I recently bought Et Sans Resultat!, a grand-tactical Napoleonic wargame by David Esteness. I have a review of the rules here, with the acknowledgement that I haven’t played yet---these are my thoughts from a read-through. First is my summary of the game; I’ll follow up with comments and criticisms.
The brief version: As a gamer who is interested in recreating chaos and friction on the tabletop; who is interested in the issues of commitment/timing on the Napoleonic battlefield; and who digs the notion of a Napoleonic division being an unwieldy beast that you hurl into combat, I’m really excited to play Et Sans Resultat! The book is high-quality and the writing is clear. The game takes into account command and control problems, the deployment of divisions, and divisions become worn down and shot-up in combat. On the down side, I am disappointed by there being no scenarios included in the book, and don’t think that the game is great solo.
Overall: Great stuff and I look forward to playing it!
Now for the long version…
Et Sans Resultat (the name is taken from a quote by Ney, about the indecisive slaughter at Eylau) emphasizes the movement of corps and divisions. Ideally, a single player is the army commander, guiding pre-game deployment and orders and then issuing orders to corps commanders; the other players command corps and push their divisions around.
Corps and Divisions are directed by Orders, which include an objective (a physical feature) and a an order (defend, attack, maneuver)—and, for divisions, a direction of movement. Players place little cards next to their corps and divisions to indicate what orders they have.
Orders may take several turns to “activate,” representing confusion, delays, and other friction. (The game formations “corps” or “divisions”, regardless of their historical designation). It seems that the game will be able to recreate the problem of breaking off a failing attack, or the problem of quickly sending in reserves or redirecting a corps/division from its present path. My read of Napoleonic history—admittedly brief—holds the issues of reserve management/timing to be pretty important in Napoleonic battles, so I think that’s a great feature of the game.
Divisions are masses of individual battalions, squadrons, and batteries; each division has its frontline of combat units, a “reserve area” of resting artillery battalions, pioneers, and general reserves, and a “reformation area” of broken units and other chewed up troops. Though battalions, squadrons, etc. have individual movement rates, you mainly are moving the division as a whole. Orders restrict movement in various ways—“Defend” limits you to only moving against nearby threats, “Maneuver” means you can’t get up too close to the enemy, etc.
How divisions move and fight seems, from my reading, to be at the core of the game—they are not dainty things that can move to-and-fro. Divisions are sledgehammers that you awkwardly shove into the general area of the battlefield where they’re needed. They take a long time to deploy off the march (easily an hour in game-time—about three turns). Once moving in a certain direction, it’s a slow process of changing orders and movement direction.
Once in combat, you’re best off fighting in “waves”—some of your battalions/squadrons in the front line, withdrawing to safety behind the next wave when they’re close to exhaustion. The game also encourages you to cycle your arty batteries in and out of the line, before they’re exhausted. Units fight one another by rolling 2D6 and comparing various modifiers. They suffer incremental casualties and get gradually worn down. Divisions accrue “fatigue” (the overall effect of morale and physical deterioration) and can be forced to retreat. If you can get behind an enemy division and overrun its “reformation area”—the rear area where broken troops and worn out troops are milling around—you’re likely to destroy that division entirely.
Of course, who’s leading your divisions and corps is important—leaders are rated both by generic category (infantry, cavalry), generically by nation (France and Britain are the best), and by historical individual. There’s a long list of unit and leader ratings in the book.
I haven’t played the game yet, but here are my thoughts from reading—mostly very positive, though a few apprehensive:
1) Command and control are central. Getting your corps/divisions to the right place at the right time is more important in the game than particular tactical positioning of troops.
2) Once in combat, divisions are unwieldy as hell and will batter away at the enemy until they win or they break.
3) I like the notion of individual battalions being represented in the game, AND not having to worry about their various formations. This creates a granularity I’ve been looking for in a Napoleonic game.
4) Judging from the pics in the book and the game’s website, ESR games look great—you can get the look of a massed Nappy division on the attack, or shattered and retreating.
5) As a gamer, I’m far more interested in chaos and friction than I am in combat minutia, so I really like what I’m seeing in the rules.
6) I am concerned about speed of play. I like my games to be quick. But actually playing the game and learning the mechanics on the table as opposed to in the book will see how fast it plays. In ESR’s defense, it does not bill itself as fast-play.
7) I would have preferred the book include at least one scenario—considering the title, and frequent references in the text, I figured Eylau would have been perfect to include. The author has told me in emails that scenario books are in the works.
8) Because orders are done in secret, the game has problems as a solo game—though an intrepid solo-gamer could just ignore their knowledge of “enemy” orders, or fashion a randomizing system to account for it.
9) More diagrams of how divisions look and can be arrayed on the table would be helpful.
Anywho, that's my spiel. I'll post an AAR as soon as I get to play.