Generally, I think the command cards add some interesting options and possiblity to surprise your opponent without adding too much extra complexity. However, the current version seems to me to have some significant drawbacks.
First of all, command cards are rather varying in power. Some cards are all-round good – getting an Rio for free is a very blatant example, but there are many others that are extremely good no matter where you are in the game. Other cards are very good in a specific set of circumstances and less so in others. And finally, some are only useful in some very specific cases or periods of the game – and even then their usefulness might be limited.
All of this means, that you can’t really “opt out” of caring about command cards, if you agree to play with them. Even the cheapest of admirals is easily worth their points but basically, command cards are that good, that not taking the highest ranking admiral possible seems silly. The 140 point for the highest ranking admiral in a Battle (actually 80, if you place him or her in a battleship) is simply a steal. Just to compare it to the free Rio-card; you have an increase from 2 % chance per round (no admiral – AV 1) to 11 % chance per round (AV 6) to draw just that one card – not even counting all the other extremely useful cards. In short – bringing the highest ranking admiral possible is a no-brainer.
On top of that, the rules (and, of course, the flavour!) seems to encourage placing the Admiral in the biggest, baddest ship in the fleet – which most likely will be in the thick of battle. This in turn tends to have the effect, that you will eventually lose you Admiral – and go down to only 1 command card. Alternatively, you go against the flavour, pay a little extra and hide your admiral in a small cruiser at the rear of your battleline hoping to spare his or her life for as long as possible. Either way, the risk of losing your admiral is of critical concern and impact on how you act.
For this reason, I have seen a couple of people suggest house rules around this – and I have myself also given it a bit thought. I saw a couple of suggestions where you would limit the cards in the deck or “buy” the deck available, but I think that is too complicated. I think that any house rules have to be as simple as possible so I tried to find the core of the problem and work from there.
For me, it seems the core of the problem is that some cards are so obvious better than others (some universally so, some depending on the situation) and others are very circumstantial. So the worst part about having only one card is actually not that you can only play a single card but that you only have a single card to choose from – and that card might be one of those that are of no use to you currently.
So I think a house rule should orbit around giving some flexibility even without an admiral.
Another – maybe secondary – problem is that it seems a no-brainer to choose the highest ranking admiral. That could be solved by making the admiral more expensive but that would actually just worsen the problem about losing him or her since even more value would be locked in the admiral. So another solution is needed – this is my suggestion:
Houserule: Good support staff
The size of your hand of command cards is depending on the size of the battle; 3 for a Skirmish, 5 for a Clash and 6 for a Battle. In the “Draw cards” step of the Planning phase you always draw so you have this number in your hand, irrespective of your current AV value. In short – AV value will never affect the number of command cards in your hand.
Your current AV is the limit to the amount of command cards you can play in a round. Should your AV in a round fall below the amount of command cards already played in that round (due to the Admiral dying), you simply cannot play anymore command cards until the next round.
I think this house rule solves the above mentioned issues.
First of all, losing an admiral is bad, but not debilitating. You still have some flexibility and might still get a good command card that can really help you, since you still draw quite a lot. However, having an admiral on the table is still a clear advantage, as you can make use of several good cards.
Second, it also makes the decision of what admiral to bring less straightforward. Maybe being able to play 3 or 4 command cards per turn are sufficient in a Battle and so you can put a UCM Vice-Admiral in your Battle ship for a mere 20 points saving 60 points that can be used to buy another New Orleans and an additional Santiago.
I have not yet tried the rule out, but I will in the coming friendly games to see how it plays out.