Field Commander Napoleon – Boardgame Review
Passed Inspection: Beautiful maps and other components. Eleven campaigns spanning 1796 to 1815. Very immersive.
Failed Basic: Needs an index. At times, the solitaire system has the enemy armies performing unrealistic actions.
No matter what your personal opinion of Napoleon Bonaparte is—maniac, dictator, tragic hero—all students of military history must admit that the man is fascinating and his career is a perfect example of one man’s will triumphing over adversity. Dan Verssen’s new solitaire game Field Commander Napoleon puts you in the position of Napoleon as you plan to change the face of 19th Century Europe.
The game box features a beautiful reproduction of the circa 1800 painting “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” by Jacques-Louis David. The box is also positively huge—over 4″ deep—and contains a rule book, 11 mounted 11″x 17″ campaign maps, one battle map, hundreds of full-color counters, one 10-sided die, one player help sheet and one master player log.
Each double-sided unit counter contains a full-color image of the type of unit (infantry, cavalry, fortifications, artillery, etc.), the campaign year of the unit (important since each of the 11 campaigns takes place during a different year or years), the skill level of the unit (from conscript to elite), the unit commander ‘s name, the nationality, combat values and activation numbers. Counters that represent Napoleon at various skill levels in his career are also included. Counters are also included for keeping track of French-occupied objectives, as well as turns, battle areas, battle plans and supplies.
The game itself can be played as stand-alone campaigns or as one giant linked series of campaigns following Napoleon’s career. As the player progresses in the linked campaign, he will have to solve the same sort of challenges that Napoleon had to deal with as the enemy countries (Britain, Austria, Prussia, Italy and Russia) get more proficient at command and control and their battlefield tactics adapt and evolve. Terrain is a factor, as fighting in the deserts of Egypt or the steppes of Russia provide interesting supply problems that can be more of a threat than enemy forces.
The game rules are a modified version of the system used in Field Commander Rommel and Field Commander Alexander. The player picks a campaign and sets up the strategic board for that specific campaign. The board itself contains the information the player needs in regards to starting forces, supply levels, objectives, number of turns and victory points needed to win. Also, each map features the sequence of play and a table of enemy forces’ orders.
In the turn sequence the French move, resolve battles, make forced marches and resupply. Then the enemy receives orders based upon that campaign’s specific table of possible orders, then moves and resolves battles. After that the enemy resupply phase is resolved.
When units move into territories with enemy forces, battles occur. The battles are resolved on a tactical battle board, which is divided into sectors from reserve (rear) areas to approaches and the front lines. The unit counters are then taken from their positions on the strategic maps and placed on the tactical board. Each unit represents from 5,000 to 25,000 men. When the unit counter is placed horizontally, it represents a line formation; vertically represents the unit in column. The rules give benefits and detriments to the actions the unit is trying to perform based upon its formation.
Based upon the campaign and the presence (or lack thereof) of Napoleon during the battle, units actions are planned using their Battle Plan and Insight Counters, which include such options as “Flank” maneuvers, “Square” formations and the important “Pivot,” which allows the unit to change formations. If Napoleon is present during the battle, he may be able to add his brilliant (usually) battlefield insight, which includes such things as the use of engineers during a siege, boosting morale and conducting cavalry sweep actions. Artillery can also help shift the odds in favor of the force that uses it wisely.
The enemy gets randomly assigned battle plans that may neutralize Napoleon’s battle plans. If Napoleon is captured or killed during the battle, the game is over and the player loses.
Additionally, a Fog of War table adds random events into the battle. Some of these events include “terrorist” attacks on French garrisons, the raiding and confiscation of supply columns by the enemy, and even the sudden appearance of Napoleon on that battlefield to help save the day for the French. It is wise to purchase French Scouting forces to help shift the fog of war towards the French’s favor.
Once a battle is resolved, units are returned to the strategic map to plan further actions.
The game is highly addictive, and an entire campaign can possibly be played in one afternoon. It took me about four hours to play the Italian Campaign of 1796, but I completed the Egyptian Campaign in about two and a half hours.
Each campaign offers different challenges. For example, during the fighting in Egypt, I lost more of my forces to the elements than I did to the Turks and the British. Additionally in Egypt, Acre was a difficult city to take and the British and Turks turned me back twice from its gates. I had to reconsolidate my forces after the second attempt and finally had to give up taking the city.
Field Commander Napoleon has its faults. Even though the rules are brief at only 21 well-illustrated pages, they do need an index. Some of the rules are difficult to find without re-reading each page. In addition, it sometimes seems like the enemy orders table makes the enemy perform unrealistic actions. During the Italian Campaign of 1796, a lone division of Austrians rolled an order to attack five Corps of French infantry and cavalry. I overrode the rules and wisely had the Austrians hold their position in a fortified city.
All in all, Field Commander Napoleon is a fantastic game for those interested in the subject. With tons of replay ability, it is worth every cent of its hundred-bucks price.
Armchair General Rating: 93 %
Solitaire Rating: 5
About the Author
A college film instructor and small business owner, Richard Martin has also worked in the legal and real estate professions, is involved in video production, film criticism, sports shooting and is an avid World War I and II gamer who can remember war games which came in plastic bags and cost $2.99 (he’s really that old)!