Fading Glory was one of the first games I added to my nascent wargaming collection some four or five years ago. It was a reprint of a series of Victory Point games published around the conceit that large battles and campaigns of the Napoleonic era could be effectively portrayed and gamed with 20 counters or less.
I had never played Napoleon at Waterloo (the SPI classic) but had tinkered with Napoleon’s Last Battle (Decision Games) and was familiar with the basic rule set and design philosophy. And like the aforementioned titles, Fading Glory shares some similarities: rigid zones of control and mandatory attacks.
But several design layers and nuances separated the Napoleonic 20 series from these other titles. The major difference was the use of morale and its role in victory- drive the opponent’s down while maintaining your own. But not only was it a barometer for winning, it served as the principal currency for a variety of advantageous actions: committing reserves and elite units, rallying troops, and force marching. As Joseph Miranda puts it the designer notes, the use of morale left you “agonizing over whether or not you wanted to gamble that crucial Morale Point this turn to perform that one potentially decisive action.”
Another benefit the series has over other similar iterations is the scale. Hexes are generally a mile in length, the turns several hours and the size of the units generally corps, and occasionally divisions based on the battle. This matters in regards to the rigid ZOC tug of war. Corps can engage in prolonged combat and never suffer an step losses, but can be routed and broken. The units are large enough that when this occurs, it doesn’t represent thousands of casualties, rather the degradation of the unit’s combat capability. These units are always eligible to rally during night turns and under some circumstances, can be done during daylight with the draw of a random event. This is in direct contrast to more granular games with similar rulesets: brigades can battle for hours and never loss effectiveness or take step losses unless its part of an exchange result.
This broader approach to the loss of units is used better by a more abstract, less granular scale. It’s more believable that several corps can be in contact for hours and not lose their combat effectiveness, as opposed to other titles that have brigades engaged ad infinitum and still have no degradation of strength or morale.
Other elements, like random events drawn by cards, hazardous retreats and the inability of cavalry corps to maintain their control, leading to unpredictable advances that could benefit or hinder your plans.
The games offered in Fading Glory cover a variety of ground, all focusing on battles in the later years of Imperial France’s campaigns.
Salamanca is the first one chronologically, pitting the French versus the British in the Peninsular war. The setup has the trappings of a meeting engagement with the armies marching parallel with one another waiting to converge and battle.
The next two, Smolensk and Borodino, have the Russians warding off the French invasion. In both battles, they must avoid losing their army in a decisive engagement but still have to extract time and casualties from the French.
Lastly, and most famously, the last battles covered are from the Waterloo campaign which have been covered ad nauseam in a litany of titles. But Napoleonic 20 throws its hat in the ring and does it with great aplomb as do the other battles.
Critically each battle included in Fading Glory can replicate historical results. This is impressive considering the low complexity and time commitment the titles require. This remains a solid package of games, and I wish GMT Games would have continued with its reprints. Currently, Decision Games has the rights and are teasing some release over the coming years. It’s a system that is sorely missed and would be a welcome sight at many a table.