Sunday, September 11, 2016

Action at Dego: JTS Campaign Marengo

French approach to Dego, initial positions

Not much boardgaming this weekend, as I've been consumed with PBEM turns and solo computer gaming. Much of the latter has been due to this game, the newly released Campaign Marengo from John Tiller Software.




Turn 9 - Massena advances south of the river on the town, while LeHarpe's division moves to seize the bridge. LeHarpe's cavalry swings north and take Piano in a flanking move.

Campaign Marengo covers the early years of Napoleon's military career, and his first victories. The action takes place in northern Italy, pitting the French Revolutionary armies against Austrian, Russian, and Savoyard forces.

Dego falls and LeHarpe moves to invest the castle. The Austrian garrison wisely pulls back to avoid encirclement by Massena.
If you enjoy the Napoleonic Battles series of games, it's a good bet you'll enjoy this one too. The game offers the standard Tiller game engine and interface. Experienced players can jump right in and get playing without having to worry about learning the system.

A very nice addition to this game is the inclusion of a number of scenarios specifically created to be played solo. It's no secret that the enemy AI has never been the strong suite of these games, as they have always been designed to be played against a human opponent. By including a number of solo variants of nearly all of the scenarios (something becoming more and more common in this series) the development team has made Campaign Marengo far more accessible to the new player, or the player that prefers not to play versus another human.

LeHarpe's cavalry runs wild, capturing Austrian VP locations and flanking Austrian troops. Massena sets about destroying the Austrian troops while LeHarpe tries to storm the castle.
With four campaigns and over 100 scenarios, Campaign Marengo offers a lot of game play. As is becoming the norm with games from John Tiller Software, a lot of extras are included with the game in the form of PDF articles covering details of the campaigns, scenarios, and armies of the period. I think that many potential players aren't aware of or fail to evaluate the value of these extras. Buying one of these games is like buying an Osprey campaign book and getting an illustrative game! The extras in Campaign Marengo are up to the usual excellent quality for JTS games, and well worth taking the time to read.

The castle falls and the Dego garrison is nearly destroyed. Austrian reinforcements have arrived, however!
Unfortunately, game graphics haven't improved at all, and may have even gone a step backwards. The graphics you see in these screenshots use what's become my standard set of mods for maps and units - the standard game doesn't look like this at all. I find the stock game graphics so bad as to make the game nearly unplayable. I honestly can't understand why, when  very good map and graphics mods have been produced for these games, and even used in other JTS game series (I'm looking at you, First World War Campaigns) that the Napoleonic games still look like something produced in the 1990s.  Significant strides in graphics have been made by the team producing the Panzer Battles games, but the teams working on these seem content to have their product looking frankly unacceptable.

Honestly, I'm sick of trying to recruit new players to these games, only to have them reject spending $40 on a game because it looks like something from a decade ago. The graphics aren't even up to the caliber of the original Talonsoft games that actually were produced in the 1990s! Nor do I buy the argument that there's no money to produce better graphics. Are you trying to tell me that Napoleonics are more niche than WWI? It's a damn shame to have these huge, amazingly accurate maps spoiled by really inferior graphics.

LeHarpe and Massena move to encircle and destroy the Austrians as the afternoon wears on. Clouds of French skirmishers are particularly effective against the Austrian regiments.
Complaints about graphics aside, Campaign Marengo is a great game for the Napoleonic enthusiast. The campaigns in Italy were some of Bonaparte's finest, and in my opinion, some of the most interesting. As per Chandler's Campaigns of Napoleon the Italian campaigns are illustrative of the development of Napoleon's genius and pre-figure the magnificent campaigns of 1805 and 1806-07. This game is certainly required for the JTS Napoleonic Battles completionist - but also would make a great starter game for someone new to the period.

Despite causing three times the casualties as I sustained, and taking all of the victory locations, I still only managed a draw. In the end I wasn't able to destroy the Austrians reinforcements - mostly because I didn't manage my artillery effectively. This is a perennial problem I have to work on!
As for myself, I'm delighted the Campaign Marengo is available. I've desperately wanted a game to cover these campaigns for years now, as they are some of my favorites. To be able to tackle these operations at a battalion/squadron scale, with ten to fifteen minute turns, is very, very appealing to me. I'm looking forward to hours of great game play with this one.