Friday, August 1, 2008

Nappy done right

This week, Mike and I sat down again to give Napoleon's Triumph a proper go. Last week's botched attempt left us wanting more. We took the same sides as before as that would make it easiest to jump right in. In all the pictures, the French are blue, Allies red.

One of the key parts of playing the French at Austerlitz is how you organize your forces. I'm sure with more experience I'll get better at this. I wasn't sure which way to go with things so I decided on a balanced approach. With one exception, I gave at least 3-strength infantry and one 2-strength cavalry to each corps. The exception was Bessieres. I gave him a cavalry-only corps including the heavy cavalry. My idea was to use them to exploit a gap I was hoping to open on my left flank. That's not what he ended up doing, but he still proved mighty effective.

I kept my guard infantry with my reinforcements. My feeling was if I was going to need to bring them on, I was going to need the big guys. Davout just got a command full of 2-strength infantry. I was intending to go the entire game without bringing on reinforcements as the French victory conditions become MUCH harder if they arrive.

Here's the initial deployment:

So, let's see how things progressed.

Mike started out closing up the loop in his line and pressuring on my weak right. However, my right was weak for a reason – there's a lake and swamp down there that is impassable. Around it are difficult narrow approaches so it doesn't take much of a force to hold down that flank. I responded by solidifying my line, with the cavalry on my far left.

Mike pushed further in the middle, and I drew back a tad, leaving my left a bit exposed. At this point, he's driven down to the lake, but I have the approaches on either side blocked with high-strength units.

Here, I make what could be a mistake by pushing again on my left. I also begin a more active defense on my right. Mike responds by reinforcing against my left, pushing harder in the center, and feinting against the gap between my center and left.

I give a little ground while Mike starts applying pressure all along the line.

I then try to exploit a gap he leaves in the center and he responds by pouring through the gap between my overly advanced left and my center.

Here is where I'm able to start breaking down his center. I've isolated the fighting into two distinct areas, and have some control over where I'm able to reinforce. However, Lannes' corp, the infantry that Bessieres was escorting disappears at this point. Also, Mike used a rule I'd simply forgotten (you can attack twice over the same approach in a turn if the first attack was led by artillery) to destroy St. Hilaire's corps in the center.

After two more turns, I now only have Legrand on my right and a small handful of detached units scattered between there and the middle. I've dropped onto the last column of the morale chart, and things are looking iffy.

There's now three turns left. I'm down to 5 on the morale chart as you can see in the bottom left of the above photo. I've begun dropping off units from Bessieres' corp as a screen. As cavalry in reserve don't lose strength when they retreat, I can avoid committing my heavy cavalry and taking the morale hit. I've also got Vandamme's and Murat's corps that can skirt into the middle and push for VP spaces. It's just a matter now of me not dying too fast and I might be able to squeak out a marginal victory.

Around this point I considered bringing on reinforcements for the morale boost, but the change in victory conditions would make it nearly impossible for me to win. Mike had a huge corps on the main road in position to scoop up victory spaces – something that matters if I bring on reinforcements but doesn't, really, if I don't.

So, now it was a game of chicken. Make it hard for Mike to trap me, push deep in the middle, and screen on my left.

The following is the final position. Believe it or not, I was down to 1 on the morale track. One more loss (or being forced to commit my heavy cavalry) would have caused a loss. As it was, I had taken VP spots, so I ended up with the slimmest of marginal victories.

It wasn't until after we were finished that we noticed the infantry that occupied VP spaces at the end needed to be able to trace a supply line back to the French side of the board. Mike merely needed to cut me off to prevent my victory, but I'm not sure he would have been able to. I could have traced down the left (as pictured) the right, or the middle. The supply trace down the left would have been particularly difficult for him to cut off. At least by the time he realized the game situation (which was with about three turns left.)

So, the slimmest of French victories. And, looking at that final position, it's difficult to see how it's a French win, but that's what the rules say – so I'll take it :)

Overall Thoughts

In recent years, there have been many stellar wargame designs geared for shorter play. (i.e. less than four hours.) This is absolutely right there at the top. Actually, I think it shares the top with Combat Commander, and they're polar opposites. NT is no-luck, CC has tons of it. Both are incredibly fulfilling experiences. Items that struck me as particularly good with NT are the following:

Command and control modeling. The fact that you only get three or four independent unit orders each turn despite the fact that more and more units get detached from their corps over the course of the game means you can control a smaller and smaller percentage of your force as the battle progresses. Exactly as happened in reality.

Attack feints. This beautifully simulates the effect of a defending unit being surrounded. Use a series of feints to pull the unit in multiple directions and the remainder is too weak to resist the true thrust. The great thing about this feature is it's simply an offshoot of the standard combat mechanism. No special rules about attacking over multiple approaches, etc.

Fog of War. Okay, this is pretty much a given for any block game, but it's still a big benefit.

The “Look.” Bowen Simmons has done a wonderful job breathing life into the old-style battle maps. And I love the corps markers in NT. Need to find where I can get some more – I've got some ideas on how to use them for a couple miniatures games.

There's more, but they're things you notice when you're down deep in it that make you go "wow. great design." (Like a simple rule - cavalry do not take a loss when forced to retreat while in reserve in a locale - that just makes cavalry screens work beautifully.)

It's going to be a long time before this game plays itself through. There are so many options available that you could play this game once a month for at least a couple years before you start running low on ways to run the battle.

Simply a fantastic game. Glad I've got my copy before they sell out (Bonaparte at Marengo frequently goes for triple-digit prices and it's a smaller, slightly worse game) and I can't wait for his next offering – Gettysburg.

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