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Cross-posted from BGG - http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/825874/the-most-beautiful-game-in-t...
The most beautiful game in the universe.
This is not a review of the gameplay. As such, people seeking to understand how to play the game should look elsewhere. Instead, this is a review on what makes Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe.
So, why do a few blocks of wood, some tiny bits of metal, and a mounted map all in a sturdy cardboard box make Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe?
It is not so much that they 'shock' you with their amazing beauty. Individually, and at first glance, the components appear to be of a simple design and an average gamer may not be immediately awe-struck when opening the box.
There are two large bags of blocks, one bag coloured red, the other blue, with block having a unit symbol on it.
There is a bag of metal 'commander' pieces (and a sheet of stickers which need to be applied - plus a spare sheet in case you make a mistake).
The average gamer may get a little excited when they notice two rulebooks - marvellous, one for each player (not standard fare in the vast majority of games).
And most gamers will get increasingly excited on seeing the innovative map design by Bowen Simmons, focusing on 'locales' rather than hexes (eg: traditional hex-and-counter games), or point-to-point movement (eg: card-driven wargames).
But individually, the components are not enough to promote the game to 'the most beautiful game in the universe'
Even after setting up, with commanders and corps organised and with one's army stretching out along the battlefield, one will be increasingly excited. But still, the game's 'true beauty' is not yet revealed.
The key to the games aesthetic praise, and the 'true beauty' that makes Napoleon's Triumph the most beautiful game in the universe, is only revealed in the dynamics of gameplay.
It is only when these well-ordered pieces begin to move, when the battle begins to unfold, and when the two armies clash in lines stretching out along the battlefield, that the true beauty of the game is revealed.
For whilst superficially beautiful (ie: nice-looking components), the 'true beauty' of the game is the result of the combination of those components in a thematically-intense, strategically-rich, and excitement-filled setting. The 'true beauty' of the game lies in the sense of actually feeling that one is a 'god-like commander' moving actual regiments and brigades around a battlefield.
No game I have played has ever conveyed the imagined sense of 'realism' that Napoleon's Triumph does. No game I have played has ever made me feel as much a 'god-like commander' on a battlefield as much Napoleon's Triumph does. This is not to say that the game is 'realistic' (nor am I saying this is the 'most realistic' wargame); a real commander (eg: Napoleon) would not have been able to see all his troops at all times, and he wouldn't have had that supreme ability to immediately order his troops about. But in the sense that most wargames put these issues aside and most wargames treat the player as a 'god-like commander', Napoleon's Triumph gives the player the most 'realistic' feeling of being immersed as the 'god-like commander' that other games try to accommodate.
In that position as the 'god-like commander', players have full knowledge of their units' strength and positions and a 'gods-eye' view of the battlefield (enemy units are generally 'hidden'). This is hardly different from most other wargames that deal with single battles. So what is it that makes Napoleon's Triumph stand out about other games in this genre? Once again, it is the combination of the components with the gameplay. The use of long rectangular blocks, often placed along an attacking 'approach' (or 'front'), facing off against enemy blocks, also placed along a defending 'approach' (or 'front') does more to convey a sense of 'realism' (for a 'god-like commander' in this style of warfare) than cardboard counters.
The fact that these units are on a lightly shaded map that only delicately (but clearly) conveys the terrain (and the impact of that terrain on gameplay) means that 'the battle' is the focus of one's attention. Players are 'immersed' in the battle and, after a few 'learning' games (particularly in learning the attack sequence), are not distracted by 'chrome', 'exceptions', or 'obscure rules'. There is little on the map that can potentially confuse or distract the player. It is 'clear and functional', and yet at the same time 'simple and beautiful'. A quick glance of the map quickly and clearly conveys the broad situation in the battle. A closer look enables the player to quickly reveal the finer 'tactical' details (primarily the strength of units and the terrain obstacles they may face).
Maps and 'movement areas' are abstracted in all battle-focused wargames. But perhaps a standout feature of Napoleon's Triumph is the 'less-standard' (innovative) way of abstracting movement. The use of locales [non-standard areas to move into] and 'approaches' [the border of locales used as the potential 'front' or 'face' of battle] helps to convey the imagined sense of a more realistic 'battle situation'.
In essence, Napoleon's Triumph is the most beautiful game in the universe because it is the game that is most effective in combining clear, simple and attractive components with a well-thought-out rule-set to facilitate an environment that enables players to deeply engage with the battle to the point where, relative to other games, they most feel that they are a 'god-like commander' controlling units on a battlefield.