Milton and I got together for a rematch of Age of Napoleon tonight. Second time through we got most of the rules right, although not quite all – we still missed a couple little things, like flipping stacks whenever they roll on the attrition table. One of my complexity metrics for games is “how many games it takes to play entirely correctly”, and it looks like Age of Napoleon will lock in at the third game – not ideal, but not too bad either, and the second game was pretty close.
My impression of the game improved the second time through. What of the things that colored my judgment of the first game was that once Austria fell for the first time, there were a couple years in which really nothing happened. This time, now that we had a firmer grasp on the slightly convoluted victory conditions, things went more smoothly – there was always stuff happening. Austria fell promptly in 1805, and for a while Napoleon was master of Europe as Russia was neutral, Prussia was French-allied. and Britain had failed to play the Brittania card, so their armies were confined to the home islands. Napoleon got the jump on the invasion of Russia, beginning it in 1809, but as usual things started getting tough. Spain went insurgent, followed by Austria, followed by Prussia’s reformed military (both Austria and Prussia’s armies are pretty worthless prior to the reforms). It seems once the Coalition gets one or two countries into Insurrection, the French are more or less playing for the “Moral victory”. Aided and abetted by some bad dice (Napoleon was defeated and captured by a couple Spanish corps on a horrendous dice split), France was eventually buried under the mass of Coalition armies.
As I say, I liked the game more this time out. As we were more familiar with the rules, the game felt cleaner. The tactics also became a little more interesting once we had become comfortable with the rest of the game. The players actually don’t have a huge number of strategic choices (it feels a bit like A House Divided in this way), but there are a few, mostly centering around the timing of the invasion of Russia – you’ll have to do it eventually, but when is an interesting choice. The British have some interesting decisions about where and when to commit their forces, and there are always tough choices on how hard to push your troops – whether to force march now or take a slow and steady approach (although in truth, slow and steady seems to be the right answer 95% of the time).
I am still not entirely thrilled by the card deck. It seems there just often aren’t that many real choices. Most cards are no-brainers for either events or activations, so there really isn’t a lot of tension surrounding this; but on the other hand, you will often get events (like No Surrender or Force March) that will change how you’ll play a bit, and the Battle events seem a little better than they did on first inspection.
Playing time was about 3.5 hours to play through 1814, which was just a touch on the long side for me. I’d be happier for this game at 2.5 to 3 hours, but I think the playing time will come down to be close to the 3 hour mark.
Anyway, while my ranking remains about the same (I think it’s better than any other Phalanx game, but not as good as We the People due to We the People’s somewhat wider range of strategic options), it’s clicked up to a “buy” for me as a nice, lighter, simpler wargame, so I’ll be picking up a copy at some point here. The range of events gives it a nice fun factor and enough variation for each game to be rather different; and the events are powerful enough to affect strategy without making things wildly random. In an ideal world the rules would be a touch simpler so you could get them entirely right after one game, but close enough. And it’s a very nice-looking game, always a plus, without the usability issues previous Phalanx games have had. In the end, I don’t think it will be hugely replayable, but I should get my money’s worth.