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Subject: Review for Napoleon in Europe: more than just plastic goodness rss

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Matt Price
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Napoleon in Europe » Forums » Reviews
Review for Napoleon in Europe: more than just plastic goodness
Review of Napoleon In Europe (Eagle Games, 2002)

I preordered this game over a month before it came out, and couldn't wait to get it. I am, admittedly, quite a sucker for games with a high toy factor, and was drooling over this one (I suppose I should make my biases explicit before writing this review!). In that respect I was not disappointed. This game is gorgeous. The artwork is fantastic and the quality of the miniatures is outstanding. For the hard core Napoleonic miniatures enthusiast, the pieces are generic, and differ across nations only by color, but wow. What pieces they are. Eagle Games also listens to the comments of their fans, and made better use of board space than they have in previous games ("The American Civil War" and "War! Age of Imperialism" both suffered from small territories unable to accomodate their beautiful 1/72 scale pieces, and excessive empty space filled in with graphics or nothing), though some territories do remain too small and require the use of (provided) army markers: 1/72 scale flagbearers.

Imagine my joy when I discovered a fairly solid game under all the trappings! Eagle games provides three levels of rules for all their games, each increasing in sophistication and complexity. This enables you to lure in some of your beginner friends, and hopefully not frighten them away too quickly. This review focuses on the "standard" rules, with mention of some of the "advanced" rules that are presented as variants in the rulebook, to help spice up your "standard" game.

The game presents itself as a 2-7 player game, but be forewarned: these are the napoleonic wars, it's more or less France vs everyone else. She has the option to ally sometimes with Spain, and even the Ottoman empire at times, but most of the scenarios (I believe about 10 are included) have her against several other european allies. To be quite honest, this is really a 2-4 player game. Many of the so-called major nations (ie, Spain, Ottoman, and sometimes Prussia) are VERY weak, and will spend much of their game stroking their chin, or pacing around the board as other countries get all the action.

Each turn is one month, and during that month you may move any of your pieces according to their movement allowance. Horses are twice as fast as men and artillery. Using your navy, you can strike anywhere in Europe, provided you start your turn in a port (though this *is* the case, it's not made explicit in the rules (see Eagle Games forums on NiE). The rules are not water tight, and if you play with 'rules lawyers,' be prepared for a long night). Every third month is production: you tally up the number of territories you own, this is proportional to the "cash" you get with which you build your mighty armies. The standard game encompasses infantry, elite infantry, cavalry, heavy cavalry, artillery and leaders. There are also militia (slightly worse than infantry) which show up under certain circumstances, and "irregular" cavalry (slightly worse than cavalry). The "advanced" rules provides you with light infantry and horse artillery, both of which are represented by placing counters under their respective plastic miniatures (the irregular cavalry, and the militia are also represented this way).

Combat is fun, and different from any of the other wargames I've tried. The pieces from each army are removed and placed on a tactical battle board. Each player sets up his or her army secretly, dispersing forces across the right, center or left flank, anticipating or preparing for the charge of their opponent. Each unit type (the generic types being cavalry, artillery, infantry and leaders, and they conduct their actions in that order) may move or attack, some, such as cavalry, may do two actions representing their improved mobility. The idea is not to destroy the enemy's army, but to break one of his "flanks" (right, left, and the center "flank" being the three). As soon as no pieces are left in a loosely-termed flank, the battle ends. The enemy scatters, and the winner may persue, gaining one deadly final strike on the retreating troops. A savvy battle field commander will always leave a cavalry unit in reserve, as this protects from some of the devastating consequencies of retreating. Highly satisfying combat system.

There is a card system that rewards combatants (both winner and loser, though the former draws two cards, the latter one). Cards can provide random chaos, technological improvements, and some can be held to spring on your opponents at the ideal moment. They are also part of the "advanced" package, and for those of you who don't appreciate a little chaos in your strategy, removing them won't affect the gameplay at all. The technological improvement cards actually appear with nations and dates listed, and can be played at key moments during the game, to enable countries (especially France) to reap the fruits of their war time advances as history saw to it. Personally, I like the cards, they added quite a lot of spice, but could, on occassion, provide a pretty considerable advantage to one player.

Sea battles do occur, but the combat system for naval squadrons is rather abstract. Navies are represented by cardboard counters, each counter can accomodate one land "piece" for amphibious transport. If the game sells well, an expansion is promised, which would include more detailed modeling of naval clashes, and plastic navies, among other things.

Diplomacy in the game is rather important, and NiE does a fair job at modeling alliances, territorial expansions, declarations of war and wooing neutral territories into your fold (so that you get their military at your disposal). The base of this system is the Political Action Point (PAP). You get PAPs by winning battles, wars (forcing your opponent to surrender, not just beating him on the battlefield) and you can purchase them during your country's production. These are used to ally with other players, to declare war on each other, and to place your control markers on neutral territories enabling you to collect income from them and, depending on the circumstances of the take-over, sometimes gain their military. When you defeat a player with whom you are at war (ie, force them to sue for peace), you may also spend PAPs to take over their territories, the spoils of your victory. For the most part, this system works well. However, it's here that NiE does break down a little. The rules are not clear on how allies must support each other in times of war, or what happens when one ally is forced to surrender, but the other is not, and other situations. A trip to the NiE forums at www.eaglegames.net is highly recommended. A recently posted FAQ page addresses many of these issues and is pretty much a must-read if you play with people who are sticklers for the rules rather than the "spirit" of the game. Game "spirit" can never make up for a well written rule book, however, and Eagle Games is addressing the errata that is slowly compiling.

So how do you win? Well, you force your enemies to surrender. Each time you win a major battle (your enemy loses a certain number of pieces at your hand) he is forced to roll a "commitment" roll, specified at the start of each scenario, or he must "sue for peace" (which costs PAPs, by the way). If France can force all her opponents to sue, she wins, if the combined allied forces can defeat France, and she fails her commitment roll, voila! She's done. There are non-historical rules added in the game which allow an every man for himself game, and sueing for peace just means you get some time to rebuild free from the harrassment of your enemies (if you sue, no one can attack you for a year. but you can attack whenever you're ready...!)

The advanced game provides options for Napoleon himself (a beefed up leader), special terrain to be placed on the battle board which can make the tactical battles that much more tricky, initiative in combat (NOT recommended, this can skew combat dreadfully, see the forums!), reinforcements during combat, forced marching, attrition in Spain and Russia and much more.

All in all a highly satisfying game. The quality of the components is excellent, the multitiered rules system is admirable (and must have been a lot of work). The rules themselves can be a little rough, and I would recommend a serious jump into the NiE forums (www.eaglegames.net) to find the FAQ and, while you're at it, read up on some of the strategies and rules variants that fans are already coming up with. I ranked this game an 8 out of 10.

Happy Gaming,

Matt Price
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