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Soldier Emperor:
Through Spanish Eyes
By William Sariego
February 2016

Soldier Emperor is easily one of the most lavish games Avalanche Press has ever released. Sadly, being the owner of so many games it had languished on my bookshelf for some time. The pending release of the game complete with full-color playing aids, real poker-style playing cards and second edition rules has caused me to take this classic off the shelves once more.

We all know the difficulty in getting a large number of gamers together (outside of a convention environment) for a multi-player session. Still, if seven people are willing and able then a game of Soldier Emperor over a weekend is an excellent way to spend your time. For the discussion below I am assuming a full complement of players and an 1803 campaign game.

Last Act on the World’s Stage

The Napoleonic Wars was the last act of Spain as a major power on the world stage (being molested by the United States in 1898 doesn’t qualify). And as such I have a soft spot for her in such games due to my heritage. Playing Spain can be a challenge and not for overly aggressive types (stick to France) or to puppet masters whom like to pull the strings of everyone else (stick to England). Playing Spain is the province of a survivor, one whom can act on the fringes, scoring points while hopefully flying under the radar of other players' ambitions.

Let us take a look at Spain’s assets as the Treaty of Amiens has broken down. Spain has nine Home Areas broken down as follows. Note that all are Coastal Areas except for Aragon and Castille.

Area Fortification Value Money Value Manpower Value
Aragon 2 2 2
Andalusia 2 4 3
Castille 2 3 4
Catalonia 3 4 4
Estremadura 3 2 2
Galicia 2 4 4
Etruria 3 4 4
Majorca 2 1 1
Valencia 2 2 2

The starting areas yield a Monetary value of 26 and a Manpower value of 25. You begin with 51 Money and 25 Manpower at the start of the game. Spain can also receive 25 Money from her overseas colonies, subject to being blockaded. If a Coastal Area of Spain proper (not Majorca or Etruria) is blockaded by an enemy fleet you will lose 7 Money for each. With five Coastal Areas a blockade of four will destroy your colonial income.

The Armed Forces

Spain begins 1803 with six armies and four fleets on board, drawn randomly from a pool of 10 and five, respectively. You also begin with your worst leader (Cuesta). For all notations below the full-strength side of the unit is given first, and the reduced-strength side is in parenthesis.

Your army units break down as follows: 3 x 3-2 (2-2); 3 x 2-2 (1-2) and 4 x 2-1 (1-1). The navy is 1 x 3-2 (2-2), 2 x 2-2 (1-2) and 2 x 2-1 (1-1). You have the smallest number of armies of any Major Power, so don’t plan on sweeping Europe even against the most incompetent of opponents. For leaders you begin with Cuesta (leadership value of 0) and can recruit Blake, Castanos, Palofox, and Gravina (all valued at 1) with the play of a treasured New Leader strategy card. At least you know anyone you recruit is better than your starting fellow. I’ve always pitied the poor Austrian, who starting with Charles plays New Leader and draws Mack instead of John! Gravina is an admiral, the rest are army leaders.

Fence Sitting and Other Diplomatic Skills

There are two Major Powers who will bully you and could conquer you, three who can irritate you and one you can ignore. Prussia and Spain have little to discuss, except maybe if Austria is threatening your Italian holdings you might attempt to have him broker or pressure Austria’s northern border. Don’t hold your breath. Austria covets Etruria and could force the issue in Italy easily if France is not applying pressure on them. Thankfully you have a Formal Alliance with France and most budding Napoleons have Italian ambitions to match Austria’s.

Turkey and Russia a bit are more problematical. Sometimes a "colonial rush" can develop over North Africa, and both those powers (mainly Turkey) can find themselves with territory adjacent to you if you join the colonial race for easy money, manpower and victory points (and there is little reason why you shouldn’t establish a presence there). Russian intentions here will be gauged rather quickly. He will either start with a fleet and army in Corfu or not. If he doesn’t, so much the better for you because it means he probably has no Mediterranean ambitions.

England and France are the titans of the game, as in real life. You begin in an Alliance with France, which is both a good and bad thing. As already mentioned France can be a savior in Italy, and it is certainly good to have such a massive military might pointed anywhere but the Iberian Peninsula. An alliance can be broken, however, and if the French player draws the Kingdom of Italy strategy card he is probably going to come for Etruria. Early on you can count on France’s friendship. If you have enough gold arriving from overseas they will happily accommodate your existence for a bribe. After Napoleon has conquered enough elsewhere, however, he may decide that you are no longer useful.

Although no formal state of war exists on the first turn, as such, it is safe to say that Great Britain will work for the defeat of France quickly enough. That is not a good thing at all for you. England has the potential to sweep your navy from the seas and block your colonial income. She can oppose you in North Africa and from Gibraltar threaten your very existence as a nation-state. When you think about that, you might just wonder how valuable that French alliance is in the long run!

Imperial Glory

In the 2nd edition Spain requires 13 Victory Points in 1803, up from 12 in the 1st edition. This reflects the experience of playing the last several years. Spain is not quite the Weak Sister of Europe (that honor belongs to Prussia). The extra point required does not fundamentally alter your strategic options.

Africa is the first outlet for some quick and easy conquests. Others will be thinking the same thing and taking more than two areas without opposition will require a great deal of luck. Since England cannot start the game blockading your ports in 1803 you can possibly secure the better areas like Tangiers and Algiers, depending on turn order. Don’t be afraid to overspend on sieges. You begin with a lot of money and it is imperative African areas fall the first turn of invasion.

Italy is a second area of expansion. Here you will likely face opposition from both Austria and your erstwhile ally, who also has Italian ambitions. Like Austria, you face a monetary penalty for conquering the Papal States. The extra money is well spent. If the Kingdom of Italy card becomes yours it will be a welcome addition. Remember, others can play that card on you as part of diplomatic maneuvering. It may behoove others to see you create the Kingdom, rather than Austria or France. Don’t forget that the Neapolitans like you. That +1 to make them an ally is quite useful.

Portugal is the great dilemma. Do you conquer it or try for it as an ally if you are lucky enough to have a Minor Country Alliance card dealt at the start? You have a -1 modifier for an alliance but intimidation certainly isn’t a problem. British gold will certainly be used to offset your input. An attempt at conquest will almost certainly bring an English expeditionary force and a bloody campaign.

You don’t start with much in the way of an army so you cannot try for both Italy and Portugal together. Choose one and go for a couple of African areas for your opening moves. Deployment cannot be detailed with players alternating setup. It is good for your initial placements to be as "neutral" as possible before your deployment reveals your intentions. As far as first turn builds it is imperative that you build your fifth fleet. I like to build one army, though some players prefer two. Always keep in mind Maintenance and Repair costs. Many an overzealous novice will overbuild and shudder when the military disappears in Winter!

Conclusion

Spain is a challenging country to play in a wonderful game. The Napoleonic era is known for its grandeur and Soldier Emperor is certainly a grand game. The second edition of the rules makes it even more so.

For a limited time, Gold Club members can upgrade their old copy with new cards, playing aids and rules.

Don’t wait to put Soldier Emperor on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!