Take it away, Marechal!
Game review: Jena: Napoleon Conquers Prussia - October 9-16, 1806.
Publisher: Clash of Arms games, 1996
Designer: Ed Wimble
Having been prompted by a recent discussion on Napoleonic tactical/operational game systems to revisit this game, I was astounded to discover that there were no reviews on BGG…this is my attempt to remedy this sad state of affairs.
Designer Ed Wimble is better known as the main man behind ‘Clash of Arms games’ and also as something of a Napoleonic expert for his work on the 'La Battaile' series of game, probably the most detailed tactical level games on the era. Fortunately in this game the designer has taken a broader view and designed a game on the campaign itself.
As Ed writes in the designer notes, ‘Prior to making a study of Napoleon’s 1806 campaign, most of what I knew about it was from general histories. Because of this I was very reluctant to develop a game on the subject. It seemed too one-sided. I asked myself, “Who would ever want to play the Prussians…?”’
Fortunately for those with a desire to refight the campaign, the designer’s interest was piqued by a visit to the region and a shift in focus from the disastrous (for the Prussians) battles of Jena-Auerstadt to the manoeuvring that led to the battles. The game focus is therefore very firmly on the opening weeks moves of both sides, which in effect was the Napoleonic version of ‘Blitzkrieg’. Essentially the much vaunted Prussian Army, still resting on Fredrickian concepts of warfare was shattered in a week of combat and totally demoralised after a lighting six week pursuit by a French army at the top of it’s game.
The game is therefore clearly focussed on the operational aspects of moving Corps and divisions to bring the most effort to bear when a battle is joined. The game system is based on Ed’s earlier offering L'Armée du Nord, and is ideally suited to the portrayal of key events without getting bogged down in detail. The game forces the player to act like an overall army commander and for those that have read the classic books on the campaign, such as F.L Petre’s ‘ Napoleon’s Conquest of Prussia’ or Colonel Vachee’s “Napoleon at work’, it really helps bring the dilemmas faced by both sides into view.
Jena! Is an impressive looking game and if ever a game was sold by its cover, then this is it. A dramatic painting by Edouard Detaille of the French 4th Dragoons making off with Prussian trophy graces the box top. Three full 34” x 22” game maps provide the next hook. Beautifully rendered in autumn tones by Rick Barber they portray the campaign area in an almost contemporary way. Roads are lined with rows of trees, villages and towns dot the landscape and slopes and hills are rendered functionally. To add period feel, the terrain features and locations are rendered in Teutonic script. You almost feel like a commander poring over a map from the era. Map scale is roughly 1km per hex.
|This photo by Mark Mokszycki shows a portion of the south map. |
It's one of three such maps, so don't attempt without a large table!
The full campaign does take a lengthy table area, but the good news is that there are numerous one-map scenarios to provide a taste of the system and replay key moments of the campaign.
420 counters, comprising mostly combat units are nicely functional with uniform colours forming the basis of the design and back printed with the national flag for each side. Information is kept to a minimum with strength points (each representing 1000 infantry, 500 cavalry or an artillery battery), morale ratings from 1-6 and movement ratings.
The rulebook is a concise 16 pages, which also includes 3 pages of scenarios and setups, so the core rule systems are essentially 12 pages in total, making it an easy game to learn and start playing.
The package is rounded out with an Off board movement track, which is used by the Prussians to bring units on to he main map and several cardstock play aids contain turn tracks, combat results table, bombardment effects and terrain effects chart.
The size of the map ensures that there is relatively little crowding and gives the Prussian player plenty of scope to trade countryside in the face of the French onslaught until they can determine where the main thrust will be delivered. There are plenty of rivers and high ground to ensure that the Prussian can choose good defensive terrain to balance out some of their tactical deficiencies when the battle is joined.
Whilst it has been over ten years since I actively played this game, I still have vivid memories of a number of campaigns that were played out and hung in he balance at times until the very end game. Whilst things do appear grim for the Prussian player, his war-game counterpart is not bound by the same errors and muddled thinking that plagued the Prussians in reality. The game system gives the French player better command control to manoeuvre units, but the back printed counters are utilised to provide limited intelligence so that each player is never quite sure which commander and force he is up against until the battle is joined.
Combat does have tactical nuances with rules for cavalry charges and bombardment to provide the feel of Napoleonic warfare. Morale is also a major aspect of the system and often you will see your troops melt away in defeat, but prudent use of terrain for the Prussians enables them to rally units back to he colours and fight another day and for the French it is a race against time to capture a much ground as possible, to ensure that shattered Prussian units stay in the dead pile.
For more detail on the system I refer to a previous review by duckweed on L'Armée du Nord which uses the same core mechanisms http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/108867/a-brief-review-of...
Overall I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Some errata is needed to resolve minor issues, but not to the extent of detracting from the game. In revisiting my copy I found numerous patient replies to my written enquiries from the designer. None of the errata I requested was overly detrimental to play of the game at the time. If you can find a copy and you are interested in the era then don’t hesitate to buy!
In terms of book companions to the battle and the period, Steve recommends the following titles:
Great review - thanks Steve!