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Subject: The most beautiful game in the universe. rss

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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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"At the landing, and here ever since" - Anzac Book, p. 35.
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The most beautiful game in the universe.

This is not a review of the gameplay. As such, people seeking to understand how to play the game should look elsewhere. Instead, this is a review on what makes Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe.

So, why do a few blocks of wood, some tiny bits of metal, and a mounted map all in a sturdy cardboard box make Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe?

It is not so much that they 'shock' you with their amazing beauty. Individually, and at first glance, the components appear to be of a simple design and an average gamer may not be immediately awe-struck when opening the box.

There are two large bags of blocks, one bag coloured red, the other blue, with block having a unit symbol on it.

There is a bag of metal 'commander' pieces (and a sheet of stickers which need to be applied - plus a spare sheet in case you make a mistake).

The average gamer may get a little excited when they notice two rulebooks - marvellous, one for each player (not standard fare in the vast majority of games).

And most gamers will get increasingly excited on seeing the innovative map design by Bowen Simmons, focusing on 'locales' rather than hexes (eg: traditional hex-and-counter games), or point-to-point movement (eg: card-driven wargames).

But individually, the components are not enough to promote the game to 'the most beautiful game in the universe'



Even after setting up, with commanders and corps organised and with one's army stretching out along the battlefield, one will be increasingly excited. But still, the game's 'true beauty' is not yet revealed.



True Beauty

The key to the games aesthetic praise, and the 'true beauty' that makes Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe, is only revealed in the dynamics of gameplay.

It is only when these well-ordered pieces begin to move, when the battle begins to unfold, and when the two armies clash in lines stretching out along the battlefield, that the true beauty of the game is revealed.

For whilst superficially beautiful (ie: nice-looking components), the 'true beauty' of the game is the result of the combination of those components in a thematically-intense, strategically-rich, and excitement-filled setting. The 'true beauty' of the game lies in the sense of actually feeling that one is a 'god-like commander' moving actual regiments and brigades around a battlefield.



No game I have played has ever conveyed the imagined sense of 'realism' that Napoleon's Triumph does. No game I have played has ever made me feel as much a 'god-like commander' on a battlefield as much Napoleon's Triumph does. This is not to say that the game is 'realistic' (nor am I saying this is the 'most realistic' wargame); a real commander (eg: Napoleon) would not have been able to see all his troops at all times, and he wouldn't have had that supreme ability to immediately order his troops about. But in the sense that most wargames put these issues aside and most wargames treat the player as a 'god-like commander', Napoleon's Triumph gives the player the most 'realistic' feeling of being immersed as the 'god-like commander' that other games try to accommodate.

In that position as the 'god-like commander', players have full knowledge of their units' strength and positions and a 'gods-eye' view of the battlefield (enemy units are generally 'hidden'). This is hardly different from most other wargames that deal with single battles. So what is it that makes Napoleon's Triumph stand out about other games in this genre? Once again, it is the combination of the components with the gameplay. The use of long rectangular blocks, often placed along an attacking 'approach' (or 'front'), facing off against enemy blocks, also placed along a defending 'approach' (or 'front') does more to convey a sense of 'realism' (for a 'god-like commander' in this style of warfare) than cardboard counters.



The fact that these units are on a lightly shaded map that only delicately (but clearly) conveys the terrain (and the impact of that terrain on gameplay) means that 'the battle' is the focus of one's attention. Players are 'immersed' in the battle and, after a few 'learning' games (particularly in learning the attack sequence), are not distracted by 'chrome', 'exceptions', or 'obscure rules'. There is little on the map that can potentially confuse or distract the player. It is 'clear and functional', and yet at the same time 'simple and beautiful'. A quick glance of the map quickly and clearly conveys the broad situation in the battle. A closer look enables the player to quickly reveal the finer 'tactical' details (primarily the strength of units and the terrain obstacles they may face).



Maps and 'movement areas' are abstracted in all battle-focused wargames. But perhaps a standout feature of Napoleon's Triumph is the 'less-standard' (innovative) way of abstracting movement. The use of locales [non-standard areas to move into] and 'approaches' [the border of locales used as the potential 'front' or 'face' of battle] helps to convey the imagined sense of a more realistic 'battle situation'.

In essence, Napoleon's Triumph is the most beautiful game in the universe because it is the game that is most effective in combining clear, simple and attractive components with a well-thought-out rule-set to facilitate an environment that enables players to deeply engage with the battle to the point where, relative to other games, they most feel that they are a 'god-like commander' controlling units on a battlefield.



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Pablo Galbraith
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I really like your aesthetic approach, and your hyperbole as well. The map, the blocks, the system and the dynamics of this game has always intrigued me, only the theme holds me back, maybe because I do not know about this battle very much.
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Coen Velden
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You simply confirmed everything I thought about this beautiful game, thanks!
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Dallas Tucker
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angelusnovus wrote:
I really like your aesthetic approach, and your hyperbole as well. The map, the blocks, the system and the dynamics of this game has always intrigued me, only the theme holds me back, maybe because I do not know about this battle very much.

I was totally uninterested in Napoleonic battles, but got this game anyway. I have since read up on some of the history of the time, because of this game.

I am primarily interested in ancient history and in WWII stuff, (plus sci-fi and fantasy) but this is among my very favorite games despite the theme. The game and the theme work so well together that, despite my general ambivalence toward Napoleonic times, I would probably like it less if it were sci-fi or fantasy or WWII.
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NT is beautiful in the way Bach's fugue or a mathematical formula is beautiful: it is simple and it makes perfect sense.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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I think this thread may put a smile on Bowen's face. I hope so.
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Jim F
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I pretty much bought this game based on its looks and we have never looked back. The man in the shop opened it to show it to me. He took a risk as it involved removing the shrink wrap but I think he knew what he was doing.
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M·ANTONIVS·M·F·M·N
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S. Deniz Bucak
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Pictures really don't do the game justice. Understated elegance is the aesthetic here. The long army blocks work well with the way the pieces tend to line up in the game. The map looks like it came from the 19th century. The total effect is gorgeous and completely different from the "tons of goober" look that Fantasy Flight games have or the "information overload" look of many hex and counter wargames.
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Tom
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As someone for whom aesthetics in a boardgame are as important as the gameplay, after your review I couldn't resist anymore and decided to purchase the game. Thank you.
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Dallas Tucker
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solkan1 wrote:
As someone for whom aesthetics in a boardgame are as important as the gameplay, after your review I couldn't resist anymore and decided to purchase the game. Thank you.

This is a game where after one reading of the rules (or during the first reading), you need to push pieces around the map and see what happens. Once you get over the initial hump, the game plays very naturally.
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Tom
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Quote:
This is a game where after one reading of the rules (or during the first reading), you need to push pieces around the map and see what happens. Once you get over the initial hump, the game plays very naturally.
Yes, I've noticed the rules don't seem to be easy enough to comprehend them fully just after reading them or even after the first game...
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R Larsen
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solkan1 wrote:
Quote:
This is a game where after one reading of the rules (or during the first reading), you need to push pieces around the map and see what happens. Once you get over the initial hump, the game plays very naturally.
Yes, I've noticed the rules don't seem to be easy enough to comprehend them fully just after reading them or even after the first game...

Of critical importance in reading the rules to NT, is to not put more into the rules than is written. Do as they say, period, nothing more, nothing less.
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A L
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"I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty."
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I played this game for the first time last night and loved it.

What I would like to know is why hasn't this approach (locales, approaches, etc.) been widely adopted in Napoleonic and earlier single battle games?

It works perfectly.
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HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
I played this game for the first time last night and loved it.

What I would like to know is why hasn't this approach (locales, approaches, etc.) been widely adopted in Napoleonic and earlier single battle games?

It works perfectly.

Looking back after NT, I find many wargames to be either lazy -- relying on dice/card for simulation, or clumsy -- a new rule for every effect, or both.
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David
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Amnese wrote:

...Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe...
Amen to that brother.
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R Larsen
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HarlemMimeSchool wrote:
I played this game for the first time last night and loved it.

What I would like to know is why hasn't this approach (locales, approaches, etc.) been widely adopted in Napoleonic and earlier single battle games?

It works perfectly.

Well, some of us have tried, the problem is, what Bowen makes look easy, is close to impossible to us mortals.

I tried a north italy game, but only with partial rules and testing, and after an extremely busy time with work just never found time to get back to it. Bowen did the great favor of putting my map in a good format on his own site. Take a look: http://www.simmonsgames.com/products/Austerlitz/CorsicanUpst...

And another complete game HAS been made and published - Baptism at Bull Run I believe it is called. I have still to try that one.

Ras
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Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
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Thanks for your great review!
I must admit something: I own NT, I think it looks beautiful, I want to love it as much as you (and many others) but unfortunately I don't like to play NT. Silly as really I can't put my finger behind the exact reason. This is really frustrating as I am envious about your feelings about NT; I want to love it as much as you do!
Well I keep trying and thanks to reviews like these I am not going to give up NT. Holiday has started and setting it up right away. Hope I will see the light this weekend....
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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WalterLai wrote:
Looking back after NT, I find many wargames to be either lazy -- relying on dice/card for simulation, or clumsy -- a new rule for every effect, or both.
I can't agree with the first part of that statement, because I don't see the use of randomizing elements in a game design as lazy. I don't think Bowen does either, as should be made clear once The Guns of Gettysburg is released. I do agree that Bowen's games are marvelously elegant, though (and GoG serves as an example of that as well).
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Sphere wrote:
I can't agree with the first part of that statement, because I don't see the use of randomizing elements in a game design as lazy. I don't think Bowen does either, as should be made clear once The Guns of Gettysburg is released. I do agree that Bowen's games are marvelously elegant, though (and GoG serves as an example of that as well).

I am not against the use of randomizing elements, Sphere. Nor am I against dice or cards. Some of my highest rated games have dice in them -- EastFront to name one. But I do find games who rely on dice/cards for simulation to be lazy. How do we reproduce a flank attack? Make it a card. Birds got suck in the jet engine? Roll a die.

I believe it is very easy to write a monster game with a rulebook the size of a phone directory. When in doubt, add a paragraph or introduce a chart. That's what I meant by lazy and clumsy.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Thanks for clarifying, Walter. I didn't get that from the post. There's no doubt that some designers take shortcuts for various reasons. Bowen will work at something until he's got it right, but I see that as a consequence of both his nature and his situation: he's a perfectionist, and he doesn't have to deal with deadlines.
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Francis Bergeron
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Beautiful you said!!!!... just unfolding unfolding the board make me shiver!!!

Got the game since a long time but only 2 games played modest ... hard to get willing friends to the table...

But even if i played only 2 games i already know that this game is a pure fine rare diamond.
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Gary Logs
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Great summary! I've just started looking into this game and agree with your perspective. I also like the way the subtle formtaion positions keep the feel of open terrain and movement options.
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Menin Gate at Midnight, Will Longstaff, 1927.
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ncree wrote:
Great summary! I've just started looking into this game and agree with your perspective. I also like the way the subtle formtaion positions keep the feel of open terrain and movement options.

Hi Gary,
Welcome to the site!
For anyone who likes the allure of Napoleon's Triumph, I'd also recommend Bonaparte at Marengo. It doesn't provide quite the same visual appeal as there is much more mobility (ie: less static 'lines') and it has a subtly different gameplay style, but it is still a very attractive and enjoyable game.
Cheers,
Nathan
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