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Subject: Vive le empereur! rss

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Sandy Petersen
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Despite my credentials (such as they are) as a grognard, most of my reading has been on the American Civil War and Second World War. Napoleonics is, while not exactly a closed book, not second-nature to me.

I bought my copy of Napoleonic Wars in hopes of finally finding a good game on the subject. I was suspicious, because I knew it was multiplayer, but a fellow at Origins assured me it worked fine two-player. Let me hasten to add I’m not a foe of multiplayer, but it’s simply harder to get a crew to play.

Let’s get my problems with the game out of the way right now:

Sandy’s Gripes

1) It starts in 1805, which leaves out about 10 years of potentially interesting adventures. No brilliant northern Italy campaign? No French expedition to Egypt? *sigh* Instead we start just before Trafalgar. I guess by doing this we are sure to get a war that has a vague resemblance to the real war, which otherwise we have no guarantee of. But still. Alas.

2) The game gives you the option of retarded stand-up counters for your generals. Ecch.

3) In the 5-player game, one player starts as neutral Prussia, and then basically sits on his ass during the whole of the first turn. Since the game can end after 1 turn (and does so maybe 20% of the time, in my experience) this does not lead to an optimum Prussian experience. On the other hand, it does embolden the Prussian player to enter the war early (as happened historically) and take his lumps like a man.

Well that’s it. Those three tiny nit-picks are all I have to complain about. Which means, of course that this has become one of my favorite wargames. So how does it fly?

The Game System
Like many other modern wargames this uses a card-play system, somewhat modified to allow for multiple players. It’s not as complex as Paths of Glory, at least. You just play a card and then either use the command points (ranging from 2 to 6) or the card’s special power. Some cards are combat cards, which means they can only be played during a battle, which is an interesting way to drain people’s hands of good cards before their turn.

Command points do lots of things – CPs move armies (typically commanded by a leader). CPs move fleets (who never have leaders – there is no Nelson or Treville). CPs recruit new armies, engage in diplomacy, and flag territories. In a typical turn a player will use CPs to do 2-3 things.

The game procedure, like other card-based strategy games, is for everyone to play their cards one at a time until everyone is done. Then the round ends, a passel of bookkeeping is done, and the next turn begins. Unlike most such games, the various players have wildly different numbers of cards in their hands. One feature I like is that the player with the most cards is able to interrupt the course of play by suddenly taking another turn when he pleases (not if it would give him two turns in a row, though). As a result, a powerful French player with a 7 card hand generally reduces his total cards to be similar in length to the other players by the second time around the table, and then other players get to be the Interruptor. Of course the French player has already benefited by his early actions so he has no cause to complain.

The game is point-to-point movement (these points are called “duchies” in a failed attempt at flavor). Some points are worth victory points. Most are not. Each turn, all the players carefully tote up their victory point duchies and see how their VPs have changed since last turn. This is critical, because your hand of cards is based on how many VPs you had, plus you win the game based on how much you increased VPs over your base level. The French start with the most duchies, but if they only capture 1, while the British capture 2, the British get to win the game.

The different nations have specific feels to them. The main way this is implemented is by the fact that every nation has a special “virtual card” unique to it. This “card” is available on each single usually pretty good, and for the major nations is unusual in that it can be played at the same time as another card. Thus if you play your Home 6-pt card along with a 4-5 pt card from your hand, you can take quite a lengthy turn and amaze your friends with a surprise turn of events. The French and British actually have two such “cards” which reinforces their positions as leaders of their respective coalitions.

The armies are just collections of points. The counters show infantry, cavalry, and artillery, but it’s just points, and you can make change as you fight. Generals have two stats. One is their combat value (1-4) which is added as sheer combat strength to their units (plus used for lots of other calculations), and the other is the number of points they can command (4-8). Armies fight by rolling a mass of dice equal to their value. Said value is equal to the number of points, plus a bonus number (2 for French, 1 for other player-nations, 0 for the satellite states such as Turkey), plus the commander’s combat value, plus often a modifier (if you ambush someone you get +1 die for instance). So for example, Napoleon’s gold standard is 4 (for him) + 8 (for his army) + 2 (French national bonus) for a total of 14 dice. The mightiest possible Spanish army is 1 (their best commander) + 4 (for their army) + 0 (Spanish national bonus) for 5 dice. The dice are rolled and every 6 kills an enemy target and every 5 “disrupts” one. The 5s and 6s are totaled and the side with more wins. Then each side removes their “kills”. If it’s a tie, you roll again and don’t count killed or disrupted guys. If you lose by 3 or more points, you “route” and your disrupts turn into kills, which is awful. It’s a simple system that produces interesting results, especially when combined with the combat cards. It’s also moderately tense as everyone is counting up their numbers. Every big battle is, to some extent, a crap shoot. Yeah sure Napoleon has 14 dice while you could scrounge together only 11, but with that many dice bouncing around on the table, anything could happen.

Aesthetics
The game has a bright and attractive (to me) map, with points clearly marked. Some spots are fortresses and there is a boring-but-adequate subsystem for portraying the conquest of these. As usual, Gibraltar is a special case. The counters are bright, and have cute little army guys on them.

As you conquer the world, you get to plop down counters with your flag across the board, so more and more tricolors (or whatever) make their appearance, which is also jolly and fun. It is a fun game to look at. When I show non-gamers my gaming room, they are always agog if Napoleonic Wars is on the table. (The direct opposite of their opinion if it's The Great Patriotic War.)

Is it Multi or Two-player?
Unlike most multi-player games, this one works pretty good two-player (the two player version is French vs. Britain. Duh.) It works for three reasons:

1) The game starts with all the main powers at war with France (except Prussia, who joins in quick). So there is no real difficulty with players “unnaturally” grouping together. They’re already grouped.

2) Each player (not nation) starts with a “resource” which can be used for a variety of useful purposes. The resource is so good, that since Austria and Russia start without one in the two-player version, they are hampered enough to balance the game despite the fact that England controls their moves.

3) The game includes four minor nations – Spain, Turkey, Sweden, and Denmark (sorry folks – this doesn’t mean I think you’re “minor”), with a complex and detailed diplomacy system to control their alliances. This same system is ¬applied to the control of the non-player major nations with great efficacy. In a multiplayer game, the French player would have to convince Prussia to join his team with his melodious voice and empty promises. But in a 2-player game, he can use his card power to enforce the alliance. It’s much the same thing, really.

War at Sea
I love the naval war in this game. Different nations have different qualities of fleets (British are best, of course), and the narrow British margin of victory at sea is well-depicted. The French are definitely the underdogs here, but they are wise to keep poking and prodding at the British. Every fleet the British have to replace is a victory for the French, and the British are spread thin. A couple of foreign wars sucking up some British fleets, and the French may well be able to break through.

Britain is in actual danger of invasion early in the game if the French can unify their entire fleet with the Spanish – the battle of Trafalgar is one which the British MUST fight and cannot afford to lose. But probably at least a third of the games I’ve played as French I’ve managed to either evade the British or actually win Trafalgar, and can follow it up with an invasion of Britain with Napoleon. This is of course a disaster for Britain, though it takes a lot of pressure off Austria.

Even later in the game if the British let their attention slacken the French can get some licks in by sea. Of course the French always have the option to focus completely on the land war, too.

Game Balance and Fun?
For a wargame, it doesn’t take long to play. The game seems balanced. I’ve seen both sides win about half the time in a two-player game. In multi-player games, I’ve seen all five players win at different times, which is all anyone can ask for.

The British and French have the heaviest burdens – assign them to the heavy-duty wargamers in your crowd. Let the more casual gamers man the Austrians, Russians, and Prussians. Whoever plays Austria needs to be of a phlegmatic and stoic temperament, because Austria gets its ass comprehensively kicked in the early game.

The game is fun. It allows for all kinds of weird events that did or did not happen. The combat is fun. The strategy is fun. Even the diplomacy between players is entertaining, though it usually boils down to the French player offering satanic deals for the souls of one or more members of the Allies, while Britain frets and prays for their salvation.

One of my favorite games, and possibly my very most favorite pre-20th century wargame. And that’s saying a lot.


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Kris Van Beurden
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Great review for one of my "ten"-games .

Regarding your gripes: there is a 1792 scenario (by Alan Emmerich) somewhere on BGG. It looks cool, although I haven't played it yet. Only five turns, though, so you'll have to play regular TNW afterwards.

What did you think of the 1812/1823 scenario's?
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Jan Ozimek
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Great review, even though I (initially) got the impression that you were rather negative about the game. I think I'll point my fellow gamers to this as a primer before their first game session. It has some really good insights and would give a good idea of what to expect from the game.

I laughed at this:
Sandy Petersen wrote:
Even the diplomacy between players is entertaining, though it usually boils down to the French player offering satanic deals for the souls of one or more members of the Allies, while Britain frets and prays for their salvation.

I think one should mention, that according to the rules diplomactic negotionations are severely limited. The player about to submit / sue for peace is only allowed to give a single offer of terms per turn, which the would-be victor can then accept or reject. Of course players can modify this rule at will if they prefer detailed (and potentially looooong) negotiations.

Thanks for the review. thumbsup

A few pictures would have been nice icing on the cake.
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WAN CHIU
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I think Sandy should try tackle the subject alone

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Carl Paradis
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The title is incorrect.

It's: Vive l'Empereur!

As for this specific game, the only main gripe I have is that the turns are far too short to represent the actual history acurately. albeit it's still loads of fun.

I play with a set of house rules that doubles the number of turns, plus a few other minor tweaks. it makes IMHO for a much better game.
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Roger Hobden
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Je suis d'accord / I concur:

"Vive l'Empereur !" (NOT, "vive le empereur")
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Roger Hobden
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licinius wrote:
The title is incorrect.

It's: Vive l'Empereur!

As for this specific game, the only main gripe I have is that the turns are far too short to represent the actual history acurately. albeit it's still loads of fun.

I play with a set of house rules that doubles the number of turns, plus a few other minor tweaks. it makes IMHO for a much better game.



I am curious: what house rules exactly ?
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Carl Paradis
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Mallet wrote:
I am curious: what house rules exactly ?


I'll fish out my house rule sheet this week-end and post it.
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Roger Hobden
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licinius wrote:
Mallet wrote:
I am curious: what house rules exactly ?


I'll fish out my house rule sheet this week-end and post it.


Great !

Merci !
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Sandy Petersen
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Apologies for my misspelling. My son speaks fluent French and my wife decent French so perhaps next time I'll ask them.

While the official rules for "offering peace" are quite specific and limited, there is plenty of opportunities for smack-talk during the gameplay and PARTICULARLY during the end-of-turn happenings, when players can pull out of or enter wars, This is when the diplomatic whining barrels into action. Usually I see the French player pointing out to Russia or Prussia the joys of stealing land from their neighbors, and the comparative horrors of fighting a massive French force. Austria doesn't get offered nearly as good a deal - generally it's more on the order of "if you pull out, Austria, then I'll crush Prussia instead of you. Isn't that what you want?"

As the turns advance, the negotiations can change dramatically as the various players rewrite ancient national boundaries like an etch-a-sketch with st. vitus dance.
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Paul Brown
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Yes, great review. Worth some GG for that quote alone! I remember playing Mr Mclaughlins War & Peace back in the day & getting a bit power mad as the French player watching a sea of blue spreading across Europe.
 
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