Ahhh, the Napoleonic Wars.
While the nascent country of the United States of America was still figuring out all this “independence” business, the mighty European nations were in a constant state of turmoil, fighting against the French in various coalitions. Historians argue about the official date the Napoleonic Wars started (sometime between 1793 - 1803), but one thing is for sure: Napoleon kicked some serious ass and took a lot of names. While most Americans know him as a “short dead dude” a la Bill and Ted, Napoleon “the Man of Destiny” Bonaparte has quite a cult following, inspiring thousands across the world to reenact the dozens of battles and skirmishes fought within the 25 or so years of “The Corsican’s” reign. Perhaps it’s no surprise that, some 200 years after his rise and fall, a title like “Victory and Glory: Napoleon” would grace Steam with its presence.
Victory and Glory: Napoleon appears to be the PC version of the board game “Napoleon in Europe” which is excellent because NiE was truly amazing. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much of a board game player myself (Ticket To Ride stressed me out to the point of no return), but Napoleon in Europe, Risk, and Stratego were heavily played in my household growing up. The resemblances between the two are uncanny – they have to be one and the same.
The premise can be surmised from its title – you play as the French and are up against various European nations of the 1800s, such as Prussia, The Ottoman Empire, Spain, Austria, Russia, and, of course, England. Depending on the campaign, some countries will be hostile towards you while others may stay neutral. True to History, there is never a time in these campaigns where England is at peace with France (Lord Nelson and the Duke of Wellington would be pleased). Hostile countries are marked in a vibrant color, whereas neutral nations are a dull, inoffensive brown.
The controls are extremely simple – using your mouse, you point and click on your armies and ships to build them up and direct them to different regions on the board.
You have 4 “actions” or things you can do during your turn. Each turn is equal to one month, so after 12 turns a year has passed. At the end of each turn two cards are drawn and you must choose one of them. These cards are meant to give you an edge over your opponents; however, they often have criteria that must be met before being played. For example – one card recruits American soldiers to your cause, but it cannot be played until after 1810 (Americans…better late than never!).
Armies are difficult to build up, surprisingly – perhaps it was my poor luck with cards, but I always seemed to be low on soldiers. Armies are most often composed of infantry, cavalry, artillery, elite infantry, heavy cavalry, and leaders. Leaders do not engage in combat, but without leaders an army cannot move across the board. Combining armies is possible – by activating (clicking) an army followed by clicking another army, the two will be joined as long as their individual units do not exceed 20. Unit count is noted by a small number at the base of the army and naval avatar.
The combat system is by far the greatest highlight of the title – units are spread out across a battlefield on “your side”, “their side” and (sometimes) a middle ground. Either side can take the middle ground, but both sides cannot occupy it at the same time. The size of the battlefield depends on the size of the armies, and the most engrossing battles are usually those fought with 10 or more units per side.
Battling is simple – click units and then click the location you’d like them to go to – in some cases it’s just one box positioned squarely in front of their box, while other battlefields have a middle ground separating your box from theirs. You’re only allowed a certain amount of units on the field at any given time, so choose wisely. You can only move or attack once per turn but never both, unless you’ve activated cards that state otherwise. You and your opponent are each allowed a set number of activations per turn, and the round ends when all activations have been used up. After four rounds, either party can initiate a retreat, which gives both sides a chance to initiate a pursuit and do further damage. My strategy was to use artillery units to strike over the middle ground and into enemy territory and wait for them to approach, making them more vulnerable to attack. I then waited until they tried to retreat and dealt a further crippling blow as they turned tail.
There are also naval battles which…I gotta be honest, I sucked at.
Let’s get real though – I was up against the English, who had the finest navy on the planet at that time. I had my ass handed to me every round, so I decided it was best to stay in my harbors and fight the English on dry land. I guess it’s true what they say – the English really did rule the seas. But even though I got a royal beat down 100% of the time, I was still really invested in the campaign. I didn’t care that I couldn’t win in naval warfare – I was pretty sure I could turn it around with a lucky card draw. I was hooked!
As I played, I realized that time was whizzing by unnoticed. I was most likely losing the entire campaign (it was like six against one, give me a break!), but I was thoroughly enjoying myself and completely immersed. I won at least two battles at Waterloo, which made me legitimately laugh out loud (at least a giggle). After playing for several hours, I found that I was forcing myself to stop so I could do more productive things – it was literally too much fun to leave! The map was well-drawn in a nice, Historical-feeling style, the music was epic and inspiring, and the gameplay, while uncomplicated, was challenging. The YouTube tutorials that were offered were helpful, but not necessary – even to those that hadn’t played Napoleon in Europe before (although the fact that they exist is definitely a bonus!). I found it to be engrossing from start to finish, and getting lost in a game is definitely the mark of a noteworthy title.
I feel like I only have one complaint, and that’s that the difficulty settings aren’t totally true to how I personally think they should be. I try to be as objective as humanly possible, but even at the easiest setting I was still getting wailed on by the English at sea and by everyone else on land. Napoleon once said that “you must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war”, and this title seems to take the quote quite literally – you’ll barely fend off the Russians only to have the English and Austrians mop the floor with you all in one turn. I just couldn’t catch my breath, and I was one bad card draw away from losing the entire empire “the Modern Alexander” had built up. It could be that I also just suck, but I really did feel like it could have been just a tad bit easier.
Whether or not you like board games, I’m pretty convinced you’ll enjoy Victory and Glory: Napoleon. This title will provide even the staunchest opponents of the shortest dictator hours of amusement. The replay value is extremely high and the incidental factual details will be sure to tickle your inner European History nerd. The battles will make you seriously strategize and the complete European coalition teaming up against you will make you sympathize a bit with the Emperor of Elba. This is definitely a thinking (wo)man’s title - no History books required. Vive la France!