On #TBT, we bring you the occasional classic article – an older review or analysis piece we wanted to rescue
Michael Eckenfels, 1 November 2018
“Even when I am gone, I shall remain in people’s minds the star of their rights, my name will be the war cry of their efforts, the motto of their hopes.”
What Napoleon Bonaparte said here wasn’t just idle arrogance; his words were truth. Napoleon brought to history a truly glorious time of war (if war may indeed be labeled as such), for he awoke a brutally strong sense of nationalism deep within the bodies of his fellow countrymen, which was enough to bring to France’s doorstep a good portion of the known world for a time.
Napoleon wasn’t just a man of military ability; he knew a basic and powerful version of psychology, something that only can be born in the depths of one’s soul and not learned from a textbook. It endeared him to his men and made them fight like demons. Combined with the brilliant plans and maneuverings of their leader made for a fierce, unstoppable machine – for a time.
Napoleonic Gaming Without A Law Degree
I grew up thinking Napoleonic gaming required something to the left of a Harvard Law School degree and a little to the right of insanity. After all, games like Avalon Hill’s The Struggle of Nations: Napoleon’s Campaigns in Lower Saxony 1813 (with its eight-millimeter wide hexagons) aren’t exactly for novice gamers or the faint of mind (or patience). Few games on the market actually are good entry-level or even for the time-constrained (although Columbia’s Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign comes to mind as one example of easy to play Napoleonics). If you’re in the mood for a good Napoleonic era game without adding all the head-scratching rules that take forever to read, you’re in luck.
Napoleon in Europe is the latest board game from Eagle Games and takes a mighty sum of clean gameplay, attractive graphics, good playing pieces, and douses it all with their now-familiar and effective three-tiered rules system that lets a gamer decide how much of a game they want to play, deciding what rules they want to include, and how many turns to take. The freedom of choice, as Devo once said, “is what you want”, even if you don’t know it yet. Once you’ve been able to try such a system out, you’ll be hooked.
Victory is simple, but variable based on the rules set. In the Basic rules, you can choose either a “Total Victory” (where the last nation standing wins), or a “Limited War” (with a limited number of turns allowed, usually 12 to 24). Entering into the Standard rules, however, makes things a bit trickier – but in a good way. Here, you can choose a “Historical” victory, which pits the Anti-French Alliance versus the French Alliance. The real fun comes in an “A-Historical” victory game, where victory is measured by levels, ranging from Total (owning more regions than the next two largest nations combined) to Extinction (losing all of your homeland regions).
Old Time Rock And Roll
Napoleon in Europe is presented on a huge mapboard, created by Paul Niemeyer, and while the detail is obviously painstakingly done, it’s just a little too brown for my tastes. At first glance, it’s difficult to note where land stops and the seas begin, although there is a lighter yellowish-brown color used along the coastlines, and is thick enough to be distinguishable. Major nations are bordered by their national color, although personally I think it may have looked a little better with more of a tint of that national color throughout the Home Regions, instead of just throughout the border; I don’t mean a throwback to Axis and Allies , where owned territories are one solid color, but perhaps the contouring could have been accented a little more with the national color of the owning country. A piddling little gripe, to be sure, because the rest of the map is vibrant; along the edges is a portrait of a soldier from each Major Nation in the game (Britain, France, Spain, the Austrian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Prussia), separated by a wood-carving-like accent.
The pieces are done well, improving on the American Civil War design especially in artillery (the wheels really do roll better). Filling out the roster here are the basic Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Leader pieces, but as you advance in the rules you’ll be treated to Elite Infantry, Militia, Irregular Cavalry, and Heavy Cavalry in the Standard rules, whereas Light Infantry and Horse Artillery appear in the Advanced rules. Even though the game comes with 564pieces, portraying all of these extra specialist troops in plastic miniatures would have increased the cost of the game astronomically and added a couple of hours worth of punching-out-pieces time. Instead, small coin like counters for these specialist units are placed underneath a unit (such as ‘Light Infantry’ markers going under a regular infantry unit) as appropriate. Naval squadrons also make an appearance on these same counters, although no land units will ever be placed on top of them (more on naval units and transports a little later).
Eagle Games has listened to players’ feedback regarding their American Civil War title, because also included within this game is a Battle Board, divided up to take on Major Battles (where each side has at least six pieces involved), although it can easily be used for Skirmishes (where at least one side has less than six pieces) – simply ignore the areas and treat it as one long line (instead of three spaces). The system runs well enough with the smaller battles, but the true excitement comes from the larger battles, where strategy is required in a couple of extra dimensions.
A Marshal’s Baton In Your Knapsack
The destiny of nations unfolds on the battlefield before the players, as they deploy their troops to the Battle Board with a dividing screen between them. In the Basic Game, regardless of number of pieces per side, you can either set up your troops in the Front Rank or the Rear Rank. All units can fire from the Front Rank, but only Artillery can fire from the Rear Rank (at reduced efficiency – although an Artillery unit in the front rank can’t fire on the enemy’s rear). A leader’s role is defined by his position in the battle; in the Front Rank, they help aid firing units; in the Rear Rank, they can attempt to rally units that have been eliminated (those that aren’t rallied are lost at the end of the battle).
Battles are brought up a notch when you step into the Standard Game. The battles are fought over a much larger area, with each side having (from front to back) a Battle Line, Reserve Area, and Retreat Area. In between each side lies the Middle Area, into which units of either side may advance. For Skirmishes, this is the set up; for Major Battles, each side’s Battle Area and Middle Area are subdivided into three areas: Left, Middle, and Right. The goal of the Skirmish (are you taking about the Skirmish line or using Skirmish to mean Engagement/Battle) is to force your opponent to retreat or eliminate them; in the Major Battle, you need to clear at least one of the enemy’s own Battle Areas (any of the three will do). Break the enemy at any one point along their line and victory is yours. Further, the Reserve Area allows you to commit troops to any of your three Battle Areas, and the Retreat Area serves as a collecting point for troops who are lost in battle but not outright eliminated (a die roll determines their fate when they’re hit).
Die rolling is different from the Basic to the Standard Rules. Interestingly, in the Basic Rules, a certain number of dice are rolled for each unit in the battle (1 for Infantry, 3 for Cavalry, 3 for Leaders, and 4 for Artillery; 2 if the artillery is in their Rear Rank). A hit is scored on a roll of 6, which may be difficult but with a decent sized army of artillery protected by infantry, you can clean up pretty well (think Axis & Allies with 10 Heavy Bombers on the attack). In the Standard Rules, two dice are rolled per unit with a target number that varies depending on the unit firing and the target. Units can further alter themselves to affect combat (such as Cavalry ‘charging,’ or Infantry ‘forming a square’).
Cavalry becomes important in Pursuit phases – at least to the side that is retreating. When one side has decided it’s eaten enough lead for one day, it can choose to retreat. The victorious player’s Infantry and Cavalry then each get one last shot in. If the retreating player has Cavalry, only enemy Cavalry may take up the parting blows. Skillful manipulation of your Reserve Area to maintain Cavalry, placement of Infantry and Artillery to hold sections of your line or mass an attack, and key locations of Leaders all contribute to a battle strategy that, as usually did historically, never survives first contact with the enemy. Seat of your pants maneuvering as the battle develops adds gritty tension to the experience, making it ultimately more satisfying than simply rolling dice and trading shots.
Naval rules are somewhat generalized, with ‘squadron’ counters representing your nation’s warships (and British ships, as expected, get a bonus while Ottoman ships get a penalty). A player’s squadrons can be intercepted by other squadrons in the same space; reluctant participants still have a chance of battle being forced on them. Moving troops by sea is easy; they are assumed to have their own inherent transport capacity, but there must be an equal or greater number of naval squadrons (than military units moving amphibiously) that are adjacent to the land area that is to be assaulted.
What would a game simulating the Napoleonic Era be without a little skullduggery…ahem, I mean,”political maneuvering”? In the Standard rules, each player receives Political Action Points (PAPs) that can be used to manipulate alliances, annex conquered lands, cause uprisings in other’s lands, or any of another half dozen or so options. These valuable points are gained at the rate of one per turn, with additional points coming for winning Major Battles or winning a war against an opponent.
Commitment Ratings also make an appearance here, which gives your warrior-king alter egos something more to worry about. If your nation loses a battle and loses more than six units in that battle, or if their capital region is occupied, they get to make a two-die roll against their Rating. As can be imagined, some nations have higher Ratings than others, with France and Britain being among the best, and Austria and Spain being among the lowest. If the roll is higher than their Commitment Rating, the nation immediately loses their war and has to ‘Sue For Peace,’ which essentially is complete and utter surrender.
Turning your opponents into vassal states aside, victory comes in many interesting stages. In the Basic Game, it’s pretty much a free-for-all among the three presented scenarios, but with the addition of the diplomatic PAPs in the Standard rules, you’re in for a great deal of wheeling, dealing, promises (empty, broken and fulfilled) none the like of which has been known since the great game of Avalon Hill’s Diplomacy .
Your nation’s production coffers are only spent once every three months, making any player plan ahead and foresee potential hazards. Production is simple, with each country gaining points based on the number of annexed regions they control and on whether or not they control their capital region. Unfortunately, the poor Turks, masters of microeconomic mismanagement at the time, have half the production from their lands (occupied and otherwise) as any other nation. Also, some capital regions are worth more depending on the nation. It seems that most economic facets were considered, even if in generalized terms.
Advanced Pillaging and Plundering
Still hungry for more? The Advanced Rules can add a few additional frameworks to your game, adding a little more time but also reaping more reward. Cards, which are not used in the Standard rules, can be played in order to take advantage of the events (‘Effects,’ which are basically random events, and ‘Innovations,’ which are technological advances that can be bought and used thereafter) labeled on them (in the Basic Game, only the military unit portrayed and the color/letter combinations are used, while the events are ignored). Such things as a Royal Marriage (giving you two PAPs), or the U.S. declaring war on the British (which lowers their production income as they commit resources to fighting those pesky ex-breakaway colonies) add a great deal of color to any game.
Other rules cover things like attrition in Russia and Spain, Forced Marches, and Minor Navies round out a good structure of rules that can be tailor-made for any player’s tastes. These rules are meant for players who have been around the board a few times and shouldn’t be attempted until ready to deal with the extra work…which will prove worth it.
Le Grande Documentation
I should warn you that I did have a hand in the creation of this document, but only from a technical standpoint, helping with the structure and grammar therein. However, I was by far not the only one, with the input of many good people going into the production of it. With that being said, the book flows nicely, has terrific artwork (by the impressive Keith Rocco) throughout, and, as always, a nicely detailed and clearly labeled step-by-step example of the battle system, both in the Basic and Standard rules.
There are ten scenarios at the back of the book (for playing the Standard rules, and with any of the Advanced rules as well if desired), covering the Napoleonic Era from 1796 to 1815, with an additional ‘what-if’ 1820 scenario added in for luck. Each scenario has an accompanying map with unit placements and ground occupied (if any) clearly defined. Set ups are detailed neatly and leave little to confusion, making for faster set-up times and less arguments among players.
Expanding Your Game Library
Eagle Games has a line of miniatures, which are billed either as additions to their games (as of this writing, only The American Civil War and Age of Imperialism are available, although there is a third product entitled Horses ). There is no doubt, given their natural desire to keep up interest in their titles, that there will be expansion packs based on this board game as well.
Also, keep an eye on Eagle Games’ “Resources” page where you can find interesting add-ons, downloads and other gems that may add a further slice of interest to a gamer’s experience. At the time of this writing, there are no such products available for Napoleon in Europe , although given the interest that this title has generated among the faithful fans of Glenn Drover’s games, their non-inclusion would be a shame.
The Little Corporal Comes To Your Home
I believe that, even in those who freely admit no interest in this genre, that there is a nugget of Napoleonic curiosity. After all, the military of the era were a basic blend of three solid arms: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. Other services (albeit not less important, such as engineers and quartermaster corps) played a smaller role in the grandeur of smartly marching solid columns of men and glittering bayonets, cannons stood wheel to wheel echoing deep-throated howls of doom at the enemy, and thunderous cavalry charges that bring smiles of envy to the Four Horsemen. From the time of Napoleon on through the Civil War, there is a certain pageantry and aura about this era, which was removed in large part due to mankind’s unerringly accurate advancement of technology which, when tactics did not keep in step with it, resulted in horrible slaughter.
As the game is not really centered on Napoleon (the British player, or any other for that matter, could become the aggressor seeking to unify Europe under their banner), the flexibility of being able to change the complexity of any scenario makes for a much more enjoyable game. After all, the more the merrier as they say, and not limiting certain nations to certain roles (such as France vs. Everybody, although that is one of the many scenarios included within the game) brings more options to the gaming table.
Additional Napoleonic Experiences
Napoleon by Frank McLynn (ISBN: 1559706317)