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Subject: The return of Boney and Kevin Zucker.... rss

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Magister Ludi
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The Emperor Returns
Clash of Arms Games 1986
Designer : Kevin Zucker





Designer Kevin Zucker is something of a Napoleonic expert. Having cut his teeth in production and design in the original SPI and later at Avalon Hill, he has struck out on his own on numerous occasions in his own company, Operational Studies Group or OSG, which, as the name suggests is primarily focused on the operational aspects of warfare.

Zucker first made his name at SPI with the release of the Napoleon's Last Battles in 1976. Whilst the game utilised a fairly simplistic and rigid combat system, beloved by wargamers of old, what made it stand out was it’s innovative approach to command issues and the ability to link the various major battles of the Waterloo campaign ( Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre and La Belle Alliance) into a coherent whole.

From there, Zucker further refined he system and came out with what is arguably his masterpiece, Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France, 1814 in 1978, a game initially released under his own label ( TSG, later OSG) by AH and in a redone version once again by OSG. Covering Napoleon's sometimes masterful, and mostly desperate 1814 campaign in France, the game , for the first time, made it possible to feel as a player that you were indeed in command and facing the same issues that a real life Napoleonic army commander might face; where was the enemy?, in what state was he?, can we protect our supply lines and menace his? and most importantly, where and when will the decisive battle be fought?

Most gamers, myself included, groan at any rules covering supply and logistics; in this game system however, Zucker has factored these matters in to the overall game engine so that it provides a solid rationale for where to concentrate your corps and divisions, protecting your lines of communications, which approach to take to the battlefield and why an understanding of the road net is more important than pretty much any other topographical consideration.

Zucker’s original stated intention was to bring out a game of each major campaign between between 1796- 1815, and while the goal hasn’t been entirely achieved, there are quite a representative list, spanning over two decades and a number of publishers. Along the way, some elements of the design have been tweaked to fit the larger campaigns, from the initial scope of each hex representing 2 miles, each strength point representing 1000 men and each game turn representing 2 days ( the 1x series) to include a 5x series. Listed are the 'original' offerings on each major campaign by the designer. He has since revisted both the 1807 and 1813 campaigns with games issued by the 'new' OSG:

Bonaparte in Italy ( covering the 1796-7 and 1800 campaigns) 1x series

The Sun of Austerlitz( covering portions of the 1805 campaign) 1x series

1807: The Eagles Turn East ( covering Eylau to Friedland) 1x series

1809: Napoleon's Danube Campaign ( covering the campaign along the Danube valley) 1x series

Highway to the Kremlin (covering th Russian campaign ) 5x series

The Struggle of Nations (covering the last campaign in Germany 1813) 1x series.

Napoleon at Bay: The Campaign in France, 1814 (covering the 1814 campaign in France) 1x series

The Emperor Returns ( covering the Waterloo campaign in 1815) 1x series.

The series had something of a swansong when The Struggle of Nations was released by AH in 1982. To cover all of the 1813 campaign in Germany over the huge expanse, required ungainly counters on teeny hexes. The supposed complexity of the game has resulted in it being nicknamed ‘The Struggle’, when in reality the same basic system is in place, but it lacked the elegance of the original design and I suspect that many gamers were put off by the simple fact that they, like Napoleon, had numerous conflicting objectives and simply didn’t know how to proceed.
It was good to see that the system was picked up again by both Victory Games, with it’s release of 1809: Napoleon's Danube Campaign and then by Clash of Arms, which brings us to the review in question.

In some ways, the Waterloo campaign is ill suited to the Napoleon at Bay system. The campaign was over relatively quickly ( about a week) and the actual scene of the four critical battles took place in a relatively small area of Belgium. Zucker had in fact released an earlier ‘minigame’ on the subject in Hundred Days Battles, as a sort of primer to the system. This game is only four Game turns long, uses around 40 counters and is played out on a map measuring 27cm x 20cm. At first glance then, a fuller treatment using the system would seem fairly pointless.

To solve the design issue, Zucker has chosen to increase the map area to take in the greater elements of the campaign, arguably the main elements in deciding the outcome, namely, the initial concentration of forces and where the axis of advance would take place and what the ultimate targets ( geographical ) would be. To achieve this, the map area has been increased to 85cm x 55cm (34” x22”) and the time frame expanded between 9th June and 3rd July, to include the period well before the traditional start of the campaign and events after the climactic battle at Waterloo on the 18th June. The system has also been modified so that each game turn equals one day rather than two. What this then does, in conjunction with the use of ‘hidden’ leader counters, forces deployed off map on organisation displays and liberal use of ‘dummy’ counters, is to create multiple opportunities to deceive the enemy as to your true intentions.

The map, showing the much larger area of operations:



My only criticism of components would be levelled at the map and charts, which are printed on very thin paper, so care is required when handling.

Example of organisation display, with French strength markers deployed:



I must admit that I tend to make up my own spreadshets and mark strenghts on that rather than wholly rely on the organisation displays. It makes computing combat odds and attrition far quicker.

The counter mix of 256 counters, showing typical CoA production values ( i.e nice).



As it plays out, the game initially resembles a type of ‘shell game’ with leaders and dummy units being moved around with the opposing player generally unsure as to what is a real force, where the main leaders are and just where the main thrust will be delivered. All of this promotes a very realistic ‘fog of war’ and until forces come into contact for the first time, a player can never be quite sure as to what he is up against. While this may be anathema to many players, it in fact promotes the correct mindset of a commander of the era. You must look to keep your forces concentrated for the battle and consider where is the best terrain to fight battles.

In the rules, the introduction states that the game is designed for solitaire study, or for two or three players. As with most Zucker games, the rule book incorporates a detailed study folder, which outlines the campaign in detail, including a great amount of information on supply issues. Given that the game has a French, Anglo-Allied and a Prussian Army, the game also lends itself well to three player and in fact should enhance the fog of war elements ( I say should, as I have only played the two player version to date). I think that this particular game in the series would not lend itself well to solitaire play, due to the fact that the route of attack and dummy forces play such a large part.

I was fortunate in visiting the sites of the battles and overall area of this campaign in late May 2012 on a tour group led by Zucker himself. This gave some incredible insights into the campaign and the problems facing each side. Walking the battlefield of Waterloo was certainly the highlight of the trip. Since my return I have been steadily working through the designers various games on the subject and look forward to further playing of this game to further deepen my understanding of what took place in those quiet fields and lanes some 200 years ago.
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Björn Hansson
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Nice review!
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Magister Ludi
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Although aimed at modern warfare, this thread covers some of the operational aspects that this game system actively forces a player to think about.

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/847252/operational-planning
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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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Good review Ludi. I wish had picked this one up when it was still cheap on BGG.
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Magister Ludi
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gittes wrote:
Good review Ludi. I wish had picked this one up when it was still cheap on BGG.

Thanks Sean...I just read your ' Sun of Austerlitz' review.

The prices listed on BGG look reasonable to me...games are very expensive in Australia and you would be looking to pay around $80 US for a copy at our prices!
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The play's the thing ...
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Going thirty-eight, Dan, chill the f*** out. Mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down.
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Great review!
Makes me want to get some of these games played now.
And the tour with Kevin Zucker sounds awesome too.
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Thanks for the kind words Pete.

The beauty of these games is that once you learn the base system, all the games in the series can be played relatively easily as there are usually not too many 'special' rules.

I think KZ is planning to reprise the tour in 2014, to coincide with the 200th anniverasry of the 1814 campaign. Our tour took in part of the 1814 battlefields ( Montmirail,Vauchamps, Chateau-Thierry, Loan) as well as all the 1815 sites.
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mario vallee
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James Istvanffy
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Good review. I teach a University course on the Waterloo campaign called Napoleon's Last Battles and I use the Kevin Zucker game as part of the coures. I played The Emperor Returns game many times in the 1990s but I found it not as satisfing as NLB as either a game or as a simulation. I am still looking for a game that captures the fog of war, the feel and simulates a believeable outcome to the Waterloo Campaign. Perhaps a stratgo or block game is needed and I am sure a card driven game must be in the works by someone. Napoleon's Last Battles is by far the best game on this subject (and I think I've played them all) and I hope they republish it soon with bigger counters, more beautiful counters, nicer map, etc.
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David Schubert
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Great review. I played the game upon my return from this past Zucker tour. It is a good one. Finishable in one sitting. I do wonder about the CRT - if it really works (odds based) with the non-NaB games. I've thought about giving the CRT in Washington's Crossing or 1777 a try with the CoN series.
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David Schubert
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James,

there is a block game (Napoleon) on the campaign by Columbia Games. I hear a new edition is pending. I like it a good bit and probably set a record for quickest loss - took me 15 minutes for my Nappy to get his hat handed to him.
 
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deschubert wrote:
James,

there is a block game (Napoleon) on the campaign by Columbia Games. I hear a new edition is pending. I like it a good bit and probably set a record for quickest loss - took me 15 minutes for my Nappy to get his hat handed to him.

Greetings Mr Schubert!

I have tried this one as well. It does cover the fog of war pretty well. I also had the experience of losing as Nappy on about GT3 when I tried to grab the central position. I won on the second game by taking the western approach,which is probably the best option in The Emperor Returns as well.
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John Gant
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Please see this AAR of this game in action:

http://talk.consimworld.com/WebX?14@@.1dd85fbe/0

Comments are welcome.

--JokerRulez
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paul taylor
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James,
I have read many books on this campaign. None explain, or even attempt to analyse why Napoleon did not withdraw from belle alliance on the night of 18th - I explain. By noon on the 18th Napoleon new that grouchy had totally failed to keep the Prussians away from his right flank. He had the time, and the cavalry available to slow down the Prussian deployment. Wellington would not attack him until the 19th, when Blucher was fully deployed. So Napoleon could have sat on his position at belle alliance all day.
Napoleon could have, should have withdrawn, at night and ordered grouchy back to charlroi.
But he chose to fall into the trap so well prepared by W and B.
What do you think?.
Paul
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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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Here are some of my thoughts, circa 2010...

Waterloo was Napoleon at his worst. His frontal attack at Borodino was at least done in part because he feared another Russian retreat and he wanted to get right at them. It nearly worked there. At Waterloo the attacks seemed to be poorly coordinated. Napoleon did not have enough small unit experience, and I agree that this hurt him at Waterloo because he did not have the services of men such as Davout, Murat, Soult, Lannes, and others who made up for these deficiencies. However, he had himself to blame. Napoleon's wacky personnel decisions before the battle made his situation all the worse. His two worst corps commanders, d'Erlon and Reille, were up front on June 18th, while the best fighters, Gerard and Vandamme, were at Wavre. In addition, Soult was a terrible chief of staff, and belonged on the fighting front, instead of Ney, who was obviously shell shocked and unable conduct such a battle. I'm sure Foy, Friant, Morand, and Duhesme would have better leading corps formations than the men Napoleon chose to lead I and II Corps.

Also, a few things I'd like to add:
1. The Old Guard did not make the last attack. It was the Middle Guard. Apparently Ney claimed that they were too few and he was convinced the attack would fail. It was a desperation move and I suspect it was not that decisive really, as there were too few French. What probably broke the army was the combined Prussian and Anglo-allied assault, which came at the end of a terrifically bloody day.

2. The battle was all but lost before 4pm because Wellington had held aganist the initial attacks and Blucher had arrived. Even if Napoleon won, he would soon have his lines of communication cut. In many ways this battle was won at Wavre, and Blucher deserves as much credit as Wellington for the victory. Without Blucher, it is likely the Allied lines would have crumpled. Can you imagine the hard fighting Mouton and the Young Guard being committed against Wellington instead of Blucher? Nothing is assured, and maybe the line could have held, but I am sure Wellington was happy about this turn of events.

3. Wellington may have thought of Napoleon as a bad boxer, but he also must have been embarrassed that Napoleon had 'humbugged' him a few days before and that Blucher saved the day. Wellington was a great general, but also a prickly man obsessed with his reputation. His thoughts on Waterloo show some contradictory thinking. He said Napoleon came at him in the old way and was beaten in the old way, but his letters right after the battle show a man who had just undergone the trial of his life and felt lucky to have come out victorious.

4. Napoleon was unhealthy, suffering from aliments brought on by hard living, hard work, and a bad diet. He still had great moments, such as Dresden, and the plan at Ligny was worthy of the Napoleon of old. I suspect though he was getting old and found it easier to charge the front. Add this to his increasing arrogance, and you start to have battles like Wagram and Borodino instead of Austerlitz and Rivoli. Napoleon's tactics did not improve they got worse, in part because such constant fighting takes a real toll. By 1815 the French officer corps had been fighting since 1792.
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Thank you for the most excellent review!

I would like to add that most British "Order of Appearance" charts in other WATERLOO titles make more sense after you see the THE EMPEROR RETURNS map and see the larger picture. You can see Wellington was far more concerned by a quick sweep of the French that would cut off British retreat from their LOC to the coast. The game allows you to pick out one of the Four Possible Routes Brussels. The routes to the East allow the French to use some terrain to mask flanks and add to the protection of the LOC. Unfortunately, it also allows the same to the opposing side. The routes to the North, though, provide maximum freedom of maneuver in more open ground and the approach to Wellilngton's LOC. OTOH, such routes also allow greater freedom to Coalition forces to attack flanks and threaten French LOCs. There are some other factors involved in the decision-making (Lille, Prussian Pack Supply), but one of the things you want to do as the French is attempt to surprise the Coalition while they remain with limited mobility and reaction.
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