Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Napoleon 4th Edition order of battle compared to 2nd Edition

I plan to take a closer look at the differences in the orders of battle between all the editions, but first let's look at the changes between the Avalon Hill edition and the new 4th Edition.

While there aren't as many blocks as the 3rd Edition, which had over 80, there are more blocks in the new edition of the game. (They're also bigger blocks -- the larger size used in most Columbia Games these days.) There's more wood.

In the old AH version of the game the French army was comprised of seven infantry blocks (three @ 3CV and four @ 4CV), six cavalry blocks (three each 2Cv and 3CV) three artillery (one 2CV and two 3Cv) and a pair of 2 CV horse artillery for total of 18 blocks.

Now there is one Napoleon leader block (1CV), one Guard Infantry (4 CV), Two Guard Artillery (3CV ea), one Guard Cavalry (3CV). eight regular infantry (two 4CV, 5 3CV and one 2CV) four regular cavalry (two 3CV and two 2CV) five artillery (three 3CV and two 2CV) and the pair of 2 CV horse artillery). The combat power of these blocks is different from the original game because of changes in firepower, but I'll look at that in a future post. In raw numbers there are now 24 French blocks -- a increase of one third but only 66 CV compared to the old game's 53 CV, a lesser increase.

The Prussians grow from 16 blocks with 40 CV to 18 blocks with 58 CV, so the number of blocks just edges up but there is a huge jump in the number of CV. The Anglo-Allied force goes from 14 blocks/39 CV to 16 blocks/49 CV, not quite as big an increase as the Prussians but still notable.

So the total CV ratio changes from 53 French CV vs. P-A-A 79 (1.49 to 1) to 66 French CV vs. P-A-A 107 or a 1.62 to 1 ratio. At first glance it appears the French job has gotten a bit harder.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Unboxing thoughts on Napoleon 4th Edition

The long-anticipated 4th Edition of Napoleon arrived at my door just before the weekend. More elaborate judgement will have to await a chance to actually play the game, but my initial impressions were positive.

The physical presentation is good, if not outstanding. The box is the standard Columbia Games slipcase format, although with all-new art for the box cover. Gone is the silvery rendition of Bonaparte Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David used in the 2nd and 3rd editions. Now we have a 2004 painting by Howard David Johnson of "Napoleon at Waterloo." Clearly more thematic.

There's also all-new art for the mapboard, which is mounted, although it feels slightly thinner and lighter than what i have seen in some recent games such as Shenandoah and Crusader Rex. Not just bigger in physical dimensions, the new mapboard expands the campaign field by a town in some directions, so that critical locations such a Liege and Ghent are no longer on the board edge.

The game clearly descends more from the 2nd Edition than the 3rd edition in scope, but does import many of the better details from the 3rd edition. Overall there are many small and large changes from the earlier editions and it will take some playings to assess the impact of all of them. Some changes are just refinements, such as the elimination of the useless final Allied night turn on June 22. Some things are more significant changes. For example the "square" and "terrain" rules that had originally been mentioned as optional rules during the Kickstarter campaign are now fully integrated into the base game mechanics.

Instead of being die-cut counters, which I believe the Kickstarter had originally said, the Square and Terrain markers are now stickers going on green blocks. I think most players will prefer this presentation. The blocks are the larger size that we've tended to see in most recent Columbia Games, with Blue for the French, Red for the Anglo-Allied and Black for the Prussians, as well as the green ones mentioned before. The 'foil" style stickers look pretty nice, although I don't think it matters all that much. The iconography is clear and functional and will be familiar to anyone who has seen Columbia's recent games. There have been a lot of changes to combat values, however, and I'm not sure how it will affect game-play. My initial impression is that the French have been weakened, somewhat, compared to the P-A-A, but I'll have to take a more detailed look to be sure. The game also includes colored dice for each side (four each red, blue and black), two rulebooks, two battle boards and one set up chart for each side showing the historical deployment. There is one sticker set, which is one area I wish Columbia would follow the lead of other block game manufacturers and include a set of spares. Unlike Shenandoah, the stickers in Napoleon are pretty easy to remove and apply, so few players will need a spare. Still, it would be nice. Mistakes do happen.

As far as the game system goes, there is a lot that will be familiar to both players of the classic Avalon Hill version of the game and the newer Third Edition.

Perhaps the most significant change over Earle editions is the revised victory conditions, which reduce the opportunities for the Allies to play "rope-a-dope" at the end of the game. While the French still have to defeat both enemy armies before the end of the game, they also can win by holding two of the three supply cities. One obvious consequence of this is that the Allies can't simply stick the Prussian up by Liege and leave the Anglo-Allied army to fend for itself. In earlier editions of the game the french could wipe out the Anglo-Allies and then have to rush across the board in a race against time to defeat the Prussians. Judicious expenditure of delaying cavalry units could often leave the French a unit or two short of defeating Prussia when the clock ran out. Besides being a 'gamey' and unhistorical strategy, it wasn't much fun to play.

Skirmishes have also been changed in what seems likely to be an important way. Now all skirmishes (battles that involve fewer than three units on either side) last just one round, after which the side with fewer blocks has to retreat (attacker retreats if tied). Cavalry type units are advantaged over infantry and foot artillery in skirmishes as well and the larger side doesn't have to reveal any more than four units. There are other changes, but until I get to play a game or two I am not sure of their impact so I think I'll wait a bit before commenting further.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

First opposed play of Guns of Gettysburg

I got to try out The Guns of Gettysburg in my first opposed play through (in contrast to solitaire playings). I'm pretty sure we made a number of mistakes so I'm not really going to get into details of how it went. I'm more certain we played the reinforcement rules more or less correctly and I thin they definitely create an interesting dynamic. Chances are against replicating the historical arrival schedule but chances are very good at replicating the dynamics of a meeting engagement! I'll note that the Confederates, under my control, were able to win by following a strategy of relentless attacking over the first day and into the next morning, but the number of artillery tokens was getting dangerously low and I can see where this might not work as well against a more experienced Union player. I'm looking forward to trying it again, hopefully against someone who has also studied the rules a bit.

Monday, July 1, 2013

50 years of Gettysburg games -- From Charles Roberts to Bowen Simmons

I haven't had the chance to play Bowen Simmons' new The Guns of Gettysburg against anyone yet, but I did go through a solitaire play through last night.

Like Simmons earlier games, Bonaparte at Marengo and Napleon's Triumph, The Guns of Gettysburg doesn't owe much to the traditional hex-and-counter style of wargame that can trace its lineage back to Charles Roberts original Gettysburg from 1964 (Although that game actually used squares, not hexagons,  it was a grid). It's probably easier for nonwargamers to learn Simmons games because thee is less to unlearn

Still, laying the two games out side by side provides an interesting contrast. The older game was a seminal work in the development of the historical board wargaming hobby. Roberts first design -- Tactics -- was a purely fictional clash between identical armies, which had been the approach of all earlier wargames as well.

50 years of Gettysburg wargames
Roberts' breakthrough was the inspiration of modeling a historical battle. The appeal of fictional military exercises proved limited -- mostly to professional military men seeking training. The appeal of "You In Command" however, proved much more commercially viable and the board wargaming hobby was born.

Roberts' Gettysburg therefore holds an esteemed place in the annals of wargaming -- but, in truth, the game itself has not aged particularly well. While Roberts was blazing a new trail, being a pioneer has many drawbacks. You're mot likely to hack the best path through the woods on your first pass, after all. It's not a very sophisticated design and the terrain analysis, especially, is pretty simplistic. There's not benefit to the roads, for example. Still, it was a start. The Guns of Gettysburg, in contrast, is nothing if not a sophisticated look at the battle, with the map and the terrain analysis a key part of the game design. It's also a very nice looking game.