the best co-operative experiences I’ve had in years.
Because this is a stealth game, not a balls-to-the-walls shooter, it’s an absolute blast sitting down and planning your heists aloud, working together as a team to co-ordinate your actions and do the maximum amount of damage with the last amount of fuss.
The commandos always go first, and every commando is able to complete their actions before the Germans get their turn, so it’s possible to string together some amazing teamwork combos. You can, for example, have one player quietly barricade a doorway then loudly set off the alarm, sending a wave of reinforcements...into a room they can’t get out of.
Meanwhile, with the guards distracted, other players can sneak across a courtyard, knife a Nazi, loot a German uniform from his corpse, put that uniform on then waltz straight past a room full of guards to steal some plans, before making a dash for the escape tunnel as another player calls in an air strike and flattens half the map.
It’s fun just planning something like this. Having it actually work is exhilarating.
And even when it doesn’t work, the game can be just as good, if not better! Because patrol routines can be random, and because even stealthy kills can sometimes result in a player being accidentally spotted, even the best-laid plans in V-Commandos can come undone in an instant, leaving you feeling like a deer caught in some fascist headlights.
The only thing to do in this case is—like it always is in a war movie when everything goes to shit—to think fast. Each character has a range of special powers and abilities, and many missions only require a few commandos to survive or undertake essential actions, so botched plans often lead to fast-tracked acts of daring gunplay and sacrifice, as players scramble to make the best of a bad situation and push their capabilities to the limit to make sure at least someone (preferably the guy with the stolen plans) makes it out of the mission alive.
Another big plus about the way the game’s design is that it’s very playable with just one person. There’s no hobbling of the game rules here, or concessions made to the flow or difficulty; it’s just as easy for one person to take control of three commandos as it is for three people to play as one each, and you’ll find both the tactics available to you and the difficulty of your opponent exactly the same as if you were playing with friends.
So whether you’re a loner who’s a fan of stealthy tactics or part of a crew that wants to sneak their way to a more satisfying kill, I can’t recommend V-Commandos enough. It might be a board game, but it gets the tension and satisfaction of its video game heritage just right.