SPI, 1812: The Campaign of Napoleon in Russia (1972)

1812: The Campaign of Napoleon in Russia is a unique offering from SPI. It includes, in the same game box, a pair of alternative treatments of grand tactical (corps) level warfare during the Age of Napoleon. Both games share the same title, 1812; however, each game system differs in important ways from the other in how it simulates Napoleon's invasion of Russia. The creative team of John Young and Phil Orbanes designed both games. 1812 was published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).


Disguised 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.


The 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.


The 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)

Game Components:

  • 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

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles which are recommended for those visitors interested in additional historical background materials.

Recommended Artwork

This map of the Battle of Borodino makes a fine wall decoration for the game room with a Napoleonic theme.
Buy at Art.com
Map Showing the Russian Positions at ...
Buy From Art.com


  • Your post captures the quality that this unique game brought to the players in 1973. Published early in SPI's 'color' days, opening that box was the same feeling I got in 1967 when we got our first color TV! 'Wow! I didn't realize what I'd been missing!'

    On a serious note, I also want to say that I came to this game before I'd done any serious studying of the Napoleonic era (it predated the Durant's Age of Napoleon by a few years, which was one of my first serious forays into European history outside the typical school overview.)

    That said, this was the game that best shows what Simulation Publications Inc. was trying to achieve: while you might have read in a textbook that Napoleon's Russian Campaign was disastrous, it was this simulation that put many of the strands of history together, and made me UNDERSTAND why that defeat happened, and how terrible it was. While I liked the 'tactical' hex game better, it was the area movement 'strategic' map that made me understand WHY he lost, and then began applying that understanding to different situations - not only in the Napoleonic wars, but the American Civil War, and others. I also began to realize how his command structure had been a factor in why he had won so many battles before that.

    I also learned just how devastating that loss had been for Napoleon, and how much it cost France for generations to come.

    That's a lot to learn from an $8 game, if I recall correctly. And that, to me, was the draw to SPI. When they did it well, their games were really educational vehicles much like the models / games used in training classes today – don't tell someone what will happen, let them experience the event. SPI, and John Young especially, were very good at doing that.

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