My first complete campaign prior to one of the final beta releases and continued through completion at 400+ turns. In that game, I had conquered much of the map, having defeated Russia and invading the middle east through the Ottoman empire before turning to England and finally Spain. The game back then was not perfect but was fun, and held many advantages over previous titles on the Napoleonic wars. I was confident that updates would develop that would make the game even better. And these updates did in fact materialize.
Now, almost two years later, I began a new campaign, with the latest version. I edited my settings, ratchetiing up the difficulty, and the aggressiveness of the opponent, and selecting the variant which gave me better relations with the Ottomans. (I had had a real change getting them on my side in the first campaign and thought some help in that matter might make things fun. (More on that later).
I chose the campaign that starts with 1805 historical starting locations. (I hate having to take the time to relocate forces in this game) and could not improve much on Napoleon’s own starting locations. The 1805 campaign from my perspective gives you two approaches: The first is the conservative approach and going at Ulm in Battle Square where each corp can support each other. In this campaign there is always the possibility that the Austrians will strike out (especially because of that aggressiveness setting). And while Victory is guaranteed should Austria strike out against the Battle Carre, a portion of the Austrians would break off and this would result in a retreat across Bavaria trying to pick off its rear guard at Munich, Linz, and a likely final stand at Vienna, reinforced by advance elements of the Russians.
The second approach is my preference which is riskier but has greater dividends: a double envelopment of the Austrians, surrounding them so as to cut off their avenues of retreat. This is more dangerous against an aggressive Austria since if they strike out while the double envelopment is occurring, they will likely engage only a portion of the Grand Armee.
The artificial intelligence of the Allies has been greatly improved since the first versions I played, but that is not to say that it does not make mistakes. One such mistake occurs early when it chooses to send Charles over the Alps to support Mack, leaving Bellegarde against Massena. Massena’s army is in great need of reorganization, but if you take the time to balance the wings, spread artillery and cavalry and form a central artillery and cavalry reserve, you can easily push Bellegarde back and pressure Austria’s underside. As long as you are not rash and allow a silly defeat to occur, Massena can be a big help.
The Double Envelop was successful and the combination of Lannes, Davout and Murat were strong enough to turn back Charles and the long race to Vienna began. This is all about time and I was able to get to Vienna, defeat the Russian advance guard and take the capital. Peace is offered quickly but my strategy employs NOT immediately accepting the peace and pushing hard against the now retreating Russians to first get their peace offering. It is essential for my future plans that I get that Russian peace treaty first.
I guess now it is time for me to digress and speak about play style and expectations. I had a hard time understanding the criticism by some about this brilliant game. After some time in thought, it has occurred to me that some of us love this game and other criticize it because we are looking for different things. For those that want a simulation that exactly duplicates history, then the game will naturally evolve away from the historical path and change takes our game history into a different direction. For myself, that is exactly the attraction. I know the history of the period and am not interested in repeating it. I am interested in what different choices I can make from the Emperor and perhaps succeed where he failed. My goals are to ask, Can I do better than he in Spain? What if I aim my army at Istanbul and into the Middle East? Can I defeat the British Navy at Sea? So for me, this is a great game, offers infinite variety. I may not choose to use a historical event card at all. Other players want the game to duplicate historical turning points, and I think that the design of a 10-year campaign makes that likelihood much more difficult. If only both sides and both styles of play would respect the other and work together to continue and improve the title.
After peace with Russian, the Austrian peace event can be selected resulting in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the formation of the Rhine Confederation. One of the challenges is then to build relations with the Rhine Confederation quick enough to allow the 1806 invasion of Prussia. This is not so important for me. I use three columns to hit Prussia as Napoleon did, but I select a more southerly route up through Austrian territory, my most western column moving from Prague to Dresden. Prussia cannot stand up to the Grand Armee, provided that you did not suffer foolish losses in 1805. And with Russia at peace, Berlin and the cities up through Stettin, Danzig and Memel fall sequentially.
I don’t waste time with my decision to form the Duchy of Warsaw (and wish the designers had programmed the option of creating the Polish Kingdom for later) which was something Napoleon considered but never chose to do.
Whichever direction you go, 1807 is likely a building and repositioning year. 1806 saw the building of the 8th corp. One of my goals of this game is to see if I can keep the strength of the Grand Armee in place without the dilution that is common. It is easy to get Soult/Lannes/Davout off running armies in secondary theatres and to promote strong division generals to Corp Command, integrate expeditionary forces into the army and combined with foolish losses result in a weakened French force. I do prefer to promote Suchet to command the 8th, and promote Rapp into Suchet’s divisional command. 1807 should be bringing on a 9th corp and that can be given to Victor who you have brought in from Denmark. For this game I had to use Victor to replace Ney who had died in my 1806 campaign.
Which direction will you go in 1808? Moving two of Massena’s corps down against Sicily in south Italy is a no brainer. But where do we send the Grand Armee? Portugal is a possibility but even with success in Portugal, it will result in two corps being stationed there perpetually to guard against English Invasion, as well as the promotion of an Army Commander. Dilution… more dilution.
Russia makes the most sense. But back to Russia, they are probably still partially depleted and most of my army is in Prussia, and Poland, but this will take time. ( I might also add that I hate having to relocate troops as I would have to do in order to go into the Iberian peninsula. Hint: The game would benefit from a cart transportation mode such as Napoleon used to relocate Ney’s corp in 30 days from Prussia to Spain). For Russia we will need the 8th, 9th (stationed in Bavaria to watch Austria), and the 10th in observation of Prussia… but we need to build supply wagons, and a boatload of depot battalions to hold the eventual supply line into Russia. By now, the minor allies in Central Europe have joined the cause and this version of the game has allowed me to raise a fairly large number of expeditionary forces to assist the Polish corp that will be invading along with me. And risking aggressiveness from Austria, I prefer to bring Massena up and across to invade the Ukraine, aided by Marmont’s second corp and a second Cavalry corp. 1808 is spent building, preparing and positing of troops.
1809 brings my invasion of Russia. I have three sets of forces. The North is Davout, Soult, and Victor and a cavalry corp under Grouchy. This group has the objective of coastal towns and St. Petersburg. My Southern Force is Massena’s Army less St. Cyr (in Italy), with the additional corps of Marmont and Callaincourt (cavalry). The main force is in the center and will take the Minsk, Smolensk road to Moscow and has Napoleon, the Guard, Murat, Lannes, Bernadotte, Suchet and Poniatovsky’s Polish Corp. The operation begins with Massena who’s immediate goal is to draw troops from Moscow south
As Massena fights to Kiev, sure enough the Russian army arrives across the River. Kutusov, Buxhowden and a cast of characters wait for Massena. So I let Massena gather reinforcements in Kiev as the other two columns go in. Napoleon encounters little serious opposition and by the end of 1809 is sitting in the Kremlin. Davout and Soult’s force has had the longer path with more difficult obstructions but is approaching St.. Petersburg. Kutusov is making a series of moves to envelop Massena but must call off these forays to march North for a token assault against a fortified Napoleon. ... not good for the Russian army which fall move back south to regroup.
1810 brings the fall of St. Petersburg and the pacification of Russia. The decision that must be made by conquerors in this game is whether to press for a victory, the enemy’s capital, a profitable peace treaty with property concessions, or else to occupy and hold the country. I chose the latter and this was truly challenging. Russia is so very big with so many towns that inevitably you make the choice to start splitting your armies into Corps going different directions and then splitting again into Divisions. As the turns go on, it is natural that you get a bit lazy, and the end result is that I made the mistake of allowing Buxhowden to catch an isolated division under Rapp who died along with most of his Division. Damn!
I experimented in 1810 sending Bernadotte and Murat eastwards into the Urals and Russian Steppes. Another bad mistake in that it takes two weeks to get there, then conditions are harsh, you stop getting replacements and it takes forever to get back out again. After taking St. Petersburg, I sent Davout south but ran Soult up into modern day Finland to diminish the irritating Swedish.
But come 1811 it was time to think about England. My plan was to leave Massena’s army in an occupied Russia with 3 small cavalry corps to deal with the growing Cossack threat. Overall, I thought the Artificial Intelligence did a great job of playing cat and mouse with my French forces and punished me when I made a bad decision.
As you recall I picked the Ottoman variant cementing relations with that power and I really had hoped that I could leverage that relationship to help me in south Russia with an Ottoman offensive and Ottoman expeditionary forces. I was disappointed to find that the Ottoman’s were of little help in my struggle with Russia. The Ottoman empire merely capitalized on the situation to fight a continuing struggle with Persia. So much for that variant idea. In my first campaign, and early war between the Ottomans and Russia had soaked off a number of Russian troops. This time it was the opposite.
1811 saw also another unique variant of my own. I had been building a corp a year and in Germany had an army of observation under Mortier, with corps under Oudinot (Prussia), Junot (Bavaria), and also corps with both Kellermans as their commander. I used Mortier, and both Father and Son Kellerman to invade Sweden. Hey… what the hell? I already owned “Finnish Sweden” and the Swedish property in Northern Europe. This minor campaign turned out well and I was able to conquer the Swedish peninsular. A side benefit of this conflict is that Bernadotte was never called off to run the Swedish army, leaving him at the head of the 1st corp till the end.
1812 brought in my campaign the invasion of England. So let’s talk Naval power. Whereas the AI for Russia is quite good. The AI for running the English navy could be improved, although by doing so, it might unbalance the game which is winnable now from both sides. (or else make the invasion of England not necessary for a French victory). The French navy CAN beat the English. It means carefully consolidating existing naval forces, dedicating a portion of your economy to build more war ships, and integrating Spanish and Dutch naval expeditionary forces with the French. By operating in masse against individual English fleets, they can be defeated even with their superior admirals.
By 1812 I had depleted the English Navy and I had Naval Superiority over the channel. Invading England is likely the most difficult part of the game. The reason is that until you own a port to unload whole corps at a time, you are limited to one unit per turn per fleet. It also forces you to spread forces across southern England.
I had begun the invasion with a diversion. I landed the imperial guard light cavalry up in Scotland and sure enough, an English army under York went flying north with 60,000 men. As the majority of my forces then landed in the south, it was a much smaller English force which counterattacked my beachhead. Bisson’s division was wiped out along one of Augereau’s (the latter injured). It proves to be a close run affair until you secure that first port, and I can say that it was that northern diversion which made all the difference. Once I had the port, and could land my heavier cavalry units and artillery it became a race to London. Lefebvre-Desnouitte (sorry, I just keep adding vowels until it looks close) had been able to harass the Duke of York’s force and delay his return south. By the time York got back down to London, Napoleon had the city under Siege and held his enviable central position. The outcome was assured.
1813 brought the invasion of Ireland by Soult, and Lannes, while Davout, Marmont, and Murat were sent by sea down to invade Portugal. By July 1813, the game announced the French total victory.
I love the way that the scale of this game allows the player to use Napoleonic Grand Tactics as well as Grand Strategy. The battle planner then allows you to pick a tactical battle priority. .. and it does make a difference what you choose! I also love the way that the personalities of the game come into play. Kutusov plays differently than Buxhowden. … Blucher plays differently than his inane monarch. Replacements are an important consideration. I always kept my replacement recourses full even if it meant holding off the building of a new unit. I will say that the original version of the game was more challenging economically. Just as in Napoleon’s time, the first versions of this game made horse reserves quite limited. That version required a carefully use of cavalry. Changes made based on player comments did dilute this and from 1811 onward, I really had no economic challenges. I’ll also say that the changes to how “bloody” battles are, allows a degree of carelessness. In my first campaign I made a mistake that decimated a corp under Gazan. In this version, it is very difficult to suffer the types of losses that Augereu did at Eylau.
I am saddened that more have not rallied to this game and banded together to polish and correct any remaining bugs. 7 guys dedicated to playing a complete campaign and sending sending feedback in could make all the difference. (The game did crash on me a few times, but I was able to work though it. If you are having issues, turn off all the background stuff, disconnect from the internet so you can shutdown your virus protection programs).
So, after 2 years, I find the game greatly improved. Yes, there are still a few bugs and it can be polished still, but what out there is better from a Grand Tactical or Strategic level? By now we should have expansion sets out on various campaigns and variants if we had been fair and put our efforts into polishing the title. Until then, the current game is a lot of fun.