Napoleon in Italy, 14 June 1800
Designed by David Isby
Published by Simulations Design Incorporated (1975)
As many of you will already be aware, I first started playing wargames back in 1980. It was a great time for wargaming - there was a lot of freshness in designs then (as there is now). What is interesting and puts things in perspective is that even games that seem dated and stale now were fresh back in 1980.
The Napoleon at Waterloo system was relatively new and the Napoleon at War quad was only 5 years old. At the time the only one of the quads that I ever played was Wagram. Although I was told at the time that the Margengo scenario was quite good.
Now, 29 years later, I have played it and I can verify that it is, indeed, rather good.
Those of you familiar with the Napoleon at Waterloo system (used in other quads such as Blue & Gray) might like to skip the rest of this paragraph as you know what is coming. The Napoleon at Waterloo system is typical of simple wargames from the 70's - one player moves all of his units and then resolves battles between adjacent units using an odds-based Combat Results Table. The other player then repeats the process. Once units move adjacent to enemy units they are locked in place and can only move as a result of combat.
The Napoleon at War quad has four scenarios - the Marengo scenario is the quickest to play due to having the smallest number of military units involved - the Austrians have a force of 25 units and the French start with 16 units and recieve a further 12 as reinforcements.
Historically, the Austrians, under the command of Baron Michael von Melas attacked and defeated the unprepared French under the command of General Claude Victor. Later in the day a French counter-attack by Francois Kellerman and Louis Desaix routed the Austrians and further enhanced Napoleon's reputation.
As is normally the case with SPI quad games, each scenario has its own unique rules. The rules in Marengo reflect the changing tempo of the actual battle. On the first turn the French units have there movement allowance halved. In addition french units are not allowed to move adjacent to Austrian units. These rules reflect the suprise that the Austrians were able to achieve in the early stages of the battle. The game runs for 14 turns - the French are allowed to declare a counter-attack during three of final six turns of the game - when this happens French attack factors are doubled during the French combat phase.
The victory conditions are geographic as well as relating to casualties. To win the French must eliminate 33 Austrian strenght points AND have 10 French strenght points within four hexes of Marengo at the end of the game. The Austrians must eliminate at least 30 French strength poings and occupy both Marengo and Pietrabuona. It is possible for both sides to achieve their victory conditions. If both players achieve their geographic conditions the game is a draw. If neither player has eliminated the required number of enemy strength poings victory is determined only on the geographic conditions.
Marengo has several features to recommend it. As previously mentioned, it has a small number of pieces and plays rather quickly. These two aspects make it quite suitable as an introductory wargame.
Playing the game two aspects stand out in my mind. There is a real difference between the two armies - the French units are generally smaller and faster and conversely the Austrian units are larger and slower. This means that the two armies feel quite different to manoeuvre with. The Austrians, despite the size advantage, have to be very careful how they use their units in battle as if they don't have the right units in place during combat Exchange results can be quite costly.
The second aspect is that the battle goes through several stages. Initially the Austrian forces are coming out of a city through quite a bottleneck and the French have the option of trying to bottle them up or to fall back, form a line and use the map's terrain to hold the Austrians. Once the Austrians have been able to deploy the majority of forces they then have a numerical advantage. Towards the end of the game as the French gain reinforcements and can use their counter-attack the tempo of the battle changes yet again.
The bottom line is that the games are quick to set up, fast to play and good old-fashioned fun. The games have tension and a lot of different options are available to both players. At this point in time I have only played the game twice but I am looking forward to my third game.
The Game Is Afoot!
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- Seth OwenUnited States
It's an entertaining game, although players should be aware there's a significant French bias once you become familiar with the game.
I've played more than a 100 games of Marengo on Hexwar.com and can confirm that the French are heavily favored to win. As of June 26, 2009, there were 2,745 French wins recorded on Hexwar, compared to just 1,128 Austrian victories and 571 draws, so the more experienced player should take the Austrian side if you're using it as an introductory game.
So long as the French player is careful not to overcommit to his initial defense line or take excessive losses trying to hold it, he should generally win. The most successful French approach is to make an initial effort to bottle up the Austrians. A combination of good French rolls or bad Austrian rolls can easily leave the Austrians stuck in the bottleneck. If they fail to break out quickly the game will fall out of reach and they may even get pushed back across the river.
The French get a second chance to win, however, even if they can't keep the Austrians bottled up. This requires that the French recognize when their line cannot hold. At that point they should use their superior speed to flee from the Austrians, abandoning anybody who happens to be stuck in an Austrian ZOC. After regrouping on the hill and being reinforced by later-arriving units the French doubled-factor counterattack should be strong enough to retake Marengo or get enough factors near Marengo to win.
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- James IstvanffyCanada
- This is one of the first games I ever bought myself back in the mid-1970s. I have been playing wargames ever since and own hundreds. Marengo still holds a special place in my heart.
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