Time Commanders brings Total War back to TV tonight

Time Commanders, the BBC game show where contestants order around someone playing Total War, returns to British screens tonight. Imagine a blind Let’s Play of Rome: Total War directed by teams who didn’t know what Total War was but did between them share a Desmond in classics, a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, experience leading their university rugger society, and four awful haircuts. After eleven years away, Time Commanders is back tonight with Gregg Wallace off Masterchef pitting board gamers against wrestlers in a recreation of 202 BC’s Battle of Zama. Have a butcher’s at this:

Time Commanders always fascinated me, a show about playing video games which refused to acknowledge that. Contestants didn’t actually play the game themselves, instead issuing orders to a technician who was controlling a military simulation. Which is also weird because of how game-y (and wonky) a simulation Total War is. They didn’t even name the game (basically a customised Rome: Total War) because of BBC rules. But it was a TV show with a range of people (from students to parents with their kids) taking a video game entirely seriously – boringly seriously, even.

I’m guessing the contestants who applied for this modern revival are a little more familiar with the idea of Total War. I’ll be delighted if someone tries issuing orders to exploit a known glitch. Scandal erupts as a contestant sneaks in a cheeky mod replacing Hannibal’s elephants with manticores from Total Warhammer.

Time Commanders will be on BBC Four at 9pm tonight or, y’know, just on the iPlayer afterwards. Season 3 is only three episodes and does tweak the format, pitting two teams facing each other and going modern-ish with the Battle of Waterloo.

Auntie did recently unveil a concept for a future video games show with contestants playing from their own homes but that’s very much them floating an idea rather pitching a specific show.

Gregg Wallace, by the way, is not just any old friendly BBC presenter rolled out for this. He’s big into strategy games, going by years of tweets about crushing Napoleon: Total War, getting annoyed with Civ IV (imagine his face as he’s beaten to a wonder by one turn!), not enjoying Total War: Rome II and trying Europa Universalis, and returning to Medieval: Total War. Though it seems unlikely we’ll see him shouting “GIT GUD SCRUBS!” and grabbing the mouse to win Time Commanders himself.


Top comments

  1. thekelvingreen says:

  1. Kommissar Hedgehog says:

    My memory of the old Time Commanders was that it was at times both awesome and cringe worthy. I do hope they can edge to more of the awesome and less of the cringe. We shall see…

    • ButteringSundays says:

      I cringed just reading the description. But it can’t be any worse than e-‘sports’, I assume there at least won’t be shoutcasting, and the need for me to disassociate myself from my hobby.

      Maybe I’m too optimistic? I’m going to watch either way, I’m hoping it’s fun.

  2. sonson says:

    “Though it seems unlikely we’ll see him shouting “GIT GUD SCRUBS!” and grabbing the mouse to win Time Commanders himself.”

    This almost precisely what I *would* expect of Gregg Wallace tbh

  3. MacBeth says:

    I had no idea Gregg “The Egg” Wallace (as we know him at least) was a strategy fan. Quite a relief actually, as him being “any old friendly BBC presenter rolled out for this” was exactly what I feared about the show…

    • varangian says:

      Ditto. The little I’ve seen of Wallace elsewhere left me with the impression that he was a gurning idiot so the basic plan was to stick the prog on the DVR and click the skip button like a monkey whenever he appeared on screen. But perhaps he may have something of interest to say, though I’ll be keeping the remote close to hand…

      • Deptfordx says:

        Keep the remote close to hand. I literally muttered aloud ‘Shut up. You shouty idiot at one point’.

  4. kud13 says:

    Battle of Zama- that’s the one where Scipio Jr finally out-cavalried Hannibal’s Numidians, right?

    I hope this goes as ahistorical as possible.

    • homuncuIus says:

      It was in fact the OG, Scipio Africanus. Scipio Jr. would be his adopted grandson, who salted those pesky Carthaginians, much as one would do to slugs.

  5. Porkolt says:

    Important detail is that the first season of Time Commander was originally aired well before Rome: Total War was released. I remember when Time Commanders was on the air that I was desperately trying to find whatever game it was that they were playing, only that was impossible because the game hadn’t actually been released yet!

  6. thekelvingreen says:


  7. Kitano1314 says:

    If I remember right they used a beefed up version of R:TW which looked a lot better than the actual version that was sold in the shops.

  8. Replikant says:

    Back then us Total War fans were watching it to see more of the (eagerly anticipated) game. The idea of the show, i.e. combining chinese whispers with military chain of command, was really cringeworthy most of the time. IIRC there was just one exception, an episode where a team of wargamers won the battle of Gaugamela.

  9. Sin Vega says:

    I used to love this, at the time I had no computer of my own and no internet (horrifying now, but back then not completely impossible to live day to day beccause most things still had a real life option) and we consequently had no idea what game it was.

    The best episodes were the ones were the generals were obviously losing touch and the lieutenants went rogue. The steely stoicism of the controllers who implemented their commands, fully aware they were disobeying the general, never got the respect it deserved.

  10. JB says:

    I almost applied for this season, but we were one person short. Maybe next season…

    Good memories of pre-Total War viewing of the show. Wish I’d remembered it was on tonight!

    • Shiloh says:

      Well if you ever need someone to make up the numbers, let me know. I’d love to have a crack at it.

  11. gunny1993 says:

    Ahhhhh good old nostalgia, I was pretty young when it originally aired but I loved every bit of it, re-watched a couple of episodes recently and everyone playing ti was terrible. But hopefully that will make it fun to watch where me and my buddies get drunk and backseat game the fuck out of them.

  12. satan says:

    I watched quite a few time commander episodes on youtube, wonder if they’ll cover the same famous historical battles again or cover some lesser known ones…

  13. bill says:

    The thing is, the show was interesting mainly because they were bad at the game and because of the communication breakdowns.

    Put in a bunch of pro Total War players and watch them play efficiently and effectively… and zzzz… boring show.

  14. David Mitchell says:


    Thanks Mike, we can clearly see Dr Nusbacher standing right there next to you!

    On another note, I reinstalled Rome II recently and found it’s actually not too bad. The one thing I needed to do was apply the “Rome: Total War Music” mod: link to youtube.com

    Somebody on the TWC forums said “Total War without Jeff van Dyck is like Star Wars without John Williams”. Well said, sir! (Or madam?). Um, sorry, not talking about Dr Nusbacher now.

  15. Shiloh says:

    Well I never did… how had I not heard that Aryeh Nusbacher is now Lynette?

    I used to love Time Commanders when I was younger, particularly the bits when an obviously incompetent or overbearing General with a Napoleon complex was undermined by his swotty underlings with hilarious consequences.

    I appreciate the BBC giving us a Napoleonic battle, but I’d like to see something a wee bit more modern as well – WW2 for example, using the Graviteam engine maybe. Go smaller scale.

  16. DancesWithSheep says:

    I just watched this and wasn’t impressed but I think a lot of that is because I have a low tolerance for American style shouty tv where the audience is assumed to be stupid. I was also more interested in the actual battle rather than the other stuff so fast forwarding a lot may have meant I missed on the nuances.

  17. TWChristine says:

    I thought the idea for the show was quite interesting and enjoyed watching it. There was the one guy though who was just plain bonkers and would always throw game pieces around; got tired of that shtick pretty quick.

  18. racccoon says:

    Looks an Awesome show! as is Go 8 bit! These shows crawling in are so much fun to watch.