• Victory and Glory: Napoleon review by Rick Moscatello

    Deja vu all over again.



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    The art is very good.

    The Napoleonic era of warfare was a special time. The advent of gunpowder weapons, mass produced gunpowder weapons, meant that never again would an army require take years of training to become skilled at using bow or sword.

    Instead, an army simply required guns…and peasants to point them in the general direction of the enemy (they weren’t particularly accurate as yet), shoot, reload, repeat. Napoleon was the first to master the system of peasant armies, though other countries adapted soon enough, though not before Napoleon rampaged through much of Europe, repeatedly.

    The three main units in this era are infantry (i.e., mostly peasants, though quality varied quite a bit), cavalry (the remnants of the noble caste, their last hurrah before gunpowder weapons held enough firepower to make horses a bad idea for most battlefields), and artillery (essentially really big muskets, and the source of most casualties during battle).

    It wasn’t quite rock-paper-scissors, but it was close enough. Cavalry was only effective against infantry not in square formation (a tightly packed formation that even if cavalry pieced, would only lead to further fusillades from the other four sides), artillery was good against both, but slow moving and vulnerable after firing—best exploited by cavalry. Infantry was basically the low man on the pole, but there were always more combat replacements peasants.

    Because this was the first era where huge numbers of men were quickly assembled for warfare, uniforms were particularly important, and the sheer pageantry of watching these forces pass by or organize themselves on the battlefield was doubtless quite awesome.

    I must give such a long preamble because Victory and Glory: Napoleon (VGN) is a PC game based around a board game set in this era. This type of strategy game is something of an acquired taste, focusing on a special kind of warfare—set piece battles with large numbers of relatively static troops—that was never seen before, and likely (and hopefully) won’t be seen again.

    For those not up on their early 19th century history, here’s the rundown: Napoleon was a phenomenal military and political genius, playing on French nationalism to create an empire to rival that of England, the “one world power” of this era.

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    London. If you can bring your army here, you win.

    England, of course, doesn’t want this, and so, using the technique of “let’s you and him fight (then we’ll kill the exhausted winner and take over)” they mastered in the previous decades of empire building, succeeds in getting Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Spain to repeatedly declare war on France. Napoleon had only a little difficulty beating Austria and Prussia on the battlefield, forcing a short term peace…but every year a new crop of peasants was drafted. It took about a year to march back to Paris, so his army was continuously at war. His two main enemies, England and Russia, were untouchable—England behind a navy, making it impossible for Napoleon to engage the British on his terms, and Russia behind vast tracts of land. Spain took a different route to resisting Napoleon, literally inventing the concept of guerilla warfare and making the country ungovernable despite being “ruled” by Napoleon.

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    Moscow. Bring your army back from here, and probably win.

    Napoleon eventually decided to try to take down Russia, but the Russian winter did what no European army ever could, destroying Napoleon’s prized army, leading to his (and France’s) eventual ruin.

    VGN models this history fairly well. You’re going to maul the Austrians and Prussians, and be incredibly frustrated by England’s meddling and small invasions wherever you’re weak. You’ll never have enough armies to truly defend against each enemy, making quick offensives mandatory, and you’ll be hard pressed to get peace on your other fronts to last long enough to march to Russia, where you’ll take ill-afforded casualties just on the march.

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    You usually hold cards to sandbag at the right time.

    What keeps the game from being a repetition of history are cards; as you play, and win battles, you’ll get more and more cards, allowing you to recruit bonus troops, enhance your forces, make peace on one front last a little bit longer, and repeat important historical events. The cards do much for the game, though one card makes all the difference in the world (I’ll get to that).

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    A minor battle, larger battles feature three fronts to organize, instead of just the one.

    The combat system models Napoleonic warfare well and simply, and you’ll find yourself setting up perfectly serviceable battle lines in no time. Most combat results vary wildly, and your elite forces can easily be snuffed by shots from peasants, even top generals can randomly be taken down (it works both ways, and I was quite pleased when the Duke of Wellington died in the very first round of the very first battle); Napoleon alone is immune to random death. While you do have other generals, you’ll mostly be trudging Napoleon and his army all over Europe…it can easily take 4 moves to get from one front to the other, and each move represents 2 months of time.


    The one major weakness in the game is the naval warfare, which is a game of rock-rock-rock, and England gets bigger rocks. You can build fleets, but if you put them out to sea, they’ll be blasted in short order by the huge and relentless British fleet. Insult to injury is most of your ships won’t be sunk, but instead captured and turned against you.

    Naval combat has to be this heavily weighted against France, because if France can clear the sea lanes for even one turn, Napoleon can invade London, smash the usually weak army there, and essentially win the game.

    And, hey, there’s one card to do just that: Storms at Sea. This card will devastate a fleet, usually weakening it enough to allow your ships to attack and make a breakout…mostly you’ll spend the game waiting for that one card, building up your fleets and biding your time. It’s a pointless all-or-nothing aspect the game that, honestly, could use some improvement.

    Is this a fun game? Absolutely. It is the first game in ages to keep me up past 1:00 am playing “one more turn.” Will I be playing it next year? No. There are only so many ways you can conquer the same set of countries over and over again, and, bottom line, most of the time you’re going to be pretty frustrated at trying to juggle everything necessary to keep all of Europe from invading at once (and, hey, England even gets a card that can accomplish that as well). Lack of multiplayer does little to help this (though the AI is quite good enough). A few extra scenarios are included in the game…but they don’t add much, just move the timetable up a few more years to the inevitable end if you don’t take out London at some point.

    Still, if you’re looking for a fun history lesson covering things far more deeply than the “Napoleon lost at Waterloo” tripe that is all most everyone learns in school, this is a fun investment.

    Final Rating: 85
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Victory and Glory: Napoleon review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post