Saturday, June 18, 2011
Napoleon's Triumph is rated 9th in the wargames category on BoardGameGeek, and 71st overall. Clearly one of the best wargames I hadn't really played much. Others that are highly ranked but played once or not at all include War of the Ring, Friedrich, Maria, and the Great Battles of History series. I'm currently in the midst of a Europe Engulfed game with Andy from GBG, so that's putting that one to rest finally.
I finally got to play Napoleon's Triumph today at the meeting of SNEW - the Southern New England Wargamers. My opponent, Scott, was willing to be patience with my newness to the game. 85% of the rules to this game are understandable, sensible, and easy to remember. Your forces are blocks that can be infantry, cavalry, or artillery, from 1 to 3 strength. They can be in the center of an area, or blocking one of the edges of the area. They can be grouped with a commander to form a corp. There are four different kinds of commands you can give them: a whole corp moving together, one or more units detaching from a corps and moving, attaching a unit to a corp, and a unit not in a corp can move. You are limited in the number and kinds of commands you can give, and it's all quite elegant.
The victory conditions are pretty interesting and force the narrative in an excellent way. The Austrian/Russian coalition is on the attack and pushing for victory areas. If they are getting there, the French player can add two more corps to the board, and the victory conditions now change to the French having to get victory areas on the other side of the board. It gives both players a chance to be the attacker, and adds tough decisions for both players.
Where the game loses me a little bit is the combat system. For starters, it's very particular and I can easily see misplaying the rules. Since I don't get to play any specific game often enough, it's really hard to imagine ever really learning the combat rules well - they are hard to keep in your head because of all of the details. Maybe it's just the way the rules are written. It describe the combat procedure step by step, and all of the exceptions are listed as they occur in the sequence. I would almost prefer to see the general procedure, and then all the exceptions for artillery listed afterwards, etc. The bigger difficulty for me is the learning curve to understanding the play ramifications of the combat system. This is a huge factor in playing the game well - knowing how the various types of units should be used, where on the map they would be most effective (both in terms of the terrain penalties and in terms of the width of the borders which can fit one or two attackers), and how the combat system plays out in general really seems quite obtuse and tricky. I wonder how long it would take me to really be able to play this game well - there's something about it I think is hard for the way I think.
I was the French player in this game, and Scott moved towards me slowly, using feints to slowly spread me out but not really pushing to hurt me too badly. He left one side of the board completely unengaged, and just whittled me away until about two thirds through the game, when he started to really pound harder. By doing this, he gave me too few time to counterattack, so I'd have to win by morale, but he pushed my morale down to 0 easily. A pretty fun game, but I was hoping for more somehow. I just felt like the combat system is too much work for too little benefit, but maybe that would change with repeated plays. I generally like combat resolution to be fast and furious, which I guess this system might be once your know it well. If I played the French again, I might try loading up a few strong units and attacking while being attacked elsewhere.