TalonSoft's Battleground series has scored a series of direct hits with many wargaming fans since the initial release, Battleground Ardennes. Through seven games, it has provided some unique wargaming experiences and shown a depth and attention to detail that few other games can match. Despite all this, there are a number of niggling points that chip away at the enjoyment factor.
The Battleground games, most recently Napoleon in Russia and Bull Run, offer finely textured re-creations of battles ranging from the Civil War to World War II. Each game is set against a beautiful background with different zoom levels and units that have a very tactile look, almost like miniatures. The orders of battle are extensive and detailed, with leaders and units all represented accurately. Each game takes a large battle and runs through it in small engagements, offers variations, and then presents a full-blown recreation of the battle.
Most table-top wargamers will recognize many of the conventions of the Battleground series from years of box games. Like table-top games, the Battleground series is hex-based, and use a series of phases to govern moves in each turn. In the case of Battleground 6: Napoleon in Russia, there are five full phases for each side that make up a single turn: movement, defensive fire, offensive fire, calvary charge and melee phases. But adapting a traditional wargaming model, complete with multiple phases, to the computer results in needlessly time consuming - and often tedious - gameplay. Computer games like V for Victory, Age of Rifles, and many others show how you can handle simultaneous processing of phases using the power of the computer.
The result is that rounds take longer to play without necessarily giving a correlating increase in play depth. A huge battle like Borodino can take days to finish. More vexing is the cumbersome and homely interface, coded as though technology hasn't advanced past Windows 3.1. Poor programming also leads to extensive hitches in sound and movement, which betray the fact that this is an engine made more for Windows 3.1 than for Windows 95. The two newest titles, Bull Run and Napoleon in Russia, unfortunately have basic installs of an 170 megs and small installs of 30 megs. The catch is that only the basic install runs acceptably and the small install isn't compatible with the many maintenance patches TalonSoft issues.
But do these fairly minor - and admittedly personal - complaints mean the game can't be recommended? No, since dedicated wargamers will want to experience the depth of the Battleground games and will weather its flaws in order to do so, especially since TalonSoft consistently refines its releases with numerous patches that tweak play. (Wargamers are used to being patient and wading through cumbersome game mechanics.)
Napoleon in Russia concerns itself with Borodino, the centerpiece battle of Napoleon's epic invasion of Russia. When the French met the army of the Tsar at the small town of Borodino on September 7, 1812, less than 75 miles from Moscow, it was the high tide of the Russia campaign. A bloody, brutal, and tactically brilliant clash, Borodino left Napoleon in control of the field and Moscow, but it was a victory he could not hold. He would eventually retreat and turn his attentions elsewhere.
Battleground 6: Napoleon in Russia offers not only historical re-creations of this conflict, but also a number of hypothetical plans of attack and orders of battle, for a final count of 21 scenarios. What if the Cossacks had harassed the French line of retreat a little more vigorously? What if Marat's calvary had attacked Shevardino on the 5th? What if Kutizov had strengthened the Russian left? Several versions of the full historical battle play with different orders of battle and the release of certain units, which can drastically change strategy. Overall, there is a fair and thorough mix of battles in Napoleon in Russia that serves this campaign well.