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Jonathan Harrison
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In the last week I've had the privilege of closer acquainting myself with two truly artful works in two very different media.

The first was Nasu: Summer in Andalusia. If Cowboy Bebop left me shaken, Nasu left me stirred. I can't recommend either highly enough.

The second was Bowen Simmons' Napoleon's Triumph: The Battle of Austerlitz. Mr. Simmons has imbued Napoleon's Triumph with exactly what captured my passion watching Nasu: singleness of purpose paired with deep, transparent elegance. Watching Nasu and reading the rulebook of Napoleon's Triumph are like staring into unmeasured fathoms of water only to watch the bottom roll under you and know exactly where you are.

The rulebook, you say? Yes, and I have a confession to make. I've only read the rulebook. Don't fault me for this; Mr. Bona, Part 2 is coming after I finish a game. But, more than any other game I've (not) played, when I read the rulebook for Napoleon's Triumph, I feel as though I'm playing the game already.

I was prepared to like Napoleon's Triumph—a lot. After getting fed up with a most Unladylike Luck, against whom it's depressing to lose and with whom it's demeaning to win, I needed something. Mostly I needed a lack of dice. For my roleplaying—yes. I have my stone dice, my bone dice, my lucky dusty blues. I even have my Elder Futhark runestones. But after eight too many games of Twilight Struggle were devastatingly, unforgiveably ruined by game-long streaks of 1- and 2-ops cards and turns' worth of rolls 3 or lower, nobody was having much fun making good plans and watching Fortune wander around in a drunken stupor, shitting on everyone.

I don't know when I heard about Napoleon's Triumph. Certainly it was after hearing about Bonaparte at Marengo. At the time, I didn't remark even that game as anything special, except that someone had called it a landmark in wargaming. That was something worth looking into, someday, so I dumped it on my wishlist as a 5, to keep company with the 80, 90, who knows how many other games waiting there for me to read their reviews, someday. Napoleon's Triumph was mentioned in the same breath, so I dumped them both on, and went on not caring about them.

But some time later, someone described Napoleon's Triumph as completely luckless. And that created some interest. I read a little more, and my interest was piqued. A little more, and I was undeniably curious.

A little more of that (some very good reviews can be blamed), and I believed with terrifying conviction that Napoleon's Triumph was everything I had been looking for. And when somebody griped that it was 'more like chess than a wargame', my heart knew it had found home.

Months passed. I still hadn't bought Napoleon's Triumph; really good deals on some out-of-print and soon-to-be items pinched my wallet first.

Then my wife, who is a saint, bought me Napoleon's Triumph as a Valentine's present.

It came yesterday.

Some games fail to live up to their hype. For me, Arkham Horror was one of these. It wasn't The Music of Erich Zann, it was Night of the Living Dead. God's honest truth, it was The Farming Game without cherry trees, and with Mi-Gos instead.

But Napoleon's Triumph is a whole other world.

I've always admired GMT's HeftyBoxes; I feel as they're made specifically to defend oneself against board game thieves.

Napoleon's Triumph has a beautiful feel. The wooden (and metal!) pieces give it such weight. And then there's the board: two standard-sized mounted maps. I picked up Napoleon's Triumph, and I knew one thing without doubt: I could kill someone with this.

I slit the plastic wrap carefully—around the bottom, all four sides in fact. I was really, really excited.

I wanted this game to be everything I had dreamed it would be—everything I had dreamed it was. But I had a tiny, tiny fear—that it wouldn't be.

I opened it, took out the pieces, even. Then I put everything back in, and set it aside. Last night, I sorted A Game of Thrones LCG cards (1 big box and 4 expansions) into decks instead. I wasn't afraid to open, just not ready yet. It seemed daunting, in several ways. For one thing, I was sick.

Well, I'm not better yet. And I spent a chunk of time tonight editing manhattandoctor's rewrite of the Up Front rules. But then, ignorantly, I said to myself:

Pliable wrote:
"Shall I not just crack the rulebook?"

I'll start by saying that I've been reading David G. Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon, a masterpiece of writing in its clarity of thought, not to say also in every other respect.

I lifted the lid, noticed the writing around the sides of the box, and began to read. As Fortune hath it, I was in the middle of reading Chapter 15, Strategic Concepts, of Part 2, Napoleon's Art of War, and what I read around the box was the living description of the concepts I had been reading moments before. The archetypical Napoleonic battle, playing out before my eyes as well as behind them. I began to get excited.

But I was truly afraid, now, that all would come to disappointment in the end. I know I expect too much from things; I have always done it, and I expect I always shall. Reality doesn't keep pace with my imagination.

But here I am, at 2:45, sick, and thinking only about what I just read.

Elegance, as a summative description, gets thrown about too much these days. So I'll say it: Bowen Simmons' Napoleon's Triumph isn't elegant. It's goddamn elegent. And it's beautiful.

I'd heard a couple people making much of the complexity of the attacking rules. It worried me—to no purpose.

Not so, Edmund. They're simple, streamlined, and damn good. Everything about the game is.

As I began reading through the rulebook, 45 minutes after opening it (it begins, "1.I.i.a: Affix stickers"), I realized that the rules were making perfect sense to me. I didn't need the rationales behind anyrules explained to me; they were simply apparent. I couldn't believe how far I'd got through knowing how to play the game by page 6; by page 9, I was done. I found I didn't need the examples of play; the rules were perfectly self-explanatory.

By the time I finished reading the rulebook, I felt as though I'd already played a game: it was laid out for me, from start to finish, beautiful and concise.

It's the game I thought it was, and was afraid it wasn't. Not my holy grail—I spend my time perfecting that one myself. And Mr. Simmons can be proud he tore me away from work on my own game designing tonight to look at his own work of art.

Yes, approaches, reserves, movement, attacks, retreats, victory conditions—it has them all, and clear and concise every time. I never had to read anything more than once. I fully expect to teach the basics of this to my wife in one sitting, easily, and perhaps to start playing in that same sitting.

And play a game I shall. My most admirable wife asked me today, "How long does it take?" To my reply—"A couple hours"—she responded, "Then let's play it together soon."

I've never felt compelled to write a review before. But Napoleon's Triumph deserves one. For one thing, it deserves the second half of this one. Soon, Ernestine, soon.


Until then, turn the thoughts of thee toward Nasu: A Migratory Bird with Suitcase, and Bonaparte at Marengo, second edition. But Bowen, lose those damn trees.

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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I'll be interested to hear whether your first game confirms your sense that you grok the rules after reading them once.
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Jonathan Harrison
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Sphere wrote:
I'll be interested to hear whether your first game confirms your sense that you grok the rules after reading them once.

Thank you. I anticipate posting the second half of this review soon.

Yes, I think I do grok the rules, but I'll openly admit that I don't have them all in my head perfectly. I know I'll still have to look up some of the modifiers. But I think I could repeat most of the rules back this morning after reading them last night, and implement them in play accordingly. These rules, and notably so, seemed a well-formed whole, seemed their own flow and context, and especially so compared to many other rulesets I've read. Twilight Struggle approached this for me—and was fully playable for us the next day after one readthrough the night before—but not to this extent. Mr. Simmons' conception of the rules in Napoleon's Triumph seems peculiarly natural to the subject. Perhaps it's because I've been reading Chandler's Campaigns. For whatever reason, they're more accessible, more evocative of actual movements and results, in my head than those of any other game I've yet encountered.
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I didn't have the time to finish your very interesting text, I will do so after I finish work. Only thing I have to say to you, the picture is a true knockout!!!!
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Jonathan Harrison
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shinobu wrote:
I didn't have the time to finish your very interesting text, I will do so after I finish work. Only thing I have to say to you, the picture is a true knockout!!!!

Eeyore, modestly, wrote:
Well, it was meant to be.

I thought so, too—enough that I stayed up until 3:30 working on it and waiting for my review to get through GeekMod so I could put it in as the perfect finishing touch.
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Jay Sheely
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If you are able to play this game after reading the rules once, I'll be truly amazed. A genius! I've read the rules MANY times. Before and during play. I just downloaded the 'Annotated rules' to read after yesterday's play.

Often, an insanely important caveat is innocently lurking in the last half of a sentence. YES! It's in the rulebook, but it doesn't stand out.

There are many little tiny things like 'Cavary may...' and '...if on a hill...'. I'm just saying, it is a tough rule set to carry in the head.

It is an incredible game and understanding the depths of these rules and implications of each tactical decision takes time.

And I agree, it is like Chess. No luck, takes many games to grasp the tactics and strategy and more.

I've played 5 times and feel like I kindof have the rules down. Every play makes me want to play it again. And again...
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Jonathan Harrison
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Man or Astroman wrote:
If you are able to play this game after reading the rules once, I'll be truly amazed. A genius! I've read the rules MANY times. Before and during play. I just downloaded the 'Annotated rules' to read after yesterday's play.

Often, an insanely important caveat is innocently lurking in the last half of a sentence. YES! It's in the rulebook, but it doesn't stand out.

There are many little tiny things like 'Cavary may...' and '...if on a hill...'. I'm just saying, it is a tough rule set to carry in the head.

It is an incredible game and understanding the depths of these rules and implications of each tactical decision takes time.

And I agree, it is like Chess. No luck, takes many games to grasp the tactics and strategy and more.

I've played 5 times and feel like I kindof have the rules down. Every play makes me want to play it again. And again...

Yes, I haven't disappeared. But I started a new job, and we've been getting adjusted to life with our second child, and I haven't been able to get NT out again until a couple nights ago, when I taught the first half of the rules (up until combat) to my wife. Tomorrow we plan to finish the second half of the rules, then play. (Tuesday is our date night.)

A day after reading the rules, I could have given back the mechanics, if not the numbers. After an intervening month, not having had the chance to play yet, I'd have to dig down to do that. Reading the rules to my wife is giving me the same impression of clarity and intuitiveness that the first reading did, as well as the same (strong) desire to play this game in person instead of just in my head.

The ruleset is remarkable in the necessity of its form.

Expect part 2 soon.
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Jay Sheely
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Quote:
Expect part 2 soon.


Can't wait!

My first play was a nightmare of missed rules, mis-used rules, completely misunderstood tactical implications, misunderstood rules... but I couldn't wait to try it again, and again...

Hope your first play is smoother than mine!
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Jonathan Harrison
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HuginnGreiling wrote:
Expect part 2 soon.

Soon is as soon does, eh? We've been trying to make time for this, but the summer heat takes most of the energy out of my wife, and the 18-month-old and 3-month-old take the rest of it out of both of us. We've restricted ourselves lately to Dominion, Wings of War, and Cuba + El Presidente, and we're on the verge of playing 2 de Mayo. But as you can see on my profile, Napoleon's Triumph is in slot 4 of my expected upcoming first plays, after 2 de Mayo, Löwenherz, and Samurai:
Soon to play (Hot 10):

Though, as you can see, my desired order of first plays is a little different:
Want to play (Top 10):

And my actual recent (not first) plays is even more different:
Most recent plays:
 
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Arthur Switalski
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Any update on this? I'm interested in picking this up and was hoping to hear how your first run-through went...

Best,
Arthur
 
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Jonathan Harrison
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arthur09 wrote:
Any update on this? I'm interested in picking this up and was hoping to hear how your first run-through went...

Best,
Arthur

Soon, we hope. We're finishing a game of Wilderness War right now, slowly. But two little kids are using up a lot of time right now, and I'm swamped trying to finish a big (work) project.

We're hoping in the next couple weeks or so. Sorry for the delay. soblue
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Arthur Switalski
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Best of luck with your work project, looking forward to the review.

 
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Fabrice Dubois
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HuginnGreiling wrote:

...
Then my wife, who is a saint, bought me Napoleon's Triumph as a Valentine's present.
...
And play a game I shall. My most admirable wife asked me today, "How long does it take?" To my reply—"A couple hours"—she responded, "Then let's play it together soon."
...

Since my wife never offered me any game, i ordered yesterday.
I don't expect her to play it either.

Lucky man that you are...

Waiting also to the second part of your review... whistle
 
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Very nice post. I am interested in picking this game up and would like to hear how your actual game experience panned out in the end. Is there already a Eggplant and Mr. Bona, Part 2?
 
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Jonathan Harrison
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Soon. We discovered we're having child number 3, and that's set me back some. It's on my short list to play. Probably a solo game first, to make sure I've got it all down, and then with Jane. I know—promises, promises ... blush
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Yes, thanks for the fun review. As someone who recently got back into wargaming after a long absence, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Yes, there's a learning curve. Yes, it helps to have a more experienced player to ease the entry into the mysteries of the attack sequence. But you know when reading the rules that you are on to something out of the ordinary. And the game delivers on that promise.

I recently played another very good game but found myself, in the middle of it, missing NT and being let down by the high stakes dice rolls. Much of the game pivoted around the possibility of getting a 1 or a 6. A lot of the post-mortem was discussing the run of bad dice in this phase followed by good rolls in a later phase.

There's none of that in this game, and the replayability is very high. Hard decisions have to be made and there's no chance that a lucky 6 is going to cover for your mistakes. Strategy and tactics can vary wildly between different players, only adding to the interest level of playing it again and again.

Plus there's the important fact - central to its design - that it is so great to look at and visually pleasing to play.
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That was a joy to read, thanks!

Now... Have you played it yet?

The Former Possessive wrote:
Soon!
 
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Jonathan Harrison
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Well, I got into this heavy game of Origins for the past few months ...
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