Review – Danube 20, The Battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram 1809 from Victory Point Games
Designer – Kim Meints
Artist – Tim Allen, Christopher Magoun, Richard Starke
Another in the wonderful Napoleonic games series of games produced by Victory Point Games is here. Or at least, I’m catching up with the latest entry in the series, and its so cool to have another game in the upgraded production standard from VPG. And what’s more, you get 2 battle games instead of one!
Having really enjoyed the earlier Leipzig 20 game, I had high hopes for Danube 20 so let’s see what we have here…
From Victory Point Games …
Danube 20 features both the battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram, allowing players to examine this pair of critical battles fought just across the Danube from Vienna. Featuring low unit density (twenty or fewer pieces) and modest complexity, the game focuses on dramatic, fast-playing turns and creating a strong historical narrative. The use of “story-driven” random event cards and the tracking of army morale provide for operational pauses and the “friction of war” to give players a great feel for the parry-and-thrust of a Napoleonic grand battle as the armies close to bayonet-point to see which will break first!
This is a game for 2 players age 12+.
Victory Point Games has really impressed with their improved production standards and this is no exception. You get a boxed game with a mounted board, which comes in puzzle pieces, easily put together. The art of the map (which effectively covers the same ground for each battle) looks very nice.
The counter art is excellent and shows up nicely on the maps making for a very attractive looking game. The information provided is easy enough to read and the new style “chunky” counters are a lot easier to move about.
Yes, and larger playing cards makes for an easier read and easier to play experience. The historical detail and information is clearly presented and its very interesting.
Overall, the new standard production adds value to the playing experience and raises the profile of VPG‘s product line. You will have to give the counters and map a bit of a wipe before playing as there is a black residue from the laser cutting. This is annoying, yes, but better than having to clip the corners of counters as you so often have to do in war games. A trade off, but worth it as the standard of the components is really nice.
Game play overview
THE GAME TURN
Each Game Turn consists of two Player Turns, a First Player Turn and a Second Player Turn, with the Exclusive Rules
specifying who the First Player is. Player Turns consist of segments called ‘Phases.’
The term ‘Phasing Player’ describes the player who is currently the protagonist conducting activities during that Phase.
The First Player Turn
1. First Player Random Events Phase:
The First Player plays the top card’s single event for their player only. The cards generally show a French Event and an Austrian Event.
2. First Player Movement Phase: The First Player may move all, some or none of his units and his reinforcements might also enter the map, if available.
3. Second Player Reaction Phase: The Second Player may have some, none or all of his Cavalry units conduct Reaction Maneuvers. A cool feature reflecting the use of cavalry in Napoleonic warfare.
4. First Player Combat Phase: In any order the First Player desires, his units can attack enemy units. Afterward, all eligible units recover from Rout and Fatigue.
If he did not Force March during his Movement Phase, and was not involved in any Battles during the Reaction or Combat Phases, the First Player can, if eligible, receive a Morale Point from resting this Turn during a “Lull”. This is an interesting part of the game, as the decision as to when to recover morale could make a key difference in your fortunes.
5. First Player Night Operations: Only if it is a Night Game Turn, the First Player may Rally eliminated units, adjust his side’s Morale based upon captured Line of Communication (‘LOC’) and Objective hexes; recover one Morale Point, then re-conceal all of his units and add his Dummy units to the map when using the Fog of War Optional Rule.
The Second Player Turn
6. Repeat Phases 1 through 5, reversing the roles of the First and Second Players. If it is a Night Turn, afterward, reshuffle all the Random Event cards to form a new Draw Pile.
Sudden Death Turns
7. Certain Game Turns, indicated on the Game Turn Track by a red die-face, present the possibility for an early conclusion to the Battle. At the end of these Turns, the Second Player rolls a die and, if the result is less than or equal to (≤) the number shown on the die-face, the game ends immediately and the winner is determined. If the die roll is greater than the number shown, play continues on to the next Game Turn.
I think that this adds that level of uncertainty that comes in warfare. Also, it means that there will be more replayability as there is no absolute formula to winning.
Battle games are by their very nature, not going to have a lot of sweeping maneuvers so it becomes a slugging match for both battles although there are different problems to solve for each. It becomes all about breaking the other Army so that they become ineffective.
Wagram presents the French player trying to breakout out of an established bridgehead across the Danube. While the French build up across the Danube, the Austrian forces become increasingly committed to the fight. Really interesting and different challenges for each player. Aspern-Essling gives the French player more options as to where they cross the Danube which brings lots of replay value and the problem of actually crossing the Danube itself is nerve-wracking.
Did I like Danube 20?
I really like Danube 20. I found it to be good fun and with 2 distinct and challenging problems to solve in the battles. I would say that the French player in both games has a little more interesting problem to solve but its fun and challenging for both sides. Neither player can afford to sit back so battle will need to be joined with gusto.
This is an interesting system and it might appear daunting to new gamers but actually, the design is slick, and adds a biting edge. There is no exactness in these games and that, to me allows for uncertainty which no amount of planning can account for. Once the armies are on the move, chaos tends to set in and events tend to take on a life of their own in warfare. I don’t pretend to be an expert on Napoleonic warfare at all, but the system seems to feel right to me in giving a simple, yet engaging level of feel for the times.
The way the armies “wear out” through each battle really gives you a feel of losing the ability to control events and a sense that you have to deal with the ebb and flow of the battlefield as you start to lose your ability to sustain the fight. Everything you do will be with one eye on your morale level. How far do you risk pushing things? That’s a heck of a question.
This is not meant to be a complex simulation. Nor is it the simplest of systems. Rather, a good, solid game which gives you a feel for the war of the day and for me, the system is very effective. Players like me who want to be able to get the darn thing set up in short order and have limited amounts of time to play will love this game. The turns don’t take long, not with so few actual units on the board so there is little down time. Your movement choices are limited as the games are relatively small but there is just enough in terms of options. Most of all, the experience for both games was fun and that’s what really matters.
This is a very welcome addition to VPG‘s Napoleonic range of games. Its nice to see that this system still has legs and feels fresh with each new release rather than growing stale. A rock solid system with enough variability represented by the strategic options and Events to keep the game fresh. Beautiful components. Relatively fast play. Danube 20 is Ace!
Highly recommended for new and experienced war gamers and clear evidence that Victory Point Games‘ star is on the rise.