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Posted on Jan 31, 2008 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Napoleon in Italy – Game Review

By Larry Levandowski

Passed Inspection: Great blend of strategic and tactical gaming. Fresh subject.

Failed Basic: Manual is light in many important areas.

Just before the dawn of 19th century, it seemed that Revolutionary France was at war with everyone. In early 1796, the French Directory decided to deal with one of its arch-rivals, Austria, by marching an army to Vienna through Germany. At the same time, a secondary force would attack through Northern Italy, but expectations for this southern force were low. To command this side-show, the Directory sent out an almost unknown, twenty-something general of obscure Corsican origin. The troops were skeptical of this political appointee at first. However, by the end of May, the Little Corporal brought France victory after victory, far exceeding expectations. Within a year, Citizen Bonaparte was at Vienna’s doorstep, bringing the Austrian Empire to its knees. This is the campaign that launched the career that would see Europe plunged into an inferno. Napoleon in Italy, developed by Hussar Games and published by Matrix, is the story of this campaign, told in wargame form. In this role, Hussar’s game serves as a great history lesson. NII is easy to learn, but hard to master, and is suitable for light, fast play. The game is mid-range on the realism scale and offers plenty of detail for everyone but the most die-hard Napoleonic purist. Wargamers, interested in following Napoleon’s footsteps, will find that Hussar has given us a game that stands tall among its many peers.

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Wargaming is one way to have a great time while also appreciating history. By showcasing Napoleon’s 1796 to 97 Italian Campaign, Hussar has given players a compelling subject that will be fresh history for most. The Napoleonic Wars had dozens of campaigns, and hundreds of battles that the wargamer has yet to see on a computer screen; NII is a small step to filling this very large void. In this game, two well-matched armies vie for control of the southern gateway to Austria. Out of the box, there are ten scenarios representing various stages of the historic campaign; including a full April 96 to April 97 game. If the player lets the computer resolve most combat, scenarios can easily be played in an evening. Then, when the player is ready to go past the stock scenarios, users can create their own games with the included editor.

Napoleon in Italy, is two games; a tactical Napoleonic battle engine and a strategic wargame. The campaign game is played out on a colorful map of Northern Italy, with the player commanding either the French or Austrian forces. When opposing armies meet, the player has the option to fight a tactical battle, or let the game’s detailed combat routine do all of the work. Following wargame convention, NII is turn-based, and played on hex-grid maps. In the strategic game, scale is 5 miles per hex with one week turns. The tactical battle scale is not stated in the manual, but seems to be around 50 yards per hex, and 10 minutes per turn.

The strategic game flows very nicely, and gives the player an immediate appreciation of the operational considerations of the real campaign. The French must move quickly, and concentrate attacks on key towns before the Austrians can build defenses. The Austrians on the other hand, must decide where and when to defend, while saving strength for well-aimed counter-attacks.

The basic units in the strategic game are built around commanders. These colonels and generals are rated for initiative, defense and attack. The names of these leaders include the famous like Murat, Massena and Victor; but also the more obscure like Pittoni, Vabiou and Giureu. Each commander moves on the strategic map with the infantry, cavalry and artillery units assigned to his command. An army management function allows the player to transfer troops between commanders and reorganize his forces. On the campaign map, each combat formation has its readiness, supply level, morale, experience and cohesion continuously updated. The subtle keys to victory revolve around insuring the troops attack and defend only when ready. The player does this by using army stances, like march, attack, defend and rest. Careful army management will insure the troops are supplied and ready to fight when needed. Leaders who ignore low morale and supply levels will only see disaster.

The AI in the strategic game is competent, but feels sluggish at times. This may be because it is attempting to rest and restore troops before combat, but often it feels slow and misses openings. However, when the French AI does attack, it fights to win, and the Austrians will have a hard time holding them off. Eventually, players will learn to consistently best the AI. When this happens, its time to move past the computer opponent, and take advantage of the game’s support for hotseat and PBEM play.

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