Bonaparte at Marengo x3

Bonaparte at Marengo seems to be popping up all over the place these days. Could be because Bowen Simmons is a local, but the fact that it’s a pretty decent, simple, short wargame I’m sure hasn’t hurt any.

Last time I played, I wrote up a more detailed summary of the game itself. I noted that I was strangely ambivalent about the game, despite it having a lot of stuff I usually like – simple and fairly elegant rules, fog-of-war, quick-playing turns, and an overall short playing time.

Having now played 3 more times, my opinion has improved despite actually having greater skepticism about some of the game elements. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that the game time has settled in to 90 minutes. At 90 minutes for a serious wargame that delivers interesting tactics and some tension, I can forgive a fair amount in the systems department. It’s not in the same league as Columbia’s simpler games, but it’s got good stuff and it is short.

One thing about the game that didn’t appeal to me personally was how much effort needs to be spent in learning the system (when weighed against the otherwise short and simple playing time, anyway). Due to the way maneuver attacks and assaults work and interact with the approach boxes, there is a learning curve involved in simply figuring out what the correct way to perform a frontal assault or flanking maneuver is. Regardless of where you choose to assault and how many guys you commit, there is a right way (and are several wrong ways) to attack, and the French delaying action requires requires figuring out a few techniques. To me, learning these fairly mechanical things was not all that interesting, although others may find a puzzle-ish appeal to it. Compare to Storm Over Arnhem – you just have to worry about force commitments and geography, you don’t have to learn also what the correct small-unit tactics are for assaulting a building.

There are a few pointy bits in the rules that don’t feel quite right – cavalry pursuit and maneuver attacks when starting from reserve, mainly. Perhaps these were designed when considering future games, but they seem awkward here, and contribute to rules that are just a touch too long and slightly inelegant.

Despite these things, I think Bonaparte at Marengo has enough play value to be worth your time. While the system itself isn’t perfect, the fact that it is a quick-playing, relatively playable, visually appealing, pretty well-balanced game puts it ahead in the end. Also, being very low-luck contrasts nicely with most low-end wargames, which tend to be dicey. It’s also quite distinct from Columbia’s games, and may well appeal to wargamers who aren’t fond of those games.

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