Nightmare of Europe
From 1799 to 1815 the shadow of Napoleon Bonaparte loomed large over Europe. As First Consul, and then Emperor of France, Napoleon masterminded decisive victories over every major power on the continent. His ambition knew no bounds. The military machine he created seemed unstoppable.
Spain 1808: Unhappy with the capitulation of their government and the crowning of Joseph Bonaparte, local populations rebel. A series of setbacks and defeats checked the French. Inspired by Spanish victories, Austria and Great Britain form a Fifth Coalition against Napoleon. Britain sends an army to support its ally, Portugal, who has followed Spain in rebellion against the French occupiers.
Commands and Colors
Napoleonics is a war game based on the Commands & Colors (C&C) game system designed by Richard Borg. C&C is essentially a system that enables simplified yet compelling war gaming. It will be familiar to players of games such as Memoir '44, Battlelore, Battlecry, and Red Alert.
The system is recognisable for utilising battle dice and a shared deck of command cards. The battle dice enable combat to be resolved efficiently. The command cards form the game engine, driving movement and providing orders for Units. They also serve to create a fog of war effect which add to the realism. Games utilising the C&C system also have a game board that is a hex grid. This grid is divided into three sections: Left flank, Centre, and Right flank.
Napoleonics overlays this system with game concepts inspired by the era in which it is set. Aside from providing new challenges to veteran players, it adds historical depth to the game. This creates compelling gameplay that succeeds in simulating Napoleonic warfare.
The focus here is on confrontations between The First French Empire and Great Britain. Fifteen scenarios are included, showcasing engagements from Rolica in August 1808 to Waterloo in June 1815.
The game comes with eight Battle dice and 70 Command cards, which will drive movement and combat. There are also 56 double sided terrain tiles which players will use to enhance the battlefield.
Units are represented by 340 wooden blocks, to which illustrated stickers can be attached. There are three types of block included: Small squares (193) for Infantry, bigger squares (87) for Cavalry and rectangular blocks (60) for Artillery and Leaders. Blocks representing French units are Dark Blue, those representing British units are Red and Portuguese units are Brown.
I find assembling these pieces on the battlefield to be reminiscent of certain scenes in old war films. Scenes where aides drive blocks around huge maps representing a theatre of war, whilst the general assesses the whole picture. As fun as that is, setup can be a little time consuming. Players will need to decide on a scenario, set the terrain, and then place the units in their starting positions.
The stage is set. The battle lines are drawn and you are in command. Can you change history?
Prepare for battle
A typical turn consists of the active player revealing a Command card from their hand and carrying out the instruction(s). In rare instances the player may be unable (or unwilling) to play a card. At that point, the player discards a Command card, draws a new one then ends their turn.
There are two types of Command card: Section cards and Tactic cards.
- Section cards allow the player to activate one or more units in a specific section (or sections) of the battlefield.
- Tactic cards allow the player to take a special action or activate units from any section(s) of the battlefield.
After revealing a Command card, the player will nominate units to activate, then proceed to movement and combat. This is where gameplay becomes slightly less straightforward, at least initially.
Each unit has a set of rules governing its movement and combat attributes. In addition, each type of terrain tile has attributes which may affect a unit’s movement and/or combat effectiveness. This information is presented to players in the form of double sided A4 reference charts.
Whilst these charts are well laid out, it will take new players time to become familiar with key information. This inevitably slows down the game in early plays.
The player has the option to move activated units and then engage in combat. Movement is always completed first. The reference charts will enable the player to determine how many battle dice to roll for each combat. Combat itself, thanks to the battle dice, is resolved efficiently.
Once combat has been resolved, players will check the win conditions for the scenario. If either player can satisfy them, the game ends. The victor will revel in the spoils and the loser will put the kettle on (optional rule!). If neither player can satisfy the win conditions, the active player passes play to their opponent. Play continues until one player can claim victory.
The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies. - Napoleon Bonaparte.
Napoleonics is a welcome addition to the C&C family of games. It has enough depth to engage veteran players without, I feel, being overwhelming to new ones. The game mechanics lend themselves brilliantly to replicate the combined arms tactics (Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery) of the era.
This is a personal favourite of mine. It is highly regarded amongst my wargaming friends as one of, if not, the best war games available.
But it won't be for everyone. Scenarios can easily take over an hour to play through once, not accounting for set up and clear up time. The need (initially) to check reference charts for movement and combat may also put some players off.
If you like Memoir '44, Red Alert or Command & Colors Ancients, I would recommend Napoleonics.