In a brief moment of nostalgia… I’ve had Age of Napoleon (Phalanx – published 2003) for quite some time because I thought once that it would be nice to have grand strategy game that would be playable in decent time – and unlike most of the period games, it requires only two players and intricacies of diplomacy is handled with cards and not long and tedious personal interactions. I know that my review drags about 12 years after the publication, and quite few years after I got my hands to a copy. In ordinary circumstances I would not bother. However, Age of Napoleon is a bit different.
Gameboard of Age of Napoleon is hard mounted, colorful, and quite clear. In fact it is one of the prettiest I have seen. There are few minor mistakes geographically (which author has recognized as well), but the board layout works wonders. Regions have sufficient space for units, and it just is really pretty to look at.
Same goes for the counters and markers, they are thick, simple, clear and eloquent. One of the many examples that highlight why games like this should never, ever use miniatures. It is really easy to distinguish between nations and functions of each. There is no variety on units – in the scale of things, the counters represent armies commanded by famous or infamous commanders of the era, and there are no distinctions between cavalry, artillery or infantry in a counter level. Cards do bring some of those in however.
Cards are decent stock, with very nice graphics and quite clear texts for each. The variance of cards is quite large and unlike in many other games, the cards are played as events or sacrificed for other functions – eg. to move an army. There is no OPS, common feature of nay other card driven games. Additionally, there are cards that allow player to dig through discard pile – a feature that does add certain randomness to the activities available (Author has also devised card free rules and other amendments for those interested, and last I checked, he is still quite active on BGG forums, supporting the game – something that is very different from the usual).
There are two play aids that contain most used things, but they could be somewhat better, or more informative – especially considering the rulebook issues. I would actually like to see some other games that have the same graphics designer, because it really is good looking thing.
When everything else is good, then there has to be something really bad in the game, and that is, unfortunately the rules. First edition rules were notoriously complicated, and nearly impossible to read, or make anything out of them. Second edition fares better, but still, there are some severe issues, starting from victory conditions and continuing to some more vital bits like insurrections etc. Would there really not be any better way to express them?
It does take some effort and time to go through the rules, but it is worth it. There is quite decent game hidden behind the ambiguities, and frankly, the author of the game has been quite supportive to all the questions that has been raised over the years. It is quite remarkable that game this old is still actually played. Every now and then it seems that someone finds the game and I can even understand why some think it is one of the favorites.
Age of Napoleon is interesting take on topic that is hard to manage in reasonable effort. It was meant to be simple, and perhaps a bit of a distance from being any serious historical simulation. An entertaining game that pulls from Napoleonic era intrigues and military features. It does many things very eloquently and nicely, visual appeal is great, game flow is – regardless some of the rules roughness, quite good once you have all the issues sorted out. Armies with named generals give nice touch and story to the events.
What I do like in the Age of Napoleon is the grand strategy idea combined with fluent game play and level of interaction that does not leave other player to wait for hours for another to do his/her turn. I do understand those who cannot stand the rules ambiguities and detest the game because of that, or because of the lack in troop types etc. However, Age of Napoleon does have unusually interesting set of mechanics combined with more or less successful attempt to make manageable grand strategy game.
Because I got my copy quite some time ago from sorry discount shelf (at the time I knew nothing of it, and bought it because it looked nice but pretty homeless), I could say that it has been very well worth the money – quite few joyful, terror filled, and hilarious hours have been spent with the game, albeit it has to be admitted that there are nowadays better, perhaps more solid games around (but not at all that many of the same topic). That said, if opportunity presents itself to play Age of Napoleon, it has a good change to be mighty fun. It does seem to age rather well, like a good wine.