Friday, December 9, 2011
Napoleon's War II: The Gates of Moscow review
The dueling Napoleonic game systems of GMT (Commands & Colors Napoleonics) and Worthington Games (Napoleon's War) continue their epic matchup with a new round of games. (No word on when, or if, there will be another entry in the third Napoleonic battle game system that came out last year, the Battles of Napoleon).
Once again Worthington Games beat GMT to the punch. While GMT will probably ship the second CC:N game this month (The Spanish Army) Worthington's Napoleon's War II: The Gates of Moscow has been out for a couple of months already.
Physically, the new game is familiar stuff -- two double-sided full-color cardstock mapboards depicting four Napoleonic battles (in this case Marengo, Aspern-Essling, Austerlitz and Borodino), a cardstock player aid card, an 8-page rule book, counters, three dice and 120 plastic figures. Once again the figures are the infantry, cavalry and cannon figures from the game Viktory II, repurposed quite well to serve here. The French are blue, as they were in the first game, with white for the Austrians and Green for the Russians -- an unsurprising and appropriate color scheme.
The rules have been streamlined a bit from the first game, with some small but significant changes. Perhaps the most important is that infantry firepower at 2-hex range has been reduced to just 1 die (hitting on a 6) instead of the previous 3-dice. This is a big improvement, as it encourages the infantry to get in close instead of engaging in ahistorical long-range firefights.
Another change which could be significant is that the Advanced Skirmisher rules have been eliminated. I say "could be" because it's an entire, lengthy section cut from the rules -- but I wouldn't know because I never tired using them. They seemed far more intricate and involved than waranted by the complexity level of the rest of the game system. Evidently many agreed. In any case, it's gone.
Artillery cannot be targeted by ranged fire until any cavalry or infantry unit in the hex is eliminated.
A few other changes and clarifications were added, all conveniently listed at the end of the rulebook for experienced players. A new optional rule for drawing the AP randomly through chits has been added, although I'm not really tempted to use it. It seems to draw out laying time and add a level of randomness to a system that's already pretty luck-driven.
The fundamentals of the game system are the same. Each turn a player rolls a D3 and adds the result to his base number to get an action point allowance for the turn, typically 4-7 CAP. Most game actions such as moving and firing cost one AP per unit, although a couple of special actions such as shock attacks cost 2. Combat typically involves rolling three dice (sometimes cut down to 2 dice for terrain) looking for a 6 to hit. Artillery and units engaged in shock combat can hit on a 5 or 6 or sometimes even a 4-6.
The four scenarios depict some of the iconic battles involving the Austrians, Russians and French and I fully expect to see a "battle pack" giving us more.
One change that I don't care for is that the setup locations are mo longer printed on the map, now players have to refer to the scenario card. This makes set up a little more work than it used to be and I don't think the small font used in earlier maps detracted from the look at all.
On the other hand, all the scenarios now include some territorial victory points for at least one side, which discourages the unhistorical gamey tactics that marred some of the first game's scenarios such as Ligny and Wavre. Now both players have to stand and fight.
The first scenario, chronologically, is Marengo, and in a first for the game system this has a free setup for one side as the standard scenario. While the French setup is fixed, the Austrian player can set up freely within a specified area. There are a lot of ways the battle can play out, depending upon the Austrian setup and this is probably one of the most replayable battle sin the whole game system. It's a pretty even match, too, as the infantry on both sides is depicted by 3-figure units.
The French start with six infantry, three cavalry and two artillery on the map, with one of each of the infantry and cavalry units being elite. The whole lot is led by Napoleon +3 (then actually Bonaparte). Coming in on turn 10 or after is the +2 leader Desaix with an elite infantry, a regular infantry, a cavalry and an artillery. The total French army is therefore 15 units with 42 figures.
The entire Austrian force starts on the map. Led by +2 Melas and +1 Zach, the Austrians have six regular and one elite infantry, 4 cavalry and 4 artillery for a total of also 15 units and 38 figures. Both sides are trying to get 7 victory points, with the Austrians having prize objective sworth 2 and 3 VPs on the French map edge.
Both sides are relatively well led. The French start with a base of just 3 CAP but jump up to 5 when the reinforcements arrive, while the Austrians have 4 CAP throughout. The scenario manages to capture the back and forth of the historical battle reasonably well.
The second scenario chronologically is Austerlitz. The Allied side uses both the white figures and the green figures, for the Austrians and Russians respectively. The Austrians are definitely weak links, however, with just 2 figures per infantry unit and no elites. The Russians will have to do most of the heavy lifting. The Austrian army totals six units with just 12 figures, while the Russians have 12 units and 32 figures. The allied leadership is abysmal, with Tsar Alexander +1 and Kaiser Francis II +1. The Allied base CAP is just 3.
Napoleon is present again, with his +3 self. He starts with 12 units and 36 figures and gets +2 Davout and four more units with 12 more figures on turn 5.
This is a long and bloody battle with a VP goal of 9 for both sides. The burden of attack in on the Allies, however, and the ensuing fight will usually bear at least a passing resemblance to the historical fight.
The third scenario is the weak sister of the bunch. At Asspern-Essling the Austrians are on their own with their 2-figure infantry and I don't see a realistic path to victory for them. It's just too easy for the French to rack up VP by killing Austrian infantry units There are territorial VP available for both sides, but they seem unlikely to come into play.
The Austrian force is comprised of 19 units but just 38 figures. Charles is a +2 leader but his assistant is just a +1. Both sides have a base of just 3 CAP, but the burden of attack is on the Austrians and their larger number of weaker units mean it is hard for them to do what they have to do with the CAP available.
Napoleon is, of course, on the field again, aided by +1 Massena. He starts with 13 units and 33 figures and potentially gets three more units with 7 figures as reinforcements. Unlike the battles of Marengo and Austerlitz, these reinforcements are not as vital to the French plans. The Austrians can spend AP to try to destroy the bridge the reinforcements need to enter, but it hardly seems worth the CAP expense.
The Austrians need to get 7 VP while the French need 8 or to avoid an Austrian victory.
The final scenario is Borodino (or Bordino as it's spelled on the scenario card!). This is, as one would expect for Borodino, a knock-down drag-out wrestling match between two evenly matched forces. The Russians have THREE leaders, Kutusov +2 and two +1 leaders. They have 15 units with 42 figures well deployed in redoubts and behind rivers.
Napoleon, on the field yet again, at +3 , has a +2 Davout and a +1 Ney to help. His 16 units have 45 figures and therefor a slight numerical edge, but it will be a challenging slog into the teeth of the Russian host. Good stuff. Both sides are striving for 8 VP, with the burden of attack on the French to win in 30 turns.
Overall, I think this game is a big success. The system has been cleaned up a bit and the scenarios seem well-selected. Games should still take aoiut an hour from opening the box, which seems to be the goal these days. There's plenty of luck to provide drama but players still seem in control of their fate a bit more than the card-driven system of CC:N. The CAP system guarantees some variability but the base CAP means that each player can count on a certain minimum level of activity every turn.