Over the past few years, Alexander and I have been into large multi-player wargames and have played several with max players including Here I Stand: Wars of the Reformation, Virgin Queen: Wars of Religion, Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection, Cataclysm: A Second World War, War Room, Genesis: Empires and Kingdoms of the Ancient Middle East and Successors 4th Edition. Last year, a new game emerged on the Napoleonic Wars called Napoleon’s Imperium that was a 2-8 payer game and we knew that we were immediately interested. We have played the game, with just 7 players but everybody had a good time. I reached out to the designer Andrew Rowland to see if I could get some background information on the design and also talk about his plans for the future of the game.
Grant: First off Andrew please tell us a little about yourself. What are your hobbies? What’s your day job?
Andrew: I am 55, married to a Turkish wife I met following my great uncles’ footsteps on the shores of Gallipoli, that WW1 battlefield in Turkey.
I have three children, 30, 28 and 12.
I work as the Manager for Community Planning Services and Facilities in a sizeable local council in Australia. This basically means I look after a talented team of people managing community centers, halls, historical buildings, youth and senior services and community planning services. Working with such a diverse range of people and community groups is very fulfilling and meaningful!
I am diverse in my hobbies and interests. This is an advantage when you work with hundreds of community groups, where you need to connect at on so many levels.
But history obviously rates high on my list, specifically Napoleonic, but anything in the age of sail and musket will spark my interest. Initially, the American War of Independence started that journey as a teenager, visiting Williamsburg, VA. Later in my twenties, a good friend, Peter Cross, encouraged my love of the Napoleonic Wars. Of course, I grew up in Australia, so it was a considerable journey to reach any battlefield of significance. But travel I did, throughout my life!
I also enjoy sports, particularly team sports like Football, AKA Soccer – the World Game. I have played for 48 years now. Ironically, this love of team-based games is reflected in Napoleon’s Imperium, a team-based game.
I love art and graphic design and once managed two printing and design businesses. This experience also is reflected in Napoleon’s Imperium game’s design. I first would draft up mock-ups in every aspect of the game’s artwork before sending them to my capable graphic designer Vlad Stanescu to polish and add his own artistic flair. And in that, he did a fabulous job, respecting my wishes throughout the long game design process whilst bringing to life all I had envisaged.
Grant: What motivated you to break into game design? What have you enjoyed most about the experience thus far?
Andrew: I have always designed games. As a young kid and as a teenager, I was the game maker in the schoolyard, the game maker at group gatherings and in youth groups. And I continued to be a game maker when I managed youth services early in my career, eventually using my game designing skills for corporate training and team building.
For me, it is not so much the game; it’s the people and friendships, the interactions and connections you make playing. That is my number one. Engaging people, laughing, having some real banter and friendly taking the mickey out of someone as you play! My game is meant to be a loud game!
I have made some deep, meaningful, and lifelong friends out of wargaming. I play wargames like I play football for the enjoyment and the banter and companionship; the competition is a fun bonus. Oh I do enjoy winning, but I have had more laughs losing than winning!
Grant: What designers have influenced your style?
Andrew: This is an interesting question for me. Most that have read or heard anything about my game design would know that I came to war game designing non-traditionally. I was not immersed in the traditional wargaming circles as I knew of none. Instead, I moulded my love of history and game creation into a tool to engage disadvantaged young people in the last 1980’s and early 1990’s when I worked in youth services. And then, later, I enhanced this tool to a whole new level to teach team building and strategic planning in my corporate training business called Teamplaying.
There were no war-games clubs around where I grew up in a coastal town in Australia, so it wasn’t until my early twenties that I moved to another city in Brisbane, Queensland when I was exposed to one. And that was tabletop wargaming played with 15 and 28mm tin figures, not your traditional war-board games.
Sure, as a teenager, I played Risk and Axis and Allies with other friends, and I guess you could say that Larry Harris, in that regard, would be an early spark for me, and you can see that influence, particularly in the early days of game development of what would end up as Napoleon’s Imperium. It has that feel.
My older brother was more into traditional wargaming and had quite a collection, exposing me to Harry Rowland’s World in Flames. But even my brother leaned towards figurines, gifting me my first box to paint and didn’t really involve me too much in his gaming as I was too young. And he was too busy blowing up his ship models with gunpowder in the back pool for the visual effects, an activity considered too dangerous for his younger brother, seven years his junior.
At one stage in the late 1990’s, Columbia Games were interested in my game, but the negotiations ceased when my first marriage ended. But the visit to Columbia Games in Blaine in Washington State to discuss the project with Tom Dalgleish did spark the first serious conversation to convert my tabletop game into a board game. So, the first conversion draft was a block-based board game, such as many others in the Columbia Game block system. The game at that stage was called Empire Alliance.
Of course, I didn’t go any further with that concept design for another 20 years, but I guess you could say that was also an influence. But the most considerable influence in game design was not the game designers or the brand names; it was all the wonderful play-testers along the 30-year journey.
Grant: What do you find most challenging about the design process? What do you feel you do well?
Andrew: Napoleon’s Imperium was an evolution from a massive custom-made tabletop game. Converting a 98.5 inch round custom tabletop game, with its unique “Christopher Columbus” style round map that hosted over eleven hundred 28mm tin figures, down to a half the size board game, was a real challenge.
And the most challenging conversion aspect was how to fit the hundreds of counters on the map and have space for eight card decks and still bear a resemblance to the original tabletop game.
I ended up elongating the circle to create space in the centre of territories like Austria and Prussia. Even to fit that map into the largest size permissible with Compass Games 44″x34″ meant significant space reduction. Compromises had to be made, and the borders had to be general. That meant losing some grognards or upsetting some purists. So, from the beginning, I knew it would not be everyone’s cup of tea! But it was never designed to be history perfect; it was designed to be a fun period-based game!
Grant: What historical event does Napoleon’s Imperium cover?
Andrew: This is the most underrated aspect of this game. There are so many historical events!
Firstly, Napoleon’s Imperium is a broad-based Napoleonic game. That is, the base game is designed to encompass the whole Napoleonic Period in broad paint strokes as opposed to being set to a particular campaign or battle. That will come later with historical Napoleon’s Imperium. Expansions that are already being play tested, but any Napoleonic game covering 1798 to 1815 can’t be anything but a broad base.
But in saying that, there are 160 Battle Cards that bring specific events into the game. Battle Cards are drawn when a Nation suffers a land defeat, and although they are random in selection and nature, they cover over 100 Napoleonic specific events. This adds to the element of surprise and chance to the game. A skillful player can use even these aspects to their advantage. Indeed, it also aids the solitaire playability, which is a surprising bonus of Napoleon’s Imperium.
I am so glad you asked this question because the battle cards and the events featured on them are a forgotten and overlooked aspect of this game.
Although what a player sees is a small summary card with actions designed to be playable, the research in this game was significant! I enjoyed immensely researching all the events featured in the Battle Cards over many years, as each has its story to tell. And the artwork, just beautiful! Certainly, this game’s graphic design and artistic thought represent years of work.
But to give you an example of events there are:
- Twenty-eight cards featuring specific battles.
- Fifteen diplomatic cards, including treaties.
- Five cards related to historical based military restructures.
- Ten cards related to blockades and political intrigue.
- Five cards related to global events like the American War of 1812.
- Eight cards that are specific rebellion-based cards, including wars of independence.
- Ten cards regarding promotion or specific feats of bravery.
- Sixteen cards relating to medical ailments that plague armies in the field.
- Three cards relating to weather events.
- Five cards dealing with sweeping constitution change, including the fall of longstanding institutions; like “Reichsdeputationshauptschluss”. Look that one up!
- Thirty-four cards related to the consequences of defeat in battle.
- Four cards related to piracy .
- Five cards related to economic events such as the Danish Bankruptcy, British ally funding, or Spanish Treasure fleets.
- Twelve cards with a range of events such as the effect of the Metric System, the lines of Torres Vedras, Assassinations and Humanitarian aid like the Swedish Patriotic Fund.
So, Napoleon’s Imperium is not short on historical events!
Grant: How long have you been designing this game and how has it morphed into its current form over the years?
Andrew: Early seeds of the game started as an engagement tool for young people in 1990 and 1991. But that was a terrain hex base game. The current game’s genesis began as a square six-player board game around 1992-93.
By 1994, it was on the road to being an eight-player round tabletop game.
The game is still developing today, with expansions being play tested even as I write this. So that’s at least 30 years of development in different forms.
Grant: What was your overarching design goal for this game?
Andrew: As already quoted, the original game was designed initially as a corporate training team-building and strategic planning tool and a youth engagement tool. In this, it was very successful. Companies were paying up to two and a half thousand dollars US a day to play the tabletop version of Napoleon’s Imperium back in the 1990’s.
So, the game’s genesis was designed to be a game simple enough for anyone to pick up quickly in a short tutorial so we could get into the gameplay and learning and development. So, a diverse range of businesspeople and corporate managers played it, through to high school students.
In the conversion to the board game, although demographic of the target audience had changed, moving to the more resolute wargamer, I still wanted to keep the game’s core principles. And that is to create a visually attractive and fun game with simple playability and yet keeping an engaging level of strategy to be appealing to both traditional and non-traditional players.
Hopefully, I have achieved enough of this goal to entice fresh players and some younger players to the hobby and along the way, spark an interest in the Napoleonic Era.
There is enough themed history, enough strategy to challenge, and certainly much more than meets the eye in this game. But primarily, it’s about the fun and experience in a “take no prisoners shoot-em-up” wargame. There are plenty of good complex Napoleonic games that cater to a specific campaign, battle or strictly adhere to textbook history. That was not the target of Napoleon’s Imperium.
Grant: What sources did you consult and what one must read source would you recommend to anyone wanting to know more?
Andrew: Everything and anything were the sources. Anything I could lay my hands on, including experiencing the locations of history first-hand, from themed magazines to historical textbooks to internet searches to conferences and museums to mentorships from those much more knowledgeable than I. So, it’s been a collage of information and experience over the years.
There is no required reading for the game as it is a generalist period game of the whole Napoleonic period. I have spent three decades accumulating books, many purchased for me as a mandatory present on Birthdays and Christmas.
What I would prefer to do, is to recommend you to some lesser-known facts about Napoleon. Like Napoleon’s obsession and the Empress Josephine’s fascination with Australia.
Terry Smyth’s book Napoleon’s Australia tells the exciting story of Napoleon’s secret plan to invade Australia and, to that effect, a French armada setting sail for New South Wales in 1814 with the target of invading Sydney. This story is interwoven with one of history’s greatest love stories, that of Napoleon and Josephine. An interesting read.
I have even gone so far in Napoleon’s Imperium as to include one Battle Card in the French deck in which the French dispatch a ship to Australia purporting to be naturalists on scientific expeditions. There, they gather native animals, plants and artefacts (flora and fauna), bringing them back to France to feature in Josephine’s garden. But there is also evidence that these naturalists were, in fact, French spies, gathering vital information on the colony’s defences which would be used later.
Grant: The game is designed for two to eight players. How is the game played at these different player counts?
Andrew: Firstly, as I never really played the game as a solitaire game when it was a tabletop game, I had not appreciated just how good it plays solo. In converting the game into a board game, this became obvious. Covid helped with that as many started playing Napoleon’s Imperium solitaire anyway. For this, Bill Thomas of Compass Games was right. He said to me when we were doing the solitaire rating during production; he didn’t know any reason why it wouldn’t play well. But the 160 random Battle Cards, the dice rolling for up to 100 battles a game, and every nation having different strengths, weaknesses, starting line-ups, and geographic positions make Solitaire a rich experience. I am playing my eighth solitaire game now.
But multiplayer combinations I recommend are.:
Four on four: Easy, one player for each Nation.
Three on three: One player of each side plays two nations. My recommendation is; The Nordics and Prussia for the British Alliance and the Ottoman and Austrian for the French Alliance. I say that because they are based close together on the map, and the Prussians needed the Nordic reinforcements like the Austrians needed the Ottoman.
Two on two: Spain and France – Player one. Austria and Ottoman – Player Two. The British and Nordic Nations – Player Three. The Prussians and Russians – Player four. (my favorite combination)
One on one: Easy, One player French Alliance Nations vs one player British Alliance.
And you can have any number of players. I have played the game with all combinations, from 1 to 8 players. Of course, eight players are a buzz and so much fun, but my favourite is two on two.
Grant: What playable factions are available to the players? How have you made each faction match their historical strengths and weaknesses?
Andrew: On my YouTube Channel, which is just dedicated to Napoleon’s Imperium support, you can find I have a 1-minute video on each of the eight powers showing their strengths and weakness. These are also published on BGG.
But you can see that each of the eight Empires represented in Napoleon’s Imperium has different strengths and weaknesses in their playing units and economy. Most of this has historical merit though I have taken licence with the Ottoman Camels, but with reason.
The French, for instance, had demonstrated superior movement in their infantry and cavalry along with proven attack abilities. This fast manoeuvrability via forced marches on the battlefield often gave them the tactical advantage of “hoodwinking” many opponents. I have given their infantry increased territory reach for this reason.
Also, they had significant tactically attack advantage, which Napoleon brought to the table with his innovative army tactics, strategy and army reorganisation. Finally, his mastery of Artillery and concentration on the “Grand Battery” tactic caused me to rate the French Artillery units higher.
The British, go without saying, were masters of the seas, with a single British lessor ship was always considered a match for any greater enemy ship or higher number. Their longer time at sea and constant training and drilling with live ammunition placed them at an advantage over all others. So, their fleets I have rated higher.
The British were also excellent defenders on land. They had a small army, sparsely spread across the globe, so it needed to be protected and “hid behind the hill”, as Wellington did to great effect. Their legendary “lines of Torres Vedras” were a fine example of defensive abilities as the British continued to foil the French in Spain and Portugal, finally invading France itself. And they had innovative technologies like rifles, rockets and canisters. Of these, I have chosen to feature the rifles in their line-up based on my love for Bernard Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe book series, along with the advantage rifles played against French skirmishers on the battlefield.
The Spanish Empire, on the other hand, were more known for their Spanish guerrilla warfare, which is reflected well for them in Battle Cards. But their regular infantry was less than famous, with one reported incident ‘running at the sound of their own guns”. So, land units I rated standard to poor. But the Spanish Fleets were the second strongest, second only to the British and therefore rated high. The Spanish had more time at sea with managing their global colonies and changed alliance allowing them more time at sea than the French.
The Ottoman Empire I enjoy, especially since my wife is from a Turkish Ottoman family. I have travelled to Turkey nine times and walked the halls of their military museums. They have a strong and brave Cavalry, some famous historical units that even Napoleon tried to replicate. They had large calibre and ornate Artillery. Remember, it’s the Ottoman’s first use of Artillery that caused the fall of Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire. And with their geographic locations around northern Africa and the middle east, they have camels. The camels I have chosen to give a movement bonus, as they are not so tied to water and harsh weather conditions as horses and don’t scare as easy. It was a fun choice allowing them a three-territory movement. However, camels are vulnerable to attack and rate low in defence.
The Ottoman fleets were cheap to buy, and at the time, although they had some Ships of the Line, they were more inclined to use smaller gunships. So, I have rated the Ottoman Fleets as cheap to buy but weak in strength.
The Nordic Nations are a combination of Sweden, Demark and Norway.
These nations were politically both aligned and in conflict during the Napoleonic wars. I have chosen to ally them together due to their frequent alliance and geographic location. It allows the eighth player to join the game, which I think is essential as it recognises the significant part these nations played during the Napoleonic Wars. I take care of any political difference between these nations with their Battle Cards.
I have rated all Nordic Nations’ land units with standard ratings, but their fleets are substantial and were the target of both British and French ambitions. So, I have rated the Nordic fleets high for this reason.
The Prussians were sandwiched in the middle of Europe and had a strong army, though tactically outdated compared to the French. But with their clever reorganisation whilst under occupation and treaty, after successive battle defeats, the Prussian Army began to catch up. I have rated their Cavalry highly and also their defence of port. The Prussians had no real navy to speak of, choosing instead to concentrate on their armies, but they had strong port defences. A strong contingent of Cavalry sitting in Berlin will always make Austria and France uneasy.
Austria is an enormous empire spread across a wide area. This also makes them vulnerable. Like Prussia and in the centre, they are always in the thick of any fighting. The Austrians had a brave and large army, often let down by poor tactics and leadership. Therefore, although all units are standard rating (normal rating), I have given the Austrian an infantry bonus in the attack abilities and a lower cost for these units. And I have also given them a cavalry bonus rating in defence. These two ratings also balance out the Prussian Cavalry attack bonus.
Russia is all about defence. Although the attacking and harassing abilities of the Russian Cossacks and “warhorse” is recognised in a Battle Card, all the Russian bonuses are on defence for all land units. Napoleon learned this lesson so well in his disastrous Russia Campaign of 1812. The Russians can raise large armies, for which I have given them a lower cost for infantry.
Grant: What Alliance’s are in effect during the game? How did you have to compromise these to make a playable game?
Andrew: It’s a generalist Alliance that is the “base” Alliance in Napoleon’s Imperium but does have merit historically.
In BGG, I have referred people to page three of the rule book, which reflects on the Alliance makeup. But basically, the base Alliance in Napoleon’s Imperium is a four vs four affair, is chosen for playability and simplicity in gameplay, like where allies are located together with how players to sit around the map.
It bears historical reflection but let’s face it; you can’t cover 18 years of a European conflict with any accurate historical set alliance; the Napoleonic Wars won’t allow that. So, unless you are doing a game based on a specific campaign, battle, or Coalition period, you must keep it general. So yes, compromises had to be made to make it playable both in in terms of keeping territory names and borders general and selecting just set of alliances to conduct the base game.
The two alliances in Napoleon’s Imperium are the French, Spanish, Austrians and Ottomans versus the British, Nordics, Prussian and Russians. And I let the historically based Battle Cards do the work regarding tensions between these Allies. But at times, they were all Allies historically.
There were, as you know, Seven Coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars, so Alliances changed frequently. So, the Battle Cards address this fact with treaties, tensions, and battle consequences between Allies. And anyone aggrieved with Austria being aligned with France fails to understand they were in constant treaty with France as a result of battle defeat or campaign loss. France had imposed Alliance or non-aggression terms in treaties on Austria and was politically connected via Napoleon’s marriage to Marie Louise, the Austrian Archduchess. And they did send their armies alongside France in that disastrous 1812 Russian Campaign.
You will note that I always refer to the Alliances in Napoleon’s Imperium as the “base alliance”. Because I always planned to develop new alliance expansions covering the seven coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars, which are historically based and time-limited and only include Battle Cards that refer to that specific period.
You’ll be happy to note that the first expansion of Napoleon’s Imperium is well developed and being play tested (N.I. War of the Second Coalition). In this expansion, the French, Spanish, and the Nordic Nations (minus Sweden, who were neutral) are allied against the British, Ottomans, Austrians and the Russians (Prussia was neutral and did not take part). In this is a time-limited alliance, there are only two and a half years of conflict. But there is also included a third “peace year” beforehand, like the base game, to prepare strategically.
Russia’s continuation in the game is based on a dice roll and other factors, with France and the British fighting it out alone in the last turn of play. This is a shorter game and is ideal as a two-player game, though it can be played with up to seven players.
Grant: What different units are available to the different nations? What special abilities do certain units have?
Andrew: All nations have Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Fleets; however, they are rated differently in Attack, Defence and Movement. Fleets obviously can move further in sea territories, between 4 and 7 territories, and they can transport up to four land units, conduct invasions and fleet versus fleet battles. It’s amazing how many times a Trafalgar like action takes place in Napoleon’s Imperium with the British Fleet fighting a combined fleet of French and Spanish.
Land units are limited to between 1 and 3 territory movements and fight only on the land according to their nation’s attack and defence and movement abilities. Artillery has the bonus of being used to defend against fleets during a sea invasion.
There are two other units represented in the game. The British have the bonus units of Rifles units, and the Ottomans have camels which they have used in warfare for centuries. There are also counters to represent Commanders (Generals) and counters for Spies, which can be used in the optional rules. Finally, each empire has counters of Flags or “colours” that can be captured and used for Battle Points or to mark ownership of a territory.
Grant: What areas of Europe does the map cover?
Andrew: All of Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa. It’s a big theatre that draws in the Ottoman Empire and the Egyptian campaign.
Grant: What strategic pinch points are created by the layout of the different areas?
Andrew: The centre of the map represents unavoidable concentrations of conflict with huge army build up because of such a strategically vital position. Therefore, the normally round map on the tabletop game was elongated to produce more space for counters in the centre. Austria and Prussia are in the thick of it and need allied reinforcement to survive. That’s where some good teamwork and strategies to divert the attention of aggressor nations come into play early.
There are also other crucial pinch point areas like Portugal, with the British sitting behind the Spanish and French diverting vital resources.
Gibraltar, the gateway to the Mediterranean, is in British hands and is a crucial area for fleet movement and control of the Mediterranean Sea, as is the Turkish Dardanelles gateway blocking the Russian Fleet.
When the weather rule is played, you don’t want to have your fleets frozen due to ice in the Baltic Sea. The English Channel, which is the base for the British Fleet, means the coast of France must also be heavily defended.
Grant: Why did you feel the game was best as an area movement game?
Andrew: Good question. I have recently seen other great designers’ debate this, like Gilbert Collins in his game, War for America.
Point to point could work. But in Napoleon’s Imperium, half the attraction is the spectacle of mass armies and Fleets on the map. This was undoubtedly the genesis and appeal of the tabletop game.
This game needs space for all counters. Historically and practically, it was easier for me to keep the game’s conversation from tabletop to board game as an area-based map. What I like is that this allows you to position counters on the map in such a way to add the fog of war aspect, that is, hide units in stacks, locate units to the front or back of a territory to intimidate or deceive, or space units out for the same reasons. Lots of mind games can happen with Napoleon’s Imperium.
Grant: Why did you feel it was best to use garish colours and to make the map so vibrant?
Andrew: Originally the colours were not meant to be so bright. In the tabletop version, the colours were visible and distinct, but more subtle because I used coloured timber tints over pinewood to a beautiful effect. And that was my plan for Napoleon’s Imperium.
My graphic artist Vlad Stanescu boldened the deeper colours when he coloured the map. And onscreen, it wasn’t as bright as the printed map turned out. And I also love Vlad’s bold colours for the Battle Cards, which are stunning and bring great theatrical effects to each card.
Nevertheless, the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. And I finally decided to stay with the bright colours based for several reasons. People forget that the Napoleonic Age was famous for elaborate, often gaudy colourful uniforms, magnificent in detail and tassels and lace. This was not a dull, washed-out period by any means. On the contrary, this period was vibrant and is still the subject of Hollywood movies and gala balls throughout Europe. My face book is filled with thousands of acquaintances that still attend such balls in Europe. The colours of uniforms and flags add a romantic fascination and pageantry to this era is concentrated unlike any other period in history.
The distinct colours make the nations visually distinctive, and when dealing with so many units on the map with such a large map, visual cues are essential! And it also sets this game apart from others. I do like an old-world washed-out map, don’t get me wrong, but for me, Napoleon’s Imperium is a fast-paced, conquer or die, loud game with bold, courageous actions and bright, vivid colours!
It is a celebration of the Napoleonic Period!
Grant: How does the economic system used in the game work? What was your basis for the values used in the different areas?
Andrew: The economic system didn’t involve great science. I wanted to balance one alliance against the other. I did give France recognition for conquest and their large economy, recognising the sheer size of the Ottoman Empire to draw upon wealth whilst recognising the income ability of the global empire of the British. I did make significant attempts to research the economies of each empire and trade, but in the end, I was overthinking it. All I needed to do was give some credit to the larger economies whilst balancing out others thoughtfully. Then the Battle cards are brought in to recognise some economic events.
France 17, Spain 13, Ottoman Empire 17, Austria 15 = 62
British 16, Nordic Nations 14, Prussia 15, Russia 17 = 62
Note: A correction in the rule book on page 7. Prussia is 15 and Nations are 14, not the reverse as appears in the rule book. If you add up the territory numbers as they appear on the map you will notice this.
Every territory has an economic value. So, when you conquer a Territory, you take its economy, and the opposition loses that economy. And this economy drives your purchase power and ability to bring reinforcements to the battle. And this ability is vital throughout the game.
I made minor changes to territorial values from the tabletop game, adding new territories and increasing some territorial values to better balance opportunities in the board game.
But geographic positions are keys to the economy as well. If taken advantage of, the proximity of neutral nations can be telling in the game as it progresses.
Grant: How did you take care to balance the two opposing Alliances?
Andrew: This balancing act was quite an art and was tweaked numerous times over many years. The chosen make-up of each Alliance works very well as far as being a balanced affair. Future coalition expansions may not be as balanced as in some cases, and one side starts with a significant advantage.
The art of design was to counterbalance one nation with another, working alongside history. For instance, the French I have given significant attack bonuses on land units, which is balanced ironically with the mighty British Fleets at Sea. Each serves to restrict the other or keep each other looking over their shoulders. The French have to hold valuable and expensive resources back along their coastline to deter invasion. The British must transport all troops via sea, so they must maintain control of the seas, which is also their best protection from invasion.
Russia and the Ottoman Empire similarly make great enemies, just as they were historically in this period. They can often be so busy dealing with border incursions and preoccupied with each other that they can easily forget or are unable to provide vital reinforcements to Austria or Prussia. The defending abilities of the Russians balance the attacking skills of the Ottomans. The strength of the Russian Fleets is offset by the higher numbers of the Ottoman Fleets.
The Spanish and the Nordic Nations play a similar role, albeit from opposite sides of the map. They play as a “saviour” nation pumping vital reinforcements forward through friendly borders where needed.
However, the Spanish must deal with the British in Portugal before turning their attention otherwise, whilst the Nordic Nations must transport reinforcements via fleet!
Likewise, the British have hard decisions to make in Portugal, whether to stand and fight or evacuate and save the army like Lieutenant-General Sir John Moore did, albeit at the cost of his own life.
But the Spanish location allowed them close access to increased income through the capture of Mediterranean island nations, provided they are unhindered by the British Fleets. French have a similar scenario in the Mediterranean.
On the other hand, the Nordic Nations have to compete with Russia, for the one neutral nation of Finland with its four economy points. And the British Alliance have to keep the French Alliance from exploiting these Mediterranean islands and Neutral North African territories by some smart manoeuvres and distracting attacks to consume enemy resources elsewhere! There is so much strategy in this game!
Grant: How do the Battle Cards work?
Andrew: As spoken of earlier, Battle cards are drawn when a nation suffers a defeat in a land battle. No Battle Cards are not drawn for a loss in a sea battle. Although there were some significant sea battles of consequence (Trafalgar, Nile, Copenhagen, for example) which certainly do feature in the Battle Cards as consequences, it was more straightforward and playable to attribute Battle Cards just land battles.
There are 20 Battle Cards specific to each Empire. Battle cards feature real historical events but are shuffled, making them random in appearance. This element of chance can lay waste to the best plans or save you from disaster. They can even be used strategically, like when you know someone has had a run of good cards, some bad cards statistically must come. So, forcing a defeat on an enemy, even if you know your gain may be quickly reversed, may trigger one of these bad cards that might change your fortunes.
Again, it is all about strategy and mind games.
There is one Disaster Card (worst card) in every deck and one Imperium Card (best card). Then the remaining cards are, on average, 15% neutral (no consequence), 35% positive and 50% unfavourable in consequences. Of course, different Nations have different mixes, but I have balanced the numbers between Alliances.
When writing these cards, I had them reviewed by many test team players to see if they could be understood and clear. And because we have all played the game many times, the meanings seemed obvious. But since production, from the feedback, I have seen what I think is clear, maybe open to interpretation from others. So, for that reason, I made up an excel sheet which is available for download from the Board Game Geek – Napoleon’s Imperium site explaining every consequence as intended. I recommend all players download a copy.
Grant: Why did you decide to use them in this way? What advantages does this give the design?
Andrew: It obviously adds the element of change which keeps the game exciting. Most players say it’s one of the features that makes that game great! It adds value to the solitaire playability as well.
For me It allows actual historical events to impact the game and address some tensions and incidents between allies.
It really is an exciting factor and in many ways, mimic history. Random events do happen! With the Battle Cards, I can also bring global events into play, weather, disease, fandom, desertion, friendly fire, piracy, colonial interests, constitutional change and much more that would typically not feature in a classic Napoleonic game.
Grant: Can you show us some examples of a few of these cards and explain their effects?
Andrew: Certainly, players can take advantage of the detailed explanations on BBG referred to earlier, as it also contains a web link with historical references for all 160 cards. But to give some examples which come straight from the file download.
British Imperium Card. (Best Card)
THE BATTLE OF TRAFALGAR
The glorious British fleet, under Vice-Admiral Viscount Lord Nelson, has brought victory! –
Both France & Spain Lose 1 Fleet each to the British Purchase Tray. If no fleet, British add 2 Fleets from Bank
Both France & Spain must give one of their remaining Fleets to the British Purchase Tray (where they become British Fleets). If no either the French or Spanish have no fleets remaining in any ports, then the British can add two Fleets from their off-board Bank. These Fleets can then be placed out with the next Purchase placement.
Ottoman Battle Card – (Battle Event)
SIEGE OF ACRE 1799
Jezzar Pasha refuses surrender to the French and is reinforced by British Commodore Sidney Smith, 1799
Plus 1 British Fleet in Acre Port. Plus 2 Ottoman Artillery to Syria.
Plus one British Fleet to the Port of Acre and Plus 2 Ottoman Artillery to Syria. This card can be very useful when it comes out at the right time for the Ottomans as it will provide some additional incentive and ammunition to do what they should.
British Battle Card (Global Event)
WAR OF 1812
The United States of America have declared war on us!
Loss of 1 Rifleman. 1 fleet removed to purchase tray.
Remove one rifleman (does not return). Remove one of your fleets to the purchase tray. This Fleet will return at your next purchase placement. (This also means, if you lose and have to draw this card on your own turn, the fleet will be placed in the purchase tray and come out immediately when you do you purchase placement). Or if not during the British turn, your next purchase placement. Note: If you have no Fleet or Rifleman on the map, then no consequence is incurred.
Austrian Battle Card (Diplomatic)
Diplomacy breaks down between the French Alliance.
No French movement or attacks in Austrian territories for 1 year.
This cards shows the process of diplomatic discussions and negotiations during the Napoleonic Wars as they were taken very seriously and would cause things to bog down militarily.
Nordic Battle Card (Disaster Card)
THE BOMBARDMENT OF COPENHAGEN 1807
The British bombard COPENHAGEN after refusal of their offer to safekeep the Nordic Fleet from the French.
No Income for Sjaelland next purchase. Loss of 2 Fleets and 1 Artillery.
No Income for Sjaelland for your next Purchase Phase means that this disaster has catastrophic effects for the Nords. If this happens at a key time, there will be long lasting effects and your enemies will definitely sit up and take notice.
Grant: What optional rules are included in the design?
Andrew: Firstly, you can choose any or all of the Optional rules to incorporate into the game because they are Optional! The one I tend to use the most in a long game is weather because it adds another element of surprise.
The weather was a genuine concern on any battlefield and in campaigns. Imagine if it was dry on the night before Waterloo and Napoleon could start an attack early in the morning on the British before the Prussian reinforcements could arrive? But let’s go through them.
Rule 41: Movement Time limits.
This rule keeps everyone to a five-minute limit for movement and can add some pressure and force some mistakes or omissions. You might find yourself giving a Homer Simpson DOH! at the end of more than one move! lol
I use an authentic hourglass with a 5-minute limit just to be theatrical!
Rule 42: The Spy.
The spy rule is a fun and exciting incorporation into the world of espionage or, more to the point, the theft of state secrets. A Spy must move to another capital to steal another nation’s unique ability, which can be used, providing the spy can return safely to their own capital and remain alive. Of course, it is tough to steal state secrets, and therefore only a 10% chance (dice roll of one) to achieve this. But if a spy is successful, the rewards can be great! Imagine the French or Ottoman with Fleets as strong as the British in Attack? Or Russia with the fast movement of the French Infantry?
Special Abilities can be either a target nation’s Attack, Defence or Movement, but only one of these.
Your enemy also rolls to discover your spy at the beginning of their attack move, providing the spy resides within its borders. In addition, every time the spy rolls to discover a secret (they must be in the target capital to do so), the enemy can roll additionally to foil the spy’s mission. It is equally hard to discover a spy, with only a 10% chance (dice roll of one). If a Spy is discovered, the spy is executed, and the discovering nation gets a Spy Death Battle Point Card which counts as whopping 20 battle points.
Rule 46: Weather.
Weather is heaps of fun and once you master the rules with a couple of playthroughs, give the weather a try. There are modifiers for each type of weather on the Empire Reference Cards that may affect each nation differently in either Attack, Defence or Movement.
For instance, Snow for the Ottomans does not affect the Ottoman Empire territories, and for all countries, the North African Territories are unaffected. But in snow, the Baltic Sea freezes in the north, stranding all Fleets there for one year. Fleets can even be captured by land units when frozen, like the famous French cavalry capture of the Dutch fleet.
Snow also prevents Artillery movement.
Stormy weather allows fleets to move further, but they cannot disembark troops or conduct sea invasions.
Rain affects nations’ attack and defence abilities and is different for each Empire.
Of course, no weather lasts for an entire year, but it evens out throughout a game, so do not take it too seriously. It is a fun rule and generates a lot of laughs or cries of despair! (Equally funny!)
Grant: How does the prestige and ranking points grow with each game play? What does this element offer players?
Andrew: As a playing group, my team enjoyed ranking. It adds an element of prestige and celebration for success and skill. It’s just another way to increase the fun and competition of the game. I planned at one stage to keep a ranking chart and forum on either BGG or my Teamplaying website. https://andrewaylin.wixsite.com/teamplaying but so far have concentrated on expansions.
The ranking is just a fun way to record a player’s skill level, and it’s also great for torment games. I have speculated on a reward system based on ranking, but I might elaborate on that later as the game grows.
I have a file for download in BGG (Rank Chart) as there were two numbers out of order in the rule book chart, so I recommend players download if you choose to use ranks.
Here is what my playing group ranks look like.
Grant: How does combat work?
Andrew: Combat is relatively simple though there are many rules and conditions and unique individual abilities to consider. One would be forgiven for thinking this was just a matter of chucking dice because there certainly are many dice to roll in this game. And for that matter, Napoleon’s Imperium comes with 20 ten-sided dice, half red, half blue.
A standard game over, say 4 to 6 hours, will bring between 80 to 120 battles. So yes, that is a lot of dice to roll, but it can be a lot of fun with all that action.
But anyone that’s played the game more than once will soon realise that the strategy is much more than a dice roll between two equal sides. Because indeed, they are not equal at all! Every battle is a calculated risk based on one’s special abilities, movement allowances and what they bring to the fight! Experienced players know there is much more complexity to this game as every game plays out differently.
But basically, combat works like this:
A player chooses a target territory or a target fleet to attack. They announce their intention and what forces they will bring to the battle, including Commanders, and they will go into battle against the opposing forces. They line up troops on the map or table, then roll off one dice for each unit, and keep rolling until one side is eliminated. If both sides are eliminated, it is declared a draw.
Now that is a horrid simplification of combat in the game and, on the surface, unfair on several levels. But it summarises combat as simple as possible. I recommend players download the Vassal Combat checklist available on BGG, which guides them through the battle sequence.
There are different types of combat with a host of rule conditions
- Land Combat
- Sea Combat
- Sea invasion
With combat, there is much to consider, like attack and defensive strengths of each side, commander modifiers, income loss and the gain battle points through victory, and what counterattacks could happen. There are the Battle Card consequences, the risk of thinning out of armies and the possibility of treaties and random events. And what impact will this have on your allies?
Example of a Land Battle
- An Empire has combat by attacking units of the opposing side. They launch this attack by moving their chosen combat units into opposing territories. They must indicate their intention to attack, what target territory, and declare which units they intend to use in the ensuing battle.
- Defender defends with all units in their territory, including allies.
- Attacker rolls first using their attacking strength number for each unit type (If you have four cavalry units rated a six in attack, you roll four dice hoping to roll a six or less on the dice. Each time you do, it is considered a “hit”.
- Defender rolls second like above, but only using defence strength.
- Each player then chooses which of their own units are removed from battle based on causality count. (Note: If a player’s allies are assigning defence, the allies’ units die first in battle)
- If any units remain, both sides roll again until one side is eliminated.
- Loser decreases income by territory value.
- Attacker gains income by territory value.
- Loser takes Battle Card / follows consequence.
- The winner takes the territory flag (counts as ten battle points at the end of the game)
- The winner places their own surviving units and their own flag in the territory to claim ownership.
- If a Commander is part of the losing side, they are considered captured, and the winning player now rolls dice to decide whether the commander is imprisoned (in the winning nation’s jail) or paroled (to the losing side purchase tray). This action determines how fast or how long before a commander can return to the game.
Grant: Why did you decide that battles come down to the last man? Why not offer a retreat option?
Andrew: Simply, it would drag the game out longer with a defeat rule and it was long enough. When the game was first designed, I had to fit the game within a standard days’ work hours for corporate training. As a result, the game had to be fast and furious. And it’s fun to have definitive outcomes in a “do or die” match. So much is then counting on every calculated move. I enjoy this scenario the most.
However, I realise some people enjoy the long game and can keep the game set up for longer than one day or night. For that reason, I have developed a draft retreat rule (Optional Rule 50) and loaded it on BGG for players to access.
If you do, download the retreat rule; make sure you download the latest version. I plan to finalise it and add it to any further expansion.
Grant: How are spies used? What benefit do they provide to players?
Andrew: The Spy Rule is a great optional feature that I covered under your earlier question but I will elaborate it further. It’s a low impact option as the percentage of success is very low (10%), but the rewards of success can be very high (discovering and using an enemy’s unique ability). Espionage was a much more intense activity during the Napoleonic wars compared to other periods. All nations engaged in it, with the bigger countries having entire spying networks at work. It seems wrong to not have an option to include spies in any game that wishes to cover the whole of the Napoleonic period.
Although the spy rule in Napoleon’s Imperium only covers the discovery of technologies and manoeuvrability, later expansions will increase the spy’s ability to cover things like espionage and income restriction, assassination, and rebellion, which are very easy to write into the rules. (For example, you could choose between a roll for discovery, or a roll to assassinate a commander should your spy be in the same territory. (I know now that I have said that it will be house-ruled in anyway!) So, there is much potential for spies in this game.
Spies move covertly three territories over land and sea but can be discovered with a roll of “1″ on dice for great battle points once in your territory.
It is a great Rule; give it a try. But warning, it is another thing to think about, and its an easy one can forget to roll for in one’s turn. So have your team players remind you!
Grant: How are points scored? Why was this important to your vision?
Andrew: Napoleon’s Imperium has a great scoring system I am quite proud of. It’s been developed over many years and tried and tested.
A player can score Battle Points in eleven different areas, and each is weighted according to strategic value. These values can be anything from 10 battle points for capturing a flag to 30 points for holding an enemy capital at the end of a game. There are Battle points for Captured Territories, Neutral Territories, Flags, Sea Victories, discovery and execution of a Spy, Elimination of an enemy and successful Land Defence, Captured Commanders, Captured Capitals etc.
Of all, I love the idea of capturing an enemy’s flag because this was a big part of the prestige of the Napoleonic Wars. The capture of a Battalion’s “colour” (flag) was considered the bravest act of a solider and not only were these soldiers celebrated throughout history from that point on making their names immortal, but “colours” were paraded through the streets of a victorious Nation and hung in places of honour forevermore.
The flag is the ultimate symbol of identity and pride for soldiers and the capturing of the enemies Flag is the ultimate symbol of victory!
It’s also entertaining and amusing to parade your captured flags as a player. I place them near my purchase tray to boast, each one adding 10 Battle Points. And should you have captured the highest number; you will receive individual bonus ranking points.
The balance is where to award Battle Points and where not to. Because you have received your reward already by the very act of a successful attack, there is no need for more. In winning an attacking land battle, you automatically gain the territories flag, its income, the elimination of your enemy forces, and forcing a Battle Card consequence on your enemy. Whilst your enemy also loses income, their territory, possible commander etc.). So, no need to add a special Battle Point Card for a successful attack.
In contrast, there is nothing to reward or credit your successful territory defence without a Battle Point Card. So, the Successful Battle Point card was made, valued at the same value as a flag, ten battle points. (Noting, if you successfully defend a territory, there is no flag to receive as you rallied behind your flag, and it remains in place).
Grant: How is victory achieved?
Andrew: There are two victory types:
A: Battle Point Victory.
Victory is achieved by gaining the highest number of Battle points as a team / Alliance at the end of an agreed year of play. This is the most common Victory and easiest to play. For tournament play, a notice period of two years must be agreed upon to end play. But don’t be too strict; it’s a game. If playing social, you can decide on any year to finish a game when you want.
For the best result, give notice at least one year before that year begins. In this way, each player can focus on accumulating maximum Battle Points in a full playing year (so each player has a complete turn).
Note: Victory is considered a Team Victory. This is a team-based game. Individual battle points tallies are recognised for ranking, but each player plays a different but essential role in achieving Victory in a team-based competition.
B: Capital Victory.
A Capital Victory is much harder to achieve and often a longer game like a campaign game. A team must capture and hold three Capitals simultaneously for one full playing year. This is hard to do and is more of a total war scenario to achieve this. Your enemy comes close to being wiped out. You need two teams ready to fight it out to the end.
I have been in games where this has happened; they are usually 6 to 8 hours long, sometimes longer and can go over several days.
The longest game on record on a single day was played on the tabletop version of Napoleon’s Imperium. It was in the late 1990s and involved two teams of four hilariously colourful characters (8 players). I was the game’s dedicated Umpire. They played for 17 hours straight and finished all 18 years! At the end of the play, remarkably, there was only a 30-point difference between them, which is considered a draw. Of course, it was played by two teams of audio-visual professionals that would typically be touring with bands, so most looked (and behaved) like backstage rockers!
They started early morning and played right through to the early hours of the following day. They had rigged video and sound recording devices around the room and under the table to spy and listen in on each other! It was a buzz, but the clean-up after game with alcohol bottles, pizza, and chip packets! I’ll never forget it!
But that’s Napoleon’s Imperium; it’s meant to be a fun game playable by anyone! So have fun with it!
Grant: What is the future of each of the Seven Coalitions? What future add-ons are you contemplating?
Andrew: Yes! Exciting! I have been drafting an add-on for napoleon for all Seven Coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars. That is a new “historical based” Alliance for each Coalition. I have yet to decide if I will group some Coalitions together for release or one by one, But the first of these to be completed is Napoleon’s Imperium- War of the Second Coalition. I have the rules drafted, have been playtesting, the new counter sheet artwork complete, and the set-up charts complete.
I have even had ideas about campaigns using parts of the map with only nations involved (like the Russian Campaign of 1812). The base game was made with so much potential and thought towards future additions.
It will be up to Compass if or how these expansions are released but basically, I’m pitching them as low-cost plat pack add-ons to the base game. The objective is, once you have the base game, with its charts. Battle Cards and map, all you need is one counter sheet, the new add-on rules, instructions (maybe eight pages) and set up diagrams. Easy for a flat pack or magazine addition. But this will be totally in the hands of Compass Games, and that also depends on how people enjoy and take up the base game.
Let me give you a sample of what War of the Second Coalition will add to the game.
WAR OF THE SECOND COALITION (WOSC) 1798 – 1802
The War of the Second Coalition Expansion is the first of many possible historical expansions which allow players to deviate from the base game to more historical aligned scenarios whilst still using the basic rules. Of course, it still leaves room to allow players to re-write history and create alternative outcomes, but alliances and years of engagement are more strictly adhered to.
The aim of the WOSC and further expansion is to provide scenarios and Alliances closely alighted with real history and yet, not to dominate in such a way as you are just playing out the same outcomes. It still allows for simplicity in gameplay as per the original goal of Napoleon’s Imperium by following the base game, but with enough modifiers now to attract the more serious historical player. It’s the next step in a player’s historical Napoleonic emersion.
WOSC: Differences from Base Game
You will note that the WOSC also sees the removal of approximately one half of all Battle Cards, which do not align with the conflict’s years of battle. Although the remaining cards will still be randomly selected and triggered by Battle Defeats and may not perfectly correlate with your battle event, they will at least pertain to the same period.
The alliances are historically based rather than general in the base game. Remember, we are now playing a shorter set historical time frame, so the playable Alliance does not need to be playable over 18 possible years in the base game. E.g., Austria is against France in WOSC.
Empire Exits and Exclusions
Prussia and Sweden do not participate in the WOSC. Russia must roll a dice to continue participating in the year 1800 and beyond. Russia, Nordic Nations, Austria, Spain and the Ottoman empires did not participate in the last year of battle in 1802. In 1802, only France and the British had a turn. The game must end at the end of the British turn in 1802.
As Sweden does not participate in the WOSC, the Nordic Nation Capital switches to Denmark. A Capital Counter is provided for this purpose.
New Map Starting Alliance Set-up
There is a new starting alliance set up. This will also reflect some neutral occupied territories that had already changed hands or formed Alliance (via the sphere of influence, occupation, or treaty) before the War of the Second Coalition.
Battle Point Victory / Standard Rules
There are three and a half years of play, with a fourth preliminary year added prior to the conflict commencement for player strategic movement in preparation for war (1798). This game version can take from 3 to 5 hours after set-up.
Grant: What have been some changes that have come about through the playtest process?
Andrew: Rules. Rules are always an evolution; you can always make them better.
One example debated and changed in playtesting was the Captured Capital Rule.
Under the early rule set, there was some concern that eliminating players was too easy because of the Captured Capital Rule. Especially Austria and Prussia. Because initially, once you lose your Capital, you lose ALL income. To add to those woes, the enemy that captured your Capital could reinforce the new Capital with newly purchased units after one year of uninterrupted occupation.
Therefore, making it exceedingly difficult for the captured Capital ever to be liberated, so the demise of a player, an empire, an Alliance sets in too fast.
So, with that in mind, changes were made to address this. Instead of full income loss when you lose your Capital, it was changed to half income loss, also giving allowance for the defeated government or kingdom to relocate into exile (A friendly nation’s Capital). They could still draw half their income from their other owned territories to purchase units in their next turn. And these purchases could then start from that selected friendly Capital at the end of each turn as usual. Historically this was like, the French and foreign Battalions were raised in England (The Chasseurs Britanniques)
And there were also historical examples of exile. Like the Russian Royal court moving from Moscow to St Petersburg during the 1812 French invasion. Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, King of France, lived in exile in England for seven years, returning to France after Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in 1814. Or when Napoleon ordered the invasion of Portugal, the Portuguese Royal family and its entire court migrated to Brazil.
Also, instead of the conquering army starting its new purchases after one year of occupation from the new Capital (making it impregnable for liberation), we changed this to restricting new purchases being distributed only from their original Capital.
But I still wanted to reward and incentivise Capturing a Capital, so allowance was given to the conquering nation to raise one infantry unit from the local population (without cost to their economy) and place it directly into the conquered Capital upon each anniversary of the occupation. (Example; Joseph’s Royal Guard – The Chevau-Légers – Spanish fighting for the French in Spain)
The second bonus for capturing a capital is that the victor immediately receives a second commander. In the first rule set, this commander could start from the Captured Capital, but this was also changed to make this new commander commence from the victor’s original Capital, so the bonus was not overwhelming.
And furthermore, as a follow-on rule to the Captured Capital Rule 10, Rule 40 was added, “Rebellion”.
This rule allows eliminated players to come back into the game, with a dice roll of ”1″ (10% chance) for each territory occupied until they have at least one territory liberated. It might take several years of play to achieve a successful roll, but if they do, the territory rebels and is reinstated to the original owner with one infantry, cavalry, and artillery placed within. The occupying nation withdraws to its Capital. The original owner returns to the fight with their small territorial base.
Grant: What still needs work?
Andrew: Rules. Rules are always an evolution; you can always make them better. Oh, I already said that, but it’s true. So many of my playtest players have played Napoleon’s Imperium so many times, and I have played the game for nearly 30 years. After playing so much, sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees. What is obvious to you may not be to someone else. If I were to rewrite the rules again, I would add a playthrough sheet with more examples and explain some rules in more detail.
When the game was used for corporate training, I verbally explained the rules and demonstrated them before each training game session. You can’t do that in a rule book. So, my lesson is to add more clarity, so the risk of misinterpretation is low.
The rule conversation was a challenge as many amendments were needed in the design to convert it from a tabletop game to a board game. And I was writing rules also to an unfamiliar audience in an industry I was unknown. So, as a rookie designer, from a small coastal town in Australia, I thought it prudent to reach out to several professional US base game rule editors to critique my rules for payment. Unfortunately, I was very disappointed to receive not even the courtesy of a response.
So, instead, I reached out to a friend. This friend fortunately was a competent editor, sports a master’s degree in strategy, and has a substantial military service background. And I must thank Guy Wernhard in that regard for his long hours and his patience in reviewing the rules of Napoleon’s Imperium. Admittedly, he might not have been a professional game rule developer with a professional war game background. Still, the art of war was not unfamiliar to him, and the man is full of integrity, generosity, and patience so it was a positive experience.
I think we did well in the layout and design of the rules to make them as clear and friendly as possible to the eye. And in this regard, I have also to thank my Romanian graphic designer and now good friend, Vlad Stanescu. The Rule book is visually appealing and clear to the eyes, with notes and examples nicely inlaid. When this was matched with Compass Games’ game production and development experience alongside their belief in taking a chance on designers, my dream became a reality.
Napoleon said, “Ability without Opportunity is nothing!” Thanks for the opportunity, Compass Games and Bill Thomas.
Moving forward, my commitment is to add more player explanations, player aids, and clarifications in any expansions and media support platforms.
Board Game Geek, I have found, is an excellent tool for getting feedback and refining rules. In that platform, I try to be very responsive. I have added a host of rule aids and players aids to download. I recommend the Battle Card Explanations and the additional Invasion rules, which assist towards ambiguity.
Note that Napoleon’s Imperium is not a destination; it is an evolving and growing game that so many have contributed, and I welcome more.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Andrew: That’s so hard a question; I am so passionately invested in every aspect of design that it’s hard to pinpoint one over another. The game was transformed from a tabletop game to a board game during the design conversion process. It was a seven-month process where I virtually lived and breathed every design aspect.
I put in such long hours each day into the early morning, so I could also communicate across three time zones (USA – Compass Games, Australia- where I live and the home of ADG, and Romania, where my Graphic Designer lives). So, I was immersed in Napoleon’s Imperium development almost 24/7. I lived and breathed every component of the game until I had systematically completed it.
The last seven months were like running the last leg of a straight after a marathon and knowing that everything hinges on how you finish. I was so tired from my exertions yet so excited and nervous about how it would all be received, especially in the US. It was thirty years concentrated into a seven-month sprint to the finish.
So, when you ask me what I am proud of, I am proud of the whole product and its production journey. And I’m proud that I had enough perseverance and resilience to see the game finished and produced. Many times, I had my doubters in my ear and lots of self-doubt in my head. But now that it’s published, at least my friends, family and colleagues see me as a little less crazy! lol
I’m proud of every counter-image, every chart, every game calculation in the rules, every illustration. I am proud of the rule book, which was personally a mammoth effort and a huge learning curb, made more of the challenge as I had no real guide, template, or mentor. I knew no game designers other than Harry Rowland, who lived in a different state in Australia and was not in the best of health at the time anyway to assist. And the small Compass Games staff were literally asleep on the other side of the planet in a different time zone when I was awake working on rules!
People forget that although companies like Compass Games and others deliver such fantastic products, month after month, year after year. To do so, they must keep overheads low in an environment of spiraling and increasing production costs. And that means a small staff. I doubt many would have dedicated rules design professionals. So, for me, it was so important that I deliver the best rules that I could the first-time round, so that it did not embarrass Compass Games or ADG or hinder their production. Bill Thomas of Compass and Harry Rowland of ADG had expressed faith in my design, so I matched that with my commitment to getting it right. Really, it is a lot of pressure both ways.
I’m proud of the Battle Cards that had me researching hundreds of fascinating Napoleonic stories and facts, many of which did not make the cut. I am proud of the beautiful counter placement charts with their balanced weight of Alliance units, and the beautifully illustrated Empire Reference Cards so that players have all information in hand for easy reference.
I am so proud of the magnificent map that I agonised over and changed so many times to make borders playable and general enough to cover 18 years of warfare. There is so much pride in every detail of the map, down to how the wave-edged coastlines appear. And the map’s crowning but a forgotten feature, the compass in the North-East corner. So please take the time to admire the map’s compass, which is original art that my graphic artist Vlad Stanescu and I laboured on so much to bring to life. It is beautiful!
I am also proud of all Christopher Columbus style, original art illustrations inserted into the sea and land territories. Again, a feature I insisted on to reflect the pinewood burnt-in images that adorn the surface of the tabletop game map.
The one common denominator of Napoleon’s Imperium is that every component reflects such care and attention to creating a work of art. The tabletop game is a magnificent spectacle, so I wanted the board game to be also. My family are all artistic, so the visual appearance is a built-in trait and was a prerequisite. In fact, it is my mother’s oil painting of Napoleon which she entered into “fabulous fake” Art exhibition that that adorns the box cover.
The game art had to be as visually beautiful, colourful, and prestigious as the Napoleonic Period.
Another area I am proud of, even though it makes no difference to the game because they are just dots on the map, is the Ports, the way they look, and what is behind each port. And that is that I have researched so many of these ports and even personally visited several of them around Europe, learning odd facts along the way like about 18th century salmon and fishing trade of Tromso, Norway.
Like Gilbert Collins, who has travelled throughout Canada and the USA, exploring all the historical sites because of his love of history and game development, enriching his life. Likewise, I have travelled the world because of this game. And that makes Napoleon’s Imperium far more than just a game; it makes it an enriching and meaningful life experience.
I have walked the streets of that beautiful Ottoman castle-like ancient port of Antalya, Turkey watching ships of sail disappear into the sunsets over the Mediterranean Sea. I have entered the Ottoman sultan’s palace in Istanbul and walked in awe along the streets and museums of Paris, following in Napoleon Bonaparte’s footsteps. And I have explored battlefields like that of Waterloo in Belgium and toured Wellingtons’ house in London.
I have even looked in-depth into weather patterns, government systems, and following different historical personalities all for this game. And I have collected souvenirs and authentic uniform replicas, filling my closet with the uniforms of every nation represented in the game. I have created my own range of 28mm Napoleonic figurines to populate the game from uniform plates supplied from such museums as the National as The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum in Copenhagen. (The Nordic Counters in Napoleon’s Imperium feature pictures of my range of figurines, for instance)
Grant: What has been the response of play testers? How do they feel about the time period now?
Andrew: I would say, on the whole, they have a greater interest and understanding and love of the Napoleonic period than before the game. Indeed, we all have grown in our knowledge of this period since the second test team began in 2016, 2017. (The first playtest team of Napoleon’s Imperium was called “Club 1815”, and the second Test Team was called “Team Napoleon.”)
The ‘Team Napoleon” play testers came from various backgrounds, and until recently, none were dedicated wargame players in the traditional sense of counters and hexes. However, some were dedicated Warcraft or PC gamers.
By profession, Team Napoleon players (2016 to 2021) included an architect, a doctor, an undertaker, two librarians, an IT and communications professional, a Military intelligence professional, high school and university students, an NGO director (Non-Government Organisation), and me, a local Government Professional. There were also a lot of walk-in players that would assist the team by playing one or two games to make up the numbers), all based in Australia.
Since Napoleon’s Imperium was published, the test team has expanded to include some seasoned traditional wargamers in the USA and, by extension, the wargames community through feedback collated throughout social media. Every comment counts! So, this will no doubt influence future expansions and the ongoing development of the game rules.
But within my team were some seasoned “gamers” so the science of what makes a good game was present and accounted for. The Librarians Darryl and Wayne for instance had won awards for incorporating figure and board gaming into library programs, and they had significant experience in the warcraft style of gaming. They also were knowledgeable scholars of history, which served the game very well. My IT professional had his own PC-based gaming club. My intelligence guru “Guy” could write half a dozen books and strategy and the Undertaker “Thomas” was also a fantasy gamer and I guess loved picking up the dead after battle! Lol The Doctor and Architect had been playing the earlier versions of Napoleon’s Imperium since the age of 12, some 18 years ago, and their friends would also play and return to the game as adults.
One of them, Evan, now a retail manager, said, “Playing the game is one of the most immersive experiences I have ever had. It is so much more than an entertaining, educational team-based game.”
The Architect mentioned was Scott, my son, now 30. It was growing up with and playing the game that sparked his interest in history, which is active all these years later. The game is just fantastic as a tool or platform to bring father and son together! It was simple enough to be played by teenage friends but complex enough to have a great time around the table as adults.
Scott also followed my love for the Richard Sharpe series of books by Bernard Cornwell set in the Napoleonic Wars. Now, all these years later, we compete with who has obtained the latest Bernard Cornwell book first. I can talk to my son about anything related to history and Napoleon and know he has genuine knowledge and interest, not just humouring his dad. He went so far as to make a detour on his European vacation to see the Battlefield of Waterloo.
The great thing is, the Compass Games produced Napoleon’s Imperium is starting a whole new journey and connection for me and my youngest son Michael who has just turned 12. He has assisted me so much in preparing mock-ups of the board game so it could be tested before being published, and he now is so proud of the game and his dad. How good is that!
Robert was Scott’s friend in school and grew up with many other teenagers coming to my house to play the game from age 12. Rob, now 31, is a very intelligent young man that would almost always win! (If my son and Rob are on the same side, you may as well concede defeat!)
When Rob became an adult, my son had moved to a northern state in Australia, and they lost touch. Rob studied and became a doctor, and my son studied to be an architect.
After reengaging with the game in 2016 at the all-important Art Exhibition (a story for another time), he had the opportunity to play the game once more. In his comments about the game in 2016, he said, “I Loved the game – I can honestly say I’ve never played a better strategy game and the effort and art that has gone into recreating the Napoleonic context really got me immersed in the game and the history of it. Can’t wait to do it again!’ Robert
And he did play it again. He joined the Test Team independently of my son, playing for the next three years, becoming instrumental in developing the game whilst building his knowledge of this rich time history.
I think Napoleon’s Imperium has enriched all our lives in some capacity, and I am sure all test team players would have a deeper understanding and love for the Napoleonic Wars. Many times, they would even educate me with different stories and interesting facts.
But the real and most important thing to come of this is game is the friendships we have built around it. I did not know most players in this second test team before the 2016 game exhibition, but now I am honoured to call them all my friends.
And with Napoleon’s Imperium, this is a big win for me. By Harry Rowland from the Australian Design Group pitching my game to Compass Games, and then Bill Thomas taking the chance on my game and backing it through to Publication, it has opened my life to a much wider community of people. People that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. People I now have had the fantastic opportunity to open new friendships. Friendships with players and designers, with publishers and social media content creators, with so many wonderful people in the USA, Canada, and worldwide that it has started a new and rich chapter in my life. I am so thankful for this!
So regardless of whether Napoleon’s Imperium, the game is deemed a success or a flop, my life has been enriched, so I am a winner! And I have found is that, on the whole, this community of wargamers are very supportive and encouraging people, filled with rich and interesting stories of their own.
Grant: What other games are you currently working on?
Andrew: The same one I have been working on for almost 30years! Why should I stop now? Lol, Napoleon’s Imperium.
As explained before, it’s the expansions or supplements that I am working on, which are the historical Coalitions followed by Campaigns. So, from my point of view, there is so much more to come. But It’s what Compass Games decide that will count in the end, and I guess the influence on that decision is what the players think and how much the game is picked up. Of course, if the sales aren’t there, you can expect a company to produce a second edition; that’s just simple math. But I think Napoleon’s Imperium will continue to grow in that regard and build a following.
Either way, this is a life journey, which means Napoleon’s Imperium will continue. And I am also very interested in exploring the PC version and App version of the game. It almost happened in ninety-nine until I pulled the plug on contracts due to personal circumstances. So, it may just be part of the game’s future.
So, the potential for Napoleon’s Imperium‘s ongoing development is vast. The Alliances that are planned are.
The 2nd Coalition
1798-1801: France, Spain, Nordic Nations (Only Denmark/Norway) against; Britain, Austria, Ottoman Empire, Russia (Portugal, Naples, (the Vatican) under British).
The 3rd Coalition
1805: France, Spain (plus some neutral territories in French Hands) against; Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Nordic Nations (Only Sweden)
The 4th Coalition
1806-1807: France, Spain (plus some neutral territories in French Hands) against; British, Prussia, Russia, Nordic Nations (Only Sweden)
The 5th Coalition
1809: France (plus some neutral territories AND Austrian Territories of Bavaria, Duchy of Warsaw plus Prussia Territories of Saxony, Westphalia in French Hands) against; Great Britain, Spain and Austria.
The 6th Coalition
1812-1814: France (plus some neutral territories plus Northern Spain in French Hands), Nordic Nations (Only Denmark/Norway), New-Duchy of Warsaw (Polish) against; Great Britain and Russia, Prussia, New Sweden, Austria,
The 7th Coalition
1815: France (plus Naples) against; Great Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, German States.
Should this game ever get to the second edition, I would like to enhance the rule sets. Just bring some clarifications and a small playthrough example supplement with campaign scenarios. I want to finalise and incorporate the Retreat Rule available for download on BGG for those who want more beef. And just the opposite, I would like to offer a fun setup like a ‘RISK” “Free play” scenario for those that just want a fun and straightforward game to play.
The Freeplay setup means players purchase and place units freely in their territories according to the counter economy. I might post that one on BGG as a fun option.
Napoleon’s Imperium: A Napoleonic game that doesn’t take itself too seriously! It’s all about having some good loud fun with friends!
Thanks for listening!
Thank you for your time in answering our questions Andrew. We enjoyed the game, but many players in our group were already looking for some rules changes to address some of their concerns. We took the game as a beer and pretzels type dice chucking experience and had a good time with it. Ours first play lasted nearly 10 hours and most people were smiling after the game!
If you are interested in Napoleon’s Imperium, you can order a copy from the Compass Games website at the following link: https://www.compassgames.com/product/napoleons-imperium-1798-1815/?sfw=pass1650312136
Wow! It’s fun to read an interview with a designer who finds so much delight in his own creation.
I hate to be “that guy,” but if the French counters shown with the interview are the Consulaire Garde, the flags are wrong. See https://www.pinterest.ca/pin/388505905359691326/
The tricolor pattern he’s showing only entered use in 1812.