Review: Wars of Napoleon18 Mar 2016 0
Review: Wars of Napoleon
Released 03 Dec 2015
Observers of computer war gaming may ask why AGEOD has come out with another Napoleonic game after 2013's Napoleon's Campaigns. After all, Wars of Napoleon and the older game share virtually the same graphics, interface, mechanics and period. One major difference does exist: the meat of Wars of Napoleon is grand strategic, not operational. Did AGEOD do more than string the old scenarios together like Frankenstein’s monster?
O’er the Hills and Far Away
On an operational level, the graphics of the two games are the same. The map is divided into many named regions in Europe and the quasi-3D terrain, cities, mountains, rivers, et. al. – are clear and attractive. Sea regions are simply named blue regions. The landscape changes with the weather and season. Various filters show supply, control and other information. What is different in Wars of Napoleon is the breadth in the areas of activity in the campaigns. The main map stretches from the waters off Spain to the central steppes and from the Orkneys to North Africa. More than that, each edge of the screen has boxes for off-map areas. To the West lie South America and the West Indies; to the North is North America, Swedish Norrland and Archangel. The East has Siberia, the Urals, Azerbaijan and Persia while the South has the Canaries, West Africa, South Africa, Madagascar, Northern India, Western India, Southern India, Ceylon, East India and the Philippines. Some sea regions have gold circles representing trade route hubs. Obviously, the newer game has a much larger scope than its continentally-centered predecessor.
Unit graphics are the usual AGEOD features. Units outside a chain of command have an icon of the dominant unit type with little hard-to-read colored dashes at the base denoting unit strength and other friendly units in the province. Commanded units are shown with a portrait of the commander. Clicking on a stack brings up an info bar at the bottom showing commanders and the stack’s constituent units, be they army corps, division or unorganized forces of regiments and companies. Clicking on a regiment brings up a window with a detailed picture of the unit type and ratings for factors such as strength, morale, experience, training and weapons. Commanders have stars for rank and possibly one or more icons represent some of the multitude of different special abilities and personality traits. The info bar has a tab for each force in the province and information for each dealing with six factors such as ammunition, morale, supply and activation status. Ships and fleets are similar. Helpful in giving commands are small boxes on the screen’s left edge showing army commanders; clicking on the sends the view directly to that army.
Movement is shown with a blue trace with the number of days to the destination shown. Parent headquarters and affiliated corps flash when selected. Battles are displayed via a large moving wheel followed by a chart showing losses. Another chart shows the round-by-round results. An option that slows down this action allows players to view losses and arriving reinforcements. Another option with large battles allows players to choose deployments and tactics. Of course, the ubiquitous mini-map is present for fast movement around Europe.
Nice graphic touches are the drawings on the new regional decision cards as well as diplomatic and domestic action options. They reflect period events quite well. Sounds include marching and galloping. Battles have gunfire, shouted orders, cries and bugles. The most useful sound effect is a short bugle blast indicating the formation of a corps, division or army.
The interface is a simple click-and-drag affair both on the maps and between tabs on the info bar. The tabs are the quickest way to move units into divisions, corps or armies. These formations are the crucial elements of the game. Each regiment requires a certain number of command points. If a force does not receive enough points in aggregate from officers in the province, it suffers an effectiveness (out of command) penalty. One way to reduce this penalty is to move units away but this method just disperses mass. A better way is to find a one-star general, promote him and create a division by combining units under him. The penalty will be reduced but few generals have the command rating to create a viable division with no effectiveness penalty. Therefore, an army commander or a three-star general with a headquarters unit should be found to create an army, move a two star general to a province with divisions, make him a corps commander. Then the command rating trickling down from army and corps levels should solve the effectiveness problem. The command ratings of army and corps commanders can vary and the ability of three-star commanders to order corps is dependent on their communication (activation) range. The ability to form up into corps and into centrally controlled armies give the French a decisive advantage until Allied military reforms allow France’s foes to do the same.
With a force selected, two columns of eight buttons each appear on the info bar and allow special orders to be issued. The “tent” tab has orders pertaining to tasks such as forced marches, coordinating moves and building depots while the “sword” tab allows units to be combined, separated and making officers with enough rank division, corps and division commanders. Another row of buttons set for postures ranging from very aggressive to absolutely “shy”. A corresponding row sets how the force will act under each posture. Small tags on the map icons show which orders and postures units have. Ledgers show available forces, replacements, options, victory objectives and scenario background. The most useful of these is available forces which can be filtered by unit type and sorted by factors such as name. Double clicking from the ledger takes players to the unit on the map. Other ledgers deal with diplomatic affairs, domestic reforms and military reforms.
Other on-screen buttons let players go directly to diplomacy, build new units and use regional decision cards. These cards were first seen in AGEOD’s excellent Thirty Years War game. These 27 cards – Britain gets an extra for “Smuggling” – cover the range of possibilities from domestic surveillance to tactical decisions to recruitment. As with building new units, dragging a card to a highlighted region plays it at a cost in gold, loyalty and sometimes in victory points. A timely played card can hurry a siege, quell a rebellion or improve a province. Decisions add a new diminution in play.
Formez vos Bataillons!
The three short scenarios – Waterloo, Jena, and Austerlitz – last from seven to nineteen turns and don’t use any of the new features. Napoleon smashes the Allies’ will quickly. The great accomplishments of the new game are the campaigns. The two historical campaigns start in January 1805 and August 1805 respectively and go to December 1815, around 500 week-long turns each. Although each historical scenario has the possibility of an invasion of England, a “What If” campaign has Bonaparte already in Hastings in July 1805 and must keep fighting until 1815 unless the enemy’s will is broken. Players will most likely start with the major powers: France, Britain, Austrian and Russia but enjoyable options include Spain, Turkey and Prussia. These powers switch sides if scripted historical events aren’t avoided. In fact, France’s strategy should be ahistorical: maintaining the Continental System but with a light touch; honoring treaties, reacting militarily only to real threats and avoiding unnecessary adventures. This strategy demands using diplomacy and regional decision cards to the utmost. France’s enemies just have to keep things together until military reforms allow the creation of effective armies.
Wars of Napoleon does have some frustrating issues. Bugs and crashes are still popping up and Coalition players have no real control over their partners, leading to disjointed action. Yet, the lack of coordination was a hallmark of Coalition campaigns. This game succeeds in providing the intricacies and tools of the era. Napoleon would have loved it.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he deals with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online. He is adjunct faculty at Cardinal Stritch University.