Napoleon’s wars against the combined powers of Europe are naturally the stuff of legend—from his stunning victory at Austerlitz, effectively ending the Holy Roman Empire, he went on to bloody the noses of anyone willing to take to the field under the Allied banner. Shenandoah Studios’ March to Glory is Napoleon’s greatest hits album: it gives you the broad strokes of Bonaparte’s career as a General, but without the difficult supporting material or B-sides.
Like Shenandoah’s last effort, Gettysburg: The Tide Turns, March to Glory is a deceptively simple strategy title. There are four unit types, they move in straightforward fashion, and the fiddlier wargame concepts like elevation and cover are collapsed into mechanics that would generally work on a table-top. You are either on a hill, or you are not.
You have the option of playing a fourteen-mission single-player campaign, skirmishes played on randomly-generated maps, and a play-by-email multiplayer through Slitherine’s servers. Options are fairly sparse: quick-play option doesn’t let you set any parameters for battle, such as victory point win margin or force composition.
Once you’re in a battle, you’ll see your forces set out on the battlefield, which is a top-down topographic map split up into irregular tiles. Some tiles will indicate a special terrain type, such as a hill or swamp, and terrain features like forests and rivers are easily identifiable. Unit deployment is handled for you, and there’s no option for positioning your men prior to the fighting. During the campaign, however, you will be able to spend some promotion points to give units tactical advantages. These include damage buffs in certain terrain types, increased vision, and reduced damage from reaction fire—it all depends on the unit type, and you’ll pick from three randomly-drawn promotion buffs each time you promote a unit.
Appropriately for the time period, March to Glory is a game about maintaining your fighting line while advancing on objectives. You’ll want to keep infantry abreast, as they receive defensive bonuses for each adjacent unit. Cavalry is an interesting beast here—by moving them next to an enemy infantry unit, you force that unit into a square formation, which makes them much easier to pick off with your own riflemen. Cavalry cannot move into or attack units positioned in forts or towns, however. Artillery does its usual bombardment, and positioning cannon on hilltops affords them additional range, and allows them to fire over other units. Finally, you have marshals—usually le général himself—who cannot move adjacent to enemy units but provides recovery buffs to adjacent friendly units which can help rally soldiers fleeing from battle.
The basics click together pretty well, and the presentation, while simple, is pleasant. There’s a period-appropriate orchestral score featuring brass-heavy baroque classics that I recognize but would be hard-pressed to name, and the sounds of clashing bayonets and sabers, hoof-beats of cavalry, and thumping cannon. The little unit models are a bit difficult to differentiate, but they’re animated nicely and do the job. Mindful of the fact that this represents the work primarily of two people, Shenandoah’s Ionut Georgescu and Cristian Popov, I think it’s a rather pretty package, visually similar to some of the older Paradox grand strategy titles.
Unfortunately, March to Glory isn’t very good at communicating certain crucial information to the player. The tutorial and manual are sparse at best, but figuring the rules out isn’t particularly challenging. It’s harder, however, to work out why your artillery doesn’t have line of sight on certain targets, or why you aren’t allowed to move a piece into a particular space (usually, it’s because of adjacency rules). Prior to committing to a combat, you’ll get a window giving you the modifiers in play and the result—but you’re not told that this is a guess, and usually an overestimate. This makes planning more frustrating than it ought to be on the one hand, although you could argue that adding a touch of uncertainty is appropriate.
While there are enough variables introduced with unit promotions and terrain types to make each combat a bit different, on the whole I found my battles playing out very similarly every time I played, whether it was a quick battle or a campaign mission. Making as broad a front as I could, I’d march my infantry forward in a line, cavalry out front to make as much trouble as I could for units I could catch in the open. Once my line met with the enemy, I’d work on softening one area of their lines, hoping to cause a break for my horses to pour through. This almost always worked, not because I am a brilliant tactician, but more commonly because the AI definitely is not. I’d often watch as it missed obvious opportunities to punish me for poor moves, and after losing a couple key infantry formations it sometimes feels as though it gives up on winning entirely, making the bulk of a 20-turn game into a mop-up operation. Where I was frequently beaten by the AI in Gettysburg, here I’ve been left wanting more of a challenge.
As frustrating as this can be, there’s something compelling about March to Glory. It’s a very pleasant game to play. Battles take around an hour or so, and guiding Napoleon’s unstoppable Grande Armée across the European countryside recalls the romance and national fervour of story and song. What’s missing is the sense of desperation and regret that French soldiers felt as they followed Napoleon on the long, doleful march back from Moscow, dying from typhus, cold, starvation, and brutal harassment from Cossacks.
All of this puts March to Glory in a bit of an odd place. It lacks the complexity and detail that seasoned wargamers will be looking for, and it doesn’t pull enough from history to make its battles feel as though they’re recreating the events on the field. Its simplicity would make it a good choice for entry-level wargame players, except for the fact that it doesn’t do a good enough job of teaching them how to play or of explaining what’s happening at a given time.
But I can’t get away from the fact that I genuinely enjoy playing March to Glory. Prodding an enemy unit with my 5th Hussars so my own infantry can overrun them is immensely satisfying, and finally taking over a fortified town feels like a real accomplishment. As I said before, it’s a pleasant game. I’m still frequently frustrated when a hidden combination of rules prevents me from doing what I think should be possible, and hopefully Shenandoah can offer some clarity with post-release support. And I worry that the repetitive nature of the battles may limit replay-ability.
There’s an allure to the Napoleonic wars that’s hard to pin down in a game. It’s not merely down to fascination with the person of Napoleon, but the impetuousness and loyalty he inspired—deserved or not—in a million French soldiers. Mark Knopfler managed to wrangle it into a bittersweet Arcadian zydeco tune called Done With Bonaparte back in 1996. While I enjoyed March of Glory, I’ve come away wishing that it had captured a bit more of that strange, tragic spirit from the most massive army the world had ever seen, and would ever see, until the advent of WW1.