Monday, August 29, 2011
Board Game Review - Field Commander Napoleon
I have the coolest dad ever. Not just because he plays tons of games with me and took me backpacking a lot when I was a kid, and not just because he survived Vietnam and has kick-ass scars all over his body. No, my dad is the coolest because he willingly volunteers to play games I don't want to play, then takes the time to write reviews about them, thereby saving me time and effort and freeing me up for a night whenever I get to post his writing instead of having to do the work myself. So here's a review from my old man, who deserves endless accolades for playing this game so I didn't have to.
Field Commander Napoleon or Napoleon, With One Hand Behind His Back
Let me begin with my conclusion: If you enjoy solitaire games, you’ll probably love Field Commander Napoleon. If you just don’t care for solitaire games, or if you want a simulation rather than a game, then you’ll probably appreciate the components but not get into the game.
The components to Field Commander Napoleon are most definitely exceptional. The counters are thick and laminated, and on top of that they’re beautiful. They’re not overly-cluttered with information, and the most important features are clear and well-placed. The game maps, of which there are several, are perfectly functional for game play. Each map provides for one or more scenarios, so this box allows for a lot of repeated game play. The game boards are a bit austere since they’re just brown illustrations of the game area, but like I just noted, they’re more than fine for game play. Still, they’re of top-notch quality, if not sporting poster-on-your-wall aesthetics. The Battlefield card is very simple – an aerial-like photo of a typical European countryside. The artwork on the battlefield board is attractive with simple aesthetics, but the picture has no bearing on play.
FCN requires these two maps for each game – one fold-out map of the region the campaign occurred in, and a battlefield map on which you fight out the individual battles. The French general directing the battle (you) draws Battle Plans from a healthy assortment, but you’re allowed to choose only two or three (four in a couple of scenarios), and the rest have to be “default” battle plans. But don’t get into a funk over your lack of brilliance in command, because the enemy general is given a kidney punch in his selection of battle plans – you get to draw them from a cup and he’s stuck with what YOU give him (well, it IS a solitaire game, so the enemy general is at your mercy). These battle plans are the heart of the battle portion of the game, and I unhesitatingly agree that they’re a brilliant innovation in design for a solitaire game.
The rulebook is nicely done. Nice illustrations of components and good examples of play. There are several typos that irked me, but these generally didn’t throw off the meaning of the rules. There are places in the rules that I found pretty confusing. For example, when reading about “Shock” on page 12, I had to read it a couple times to figure out if I was rolling against the attacker’s or defender’s combat value.
That said, this is NOT an easy game to master. The rules are only 21 pages, but don’t let that put you into a false sense of complacency. If you’re not familiar with this type of solitaire game, you’ll probably have to read the rules through a couple times, and follow the example of play provided at the end of the rules. On the other hand, if you have vast experience with solitaire games, I suspect this game won’t tax you too badly. Me? Well, I’m not a solitaire gamer. Believe me, folks, I’ve tried. When “Ambush” first came out I snapped it up and rushed right into the scenarios. But the programmed nature of solitaire games just doesn’t do it for me. (In Ambush, one German pops up and fires at your guys, you kill him, move, and then another German shows himself. What kind of an ambush is that?!? “OK, Hans, it’s your turn to die, stand up now.” “Oops, lost Hans pretty quickly. YOU, Helmut, you’re next. Take a shot and die like a man.” The game is obviously very popular, but it’s not anything like a simulation.) FCN, in my own game play, stands in the same company as the rest of the solitaire genre.
Let me say more about this aspect of FCN as a solitaire game. I played the first scenario – Napoleon in Italy, 1796. I marched Napoleon and five of the especially beautiful unit counters into Savona to engage the Piedmont army there. I rolled on the Fog of War table and it said my battle was going to be two turns long. I set up the pieces and quickly discovered that after two turns I’d not even started to lock horns with the enemy. Did I read the rules wrong?? After re-reading the pertinent pages I set up the battle again and pretended I had more scouts than I actually had (as in none) and forced a battle of five turns. That seemed sufficient to annihilate the Piedmonters. I drew two battle plans for the enemy that could have been helpful in some battles, but not so here. So the Piedmonters stayed in column and suffered accordingly. Um, wasn’t it the French who devised the attack in column and didn’t everyone else, especially in 1796, deploy into line to receive the enemy? Well, these Piedmonters were ahead of their time or on hallucinogenics, because they fought the entire battle in column. Poor suckers. But it’s a solitaire game and that means the enemy is stuck with whatever the programmed rules provide for them, whether it sucks and is logically ludicrous and totally outside the realm of historicity, but that’s OK because it’s just a solitaire GAME.
So why did I buy this game? Simple fact, I didn’t. My son got it as a review copy and he doesn’t like solitaire games any more than I do. Since it’s a wargame, I offered to try it out for him. Sad to say, even all the chrome and brilliant design features that have evolved since Ambush still don’t do it for me. I need a living body on the other side of the table so I can feel that rush of adrenaline when I’m rolling to try to knock out that Tiger tank, or get to express that humble gloating of victory when my opponent finally caves in and admits I’ve crushed him – “Well, you had some really bad die rolls . . . .” I’ve never felt that in a solitaire game. Not even sure a solitaire game has ever solicited from me as much as a grin.
So back to my initial comments by way of conclusion. Field Commander is a slick and attractive product. The components are top notch, and it has some innovative concepts. If you enjoy solitaire games, you’ll almost certainly want this one. But if you’re a true grognard looking for a simulation that you can play with another active gamer, I recommend you treat this one as you would any other solitaire game.
High quality components.
Innovative concepts for solitaire play.
High re-play value.
Rules could have been better edited.
The combat system doesn’t simulate historicity.
It’s a solitaire game.
I couldn't find this game at Noble Knight Games, but if you desperately want to pay a C-note for a game you can't play with other people, you can find it here, at the publisher's site:
Posted by Matt Drake at 4:02 PM