My New Years boardgame treat to myself for 2012 was a game from Simmons Games called Napoleon's Triumph. This is a game that covers the battle of Austerlitz at the grand strategic level and uses a very unusual mechanic for combat - there are no dice or cards. In fact, there is nothing in this game that is random! Coming from a traditional tabletop wargame background this provides a pretty noel experience, but one that I found to be very stimulating. I won't go into great detail about the game as there are some very god reviews available on BoardGameGeek that I will link to, but I will cover the basics.
First off, the production values of the game are outstanding for a small independent publisher. The board is huge, measuring a whopping 44"x32". It comes in two sections and once laid out, you're presented with a sumptuous representation of the battlefield. It really does evoke the feeling of looking at a real battle map straight from the 19th Century. You then get to deploy your units onto the map and these just ratchet the aesthetic appeal up another couple of notches. The pieces are wooden, rectangular blocks; red for the allies, blue for the French. Not having counters or square blocks really makes the game look like representations of battles you might read in books. All in, this is one good looking game!
The rules are very well written and there are almost no ambiguities. They are also laid out well with plenty of illustrations to reinforce the text. You also get two copies in the box, which is a nice touch! This is a game where the rules don't teach you how to play, though. Each and every point and clause makes perfect sense when you read them, but it's only when you play the game that you start to appreciate how they affect the ongoing strategic situation and what your limitations are. It can seem a little overwhelming at first, but after a couple of turns you'll probably find yourself coping with the mechanics, but expect to play a couple of games before you'll have it all in your head.
The game is played in alternate turns with the Allies going first. Pieces are initially organised into corps and this is the only way to move multiple pieces. Each army has a limited number of independent commands (the French have 4 to the Allies 3) and, crucially, the French can move all of their 8 corps compared to the Allies who can only move 5 of their 9. There are no distinctions in quality of the pieces except that the final decider in ties is that the French win and I find this quite refreshing! The Austro-Russian army is not penalized on the ability of it's soldiers (as with plenty of tabletop rules), rather it is on the ability to command and control them.
The map is also quite interesting, as it is divided into locales and each piece can only move from one to the next, except by road. The position in the locale is important too. The lines that divide the locales are called 'approaches' and your pieces can block them, making the much more potent in defense. But beware! If you're in an approach and caught in the flank then you will be forced to retreat and suffer losses! The terrain type is also represented by penalties for certain troop types operating across them, which makes the map more than just the playing surface. It's an integral part of the game. Here's a link to the game's website which amply illustrates locales and their role - locales.
Battlefield friction is very nicely modeled in the way that combat and cavalry screens can force units to be detached from their corp which leads to problems due to the limits on independent unit moves. The combat mechanism seems quite complicated at first, but it's actually very simple and you'll soon find that frontally attacking a powerful corps in well placed positions is futile. There are options to wear your opponent down and you can have titanic clashes between corps that last for (game) hours, but the most effective way of defeating your enemy is through maneuver and forcing him to fight on your terms.
Victory and simulation
So how is the game won? For a major victory you must simply demoralize your opponents army. There is a morale track on the board and each time a side loses a fight the track is reduced by the number of strength points lost. Believe me...this track can move at an almost frightening pace towards the end of the game! If time runs out (there is a time track which goes from 7am to 4pm) then victory is adjudicated on the control of victory locations. And it is on this point that I think Bowen Simmons, the designer, had a stroke of genius! Austerlitz is a difficult wargame subject as the Allied commander will naturally be unwilling to knowingly walk into a trap, especially as he holds the numerical advantage. Napoleon's Triumph deals with this by placing victory locations on each side of the map. For the Allies to win they simply must hold a French victory location at the end and not allow the French to hold any of theirs. So the Allies have to attack, simple as that! But! At the start of the game the French must keep Davout's and Bernadotte's corps off the board as reinforcements and they can bring them on at any point (well, Davout must wait a turn) to spring the trap on the Allies. In doing so, they reverse the victory conditions! Now the French must hold Allied victory locations and not allow the Allies to hold any French. Simply brilliant! And the timing of your reinforcements is absolutely critical. Too early and the Allies can consolidate on their start positions! Too late and the French may not have time to get over there! Here's some shots take from my last game at the start of each turn. You can get a sense of the French corps in the centre disintegrating as more and more individual blocks appear and the Allies advance and breakthrough!
I really, really like this game! I've only managed a couple of games, but I want to play again, which is the mark of a good game. So, if you're looking for a very good looking boardgame that will allow you to re-fight the entire battle of Austerlitz in 2 to 3 hours then you can't go far wrong, as long as you're comfortable with the lack of randomness and the fact that you can't blame that lousy roll for your defeat!
Here's a couple of links to some longer, more in-depth reviews:
BGG Review 1
BGG Review 2
- Black Smoke
- I'm a bit of a born-again wargamer! I played many of the Games Workshop games when I was in my teens and early twenties, but left the hobby behind when I went to University. Over the last few years I have gradually got back into it and am literally having a ball! I'll play pretty much anything now, ranging from ancient historical to the far future! I think that I get more out of the painting side of things than actually playing, but that might just be because I get more opportunity. Hence the title...this blog is all about the colour of war!!