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Subject: Napoleonics - Vive l'Empereur rss

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Isaac Citrom
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There doesn't seem to be much on BGG. Does anyone have any comments to make on the Vive l'Empereur series, in particuar the two most recent games, La Bataille de Leipzig and Le Retour de l'Empereur. I think the games look amazing but I was wondering about play and Napoleonic historicity. I understand that the rules set is not the La Bataille series but do you think Vive l'Empereur is "good" nonetheless as a "medium" complexity rules set?



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Benjamin Fierce
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I'd like to hear thoughts on it too, it looks very interesting! Though, like so many Napoleonic games, no VASSAL module.
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Alfred Wallace
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The Pratzen Napoleonics games I'm familiar with--Le Vol de l'Aigle--are fairly obsessive in their detail and accuracy (or at least they feel accurate), and all these are by the same designer, so I imagine there's at least a whiff of grapeshot in these.
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Charles Vasey
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Here is a review I did some years ago for the Friedland game in the same series.


LA BATAILLE DE FRIEDLAND

Didier Rouy for Azure Wish



The La Bataille series and its cousin from SIMTAC are complex systems working in great detail aiming to achieve almost drill-book level simulation at battalion/battery level. They provide something that responds to the control-freak and detail obsession of gamers but at a frightful cost in time and space. But if a job’s worth doing obsessively then it is worth doing well. Neither game flinches from its own internal logic. And for this they deserve respect.

Rising up the tree of simplicity we reach the Berg proxy forces of Bey and Brandsma, soon to be joined by Richard’s Triumph and Glory which hit at the regimental/brigade level. Driven by LIMs with perpetually rallying forces these game represent something rather more in the game side of the equation than the historical. Especially the latter system which is not exactly the product of an overwhelming desire to register the unique features of Napoleonic warfare (judging from the speed of the cookie cutter). But sniff though the purist might he is able at least play these.

Astonishingly some folks believe these are the choices but there are two systems whose approach is at regimental/brigade level and which place a premium on playability. The GamesUSA series (with Eylau soon to join) is pretty gamey (a mile of modifiers), but by lifting you to a level above file-closer they provide a width of vision to replace the depth. Azure Wish are in the same scale but they have a figure-gamers joy in formations and detail and provide yet another set of qualities which you might find fit your style if the above do not.

The thing that most immediately gets criticised with Azure Wish is the map. Let’s be honest folks it is pretty poor, executed in rough crayon (or so it appears to the untutored eye) the result is something you might expect a child to achieve. This of course exercises many gamers mightily; I must confess, despite its ugliness, it was very effective in play. This may not excuse it, but it certainly removes it from the list of things that need to concern me further.

The rectangular counters are effective but not very pretty. The uniform icons of the present wave of games are not present. Indeed the counters bear a very spooky resemblance to those of the GamesUSA games. I say this not to imply one copied the other but to give you a comparative. The top half of the counter has a number of rectangular blocks to give a feel of numbers. The bottom half has all the factors. Here we encounter a strong point of Azure Wish it is pretty easy to grasp what your various formations do. Each counter has a note of the Fire factor, the Melee Multiplier, number of steps (counters) and movement. They may not be very pretty but, once again, they work.

Let’s start with infantry. They can be in a number of formations. General Order looks like a Column but is only found in woods, brush or towns. It maximises melee strength and minimises fire. In line formation (the topside of the counter) the unit faces a hex vertex. Firepower is improved (three to five compared to one for a column) but melee capability lacks the column modifier. The column involves flipping over the counter and facing a hex edge. As the front hex(es) of each unit is what the formation advances into there is a special free-turn rule for the columns to overcome its innate disadvantage from having but one front hex. The column moves much faster and most of you will want to advance in column before deploying into line. Infantry in square is achieved by adding a second, blank, rectangular counter to the back of the line formation, hey presto a square. Disorganised infantry does actually require a marker on the counter (the only case of this being needed in this clever system). Finally skirmishers form like line but with the counter on a hex-edge, thus covering two hexes. Skirmishers cannot be used in woods (one uses general order there) and the main advantage is to take fire out to two hexes. Only pukkha light units may assume this formation.

The cavalry usually gallop around in column formation, typically this supplies a Melee Multiplier of 3 (light and dragoons) or 4 (cuirassiers). When the cavalry charge the counter is flipped into line and the multiplier goes up to twice that. Cavalry units attacked can counter-charge, that is go into charge mode themselves. A line of poor-morale (and probably therefore training) cavalry are going to find it hard to go into the counter-charge and are thus more likely to be overwhelmed. The Melee value of a good infantry regiment in line can be 10 to 15, but that of a charging heavy cavalry unit is maybe 30-35. Of course the infantry will fire first and this may disorganise the cavalry but facing good morale cavalry is a tough proposition. Going into square will halve the melee value of the cavalry, but of course may lead to unpleasant casualties from artillery, and reduces the firepower of the infantry (but increases the infantry morale). A cavalry charge is, as it should be, a very exciting part of the battle.

Artillery uses three formations disorganised (the marker again), limbered (column-like) and unlimbered (in line). A good battery of Russian heavies will fire with the equivalent value of a regiment of infantry. One does not tool around in front of Russian guns. The design notes warn that you will loses a number of strength points every turn from artillery and they are not kidding, make sure your assaulting infantry are pre-positioned before they cross the field-of-fire.

Each game turn is 30 minutes long (though in our view 45 to 60 minutes would be closer to its feel). The turn opens with moving the cavalry charges, other units then move, they take defensive fire, offensive fire, Melee and Rally. The second player then repeats the sequence. Nothing very exciting then, although the command rules can introduce a few more jollies.

Leaders appear as jolly little round counters with a picture of Our Hero and a Morale and Melee advantage. Being with a Leader means never having to say you are sorry. There are also decoy counters, counters for putting your units in reserve and Random events chits like finding fords.

Stacking is strictly in terms of steps, ten of artillery and infantry and seven of cavalry. This usually means a maximum of two units. The top one only fires, but both units count for combat. Losses are used to devour the top unit first. Losses are marked on rosters with a shaded box when you should switch to the lower value counter for that regiment. [And, yes you can have “ordre mixte”].

Movement is comparatively swift (a column can cross the board in four turns) so you must position yourself with care, especially reserve formations. The cavalry can withdraw from in front of infantry and does so in movement (so avoiding being shot at) but only with a good morale test.

Fire uses a simple strength-compared-to-dice chart that gives losses and disorganisation tests. Firepower is reduced for artillery units at longer ranges, and there are die modifiers for grapeshot (adjacent artillery) and firing on squares. This means you can often throw a series of d6s and read the results along the line. Minimising modifiers makes for faster play. A grape-shotted Russian battery can blow away entire cavalry regiments and combat levels on infantry regiments. Fire is so powerful, as noted above, that one must aim to close, suffer one volley, and attack in one turn. Standing around in range simply leads to disorganisations. There are jolly opportunity fire rules for those of you who insist on walking about adjacent to the enemy.

Is fire too strong? On the average I think not, one can easily see the slaughter in front of the redoubts at Borodino being repeated. Where the system goes wrong (if I may be so bold) is in the disorganisation result that is a little too bloody. Disorganisation is triggered by fire or melee (as well as such jollies as failing to get into square) and results in the unit being not only weak, but susceptible to elimination if disorganised again (which it will be given its weakness). Even worse this status cannot be cured for two whole turns. Unless you have a reserve line behind which to hide your disorganised units (but one that does not itself run when collided into by disorganised forces) you are at risk from marauding opponents. “Disorganisation” is a pretty good simulation of rout, but the game does not provide a halfway house that most might think of as being disorganised. This does, of course simplify matters, but even I (arch-simplifier) find it a little too strong.

Melee as noted above uses multiples of strength to give losses, morale tests or disorganisations. There are the usual concepts of flank and rear attack. There is a very jolly protected flank rule whereby he cannot flank you if in turn he exposes his flank or rear to your carefully positioned chums. Given the intensity of close action I find the lack of a disorganised status less questionable here, but once again a combat will usually end with one side running away as fast as it can, which feels much more correct.

Charges are, as noted above, a very good way to boost your melee strength. It is vital to counter-charge (if cavalry) or be in square (if infantry) even if the infantry is massed with say 20 points of melee value. However deciding whether to stay out of square within range of enemy cavalry is ticklish. You need a morale test to get into square, but if you fail you disorganise and that is tantamount to extreme death. Le Comte de Siggins was of the view that the risk was too great. I understand that the system does indicate that the best way to storm a village is to charge it with cavalry (how very like Borodino) so perhaps a few more modifiers may be needed.

Morale uses 2d6 against morale values (usually in the 8-9 range) don’t forget (as we did) that an unmodified 2 is always a success and a 12 a failure (even with commanders present). Rallying requires that you survive two turns (thanks to other reserves) and pass a morale test. A failed test obliges you to keep retreating. As losses mount the morale of the whole army will be affected. Morale levels are reduced, disorganised units are not eliminated but (even worse) straggle to the rear triggering further disorganisation.

The optional rules add another level of detail.

· Skirmishers now get the advantage of cover from enemy fire and may withdraw before combat like cavalry (which should allow the tirailleurs to gall their formed opponents).

· Artillery counter-battery fire is less effective than the normal variety (having a less dense target)

· Unlimbered artillery which is disorganised no longer retreats and can be overrun

· Light cavalry get benefits when attacking disorganised units

· Heavy cavalry get a melee modifier except against other heavies

· Cavalry cannot charge in successive turns

· Disorganised units hit a second time rout rather than vanish with faster retreat, lower values and “contamination” of those who see this distressing spectacle (much as when the Army is demoralised).



The Command Rules are presented in three levels (from which you may pick your own favourites). The first is the usual “leader as bonus” method that does not clutter up play. The second level requires units to be with 6 hexes of the commander of their corps (although special divisional commanders – Oudinot for example - may be able to bend this). Leaders in turn must be within 10 hexes of the overall commander. The third level involves the writing and transmission of orders with an even more complex fourth version firmly in The Gamers territory.

The rules also permit deployment of units ahistorically by the play of alternating commander counters on the strategic map, though within some historical limits. There are time limits, decoys and reserves and even an interactive game whereby corps activate alternatively within some neat rules to handle armies with different numbers of corps.

Finally, and worth adding, are the Random Events. These are drawn throughout the game and may be used to “cheat”. You may, (as I mentioned above) as the Russian player, discover a ford. The Intuition counter allows you to temporarily halt enemy movement and change your counter’s facing, formation and even move it slightly. There are thirty of these, some are only useable with the advanced rules but there are plenty of interesting possibilities that will be enjoyed by those who read contemporary battle accounts of the period.

What then can one say of the specific scenario? Friedland sees the French massed with considerable numerical advantages against the Russians pinned on the Alle River. If Ney and Lannes can jump on the Russian left they can be driven into the river, although the Lifeguard Corps may have something to say on the topic. This flank action involves chasing Raevsky’s men out of the woods and then pinning and flanking Markov.

The Russian right wing led by Gortchakov has a nasty gun line and the support of numerous cavalry formations. One may decide to finish it after the left wing has been overwhelmed. In our case a mistimed attack by Lannes was beaten off and Ney just about halted from flanking while Gortchakov withstood an assault and used the cavalry to roll up the wreckage of the French attack.

The exclusive rules are contained on four pages including the set-up (there are numerous number errors on the counters so check both sides). The scenario notes include the rules for fords and the Russian pontoon train. The Russian artillery is under supplied and must therefore keep half its batteries limbered (although you can use damaged batteries for this) as caisson reserves. There are special rules for the Russian wing commanders (whizzo prang what?) and Oudinot (a division commander with attitude) and Murat (who enters on an option). Demoralisation levels are given (which encourage the Russians to hold Friedland and the French not to commit the Guard).

There are then a number of battle options that can be used at a cost to the selecting side from a 4 point budget. For example, the French may select to remove the Russian ford (2 points), Saint-Sulspice’s division arrives (I assume 1 point) and Markov and Uvarov have a reduced obedience roll - too much vodka! The Russian might respond with Borozdin’s Corps appearing (2 points) and the French 1st Corps artillery being delayed (2 points).

Aside from the slaughter of the disorganisation I was very impressed with this system. Its combat and fire systems are simple enough to make play swift. Its formations are painless yet atmospheric. The range of choice for the level of detail and complexity is most impressive. The individual details of the battle full of flavour and redolent (if I may abuse this word) of the enthusiasm and knowledge of the designers. This is not La Bataille complexity, but it shares the same enthusiasm and excitement. Even the awful map is of no moment in combat, where its blocky colouring helps with play. If I could but modify the terrible slaughter of the disorganisation – perhaps a rally attempt in the next or same turn – this would be a very good system.

To compare it to its rival the Glory system may be of use. The combat both systems use is of roughly similar complexity – both designers seek not to overwhelm the player. Azure Wish have formations which Glory does not, but at very little cost in complexity. Glory takes longer as it seeks to add a chaotic element with the LIMs which many find very satisfying. The rosters, brutal CRTs and tough disorganisation rules makes Azure Wish a game for the stoical player who is prepared to accept losses. The more nancy-boy of our brethren will prefer Glory where nothing really nasty ever happens. You must choose between the constant flow of rallied units in Glory and the considerable lack of rallied units in Azure Wish.

On to Eckmuhl!!

(c) Charles Vasey 1999
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Nicola Ciabatti
Italy
Firenze
Tuscany
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I own both La Bataille de Leipzig and Le Retour de l'Empereur, but not the previous games in the series. I particularly like the latter, which contains scenarios that are more manageable.
In my opinion, the rules for written orders add a lot to the game, especially if you play with a non-competitive (or, at least, a not too much competitive) opponent. Maybe a few house rules are needed, but I find it's true for all the games I play. For example, I don't like the possibility to freely change formation in front on an enemy unit, so I house-ruled that it causes opportunity fire.
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