HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDDisguised in the hat and cloak of a Polish hussar, the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte began a careful reconnaissance of both banks of the Nieman River on 22 June 1812. That night, satisfied with what he had seen, Napoleon ordered his officers to immediately begin preparations for the crossing of the Nieman by the main body of the French Army.
At 10:00pm on June 23rd General Morand sent three companies of soldiers across the river in small boats. Once Morand’s light infantry had secured a stretch of the far bank, French sappers immediately set to work on the three pontoon bridges that would ultimately carry the main Army of Napoleon’s invasion force onto Russian soil. The vast tide of men, horses, wagons, and guns that comprised the Emperor’s personal command required two full days to cross the hastily-built bridges. Napoleon’s invasion of Holy Russia had begun.
DESCRIPTIONThe two games included with 1812, although different in many important ways, are also similar in some respects. Not surprisingly, they both examine Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia with special attention given to the different seasonal effects of supply and attrition on the opposing French and Russian armies during the course of the campaign. Given the historical record, these factors would have been impossible for the designers to ignore. Both games focus on corps-level operations, and both emphasize the importance of leaders in combat. One game — the hex-based map version — utilizes many of the design features of the LEIPZIG Game System and offers three relatively short scenarios as well as a nineteen-turn campaign game. The other version relies on area movement — with less direct emphasis on terrain or tactics — but with the addition of secretly chosen combat chits (outflank, probe, assault, etc.) to recreate the circumstances and events that ultimately determined the outcome of Napoleon’s Russian Campaign. The area version offers two shorter scenarios, as well as a thirteen-turn campaign game.
1812 was published a long time ago, and there have been a number of more complicated, chrome-laden games dealing with Napoleon’s Russian Campaign published in the decades since this title first made its appearance in 1972. Despite this fact, both of these older games offer the players manageable, intuitively pleasing, and enjoyable treatments of Napoleon’s Russian adventure. And thus far, I personally have not found another game that is as challenging and playable, and does as good a job as 1812 at capturing the ebb and flow of the French Army’s disastrous march into the vastness of Russia. If I ever do, I will undoubtedly buy it.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONThe games in 1812 are part of a large collection of SPI titles designed by John Young that span the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, up to and including World War II. I confess that I am a big fan of Young’s many games. His designs are almost always innovative, interesting, playable (THE FALL OF ROME being one notable exception), and fun. Despite his tragic and untimely death many years ago, John Young leaves behind a library of some of the very best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.
Design Characteristics (Hex Version):
- Time Scale: 10 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 25 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: corps (approximately 25,000 men; 10,000 mounted horsemen)
- Unit Types: leaders, infantry, cavalry, supply depots, and supply trains
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 2—5 hours (depending on scenario)
Design Characteristics (Area Version):
- Time Scale: 15 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 48 kilometers per inch (approximate)
- Unit Size: corps (approximately 25,000 men for infantry; 10,000 mounted horsemen for cavalry)
- Unit types: leaders, infantry, cavalry, supply trains, and tactical chits
- Number of Players: two
- Solitaire Suitability: below average
- Average Playing Time: 2—4 hours (depending on scenario)
- One 24" x 34" hexagonal grid Map Sheet
- One 6½" x 11½" hexagonal grid Map Extension
- One 22" x 28" area movement Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track incorporated)
- 400 ½" cardboard Counters
- One 6" x 11" map-fold style Set of Rules (Hex Grid Version) with various Tables, Charts, and Turn Record/ Reinforcement Tracks for all scenarios
- One 9" x 11½" booklet style Set of Rules (Area Version) with various Tables and Charts
- One 6½" x 9½" Terrain Effects Chart (Hex Grid Version)
- One 8½" x 11" Errata Sheet (as of Dec 1973)
- One small six-sided Die
- One SPI 12" x 15" x 1" flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic game cover with Title Sheet
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles which are recommended for those visitors interested in additional historical background materials.
Recommended ArtworkThis map of the Battle of Borodino makes a fine wall decoration for the game room with a Napoleonic theme.