Publisher: Victory Point Games
Game Designer: Lance McMillan, Hans von Stockhausen and Joseph Miranda
Artwork: Clark Miller and Richard Starke
Ages: 13 & up
Playing Time: 60 minutes
Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
España 20 is a recent addition to the long running Napoleonic 20 series from Victory Point Games which uses the newest version 4.0 rules set. The Nappy 20 series from VPG continues to be a perennial favorite of grognard’s thanks to its brilliant design which has spawned over 20 games and expansions through the years. Even more of these titles are on the way since GMT Games recently announced that it will not be releasing Rising Glory, relinquishing it back to VPG who will add it to their release schedule in the future.
Joe Miranda is the genius behind the system, which was first imagined with the goal of having a low unit count on the map (under 20) that modeled maneuvers at the operational level with mid-level complexity yet still played quickly. With so many games in the series and a proven rules set, it’s a tip of the hat to the elegance of the thoughtful base design that keeps improving in small, yet significant ways with each release.
Summary of Content
The game comes with four 8.5” x 11” maps that form into two full size maps making up the Bailén and Arapiles scenarios in the extended rule book. 25 event cards, split between the two scenarios, 77 laser cut counters of French, Spanish and British units, player aid, 28 page rule book and 20 page scenario rulebook.
The maps are cardstock with terrain features, towns and road systems under an overlaid hex grid for setup and movement. The art on the map and the cards is top notch as we have come to expect from Victory Point Games, the only detractor with the cards is that they are slightly thin. As always with VPG titles, I sleeve them for protection so this is not an issue in the long run. The counters are beefy as always, nicely laser cut with fantastic art, a few swipes of the wipes-a-lot napkin and you’re good to go.
A lot has been already written over the years about the Nappy 20 series and how it’s played, so I won’t rehash that. I’ve personally never played one of the games until I was offered the chance to review this title. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big Napoleonic’s fan, preferring modern or sci-fi themes in my wargames but I’ve always been intrigued by mass formation movement from warfare of this period and with the huge following this series has, I figured it was time to find out why for myself.
España 20 is the first game in the series to come with the new Version 4.0 rules, which have remained pretty consistent over the years with little evolution’s each time to further refine a system that is already quite polished. Aside from the new rule book, the 20 page scenario book specifically lays out the two scenarios for the Battle of Bailén and the Battle of Salamanca; neither of these battles were shining moments for the French army.
The v4.0 rulebook has a new layout, moving away from the double column format to a more open and cleaner look, reference boxes are now used to better illustrate the rule examples which make for faster referencing and easier understanding. Many of the rules have been reworded to make them easier to understand and some new additions have been made.
One of these changes has major river hexside ZOC’s now extending, at the phasing player’s discretion, across bridges and fords which wasn’t the case before in v3. Cavalry may counter-charge or disengage and reacting units can choose to maintain contact, if the player wishes.
Another addition with España 20 is an optional rule, the Élan! bonus for Elite troops. Determination of this bonus comes with the application of up to 4 situational DRM’s and if you get the bonus, you receive a +1 to attack and when multiple Elite units are engaged in one battle it can be earned by each one individually.
The Bailén scenario starts off a little slow, as unit movements are limited for the first half dozen turns but after that it really speeds up as both sides units are able to move each turn. The French will try to begin moving northeast, preparing for their orderly withdrawal while also attempting to protect the depot/baggage train.
This scenario is more in favor of the Spanish player, so if you’re looking for a challenge, take the French side. To earn a decisive victory, one side’s morale must be depleted to zero but the Spanish can also win a decisive victory if they take out the French baggage unit. With so much map space for the Depot/Baggage Unit to cover, it’s a big target that the Spanish will go after hard. It is a mighty task and one the Spanish are likely to emerge victorious from more often than not.
Strategic placement of the dummy counters while using the fog of war rules can allow the French player to create some space initially but getting the depot to switch to the baggage train will take a perfect six roll early on. This roll gets a little easier in follow on turns but by then you run the risk of activating the Hold Andalusia card that halts the withdrawal, more on that below.
The dummy units also help when playing solitaire. You can figure your initial layouts for both sides and then do a little blind draw, to change up which unit is on and which unit is adjacent to the objective. It’s not necessarily the best, but it does allow a little surprise and FOW to be applied when playing solo. Of course, you can just place all of the units face up and play just as easily, but it’s nice to have that flexibility.
The event cards are few in this scenario, just thirteen of them and nearly half of these deal with morale points. These cards may add or remove morale points, allow you to spend one free and so on, these are important cards and can help or hurt you at key times. Morale points are both currency and win/loss indicators in the game, you need to spend morale points to force march your troops and commit reserves to battle etc. you will earn more by being victorious in battle.
One key card that the French player will not want to see come out too early is one I mentioned earlier, the Hold Andalusia card. This card removes the orderly withdrawal option and forces the French to stand their ground and fight, attempting to whittle away at the Spanish forces and their morale. With only one reserve unit that can eventually come into play and the ever present chance for Swiss troops defecting to the Spanish side, crippling some troops effectiveness, the French player can quickly find themselves in the same position that Dupont did in that fateful battle.
While the starting locations for the depot/baggage train and the French and Spanish forces remain the same each battle, there is a lot to keep you playing again and again. The variance of exactly where each unit is placed, the chance that the depot may never be able to break down into the baggage train and the orderly withdrawal may be blocked, not to mention the situations that develop from the event cards, allows enough replayability to keep armchair generals busy for many plays.
Arapiles puts us at the Battle of Salamanca, another defeat for the French and one of Wellington’s finest hours for the British. This battle plays out much more dynamic than the Bailén scenario as troops come onto the map in waves each turn, rather than prepositioned. This allows greater freedom of maneuver for both players, with a pretty extensive road network to move troops about on.
The French player is at a slight disadvantage when rallying, in order to simulate short supplies and confusing leadership, they suffer a -1 DRM to rally rolls. Similarly, the Army of the North is rolled for on Days two and three of the battle, with a 33% chance of being destroyed on day two and a 50% chance on day three. As Wellington feared, if they do appear on the map they do so to the rear of the allied British and Spanish lines where they can challenge the integrity of the allied line.
If Marmont is ever broken, he is permanently eliminated. This is in order to replicate the impact of the loss of his leadership which threw the French into a bit of disarray. So be careful of where he is used and ensure he is protected lest you lose his command presence.
The twelve event cards in this scenario offer a nice balance of effects on morale points but even more benefits to combat strength, pulling the right card before engaging in an important battle can help swing things in your favor.
I really enjoy the elegance of the Nappy 20 system; it’s designed in such a way that any battle from this era can be easily modeled with just some additional, scenario specific rules. It’s no surprise that there have been so many titles published in the series already, it’s a testament to how solid the base rules are.
España 20 does a fantastic job of allowing players to get a better feel for what it must have been like to command these units on the field. Moving such large bodies of troops across open terrain is problematic, even in today’s technology driven military but in the 1800’s, it could prove deadly to not have units in place where and when you needed them.
If you’ve ever thought about dipping your toe into Napoleonic wargaming, I highly recommend grabbing España 20. Although I don’t yet consider myself a big Napoleonic’s fan, I am very intrigued to try more thanks to this game system which has a proven track record through many years. The Napoleonic 20 system captures the grand strategic feel it’s after without being grandiose and that’s not an easy task.
España 20 is a highly polished system that offers a grand tactical experience with only a handful of units to track. Its moderate complexity shouldn’t pose a problem for experienced wargamer’s and new gamers to the genre won’t struggle to pick it up.
The real beauty of the Nappy 20 series is that once you’ve played one title, you can easily pick up and play any of the others in the series since they all share the same base rules. The only thing new that needs to be learned with each game are the scenario specific rules and any new optional rules. With 20 plus games in the series, there are plenty of tactical puzzles to keep any wargamer happy for many years to come!
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Note: A review copy of this game was provided to me.