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.

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