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Posted on Jul 19, 2005 in Boardgames

Bonaparte at Marengo – Boardgame Review

By Peter Bogdasarian

The other important impact of these mechanics is that both players are encouraged to take offensive action to win the game. Even though the French are caught by surprise and looking to pull back, they have both the strength and opportunity to counterpunch – and the game rewards attempting to do so.

An astute reader will have noticed that there has been no mention of dice in either the components or the combat mechanics – there are none used. This never fails to produce an initial burst of skepticism (I know I felt it), but it works well in play. In my first game, I did feel a little too secure against assaults, but since then, I have seen a couple of surprise attacks succeed and have softened my opinion on the matter. There is a psychological impact to this system, though, as you can no longer blame a bad gamble on an unfortunate roll…

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mapfull.jpg
Taken directly from the publisher’s website, you can see the entire map in its entirety (small version shown here).
They also explain specific
points of this unique map.

Sidebar: Stumbling Points

A few tips to help you get through your first game.

Assaults: One thing I have seen trip up new players is the consequences of a failed assault. It is important to understand that when an assault proves unsuccessful, the attacking pieces are returned to the reserve rather than the approach from which they attacked . If the attacker did not leave anyone to cover the approach – and cannot move new units to block it during the movement portion of his turn, then the defender will be able to mount a successful maneuver attack with the piece he has blocking the approach. As an attacker, you then wind up with a choice – either hold one or more pieces back to cover the approach, or run the risk of a counterattack if your attempt fails.

Road use: The ability to move units down roads in this game is tightly controlled – you can only take three units across a road approach in a turn and they must be at different stages in their move (representing the delays caused by traveling in column). This can prove tough to keep in one’s head, particularly in the first couple of games. My recommendation is to use dice to track when the roads between areas are crossed during movement. Note as well that the sequence in which you move units over roads is important – and that, should push come to shove, you can always cross an approach without using the road if you don’t need to travel far.

Other Features

Solitaire Suitability

Solitaire rules can be downloaded from the publisher’s web page, but I’ll come right out and say that this is a game you should find a living, breathing opponent to play against. The experience will be much more satisfying as the fog of war can be quite important at points.

PBEM Support

A free Cyberboard module is available for playing by e-mail and Dick Jarvinen has assembled a PBEM ladder to help match up opponents. Players wishing to use PBEM to play outside of the ladder will need to find some method of randomizing the French set up. More information may be found here.

As the system can be highly interactive at points (due to the decision making required of the defender for assaults and maneuver attacks), turns may telescope substantially in length depending on how many attacks there are. On the plus side, players will not need to depend on a (potentially suspect) dice server to resolve battles.

General Comments

Playing time

90-120 minutes between players familiar with the game and its mechanics. Allot 120-180 minutes for your first game since you’ll want to consult the rulebook a few times, and the analysis of the situation on the board will take longer due to inexperience.

Complexity

Bonaparte at Marengo, on an initial read, will tend to feel more complicated than it really is. Much of what the rules are doing is intuitive once you see it on the table. The process recommended by the designer for setting up and learning the system is a good one, and I’d recommend players follow it for their first time through.

Teaching Bonaparte at Marengo

Because of how integrated everything is to the strategies involved in play, this is a game where it will be very useful if both players have read the rulebook. Attempting to teach the design orally may not adequately reinforce mechanics that, while seemingly trivial, are important to formulating a winning plan.

My suggestion would be that the less familiar player take the part of the Austrians. While this may initially prove more frustrating (part of the "puzzle" of the game is figuring out how to stage a successful river crossing in the face of the French army), there is much more latitude for him to make mistakes than with the French.

Replay Value

While there exists considerable room for players to play Bonaparte at Marengo according to their tastes, there is a sort of natural process where they will evolve "styles" over time. The best way to shake this up is to play against a broader selection of opponents. And it is the sort of game where you will find yourself thinking about what you could have done differently and concocting new plans for the next time you play – a hallmark of any good game.

Armchair General Score — 88%

37/40 — Gameplay
14/15 — Components
15/20 — Rules/Documentation
14/15 — Replay Value
08/10 — General’s Rating

Simmons Games’ website for Bonaparte at Marengo

[Editor’s Note: The website for Marengo is probably one of the finest we’ve seen for a boardgame. It goes to great effort to illustrate everything about this game, including comprehensive details of the map, a full set of printable rules, and numerous illustrations to help you decide if this game is for you. If nothing else, this is an outstanding example of how to sell a boardgame.]

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Author Information

Peter Bogdasarian first got inducted into wargaming when his dad taught him Kriegspiel (AH) at age six. He’s been playing ever since. Peter assisted with the playtesting and scenario design for the Lock’n Load products Forgotten Heroes and ANZAC Attack. He is licensed to practice law in the state of New York and is currently finishing up a Masters of Law at George Washington law school. What little time is not used up by his education and gaming is spent in Arlington, VA.

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