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Subject: N: The Napoleonic Wars or Napoleon: What Could Have Been rss

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Christian van Someren
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It’s been said that there are more books written about Napoleon than any other person in history. In wargaming, Napoleonic history is almost as ubiquitous, coming in second only to WWII as a preferred topic of interest. So, bearing that in mind, do we really need another game about the little corporal?

My first thought was no, I already have Napoleon Against Europe, what could a small print and play game accomplish which a grand strategy game couldn’t do better?

But then I noticed that the game was designed by Ben Madison. I had heard good things about Don’t Tread on Me, and I really enjoyed his take on the States of Siege series with Mound Builders. So one rainy Saturday morning I decided to print this thing out and give it a play. And boy am I glad that I did!


Historicity (A history that might have been)
Ultimately, your goal in this game is to force Napoleon to abdicate. This is done by winning key victories in key regions throughout the game. The better you go, the closer Napoleon comes to losing his crown. But Napoleon can also push back – every turn during which Napoleon gains a decisive victory strengthens his claim to the French throne.

As in a game like Europa Universalis, N does not try to recreate history precisely, but it does try to develop a plausible alternate history. Events, alliances, marriages may all differ from their historical counterparts, but everything remains in the realm of the plausible and the overall ebb and flow of the game certainly feels like something that could have happened.

Further, the mechanics behave in ways which feel historically accurate. When you send you armies into battle, you make a rough calculation of what you think the odds will be and then hope that Napoleon doesn’t show up to ruin all of your plans. An interesting feature here is that overwhelming odds are not always desirable: An overwhelming victory will force your opponent to retreat without any casualties, while a slightly subpar victory will destroy your opponent’s force completely. It is important to wipe out at least a few French forces each turn to prevent Napoleon from cementing his hold on the French throne, so the game really forces you to push your luck – there are no guaranteed victories in N.

I also really enjoy the diplomacy in this game. The more battles you win, the easier it is to bring allies into the Coalition (and trust me, you’ll need them). But even if you do lose some battles, you can always send out some diplomats to help smooth things over. Of course, the French have some diplomats of their own, so you always have to deal with them before you can bring more nations into your fold.


A new perspective
One of the most intriguing aspects of this game is that you play as the British. The first half of the game is spent trying to hold the French at bay while hoping to pull off some victories in the colonies and keeping your allies in the Coalition. As the game progresses, things gradually (hopefully!) begin to shift in your favour, but will this happen soon enough?


Variety
In the three full campaigns I’ve played to date, each one followed a very different path. In my first game, I barely managed to eke out a win when my forces managed to defeat Napoleon and his Imperial Guard in the battle of the 100 Days in 1816 (a year too late, but who’s counting?). An epic finish indeed.

In my second game, France managed to steal a win at Trafalgar and successfully invade England. Instant loss for me, but what an amazing moment it was to see a game (which appears quite scripted) pull off this brilliant manoeuvre. Granted, the French got extremely lucky here, but this surprising outcome (as with so many of the events in this game) shows just how much this game can vary with each play.

In my third game, most of my potential allies spent the game locked into treaties with France. England could barely hold on, but a sudden shift in alliances in 1812 and a catastrophic French invasion of Russia allowed me to steamroll the French all the way back to Paris, where I defeated the French in a climactic battle in 1815 for a Coalition victory. This game has a surprising focus on politics. Since I had no armies to fight with, I had to rely on the occasional British naval victory and the skills of my diplomats to manage a win.


Playing Time
This is possibly my largest complaint with the game. Granted, this game plays a lot faster than similar games at this scale, but it still takes 3-4 hours to play through a full campaign. The shortest scenario can be played in an hour, but who wants to skip all of the tense action of Napoleon’s early years when the Coalition is constantly on the ropes?


Components
It’s print and play (at least, my copy is), so the components are as good as your make them. Still, the artwork is nice and functional, and the rulebooks are clear and well written. The player aid is missing some important information, IMO, but I’ve created a more detailed version in the files section here on BGG for those who are interested. And you cannot go wrong with this beautiful map – a great piece of work!


Recommendation
This is a fantastic little solo game. If I had to make a comparison, I would look towards PC games: Most grand strategic Napoleonic games are similar to a game of Total War: lots of fighting, a couple of events, more fighting, a little bit of politics, more fighting, maybe build something if you feel like it, etc. By constrast, I would associate N more with something like Europa Universalis: The fighting is still there, and it’s important, but it’s largely abstracted. Each turn you have some troops to send off to war, some gold to invest and some diplomats to send to foreign lands to try to convince these countries that your cause is far superior to that of the French. Once you’ve decided what you plan to accomplish this year, all you can do is sit back, roll the dice and hope for the best. And this “hands off” approach is really what makes this game shine!

Instead of being an omnipotent Emperor / General / Accountant / Boot Shiner, N puts you squarely in the role of the British Parliament. You can send an Army to Austria, but if Napoleon outwits you and invades Prussia instead, well, you’re out of luck. Even worse, the little bast…. ehm…, corporal might conquer Prussia, then turn around in invade Austria with a larger army than you thought possible and knock all of your hard-earned allies out of the war.

So my final recommendation? If you’re a fan of Napoleonics and grand strategy games which focus as much on the politics as the actual fighting, then you should try this game out. If you’re new to wargames but are interested in history, this might also be a game for you since the rules are fairly straightforward and well written. If you’re looking for detailed tactical manoeuvring of your armies as they march across Europe, perhaps you’re better off looking elsewhere. But consider that at the end of the day, N tells a great story and is a great experience overall.

Highly recommended!
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Randall Monk
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It's good to see a game that lets you play as the villain.
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Florent Leguern
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I was really intrigued by this game and its scale : it wasn't what I was looking for at all for a solo game, but the design hooked me up immediatly. Your nifty review just cemented my opinion in a concrete *cough* desire to get the game laugh

I wont PnP it - too lazy, too clumsy, too materialistic - and will happily wait for the game to come out (or at least, wait for some pdf of the rules to pop out somewhere).

Thanks !
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Matt R
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I'm disappointed OP. From your thread title I was assuming that this would be a negative review - and I need *less* games to be interested in - not *more*. So now after reading this positive review N has gone from near the bottom of my list to near the top. And did I mention that I'd be happier for less good games to be interested in?

*sigh*

(Great review by the way!)
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Christian van Someren
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Haha, thanks!
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Robert Madison
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Eawyne wrote:
I was really intrigued by this game and its scale : it wasn't what I was looking for at all for a solo game, but the design hooked me up immediatly. Your nifty review just cemented my opinion in a concrete *cough* desire to get the game laugh

I wont PnP it - too lazy, too clumsy, too materialistic - and will happily wait for the game to come out (or at least, wait for some pdf of the rules to pop out somewhere).

Thanks !


The French version of the game is now available!

http://www.whitedoggames.com/n-french
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Robert Madison
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Christian,

Thanks so kindly for the positive review! I'm glad you are enjoying the game. I'm a political science/international relations/Soviet studies major so my approach to wargames is always through a political lens. I'm glad to see this approach worked for you; I didn't want to do the same kind of Napoleonic game that had already been done so well, by so many others, so many times.

I'm also happy to know the sudden death Trafalgar/Invasion of England rule actually got to be used -- believe it or not, that was a last-minute addition to the game that originally started as a joke!
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Edward Pundyk
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Eawyne wrote:
I was really intrigued by this game and its scale : it wasn't what I was looking for at all for a solo game, but the design hooked me up immediatly. Your nifty review just cemented my opinion in a concrete *cough* desire to get the game laugh

I wont PnP it - too lazy, too clumsy, too materialistic - and will happily wait for the game to come out (or at least, wait for some pdf of the rules to pop out somewhere).

Thanks !


No need to wait. White Dog has ziplock and boxed versions of the game, as well as the least expensive option of all - purchase the print and play version and use the VASSAL module that comes free with purchase. No muss, no fuss, no waiting for your game to arrive by mail. 🙂
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Florent Leguern
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fightinlegalist1 wrote:
Eawyne wrote:
I was really intrigued by this game and its scale : it wasn't what I was looking for at all for a solo game, but the design hooked me up immediatly. Your nifty review just cemented my opinion in a concrete *cough* desire to get the game laugh

I wont PnP it - too lazy, too clumsy, too materialistic - and will happily wait for the game to come out (or at least, wait for some pdf of the rules to pop out somewhere).

Thanks !


No need to wait. White Dog has ziplock and boxed versions of the game, as well as the least expensive option of all - purchase the print and play version and use the VASSAL module that comes free with purchase. No muss, no fuss, no waiting for your game to arrive by mail. 🙂


Ha yes indeed. Why did I have the impression that the game wasn't out

I'll go for the boxed edition : I don't use Vassal, and don't like PnP games I already waited, so it won't hurt if I wait a little more. Thanks !
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Robert Madison
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Eawyne wrote:
I'll go for the boxed edition


Good choice -- ever slightly more money for me! ;-)
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Steve Carey
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Appreciate the review, just prompted me to order the game.

I prefer meaty plays, so 3-4 hours should be right in my sweet spot.
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Dave Daffin
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Great review.
 
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