Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Battles of Napoleon session report and first impressions

I've had my doubts whether any board game could capture the feel of Napoleonic miniatures wargaming, but I think the impressive Battles of Napoleon: The Eagle and the Lion from Nexus/Fantasy Flight Games has succeeded to a remarkable extent. It really does play like a miniatures game.

As suggested by the rule book, Game Store Tony and I played Scenario 4: Los Arapiles, which depicts an incident during the Battle of Salamanca. This statement illustrates one of the key facets of this game, it's not a whole-battle wargame like Worthington Games' Napoleon's War, but a tactical game with a focus similar to FFG's Tide of Iron World War II game -- the actual point of combat.

Units in Battles of Napoleon usually represent a battalion or so of infantry or a battery of guns, although in some cases they stretch the design up so a unit may represent a regiment. In Napoleon's War in contrast, an infantry unit usually represents a division, although the game may stretch the scale down so that a unit is a brigade.

So as befits a tactical game, Battles of Napoleon considers factors such as morale, formations, facing, command and orders, leadership, ammo supply and the other minutiae of tactical combat, albeit in a somewhat streamlined form compared to your typical miniatures Napoleonic wargame rules.

In this case I commanded the French 5th Division, portraying General de Division Maucone, who was depicted by the "C" level Commanding General card. This apparently represents a mediocre commander, as the supreme commanders provided in the game run from "A" to "C." Only the Duke of Wellington rates an "A" so the "B" level seems to represent better-than average commanders while the C level represents the run-of-the-mill ones. There's room in the system down the food chain so I wouldn't be surprised that some other armies that were notable for poor high leadership may see "D" or "E" level higher commanders. The British commander in this case, Lt. Gen. Leith, is a "B."

In this game, however, which features two of the best Napoleonic armies (French and British), the "D" level starts the series of UGC's or unit commanders, with D being the best and running progressively down the list to J. In addition there are three replacement commanders numbered 1 through 3 who are fair to middling as well. The two French brigades are led by E and F levels, Generals de Brigade Armand and Montfort, respectively, with Armand on the left and Montfort the right. The British leadership is better, with commanders rated D E F and G. Commanders are rated fro their ability to execute changed orders, boost morale in combat and while rallying troops and for span of control.

Cards are also used to represent the units involved, with each "Unit Group" generally containing the same kind of soldiers. Units are rated for morale and any fire or melee bonus. In this case the two French brigades, represented by the squares marked 2 and 3 on the map above, are you standard ordinary French line, with a morale of 4 (which is decidedly mediocre in the game) and no fire or melee bonus. The French force is rounded out with a battery of guns, marked 16 on the map, which have a range of three hexes.

The opposing force included a British heavy cavalry brigade with three understrength (2 instead of 3 figure) regiments with a +3 in melee, which is quite powerful. These are marked 35 on the map.

There are two British brigades marked 20 and 22 on the map. The 20 group is slightly better, with morale of 6 and +1 in melee compared to a morale of 5 and no melee bonus for the 22 group. Both have a fire bonus of +2. The third infantry brigade on the British side, marked 29 on the map, represents Portuguese line infantry, which is equal to the French infantry in every way.

The battle itself took us two sessions to complete, due to interruptions, but by the end of the game things were moving at a brisk pace as we got used to the game system. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the game was the combat results system. Basically every kind of combat and morale check involves totaling up a series of modifiers (the usual sort of thing such as flanking, terrain, ranks, number of troops, any inherent bonuses, etc.) and adding that to a D10 roll. Pretty standard stuff. But then that roll is compared to a CRT on a card drawn from the Event deck, adding a whole new element of randomness to the system. It works quite well. The Event cards also double as, well, events. Players can hold a hand of these cards, each of which also has two actions (an action and a reaction) listed on it that can be played as wanted. The hand size is based on the quality of the commander, with a good leader having a larger hand. And any cards played are replaced each turn. These cards have a variety of game effects, but they basically remove the last bit of certainty from your generalship. You may plan to change your troops from a line into a column in preparation for an assault, but a Skirmisher event may cancel your formation changes when you least expect it.

In our battle my right flank brigade, under Montfort, was able to advance and defeat Pringles' brigade over the course of the 8-turn game, with its advance only slowing right at the end as reinforcements from the other British flank started to arrive. All four of Monfort's battalions were in good order and had lost just one figure in total, while one British battalion was reduced to a remnant, one had run back to the edge of the board before rallying and a third was at half strength.

On the other flank, unfortunately, things didn't go as well as the other three British brigades all concentrated on Arnaud's valiant command. By the end of the battle Arnaud was reduced to huddling with the two-surviving figures of his brigade in a square on the board edge. One British battalion had been destroyed, but otherwise the British force was in good shape, having KO's three French battalion and the artillery.

Still the British attack fell just short of knocking out more than half of the French force and so the game was determined by geographic objectives. The British controlled the two objectives around the former position of Arnaud's brigade, but the French had a solid grip on the third one so the battle ended in a draw. I did, however, consider this somewhat of a moral victory, as the French historically were routed and it appears to me that the British force is stronger.

It was an enjoyable battle and Game Store Tony said he'd like to try again, so I call it a success.

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