Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

War and Peace in an afternoon

(c) Worthington Publishing
Used by permission

After work today, my friends Frank Hodge and Grant Greffey and I got together to break in Grant's new copy of War & Peace (designer Grant Wylie, publisher Worthington Games).  This game covers the campaign of Napoleon in Europe in an Axis and Allies format with some interesting rules to handle shifting alliances of some of the second-tier powers of the war.  Normally a two-player game, we used the optional rule for a three-player game, so that Grant played the French as Napoleon Bonaparte, Frank played the English, and I played the Russians.

The English sent the Royal Navy out to establish sea control in the Atlantic and the English Channel in true Mahanian fashion.  The French opened with forays down the Italian peninsula and into neutral German provinces to establish a presence along the Austrian and Prussian western borders.  The French navy also put out from Marseilles and established naval presence in the Mediterranean.  The Spanish activated as a French ally and carefully considered an invasion of Portugal, but in the final analysis it just didn't seem worth the cost of a declaration of war, given Spain's limited resources.  Austria activated as an English ally and consolidated troops along the western border but made no advances.  As the Russian, although pro-English, I did not activate and so sat on the sidelines for the first turn, biding my time and considering future options.

The Royal Navy wasted no time challenging the French fleets but advanced into the western Mediterranean. Napoleon made his first big move with an attack on Austria; with an enormous force of infantry - more effective on attack when Napoleon is present - and augmented by considerable cavalry, the Austrians were sent reeling east to take up position in defense of Vienna.  I successfully activated Russia as an English ally, and my first order of business was to declare war on Sweden; I was confident that Napoleon's occupation of Denmark would not result in a French Baltic Fleet.  My invasion of Scandinavia with a token infantry force was uneventful, and the rest of the Russian army mobilized and advanced toward the eastern reaches of the Austrian empire to back our fellow allies against the invading French horde.

Very worried about an English-leaning Prussia being persuaded to enter the war, Napoleon spent considerable resources to ensure Prussian neutrality.  Also, seeing a significant build-up of English forces in Portsmouth preparing for an obvious cross-channel invasion, the French committed numerous troops to the defense of Normandy and the Low Countries.  Still, the cavalry-bolstered army that marched on Vienna was quite substantial and intimidating.  What followed was a tremendously bloody series of battles over the Austrian capital.  The Hapsburg artillery prevailed, however, and the residual French troops retreated to consolidate in preparation for another campaign.  Meanwhile my Russian waves continued to make their way westward across Austria to reinforce Vienna's defense against the Little Emperor.

The second attempt on Vienna by the French was successful.  The Austrians went down to the last corps before giving up their capital to the blue, white, and red.  The Hapsburgs did not surrender, however, but turned to recruiting new artillery in the eastern provinces to reinforce the arriving Russians.  By the time the first Russian liberators arrived in Vienna, only a few French cavalry corps remained; they were easily dispatched, and the Austrian monarchy was soon restored to the shores of the Danube.

At this point, we looked at the board and realized that the French forces had been spent, and very little remained in the way of troops between the Russian army and Paris.  Meanwhile, the English build-up had reached the point where an invasion of France was imminent.  The French navy's efforts to counter British sea-power had resulted in attrition on the high seas, an exchange of ships that Napoleon could not afford against the larger Royal Navy.  Though Grant might have been able to stall allied efforts on Paris for some time, it was pretty clear that London was beyond the optimistic reach of the French empire.  Grant conceded the game and lamented that his eastern campaign had stalled in Vienna, not even having reached Russia.

We all very much enjoyed the game.  My role as Russian was actually relatively minor; I was in fact involved in only one or perhaps two battles, so it's fair to say that W&P may not be the best three-player option, but I still had fun.  The fact that we were all familiar with the Axis and Allies format made learning the game very quick.

My thoughts on the English victory center primarily on the resource game.  The French spent a lot of capital keeping Prussia out of the war; one might reasonably ask whether some of that cash might have been better spent on troops to maintain the offensive or at least better protect France from the inevitable English counter-attack.  Spain was not much of a factor; although the English maneuvered around Iberia at sea and in Gibraltar, I don't think the Spanish army ever saw combat.

We had one question during the game that the rules didn't seem to handle:  Could the French pay to reduce the Russian position on the alliance track?  What effect would it have if the Russians reached the '0' ("neutral") position?  How would that affect the Russian alliance with England?  It turns out that a very similar question had been asked on boardgamegeek.com, and I quote designer Grant Wylie's answer here:
Yes [players can pay for political alliance die rolls targeting a country in the enemy's alliance], but they don't roll or fall out [of] the alliance except by being conquered; but the three-position shift for the capital being occupied and the roll being automatic is affected by these shifts; it actually makes good sense to do because it may cause them to have to make a political alliance roll if they are conquered and they have shifted enough.
The nice thing is that we had a fun time and finished the game in a very reasonable three hours.  I would certainly enjoy playing again.


  1. Good write up!
    Now see *this*, is a game!

  2. Yes, Paul, I think you would enjoy this one quite a bit.