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Publisher: Slitherine Software
Developer: Firepower, The Lordz Games Studios
Minimum requirements: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP; Intel Pentium 4, 1.4 GHz or fully compatible; 512 MB RAM; 300 MB of free space on hard drive; Java
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release date: Available now
Review by: Jason Pitruzzello
The Napoleonic Wars seem to be a never-ending source of gaming inspiration. Whether it’s tabletop war games with their cardboard counters or computer games with the latest graphics, it’s hard to go wrong by picking this turbulent period in European history as a basis for strategy gaming. It had been quite some time since I had played a game set in this specific era until Slitherine’s Commander: Napoleon at War came across my virtual desk, and I confess that I looked forward to correcting the historic mistakes made by famous generals.
From the moment the game is installed, Commander: Napoleon at War clearly shows its allegiance to old-school tabletop games. CNW is a turn-based strategy game played on a map of Europe, parts of North America, North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. The game ships with a variety of scenarios, some of which cover individual campaigns such as the invasion of Russia or the Peninsular War, and a mega-campaign that highlights the political situation in Europe from 1805 to 1814. The map is divided into hexes, each of which covers a sizeable amount of land (there are 6 hexes between Paris and Brussels), giving the game a grand scope. Armies feature the kinds of troops you might expect, from light cavalry scouts to siege guns that break down fortifications quickly. However, given the scale of the game, these different kinds of units appear in large divisions rather than in smaller groups. Thus, the Grande Armée that invades Russia in the 1812 campaign includes only 16 individual units. This style of organization keeps the game manageable while giving it the room to encompass so much territory.
Rather than play a specific country, Commander: Napoleon at War lets you control one of two opposing factions: France and her allies (which vary from conflict to conflict) or the Coalition, which also features historical alliances. For example, in 1805, France and a few minor German and Italian countries fight a Coalition that includes Britain, Russia and Austria. On the other hand, in the Peninsular War campaign, France is by herself while the Coalition is made up of Britain, Portugal and Spain. This system is further complicated by the diplomatic setup in the full campaign. Nations not currently allied to either France or the Coalition have their own sympathies. Pro-French nations may spontaneously join the war on the side of France, while pro-Coalition countries may join the Coalition with little warning. Defeated nations can be occupied and their resources used; France can weaken the Coalition by picking off its minor allies, while the Coalition might conduct a surprise invasion of France via the Netherlands.
Since Commander: Napoleon at War has such a wide scope, it comes with limited economic management. With all of the fighting that goes on, both France and the Coalition always need shiny new armies and navies to continue the war. The game has four resources: production points, manpower, horses and wagons. Obviously, different units use their own unique resources; all units need some manpower, but only cavalry units need horses. Production points can be spent on scientists, allowing you to begin researching new technologies, while wagons grant a few units the ability to move quickly across large portions of the map. Also, true to the real problems of the period, the more manpower you use, the lower the quality of new recruits. As a result, while France might have a manpower of 200, spending more than 40 of it at one time decreases the quality of new regiments. Resources are generated from cities, horse farms and long-distance trade. This last point is rather critical, for whoever controls the ocean can gain resources above and beyond what they could normally produce. By hiring privateers, both sides can raid each other’s convoys and steal their resources. Merchants can transport horses or production points, giving either side a much-needed boost if the merchants can make it to a friendly port.
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