La Révolution Française
Board game by Azure Wish Editions

A few thoughts about the game as I am still only starting to make up my mind about it. But this is really a 7-person review as you'll see below.

Certainly the components, from the map to the counters to the rules -- at least in the case of the French rules – are very beautiful to behold, although they are somewhat lacking in practical matters. Backprinting money and deputies in different denominations is bound to cause problems and encourage mistakes, although it is probably barely liveable because not all money is printed this way and you can get away with discarding that which isn't and because the deputies are only rarely adjusted. It's also annoying that at least one leader counter is not correctly backprinted.

A game system in which each player has a strong dependence on others is a rather intriguing concept, successfully used in Republic of Rome although without the concept of fixed partners, but at the same time is rather worrisome because it raises the question of whether a good player faced with a stupid, wrongheaded or unlucky partner can still win. In Republic of Rome one simply changes partners, but here the possibilities seem more limited.

The economic system has play possibilities, but does not appear to reflect reality very much. For one thing, Government spending and income are at about the same levels as factional income and spending, which is surely incorrect. Undoubtedly Government spending and income was at least 10 and probably more like 100 times that of the factions. Also strange is the rule whereby as players spend more and more, the inflation level increases in direct relation. Inflation during this period is very historical, but no doubt occurred due to panic, war and economic dislocation, not by the spending of political parties. This concept would be much better modeled by a random events table. Finally, there is a curious -5 penalty to the Fame of the faction controlling the government should it go bankrupt. Fame being extremely important both to ability to do anything as well as victory points, this is an obscene penalty to pay, and quite realistic as well. But surely, if the government were to go bankrupt, the biggest penalty to be paid would be by the country as a whole and the odium would attach not only to the leading party, but to every party visible in the Assembly, as both in real life and in the game, the faction in charge of the government is very unlikely to also firmly control the parliamentary voting and even if the government spends no money at all, its parliamentary colleagues can often quite easily run it out of funds. As it is now, this rules glitch can cause very surreal situations to occur, such as the faction in power voting no confidence in itself (in order to escape the odium) and its opponents voting for it to stay in power (in order to attach it).

Activities Weakly Motivated

Also of concern is the apparent level of indirection in the system of game rewards. For example, ending the Legislative Regime seems for some players only weakly-motivated. In fact, most game activities seem weakly motivated, the chief benefit being increases in Fame, which is something like an effectiveness rating. But passage of some laws don't even do that. All they seem to do is adjust various nebulous tracks which have only vague meaning for the player. Since these laws were passed in real life, presumably in order to benefit the factions which proposed them, why isn't there any direct benefit in game terms? Instead, the players need to realize that increasing the tracks leads to a greater likelihood of foreign invasion and civil war which lead to the ability to change regimes and thereby give certain players more power. This seems in some sense backwards from what one really wants. Why not let players take actions which give them more power and then let them decide what they want to do (within historical limits of course). At the very least, if not an annoying historical straitjacket, the current system is not very intuitive for players trying to figure out what they are supposed to do.

One good idea is to select the right scenario. In English translation, the two offered are Historic and Open, which to an English reader carry the connotation that the Open Scenario is ahistorical. A better naming would have been Basic and Advanced as even the scenarios which didn't actually occur in history were all planned and attempted at one time or another. The Advanced Game as I will call it also offers Coup rules, which happened historically. It seems to me and to others that only in the Advanced Game do all the players have a reasonable chance to win and only here does the game have a chance of doing something other than slavishly following historical events. On the other hand, the optional rules which permit the revival of Coalition armies appear to be somewhat ahistorical as well as unbalancing.

Seesaw Process

Winning the game is not a straightforward matter either. Ostensibly, just go out and gain all the Fame and Regions you can and you will win. It sounds like the Republic of Rome routine of getting votes and gold to build influence and win. But to some extent that would be wrong here. Sure Fame is useful, but without the money that comes from possessing regions, it's a fancy steering wheel without an engine. So acquiring regions is really the name of the game here, or at least twice as important as building your Fame or your legislative presence, rather a surprising fact for a political game, wouldn't you say? It's also disappointing because there seem to be no directly pursuable strategy options for acquiring them. Certainly one can spend time trying to pick up regions, but so will the opponents and the random events tables will pull them out from either of you on a random basis. If you start to get ahead, then your opponent gets to take his turn after you do and take the region away, so he gets the income instead of you, starts to acquire more regions and more money until eventually he is ahead of you and you start doing the same to him. Who wins in this kind of seesaw process? It's reminiscent of the boss who always believes the last thing anyone has told him. Is this what the French Revolution was really all about? Was there no sense at all of a nation? Perhaps not, but even if so, it seems that this could still be made to work better as a game.

Another question which is sure to be asked as the game is played more and more is whether it is balanced. I am reminded of the game Britannia which, I beleieve, with four novice players favors the Saxons. But after the first place, the Roman player realizes that he must stay out of Wales so that the Welsh provide an effective counter-threat and no one harms the Angles too much so that they can contain the Saxons in the north. This stage two however leads to victory for the Angles. Then players begin to pick more on the Picts which leads to victory for the Romans. Finally, things are done to limit the points of the player of the Romans and the Welsh/Danes player is in the forefront, but a much less tenuous advantage than the original Saxon one. A similar thing may go on in this game, where at first the Feuillant may win handily, but in future games the Royalist player will see through this and side with the Left during the first two game turns to get the war and his own fortunes started. This should lead to the Gironde taking power with a strong Marais, but eventually the Civil War should put the Royalist in the driver's seat. Whether there is any effective way to counter the Royalist is very difficult to see so far as both wars seem inevitable, the foreign one to avoid Feuillant dominance and the latter just by nature of the event tables. From that point, much of the game outcome may depend on when the civil war was started and what its outcome is, which depends mostly on the dice. If it goes to the Royalist, the game will be his, otherwise, depending on the state of the Commune and their Fame, there is a good chance for several players depending on how well they have done in acquiring and keeping regions.

Following our 11.5 month e-mail playing of the 6-player Open Scenario, I collected the comments from the players on the following questions: The respondents: Alan Moorhouse - played the Royalists
Olivier C. - played the Feuillants
Garry Haggerty - played the Montagne
Jack Barnette - played the Sans-Culottes
Rick Heli - played the Girondins
Ananda Gupta - played the Marais
Claude Manzato - Observer during the game

Alan Moorhouse - played the Royalists - Mon, 15 Mar 1999 10:45:07 -0000

What do you think of the game in general?

It's a nice little game on a subject starved of gaming attention. I think it pays too much attention to territorial control and money and not enough to the politics and the personalities. That said it leans in the right direction.
After playing it, how is your perception different from when we started?
Although I had lots of enthusiasm for it in the beginning, I must say I have to downgrade my assessment to Fair.
How would you rank the game on a 1-10 scale?
Probably 4.5 ish.
How would you rank it for email playability?
6ish . It has a good pbem structure to it but some players have very little to do.
Any strategies you now wish to divulge?
Interestingly, for most of the game I was trying to bring about Vendemiaire as I thought that a VP win was impossible. I still think that if it wasnt for some particularly good die rolls (rare for me) and support from Olivier, I would be way off. The inability of the Coalition to be able to take Paris except on a deal with the government seems a bit daft. Basically 5 VP the Royalists will never get.
Any surprises in play?
The strength of the coalition of players against me. I expected coups and confidence votes to be the order of the day especially when the Gironde Majority went in turn 7. We probably would have seen more if the Royalists hadn't been so successful. I think this had a very bad effect on Olivier's position as the two choices he had was supporting me or following along with everybody else without any real chance of doing anything constructive to his victory chances. Once it was late in the game (6 or so) I was surprised there wasnt an effort by everybody to install the Terror. This would have stuffed my chances with the random events but still be enough time for changes in Government to give most people a shot at victory. It would have changed the game to a fight between Gironde , Marais and Montagne (at least) rather than everybody versus me and the Random events.
If you've played before, how does this outcome differ from your previous games?
First real game on this to be honest, the other times we were playing the rules very wrong (or different).
Any complaints?
Even though I won, I think that the Victory conditions are too steep for the Royalists. It has taken the combination of excellent die rolls, good random events, the best government system for the Royalists to fight against for almost all the game, bad die rolls on your parts and I just scraped 25 points. If you look at the map, it's mostly Royalist. It's a monumental task which needs a lot of luck.
What could be handled better, in general or in particular?
Several things.
Want to play something else and if so, what?
I'd give this a go again with some of the recommendations above. Other game suggestions would be dependant on how many we have available.
Congratulations to the winner (whoever you are). :)
Me!!!! Thanks.

King Louis XVII .........The Jungle VIP.

Olivier C. - played the Feuillants - Mon, 15 Mar 1999 14:45:00 +0100
We were unfortunate in that the game developed in a very unlikely way. If I recall, the left had bad dice rolls at the beginning of the game, which led to a strong Gironde establishing the weak regime of Federal Republic. This decision was a gamble, because, while it weakened the Left, it made it impossible to fight the Royalists efficiently.

My initial strategy was to support the Left vs the Gironde, hoping for a Third place (Convention is the worst regime for Feuillant Victory), but the low Commune level prevented the Left from doing anything. After turn 6, I decided that the left had lost and openly supported the Royalists. That did not improve my position (5th), but ensured that nobody was 2nd, 3rd or 4th.

I was rather disapointed by the game. As far as the Feuillants are concerned, my part was not very interesting after turn 2. However, it was a lot of fun following the game afterwards. I think that it is a good game for an evening with non-gamers, like Junta (although Junta requires more planning and more strategy). It just needs a developer and it could be as good as Republic of Rome.

In the two games I played before, the Royalists won once, and the Gironde once.

Thanks to Rick for maintaining the web page and congratulations to Alan.

Garry Haggerty - played the Montagne - Date: Mon, 15 Mar 1999 09:44:26 EST
Congratulations to Uncle Louis!

Montagne adds his two centimes to Alan's excellent analysis:

What do you think of the game in general?
Some really clever conceptual work was wasted because the La Révolution Française Design Committees allowed an ersatz "conquest" style game to dominate play, thereby throwing the political game into shadow.
After playing it, how is your perception different from when we started?
I was shocked (shocked!) how completely La Révolution Française's utterly inadequate military rules skewed play. One word: Würmster!
How would you rank the game on a 1-10 scale?
3 using the rules as written, er, "implied."

The makings of an 8+ is buried beneath the designers' apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Revolution's excesses were an historical aberration (Commune? Too naughty!) and that WWI combat model they decided would work for late 18th Century warfare.

How would you rank it for email playability?
Good, especially for a 6-player game.
Any strategies you now wish to divulge?
Montagne and the Sans-C had planned (hoped) to try to install Terror (via military coup – our only option) around Turn 6. The peristently dire military and economic situation literally precluded this (we had figured down to the last sou and it was a no-go, even if – especially if! – it worked).

In fact, most of the fun I had playing this game was the result of Rick's open discussion policy with the Left, that gave Jack and I input and insight into managing the sheer eco-militiary survival of the Revolution. That was a blast -- it was truly "hang together or hang separately" time and showed how well developed the game's laws were as game tools.

Any surprises in play?
That victory (in a technical sense, at least) in Turn 8 was a relatively near run thing, flitting, as it did, within the grasp of 4 players.
Jack Barnette - played the Sans-Culottes - Mon, 15 Mar 1999 14:59:41 -0600

What do you think of the game in general?

Some great game concepts here with horrible rules and dull combat system. I agree with Garry in that this could be one hoot of a game had it been developed a bit better (and maybe playtested about 20 more times :-) Perhaps armies could fight it out on a sort of "battle board" like in Bismarck, although it would be tough to do pbem.
After playing it, how is your perception different from when we started?
It could have been a bit more political (or Junta-like) with more player interaction and less territory grabbing.
How would you rank the game on a 1-10 scale?
About a 4
How would you rank it for email playability?
A pretty decent pbem game.
Any strategies you now wish to divulge?
So many wacky random turns, I'm not sure what I would do different.
Any surprises in play?
I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did.
What could be handled better, in general or in particular? Other comments?
A few changes (combat for one) and a complete rule rewrite.
Rick Heli - played the Girondins - Mon, 15 Mar 1999 18:06:16

What do you think of the game in general? After playing it, how is your perception different from when we started?

Initially I thought that a mountain of translation problems was hiding a lush valley of gaming, but as we came down the other side it seemed to just be a series of mirages. One by one my hopes broke down as I found luck seemed to be more rewarded than negotiation or strategy, as the game seemed to play us more than the reverse and that even what looked like nice, well-thought-out systems really didn't work.

I did cause a problem in this game by insisting on the ability to change regimes and you were all gracious enough to accommodate on that point, for which I thank you most kindly, especially Olivier who had the most to lose. At the time I thought I was saving the game from a drab, monolithic course. Little did I know that we were just going right into the selfsame kind of situation. I really did expect at least 4-5 changes of regime in this game and all we got were 2 with just 2 government changes as well. This was all rather disappointing, but from the rules apparently inevitable. I really don't see how the 2 Lefties can do any more to change this. I was even thinking, well, maybe if one were to let them choose the result of every dice roll they make, but I suspect that even this is not enough. They would probably also need to choose all the other dice results as well to even come close to getting in power. And their getting in power is historical, the more likely outcome rather than the exception. I find it telling that in Olivier's previous games neither was won by the Left. I'm guessing that Terror never got installed there either?

It seems that the designers lost the frame of reference in this game. A lot of the events, for example, will say things like "The Sans-Culottes hold a big party". Why didn't they ever just let the Sans-Culottes player do that as an action? Like Olivier wrote, this game could in theory have been as good as Republic of Rome, but you won't find any events there that say "Brutus decides to attack Caesar with his piggly-wiggly knife."

And that inflation system is really too game-y to be used here. I suspect inflation was caused by fears of invasion and dislocation of many due to recruiting, marching armies and the like. But to use the factional spending to drive and thus limit spending and more importantly limit player options in the game is surely a recipe for boredom.

It's really a shame as it seems all the ingredients for a good game are already here, definitely in terms of the research, but not the good guiding hand to weave it into a fun and exciting game.

I love all the great suggestions for improving the game, by the way!

Olivier mentions Junta and I would be pleased if it could reach that level of enjoyment.

How would you rank the game on a 1-10 scale?
Alan's 4.5 is about right for me too.
How would you rank it for e-mail playability?
This was one good thing I can say about the game. No information is hidden apart from your strategy and negotiations, all of which is easily handled via email so we didn't need any special mechanisms. Also, there are no real interrupts apart from the minor one of rightwing armies being able to stop government armies from moving, so it permits the game to flow quite well. It's rare to find games of any interest about which this can be said.
Any strategies you now wish to divulge?
I was pretty open with Garry and Jack about my plans for most of the game, and with Ananda in the last half, though I caught the former by surprise on the First Federation and they caught me by surprise on the Execution. Those 2 actions turned out, I think, to sort of be blackmailing actions, or to put it another way, a big game of chicken. Probably neither one should have gone through at all, or if they did, certainly not as early as they did. But neither side flinched and in fact both got through. I think it was this which really pushed the Clergy level up there and allowed Alan to get all his armies out there and win the game in the way that he expertly did. For my part, I changed regime because I studied the difference between Convention and First Federation and saw little difference except that I got 5 VP and the Random Events are actually somewhat nicer. Garry and Jack for their part saw the 5 VP for killing the king and were unable to resist it which is understandable. Probably in playing again we might both try to delay both of them until a later turn?

Anyway, discussing all the plans & strategies openly wasn't just fun, it was necessity! Too many rules intricacies and gotchas to think about.

Toward the middle game the inflation really got insane. We decided to let it go because at that point it seemed to be 4 players against Alan. We reasoned if that everything cost 3X normal and we 4, working together, had more money than Alan did, that inflation would be more beneficial than doing all the work and spending to stop inflation and just letting Alan benefit. We doubted he would ever see an advantage in helping us stop it, though we never asked.

The last turn was kind of interesting. If Alan could be prevented from getting 25 points, the field was open to 3 other players. I should have won in that case I think, but if the Montagne had been able to pull the coup, he might likely have won unless brought under 25 VP, a very real possibility, in which case the game would have ended in Reaction and the Marais would have won.

Giving Ananda the government on the last turn was more of a joke than anything as it had no real effect on play and it was by then impossible to run it out of money as conscripts may always be disbanded. It was kind of an ugly blackmailing mechanism earlier though. Trouble is, once one actually executes such a threat, it then gets used against you so it just would have hurt both sides and played into the hands of Alan, the real enemy. ;)

Alan wrote that the Left should have tried to install the Terror. It must seem like that from his point of view, but as far as I can tell, it wouldn't really have made the government any more effective. It certainly wouldn't have helped with Plot or Combat rolls which seemed to be the most crucial game activities by far.

Any surprises in play?
We found army combat to be extremely turgid. I complained to Alan about this before we even started, but went along with AWE's ruling anyway. The upshot was that around turn 2 or 3 we realized that it was fruitless ever to allocate more than 1 army anywhere – except Paris of course which is quite a farcical rule – as there's really no point. You're much better off just trying to keep areas in doubt than try to win anything. Gosh, in Dijon we were praying even to lose for the longest time just to get that original army killed off and Würmster out of there!
If you've played before, how does this outcome differ from your previous games?
Before the game, Alan & I pretty much agreed to take on the Royalists and Girondins because in my previous game I found the Girondins siding with the Feuillants and it became extremely ridiculous. Not knowing any of you previously, we wanted to make sure at least that did not happen. And I thought everyone played their own side's interests quite well in this one. But in my previous game we never got past turn 3 or so. Olivier mentions that in his previous game the Royalists won – I wonder whether they won it in the same way or did it happen differently?
Any complaints? What could be handled better, in general or in particular? Other comments? Want to play something else and if so, what?
I want to say I've really enjoyed playing with all of you quite a lot for nearly a year and that I'm *extremely* impressed with the way everyone hung in there despite all the inherent game problems. I'd hardly have believed that no one would have dropped out at some point in the game if you'd told me that 11.5 months ago.

It would be great to play another pbem game (something else I think :)) if you're all interested!

Ananda Gupta - played the Marais - Tue, 16 Mar 1999 20:55:29 -0500
Whew, lots of comments.

I can't remember a time when I've disliked a game so much (except for El Caballero, maybe). Normally I enjoy negotiation games, and I thought that the fairly rigid turn sequence and the various actions would make this game into an interesting, deeply themed exercise in living history. But the combat rules and the sheer number of ambiguities and bizarre contradictions ruined it for me early on. At one point I had arranged for my own replacement but decided to stick it out (this around turn 5 or 6).

Frankly, given the terrible delays in game caused by me as well as my sheer reluctance to get into the game after awhile, I am surprised (and gratified) that you folks would play another game with me. I owe all of you an apology.

Accordingly I will only play a game that I know I like, or have a strong suspicion I will like, and that has been played before (as La Révolution Française seems not to have) – just to spare myself, not to mention the lot of you, any further trauma.

I would sooner rot in the Prison du Temple than play La Révolution Française again. The rules are atrociously written, replete with ambiguity and outright contradiction. About the only cool thing in the game is the victory system, which isn't too comforting when one considers what one has to go through to experience it... eesh.

Claude Manzato - Observer during the game - Thu, 18 Mar 99 18:35:51 +0100
It was nice watching this game.

About the comments on La Révolution Française, while I agree that rules needed more playtest (a sad but frequent occurence in most french games), I played twice in face to face and indeed saw the game ended under the terror with the Sans-Culottes first and Montagnards second, the guillotine well stuffed and most of the foreign armies destroyed. The problem is that there are way to much possibility for the game to be bogged as seen in the other game I played where an alliance between the Feuillant and the Marais coupled with bad luck for the revolutionnaries left the Royalist alone against the government who stomped him. A dull game this one....

Also ...

Reviewing the Reviewer
Wed Sep 15 16:08:54 PDT 1999
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