Friday, October 24, 2014

A Question For My Readers

I know that a few people subscribe to this blog, mostly for the writings about board games, so I want to run something by you guys and see if anyone has a strong opinion about it.  I have been writing about board games on this blog for a number of years now, generally using the method of randomly picking a game from my collection to play and write about.  For 2015 I am planning to change things up.  For 2015 I plan to pick 10 games from my collection and play them each 10 times.  I will then write about my experience of each play.  The idea is that this will provide me with more depth of experience with the games, as some games can have some hidden depth that can only be seen once a player becomes familiar with the mechanics.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I am wondering whether I should stop writing about games on this blog, and starting up a new blog for my game writings at Board Game Geek.  I think that will provide a much larger audience for my writings, but I don't want to just up stakes and move without seeing whether anyone cares.  So, let me know if you have any strong opinions either way on this.  Thanks!

Field Commander: Napoleon

Field Commander: Napoleon is the third game in the Field Commander series published by Dan Verssen Games, with game design by (who else?) Dan Verssen.  The game is designed for solitaire play, and there are no rules for multi-player play.  You play as Napoleon in a number of different historic campaigns, trying to accomplish specific goals (usually the conquering of specific territory on the map).  Each campaign has its own map, sized roughly 11" x 17".  The unit counters are all longer than they are wide, and other counters (turn, battle location, resource markers, etc.) are all fairly normal size for wargame counters.

Each turn consists of two general parts.  First, you (as Napolen) move your armies around the board.  Second, you fight battles in locations where French and Enemy troops are both located.  Third, you can pay resources to move units again (and potentially fight more battles).  Fourth, you gain and spend resources.  This is how you can repair damaged units, replace lots units, or buy brand new units (depending on the scenario).

In the second part of the turn the Enemy forces do almost the same thing.  However, there will be random tables that are unique to each scenario that you roll on to determine what the Enemy units do.  Based on the scenario instructions, you will bunch up Enemy counters in small stacks and roll for each stack.  So, a large stack of Enemy units might split up into a bunch of smaller stacks in different regions on the map, or all end up in the same place, depending on the die roll.  Enemy reinforcements are also random.

Combat is the heart of the game.  There is a separate "battle board" on which combats are fought.  The board is split into six zones: a Reserve, Approach, and Front zone for each side.  There are limits to how many counters can be in each zone.  When combat starts, forces are (usually!) in their side's Reserve or Approach zone, and you have to give them orders to have them move and fight.  One thing that took me some getting used to is that there are limits to the orders that can be given.  The French player will be given a specific number of "Battle Plans" that he can put on units, which tell the unit what to do.  You will probably have more units than Battle Plans, though, and for the remaining units there are a few basic orders that they can always be given.  In addition, with some orders a unit may, or may not, perform the order.  Each mobile unit has an Activation rating that you have to roll equal to or under to activate them.  Believe me, this can get annoying.

As befits a game for this period, the organization of your units matters.  It is easier to move units between zones if they are in column formation (the standard period formation used for movement), but fighting in column is generally not as effective and causes automatic losses if an enemy unit moves into the same zone.  Fighting in line formation works better, but it is harder to move.  You need to know what you are trying to accomplish and organize your forces accordingly.

The enemy's orders in combat are a mixture of random Battle Plan counters and basic orders.  There is a cup of Battle Plans that you will randomly draw from each combat round and assign to units, with any remaining units performing a specific basic order (or trying to activate to do so!) based on the distance to French forces.

One last thing to mention in battles is that (usually) if Napoleon is present, you can trade in Battle Plans for what is known as "Insight," which are a series of special strategic options you can use.  For example, the one in the example of play in the rulebook is an Envelop maneuver, where you try to use cavalry to ride around and attack the Enemy from their rear.  Kind of a high risk, high reward strategy.  There are other special strategies you can choose, but for each one you pick, you lose a Battle Plan for each round of the battle, so you become more limited in the Battle Plans you can assign to your forces.  It adds a nice decision element to the game.

I have played this game a couple times, both with the 1796 Italian Campaign scenario, and I have lost both times.  I got annihilated the first time, and the second time I was unable to capture all objectives before the time ran out.  I find this game quite challenging, especially the combat, where for whatever reason I tend to blow activation rolls so my units just stand there and get murdered by stupid Austrians who hit a lot more with their shots than straight probability would indicate.  Ah, well, it's still fun.  It will be more fun when I figure out how to win, though.