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 LIMITS OF GLORY:  BONAPARTE'S EASTERN EMPIRE FROM FORM SQUARE GROUP The Prologue Recently I first heard of this game's title - noth...








The Prologue

Recently I first heard of this game's title - nothing more and I instantly headed over to BGG for enlightenment.  At that point the only message was "No discussions" and three photos.  Despite - or was it because of this lack of information - I determined to contact the company to see if they might provide a copy of the game to review.  But first I had a board wargaming convention to get to soon.  
A little later...I arrived at a venue near Coventry where PunchedCon 2023, a new board wargame convention which was started and held for the first time last year was being held for its second time!
Walking into the large gaming hall, I was surprised to see there was a person setting up a demo stand for Form Square Games, the future publishers of Limits of Glory: Bonaparte's Eastern Empire.  Not only was this person the publisher, he was also the game's designer, Andrew Rourke.  Several conversations with Andrew and his fellow gamer, Ray, and a play through of the game later and I was back home with a proto-type copy from the designer [many, many thanks] and straight on to BGG to post my first very brief impressions of the game and a promise to write a full review.  The rest, as they say, is history or rather this review of what, from now on, I shall for brevity's sake call Bonaparte.  And why Bonaparte and not Napoleon?  The answer is for historical accuracy.  The game is set in the period when he ranked as General of Division Bonaparte. His crowning of himself as Emperor Napoleon lies in the future.  This points to the fact that, though this may be considered a light game, it is one for which the designer seeks to create the right feel and historical verisimilitude for the period.
In The Beginning
The campaign in Egypt, for this is what the game portrays, is generally not widely known.  If it is, then the Battle of the Pyramids and the naval Battle of the Nile in 1798 [sometimes called the Battle of Aboukir Bay] along with the British landing three years later, also at Aboukir Bay, are the main and only events usually mentioned.  The other famous fact is that the French expedition led to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, so important in the later deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics.  My one and only board wargaming experience with this campaign has a map that is widely considered fairly off-putting and it was the map for Bonaparte that immediately grabbed my attention.  Here it is, remember that it is a proto-type and then read on.

Perhaps your reaction was similar to mine. It certainly grabbed my attention and my curiosity, but my impressions and reactions were mixed.  Its parentage was clearly a cross between Eurogames and more traditional board wargames..  The colours were strong, vibrant, perhaps even, dare I say, garish. And what had happened to the sea?  As I commented on BGG, it was a " strangely pale and un-blue sea. This turned out to have been a designer's typical nightmare, as Andy showed me a photo of the board's colours that went off to the printers with a lovely pale blue sea and came back with...well. a different colour."  Thank goodness, only the proto-type!  To emphasise the point my photograph here doesn't even give you an accurate representation of the printer's incorrect colour, turning it into a far more sludge-like one!!
The board, as you can see, is very simple, and mainly an area movement map of parts of Egypt, Syria and the Mediterranean.  But what was the purpose of that dominating numbered track and what are those cartoons dotted around and why are they there?  Answers to those two questions will come later.
In part, I'm trying to recreate for you my experience and what yours may be if you see and buy this game. I was intrigued, I was puzzled, I did want to know more. It didn't look like the normal game I would buy, despite being an avid board wargamer for 47 years and a similar Eurogamer for a mere 15 years.  Particularly, would it satisfy me to play as a grognard board wargamer and here I'm going to leap ahead, just in case you give up reading at this point, it did.  I was hooked! 
The game has its abstractions, but models the campaign surprisingly well. It provides both an historical feel with an exciting game and a system which has more unique features than I've come across in any game in a long time.  Even more unique features than in my previous recent review.
 The System
I'm going to start by looking at the two key points of the system.  The first is that the numbers 5 and 6 govern everything.  To move from one area to another whether on land or sea, you need to roll at least one 5 or 6.  

How many dice you roll depends on the those numbers you see printed in each area on the map.  Want to move from an area designated with the number 1, then you get just one dice to roll to achieve your critical numbers 5 or 6. That's a tough area to move from.  An area is marked with a 3, that's easier to leave because you've got 3 dice to roll and you only need the one 5 or one 6 to be successful.  In combat, want to inflict a hit on an enemy unit, yes roll a 5 or 6 and you've achieved a hit.  This time the number of dice you roll is always four.  So, you might inflict up to 4 hits.  Sounds all too simple.  Well, those basic rules couldn't be simpler or easier to understand - a feature generally of the rules in fact.  Despite this, there is plenty of subtlety incorporated, especially in the combat system. 
However, the second and even more important key feature of the game's system is Glory Points.  This will take a little longer to explain, but is just as easy to learn and apply.  It also explains the generic part of the game's title, Limits of Glory. This heralds that the game is the first in a series and the second game design is already underway. To understand more, we need to turn to the two sides' separate Leader Displays.  As the game is focused on Bonaparte, it's the French Display I'm going to use as an example.

Each Leader has two markers on the display.  The first time a Leader is placed on the map board, one Leader marker is placed directly on the map, while his other Leader marker is placed on the Glory Track after rolling for his Glory Points as indicated on the Display Chart.  Their purpose will be explained later as we move into the Sequence of Play.

A closer look at the Glory Track

Before all this, you will have set up the map with all the appropriate units on it and all other necessary charts and displays.  Besides the main map and the Leader Displays are two other Charts of very thick solid cardboard.  The first is the Events Clock and again a definitely new approach that I enjoy whole-heartedly.

The Events Clock

The other chart is the Combat one and, dare I say it, here is yet another unique approach.  In fact there are several original features embodied in this Chart that I'll discuss when exploring Combat.
Combat Chart

Sequence of Play

First of all there are three Phases to this game and it's important to note that this refers to three separate stages in the course of the game, not that there are three phases each turn.
The first stage is the Invasion Phase.  This is a brief "cat and mouse" section involving three French fleet markers of which two are dummies and one is the real fleet, commanded by Admiral Brueys, and one British fleet commanded by, of course, Nelson. The three French fleets set out respectively from Toulon, Genoa and Civitavecchia.  I love this stage of the game as the French player tries by how he/she manoeuvres the fleets to deceive the Allied player as to which is the real fleet, while endeavouring to reach the coast of Egypt without being discovered and, if possible, visit Malta en route and Nelson simply tries to intercept and discover the real fleet.

Nelson fails to reach me, before I'm about to disembark!

There are three possible outcomes;  [1] the French Fleet will be intercepted at sea [2] the French Fleet will be intercepted while disembarking the French troops in Egypt [3] the French Fleet will disembark without being intercepted.  Whichever happens, you move on to the Disembarkation Phase.
Disembarkation Phase
First, consult a chart that tells you what actions to take, how many troops Bonaparte lands with and where, as well as how many Glory Points to calculate for him, plus 2 VPs if you did manage to visit Malta. [I can't help adding that in the game I am using for photos, I managed to visit Malta, scoring 2 VPs, land without Nelson intercepting the French fleet, thus arriving with his maximum number of troops and chalked up 63 Glory pts for Bonaparte to use - one less than the maximum.]

Here he is having disembarked safely, by the way there are 26 infantry and one artillery unit in that stack!  It's a lot bigger than it looks.  I also love the counter to the right, Les Savants, and the attention that this game design gives to creating such an historical atmosphere.  These were a group of scientists and intellectuals that as the French player I have to get to the Valley of the Kings and maintain them there as part of achieving an automatic victory.  Frankly that's the easiest part, for the rest of an automatic victory the French only need to capture all the built-up areas that award VPs!! 
Other enjoyable narrative elements that add historical colour in this very brief Phase are the possibilities that you might have some Mamluks to fight or a Bedouin marker that causes a test that may mean a minor loss of Glory.  All these little details add so much flavour and enjoyment to this game with such simplicity and ease of rules.   After disembarking, it's on to the last and longest and most important Phase of the game.
Conquest Phase 
At the beginning of each turn in the Conquest Phase, an Event roll is made on this chart.  At first you will roll a single die and locate the Event on the Chart corresponding to the number rolled.  As the game progresses, certain Events will lead to an increasing number of dice [up to an eventual maximum of four] being rolled and added up to find the Event that has happened.  Some Events happen each time that number is rolled [indicated by the letter R after the number], others when rolled are replaced by a new Event.  This is an ingenious and engaging device that is another important factor in producing that historical ambiance.  It also creates a degree of linearity to events, while allowing some potentially never to occur while others may appear earlier than expected.  
Lurking among those Events is the one located at the crucial number 14 - roll this number and the Peace of Amiens occurs and the game immediately ends!  

But look carefully at the Event instructions; you need to have reached the maximum of rolling four dice before there is any possibility of the game ending, but, once it is a possibility, the tension starts to ratchet up.
After the Event roll, each Turn then proceeds with the French player always active first and the Allied Player active second. Each player's half of the turn begins with a Momentum roll of 4 dice and. like every other roll in this game. a 5 or 6 will gain you a Momentum marker and each payment of a glory point allows you to reroll a failed die.
A player's turn is very, very fluid, being a mixture of movement and combat.  An initial area will be chosen and, as described earlier, a number of dice are rolled according to the number in the area that you are attempting to leave.  A single roll of 5 or 6 is a success and rerolls can be attempted by spending glory points from the senior commander.  There is so much possibility for variation here.  For example, if there were three leaders and a number of units in the area, all could move into an adjacent area together or each leader could move into a separate area with or without accompanying troops.  If any moved into enemy occupied areas, then combat would have to take place in all such areas before any other further movement could be taken.  Provided a group has not failed in moving or combat, they can continue further movement and combat as the active player wishes.  Any failure results in one of the Momentum markers being placed in the area where the failure occurs.  Once all the Momentum markers gained by the first player at the beginning of their activation have been placed on the map, then their activation is over and the second player follows the identical process.

Above you can see the French steam-roller led by Bonaparte has momentarily been halted, while Menou has been dispatched to garrison the adjoining Cairo area.  Meanwhile on a different route seen below, Lannes is about to overwhelm a small leaderless force on his way ultimately for a massive confrontation with the Ottoman leader and a strong force at Acre.   

Obviously, the French player carries the burden of the attack from the beginning of the game onwards with generally superior leaders allowing the potential for major marches and magnificent victories to be won, but they get precious few reinforcements and attempting an automatic victory inevitably leads to separating some leaders and troops, while the necessary victory areas must be garrisoned with at least a leader, if not some troops.  Slowly the game is likely to begin to swing toward the Allied player whose automatic victory conditions are much less grandiose than the French ones.  He/she simply has to capture and retain control of Cairo and Alexandria until the end of a turn.
If neither player wins an automatic victory, then the game ends when Event 14 occurs and the player with most victory points wins.  Inevitably, this is the most likely way the game will end.  At the start of the game, the Allied player occupies all the victory areas and so has 25 VPs, while the French player has none. Slowly or swiftly, the French will start to capture and take control of those VP areas.  In a demo game that a friend played at PunchedCon, he was barely in the lead and desperately hoping for the ending Event 14 to be rolled.  In my current game, my huge initial success as the French has led me to gamble on splitting my forces and driving for an automatic win.  Probably hubris, but what satisfaction if I can pull it off.  Combats have decimated the Mamluks with barely a French unit lost.  Soon a contingent will be marching with the Savants to the Valley of the Kings, while Buonaparte will be hastening to Alexandria and Kleber with his subordinate leader, Lannes, are already about to capture Arish and then on to Acre and a very tough siege against the city manned by a substantial Ottoman force.  Meanwhile, My Allied opponent is lurking off the Egyptian coast and a fairly substantial Ottoman force and fleet has appeared in Rhodes!  The clouds of opposition are gathering! And there's no doubt that combat and sieges play a crucial and exciting part in the game, using the distinctively original Combat Chart and combat system.
This is a major element in the game and a favourite of mine.  Above all, it allows by the use of leaders' glory points significantly smaller French forces the ability to defeat much larger Allied ones and substantially adds to the concept of that Series title, Limits of GloryThis is by far the most complex part of the game rules, but is very quickly and easily learnt.  The combat system begins by placing your Combat Pawn in the box where the total combat value of your troops on the top horizontal row of the chart intersects with the vertical column for nation and command.  [e.g. the Allied player cross-referencing 9 Mamluk value of troops led by a Mamluk leader would place their combat pawn in the box with the large number 17 and the information that a 6 will score one hit and a 5 will score none.]
Next, both players roll 4 dice.  Each player then decides whether to spend glory points rerolling failures and finally each player decides whether to spend glory points forcing their opponent to reroll successes.  If the total of the final 4 dice is equal to or greater than the large number in the box where your combat pawn is then you look at how many hits a 5 or 6 scores.  Yes, you did read that correctly - the number of hits scored by rolling a 5 or 6 varies.  Generally the French player will score more hits per 5 or 6 than the Allied player.  Even more unusual, however, is the rule that, if the total of your 4 dice is less than the large number, then you have scored no hits at all!!  As I keep emphasising, there is a lot of originality in this game design.  This game doesn't just have an historical feel and appeal, it has its very own distinctive game feel and appeal.  These were both very important factors in firing my enthusiasm for and enjoyment of Bonaparte's Eastern Empire.
On top of all that, there are those strangely familiar artists named in the credits: George Cruikshank, Isaac Cruikshank and James Gillray. If you haven't guessed who they are from the box art, then one look at the board and all the leader counters should do the job. They are the trio of cartoonists from the late 1700s and early 1800s whose satirical lampoons of the great and the good brought them to fame.  On the box is Bonaparte scrabbling to reach the top of the Great Pyramid, while on the board there's Nelson cracking the heads of tricolour flag-draped crocodiles.

Each cameo head and shoulder image on each leader counter is similarly drawn from the contemporary historical drawings of these three men. This game really is unique in so many different ways and this art work is just one more feature in that uniqueness.  The one major component that I can't fully comment on is the rule book, because as a proto-type I'm working from a simple, stapled booklet of black on white A4 pages.  What I can say is that the booklet is well organised in much the same order as I have followed in my review. The rules are clear and easy to understand, presented in what I would describe as a narrative format rather than the minutely regimented multi-case number format.  Layout with good sized print and spacing adds to that easy reading.
All in all, I hope I've been able to share my enthusiasm for everything about this game.  It's certainly one that I shall be adding to my collection with every intention of following the series and for those who might be heading to UK Games Expo this weekend, I'd strongly suggest dropping in on Four Square Games to have a good look at Limits of Glory: Bonaparte's Eastern Empire.  Otherwise, look out for information about the game's launch on Gamefound towards the end of June/beginning of July.