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Subject: Manoeuvre is to Napoleonic Warfare as Agricola is to Farming rss

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Murray Fish
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I wanted to like this game. I really did. I have an interest in the period and prefer simple systems to chart-heavy monster wargames – especially at the tactical level. A simple, easy-to-play game based on commanding Napoleonic battalions sounds great. Who wouldn’t want to be able to play Brigade level encounters between Great Britain, French, Austria, Russia, Turkey, Prussia, the United States or Turkey?

This game has quite a few things going for it. The box is great, very attractive and very sturdy. The counters are quite nice, simple, clean and well illustrated. The cards are also well produced and the rule book (and player aide chart) is well set out and very easy to follow. The dice are also very nice – what does one say about dice in a review? Probably the only thing I don’t like that much are the modular maps as they tend to bend at the corners and just don’t sit that well together. One wonders if perhaps it wouldn’t have been better to take a leaf out of the Battlelore/Memoir 44 book and have a larger map with terrain that is placed on as per scenario requirements or with some form of random terrain generation mechanism. This is a minor quibble and I would say that the component are pretty much fine and fit-for-purpose.

Anyway, as with all good reviews, here’s a photo of the box & contents:

Board Game: Manoeuvre


In the spirit of complete disclosure, I should say that my personal preference is for wargames that have some form of command and control mechanism that limits the commander’s ability to do things (the anthesis of the Warhammer/Warhammer 40K model where all units can move, shoot fight or whatever every turn regardless) and force the commander to make decisions on where to concentrate their efforts and where to ignore. I find that De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA - a fast play set of ancient miniatures rules) meets this need for me but that the card driven system in Battlelore/Memoir 44 do not. The main reason for this is that I find it frustrating to want to activate a certain unit, but not be able to while having the option to activate other units which one isn’t that concerned about. This really does come across more as luck-of-the-draw than decision making about allocation of command resources. Maybe that’s just me.

So much for up-front admissions of bias.

My main gripe is with the way the game works and what the game is (and isn’t). I am not criticising the balancing mechanism of all nations having the same amount of pieces with roughly the same values and exactly the same amount of cards (with some adjustments for different nationalities). This mechanism works very well in DBA and the thought of something similar for Napoleonics really sounded good.

First and foremost I should start by stating that I played this game expecting a simplified and accessible simulation of Napoleonic warfare. What I discovered is that Manoeuvre is to Napoleonic warfare as Agricola is to farming – it is the theme of the game, but not really a simulation of the theme.

Does that make sense? Well, what I am getting at is just as in Agricola it is a bit silly in that you can’t, say, build a fence with the wood you have stockpiled because some-one else chose the action. Agricola has the theme of agriculture, but the gameplay itself in not a simulation of agriculture - otherwise farmers/players on Planet Agricola would not say “I wanted to use the wood I stockpiled to build a fence around some of my fields, but old Farmer Muz next door is already building fences this season so I can’t. Hmm, maybe I’ll just plough a field instead as no-one else is ploughing this season”. To my way of thinking, this sort mechanism works fine as a game, but not as simulation.

Much the same with Manoeuvre and Napoleonic Warfare. It is themed around these conflicts but does not really, as far as I can see, attempt to simulate them. Or, if it does, the result is somewhat wide of the mark.

Why do I say that?

Movement. The I-move-once-you-move-once system is more reminiscent of chess than battle. Want to advance a line of three battalions together to assault a position? Too bad, you can’t. You have to move up and leave one unit unsupported while the other two units watch and the enemy gets a turn to attack, withdraw or whatever. This chess-like lack of options for co-ordinated movement is okay in the gameplay sense, but not great in terms of simulation.

Mandatory movement is also fine as a mechanism to keep the game moving, but not really in the spirit of simulation whare a commander may wish to keep his force in the strong position they have manoeuvred to occupy. Gamesmanship comes to the fore with players moving a cavalry unit one square this way and one square back to finish where they started having satisfied the mandatory movement rule. This is somewhat unsatisfying in my experience.

Formations. At this sort of level it should matter what formation your individual battalions are in. For example, infantry in square should have a better chance against cavalry than if they were in column. Conversely, infantry in square should suffer if they are shot at by artillery – especially at close range.

Manoeuvre does not worry what formation your units are in. Perhaps there is the tacit understanding that the battalion commander will automatically deploy his troops into the optimum formation, but I would prefer to keep a tighter reign on my colonels. This is a minor quibble, but it does remove some of the more challenging decision making aspects surrounding brigade-level warfare in this period.

Terrain and how it affects units. It doesn’t matter what sort of formation you are in, you get positive modifiers from being in just about any sort of terrain (except muddy field). Maybe having Light Infantry/Rifles/Jagers & etc get a defensive benefit from being in a swamp is fair enough, but giving the same advantage to Heavy Cavalry seems a bit of a stretch. The movement rates also seem a bit arbitrary in that it takes an infantry battalion the same time to cross open fields as it does for them to negotiate a forest or a swamp.

On the plus side, it is simple. Infantry always move one square and cavalry always move two squares unless something happens to slow them down.

Artillery. Guns and gunners are not represented on the board, instead they seem to tag along with most battalion formations (both infantry and cavalry) and fire (usually) once per game. It’s a hard life as a gunner, or so I hear.

If this was a game themed around the Seven Years War I would not really mind artillery being treated this way. Some Napoleonic formations would have battalion guns (noted by the Corsican Ogre as being ineffective but good for morale) in this period but grand (or not-so-grand at this scale) batteries are, to my way of thinking, part and parcel of Napoleonic warfare and the lack of artillery as separate units is a major omission in Manoeuvre.

Furthermore, artillery bombardment also seems to be most effective when employed against a reduced unit to finish it off rather that in preparatory barrages prior to an assault which does not really seem correct to me.

Finally, there is no real difference in the range that artillery is fired at. Solid shot, shrapnel and canister all seem equally as effective. Again, this has the virtue of simplicity but is, for this reviewer, a bit too much game mechanic and a bit too little theme.

Volley fire. All the infantrymen seem to carry about muskets of some description, but not all of them are allowed to fire. Those that can fire will do so rarely if at all. Kind of makes the musket with fixed bayonet a bit of a low-quality spear.

This may be countered with the justification that muskets were mainly employed at close ranges to assault or repel assaults and their effect is included in the combat factor when attacking. However, as I see it, the commander should at least have the option of ordering their troops to volley fire if he or she wishes. That is to say, most troops should be able to fire at more than point-blank range if commanded to.

Command. This is my major gripe. Each player has five cards which will either be a formation card, commander card or an activity card. Activity cards are actually fairly reasonable. The only thing I don’t really like about them is that with a resupply card the unit being rejuvenated can do so directly under the guns of their enemy. I would rather have a unit have to withdraw from fighting by, say, moving more than 2 squares (artillery range) from the nearest enemy before they are able to resupply, reform or do whatever they need to to get back up to strength.

There is no counter representing the brigade commander and thus there are no decisions about where to move the commander, i.e. should they join a fleeing unit to rally them, take control of a flank march to direct the action there (and having units out of command range penalised in some form) or stay at the rear and exercise control over all their available forces. Instead, the leadership on the field is perhaps tacitly understood to always be there and always be able to give commands (one per turn) which are always followed to their troops (regardless of where they are).


There are, however a range of one-off commander cards for each army. The commander cards are pretty powerful and can be used to conduct an attack with multiple units or rejuvenate a unit. They then get bored and wander off never to be seen again. Dame Realism might say that they are called away elsewhere, but the Grand Dame might also scratch her head as to why Bonaparte, Murat, and several other Marshals of France all intervened on such a minor sector of a bigger battle and then didn’t follow-up if this area was so vital to require the direct intervention of the Emperor. Sometimes that most august lady has her work cut out for her.

Anyway, units are activated for combat (not movement, any unit can move – just one per turn) by playing their corresponding card. There are five cards in the deck for each unit. No card, no combat. This is a bit harsh as if you discard the unit cards of your reserve (noting that you can only hold five cards) in order to increase your chance of moving your front line then later in the game the reserve will suffer inertia.

I would much prefer some sort of system that allows the commander to allocated their command resources to control areas of the battlefield vital to them than have to say, “Gosh, it’s a shame about the 42nd highlanders. I’d really love to get them up to attack the reduced and isolated and damaged French Imperial Guard in front of them, but I just can’t seem to get them to do anything. The good news is that I can get the Dutch-Belgians to attack, which is great if they weren’t too busy being destroyed. If only the Duke of Wellington stayed with them on the battlefield as he was last turn instead of meandering off somewhere else”.

To my way of thinking, there is way too much luck in the five cards that you hold. The way the cards work is that it seems that rather than using your resources to make the best decisions often you are compelled to make non-decisions because the caprice of the deck won’t allow you to take obvious and logical action. It seems not so much that you play the cards, rather it seems that the cards play you. This can be intensely frustrating.

Conclusion

Well, it seem like Manoeuvre is the wrong game for me. I was hoping to play a game that simulated brigade-level Napoleonic warfare but ended up playing what I am increasingly regarding as an abstract with a Napoleonic theme.

If you can overlook or work around some of the oddities pointed out above, or aren’t bothered by the command mechanisms employed by Manoeuvre then you should consider giving this game a try. It’s actually not a bad game in itself and can be rather fun.

To avoid disappointment, temper your expectations to accept Manoeuvre to be an abstract with a Napoleonic theme rather than a simulation of Napoleonic warfare.




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AWESOME. Now this is the kind of review I like. As much as I enjoy Ender's pictorial thingies, analysis of gameplay and mechanics are where it's at for me.
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Good review. I've yet to break out my copy for a first play, and your words may just spur me to do so.

muzfish4 wrote:
I was hoping to play a game that simulated brigade-level Napoleonic warfare but ended up playing what I am increasingly regarding as an abstract with a Napoleonic theme.
While perhaps disappointing to some, this abstracted gameplay is more appealing to me than straight simulation. I now look forward to giving Manoeuvre a go.



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muzfish4 wrote:
First and foremost I should start by stating that I played this game expecting a simplified and accessible simulation of Napoleonic warfare.
Wow, I've never heard anybody call it a simulation. Here's what you would have found if you would have read some of the earlier reviews here before purchasing:

kixdsky wrote:
It is not meant as a historical simulation but more as a chess type game between two fairly evenly matched opponents.
stormseeker75 wrote:
All games are basically abstracts with a theme pasted on, but Manoeuvre may be more so than any other wargame.
otha62 wrote:
Manoeuvre is a fairly light and abstract wargame for two, with a Napoleonic flavor.
mkozlows) wrote:
Manoeuvre fits into a niche -- light, kid-friendly, Euro/war games -- that's more ably filled by the various Commands & Colors games.
voynix wrote:
May be too simple for those who love more complex war games (I like complex war games, but I think comparing Manoeuver to true wargames is apples to oranges).
coyotelaughs wrote:
Manoeuvre: A light war game / abstract.

I should note that I like simulations, and I also like Manoeuvre. I'm sorry it didn't work for you.
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If you like DBA, why not try the Napoleonic variants out there?
DBN (which costs $$) or the Humberside Extensions (which are free)

More info on both over at www.fanaticus.org in the forums.


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Murray Fish
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Hey team,

Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad that this review was helpful.

Sphere wrote:

Wow, I've never heard anybody call it a simulation.
Well, it does say "Battlefield Command Game Early 19th Century Warfare" on the box cover which does seem to suggest that the game is presenting itself as a simulation rather than an abstract.

I actually didn't purchase the game but played it with my flatmate who purchased it. I hadn't read any BGG reviews prior to play.

I guess my disappointment was going into the game expecting some form of simulation and finding it to be an abstract.

I wanted to make the position I was coming from clear in my disclosure of bias in the beginning of the review.

I am not trying to rubbish the game (which I think is quite fun if approached in the right spirit) but rather suggest that the game is not what the presentation on the box suggests it is.

It's actually quite rewarding to see this review has inspired garygarison to give it a try as he is more into abstracts than straight simulations.

badinfo wrote:
If you like DBA, why not try the Napoleonic variants out there?
DBN (which costs $$) or the Humberside Extensions (which are free)

More info on both over at www.fanaticus.org in the forums.
Thanks for the tip!

I was waiting for Phil Barker to get Horse, Foot and Guns up and running before I took the plunge into fast-play Napoleonics miniatures.

Looks like I'll have to investiate Fanaticus!
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Although I agree Manoeuvre is more an abstract game than a simulation, I think it simulates, though in an abstract manner, some of the things you found lacking.

Most particularly formations : when you play a defensive card for a unit (or even better, two defensive cards !) against an attack (which could mean you wanted your enemy to attack it), doesn't it mean that your unit took the exact formation needed to counter the attack ? When one of your unit get caught out of the blue, and you don't have any card to bolster its defense, it could mean the exact opposite : your infantry/cavalry got caught in the wrong formation...

You also regret that you can't move units more than one at a time, but a Supply card allow you to move two units at once, which, when played with the good timing, allows for some nasty... Maneuvers ! (though I generally prefer to use Supply to recover broken units).

And the card-driven mechanic is not as random as you think it to be, IMHO : you don't need its card to move a unit (which allows you to put your most precious units out of harm's way when you can't protect them), and since you can renew up to your whole hand at the beginning of each turn, you have some reasonable control of your hand...

I was impressed myself by the way the flow of the game became natural after a handful of plays, and how I didn't seem to lose because of bad hands, but rather because of wrong choices (despite an apparently random-heavy mechanic)...

Of course, I can understand why you didn't like the game, but some of your critics weren't totally deserved, IMHO. Of course, it's a matter of tastes...
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thumbsup on the review. I really enjoyed reading it.

I liked Manoeuvre a lot more than I thought I would after playing it once, and now that I've had several games of it, my appreciation for it is getting stronger.

All your points are salient and correct for a Napoleonics game, but as Sphere quoted, it really is an abstracted wargame.

Well though your Agricolafarming = ManoeuvreNapoleonics analogy was framed, it really struck me yesterday as I was playing with my friend Jonathan that the game is a modern up to date version of Chess, except that rather than mimicking/abstracting some medieval tactics, we're using more recent units. Where Chess has different units (pawns, rooks, etc), Manoeuvre has only two types (infantry, or cavalry), but has individualized decks for each of the 8 nationalities.

The French are really tough, as are the English. The Ottomans are really interesting because they're highly mobile with their four cavalry units. I played the Spanish for the first time yesterday, and they are fierce on defense, and in defensive terrain are formidable.

The cards add two elements that Chess doesn't have - luck and the ability to bluff. Moving a unit you don't have a card for may cause your opponent to withdraw for fear of attack. The cards may or may not favour you in any particular battle.

The only thing I really disagreed with in your review was about the 24 little map tiles. I love them, and in contrast can't abide the fiddly terrain tile nuisance of Memoir '44 et al. However, I share your complaint about the map tiles not lying flat - a sheet of plexiglass for this game is in my future.
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muzfish4 wrote:
First and foremost I should start by stating that I played this game expecting a simplified and accessible simulation of Napoleonic warfare. What I discovered is that Manoeuvre is to Napoleonic warfare as Agricola is to farming – it is the theme of the game, but not really a simulation of the theme.
I think if you read any of the other reviews before trying the game you would already have known that.

Quote:
Well, it seem like Manoeuvre is the wrong game for me.
Definitely. That was obvious as soon as you started talking about what you were hoping for.
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Very nice review.

I too wanted more of a Napoleonic-feel to the game.

But, one of the things I do like, the different nationality characteristics. Unlike Battlelore (or even DBA), in which a unit is a unit is unit (e.g. blade = blade in DBA or Medium Infantry = Medium Infantry in Commands and Colours: Ancients, etc).

On the other hand, I did not like the individual decks - though many games do this now - I find a shared deck (with cards that potentially apply differently to each side) helps increase the fog of war.

I really wanted to love this game. As it is, it is OK.

Thanks for the review.
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The Johnsons wrote:
muzfish4 wrote:

I was waiting for Phil Barker to get Horse, Foot and Guns up and running before I took the plunge into fast-play Napoleonics miniatures.

Looks like I'll have to investiate Fanaticus!
There are a number of Napoleonic DBA- and DBM-variants out there already. Check out www.freewargamesrules.co.uk
Was going through my rules folder last night and found one I forgot to mention earlier that might work for you. Haven't played em myself yet but they read well.

2x2 Napoleonics

Probably available on the freewargamesrules website.

I have another set that is a design for effect, top down sort of system, abstracts the little details that are beneath a general's notice but gives a very convincing game from a general's eye view.
They were designed to acheive a result, the designer said he had played too many games where they spent 4 hours moving into contact and then had to wrap it up just when the shooting started. So he wrote a set that could achieve a conclusion in 2-3 hours. Some very novel mechanics, he has said a lot of people have trouble wrapping their brains around his rules, but I found them very appealing. Think Crossfire for blackpowder They aren't specifically Napoleonic, but can certainly be used for such.

The trick is they are only available via a private Yahoo group.
Send me a PM here if you want more info.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
muzfish4 wrote:
Well, it seem like Manoeuvre is the wrong game for me.
Definitely. That was obvious as soon as you started talking about what you were hoping for.
Only to someone already familiar with the game. If anything, this review increased my interest in a game I had previously discounted.

Reviews should not be intended for the fanboi audience who have already made positive decisions on the game, but rather the casually interested audience (i.e., the people who might be interested in the game but have been too lazy to do further research).
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out4blood wrote:
Reviews should not be intended for the fanboi audience who have already made positive decisions on the game, but rather the casually interested audience (i.e., the people who might be interested in the game but have been too lazy to do further research).
If people are "too lazy" to read any of the other reviews, what will make them read this one?

But I don't have any objection to the review. It's a fine review. I just have a hard time understanding how this player could have ever thought that he would like this game.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
But I don't have any objection to the review. It's a fine review. I just have a hard time understanding how this player could have ever thought that he would like this game.
I agree that this is a very good review. And I don't have any problems with understanding what happened to muzfish 'cause the very same happened to me.


muzfish4 wrote:
I actually didn't purchase the game but played it with my flatmate who purchased it. I hadn't read any BGG reviews prior to play.
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Asur wrote:
muzfish4 wrote:
I actually didn't purchase the game but played it with my flatmate who purchased it. I hadn't read any BGG reviews prior to play.
Seems pretty reasonable to me. Happens all the time if you play games with other people who own games.
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I looked at the box to see if it gives the impression of being a simulation.

It doesn't seem that way to me, but I can see how different people could see it differently.
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If you're looking for a good light simulation of Napoleonic warfare (that is an actual sim, not abstract) try Napoleon's Last Battles. I own the DG version and it is very good. The rules are actually considerably shorter than Manoeuvre's. And you can, optionally, add command and control rules (which should make you very happy).
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It's a good thing that we all like different games or everyone would be playing monopoly and some crazy game where we have to stick something to our head and act like a famous person before the timer runs out.

I think this is a great game, but I really respect a persons opinion and thoughts on it.

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Asur wrote:

I agree that this is a very good review. And I don't have any problems with understanding what happened to muzfish 'cause the very same happened to me.


muzfish4 wrote:
I actually didn't purchase the game but played it with my flatmate who purchased it. I hadn't read any BGG reviews prior to play.
As said flatmate, I was pretty sure Muzfish wouldn't like the game either since he didn't like Battlelore or Memoir 44. But since I wanted to get the game on the table, I was still happy to play it. To be fair, he did approach it with an open mind and genuinely wanted to like it.

Not sure if he mentioned that I won all three games we played. I'm sure that didn't affect his review.
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badinfo wrote:
If you like DBA, why not try the Napoleonic variants out there?
DBN (which costs $$) or the Humberside Extensions (which are free)

More info on both over at www.fanaticus.org in the forums.


My friend and I developed a great DBN variant. that is my favorite game. Napoleonic flare, but tons of command opportunities with some goodies taken from DBM all finishing in under 45 minutes.
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Jason Leveille
United States
Colorado Springs
Colorado
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Get your game on!
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Just wanted to compliment the author on a great review. I love this game, but I think that the author made sound arguments why he didn't like it and included his own biases to indicate where he was coming from. This type of review is hard to do: being negative while still presenting a reasoned argument. I also admire his ability to see how this game could be good if you were looking for something more like an abstract rather than a simulation. Well done!
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Kevin Duke
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Wynne
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While it reads fine, I don't appreciate a review which is extremely negative about a game because it is "not what I expected" or "not what I wanted it to be."

If Man. positioned itself as a "simulation," then the fact it is not a sim would be a valid negative. It does not position itself that way, and ad copy about "battlefield command" can't be blamed for assuming it was that way.

By the way, there is no place that the game calls the pieces "battalions."
Many of the designations sound like regiments, but no place indicates that the pieces represent battalions...another assumption.
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Tim Seitz
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Glen Allen
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kduke wrote:
While it reads fine, I don't appreciate a review which is extremely negative about a game because it is "not what I expected" or "not what I wanted it to be."

If Man. positioned itself as a "simulation," then the fact it is not a sim would be a valid negative. It does not position itself that way, and ad copy about "battlefield command" can't be blamed for assuming it was that way.
The author is not positioning "not a simulation" as a general negative, but rather "not a simulation" means "not for him."
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However, Kevin, I could see it being very difficult for me to write a negative review of a game that WAS everything I wanted it to be ....gulp
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Steve Duke
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Georgetown
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I appreciate the review and I am not as critical as some people here who think you should have known it wasn't a simulation, whatever a simulation is supposed to mean. Bottom line, you found it too abstract to really represent the Napoleonic period.

Your observations were useful to me and I thank you for a good summary. Where I think you were off base or have a different starting view than me is easy to see with your review, but it doesn't harm the value of the review at all IMO.

I'd pretty much not liked this game from the start. I thought it was a dull clunker with little excitement or strategy. Based on reading your thoughts and those of others, I am going to give it another try or three and see if I can detect some of the same subtle beauty that others have seen.

I play CCA all the time and hear folks criticize it for not being 'accurate' or 'realistic' enough. Probably very true, I don't know for sure as I didn't live in ancient Rome. It's a hell of a game system, though, and there is a lot more to tactics and strategy than might at first meet the eye. The more I read about Maneuver, the more I think that might also be the case.
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