On Campaign

My daughter dug out one of my old board games to keep us amused today. I remember it from my childhood as being one of the games that I wanted to play but struggled to get anyone to join me. This was a great shame because it was right up my street, describing itself as ;

“A compelling game of military and political strategy in the age of Napoleon.”

The game (first marketed in 1971) uses a board featuring six Napoleonic European countries; France, Prussia, Russia, Austria, Spain and Italy. Italy, not being an independent country at the time, does not take an active part in the game but is still subject to being invaded and its cities changing hands. Three different pieces represent either cavalry, infantry or a general and each of these pieces have their own attributes and abilities. To win the game, one must either capture enough cities / territory across the board, capture the opponents capital, or – less likely – to destroy the entire army of the enemy.

My daughter adopted the powers of Austria and France while I selected Prussia and Russia as allies. Understanding the game was difficult first off and she never really felt she understood it even at the end! For me, I enjoyed it and can see that repeated play would help my understanding of the elements of Napoleonic campaign strategy (boldness, caution, lines of communication, etc).

The edges of the game board are decorated with some fabulous illustrations of Napoleonic troops by an illustrator called I. Thompson:

A YouTuber has posted a detailed a multi-part examination of the game (five parts!). He mentions the ‘very attractive cover’ with its convincingly real Napoleonic shakos, cuirass, bugle and other militaria. It’s a sentiment which I fully agree with and which probably attracted me to the game in the first place back in the 1980s:

The game booklet suggests that “as players become more experienced they will recognise the parallels between the moves they make and the military and political strategies of the Napoleonic years…”. One YouTuber described the game as sharing ‘a lot in common with Chess, but is more asthetically pleasing and has a luck element in it’. The Campaign booklet itself concludes with the sage words “…Campaign is a game to be studied as well as played.”

Now, I wonder if I can tempt anyone else to another game?

War Games

Having time off with my 10 year old daughter over the holidays, I found that she was keen to play some board games with me. Once we exhausted the ones in the house, I happened to mention some of my favourite board games when I was a child, one of which included a game called Stratego. Days later, she returned home from her grandparents (my parents) one day with the said box of Stratego in hand. It had been hiding in their loft all these years.

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Stratego: “full of surprises”. It seems the gent on the box cover is surprised as me to find the sapper’s dragoon-style helmet has mysteriously lost its plume!

How little my interests have changed since childhood. Stratego is a battle game which has a distinct 19th century military flavour to it. The aim is to capture the enemy flag by beating the opponents pieces by outranking them in 1-to-1 encounters. One must avoid attacking the bombs which can only be safely defused by sappers. The difficulty lies in the ranks of the enemy’s pieces being unseen and only revealed when nominated to be ‘attacked’.

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The army ranks are delightfully depicted in cameos, each featuring a unique style of 19th century European military headdress. These consist of:

  • Scout: Hussar busby
  • Sapper: Dragoon helmet, (Albert pattern without plume?)
  • Sergeant: Field service cap
  • Lieutenant: Shako
  • Captain: Shako
  • Major: Shako
  • Colonel: Dragoon helmet with woollen crest and plume
  • General: Bicorne hat with plume
  • Marshal: Bicorne hat with feathers

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The army ranks are helpfully depicted on the edge of the ‘battlefield’.

Based upon the French game of L’Attaque, the game is a nice combination of chance and strategy, just like in a real battle. The game’s predecessor, L’Attaque initially came with cardboard illustrations on contemporary European soldiers. The V&A museum in London has this 1925 version, below:

Being created by a French lady, Mademoiselle Hermance Edan, the illustrations featured types of the French and British armies with ranks written in the appropriate language. I notice that the British army’s flag is not represented by the union flag but instead by the ‘red ensign’, the flag used by the merchant navy. Sacré bleu!

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Back to our game: to add some martial atmosphere to our own Stratego engagement, I had my copy of ‘Regimental Marches of the British Army – Volume 2″ playing over speakers in the background.

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The battle begins…

Full credit to Eleanor, my daughter, she soon grasped the different ranks and the rules of the game. Unfortunately for her, luck was against her and furthermore she was up against a ‘competitive dad’ who shamefully wasn’t about to lose a battle…

I noticed that there were some pleasing Napoleonic-era illustrations of cavalry on the side of the battlefield board, three hussars and another cavalryman wearing a cuirass engaged in combat.

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It was enjoyable to play Stratego again after all these years and it may even become a regular feature. But wait! There was one more military strategy board game that Eleanor had brought home; Campaign – “a compelling game of military and political strategy in the age of Napoleon”.

Game on!!!

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