On 22 September, 1805, the Austrian General Mack, accompanied by Archduke Ferdinand, advanced towards the Black Forest crossings near the Rhine River. The Austrian general and his staff, like most of the other senior Austrian and Russian officers and nobles of the newly-formed Third Coalition, believed that Napoleon would make his main effort against the allied forces in Italy. In view of this, Mack’s army was expected only to prevent the French from seizing the passages through the Black Forest until Kutusov’s Russians, approaching from the east, could join with their Austrian allies on the Danube.
Given the relatively modest objectives of his army's mission, Mack decided that his advancing force should adopt, as its center of operations, the ancient fortress of Ulm which was strategically sited at the confluence of the Iller and Danube Rivers. This decision, although reasonable on its face, would turn out to be only one of a whole series of costly miscalculations on the part of General Mack. Although he could not know it at the time, the Ulm position would turn out to be hopelessly exposed because, unfortunately for General Mack, events would quickly show that the Danube region, and not Italy, was to be the main focus of Bonaparte’s military operations. And, as a direct result of this fact, almost exactly one month later, the unlucky General Mack would be compelled to march a force of 25,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry out of Ulm to surrender to a French Army drawn up at the foot of the Michelsberg Heights.
The Archduke Ferdinand would escape east, but General Mack would be left behind to take the blame for this, the first military catastrophe of the new war against the French. The extent of Napoleon's success was almost breathtaking: an entire Austrian army had been destroyed at almost no military cost to Napoleon’s Grande Armée and the path to Vienna had been laid open to the invading French. Moreover, the Ulm disaster was only a portent of things to come for the soldiers of Russia and Austria; more Coalition setbacks were to come until Napoleon’s martial star would finally attain its absolute zenith near the Moravian village of Austerlitz on 2 December, 1805.
DESCRIPTIONLA GRANDE ARMÉE: The Campaigns of Napoleon in Central Europe 1805-1809 is a historical simulation covering the period of French military ascendancy in early 19th Century Europe; it is also an examination of the organizational and doctrinal differences between the four main combatants in this theater: France, Austria, Prussia, and Russia. This qualitative comparison is probably the title’s most interesting, and thought-provoking feature. Even a cursory look at the game’s different orders of battle and the caliber of the different national armies’ military leadership reveals a French Army at its peak: fast moving, flexible, and brilliantly led at all levels. The Austrians, Prussians, and to a lesser degree the Russians were all still organized and trained for the type of warfare last seen in the Seven Years War a half century before. European army after army had to be smashed by Napoleon before France’s enemies finally learned from their defeats and began to adopt the French style of warfare. It is during this period that Napoleon saw several of his greatest victories: Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt, and Wagram; victories that helped secure Napoleon’s place in history as one of Warfare’s all time Greatest Captains.
The basic game system of LA GRANDE ARMÉE, by today’s standards, is comparatively simple. When the LEIPZIG Game System first appeared, however, it was quite original and innovative in the way that it simulated grand tactical Napoleonic Warfare. More importantly, the game, even after all these years, still works. Each game turn is divided into three phases: the Movement phase; the Combat phase; and the Supply Creation phase. This familiar turn sequence, however, is transformed from the ordinary to the challenging through the addition of leader bonuses (which enhance the combat power of any unit or units stacked with a leader), forced marching, cavalry screens, concentration (the capacity of smaller units to combine into much stronger formations), supply, and the option for a defending army to retreat before combat. Players will quickly discover just how difficult it is to anticipate the movements of a force that can, without warning, suddenly catapult forward three times its normal movement range with forced marches; and how hard it is to bring about a battle on favorable terms with an unwilling foe. The French Army is great, but the victory conditions ensure that each game will be hard-fought, and a real test for both players.
The winner in LA GRANDE ARMÉE is determined on the basis of accrued victory points, and different levels of victory are possible. Not surprisingly, each of the game's three scenarios imposes somewhat different victory requirements on the two opposing players, and these are based on Napoleon's specific strategic goals for each campaign. The victory points necessary for a player to win, it should be noted, are typically accumulated by destroying enemy combat strength and (for the French player) by capturing or besieging enemy cities and fortresses.
LA GRANDE ARMÉE offers three scenarios: the 1805 Scenario (France versus Austria and Russia, with Prussia lurking in the wings); the 1806 Scenario (France versus Prussia and Russia); and the most challenging for the French, the 1809 Scenario (France versus the reorganized and vastly improved army of Austria). There are no 'optional' rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONIn the years since LA GRANDE ARMÉE first saw print, a number of larger, fancier titles have come into the marketplace. Many of these newer games have far more attractive graphics; almost all of them are far more complicated, and most are much more cumbersome, chrome-laden treatments of this subject. I know, because I own almost all of them, and some of these games I really do like. None of these newer titles, however, no matter how many extra counters and extra pages of rules they have, really does a better job than LA GRANDE ARMÉE at capturing the feel of Napoleonic Warfare on the grand tactical scale. For this reason, it still remains, even after all these years, one of my favorite SPI game designs.
LA GRANDE ARMÉE is one of a number of games designed by John Young that basically spanned the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War, up to and including the Franco-Prussian War and beyond. I confess that I am a big fan of Young’s many games. His designs are almost always — I’m still not sure about SEELÖWE — innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. Despite his tragic and untimely death many years ago, John Michael Young leaves behind a library of some of the best game designs that, in my opinion, SPI ever published.
- Time Scale: 10 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 15 kilometers per hex
- Unit Size: brigade/division/corps/army
- Unit Types: leaders, infantry, cavalry, supply depots, and supply units
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: medium
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 2–3 hours (depending on scenario)
- One 23” x 29” hexagonal grid Map Sheet
- 400 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 6” x 11” map-fold style Set of Rules with Forced March Tables and Combine/Breakdown Chart
- One back-printed 14” x 22” Scenario Set-Up Sheet with Turn Record/Reinforcement Tracks for each scenario
- One 8½ ” x 11” combined French Victory Point Track and Errata Sheet
- One 6¼” x 12” Terrain Effects Chart
- One 6¼” x 10¾” Combat Results Table
- One 3¾” x 8¾” SPI Customer Complaint Card
- 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 Review of this title that I recommend for further historical background.
Here's a Giclee print map of the battle available in various sizes that is great for a Napoleonic themed game room's wall.