Napoleon Against Europe

From BGG user with his gracious permission: (quique esparrago) .

Spanish speakers check the link at the end of this review.  Also check out the Unboxing video by Stuka Joe.

I’ve played several times at the Napoleon against Europe (NaE), a wargame that covers all of the Napoleonic Wars from high strategic level and which is based on Card Driven Game (CDG), is to say that cards are the main engine of the “things” you can do. From this historical period I’ve played enough The Napoleonic Wars (TNW) and Wellington (both CDG form GMT Games) which do not have good special memory mainly because the cards are faintly “historical” and its use does not generate tension of other CDG as Hannibal, Paths of Glory (PoG), and the more recent and nearby Crusade and Revolution (C & R). When I saw the box, map and some cards, I decided to buy it and recreate the old Napoleonic wargames like those that I played many years ago: Empires in Arms (EIA) and War and Peace (both Avalon Hill) but without having to spend months for playing and looking for a good number of players with so much dedication.

Napoleon against Europe (NaE) is a pure CDG wargame with a part simplified but very interesting naval warfare, diplomacy, economy and logistics and above all major land campaigns with movements of armies, battles, sieges, pursuit… This review will attempt to resolve the game mechanics and excellence and defects that my mind has, although I must admit that my experience in it is still limited.

The armies of the Coalition at the gates of France (great image, courtesy of Step Loss -chuft-)

The game starts in 1805 with the French Army in the English Channel and French fleets in their ports. Opposite is the omnipresent British Navy and continental European allies of England: Austria and in the distance the Armies of Russia.

The game turns are one year each (until 1815). That is 11 long turns of game. Each turn includes an initial phase and six impulses or rounds alternative for each player. Always starting with the French – although due to events it can be shortened to 5 or lengthened to 7 if there is a campaign of winter. In each round it is usually played one or more cards per side.

There are two independent decks of cards, one for the allies – which are called the Coalition– and another for the French Empire. Both decks of 55 cards each. Divided into two stages, a first called Epic and final called Punishments. There are two important markers such as Victory Points (VP) similar to those of PoG, and another called Escalate Level (ESC) which is similar to War Commitment Level or State of War in Paths of Glory and it does that when the Escalate Level is 15, the Punishments cards are incorporated into both decks.

Cards and counters (Image, courtesy of Step Loss -chuft-)

The game just before 1815 with a French victory if VP are 20 or more, and a Coalition victory if VP are 0 or less. If in 1815 an automatic victory has not occurred, this is determined by the control of key areas in France.

Now I will describe each of the components of the game:

(1)Cards (the game engine) have a value of 1, 2 or 3. They resemble to For the People (great GMT American Civil War Strategic wargame) more than PoG. In general, cards of first period improve to French Empire and the last period do with the Coalition, and allow to extend the “French agony” whether it has not got an automatic victory in the middle of the game. The number of cards given to each side is not fixed, ranging between a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 10. It depends on the number of key spaces, powers that have been attacked or conquered by France, and Events.

Card presentation and layout is unbeatable, the presentation and layout of the cards is excellent, with various aids for the event, PV, ESC, the yellow star if removed after its use, and a superbly chosen graphic scene … by putting a but to the layout, to say that in the Coalition cards the British flag dirty the value number of card because a number placed over the “Old Jack” reads really badly. With reference to events and the use of the cards, there are some excellent – and I mean by excellent – that you have doubts play it as an event or as points, or because they are some historical events that resolve situations that otherwise would not be good, and in other games of the period leading to absurd campaigns or situations. On the other hand, there are other events that are rather vulgar, stupid, or – worse – dull – already talk below over them. There are four permanent cards for major powers.

There are various types of event cards as in most excellent CDG: Combat (CC), Political or DiplomaticEconomicReactionReinforcementsOperational, some cards have double sense, for example political and reinforcement,… In general the Combat cards have less influence since they only go up or down one point in two dice roll. In other games as a C&R or PoG modifier is one in a single die.

Among the excellent cards are “the Trap of Bayonne” and “Dos de mayo”, both simulate extraordinarily well the imbecility of Spanish rulers and the angry reaction of the nation that followed. Another card very well-achieved is “Tilsit” which makes it possible to make peace with Russia without having to defeat her, and establishes the Continental blockade. On the opposite side there are some cards – there are not many – with a text so complex and subject to interpretations that rather difficult the first play games. In some cases it is convenient that players agree -before the game begins- a precise interpretation that would prevent further controversies. There are others with a text or conditions so difficult to reach that they almost never play as events. Other important cards avoid historical reality, as it is the case with “Guerrillas”, or “Cossacks” that in the game have almost no effect on French moral or attrition. Another similar situation occurs with the permanent French card “The genius of Napoleon” which allows in a single impulse you to move the French army from Poland to Moscow, or from Bayonne to Cadiz without suffering attrition and almost always destroying any army which oppose you. This movement took place in Central Europe but nor Russia neither Spain was able to do it. In short, there are well- well-intentioned cards but that its effect is not right. The use of many cards in this game, creaking, or these cards will always be used for points and never for event.

Peninsular War, Spanish and French against British. improbable view for unhistorical (image, courtesy of Step Loss -chuft-)

A remarkable fact is that French leaders have a very low activation factor and you can move several of them with almost any card. However it is a “torture” moving armies of the Coalition as a result of higher expenditure points involved. On deck there are very few campaign cards – like those that exist in Hannibal or FtP – and allowing to move several generals coup, but here at NaE as they are sometimes very few missing agility in the game. On deck there are very few campaign cards. These allow you to move several generals, but strange here, lacking sometimes the agility of the game.

The tension over how to play the cards is almost always little ” distressing ” in NaE. You simply resigned to see if you draw the next time and rely on the situation to do that you can use it (that feeling I’ve also felt it in TNW and Wellington). Neither was I felt the need to handle my cards and decide when to play a specific card. It has never occurred to me to save a card from turn to turn as you do with Kemal in PoG, or when C&R does not get a reinforcement card and and you have to make extraordinary efforts in order to stay. I say whenever a CDG to be successful implies that the cards must have “soul” and here in many of them the soul has never been present. However in other cards, the event is “superb “. In conclusion, it is a shame not the polished more in play testing of game.

(2) The map has initially a superb design with areas that reminds me of the monumental map of EIA. Moreover, it is made with hard cardboard with an excellent presence. In a corner are track levels markers for VP, Escalade, turn, and impulse within each turn. There are also boxes for each army where the army corps, leaders, depots and special units are located. All major powers unless Spain have one, except for France which has two armies. One of them is called Le Grand Armée.

The areas of the map are in different colors to indicate whether there are mountains, swamps, poor areas, forts, rivers, key areas… There are also sea areas, ports and maritime blockade box associated with each port. All names are in French, and the design areas allow you to play the main campaigns fairly “historical”. On the negative side -one constant in this game that mixes enormous successes with beginner blunders- I emphasized that colors of different areas are visually unattractive. Some areas and army boxes are small and sometimes not all pieces and markers fit well in them. The classification between poor areas – where there are more attrition- is little subtle, for example all Spain is poor, and also throughout Russia. I don’t know, I think that there are very fertile areas in Russia or Ukraine. Or nearest to us, I do not understand that Perpignan (in France) is a garden and Gerona (the border area in Spain) is an area similar to desert of Egypt.

(3) the rulebook at first sight seems to be very well, numbered rules, the letter is nice and large, with full-color examples, with blue letter, and exceptions in red color. Then when you start to read it in depth, there are multiple defects that will make more than many leaving the game for good. The English version is also quite badly translated from the original French, and partly resolved in exquisite Spanish translation. For me it is without a doubt the least successful part of the game. The guilty must be NaE developer, a Frenchman called Christophe Gentil-Perret, I put here for public humiliation – to improve their work! -, and although it must be hard for a Frenchman, so that it looks like David Gomez Relloso has done in C&R. In my opinion, most of the defects are for not not having made a good play testing, and also for not having given to read to someone other than the developers of game – you knew it was and could play although it was poorly explained in the text-. Among the principal defects: disorder and dispersion of rules, aggravated by the lack of a detailed index of concepts; and also that some “clarification of the rules” examples contain errors desperate to beginner.

The heart of game are the land campaigns (England get soon the absolute control of the seas), here again I must point out that the chapter of the movement of armies and army Corps has a sometimes unnecessary complexity. When you know the game you realize has which is more simple than it seemed at the beginning and that part of the text was superfluous, and some complex rules are not practically never used. Another important point is the sieges, here the rules allow that for example, Cadiz, Konigsberg or Lisbon are payable in an impulse or at most two; and where the historical reality shows us that lasted several turns (not impulses) and even some were never occupied.

Overwhelming British superiority over Cadiz (detailed image, courtesy of Step Loss -chuft-)

As good Napoleonic wargame, the battles are the essence of the game. Their resolution involves many modifiers, some of them well founded as superiority of cavalry, quality, terrain, demoralization or unsupplied, others are excessive as the leader’s tactical factor (shamelessly favors French player). Another point that is not well solved is that numerical superiority has virtually no relevance, for example does not affect anything that a French army of only 95,000 men fights against an Allied army of 180,000 men – something clearly very far from reality. It is not contemplated that entrenchments and redoubts were built ahead of battle, such as Russians at Borodino the British in Torres Vedras. Similarly tactical choice of each side is not taken into account, something that could have been done as in EIA or W&P to cite two Napoleonic wargames where it is very well thought.

The interphase is done before six impulses each player, it begins by declaration of warsassignment of cards, which is unnecessarily complicated, a fact that contrasts with the well resolved economic phase. Another important point of the interphase is the diplomacy that is excessively complex, explained in several unconnected parts of rules – even sometimes in scenarios- and with numerous exceptions. Once played few games you realize the absurd intricacies of text. What I said at the beginning one better and more elaborate writing rules would greatly facilitate learning and would decrease the rejection to this game. I say this because it is a shame that a game with many successes: basic movement, army Corps system, Naval affairs, moral, supply, way to the major powers to enter and leave the Coalition, contains beginner mistakes.

The scenarios, there are actually two, and one “limited” of Waterloo campaign, all placed in the rulebook. The first serious scenario is the Great Campaign which began in 1805 (Trafalgar, Ulm and Austerlitz), and the second scenario is initiated in 1809 which began with Aspern-Essling and Wagram. No optional ruleshistorical explanation of cardsreview about the wars and age of Napoleon, even a briefbibliography. In comparison to other wargames such as the already mentioned C&R, Virgin Queen and Here I Stand (GMT games the last two) is bleak. It’s a shame there are no partial scenarios to recreate only the Peninsular War, the 1812 Russian Campaign, or the War of Liberation on Germany in 1813. Similarly, there should be complete scenarios that be initiated in 1812 and 1813.

(4) The are two types of counters, the smaller ones are special units – guard cavalry, KGL- and markers (siege, demoralization, political control, turn, VP,… And the larger pieces are Army Corps units – two steps as in PoG- which are the basis of game, as well as supply depots, leaders and fleets. I want to outline as a slight defect Army markers are also of this size, and you sometimes leads to confusion because “you lose them” on the map between such pieces of the same size. However, the counters are wonderful and very well pressed although with excessive information for its relatively small size that includes combat power, moral, movement range, name, cavalry bonus, replaceable, elite, limited movement, entry event,… There are seven major powers, France, England, Russia, Austria, Prussia, Spain and Turkey and a host of minors powers.

(5) The Player Aid Charts are nicely printed (although for me are too lengthy), the most important tables are Terrain EffectsCombatAttrition, and Assignment Cards. At first, some tables use is complicated, and the Table Assignment Cards cause occasional discussion, and sometimes forget receiving one card corresponding you.

(6) The French Empire, who is leading the initiative, has more pieces than any other nation, mostly more combat capability, better movement and much more moral than the rest of the powers, also has many fleets, with remarkable ability combat- even of Villeneuve the inept of Trafalgar. It also has a large number of leaders, much easier to activate (with low value cards) and with better combat modifiers than the rest of powers, and where Napoleon is a crack. I believe that it is too easy to activate of its different generals, not feeling the lack of cards almost never to move. This is ok in the first innings to “recreate” the great campaigns of Austerlitz and Jena, but gives me the feeling of excessive ease for the rest of the game. In fact I think that in these circumstances the war in Spain is relatively “easy win” for the French player. Similarly I think that battle modifiers greatly favors the French player leaving the Allied player having to entrust the fate not witness the elimination of their armies one after another.

(7) The Coalition, largely going to tow than do the French, has an immense British fleet (and with tremendous naval combat modifiers), a tiny British Army, and various Allied Nations: Austria and Prussia (which go in and out as they are defeated and turns to activate after a period of enforced peace to Coalition), Russia a more powerful and hard to conquer, and Spain coming after “Dos de mayo” card. I have said it before but I say again, the armies of the Coalition will suffer a terrible lack of mobility by the high cost of activation of the leaders. Only when Blucher and Wellington are coming to the situation improved somewhat. Between the Coalition armies the most powerful and numerous is Russian Army, but begins and is reinforced in Russia. The smallest is the Prussian (until it joins the Coalition, Spain, which is between major powers, the weaker in number and quality of units). The Austrian army has an average level, but has few generals who have something positive. However, Austria resilience is remarkable, especially if there are British subsidies.

Paramount view of the struggle. Note that in the box of French Army can not fit all counters (another excelent image, courtesy of Step Loss -chuft-)

As a conclusion, it is quite a difficult game to learn, with many unnecessary rules loopholes. But generally quite realistic with history – except for some points discussed in the review-, and numerous game options – many more than PoG or C&R. It is not a fast wargame, since each turn you require between 45 minutes and an hour (in part by interpretations of rules and by the difficulty of search in rulebook). It is a game that is very entertaining. It is a pity that it has failures. From here, I hope someone will make some optional rules that improve the defects found, or that a revised edition of the rulebook is made-simplifying and improving it-. My evaluation is a 6.5 out of 10. I put this average because of the age – which is for me very interesting-, because the game has many successes and a very good presentation. However, it is necessary to punish the game for what it could be and has not been, and I mean that it has become the ultimate game of grand strategy of the Napoleonic wars, something with a little more effort, enthusiasm, dedication, and collaboration could be achieved.

Badajoz, March 2014

Quique Espárrago

Spanish review in http://labsk.net/index.php?topic=129648.0 

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