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N: The Napoleonic Wars» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Ben Madison's Waterloo? rss

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Brian Friel
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The 20 odd years between Napoleon clearing the Royalist rebels of the streets of Paris with a “whiff of grapeshot” to his final defeat at Waterloo are amongst the most pivotal in European history. In France the final nail was hammered in to whatever slim hopes the monarchy had of re-establishing itself and the Napoleonic era ushered in huge changes in law, politics and the political map of the continent itself that have rung on to today. Many multi-player games have over the years tried to capture the grand sweep of the era with varying degrees of success but there have been far fewer attempts to capture that same sweep for the solo gamer. Enter “N” a game from White Dog Games and Ben Madison with the boundless ambition to match that of the little Corsican himself. The question I’ll attempt to answer is whether in my view whether that ambition has been successfully realise or has the designer met a Waterloo of his own.

The player represents the Grand Coalition made up of the varying and shifting actors that faced Napoleon over the period although you’ll often find yourself standing alone as Britain. The game takes a very high level strategic overview of the conflict. If you have come to this from the designer’s “Don’t tread on me” you will find similarities especially in the combat mechanic but there is a much broader range of strategic options to work with here. You must juggle political, economic and military factors all the time managing random events that come thick and fast some of which will have you quickly remaking your next turn plans while others will pull your bacon somewhat briefly out of the fire.

The object of the game simply put is to force Napoleon to abdicate by the end of turn 16. You do this by defeating him at land and sea in various “minor” wars that break out worldwide (Egypt, Haiti, US etc) and by controlling at least 3 of the 5 major powers at turn end (including one specified in advance for that turn). This pushes up the Napoloen Abdicates marker towards the magic 16 mark. Defeats for the Coalition and certain events push the marker downwards. The vast bulk of your effort will be split between Austria and Germany as they not only generate income each turn but are also needed onside to improve the chances of dragging Russia into the conflict against Napoleon.

The game phases are well laid out and after 3 or 4 turns the major procedures will become second nature to you and you will probably only need to check the random events and accidents tables.

The game mechanics interact in ways that are not immediately obvious and like all the best games you never have enough treasure to do what you want to do. You need to fund diplomats to counter Napoleons agents in Europe, fight expensive minor wars, fund the navy and raise standing levies on the continent. Short changing one to fund another might appeal but trusting the die gods to swing a minor war with minimal funding is a recipe for disaster as you can lose the income generated from that country and every defeat you suffer in a minor war makes your allies that bit more reluctant to stand against Napoleon. Skimp on diplomats and Napoleon’s armies spawn at will in countries where his diplomats have free reign.

The will of the common people of the major nations to follow Napoleon is represented by National Fervor that you must dampen down at every opportunity through military victory. Napoleon himself changes as the conflict goes on from the dashing young officer to a far less effective figure by the game’s end. Beating Napoleon in a battle he attends in turn 14 is far more damaging to him that in turn 3 and vice versa. Combat can be bloody and chaotic with a force differential providing the combat results. Battles often move from country to country and a small battle in Italy can wander inconclusively through Austria before concluding in a huge conflagration in Germany that might leave literally the last man standing. Cavalry are the jokers in the pack with the ability to join battles in other countries that can tip the battle one way or the other.

There are literally dozens of random events (called “accidents”) that can happen every turn. Some are one off and once done with will not happen again while others can repeat over and over again. Most turns will have 6 or 7 accidents happen in the accidents phase. You will be delighted to find the US war event being removed only to find next accident that Barbary pirates have taken over the high seas and you have lost your advantage at sea which is a huge factor in certain minor wars.

You will I hope get from the above that there are a lot of moving parts in this game. One of the major problems I find with solitaire games is that they can become scripted and predicable after a few tries. This is not a game where there is any danger of this happening for a good while. The opposite I think is true and you need to be prepared to manage what can be very chaotic and changeable swings in the tides of war. The random accidents at the end of the turn can be particularly potent taking for example Spain out of your corner and into Napoleon’s on turn one (as happened me on my second try) a situation that may not be remedied until much later by another event. Events can of course work in your favour when Napoleon channels his inner Kim Il Jung and purges his most effective diplomats. You will learn to at least manage some of the military chaos in which of the major nations you prioritize for force allocation on certain turns as the table on which Napoleon invades on can after a while be to some minor extent be “gamed”. Certain historical events as opposed to “accidents” will always happen and you can at least be prepared for these.

So working towards a conclusion towards my original question of whether Ben Madison’s design has matched his ambition I’ll have to come down resoundingly on the yes side. The game is tense and exciting on every turn. If you can weather the initial 6/7 turn storm the game captures the pendulum swinging towards the Coalition as Napoleon’s abilities decay and the people of Europe come to the realisation that he may not be the answer to their desire for more freedom and economic improvement. While accidents and events can be swingy I still felt that I was a master of my own destiny to a large extent and that my decisions were meaningful and mattered. You need to manage the chaos and expect the unexpected. The campaign game is long but there are scenarios and the footprint is small enough to leave set up.

“N” is wild and turbulent much like the period. Beating Napoleon will feel like a real achievement. The game itself is an achievement and deserves a wide audience. It bypasses “The Barbarossa Campaign” as my favorite solitaire wargame.
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Robert Madison
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Thanks so much for the review -- your title had me worried till I remembered that from the game's perspective, the player won Waterloo. :-)

Glad you enjoyed the game. My background is in political science rather than military history and I intended for it to show. This is much furrowed ground and I wanted to do something different.
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Randall Monk
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A shame we can't play the good guys.
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Neil Helmer
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Doing the final round of playtesting for 'N' was a real treat, and the end result that Mr. Madison created was extremely satisfying. Glad to see people giving it the positive attention it deserves within the genres (Napoleonic and Solitaire) - I believe it is a success within both.
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Robert Madison
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Mondoron wrote:
Doing the final round of playtesting for 'N' was a real treat, and the end result that Mr. Madison created was extremely satisfying. Glad to see people giving it the positive attention it deserves within the genres (Napoleonic and Solitaire) - I believe it is a success within both.


Thanks for your help! The game would not have come out the way it did without some really helpful playtesters, some behind-the-scenes tinkering by Wes Erni, and some extraordinarily vivid thinking on the part of Stefan Nellen, the developer, who did wonders translating my "big picture" vagueness into concrete rules.
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Rob Stevenson
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Across the Rhine wrote:
In France the final nail was hammered in to whatever slim hopes the monarchy had of re-establishing itself and the Napoleonic era ushered in huge changes in law, politics and the political map of the continent itself that have rung on to today.


This might be a little nit-picky, but given that Bourbons were restored in 1815 and didn't finally get booted out (if we include the Orleans cadet branch of the family) until 1848, I'd say that slim hopes were still around for a while afterwards.
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Robert Madison
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Monkatron wrote:
A shame we can't play the good guys.


At least according to my designer's notes, you are playing the good guys. :-)
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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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Talossa wrote:
Monkatron wrote:
A shame we can't play the good guys.


At least according to my designer's notes, you are playing the good guys. :-)



Non! We are the good guys... devil

Vive la France!

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Robert Madison
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oneilljgf wrote:
Vive la France!


Don't get me wrong -- I am very much pro-French in my world outlook; I was just never sold on Napoleon.
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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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Talossa wrote:
oneilljgf wrote:
Vive la France!


Don't get me wrong -- I am very much pro-French in my world outlook; I was just never sold on Napoleon.

Don't worry, it's just my warped sense of humour. I am a convicted Francophile, but I have been released early for good behaviour.

Warmest regards,


Jim

Est. 1949

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Talossa wrote:
oneilljgf wrote:
Vive la France!


Don't get me wrong -- I am very much pro-French in my world outlook; I was just never sold on Napoleon.


He continues to divide opinion, but along with his flaws there is also much to admire in him. I certainly wouldn't say the aristocrats of the European monarchies were the good guys either..!
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Florent Leguern
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I'm really booked for this game. The take on the theme is really appealing, and I'm really looking forward in getting it. I played and enjoyed Field Commander: Napoleon as a solitair experience, it improved my knowledge about the Emperor's combat profile I knew less than his "person" profile.

I hope to find this game nurturing to my History beef too cool

I just have to get over the shipping fees, as usual ^^' Unless I finally find a european shop that offers it, which isn't the case yet.
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Luigi54
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Florent
I bought it from hexasim.com, french online company.
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Florent Leguern
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luigi54 wrote:
Florent
I bought it from hexasim.com, french online company.


Hey ! I didn't subscribe to this - why ? - and didn't see your answer ! I just ordered the game cool Thanks !
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Florent Leguern
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I received the game yesterday ! Great service here cool

First impression as I opened the box : what a strong ink odour... But all looks nifty, the board is correctly printed, if a little sharp, and the rest follows in terms of quality. The counters are a really nice bunch, and I loved the use of letters to codify their use. I will unpunch and test this all out soon.

I was however quite disapointed - annoyed really - that the rule books weren't stapled. It's a detail, but this is just the kind of stupid one that can feel like a cold shower on the general enthusiasm. The game wasn't cheap, I expected a least a fully completed game.

But this is only a matter that won't hinder the pleasure of play - and I'll find a way to staple them. I'm still really pumped to test it out ! laugh
 
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