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Very hard on the French, and if the latter is not played properly the game is rather pointless. That said, it's a very tight and clean design, and if the French are both careful and fast (no mean feat) the game is a blast.
I love Columbia games. This one is easily the prettiest, with the fantastic foil art on the blocks. Julius Caesar edges this out for my favorite Columbia game, but only by a narrow margin, and this one is far prettier and brilliantly produced. I didn't play the older editions, but from what I've seen, 4th edition got a good bit of streamlining, shortening and general improvement. The decisions are interesting and the fog of war makes player interaction tense and enjoyable.