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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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The Napoleonic Wars is a CDG (card driven game) covering the Napoleonic Wars. Recently, the game was issued in a second edition. This review will cover this edition.

Gameplay (28 out of 28): The Napoleonic Wars can be played as either a two player duel between France and Britain or in a multiplayer format in which France, Britain, Austria, Russia, and Prussia fight not for supremacy over Europe, but to improve their relative starting position by acquiring key duchies (territories), such as Milan, Warsaw, and Munich. The game can accommodate up to five players, but those major powers that are not directly player controlled are dealt with through an alliance track which allows players to use cards to influence the nations into joining their side or rejecting the overtures of the other nations. Regardless, the countries of Turkey, Spain, Sweden, and Denmark are non-player powers which can only be controlled through the alliance track. This track is an easy way to simulate the fluctuating diplomatic situation without getting into complicated rules. The track is functional and dynamic.

Nine powers are involved and each has their own units:


Each turn consists of impulses in which the countries play cards, with neutral nations handled through special rules that allow them to either build more forces or play event cards, depending upon the card's color. Unlike other CDGs, when cards in The Napoleonic Wars are played for points, the points can be used for any number of things. For example, a player can use two points to raise a soldier, and then the remaining points can played for movement, political conversion, fleet actions, and diplomacy. This gives the players a great amount of flexibility, and it remains my favorite part of the game.

Combat is handled through a buckets of dice system in which soldiers, terrain, generals, and cards give you a certain amount of dice to throw. The dice only hit on a five or six, but only sixes cause a kill. This allows a player to win a Pyrrhic victory, and in each session at least one battle features a side causing more losses, but losing due to the fives rolled against them.

A nation can surrender at anytime and make a deal, or they can collapse if their capital has fallen and they have lost quite a bit of territory. This leads to peace terms, in which only one nation can receive duchies, but the number of lost duchies can vary from 1-6, die roll permitting. The victorious nations can give duchies to their allies to mollify them, but the best way for other powers to gain territory is through flagging associate duchies (these duchies have two colors instead of one) lost in the course of the turn.

Dublin is an Example of an Associate Duchy:


Strategic (4 out of 5): The key to this game is that everyone is in it for themselves because victory conditions are not determined by the number of duchies you hold, but by how many more you have when the game ends. Adding to the tension is that while the game can end after after turn five, it usually ends when a peace roll is made, in which the war simply ends right there. As the game goes on, the roll becomes more and more likely. The advantage of this selfishness is that players are not encouraged to leader bash because it is in their interests to keep weaker power competitive. If there is a problem it lies in the tendency for players to sometimes seize easy duchies, or use gamey tactics, such as Prussia sending a small army to seize Munich even as Berlin is falling. This goes hand in hand with the game's greatest strength. It is so wide open and flexible, and combined with the numerous dice rolling, each game is different, and often times radically different. This freedom of action is what keeps people in my group playing, even when they complain about the surrender rules or the peace die roll.

When I said anything can happen I meant it!


Another plus is that there are differences between the powers beyond starting location and forces. These strengths are detailed through their home cards, which signify such things as British subsidies, Napoleon's Imperial Guard, Turkish Janissaries, and the Prussian Landwehr. These cards can only be used when the nation is at war, which is a simple way to simulate gearing up for military action.

The British Home Card:


Accessibility (5 out of 5): The rulebook is a work that should be studied by anyone who dares to make a wargame. The rules are well organized, clear, concise, and rational. For the scope of this game, you could not ask for a better rulebook, and this is a big reason why this game often hits the table.

Components (2 out of 5): This is the weakest link in this game. The quality is decent, but the game lacks visual flair. The card art is dull, the map is functional but nothing more, and the leader pieces, outside of Wellington and Napoleon, are generic. Why couldn't they have done for this game what this did for Kutuzov?

Okay, it is impressive when it is laid out!


Originality (2 out of 2): Although this was an old design, shopped around for years before GMT picked it up, The Napoleonic Wars remains quite different in the use of action points. It's system of using points for multiple actions has been carried over to Kutuzov and Wellington with success and hope other games will experiment with it.

Historical Quality (3 out of 5): The most common complaint I've heard is that this game is not a very good history lesson, and in general I must concur. While leader ratings and the national abilities for each side are well represented, the chaos of the game can get fairly out of hand. I think the trouble is the game does not penalize certain gamey maneuvers, such as the Prussian foray I described.

The infamous Prussian Munich maneuver that I witnessed in July 2010:


Fortunately, the relatively unobtrusive rules make this an easy game to tweak. However, be warned, this game will never look like the history. It has deliberately chosen gameplay over simulation, but not to the point of insulting history.

Overall (44 out of 50): According to my overall rating, The Napoleonic Wars ought to be an eight or nine. However, here is a case where I'm giving a game a ten for one simple reason. It is just too much fun. I have never been bored playing this game and so far no one else I know is bored playing it. The sessions can get silly or even annoying, but they are never dull, and so far few games I own can claim all of these things at once. The Napoleonic Wars remains a guilty pleasure that I never tire of playing. It is awesome in the way that AC/DC, old school Transformers episodes, and Arnold Schwarzenegger movies are awesome. I'd call this the Predator of wargaming, because other titles might be tighter in design or better with history, but few them are as fun without being dumb.
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Cole Wehrle
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Thanks for this wonderful review. You've captured its essence perfectly.

As far as components go I wish GMT could have given the 2nd edition a full graphical overhaul and mounted board, but it's good to know that at least the title is available again.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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As far as components go I wish GMT could have given the 2nd edition a full graphical overhaul and mounted board, but it's good to know that at least the title is available again.


My thoughts exactly. btw, great avatar.
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Jan Ozimek
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Thanks for the review. I'm now even more convinced that I need to get this game. Flexibility in the use of cards sounds very good. The card driven aspect is what has kept me from getting the game so far. I really hate games where you are very limited by the cards you are dealt. I disliked Twilight Struggle and Commands & Colors: Ancients because of this. On the other hand I played 7 Ages for the first time recently, and while I was a little skeptical at first, I ended up liking the game partly because of the flexibility of the crads.

If you like open options & rules that let you do what you want, maybe you should take a look at Napoleon in Europe. Perhaps you are familiar with it?
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Randall Monk
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I found the rules very obtuse and would rate them as a 2 on your scale. You are right, however, that it's a great game and it's also one of my favorites.
Not sure what you mean by Kutuzov having better components. The SPs are the same and the art for the generals is really goofy - they have giant heads and look bad - an art failure.
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Mark Bigney
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Monkatron wrote:
I found the rules very obtuse and would rate them as a 2 on your scale.


I run hot and cold on this game, but I am 100% in agreement with this. The rules system, though fundamentally clean, is extremely obtuse.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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If you like open options & rules that let you do what you want, maybe you should take a look at Napoleon in Europe. Perhaps you are familiar with it?


I've been meaning to give this game a shot.

That is one awesome avatar. I only use revised Unholy Strength in my black decks because of the flaming pentagram.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I found the rules very obtuse and would rate them as a 2 on your scale. You are right, however, that it's a great game and it's also one of my favorites.


The clarity of rules are often a strange and subjective thing. I was told EastFront was easy to understand and that Rommel in the Desert was overly complicated, but I had opposite experiences.

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Not sure what you mean by Kutuzov having better components. The SPs are the same and the art for the generals is really goofy - they have giant heads and look bad - an art failure.


I loved the cartoon style look and sure beats the same pose being used for Davout, Ney, and Murat. Also the map is great in Kutuzov and the cards look even better. I would have liked something like this for NW2.

However, for the generals this would have been best:

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Martin Stever
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Nice review. I agree with everything except Accessibility (5 out of 5). I'd be more likely to give a 3.5 out of 5.

It is a FUN game.
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Genghis Ahn
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Concur.

Perfect blend of economics, military, politics, deals, back stabbing, strategy, tactics, luck, and randomness.
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Get the extra large Deluxe Map for it - greatly increases the play value for our gaming group.

-------------

Every game has some rules lookup, and some clever interpretation of the Cards.

The Armistice Card is a favorite bit of interpretation - it does not preclude attacking enemy forces - just enemy controlled duchies.

Took a heck of an argument at PrezCon to sort that out - thankfully Don Greenwood was there, as was Fred Schacter.





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Gene Baker
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Others have mentioned the rules difficulty so I won’t go there except to concur with them. I would add that in your overall assessment you state that players don’t get bored playing. In the 5 player game the Prussian player has limited choices in turn 1 and if your country becomes a subject neutral your choices likewise become limited. This can cause some to become dissatisfied with the play.

Overall with the right group this is a lot of fun to play. I give it a 7 or 8 because of the rules and length of time needed to play. On the other hand if time isn’t a factor I’ll never turn down a chance to play (esp. a 3, 4, or 5 player game).
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Brandon Pennington
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gittes wrote:
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I found the rules very obtuse and would rate them as a 2 on your scale. You are right, however, that it's a great game and it's also one of my favorites.


The clarity of rules are often a strange and subjective thing. I was told EastFront was easy to understand and that Rommel in the Desert was overly complicated, but I had opposite experiences.




I too found the rules very foggy. I think it had more to do with the fact that all of the terms and phrases used for most CDG's are not included here, they are all called something else. That is no fault of the designer, especially given when this was designed, but I think that was my biggest obsticle. Once I sat down and REALLY studied the rules did everything make sense.

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I would add that in your overall assessment you state that players don’t get bored playing. In the 5 player game the Prussian player has limited choices in turn 1 and if your country becomes a subject neutral your choices likewise become limited. This can cause some to become dissatisfied with the play.


One trick that works with Prussia (so far) is to explain to them that they are in a tough spot. My last session saw Prussia win the wars.
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Thanks for the review.

This one somehow seems to always float around my purchase list (and want-to-play list) but strangely has never made it; your review made me really wanting to play it: I really don't care about historical accuracy as long as game is fun to play and NW looks like a game that meets that criteria. All I need now is to find appropriate gaming partners!
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Joel Tamburo
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In my opinion the game is fun but flawed.

First, it is not really original. The use of points on cards as "money" did not start with this game. Successors did it before. As to other games using it, many now do. Here I Stand is one example, and also a much better game.

Second, the rules on this game were notorious for their fogginess. The second edition are a bit better, but still generate lots of questions. I would actually hold up Combat Commander: Europe as a better model for rules clarity.

Third, I would give the game a very poor score for historicity. Nations don't have a historical feel (especially Britain and Russia) and France is pretty overpowered. Plus, the way victory works incents players to conduct Risk like campaigns of total conquest instead of the shorter wars followed by peace treaties that really characterised the era. Also the lact of truly effective logistical restraints makes maneuvering on the map pointless to an extent.

Also, the buckets of dice combat resolution makes the games really loopy. This is especially true in naval combat because of the rules (and high CP costs) for rebiulding fleets. Our group had multiple games where Britain got hit by a hot French dice roll in a big sea battle, and the net result was that Britain was crippled for the whole game. This is another place where Here I Stand took the basic system and improved it greatly (by making fleets less expensive and also requiring 2 hits to kill a fleet).

We still have the game, but it is a tough sell to the group to get it back off the shelf. Basically that is because we have what are (to us) better games (Successors, Here I Stand. Sword of Rome).
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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First, it is not really original. The use of points on cards as "money" did not start with this game. Successors did it before. As to other games using it, many now do. Here I Stand is one example, and also a much better game.


It is still not as common as the CDGs where you play the event or get the points. If we want to look at something original consider the way some events work in Hearts and Minds: Vietnam 1965-1975.

Quote:
Second, the rules on this game were notorious for their fogginess. The second edition are a bit better, but still generate lots of questions. I would actually hold up Combat Commander: Europe as a better model for rules clarity.


Haven't played CCE so I can't comment. It appears I am in the minority in admiring the rules, but I'll hold my ground here.

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Third, I would give the game a very poor score for historicity. Nations don't have a historical feel (especially Britain and Russia) and France is pretty overpowered. Plus, the way victory works incents players to conduct Risk like campaigns of total conquest instead of the shorter wars followed by peace treaties that really characterised the era. Also the lact of truly effective logistical restraints makes maneuvering on the map pointless to an extent.


I'm not sure how Russia and Britain feel unhistorical to you, but in the case of Britain I would argue that the acquisition of land in Europe was not their objective, so the British are a bit unhistorical. As to total conquest, this was not an age of limited war, and I think the diplomatic and peace term rules capture the age perfectly: destroy their armies, take their capital, and gain territory.

Quote:
Also, the buckets of dice combat resolution makes the games really loopy. This is especially true in naval combat because of the rules (and high CP costs) for rebiulding fleets. Our group had multiple games where Britain got hit by a hot French dice roll in a big sea battle, and the net result was that Britain was crippled for the whole game. This is another place where Here I Stand took the basic system and improved it greatly (by making fleets less expensive and also requiring 2 hits to kill a fleet).


I've noted this as well, and I'm a bit wary of the buckets of dice. I see advantages, but it is by no means perfect.

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We still have the game, but it is a tough sell to the group to get it back off the shelf. Basically that is because we have what are (to us) better games (Successors, Here I Stand. Sword of Rome).


I still need to play Sword of Rome, but HIS is a good game, but also quite different. In addition, I find HIS to be much more difficult to properly run. That rulebook often leaves me scratching my head. So far, HIS is the tough sell in my group. It is a better game, but not as fun, and prone to rules complications if you are not well versed in the finer points of the game. As for Successors, it is an excellent game that I need to play more.

Great avatar Joel.
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Edward Kendrick
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Gyges wrote:
Monkatron wrote:
I found the rules very obtuse and would rate them as a 2 on your scale.


I run hot and cold on this game, but I am 100% in agreement with this. The rules system, though fundamentally clean, is extremely obtuse.


I think you both mean "obscure". "Obtuse" means "stupid".

On the question of rules quality, I don't think these rules are either outstandingly good, as the OP said, or particularly bad. There were a lot of odd queries when the game first came out, and the Living Rules went through several versions to clarify points. For a game of light-to-moderate complexity I thought they did a reasonable job.

Nor do I agree with the OP that this was a very original design in its use of Action Points - Paths of Glory, for one, used this mechanism before. That's not to detract from the appeal of the game, however - its freewheeling nature and wide scope is part of its attraction, and arguably reflects the politics of the times.

I've often seen a game decided on the play of the last card and even on the last dice roll. And funnily enough that can be seen as either a positive quality or a negative:

a) "The game stays undecided right up to the last minute!"
b) "You play for four hours and it all comes down to a die roll at the end!"

You decide.
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David Brown
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I think the rule book is one of the worst I've come across, especially as I have the 2nd edition. As a group of experienced wargamers we always seem to end up trawling through the entire rule book for clarification fo some point or other. And some of the cards are not all that clear. In comparison I would say Here I Stand is a model of how to write rules.

Regarding the actual game though, it's brilliant. Although I only fully appreciated it when I bought my own copy and studied it properly. I had originally played two games, using a friend's copy, and was very dissapointed by it. However I decided to buy it after all the positive comments by gaming friends gave, it and the thought that perhaps I hadn't given it a goo denough go.

Whilst I can agree that the British Fleet can get blown out by some bad rolls. This happend to me as the British, but far from ending the game it just created a different situation. It lulled the French into trying to give the Brits a real good kicking, meanwhile, other coalition forces were building up.....



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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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I think the rule book is one of the worst I've come across, especially as I have the 2nd edition. As a group of experienced wargamers we always seem to end up trawling through the entire rule book for clarification fo some point or other. And some of the cards are not all that clear. In comparison I would say Here I Stand is a model of how to write rules.


My experience was completely the opposite with both games. Granted, I never read the old rules set, but I'm finding this comical. It appears only I played the game and had few troubles with the rules.

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Whilst I can agree that the British Fleet can get blown out by some bad rolls. This happend to me as the British, but far from ending the game it just created a different situation. It lulled the French into trying to give the Brits a real good kicking, meanwhile, other coalition forces were building up.....


This is what I like: the possibilities. You are not assured to rule the waves. Love it or hate it, this game is not scripted.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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Nor do I agree with the OP that this was a very original design in its use of Action Points - Paths of Glory, for one, used this mechanism before. That's not to detract from the appeal of the game, however - its freewheeling nature and wide scope is part of its attraction, and arguably reflects the politics of the times.


I did not call it original per se, only different from many CDGs, and something I'd like to see in more games. However, I can see from the OP why you'd think I'm calling it original.
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Edward Kendrick
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gittes wrote:
Quote:
Nor do I agree with the OP that this was a very original design in its use of Action Points - Paths of Glory, for one, used this mechanism before. That's not to detract from the appeal of the game, however - its freewheeling nature and wide scope is part of its attraction, and arguably reflects the politics of the times.


I did not call it original per se, only different from many CDGs, and something I'd like to see in more games. However, I can see from the OP why you'd think I'm calling it original.


Yes, on re-reading the OP I can see you're saying that the Action Points can be used for a number of different purposes, and you're right that this is relatively unusual. Sorry about that.

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Gene Baker
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While many of us aren’t exactly overflowing with praise for the rulebook it should be mentioned that the example of play is very helpful. It doesn’t cover everything, but the game would be much more difficult to understand without it.
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Great game review. I have played the game a few times (6 or so). I really want to like it, but an still a bit undecided. For me the "do or die" game ending mechanism ALMOST ruins it for me.

We've had some "bad luck" I guess, but France won on turn 1 twice only needing a 1. After some explanation by experts, we started having the allies kind of rotate who was giving up a card, but it's still irksome.

There are some things I really like about it, game flow, differences of countries (and I really like playing Prussia), the mechanism for minor control with their own cards, the brittleness of the British fleet, the constant tension. Another downside is that France is SOOOOO powerful in the beginning, but this can be fine. It comes down to that game ending mechanism that just detracts from the enjoyment for me.


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I never played this game but have watched it play on several occasions. I wanted to ask a few more questions since the thread is so interesting.

Is the game duration as reasonable as it says? I think it says 2 hrs. on the box.

The system of rolling a 5 to "wound" and then losing these on a retreat or rout or whatever it is; was that idea new for a roll to hit system? Not a big fan of roll to hit stuff, but this idea seems to open new directions for that type of system.

THe peace roll always bothered me; isnt it anti thetical to a period when there were lots of wars of shorter duration? I guess given the individual victory conditions the end conditions were going to be problematical..

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