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Roger Lai
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Many wargamers enjoy the role playing aspect of their games - not the realities of war mind you but that of a great leader be it Alexander, Nelson or Lucas (American Hero).

Napoleon's Triumph (NT) places you at the place where Napoleon's greatness was forged - The Battle of Austerlitz, 2 December 1805.

Allow Walter Lai's video to set the scene:



It pits a French army against an Allied force of Austrians and Russians. NT allows you to direct the overall battle as one of the great captains of history as well as making astute tactical decisions and gambles as a subordinate corps commander.

Components
The three unit types (infantry, cavalry, artillery) are represented by printed uniform wooden blocks (no stickering required). Units can be combined to form a corps led by a named corps commander represented by a metal piece (stickering required).


Having named commanders helps you in identifying and becoming attached to them. I have soft spots for Van Damned, The Doctor and St Hilarious, my nicknames for Vandamme, Dokhtorov and St Hilaire.

The mounted two piece 44" x 34" map is gorgeous. The map is divided into areas - 'locales'. The size and shape of the locales as well as imprinted terrain combat modifiers cleverly translates the effects of terrain onto unit movement and combat without any rules overhead. A cavalry symbol in a defender's approach simply means a -1 modifier to any cavalry attacks - easy! This means no counting movement points or hexes and no terrain table look ups.



Roberta Moschini provided this photo of the initial setup, ready for play. Note the large size of the red Allied army compared to the blue French army.

To me the visual effect evokes monocled staff officers using wooden rods to push around armies in a map exercise - I love it and it was the first thing that drew my attention to this game.

Squinting you can imagine your units in 'line' or formed into a column. As units lose cohesion (become detached) they actually look disorganised. This is an example of where the visual representation conveys 'reality'. Contrast that to using a 'disorganized' chit or flipping a counter to show exhaustion.


This VASSAL screenshot depicts what is left of Murat's disorganized corps. Also note the terrain combat modifiers embedded in the map.

Lastly while I often play this on VASSAL I enjoy the tactility of the pieces on the rare occasions of face to face play. Like in poker it is greatly enjoyable to go 'all in' by pushing multiple corps into a locale. There is the delicious drama of slowwwllly turning over a piece to reveal a unit your opponent hadn't banked on seeing.devil

Rules
Excellent and extremely well written from the point of view of no rule ambiguity and you cannot go wrong following the attack rules step by step. The rules are tight and dense with no repetition. Rules lawyers are not needed.

The downside is that you will make mistakes and miss a rule here or there until after your third or fourth game. This is because you will easily get the general gist of it but there are important details buried in a phrase or sentence that your brain seems to 'blip' over when you're reading the paragraph for the umpteenth time. I still forget that cavalry can't road move if starting in an approach.

The only player aids listing unit abilities and special characteristics are player made on BGG. I can understand the desire to avoid any table lookups and experienced players won't need one. However, I believe in anything that helps new players into a still very niche hobby.

The other barrier for new players is that Napoleonic concepts of cavalry screening and harassment, feints, probes, all out charges, rear guards, reserves, moving in columns, defending in lines, combined arms attacks, units routed by rumors of attacks from an unexpected direction and so on are left for new players to discover. They are not obvious from a read through of the rules.

Purists prefer this voyage of discovery over many plays but the less committed who may only try 1 or 2 games to see if it 'bites' may not see the genius emergent complexity from what appears and is a simple rule set. I feel a GMT style playbook with a notated play session will greatly help players who do not have access to an experienced teacher.

I'd rather have more opponents to choose from than being part of the select few 'in the know'.

My advice to new players is to persist and keep rereading the same rules whenever you move or attack as you will miss something or learn something new, even into your seventh game.

Victory conditions
Decisive victory is achieved by demoralising the opposing army.

Morale loss is only inflicted on the side that loses a combat - as the attacker, how many morale losses are you willing to bear from repeated attritional repulses of your frontal assault? As the defender, how many units will you keep throwing into an unfavourable position to avoid a rout and large morale loss?

There is a morale penalty for committing your guard infantry or guard cavalry which favours the historical approach of committing them only when victory or impending defeat is within grasp (not that you'd want to grasp defeat, forgive my limited command of the English language).

Historically, Napoleon weakened his right flank, luring the Allies to march the bulk of their forces down the Pratzen heights against it. Thus entangled, Napoleon captures the Pratzen with his strong centre and left and then traps and crushes the Allies.

The victory conditions cleverly address historical hindsight. Firstly, the French start with a smaller army and the Austrians must advance just beyond the French starting positions and capture a blue starred locale to win. However, this usually stretches the Allies to the limit and all blue star locales are within attack distance of reinforcements (2 corps) on the turn that the French electively bring them on in the hope of inflicting a decisive defeat by demoralisation. If reinforcements are brought on, the victory conditions change such that if the Allied army can retreat into good defensive positions, protect their line of communication and avoid demoralisation, they can usually win.

The victory conditions are designed to push both players to the edge with no let up in tension for either side. You will almost never feel ahead in a game until the final moments.

The Allied player is faced with racing against the clock to capture a blue star locale while playing conservatively enough with well prepared attacks to avoid over reach and defeat by French reinforcements. The additional challenge of moving the larger Allied army is that the Allies cannot move every corps every turn and can only move 3 independent unattached units reflecting poor Allied command structure.

The French player has a smaller but nimble army. He can move every corps and 4 independent units. His army has a qualitative edge (wins ties in certain situations). There is constant tension between defense and offense. Unfortunately, the best bait to invite Allied over extension and exposure to decisive defeat is for the French to look almost defeated itself!

Movement & Attack
Movement is integrated into the attack sequence if attempting to move into an enemy occupied locale.

Like other block games unit information is only revealed to the opponent in certain situations, usually once an attack is underway. There is thus a large element of bluff. Add the many decision points and gradual revealing of units in the Attack Procedure and you have a game of Napoleonic poker whenever combat occurs as the designer intended.

It begins with the attacker pointing to a locale with defenders and saying 'You hear drums and a threat of attack from this direction'.

The defender may have no or limited information on:
-which unit is going to attack if there are multiple eligible attackers
-the strength of the attack
-whether it is a real attack or a feint
-whether there will be subsequent attack(s) from different directions requiring him to keep some units uncommitted to face them

The defender can choose to fold (retreat) if units are in reserve. There is no choice if units are already previously committed to defending the approach facing where the drumming noise is coming from (these units are in the defense approach). If defending, the defender nominates but does not reveal the defending units.

The attacker then gets to decide whether to fold (feint). A feint requires a defender in reserve to commit a unit (rear guard) to that approach. Cavalry often use feints with the goal of detaching rearguard units off corps so that the corps loses cohesion and attack effectiveness.

If the attack proceeds, the defender reveals 0, 1 or 2 leading units ie. the chumps at the head of the line. This is an important decision:

Do I choose my strongest unit? The risk is that artillery or a probing weak attack will weaken that unit possibly leaving that position undefendable against a subsequent decisive attack.

Do I reveal a regular weaker unit? This may lure the attacker into over commitment that you can smash by counter attacking with that stronger unit you kept in reserve. The problem with counterattacking is that you will take higher losses. Another risk is that leading with a weaker unit may cause you to lose the combat with consequent rout.

*flips a unit*

Then its back to the attacker who has the advantage of selecting an appropriate attack for the terrain, and now revealed leading defender type and strength.

What unit type and strength do I lead the attack with?

Do I reveal units that make this corps look weaker than it is? Hide the Guards behind the rabble?

Is the defender able to win by counterattacking?

Should I send off a single regiment into a probing attack? (tip for new players - use the detach move command to send forward a single unit for a probe attack rather than risking a shattered corps from a corps move attack)

Should I launch the entire corps into an attack, overwhelm by weight of numbers and occupy the defender's locale in strength?

Should I reserve my strongest units for a decisive attack next turn by weakening his strong unit with my regular unit at the cost of higher losses?

Should I attack across a wide or narrow front?

*flips a unit* "call and raise you one"

The defender is then given the opportunity to counter-attack depending on what is in reserve and the initial combat result. Counter-attacking units take an automatic hit so that most corps only have the ability to counter-attack once or twice.

*flips a unit* "all in"

Result:
This is quickly and simply calculated through a combat differential (addition/subtraction and ability to count to 6). With the exception of foolish infantry advancing towards prepared artillery, both sides usually take losses with the loser of the combat taking a morale loss.

If the attacker wins, the defender is routed from the locale, possibly suffering further losses and all the defenders are detached. If the defender wins, all attacking units are detached. This can be devastating if a large corps was committed to an attack.

Combat is bloody and attritional. Once the armies are engaged the corps will quickly lose cohesion and ability to manoeuvre and attack. Rallying and rebuilding corps is a slow process. Disengaging from combat is fraught. If there is no cavalry screen the poor bloody infantry can be run down. All is as it should be.


Scenarios
The standard 10 turn scenario 2nd December 1805 has all units in position ready to fight immediately (Roberta's photo above). Variability in setup comes from players choosing corps composition, a fairly quick task. I find this scenario very well balanced with equal opportunity for exciting play and manouevre by both sides.

The 1st December 1805 scenario has 20 turns plus a night turn. This has the Austrians only starting with 2 corps on the map and gradually bringing on the rest of the army into position. This allows exploration of different avenues for attack. However, I find the Allied player under even more time pressure and stress especially if the French advance aggressively. The French can threaten to split the Allied army and defeat one wing in detail. I find it difficult to get the Austrians in good shape and in 'position' for the start of day 2.

What I like
d10-1 Beautiful and evocative visual presentation

See The most beautiful game in the universe

d10-2 Use of visual elements to demonstrate mechanics

- a bunch of detached units visually represent loss of cohesion
- a unit blocking an approach is visually in line formation, prepared to receive attack
- a corps in reserve is visually in column, mobile and ready to strike
- the shape and size of the locales cleverly dictate movement and capacity
----towns are smaller sized and thus have capacity for only 4 units
----triangle shape of towns often turn them into important and difficult to move around 'hinge' points

d10-3 Realism of experience

As Matt Calkins says of his own game (Sekigahara) NT depicts the battle in its mechanisms rather than merely in its particularities. You are placed fully in the role of a commander, making decisions on where and how to attack with limited information. Austerlitz was about bluffing, setting traps with an appearance of weakness and where every decision has weight. This is NT's core mechanic. In NT you are not bogged down with low level detail which as a Napoleon or corps commander you shouldn't be. You are spending all your time making decisions - not counting factors, hexes or book keeping.

d10-4 Low rules 'data' overhead

While you will be consulting the rulebook often until you have the attack sequence down pat, there is no need to consult terrain charts, CRTs, plethora of tables or count beyond 6. (Got rid of one game where units had enough movement points to move 20+ hexes.)

d10-5 Quick play 2-3 hours face to face

d10-6 PBEM is eminently playable

It is surprisingly quick playing as you can often complete several moves or make several attack threats in different areas before passing on the file to your opponent. It will give you sleepless nights sweating over whether your carefully planned attack will succeed. PM me if you want a game.

d10-7 Tension

It definitely conveys the tension, anxiety and doubts faced by a field commander when planning attacks or responding to threats.

I'm terrible at poker and start to fidget, hoping the enemy doesn't slip away from a position where I have just unlimbered the grand battery and lined up the Old Guard for a devastating attack.

d10-8 It is unlike any wargame you've ever played

That it can convey so much of Napoleonic warfare within a deceptively simple ruleset and low rules overhead is genius.

d10-9 No dice!

I don't mind dice but I find it takes me out of a game, particularly when I have a tendency to knock over pieces with my wild throws. NT's no dice system keeps you fully immersed with no relief from the tension.

d10-0 Did I mention tension?

Often no side will feel ahead until the last reveal...

all in! - GUARDS ATTACK!!!! surprise

Quibbles
Play aids and a playbook will make this more accessible to new players who do not have access to an experienced teacher.

Limited print run and lack of availability. I was lucky to snag a reprint - it had been on my radar for a few years. Didn't know anything about it and couldn't get a sense of the game from a cursory look at the rules, but I fell in love with the visuals:



Thumb this review if you want a reprint.

The town triangles could be a little bigger to accommodate units in reserve and in approaches but this is a very minor non-quibble.

Haven't played enough to know if the 1st December scenario favours the French.

It would add flavour for the individual wooden units to have identifiers or names but this isn't achievable without sacrificing the quick setup time. The scale may also not translate 1:1 with regiments or divisions.

I'd like to see the same system applied to other Napoleonic battles but I'm not aware that any are in the works.

Can't think of anything else.

Conclusion
10/10.

This is a game that will reward extended and repeated plays. Its not like other wargames in my collection which are relegated after 1 or 2 plays (which I suspect is the fate of most wargames).

The corollary for new players is don't give up after 1 or 2 plays of what are very different mechanics, even if your head hurts and attacks fail. Use the videos, guides and tips on this site and find an experienced teacher. Persist and be more than amply rewarded. Discover a genius design, a heart stopping historical game, all playable in an evening.

If you agree to take the plunge...

Video tutorial links
Movement Basics for Beginnersthumbsup
Situations and Explanations #1thumbsup
Video Tutorial 1: Attack Sequence thumbsupthumbsup

Player Aid link
Graphical cheat sheetthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup

Only discovered Erik Katerborg's fantastic play aid when writing this review. Wish I had it when I started this journey.
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Sean McCormick
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Couldn't agree more. Best wargame ever made.
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Richard Galati
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Someone was running this game at the WBC this weekend. I wish I was able to get in on a game. It looked very impressive in person.
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Roger Hobden
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I need to try this out one day.

Nice review !

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Dan Silverman
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Fantastic review, and captures why I love this game and consider it at the very, very top of my favorites.
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Jason Albert
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Jedi Ram wrote:
Someone was running this game at the WBC this weekend. I wish I was able to get in on a game. It looked very impressive in person.


Excellent review. I just love how it nails everything you mention gameplay-wise, then as a capper, it even looks better than all the other games.

I can attest with 100% certainty those WBC guys had a blast. At start, game #2.

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Mike Oberly
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It's an excellent game, but it's a real bear to get back to playing if you are away from it for a good while. The Guns of Gettysburg even more so, and I like that game a lot, too.

I'm very glad I own this one, and wish I could play it more often. Very good review, btw, and also helpful for newbies to the game.
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Karan R
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Good review
It was also my first wargame
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Eric O. LEBIGOT
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Thank you for this nice, enthusiastic review.
rlai wrote:

d10-6 PBEM is eminently playable

It is surprisingly quick playing as you can often complete several moves or make several attack threats in different areas before passing on the file to your opponent.
How long are the player turns, in face-to-face? it sounds like they are relatively long (instead of being made of one small action for each player).
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Dan Silverman
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lebigot wrote:
Thank you for this nice, enthusiastic review.
rlai wrote:

:d10-6: PBEM is eminently playable

It is surprisingly quick playing as you can often complete several moves or make several attack threats in different areas before passing on the file to your opponent.
How long are the player turns, in face-to-face? it sounds like they are relatively long (instead of being made of one small action for each player).


Relatively long, yeah, though the combat procedure involves both players very directly so unless all you're doing is manuevering, there's plenty to do on your opponent's turn. Plus, like any game, planning out your next turn is paramount.
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Roger Lai
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The turns don't feel long as there is plenty to do on the opponent's turn, usually responding to various feints and attacks. Also attempting hypnotic suggestion to lure enemy corps into your carefully prepared trap and trying to keep a poker face when they do!
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John Labelle
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Terrific review!
Maybe the best written on the game.
Just great! thumbsup thumbsup thumbsup

There is one small error:

rlai wrote:
Scenarios
The standard 9 turn scenario 2nd December 1805 has all units in position ready to fight immediately...

The 1st December 1805 scenario has 18 turns plus a night turn...

There are 10 turns per each day. Not 9.
7:00 AM is the first turn.
20 turns total plus a night turn in between.
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Roger Lai
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Spent ages checking and rechecking, ah, always something slips through. Thanks, its been updated.
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Greg Colgan
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Fantastic review Roger! Having played several games of this with you, I totally respect - and am in awe of - this game. At present, I fall into that category of players unwilling to commit oneself - again - to the brain burning feat required to get up to speed with this system and its subtleties. So many games, so little time! But eventually, those blue and red rods will win the day.
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J Anderson
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Anyone know how to contact Walter Lai? I'd like to speak with him. Thanks
 
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Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?
 
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gamesbook wrote:
Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?


There is no reprint, Simmons Games released some stock a while back for (I think) $150, but there has only been one version of the game.

There are no plans to create a sub-$100 version, at least none announced.

Reprints of wargames, even popular ones, apparently do not tend to work well financially. Your best bet, in all likelihood, is to purchase a used copy from someone, and yes, it will be pretty expensive.
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Derek H
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silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?


There is no reprint, Simmons Games released some stock a while back for (I think) $150, but there has only been one version of the game.

There are no plans to create a sub-$100 version, at least none announced.

Reprints of wargames, even popular ones, apparently do not tend to work well financially.
I'm surprised to hear that. Columbia seems to reprint their games from time to time, for example. I am sure a P500 type of arrangement would help here, assuming the game is as good as the owners say it is.
 
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Dan Silverman
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gamesbook wrote:
silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?


There is no reprint, Simmons Games released some stock a while back for (I think) $150, but there has only been one version of the game.

There are no plans to create a sub-$100 version, at least none announced.

Reprints of wargames, even popular ones, apparently do not tend to work well financially.
I'm surprised to hear that. Columbia seems to reprint their games from time to time, for example. I am sure a P500 type of arrangement would help here, assuming the game is as good as the owners say it is.


It is as good as noted. I believe Rachel has answered the question as to why not, though; a combination of there not being enough interest (yes, even with the clamor!), the extremely high cost of making small print runs of games with relatively expensive components, and lack of time (Rachel is, after all, only one person).
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Dan Silverman
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silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?


There is no reprint, Simmons Games released some stock a while back for (I think) $150, but there has only been one version of the game.

There are no plans to create a sub-$100 version, at least none announced.

Reprints of wargames, even popular ones, apparently do not tend to work well financially.
I'm surprised to hear that. Columbia seems to reprint their games from time to time, for example. I am sure a P500 type of arrangement would help here, assuming the game is as good as the owners say it is.


It is as good as noted. I believe Rachel has answered the question as to why not, though; a combination of there not being enough interest (yes, even with the clamor!), the extremely high cost of making small print runs of games with relatively expensive components, and lack of time (Rachel is, after all, only one person).


https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1638346/remaining-inventory...

"The original ecommerce infrastructure of Simmons Games doesn't exist any more, and this inventory, in and of itself, doesn't justify the expense and trouble of recreating it."

That's the only direct link I could find; I do remember discussions on how frightfully expensive it can be to do reprints.
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Derek H
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silvergoose wrote:
silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
silvergoose wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
Can anyone expand on the comment about this being a reprint? Current copies on sale are in the order of 200$ ... Would that be the price of the reprint or the original? Are there any plans to create a sub-$100 version?


There is no reprint, Simmons Games released some stock a while back for (I think) $150, but there has only been one version of the game.

There are no plans to create a sub-$100 version, at least none announced.

Reprints of wargames, even popular ones, apparently do not tend to work well financially.
I'm surprised to hear that. Columbia seems to reprint their games from time to time, for example. I am sure a P500 type of arrangement would help here, assuming the game is as good as the owners say it is.


It is as good as noted. I believe Rachel has answered the question as to why not, though; a combination of there not being enough interest (yes, even with the clamor!), the extremely high cost of making small print runs of games with relatively expensive components, and lack of time (Rachel is, after all, only one person).

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1638346/remaining-inventory...

"The original ecommerce infrastructure of Simmons Games doesn't exist any more, and this inventory, in and of itself, doesn't justify the expense and trouble of recreating it."

That's the only direct link I could find; I do remember discussions on how frightfully expensive it can be to do reprints.

Yes, of course. And despite my original idea of a sub-$100 reprint, I appreciate that the Real Cost may be (much) more. But the advantage of a P500 is that it does matter. You don't think about tackling a reprint until enough folks have pre-signed for it to justify doing so (i.e. your costs, at least, are covered). I don't think anyone would ask Simmons Games to take all that risk. And if they are not willing to take the trouble; perhaps the reprint could be handled by a company who regularly does reprints (Columbia comes to mind as an example).
 
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Scipio O.
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gamesbook wrote:
And if they are not willing to take the trouble; perhaps the reprint could be handled by a company who regularly does reprints


Mercury Games stepped in and did what seems to be a very nice job on Guns of Gettysburg, via Kickstarter.
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Derek H
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Scipio Oaklandus wrote:
gamesbook wrote:
And if they are not willing to take the trouble; perhaps the reprint could be handled by a company who regularly does reprints

Mercury Games stepped in and did what seems to be a very nice job on Guns of Gettysburg, via Kickstarter.

I see they sell GoG for about $70; so maybe the dream of a sub-$100 reprinted NT game is not too far-fetched!
 
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