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Subject: Zucker Returns to Leipzig rss

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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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Napoleon at the Crossroads is a simulation of the decisive campaign of the Napoleonic Wars. Following his victories at Lutzen and Bautzen, Napoleon called a truce. When the fighting began the French drove on Berlin. Before November 1813, Napoleon's dreams were dashed at the cataclysmic defeat at Leipzig. For veteran game designer Kevin Zucker, this game is actually a remake of sorts, since he is returning to the same subject he covered in The Struggle of Nations.

I am changing my old review formula, for a streamlined 100 point system. I hope it works.

Gameplay (65/70): Napoleon at the Crossroads is an operational game that attempts to cover combat, logistics, and command within a reasonably streamlined system. The first thing to know is that units remain hidden on the hap, and therefore there is a lot of counter flipping. However, the on map units merely represent the leaders. The actual units are kept off map, and if you have the space, away from your opponent’s prying eyes. This creates a very thick fog or war, as a large or small concentration of men is possible anywhere within the limits of your officer's command subordination ratings.

Unit Charts:
External image


Units move either through the use of administrative points (AP) or by rolling on their initiative. AP assures their movement, while initiative does not. However, AP is limited by random die results and your supply line. But the supply line is not just a map edge. Instead, the supply must extend to a center of operations (CO), which is sort of like a base camp. In addition, you must be careful with AP, because it also represents your supplies. Lower AP means worse effects from march attrition. This is a crucial part of the game. Attrition will hurt just as readily as any battle. So the game requires a lot of juggling: your opponent’s intentions and movements, supply lines, AP, and attrition. Thankfully, it all has a feeling of being right, that is to say in step with the history. So the result is the game, while involved, also works in a strangely logical way, and without bizarre rules.

Battle is very involved, and not merely rolling upon a CRT, but rather a process that creates a narrative at the expense of taking up a lot of time. This is honestly the weakest part of the game, not because it is ineffective, but because it is time consuming, and unlike the rest of the game, it feels counter-intuitive to an experienced wargamer.

Before concluding this part it is worth mentioning that the game features something usually missing from simulations of this type: cavalry vedettes. These represent screening cavalry that can help delay the enemy, but more importantly gather information or prevent other vedettes from gathering information. As a feature, it works well enough, although if taken out of the game, you can still enjoy yourself and treat history with respect.

The Units:
External image


Accessibility (5/10): I had the good fortune of first playing Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France, 1814, because the rules for Napoleon at the Crossroads are difficult. Not necessarily difficult in and of themselves; Zucker is superb rules writer, and the individual rules are easy to understand. However, the rules are divided into an exclusive and standard book that actually does more to confuse than anything else. Without my background in Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France, 1814, I am afraid I would have been lost.

Components (10/10): OSG has a reputation for fine components, and Napoleon at the Crossroads is no exception. The vibrant map is not just the best of its kind, but perhaps the best ever put out by OSG.

The Map is Superb:
External image


Historical Quality (10/10): Napoleon at the Crossroads is in many ways the perfect simulation. Having to mind supply lines and supply quantity, as well as the strength and leadership of formations is really what operational wargame simulations are all about. Napoleon at the Crossroads does all of this, but also something more than you'll see in other fine wargames covering the era, such as Kutuzov: march attrition. March attrition does not prevent grand maneuvers, but it forces you to carry them out in a reasonable fashion. Armies do not fly across the battlefield, and the game's attrition rules force you to follow the most important maxim of operational games: march divided, fight united. As appropriately frustrating as all of this can be, I find the greatest virtue of a Kevin Zucker game is that he avoids the trap of favoring the defensive. Not only can the attacker win as easily as the defender, he can also achieve decisive results. That is what keeps me playing Zucker games: Austerlitz is not a given but it is always possible. The same cannot be said for many wargames.

Overall (90/100): Napoleon at the Crossroads is a heavy but rewarding game. Fans of the era should pick up a copy, but I first suggest trying out some of the earlier games in the series, because out of the box the rules organization is a bit of a nightmare. If not for this, I would rate this fine game much higher. I have not played The Struggle of Nations, but from what I have gathered it is hurt by poor graphics and a murderous march attrition table. Its main advantage is that it covers the first half of the German campaign. For the second half there is no better game than Napoleon at the Crossroads.
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Struggle of Nations also used a larger map scale and much smaller hexes. Leaders were two hex rectangles than when flipped over simply showed a directional arrow and was used when on the march.

While I've not played all of Zucker's works, I have many and played several. Struggle of Nations is my favorite because of those quirky tiny rectangles. I wish he'd done more like that, honestly.
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Thanks for the great review, Sean. It turns out that NatC is part of the Campaigns of Napoleon series, which includes all the following games (according to the series entry at Consimworld Forums):

Napoleon at Bay (1814)
Bonaparte in Italy (1796 & 1800)
Struggle of Nations II (1813)
1809: Napoleon on the Danube
The Emperor Returns (1815)
1807: The Eagles Turn East
The Sun of Austerlitz (1805)
Highway to the Kremlin (1812, in the "5X" Series)
Napoleon at the Crossroads (1813, "2X" Series)

Rules for all are similar, so the study of one supports the understanding of the series; but note differences in scale for Highway (5x) and Crossroads (2x). Based on reading some of these rules, it appears there may be other differences as well which could reflect differences in the historical situation or developments in Zucker's thinking.

As I understand it, The Hundred Days' Battles was actually the first in the series, but did not incorporate march attrition or vedettes, which is presumably why it's not on the official list. However, it's got the hidden units, similar command, movement and combat rules, etc. which might make it a good introduction to the system.
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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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Quote:
Rules for all are similar, so the study of one supports the understanding of the series; but note differences in scale for Highway (5x) and Crossroads (2x). Based on reading some of these rules, it appears there may be other differences as well which could reflect differences in the historical situation or developments in Zucker's thinking.
It has reached a point where system seems less appropriate than family. NatC draws from this long lineage, but it so much more involved that the early outings.

Quote:
As I understand it, The Hundred Days' Battles was actually the first in the series, but did not incorporate march attrition or vedettes, which is presumably why it's not on the official list. However, it's got the hidden units, similar command, movement and combat rules, etc. which might make it a good introduction to the system.
Another one is Arcola: The Battle for Italy, 1796. These games are considered the best introduction to the series, although as you've pointed out, things have changed quite a bit since 1979.
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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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Quote:
Struggle of Nations also used a larger map scale and much smaller hexes. Leaders were two hex rectangles than when flipped over simply showed a directional arrow and was used when on the march.

While I've not played all of Zucker's works, I have many and played several. Struggle of Nations is my favorite because of those quirky tiny rectangles. I wish he'd done more like that, honestly.
I heard about the small spaces and large units, but not the directional arrows.

What's your take on the attrition table and other criticisms?
 
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Quote:
system seems less appropriate than family
I completely agree. It appears Dick Vohlers has created a set of consolidated rules for the entire series (available at http://www.napoleongames.com/soa.html#rules), but the official position seems to be that there are enough differences throughout the "family" that the safest course is to use what ships with each game.

That being said, I think the similarities will certainly shorten the learning curve as successive series games are attempted. However, it would be nice to know, when minor differences arise, whether they reflect considered improvements from one set to the next, or merely represent the friction of game development.
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gittes wrote:
Quote:
Struggle of Nations also used a larger map scale and much smaller hexes. Leaders were two hex rectangles than when flipped over simply showed a directional arrow and was used when on the march.

While I've not played all of Zucker's works, I have many and played several. Struggle of Nations is my favorite because of those quirky tiny rectangles. I wish he'd done more like that, honestly.
I heard about the small spaces and large units, but not the directional arrows.

What's your take on the attrition table and other criticisms?
I'm not sufficiently versed on the history of the campaign to accurately judge. It may be harsh, but I've just accepted it as part of the campaign as portrayed in the game, and a reminder to minimize forced marching and initiative as much as possible. Plan those movements!
 
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jholme wrote:
Thanks for the great review, Sean. It turns out that NatC is part of the Campaigns of Napoleon series, which includes all the following games (according to the series entry at Consimworld Forums):

Napoleon at Bay (1814)
Bonaparte in Italy (1796 & 1800)
Struggle of Nations II (1813)
1809: Napoleon on the Danube
The Emperor Returns (1815)
1807: The Eagles Turn East
The Sun of Austerlitz (1805)
Highway to the Kremlin (1812, in the "5X" Series)
Napoleon at the Crossroads (1813, "2X" Series)

Rules for all are similar, so the study of one supports the understanding of the series; but note differences in scale for Highway (5x) and Crossroads (2x). Based on reading some of these rules, it appears there may be other differences as well which could reflect differences in the historical situation or developments in Zucker's thinking.

As I understand it, The Hundred Days' Battles was actually the first in the series, but did not incorporate march attrition or vedettes, which is presumably why it's not on the official list. However, it's got the hidden units, similar command, movement and combat rules, etc. which might make it a good introduction to the system.
There is also Habit of Victory (1807, "2X" Series, with cards).
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Roger Pearce
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Struggle of Nations covers both halves of the 1813 campaign in Germany. The Part before the truce is just as interesting as what occurs afterward. If you win in the spring the Austrians are unlikely to intervene.
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You have to understand how KZ works. He starts with research. When he was working on Struggle of Nations, Petre was the only guide. Bowden was years from publishing. Now Books on the German campaign come out written for the anniversary. To redo Struggle he has to almost start from scratch. As for brutal attrition that's what modern serious studies point out about the Russian campaign, Napoleon lost one army in Russia and a second in Germany the next year.
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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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Agreed Roger about Zucker's methods. That might be why the games are so good. They feel like campaign studies as much as games. Zucker is the man who got me into Napoleon and his games still teach a lot.

That being said, I have read that the attrition table makes historical marches impossible. I do make the attrition a little less harsh when I play, but it is still something to worry about.
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