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Napoleon’s Campaigns

History has always been a favorite stomping ground for strategy games – much like with first-person shooters, there seems to be at least five WWII strategy games released in any given month. The Napoleonic Wars, however, are a fairly fresh setting for a strategy game – but why not? After all, it’s a perfect scenario for high-strategy fare. Conquer this, conquer that, all while riding your pretentious white horse and waving your hand around in the air. Napoleon’s Campaigns is a wargame that delivers chunks of Napoleon’s battles in gaming form in an experience similar to Axis and Allies. It’s a completely different kind of strategy game than say, Starcraft, so zerg-rush junkies need not apply. Those who are interested in Napoleon and the history involved in his reign, however, will find something to sink their teeth into.

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Napoleon’s Campaigns revolves entirely around real-world events that anyone could find in a history book (or on Wikipedia) and read into.”Right off the bat, it’s impressive to note how well the developers did their research. Napoleon’s Campaigns revolves entirely around real-world events that anyone could find in a history book (or on Wikipedia) and read into. The scope of the game is massive; instead of controlling individual units, the large map displays regiments and armies, and the reality is, players are choosing where to put their strategists. It’s a fair representation of what being a general would actually be like, since players have to rely less on quick tactics and more on slow and logical choices that affect the outcome of a battle. Armchair historians will lap this stuff up, and while it’s hardly a substitute for Counter-Strike, it’s a pretty interesting premise for spending an afternoon with.

“In my experience, the same brisk military march trotted on and on and on and on and on as I poked my men around the playing field, eventually forcing me to start listening to entirely anachronistic Radiohead records as I trunched around Europe.”However, as different a demographic as this game is clearly aiming for, there are issues that present themselves to me as a gamer that I can’t ignore. The presentation, while understandably broad, is fairly boring – the map is a two-dimensional map with portraits of various military figures scattered about it. Considering this is a game about large-scale warfare spanning different nations, there is a total disconnect between clicking on these uppity French commanders and what it actually represents. Much like a board game, everything is left to the imagination, since there is no dramatic presentation of war or any other situation. It feels bland, and the sound design didn’t help much. In my experience, the same brisk military march trotted on and on and on and on and on as I poked my men around the playing field, eventually forcing me to start listening to entirely anachronistic Radiohead records as I trunched around Europe. While I appreciate the effort put into the accurate world maps and the attention to historical detail, Napoleon’s Campaigns just didn’t suck me in. It’s not pretty, and it presents nothing to the player that hasn’t been done in a board game, bar internet multiplayer on a few campaigns, which mind you, would be pretty bizarre to have in a board game.

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Even the history buffs may find themselves a little disappointed at the lack of one sweeping campaign. Instead of providing one cohesive narrative, Napoleon’s Campaigns is divided into chunks. As far as major historical events go, the handful represented are all over the timeline. This is perfectly fine, except for the fact that the game is already lacking enough of a hook to keep people interested. If the game itself isn’t enthralling or beautiful, a good progression of plot – or in this case, fact – would keep players working on the game. Again, this is only my observation as a gamer; the demographic is clearly not people of my distinction.

Napoleon’s Campaigns is an answer to some very specific prayers.”There is so much that went over my head while I played Napoleon’s Campaigns that it puts me in a difficult position as a writer. Since 90% of the fare that comes past my desk is less dense, less factual, and more to the point, less of a niche title, it was hard to pick up on things I didn’t know were wargame conventions. I found the amount of stats displayed at any given time were mind boggling, but other players I talked to about the game said they were fairly tidy for this sort of game. The graphics, too, I balked at, but poking around on the internet yielded lots of praise for the map and display. Still, as a gaming writer, I think it’s fair that I judge this game according to what constitutes a fun video game, not a historical simulation. I’m not saying Napoleon’s Campaigns is bad, but chances are if you come to this site looking for reviews on Halo or Final Fantasy games, Napoleon’s Campaigns isn’t for you. That being said, hardcore war strategy enthusiasts should love it – the research has clearly been done, and by high strategy standards, it’s a good game. If ever there was a time to look up the word “objective”, it’s now – Napoleon’s Campaigns is an answer to some very specific prayers.

6 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in October 2006.

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