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Subject: Napoleon 1806 rss

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Charles Vasey
Mortlake, London
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Long ago, and far away, there was a SPI game called La Grande Armée (note: not the horrid TSR version)

You moved your forces over the map in varying size levels between (I think) Brigade and Army. The higher up the scale the unit the stronger the counter (so three 3-6 divisions might be a 10-4 Corps) and the harder to get supply up to the front line with depots and convoys. You broke down and built up your forces as you wished, though the French versions were always better. It was not the easiest of games but it produced some great narrative and exciting (not to say exasperating campaigns). Napoleon 1806 has much of that feel, but in a cleaner design (using lots of Euro trademark mechanisms) with not too many counters. Whether you are conscript or Frontschwein you will find it a challenge with a lot of history.

The campaign is that of Jena-Auerstadt and the map is presented as a point-to-point map with some background terrain to suggest what the various routes mean. Napoleon is at Bamberg on the southern side of the hills that border Saxony. Over the border lie the three key fortresses of Erfurt (to the north), Halle and Leipzig (to the north-east). It is the task of the Prussian Army to hold these three as long as possible (and they receive a nice victory point a turn for doing so). There are seven turns which hints at the French problem, getting there, and the Prussian strength, delaying them.

Napoleon's corps (represented by Columbia-style blocks) stretch out to the East with Soult at Muenchberg. He has eight of these, including Murat's Cavalry Reserve and Bessieres' Imperial Guard. The Prussians have nine "corps" of irregular size (and smaller in total) but generally better positioned to hold Erfurt than to intercept French moves on Leipzig. The Prussians have a fast corps under Blücher, but otherwise are just blocks of infantry with attached cavalry.

Each "corps" on both sides is represented by their leader (whose strength in terms of infantry and cavalry is recorded on a roster). On the Corps counter are a number of symbols to represent the skills or otherwise of the historical commander. There are also blocks for the two commanders, Napoleon and Friedrich-Wilhelm III. Looking at just these two gives a flavour of the French command advantages. Friedrich-Wilhelm III has just a fatigue-point deduction, presumably to represent the supply advantages of the main army. Napoleon (on the other hand) has an extra movement point, an extra combat card in battle, and a fatigue-point deduction. Faster, fiercer and just as good at providing those supplies. The Prussian leaders as befits (perhaps) men raised under the Ancien Regime have very few helpful symbols. Kalkreuth has an extra battle card (to celebrate perhaps his Dutch campaign and the battle of Kaiserslautern (though Brunswick does not have one) and Blücher has an extra move and a pursuit ability.

The French are a much more exiting bunch. Soult and Davout absorb a fatigue point so very handy for hard marching. Davout and Murat have an extra movement point. Davout, Bessieres and Lannes have extra battle cards and Murat a pursuit ability. One can identify why these are as they are and see why Davout's III Corps was so dangerous: hard marching, hard fighting.

Though the game has rosters they are not of the print-and-cross-off variety. Instead you get a nice heavy card roster for each side. This has two rows of boxes for each Corps. The top row is for infantry cubes (blue or grey) and cavalry cubes (yellow and purple) representing 3,500 foot soldiers or 2,500 of the cavalry. In the second row one stores fatigue points earned as your troops move and fight in the campaign. The number of cubes is not immediately related to strength in battle; a corps with 1-4 cubes gets 1 battle card, and one with 5-8 gets two. So the larger size of the French army in terms of cubes represents greater depth than an immediate advantage. Casualties are typically taken from infantry but losses of over one require a cavalry loss (if you have one). The Fatigue points if they hit nine will cause the corps to collapse, and if over four will see it lose a battle card and (in the Recovery Phase) a cube being killed. Over-marching and over-fighting are not good for your army, but sometimes victory requires both.

A turn opens with drawing cards (not picking them as the text states). These are in player specific decks and provide (1) Random number draws for, for example, movement, (2) Events, (3) Enemy battle and Pursuit losses, and (4) Fatigue recovered. The two decks are different both as to events and the number and loss spreads. The Prussians as a result move slower and are less effective in combat even before counting in the French extra battle cards. But averages can be overcome and a Prussian victory can tip over plans (or leave them open to counter-attack).

Each event is coded for use in (1) The Draw Phase, (2) Initiative Phase, and (3) Operations. There are a goodly range of cards, many of which I have not seen but I remember warmly the "Rain" cards (which slow down units and cause extra fatigue) and the "Confusion" card that, as your opponent marches into an area with three connections, he halts due to map difficulties. They saved me from many a nasty end.

We open Operations by the player with Initiative selecting a corps (or stack of corps). They draw a card to get the base number of moves, add extra moves from one Corps Leader (or Napoleon), and then reduces that allowance based on number of Corps in the stack. The final number is a maximum number of areas moved into. However, if you move four movement points or more you will suffer fatigue points. Though your Corps leader might be able to help there if he has the ability to remove one Fatigue Point. One is faced with the classic choices: massed armies are slower (a bad card can leave you unable to move, an early wagon jam) but stronger. If you can get them moving (say with a six card) they can sweep forward, but the resultant fatigue points may require you to have a "rest day". I seldom moved my Prussians in big stacks until I had the opportunity to hold the ball carrier as Davout moved too far forward. The French player often tried to get a big stack of Napoleon, the Guard and Augereau moving though fortunately I was able to delay and mislead to avoid running into them (Bernadotte, Soult and Davout proved a testing threesome without the Napster).

Movement aims to do two things: move into combat or to flank and get behind the enemy lines. Moving into an Area with an enemy offers two choices. Firstly, you can move in and halt (you do take an extra Fatigue Point) having been activated. As an activated unit/stack you cannot join a subsequent attack as other friendly Corps move up, However, if the enemy attacks you, all defending Corps can join in. Secondly, you can move in and after taking your extra Fatigue Point you can attack all defenders BUT at the cost of one battle card foregone. Here the strength in depth of the French maréchalate shows in a corps to corps battle where the extra battle card of the better marshals can allow them to risk an attack on the move, depending on the better French cards. The Prussians must usually make do with moving up and not immediately attacking. Upon moving into a Contested Area the mover marks his area of entry with a jolly little wooden arrow by which he must leave if he moves next turn while still in a Contested Area. This can give value to holding a key area that might mean the opponent needs to move backwards before moving sideways and forwards.

Combat involves drawing battle cards for Corps strength, leader values, forests and events. The number of cards will show losses and fatigue points to be suffered by the other side. The side that inflicts the most losses wins, the loser retreats, and the winner may (with cavalry superiority) inflict further losses. It is very possible to lose while inflicting more fatigue points, and this may cause the victors to halt and reform. There are a wide range of outcomes even before adding event cards. On the whole the French should feel good about attacking, but the strategic position forces them to take chances. I never worried about being brought to battle but, as Generalfeldmarschall I thought twice before attacking the French.

Once everyone has moved or a double-pass occurred it is off into recovery. In this Inactive Corps can recover all Fatigue Points and one spare card can be used to help one Corps based on the card's Recovery Value. After this Corps with over four Fatigue Points lose one more combat cube. Moving and fighting is important but so is managing your fatigue; the Prussian is particularly open to being left in constant contact by several French Corps, one of which recovers its Fatigue each turn. That's what being on the back foot looks like.

There are extra optional rules to give Fog Of War (with dummies and upside down units) and supply. I've not tried any of them. At present learning the trade-offs in running the two armies is highest on my agenda. There were barely enough Prussian units to block (after a fashion) the various movement lines. A bloody French attack might leave them undermanned and out of position. But it could also leave the French close to losing a corps.

Victory is calculated by moving a marker towards one end of the chart. French losses and turns of Prussian control of three out of four fortresses add to the VP total, and Prussian losses reduce it. At one stage I got close to 20 and victory but the constant grind on my units in battle pulled this back though without approaching 0 and French victory.

Napoleon 1806 uses the bright and bouncy looks of a euro-game, and a wise simplicity to confront us with some of the issues of running both sides in 1806. It's a fast game but one that maximises the value of thinking. There is a lot more history here than in many a more complex game.
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Roger Hobden
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Nice review.

Thank you very much.

Added to wishlist.

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