Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Product Review: Napoleon in Europe

(Image:  Cover Art for Eagle Games, Napoleon in Europe)
 About a decade ago, my friend Joe and I attended the annual Christmas sale of the American Eagles game store in Tacoma.  (The store closed a few years later when the owner retired).  He pointed to the large boxed game, Napoleon in Europe and said, "you MUST buy this!"
I nearly baulked at the $100 price tag, but gave in to Joe's suggestion.
I'm glad I did.
Napoleon in Europe (NiE) is a strategy game produced by Eagle Games back in 2001.  It is out of print, but according to the Eagle/Gryphon Games website, cards and playing pieces are still available.  One can still find used/still-in-shrinkwrap copies of NiE on sites, like Board Game Geek's Market Place, for as low as $70; while others are available at "collector's prices," not to mention shipping and handling fees.
NiE is essentially a giant boardgame, that can accommodate up to 7 players.  But instead of the usual cardboard counters, the playing pieces are plastic figures, roughly within the popular 1/72 scale.  This provides a toy soldier playset feel for the players.  A detailed review of the pieces themselves is available at Plastic Soldier Review.  These figures come in some of the "traditional" uni-colors...
(Image from:  BoardGame Geek)
...but some enterprising gamers even painted their collection:
(Image from:  BoardGame Geek)
A deck of event/effect cards is also included...
(Image from: BoardGame Geek)
...along with countersheets representing status markers, fleets and national markers to show political and economic strength, along with territorial claims.  As the Wikipedia entry explains, the unique feature of NiE is the use of these PAPs, which display a nation's flag, or national symbol:
(Image from:  BoardGame Geek)
It takes PAPs to do just about anything, beyond moving troops around and fighting--although it costs PAPs to declare war and sue for peace.  Even making an alliance with a fellow player will cost the initiator a PAP.
The rules have three levels of play: Basic, Standard and Advanced. The Basic rules are similar to Risk and may be a good way to introduce children and adolescents into gaming. With the Standard and Advanced Rules, each game scenario can be played historically, or a-historically. This primarily affects how the event/effect cards are played. In an historical game, these cards can only be used by certain nations and often only during certain years. While in a-historical games, these cards can be used by any nation, which more often than not, skews the game from historical reality--but is a lot of fun!
No matter what level of play you indulge in, one must utilize a blend of economic, political and military power to win the game.
(Image of the NiE Tracking Card from:  BoardGame Geek)
Nine scenarios represent a major campaign in the Revolutionary/Napoleonic_Wars, with a hypothetical tenth scenario takes place in 1820.  Each completed turn representing a month and there's a Production Phase every 3 months, where players can replenish their treasury and raise more troops.  It's even possible to play out the entire Napoleonic Wars, from 1796 to 1815--in theory anyway.
The seven nations represented (with miniature color) in NiE are, listed in turn-order:  England (red), France (dark blue), Russia (green), Austria (grey), Prussia (purple), Spain (yellow) and the Ottoman Empire (tan). 
A battle ensues when a player moves one, or more of his military units into a territory occupied by another player's force he's currently at war with.  (Or if he's attempting to annex a minor country).  Players then scoop up their figures, or check which group is listed under the standard-bearer figure, and array their units on the battle board:
(Battleboard image from:  BoardGame Geek)
For a major battle, consisting of 6 or more figures on each side, the board is broadly divided into sections representing an army's left flank, right flank, center, reserve and retreat areas.  The basic units of infantry, cavalry and artillery posses the traditional strengths and weaknesses of their troop types.  There must be at least one figure occupying the left, right and center areas on his side of the battleboard.  Unless one player has a light cavalry advantage, both players arrange their individual units behind an impromptu screen.  Gamemaster's Screens from a role-playing game is excellent for this.
A battle is fought in a series of rounds, which moving against and/or attacking his opponents pieces.  Once all of a player's figures have been destroyed, or forced to retreat from a left, right or center area, the battle ends and the losing player must retreat from the territory. 
Losing a major battle forces the player to roll two 6-sided dice (d6) against his Commitment Rating to determine if he remains, or gets knocked out of the war.  He can also voluntarily sue for peace at the cost of 2 PAPs.
Skirmishes are minor battles fought with less than 6 units per side and no battleboard is used.
(Image:  A skirmish between a British and French army during our 1800 Secnario game)
That's basically it.
NiE is a fun game to play, especially if you can muster 7 gamers together.  I'd love to say my friends and I have played this regularly, but ever since buying NiE we may have gotten together at a rate of once a year to play.  During this time we've never managed to assemble 7 players.  The most we've had gathered around the game table was 6 and that was only once.
On the flip side, having 7 players at the gaming table, often means that 5-6 of them are idle while one player executes his moves.  Idle players are become mere spectators to a battle, which can last several rounds when the armies become large.  Which more often than not--they do.
(Image: A battle between an Austrian and French Army during our 1800 Scenario game)
 While NiE is a fine game in and of itself, it can do with several improvements.  Especially if your group uses the Advanced Rules, like ours does during our intermittant get-togethers.  These rules incoporporate such things as light infantry, heavy cavalry, horse artillery, militia, and irregular cavalry, just to name a few.
BoardGame Geek's file section contains a plethora of downloadable playing aids that help make the game run smoother.  Of these, the Terrain Cards and Army Cards have proven to be the most popular and invaluable.  The Army Cards help organize everyone's forces and provide a sturdy platform to move an army over to the battle board.
(Image:  The British 1st Army during our 1800 Scenario Game)
While the terrain cards provide additional tactical puzzles to the battleboard.  The location and type of terrain held by an opponent is also kept hidden by the impromptu screen, unless one has a light cavalry advantage.
(Image: Austrians attempt to dislodge the French from the woods on the French right flank)
However, it takes more than free downloadable stuff to improve some of NiE's aesthetic deficiencies.  Shortly after buying the game, I ordered more unit miniatures and horses in every color Eagle Games offered. 
My priority was to switch out the purple figures used for the Prussians and replace them with black.  
(Image:  The Prussian Army mobilizes in our 1800 Scenario Game)
I also bought white figures for the Austrians.  To this day, I'm still wondering why Eagle games didn't use these more "traditional" colors in the first place.  (Purple Prussians!?  Are you freakin' kidding me!?).  Probably to get gamers to buy more accessories--like I did.
Here's a rundown of some of the color-coordinating I did with my game:
Black units = Prussians
White units = Austrians
Grey units = militia
Light Blue units = minor nation allies
Purple units = minor nation opponents
White horses = mounts for leaders
Black horses = mounts for heavy cavalry
Gery horses = mounts for irregular cavalry (Cossacks primarily)
As mentioned in the Plastic Soldier Review, NiE figures are generic and not-quite historical.  So to spruce things up, I bought several 1/72-Scale box sets, mainly from Italeri and some from HaT
National Leaders, found in some of the on-line house rules, are from some of the following sets:
Instead of the counters to indicate light infantry, there's British Light Infantry, conveniently painted olive drab, so they can be used by any nation.  Not quite historical, but they effectively identify these special troops.
To make the Ottomans look "less European," I've added figures from the Saracen Warriors and Arab Warriors sets. 
Employing some of the house rules found on-line, I use the Saracen and Arab figures to represent the normal Ottoman troops, which are considered militia/irregular.  The standard figures, representing regular infantry and cavalry are the Jannissaries.  Again, not quite historical, but it adds color to the game. 
Major battles can be confusing affairs, especially when the battleboard is crammed with figures.  The original rules call for figures to be turned sideways, or completely around to illustrate forming a square or becoming disordered.  This is often hard to distinguish on a crowded battlefield.  To remedy this, I'll cannibilize various status counters from one of my La Bataille Series Games from Clash of Arms.
(Image:  Spanish infantry form square against an Austrian cavalry charge)
For finishing touches, I added the flag decals to the standard bearer figures Eagle Games offered at the time.  Although I need to slather on gobs of glue to make them stick.  Finally, I bought a variety of appropriately colored dice, so each player can have a set.
Overall, I think I spent another $50 for additional figures and dice, not to mention replacing an ink cartridge or two for my printer. 
But the results have been worth it.


Unknown said...

This is a well written and thorough review. Nicely done!

Ted Henkle said...

Thank you Anne! I'm hoping to post a game review of our last session within the next couple of days.