Thursday, July 29, 2010

Napoleon's War: The 100 Days review

2010 looks to be a big year for Ol' Nappy, with no fewer than three battle-oriented figure based games planned for release. Each is planned as the first in a new game series.

First out of the gate, by about a month, was Worthington Games' Napoleon's War: The 100 Days.

Based on WG's popular Hold the Line game, which in turn was based on WG's earlier Wars for America series games, Napoleon's War is a quick-playing, beer and pretzels war game, with a decided emphasis on the game portion. These are not detailed studies or simulations. That said, they also pay more than passing reference to the history behind the scenarios and are definitely wargames, not just war-themed games.

Napoleon's War is a further evolution of the well-tried HTL system, with some changes to account for the differences between the North American theater and European warfare. For one thing, there's a difference in scale. In some Napoleon's War scenarios a single 3-figure unit will represent more troops than an entire Hold the Line scenario represents on both sides. In North American warfare artillery and cavalry units were scarce and played secondary roles on the battlefield. In Napoleon;s War both horse and guns are more common and more powerful.

The basic structure of the game is intact, however. Players act through allocating "activations" to units. Generally one command action point (CAP) will allow a unit to move or fire. Spending a second CAP will allow infantry units to move an additional time and allow infantry and cavalry to conduct close combat. The number of CAP a side has will be 4 plus half the sum of a die roll, so 5-7. Losing leaders can reduce this amount.

Casualties are reflected by removing figures. The typical infantry unit has 3 figures and can therefor take 3 hits. British units have 4, while the Dutch have just 2. Some French Elite units have a counter that adds +2 "virtual" figures to a unit for the purposes of morale and absorbing hits. Artillery units have 2 figures, as do Cavalry units, although there are some "heavy" cavalry units that get +1 or +2 counters that again add virtual steps for morale and casualty purposes.

Losses don't directly affect firepower, which is usually 3 dice per shot, reduced for terrain effects. This is a significant change from HTL, where terrain reduce the effect of each die roll. Now terrain effects the number of dice rolled. The end result is that terrain is less protective in NW. Often in HTL a unit couldn't fire at all at a target in woods at long range, but in NW there's still a chance for a hit.

What casualties do is reduce morale. Most morale checks require rolling against the number of figures in a unit, so hits will reduce a unit's ability to do things like form square, rally losses or hold its ground in the face of a close combat.

Some optional rules add in flavor points such as skirmishers, British rifle troops, etc. There are also some additional optional rules for even more detailed treatment of skirmishers, so players can tailor the amount of detail to their liking. Even the most detailed version of the rules is not very complex by wargame standards, however, and they don't add much to the playing time.

That playing time is probably one of the best features of the game. Generally players can expect to finish any of the scenarios in about an hour or so, including setup. Gone are the terrain tiles that provide so much flexibility in HTL, at the cost of setup time. Instead there are four maps, each with all the terrain and set-up information already printed on them. Given the fact there are just three basic unit types and a handful of counters needed, it should take less than five minutes to get going. Turns will move quickly and even the longer scenarios should reach a decision in an hour, so you could probably play all four Waterloo battles in a single evening.

Of the four scenarios, the two British ones (Waterloo and Quatre Bras) are the best. Both appear to be tense battles that either side can win. Ligny is a straightforward slugfest between two very evenly matched armies, although one might want to allow a draw as a result in order to discourage the Prussian player from simply running out the clock by pulling back. The Wavre scenario's victory conditions make it impossible for the French to win. I would suggest giving the French 1 VP for every Prussian unit remaining on the map to encourage the Prussians to send Wellington adequate help. As it stands the Prussian can win by exiting a single unit and using the rest of their army to make sure the French don't exit any.

Napoleon's War may be competing for gamer dollars with the two other figure-based releases planed this year.

In the case of Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion, these are really complementary rather than competitive games. While both have figures, Battles of Napoleon is definitely a step up in complexity and playing time, while being a step down the chain of command. In Battles of Napoleon units generally represent battalions or regiments, while Napoleon's War units are brigades or divisions.

While it's not out yet, the general scope of Commands & Colors: Napoleonics is pretty clear and it's much more a direct competitor to Napoleon's War. (Yes, I know C&C:N will be using icon blocks instead of figures, but they are functionally the same). Both game systems appeal to the same gamer demographic but up until now they have not directly competed on topic. There are Commands & Colors games on almost everything except warfare in North America between 1759 and 1815. It will be interesting to see if the marked can an support both. Worthington Games came out first, but C&C:N has the more marketing muscle behind it.

So far I like Napoleon's War, but I have to admit the jury has to be out until C&C:N appears as to whether I'll keep up with the NW system.

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