Columbia's Napoleon

Changes from the 2nd Edition to the 3rd Edition

Comments by Steffan O'Sullivan

NOTE: the following article was written in 1993. I learned 12/95 that Columbia has actually published version 3.1 of the rules to Napoleon (in 1994). I have added comments about version 3.1 after the appropriate section, in square brackets, like this: [3.1]. I feel all changes from 3.0 to 3.1 are better. If you have 3.0 rules, write Columbia about upgrading. 3.0 rules say 1993 at the bottom of the page, and 3.1 say 1994.

In addition to the changes listed below, 3.1 also introduces Regrouping after combat, moves the rules for Squares and Battle Morale to the main section (no longer options), disallows lateral engage moves in battle, and clarifies that all force march rolls are resolved after all other movement (so you can't move another piece in response to a disastrous force march).

Columbia currently publishes the 3rd Edition of Napoleon. (I've never seen the 1st Ed. - it was published by Gamma Two, which later evolved into Columbia Games. They leased the rights to Avalon Hill, who published the 2nd Edition.)

There is a debate in the gaming community about which is better, 2nd or 3rd edition. There is an article in the Canadian Wargamers' Journal (CWJ), #37 (Fall, 1993), in which they pretty heavily lambaste Columbia for the changes. They do admit that "the 3rd edition is a good game - but the 2nd Edition was an excellent game."

While some of the CWJ points are valid, I disagree with their overall conclusion. I think the 3rd edition is better - if you merely adapt a few 2nd edition rules to it, that is.

Here is a summary of the changes, with my opinion on the changes given as [sos]: and those of the authors of the CWJ article as [cwj]:. If anyone out there has any opinions, either to support my position, cwj's position, or Columbia's position, please e-mail me!

Differences between Napoleon, 2nd Ed. (AH) and 3rd Ed. (Columbia):
2nd: 48 counters: 18 French, 16 Prussian, 14 Anglo-Allies
3rd: 82 counters: 38 French, 25 Prussian, 19 Anglo-Allies
[sos]: 3rd is clearly better here.  Not only are the units historically
    accurate now, but it's harder to kill off an army: makes the game
    more interesting.
[cwj]: 2nd is better.  The increase of the number of pieces was
    not accompanied by a corresponding increase in board size.
    The large groups don't fit in the towns any more, and it's hard
    to tell which units belong to which towns.

2nd: Handsome game.
3rd: Even Handsomer game.
[sos]: I just gave it.
[cwj]: They don't mention it.
2nd: Contains Horse Artillery
3rd: No Horse Artillery
[sos]: 3rd is better.  I don't think Horse Arty rules were historically
[cwj]: 2nd is better.  (No reason given to back up this statement.)

2nd: Set-up in any towns desired, subject to limits per town.
3rd: You can still do that, but they also have historical deployment.
[sos]: Since 3rd adds without taking away, it is better here.
[cwj]: They don't mention it.

2nd: 2 Group Moves for French, 1 each for Allies
3rd: 3 Group Moves for French, 2 each for Allies
[sos]: the change was necessitated by more counters, of course.
    It probably gives the Allies a slight edge compared to 2nd,
    but this is offset by the cavalry bonus, below.  I'd say it's
    not a major change, really, despite how it sounds.  You could,
    if you really wanted to, limit the Allies to 3 Group Moves,
    letting them pick which Ally gets to move twice in one turn.
[cwj]: 2nd is vastly superior.  This throws the balance out the window,
    making a travesty of the game.

2nd: Major Roads: 8 units per turn
3rd: Major Roads: 10 units per turn
[sos]: Again, necessitated by more counters.  No real difference.
[cwj]: 2nd is superior.

2nd: Rivers halve road limits always.
3rd: Rivers halve road limits only going into battle.
[sos]: makes for a more fluid 3rd edition.  Also partly necessi-
    tated by more counters.  Better?  I don't know.  Not bad, anyway.
[cwj]: they don't mention it, but don't like the 3rd movement rules
    in general.

2nd: Retreating units may not move on the next turn.
3rd: Retreating units may move on the next turn.
[sos]: 2nd may be more accurate, but 3rd is easier to play.
[cwj]: 2nd is better.

2nd: Pursuit Fire.
3rd: No pursuit fire; automatic rout attrition if engaged instead.
[sos]: 3rd is cleaner, averages about the same as 2nd but removes
    the luck aspect.  I think this is better.
[cwj]: 2nd is vastly superior.  This makes another travesty of the
    game.  A lone infantry can escape from the entire opposing army
    with only a single step loss.  Outrageous!
[sos rejoinder:] That seems realistic to me - a single infantry unit
    meeting the entire opposing army is not going to stand around
    to get cut to ribbons!

2nd: Cav fire SF normally, shock: DF.
3rd: Cav fire DF normally, shock: TF.
[sos]: Gives the French a bit of an edge, perhaps recouping what
    they lost in the Group Move business.  I liked it at first, but
    after a few games felt that 2nd was better.
[cwj]: 2nd is vastly superior.  Horribly ahistorically unbalanced.

2nd: Attacker announces target each unit is firing at.
3rd: Hits are taken on the highest CV unit in the column.
[sos]: Hmmm . . . I suppose 3rd is more realistic, but I think 2nd
    is more fun - if you're the attacker, that is.  One problem this
    rule creates in 3rd is that Infantry square rules are now unclear
    and don't work well.  [Columbia's Errata 
    fixed this.  This is also in [3.1 rules].  Now you focus on which
    group you attack, square or non-square, and the largest unit of
    that formation takes the hits.]
[cwj]: 2nd is much better.

2nd: Squares immune to Cav attacks; Squares attack at 1/2 CV.
3rd: Cav attack Squares at SF; Squares attack at SF.
[sos]: Hmmm - I'd say 2nd is probably better - more accurate
[cwj]: 2nd is MUCH better.

2nd: Arty can only fire once (at DF) if engaged.
3rd: Arty can fire every turn at DF if engaged.
[sos]: 3rd strikes me as unrealistic - how are you going to reload
    those cannons if your position is overrun by enemy troops?
[cwj]: This is the worst change in the book!  Makes combined arms
    techniques impossible.
[3.1]: They compromised.  Arty can fire DF the first turn they are
    engaged, and then SF thereafter.

2nd: Cav can retreat from a battle and smash back in on the same turn.
3rd: That's prohibited.
[sos]: 3rd's got the right idea here.
[cwj]: Oddly enough, they don't mention this change.  I guess they get
    stuck focusing on the negative.

2nd: 2 French reinforcements/turn; 1 A-A/turn; 1 Prus./turn
3rd: Road limits: 2/major road; 1/minor road.
[sos]: 3rd is better.  It forces you to think more in terms of the
    road net, which they did in those days.
[cwj]: They don't mention this specifically, but roundly detest the
    3rd's movement rules in general.

2nd: Supply: Brussels: 1 A-A, 1 Prussian; Liege: 1 Prussian.
3rd: Supply: Brussels: 1 A-A; Liege: 2 Prussian.
[sos]: I think 3rd is better - taking Brussels in 2nd was too rich.
[cwj]: They don't mention it.

2nd: Allies win if both armies reduced below half.
3rd: Stalemate if both armies reduced below half.
[sos]: I think 2nd has it right - Nappy had to win this one.
    Besides, stalemates are a drag!
[cwj]: They don't mention it.

2nd: No Leader units.
3rd: Leader units - increase road limits and bonus to morale.
[sos]: I don't think leaders add much, to be honest.  Makes a good
    bluffing unit, though, if you never expose it.  Slight edge to 3rd
[cwj]: Heresy!  The Allies have two leaders, and all are equal in
    abilities.  Blucher equal to Napoleon?  No way!  This gives the
    Allies an unfair advantage.
[3.1] Leaders no longer give a road bonus - instead they give a Force
    March bonus, which is much better.  They can also allow a force
    march at night.  Good change.

2nd: Historical summary and tactical suggestions.
3rd: No historical summary or tactical suggestions.
[sos]: 2nd is clearly vastly superior here - I love historical
    summary and tactical suggestions.
[cwj]: I don't remember them mentioning it, which is odd - they love
    to chastise Columbia for 3rd edition everywhere else they can.
There may be other minor differences that I'm forgetting to note.

My Overall Opinion: I think 3rd is a superior game in most respects. Probably not superior enough that owners of 2nd need feel compelled to shell out the money for 3rd, but if they can afford it, they probably won't regret it. Besides, you can always port the 2nd edition rules you prefer as long as both sides agree.

The rules from 2nd I would port to 3rd edition are:

  1. Cavalry only fire DF on a charge, SF otherwise. They cannot fire on a square.
  2. Squares fire at 1/2 CV.
  3. No stalemates - Allies win if all armies reduced below half.
And some rules I would change:
  1. (From cwj) An allied army is reduced to one group move each turn upon losing their leader. If Napoleon is lost, the French immediately lose.
  2. (From cwj) Give the Imperial Guard improved morale. BUT if they are lost, any unit in the same column must make a morale check immediately!
  3. (From cwj) Give the Prussians reduced Force March capability: they only succeed 1/3 of the time without step loss, not 1/2.
If you don't have the game, I recommend it. Good fun, clear rules (except as noted above), not very complex, relatively short game, evenly matched opponents with unique flavor for each army.
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