After saving it during the uprising of 13 Vendémiaire, the Directory rewarded Bonaparte with command of the Army of Italy. This promotion wasn’t the great gift it may appear. Italy was definitely a step-child front compared to Germany and the army was ill-organized, ill-supplied and demoralized. Nonetheless, Napoleon swept the Austrians from northern Italy between 1796 and 1797 and cemented France’s hold on the peninsula later in 1800. Using John Tiller’s tried-and true engine. Bill Peters and team have put together a detailed tactical recounting with selected campaigns of this period in Campaign Marengo.
A Crisper Lombardy
Both the 2D and the 3D graphics are improved in this release. Sprites and icons for troops seem sharper although another zoom-in level for the 3D figures would be nice. The 2D NATO icons have a “mag” magnified level; a good touch since most players use the 2D graphics. The standout improvement is the terrain. Northern Italy is a beautiful country with varied terrain. Hills, mountains, vineyards, swamps, lakes, forests and rivers make for very nice eye-candy as well as tactical headaches. Picturesque villages, fortresses and bridges are all fetching and useful on the five different zoom levels. Movement to contact should be done on the birds-eye levels but combat is best conducted close in.
The usual info box has data on the selected unit and images of the troops’ uniforms. Here, although pretty, the images are not historical. Instead of neat Imperial wear, the soldiers of the Army of Italy were scruffy and ragged even before they marched off. Some rag-tag troopers would have been more appropriate. Another slight visual irritant is the on-map cursor. This important item is a thin white cross-hair easily lost against light map areas. The cursor should be made thicker or black.
The UI is typical Tiller. Orders are given with clicks, menus, toolbars and hotkeys. Infantry formations include column and regular, shortened and extended lines as well as squares to defend against cavalry if a morale check is passed. If more than one infantry unit is in a hex, only the front (“top”) unit can fire but players can swap each unit’s place in a turn. Regular infantry regiments can detach one company as skirmishers but light infantry regiments can dissolve into swarms of skirmishers; all skirmishers can rejoin their parent unit. Skirmishers are useful in blocking enemy movement and line of fire while gathering better intelligence about foes. Artillery can limber and unlimber. Dragoons can fight as regular cavalry or dismount to fight as infantry. Given the “Charge” order, cavalry can melee at triple strength. All of these actions cost Action Points. Leaders are important for rallying. Combat results can be loss of men, fatigue, disorder, low ammo or rout. Units with low ammo can be re-supplied from supply wagons.
Sound effects are also the usual and only lend some atmosphere to the proceedings.. Cannon crash, muskets rattle, marching troops tramps, horses neigh and clop while wagons creak. Bayonet charges are marked by cheers and screaming. The game is very well documented with two PDF manuals, campaign notes and a very robust tutorial. The parameter PDF and organization chart should be studied at the start of any battle. The game’s editor also has good documentation. In the Design folder within the game directory are several PDFs of historical OoBs and leaders.
Birth of the “Little Corporal”
The Austrians were frantic to block Bonaparte’s advance past the river at Lodi in 1796. They covered the only bridge with several batteries with infantry support. After several hours of bombardment, the French rushed the bridge only to be repulsed by concentrated fire. The last attempt was on the verge of collapse when Napoleon himself led the front rank over the bridge, earning the sobriquet of “Little Corporal”.
The action at Lodi is only one of 117 battle scenarios. Some scenarios split large battles into phases. Forty-five of these scenarios are scripted for solo play while the others are meant for head-to-head play although they can be played solo. The emphasis on multi-play represents both customer preference and the weakness of Tiller’s AI. Four hypothetical bonus scenarios are included as well as three designer aids. Scenarios vary in length from six to 366 turns.
The five branching campaigns start with a separate EXE file. They cover the period from 1796 to 1800. Players can choose to have the AI be either conservative or aggressive. Outcomes of battles determine which battles are fought next. The system doesn’t have core groups so losses are not carried over as such but the loser of the preceding battle will have a smaller force. Particularly exciting is the Russian Suvarov’s campaign in 1799. Bonaparte’s 1800 campaign shows what he could do with well-dressed troops.
The flow of playing the scenarios represents the Italian campaigns very well. The ability of French light regiments to break down into skirmishers demonstrates how these small units can hold up and demoralize the outdated Austrian columns, forcing them into line so full French regiments can blast them. The longer battles usually depict an attacking force advancing to contact. The defender’s units are usually fixed until the foe comes close. Such a situation means that one side maneuvers while the other just clicks on “Next Turn” for periods of time. Even with the suspense of Fog of War, one player will be bored for a while. However, boredom is part of war and this campaign was actually one of maneuver and forced marches. When action starts, soldiers fall and their comrades lose their nerve. Here, superior French leadership shows its stuff by quickly forming and rallying their men. If players want fast action, the editor is quick and easy to use.
A good strategic game of this period exists in the form of Hussar Games’ Napoleon in Italy. Players wanting flashier tactical experiences should play one of the Scourge of War Napoleonic games. What Campaign Marengo provides is a highly detailed and accurate view of the many battles in Italy in the French conquest. Gamers who want to understand the ebb and flow of this conflict should pick this up and enjoy the feel of history.