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Subject: A Brief Review of L'Armee du Nord rss

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Mark Mokszycki
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A Brief Review of L'Armee du Nord by Mark Mokszycki

In a nutshell, this is a good game with some quirky, unusual rules that take some getting used to.

First a word on the components. This is possibly the most stunning looking game in my collection. When the colorful units are set up on the three large Rick Barber maps, the game is a sight to behold! Graphically, this is a quality production, and the fonts, map and unit banners all evoke a nice feel for the period. See my photos posted here at BGG if you don't believe me.

Luckily, it's not all just for looks- those three maps offer a lot of room for maneuver. Combined with units' low movement allowances, this means it will take you a long time to cover a lot of ground, so some careful planning is in order.

Enough about the graphics and the maps. So how does it play?

While not revolutionary, the rules are pretty solid, and the game is fun to play. The "bloodless" CRT means that you'll have to carefully orchestrate your attacks in order to surround your opponents, or else maneuver your artillery into position to nail them- otherwise they'll simply retreat instead of taking damage (since combat losses may be taken as either retreats or strength reductions).

Units do not exert ZOCs, except for cavalry. Once in cavalry's ZOC, units are pinned and cannot exit the ZOC except as a result of combat. Units can always opt to retreat instead of taking losses, and ZOCs don't mean a thing during retreats. Very odd indeed! So how, you may ask, are units eliminated? Well, there is one unusual restriction on units' retreats- they must retreat away from all attacking units (yep, that's all units that specifically attacked them ... not simply all enemy units, as in most wargames). This means that you'll have to surround units at 180 degrees, just to do 1 step of damage to them (since any further steps can be taken as retreat hexes once they are outside your reach).

It all takes some getting used to, and until you figure out how to pin and surround units, it can be a bit like playing bumper pool, as opposing units push each other back and forth without suffering actual losses.

There are other unusual rules that take some getting used to. For example, cavalry adds it's morale to its strength when attacking. This means cav is VERY powerful on the attack!

Artillery adds its morale to its strength on the defense. Some artillery (12 pounders) can fire 2 hexes, if line of sight allows.

The oddities go on. Units must make morale checks to advance after combat, and victorious defenders may advance after combat to occupy their attacker's hex. A bit unusual, but ok, sure! Why not?

Certain Prussian and Anglo-Dutch units start off-map, and enter the map at an arrival time based on their historical start location plus their course as plotted by the Allied player (this sounds complex, but it is handled quite simply via an Off Map Movement Track).

There is another track for Corps Morale. Corps can become demoralized, or worse, shattered, when they accrue enough incremental losses. Nice touches, all.

Cavalry can also charge enemies during the movement phase (basically, this is handled like an overrun whereby they pay the MP cost to enter the hex). When charging, strength of the cav and opponent are completely irrelevant. Only morale differential matters. Huh? Yep, you heard right. So one point of cavalry charging eight points of enemy infantry will still likely cause a D2 result if the cav has a morale of 4 and the inf has a morale of only 1 or 2.

My initial impression was, therefore, that cavalry was rediculously powerful, both because of this weird charge mechanic, and because it adds its morale to its strength during normal combat. After spending more time with the game, however, I have started to see the light.

Yes, cav is powerful on the attack, but it's also incredibly fragile. Cav is weak on the defense (not adding morale to strength when defending), and to top that off the cav corps become demoralized at the drop of a hat. So if you're doing a lot of charging and willy-nilly attacks with your cavalry, you can't expect them to last long. As you leave them in vulnerable locations after their attacks/charges, you'll end up with a corps or two surrounded and injured, and the next thing you know... *poof!* their corps morale has collapsed and then they only move 1 hex per turn! That's bad. But I like it, because it is a nice balancing act. Cavalry may be super powerful as the attacker, but they are so fragile that a skilled player needs to think twice about where they'll end up after conducting that charge.

I could go on pointing out other weird rules. Suffice to say, I came around to understand and appreciate almost all of the game's oddities after spending some time playing it, just as I did with the perceived cavalry imbalance.

Despite what other's might say, this is a good game. It's probably not the best Napoleonic game out there (I haven't played enough of them to know), but very few games cover these battles (Ligny, Quatre Bras, Waterloo) at a grand operational scale where maneuvering and planning is so all important. Fewer games still are this pleasing to the eye. While I would rate this game a solid 7.5 for gameplay (good but not great), the sheer spectacle of the graphics and the size of the playing area elevate it to an 8.


Some pointers for new players:

Learn how to pin enemy units using your cavalry, then move in with infantry and artillery from the front. You'll gain the combined arms column shift bonus, and you'll force them to take at least 1 point of combat loss as they retreat.

Keep an eye on your losses! When your morale reaches the demoralization point, that corps is basically useless for further maneuvers. This is especially true of cavalry corps, which become demoralized all too easily.

Grab up key terrain. Grande Farm hexes are especially valuable, as they cause your attacker a -2 die roll penalty, and they allow you to take exchanges instead of retreats.

If you have the overwhelming numbers, force as many exchanges as possible. You can afford the incremental losses- your opponent can't. Do this by making lower odds attacks (about 1:1) whenever possible. At higher odds, the defenders are more likely to retreat instead of taking damage.

If you do NOT have the overwhelming numbers, master the art of the fighting withdrawal. Don't let your opponent surround you and pin you down. Take your losses as retreats, not step losses. This requires careful use of terrain, as well as keeping a watchful eye on movement allowances of enemy cavalry. Don't allow them to get behind you! You can interject some of your own cavalry into your line in order to provide "sticky" ZOC so that the enemy cav can't just waltz around you.

When charging with your cavalry, don't bother to charge as a stack unless you qualify for the "entire corps charging" bonus. Otherwise, split the charge into several charges, performing each as a single cavalry unit. Remember that your strength doesn't matter during a charge- only your morale, as compared to your opponent's. Do it this way, and you'll get the maximum effect. If you have enough MPs leftover after the charges, stack your cav together again. They will be better protected.

Last but not least, make sure you have the latest errata before playing. It is posted here at BGG, as well as the Clash of Arms website. The errata is mercifully short, and is mostly just clarifications. There are very few actually rules changes or misprints.

Happy gaming!

My overall rating: 8 of 10 (with 10 being the best)
Complexity: 4 of 10 (with 10 being the most complex)
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Andy Daglish
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Cheadle
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The reason for all this is that the 200-year-old infantry and cavalry weapons of the day didn't inflict significant losses during the course of a battle, but artillery did, which is why it was massed in grand batteries. I was told that Armee du Nord attempted to portray this, but players just didn't believe it, so they produced the second CRT to protect sales.
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Ed Wimble
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The game is out of print on their website, but is actually still available in a bilingual version (simply called "Waterloo"). Bits of it were printed in France, and bits in America, and some components are duplicated in the box in both versions. It can be had by calling the company directly (610) 935-7622 or picking it up at one of the many conventions they attend. I suppose it could also be ordered through their website www.clashofarms.com by simply writing it in on the order form. The price is probably the same as the original version. I believe it was also published in a German edition; :"Die Nordarmee" but I doubt if any copies of it are still around. The strictly French version can be ordered through Tilsit Editions.

There are extensive designer notes and a Wavre tournement scenario published in The Art of War magazine (CoAG's house organ) in issues #22 and 23/24 (a double issue). These too can be acquired directly through CoAG. These designer notes were some of the most seminal writing and analysis ever to appear in the hobby, (even if I have to say this myself).
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Mark Mokszycki
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Thanks for the additions, Ed.

I should add- if anyone is on the fence about this game, please know that the support offered by Mr. Wimble is nothing short of fantastic. I had the occasional question (relating to either rules or design decisions) about L' Armee, Jena!, and Napoleon at Leipzig. All of my questions were answered to my satisfaction, usually the same day.
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Robert Bracey
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Good review, but I still find myself slightly confused. Is this an operationa;/strategic level game or is this a series of linked tactical level encounters?

Robert
 
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michael kneis

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I truly love this game.... I wonderful balance between some cool tactical considerations and the operational considerations of capturing cities and controlling roads to limit your enemies ability to maneuver.

The scale works perfectly.

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Bob James
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OS.
not really tactical.
 
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