The Five Napoleons

Empire: Total War enthusiasm is totally understandable, but also horribly plebeian. If you really want to stand out during a forum discussion/pub chat/job interview/speed-dating event, try enthusing about one of the other Napoleonic strategy games currently in production…

If lone French developer Jean-Michel Mathé ever gets around to finishing this groundbreaking tactical wargame then it should make ETW look Fisher Price in several areas. HistWar armies utilize five different levels of intertwined AI (commander, corps, division, brigade and regiment) and can’t be retasked at the drop of a bicorn hat. Credible command-chain modelling means lots of authentic inertia plus the potential for lost and ignored orders. Those that have played Mad Minute’s splendid Take Command series will know just how engrossing this sort of naturalism can be.

Another Gallic offering from a small studio, NC will likely give the ETW strat layer a serious run for its money, especially if the AI turns out to be as sabre-sharp as it was in Birth of America and American Civil War (the last two titles from AGEOD). Though there won’t be any fancy 3D maps or animated army figures, the lovely 2D art of Robin Pirez and Sandra Rieunier-Duval should be ample compensation.

Information on this one is scant at present, but going on the past form of the two parties involved it’s likely to be pretty, puzzle-like, and exclusively tactical. Sharing an engine with Legion Arena would seem to suggest a series of scripted real-time skirmishes in which clicks are rationed and victory conditions are fussy. Though morale, fatigue, veterancy, and other wargame subtleties all figured in LA, it was the tough time limits and casualty thresholds that tended to dominate tactics. Hopefully success and failure won’t feel quite so artificial this time.

The digital version of Avalon Hill’s monster board game has been in production longer than the Little Corporal spent in St. Helena. Finally close to completion, its success is going to hinge (I reckon) on the way computer-controlled powers handle diplomacy. Bluff and bluster, pacts and treachery were the best part of the gruelling-but-great face-to-face experience, and reproducing this in a solo experience is going to be damn tricky. As it’s already possible to play the board game PBEM and online with the help of tools like Cyberboard and Vassal, one wonders how many people will buy just for multiplayer if the SP AI turns out to be dodgy.


  1. John P says:

    Personally, I just want another Sid M’s Gettysburg! I heard Bull Run was meant to be like it, but they don’t seem to sell it anywhere. I think that was what it was called anyway. Gettysburg was the best game ever. Perhaps.


    *see, this post is relevant

  2. John P says:

    damn I can’t edit my post. GRAMMAR ALERT re: extraneous apostrophe in Napoleons

  3. Tim Stone says:

    Bull Run and its bigger, better sequel 2nd Manassas are well worth a look. They’re both a bit fiddlier/less scrutable than SMG, but the ingenious personality-influenced AI more than makes up for that.

    Purchasing links here:

  4. John P says:

    Ah, thanks muchly for the link. The AI does sound intriguing, and what I particularly like the sound of is controlling just one unit in a much larger army and having to take orders from someone else higher up the chain than you. I love being bossed around! Maybe I’ll give them a go (once i’ve finished Bioshock).

  5. simonkaye says:

    Whatever happened to Imperial Glory? A Napoleonic strategy game with 19th Century ‘Great Powers’, musket warfare, square/column/line tactics, turn-based tactical map and full 3D battle mode, and (guess what?) bloody great naval skirmishes. And it came out two years ago. And everyone played it for just about long enough to review it, give it 8 out of 10, and then forget about it. Forever.

  6. James says:

    The combat engine was atrocious.

  7. Tim Stone says:

    My abiding memory of IG is winning the Battle of Waterloo in under five minutes. A combination of the breakneck pace (unadjsutable), dubious morale modelling, and the habit formations had of shifting position without permission, made for some pretty pantomimic scraps. Not sure how much of this stuff got fixed by patches in the end.

  8. Troy Goodfellow says:

    Yeah, IG was a feeble effort. Once you got over the thrill of controlling the Grand Armee, it became immediately apparent that the battles were even more breakneck than the ones in Rome: Total War, only you fought every single one to the last man.

    Of the four on the list, I’m putting my money on Napoleon’s Campaigns. I interviewed J-M Mathe last year and Histwar seems no closer to completion since then, Empire in Arms still might never see the light of day, and we know next to nothing of the Lordz game.

    Oh, and I second (third?) the praise for the Take Command games. Mad Minute deserves better sales than they’ve gotten.

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