Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It takes two to tango (Napoleon, Baker Street, Tally Ho!, Memoir '44)

In an effort to play a few games which rarely see table time, we decided to make this Wednesday all about 2 player games.

There was exactly 4 of us, so we paired off and picked from a stack of available titles. Kozure and Brian picked "Baker Street" (note to self, Brian needs an alias) and Luch and I chose Napoleon.

I recently picked up this copy of the Gamma 2 edition of Napoleon used. I had wanted to try out a Columbia Block game, and I had heard lots of people recommend this one as a nice introductory game.
The game itself looks a little dated with the simple graphics stamped directly on the wood blocks, but unlike current Columbia Games offerings, the board is mounted (which is nice).

I won't get into much description regarding what a "block game" is. If you don't know, go to BGG or the Columbia Games website. Suffice it to say that each player's units are represented by wooden blocks, with the statistics of those units printed on one side. Essentially, you know WHERE your opponent's units are, but not WHAT they are (or how damaged they are).
This is a pretty early one, with the version I purchased dating from the '70s.

Basically, one player plays the French forces led by Napoleon and the other player plays the English and the Prussians. The goal of each player is to eliminate half of the opposing player's units. Movement is simple... essentially players can move the forces from two cities to any adjacent cities on their turn. If units of opposing forces find themselves in the same city, they do battle. Battle is handled by a separate "Battle Board" where units face off across a battle line and use various maneuvres to try to "Rout" the ennemy. Interestingly, each side of the line is split into three regions (termed "columns") similar to Memoir '44 (and Battle Cry/ C&C ancients). I haven't played enough war games to know whether such an organization is frequently used in war games or not, but the left, middle and right flank arrangement must be fairly representative of the fighting for this period.

The rules make the English/Prussian player (the "allies") place his/her pieces on the board first, and city limits ensure that the units are rather scattered to start. The French player not only has the advantage of being able to place second (thus exploiting any weaknesses in the starting player's position), but is allowed to group his/her forces into much larger concentrations and move first as well. Of course, the French are outnumbered, and have a VERY short time limit to defeat the enemy, so they need a few breaks.

I played the French both times. In the first game, Luch positioned his forces along the flanks. I concentrated my units down the middle and marched right up to a rather easy victory. The second game, Luch was not so easily fooled. He started further back and more spread out, though with a concentration in the middle. I decided to try two large forces down both flanks. This was harder to accomplish. I succesfully marched to Ghent and also took Brussels, easily destroying the British. Unfortunately, the Prussians where putting a solid defense at Liege and I was very close to losing due to attrition. 3 badly hurt units were on the run from a large and powerful Prussian army, hoping to last long enough for the Prussian supply problems to make them implode. It came down to a single die roll, as my band faced yet another round of pursuit fire on the last turn before the Prussian defeat. If any units survived, the win was mine. A single unit did, and with that Napoleon won.

I liked it. In time, I think I'll pick up Rommel in the Desert and Hammer of the Scots. Wargames have a "freedom of movement" (for lack of a better expression) which is lacking in most Eurogames, so it's nice to have games such as these in a collection (alongside euro-american hybrids like Duel of Ages, Fury of Dracula, and the like). This game's mechanics feels fairly modern, despite their age. It's a pretty clean, simple and short game. The "battle board" is a nice way to bring a finer grain to what would otherwise be a highly abstracted war game. That said, I can't seem to interpret some of rules (the rule book provided is quite vague, and researching a 30 year old game online isn't easy). Despite the fact that this game is still technically "in print", the current version is quite different. I've read the new rules, and tried to extrapolate how to they would apply to the 1st edition, but some rules are still frustratingly vague. Particularly, many rules depend on the units being "engaged", but in practice it's quite hard to tell at times if they are or not. Anyway, I'll post to the forums and get that stuff worked out. I had fun, and I think Luch liked it too. It would have been nice to play a game with Kozure, since he's the wargame guy, but we'll save that for another time.

We followed up with a quick game of Tally Ho. Not much to say about that one... it's a cute game, enjoyable for what it is, but the luck in the initial random placement probably decides most games.

Last, we played Memoir '44. We combined two sets with the intention of playing the "Omaha Beach" Overloard scenario... little did we know those rules are meant for 8 players! Rather, we simply left each player in charge of one half of the battle and played it straight. It was Luch and Kozure as the Axis vs. Brian and I as the Allies. My tanks were eliminated very early by a "barrage" attack, but Brian's managed to break the enemy line and cross to some of the towns worth victory points. I had a hard time accomplishing anything since I was being cut down as fast as I could get onto the beach. Luckily, my own "Barrage" wiped out Luch's artillery compound (a very unlikely event) and gave me some breathing space. It came down to the wire, but Kozure and Luch pulled a victory by knocking out a different group of Brian's tanks who were racing to occupy another town for the last point.

Fun game, if only it didn't take so long to set up!!!

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