GAME ANALYSIS: SPI’S 'LA GRANDE ARMÉE'

LA GRANDE ARMÉE: The Campaigns of Napoleon in Central Europe 1805-1809 is a grand-tactical level simulation, based on the LEIPZIG Game System, of warfare in the age of Napoleon. This title was designed by John Michael Young, and published in 1972 by Simulations Publications, Incorporated (SPI).





HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

In 1805, the tireless and sinister diplomatic machinations of Britain finally bore military fruit against its archrival, France. A new alliance, the Third Coalition, was formed with England, Russia, Sweden, and Austria all agreeing to take up arms against the fledgling Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. At last, the ancient monarchies of Europe would crush the French Revolution, rebuke the Corsican upstart, and restore the Bourbons to the hereditary Throne of France.

When the small German kingdom of Bavaria threw its support to France, a Coalition army quickly marched against Napoleon’s seemingly exposed ally. On 22 September 1805, General Baron Mack von Liebereich, accompanied by the royal personage of Archduke Ferdinand, advanced with an Austrian army of some 72,000 men into Bavaria and towards the Black Forest crossings near Strasburg. This westward advance was not considered by either Mack or Archduke Ferdinand to be in any way particularly risky. General Baron Mack, like most of his fellow officers, believed that Napoleon would — as he had done in the past — make his main effort against the substantial Austrian forces under Ferdinand's brothers, the Archdukes John and Charles, that threatened French territorial possessions in Italy. Mack’s army was thus expected to intimidate the Bavarians while, at the same time, it blocked the wider passages through the Black Forest near the Rhine River. As an added bit of strategic "insurance", the Austrian commander knew that even if the French moved in the direction of the western Danube, Coalition reinforcements were already on the way: a Russian army under Marshal Prince Kutusov, marching from the east by way of Vienna, was expected to join Mack’s troops before the end of October.

General Mack Surrenders at Ulm, 20 October, 1805

Given the information that he had, the Austrian commander therefore decided that, while he watched for French mischief near the Rhine, his army should adopt, as its logistical base, the fortress of Ulm. This ancient fortress, besides its defensive advantages, was strategically sited at the confluence of the Iller and Danube Rivers. The selection of Ulm as the Austrian center of operations, although certainly reasonable on its face, would turn out, however, to be only one of a series of unfortunate and costly Austrian miscalculations; for much to the surprise of General Baron Mack, it would very soon become apparent that the Danube region, and not Italy, was to be the focus of Bonaparte’s military operations in the fall of 1805. Moreover, the sudden, surprise onslaught of the French Army, and Mack’s complete misreading of Napoleon’s strength and intentions, would lead to the Austrian commander’s complete undoing. And almost exactly one month later, on 20 October 1805, the unlucky General Mack — after having been enveloped and surrounded by Napoleon’s Grande Armée — would be compelled to march his remaining force of 25,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry out of Ulm to surrender to the victorious French troops drawn up at the foot of the Michelsberg Heights.

At the end of Napoleon's Ulm Campaign, ten thousand Austrians had been killed during the intervening days of sporadic fighting, twenty thousand had escaped east, and the rest had been delivered into captivity. The greater part of an entire Austrian army had been destroyed at a cost of just 6,000 French casualties. Moreover, despite the British Navy’s brilliant victory at Trafalgar on 21 October, Ulm was not the end of the Coalition’s misfortunes. It was, instead, only a portent of things to come for the soldiers of Russia and Austria. Napoleon’s greatest battle still lay ahead: the French Emperor’s star would reach its zenith near the Moravian village of Austerlitz on 2 December 1805.


DESCRIPTION



LA 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. These doctrinal differences are represented, in game terms, by variations in the movement and organizational structures of the different national armies represented in the counter mix. This qualitative comparison is probably the title’s most interesting, and thought-provoking feature. The French Army is faster, better on the march whether supplied or not, and better organized to build-up and breakdown into varying sizes of units — division/corps/army — than its adversaries. In short, 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 the top of its form: 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 grudgingly to adopt the French style of warfare. It is during this period that the French Emperor saw several of his greatest victories: Ulm, Austerlitz, Jena-Auerstadt, and Wagram; victories that would guarantee Napoleon’s place in history as one of Warfare’s Greatest Captains.

The basic game system of LA GRANDE ARMÉE, by the standards of many of today’s Napoleonic games, is comparatively simple. When the LEIPZIG Game System first appeared, however, it was quite original and innovative in the way that it manipulated the traditional turn sequence to simulate grand tactical Napoleonic Warfare. Each game turn is divided into three phases: the movement phase; the combat phase; and the supply creation phase.

During the movement phase, all units may move their normal movement range without risk, or they may attempt to increase their movement allowance through “forced marching.” All units may “double” their movement range without penalty if they were adjacent to or stacked with a supply unit that is then expended at the end of the movement phase. If the phasing player is unable or does not wish to use supply in this way, then a die must be rolled for each unit attempting to make a double-forced-march. The outcomes for this die roll range from the unit successfully completing its march, to completing the march and then becoming disrupted, to being eliminated completely from play. The most common outcome, however, is the “optional” result: this outcome gives the phasing player the choice of either halting the forced march attempt, or of risking the unit by rerolling for a new forced march result. Only infantry, supply and depot units may attempt a triple-forced-march; moreover, supply cannot be expended to support this type of extended move. A die must be rolled for all units attempting a triple-forced-march. Typically, combat units — usually infantry — will break-down into smaller, faster brigades or divisions at the beginning of their movement phase in order to maximize the range of their forced-marches, and then stack to recombine into more powerful, but slower corps or armies at the conclusion of their movement.

The rules governing the combat phase are deceptively simple, but interesting, none-the-less. Combat occurs between adjacent units, but units in different hexes may not combine their attack strengths unless assaulting a fortress. In addition, a supply unit must be stacked with, or adjacent to a unit, for that unit to attack or defend at full strength. And once it has supported combat during a game turn, the supply unit is expended. Leader units may increase the offensive or defensive strength of units they are stacked with. Depending on the combat ratings of the individual leader this can either be inconsequential (the Russian general Buxhowden has a combat value of 1/1) or enormous (Napoleon’s value is 25/25). What this means is that Napoleon, if stacked with a supplied force of twenty-five combat factors, would double the forces attack or defense strength to fifty combat factors. Interestingly, all undisrupted units that are not surrounded by blocking terrain or totally-controlled (cavalry ZOCs) hexes, and which are also not attacked at a combat differential of 500% (five to one) or higher, may retreat before combat by moving their full movement allowance directly away from their original hex. These units and any accompanying leaders or supplies are then disrupted for a full game turn. Disrupted leaders and supply units may not be used; disrupted infantry and cavalry units defend normally, but may not move, and if disrupted again, are eliminated. Undisrupted cavalry and leader units that are not surrounded may always retreat, no matter how great the combat differential. This capacity of undisrupted cavalry to retreat before combat — even in the face of overwhelming odds — allows a defending force to hold a much more powerful attacker at arm’s length almost indefinitely. However, this is true only so long as the defender can afford to give up one or more hexes per game turn, and, more importantly, only so long as he has enough cavalry to screen both his front and the disrupted cavalry units retreated during the previous game turn.

Supply is necessary for almost everything important in the game. This is particularly true for an army on the attack: offensive momentum is simply impossible without adequate supply. The French player can afford to force-march without it, but virtually all the other national armies are completely dependent on forced-march supply if they are to have any real chance of arriving at their destinations without being disrupted or worse. Most importantly, supply is critical for everyone, including the French Army, when it comes to combat. Units that are unsupplied are halved (rounding down) both for attack and defense. Fortresses are an exception to this rule: they represent an independent and permanent supply source. Supply in LA GRANDE ARMÉE is represented by two types of units: supply units and supply depots. Supply units are expended when they sustain double-forced-marches, and when they support unit stacking, and either offensive or defensive combat. The slower moving depot units create new supply units. Each depot may each create one supply unit per turn, if it is undisrupted, not surrounded by enemy units or ZOCs, and did not move during the game turn of supply creation.

The map-fold Game Rules are very well-organized and clearly-written, and rules corrections and Errata are minimal. Beside the Game Rules, other “player aides” accompanying this title include the following: one Combat Results Table; a Terrain Effects Chart; a four-page, combined Scenario Instruction and Turn Record/Reinforcement Track; and a combined Victory Points Track and Errata Sheet.

The 23” x 29” two-color LA GRANDE ARMÉE game map is plain, even by the standards of SPI in 1972. It covers a line from Basel and Strasbourg on the Rhine River in the west, to a boundary 150 kilometers east of Vienna; and from the Prussian city of Stettin in the north, 500 kilometers south to Salzburg. On this entire expanse of game map, there are no roads, tracks, marshes, or forests anywhere to be found. Instead, the only hex types to appear on the playing surface are clear terrain, river, bridge, mountain, mountain pass, fortress, and city hexes. And city hexes are for information purposes only. Oddly enough, however, used with this game system and at this grand-tactical level of operations, the absence of a lot of terrain detail seems to work out surprisingly well. Clear hexes cost all types of units a single movement point to enter. Rivers cost all units two additional movement points to cross unless using bridges. Mountains cost supply units, leaders, and infantry three movement points per hex; cavalry is prohibited, except when moving into or through mountain pass hexes. Mountain and pass hexes double all defenders, and fortresses triple a unit’s defense strength. Units defending behind a river have their defense strength doubled, and may not be attacked at a combat differential below 160%. Zones of control do not extend across unbridged river hex sides; nor do they extend into or out of fortresses. Each hex is 15 kilometers across, and each game turn represents ten days of real time.

The Combat Results Table (CRT) is the “differential type” of table typically found in games based on the LEIPZIG Game System. To compute odds using this type of table, the attacking player simply divides the total combat strength of his units, multiplied by 100, by the total strength of the defender. Thus, twenty factors attacking ten defense factors would yield a positive attack differential of 200% (20 x 100 = 2,000 ÷ 10 = 200). The advantage of this type of CRT, particularly when used in a game like LA GRANDE ARMÉE, is that percentages can play an important role both in odds computation and in combat results. While this system appears a little awkward on its face, it really is very easy to use, and probably the best choice for this particular game system.

The 400 game counters are clearly printed, and easy to read and understand. The two sets of Austrian counters — one set for the 1805 (Austerlitz) Scenario, and a different set for the 1809 (Wagram) Scenario — are white with dark green printing. Russian counters are forest green with white print. Prussian counters are a lighter pistachio green with dark green print; Saxon units (there are only two) are a darker shade of pistachio with white print. French counters are printed in dark blue on a light blue background. The counters for all of the national armies included in the game represent infantry formations (brigades/divisions/corps/armies) cavalry units (divisions/corps) supply units, supply depots, and leaders. Other than the game turn and victory point’s markers, there are no information counters; disruption is indicated simply by inverting the affected unit.

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 much improved army of Austria). Unfortunately, most players, after experimenting with a game or two of the first two scenarios, tend to gravitate towards the third, “better-balanced” 1809 Scenario. This, I think, is actually a mistake. In my view, the 1805 Scenario recreates what is undoubtedly the most interesting of these three early Napoleonic campaigns. This first scenario succeeds because it does an excellent job of capturing exactly the right mix of both the political tension and the military uncertainty of the actual situation confronting Napoleon in the fall and winter of 1805. The other two scenarios are both interesting and enjoyable, but they both lack the layers of historical drama and complexity present in the first scenario. Moreover, expertly played, the 1805 Scenario is usually a real “nail-biter” from start to finish. This scenario is twelve turns long, but despite its length, I still think that starting with the 1805 Scenario is probably the best way for new players to quickly develop a clear understanding of the mechanics of the game system, and of the probable flow and tempo of play.

The object of each of these scenarios is for the French player to accumulate victory points. His opponent wins by limiting or reducing the final count of French victory points. Moreover, an ongoing turn-by-turn tally of these points is maintained because, in certain scenarios, special reinforcements can be triggered if the French victory point level falls too low. Thus to win, the French player will usually have to boldly advance in a determined quest for victory points. In all cases, the victory conditions will require the French Army to rapidly drive east and, in the process, to capture or besiege any enemy fortresses in its path. Battles will inevitably arise as La Grande Armée attempts to rout or destroy those enemy forces that move to block Napoleon’s plans. The clear-cut military objectives and the limited number of game turns available in each of the game’s three scenarios virtually guarantees an exciting and bloody clash between Napoleon and his reactionary enemies, whichever scenario is selected for play.


SITTING DOWN TO PLAY



Napoleon on the Pratzen Heights, 2 December, 1805

The 1805 Scenario, like all of the mini-games in LA GRANDE ARMÉE, begins with the forces opposing Napoleon, in this case the Austrians, setting up and moving first. The Austrian Army starts with four slow-moving infantry corps, three cavalry divisions, three moderately-competent leaders, three supply units, and most importantly, three supply depots. Napoleon, on the other hand, begins the game with only three unsupplied (Bavarian) infantry divisions on the map, and all three must be positioned perilously close to the Austrian border. This opening situation creates several interesting opportunities for both players. In fact, the 1805 Scenario was interesting enough that it induced one of the early hobby’s best-known commentators to write an in-depth analysis of this single scenario as a means of exhibiting the characteristics of the larger game.

In SPI’s Moves, nr. 19 (February/March 1975), an article appeared titled, “Tactical Notes: LA GRANDE ARMÉE,” in which Richard Berg discussed the 1805 Scenario at some length. His essay is interesting because, in it, he described what he obviously accepted to be the optimal lines of play for both the French and Coalition players in LA GRANDE ARMÉE. Of particular note is the fact that the writer penned his piece at a time when the game had already been available and widely-played for several years, and while player interest in the title still remained comparatively strong. No criticism is intended of Mr. Berg. But other than correctly outlining the general strategic situation and identifying the different operational phases of the 1805 Scenario, very few of his other comments have proven, over time, to be either useful or illuminating. In fact, by the time his “Tactical Notes” first appeared, a number of players had already convincingly demonstrated that the lines of play Mr. Berg outlined in his article were seriously flawed.

Berg opens his discussion by dividing the play of LA GRANDE ARMEÉ into three distinct parts: the opening (turns one and two); the middle-game (turns three through eight); and the end game (turns nine through twelve). Each of these segments of the game, he argues, presents its own opportunities and challenges to the two adversaries, and it is the player that is most able to capitalize both on his opportunities, and on the mistakes of his opponent who will win. This is hardly an insightful observation, but it is, none-the-less, probably truer than the author thought when he set down his ideas in early 1975. The game is full of opportunities for the alert and creative player; it is spotting them that is the tricky part.

The 1805 Scenario: The Opening (Turns 1 to 2)

Berg quite reasonably begins by suggesting that Ulm should be ignored, and that the Coalition Army should content itself with occupying the fortress of Branau in the south with an infantry corps and leader, and covering the main invasion routes into Austria with the remaining infantry corps and the three Austrian cavalry divisions. This approach, he argues, will preserve Coalition options once Napoleon’s main army arrives on the map on turn three. Thus, the Austrian forces should deploy so as to cover the Alpine passes into Austria, and, at the same time, to prevent the unsupplied French (Bavarian) divisions from accomplishing any mischief that might be of use to Napoleon, once he and his army arrives on the field. During this period, Coalition supply units will also have the opportunity to move forward to positions from which they can support the Austrian infantry. It will be these four infantry corps and three cavalry divisions that, at least initially, will be tasked with preventing the French from breaking through the mountain barriers and onto the north Austrian plains around Prague.

1805: The Middle Game (Turns 3 to 8)

The middle game, according to Richard Berg, is the period of maneuver during which the seeds of victory or defeat are actually sown. Typically, by the end of the Coalition portion of turn three, the Austrians will have accomplished the following: brought forward supply units to link up with one infantry corps and a leader at the northern-most Alpine pass into Austria; redeployed at least two cavalry divisions and an infantry corps to screen the large central gap in the mountains; and positioned both of the remaining two Austrian infantry corps and the last cavalry division, along with General Schwarzenburg, near Branau. On the same game turn, the first Russian reinforcements, using supplied double-forced-marches, should be rushing west past Vienna towards the Danube crossing at Linz. At this point the Coalition will have four supply depots on the map: three Austrian, and one Russian. These depots and the supplies that they create are essential to Coalition plans, because they provide Coalition forces both with combat supply and, more importantly, with increased mobility through “supplied” forced-marches. It is important to remember that different national components of the Third Coalition Army can use their allies’ supply units interchangeably. [This rules clarification, by the way, came straight from SPI, and was the direct result of a mailed-in list of rules questions for LA GRANDE ARMÉE.]

On turn three, Napoleon’s Grande Armée finally surges across the Rhine and into Bavaria and Germany like an onrushing tidal wave. On this turn only, all French infantry, supply, and depot units may triple-forced-march without penalties or die rolls, and all cavalry and leader units may double-forced-march with the same freedom from risk. Typically, to maximize the reach of their initial advance, all French combat units are deployed as divisions, and thus, have to spread across half of the western-most row of hexes in order to avoid, as much as possible, paying unstacking costs during this critical first invasion turn. The traditional French turn three move, as Berg pointed out, is to advance the army as far east as possible with the infantry and most of the French leaders occupying a line roughly from the Weser River through Bamburg and Augsburg across the Danube to the southern map edge. The faster cavalry divisions should move one hex farther east in order to screen the unsupplied infantry divisions from Coalition spoiling attacks, while the supply units and depots bring up the rear. This dispersed advance both allows the French divisions to continue their rapid eastward progress, and to threaten a number of Coalition positions on subsequent game turns.

The French player, following the strategy that Berg outlined in his essay, normally concentrates his forces in front of the Austrian defensive positions on turns four and five. This short offensive “breather” permits French supplies to come forward, and it also allows Napoleon’s horsemen (stacked with leaders) to drive back and disrupt elements of the Austrian cavalry screen. Once these preparatory moves have been made, Napoleon then launches major assaults against the northern-most Alpine pass and against a surrounded Branau on turn six or, if possible, earlier. The pressure on the French player to drive east and collect additional victory points steadily increases from turn six until the end of the game. So, continued French success depends on retaining the initiative, while generating and maintaining significant offensive momentum. As long as Napoleon is able to penetrate the Austrian mountain defenses and debouche onto the plains west of Prague by game turn seven, then, according to Berg’s campaign plan, things should typically go very well for the French. The Coalition armies have neither the cavalry to screen the wide expanse of open ground around Prague, nor the combat power to trade punches with the French in clear terrain. The textbook version of this French strategy is to first capture Prague if abandoned or weakly defended, but to invest it, if strongly garrisoned. Once Prague has been dealt with, then two prongs of the Grande Armée — one in the north and one in the south — simultaneously drive on both the eastern mountain passes and the Danube River between Vienna and Linz. If these Coalition positions can be forced, then the battle area will be very favorable to French operations during the remainder of the campaign.

1805: The End Game (Turn 9 to 12)

According to “Tactical Notes,” the end game in LA GRANDE ARMÉE typically begins on or about turn nine. This phase of the game, I would argue, is probably a little more fluid than Mr. Berg suggests, nonetheless, his description is still generally accurate enough to be useful. From this point in the game until the end of turn twelve, Napoleon has two main goals: to keep the Prussians from staging a late entry into the war, and to besiege or capture Vienna. It is also hoped that in the process of advancing both against Prague in the north, and the Austrian capital in the south, the French Army will have destroyed or besieged enough enemy troops to retain a comfortable point lead, even when Coalition combat strength points are subtracted from the French victory point total at the end of the game.

It is important for the French player to watch his victory point level very carefully during these final four game turns. Any victory points that cannot be gained through territorial conquest, will have to be replaced by French force removals. The steadily rising “Prussian Entry” victory point threshold means that the French commander must keep sufficient forces close to the southern map edge so that just enough French combat strength can be sent south (and off the map) to prevent the Prussians from actively joining the Third Coalition during the final few critical turns of the game. It is at this point in the campaign that Napoleon really starts to appreciate those three starting Bavarian infantry divisions: not only does their presence allow the French to assemble three 18-2 army units on the map on any given game turn, but they also contribute greatly to the French commander’s ability to send, without too great a loss of combat power, one or more infantry corps south during the last few turns in order to keep the Prussians neutral.

The victory point tally also becomes far more important during the end game, not just because of the “Special Coalition Reinforcements” triggers, but because it will shortly determine the game’s final winner. If Napoleon can build a comfortable 65 to 70 victory point tally, then the fact that the French move last on turn twelve, should allow the French commander to detach enough combat strength to the south to maintain at least a substantive victory.

The preceding description gives a short, but I think fair, description of a conventional LA GRANDE ARMÉE contest between experienced, competent players, as seen through the knowledgeable eyes of game designer and critic, Richard Berg. Unfortunately, while Berg’s essay is thoughtful and plausible, it does not capture the true subtlety and nuance of John Young’s design; there is much more to this game than Berg’s article, or even the game’s players’ notes might suggest.

LA GRANDE ARMEÉ: A Fresh Look at French and Coalition Strategies

When LA GRANDE ARMÉE was first published by SPI in 1972, it was offered in the old tombstone cardboard game box. Only later did its packaging receive a welcome upgrade to the regular SPI 24 compartment plastic and cardboard game box. I and several of my friends bought the tombstone version; I still own and play the same game today. Like the author of “Tactical Notes,” our initial experiences with John Young’s design led us to many of the same conclusions as Mr. Berg. However, just when game strategies seemed to be settling into stale, predictable lines of play, someone would introduce a new and often completely unexpected approach to one of the game’s several scenarios. What follows, then, is a brief description of the evolution of player strategies for the 1805 Scenario.

The 1805 Scenario (Version 2.0): The Opening

The first area of disagreement with the plan outlined in “Tactical Notes,” is in the general posture of the Austrian forces. Berg argues, quite reasonably, that Ulm should be ignored, and that the Coalition Army should content itself with occupying the fortress of Branau in the south with an infantry corps and leader, and covering the main invasion routes into Austria with the remaining infantry corps and the three Austrian cavalry divisions. This approach, while conservative, was also determined to be far too passive. Instead, it was found that the Austrians, by using forced-march supply, could trap and usually destroy all three unsupplied French (Bavarian) divisions on the first turn of the game! The key to this more aggressive approach was to split the Austrian Army into two unequal parts. One Austrian corps (broken down into brigades) and stacked with supply would be positioned just across the Danube from Branau. The other three infantry corps (also broken down into brigades), along with the three cavalry divisions, the three Coalition leaders, and the remaining two supply units could then all be deployed on the two northern-most mountain pass hexes on the Austrian border with Bavaria, Saxony, and Germany. No matter where Napoleon then positioned his Bavarians, the Austrians would be in a position to attack all three divisions (surrounded) at a 200% differential or better. While there was a small risk of exchange, the results of these attacks were usually consistent: two or three eliminated French divisions, with a loss, perhaps, of a single Austrian infantry brigade. On turn two, the Austrians — whatever the outcomes of their various attacks — could then begin their retreat out of Bavaria and back towards the safety of their own borders.

1805 (Version 2.0: The Middle Game)

In the course of repeated replays of the middle game, it was found that the Coalition player, through the lavish use of forced-march supply could bring both Russian and Austrian reinforcements into the battle area much more rapidly than had previously been thought. By the coordinated use of coalition supplies, a reinforced Russian army, accompanied by cavalry, could occupy Linz well before the advancing French could mount any credible threat to the Danube crossing. Moreover, when fast-marching French divisions arrived in front of the northern mountain pass into Austria, they now found not one, but two infantry corps with abundant supplies, and supported by a cavalry division, standing in their way. Branau would usually still fall to the French by turn six, but penetrating the mountain barrier had become considerably tougher now that Russian reinforcements had taken to entering the map edge near the eastern Danube and then double-forced-marching to the front using supply units created both by the Russian depot that enters the game on turn three, and by the Austrian depot in Vienna. Given the faster moving Coalition forces, French offensive momentum tended to stall. Even when the French broke through the formidable barrier of the Austrian Alps, typically on or about turn eight, Napoleon rarely had enough time or rifle strength left to force the eastern mountain passes and invest Vienna before the game’s end.

1805 (Version 2.0): The End Game

The French plan of campaign, when confronted by the stronger, more mobile defense, tended to unravel earlier and earlier as Coalition players refined and fine-tuned their play during the middle game. Nothing that the French commanders could come up with seemed to work. On the contrary, in
game after game, French play during the final turns tended to run out of offensive punch and to become more defensive. This lack of strength was not illusory, but quite real. It resulted from the French commander being forced to dispatch several infantry corps off the southern map edge during the last few game turns, just to keep the French victory point tally high enough to prevent the last minute entry of the Prussian Army into the war. It was during these last few game turns that the absence of the three starting Bavarian divisions was most keenly felt. These refinements in Coalition player strategy produced disappointing, but expected results: the French began to lose, and often by big margins. In essence, the 1805 Scenario had stopped being fun for the French player.

1805 (Version 2.0: Aftermath)

After a time, play of LA GRANDE ARMÉE tended to focus, as might be expected, on the 1809 Scenario with an occasional detour into the 1806 Scenario — which one of my opponents referred to wryly as the “Prussians Served Up on a Spit Scenario.” But, for the most part, interest among my circle of players waned when it came to Napoleon’s most brilliant campaign, the 1805 Scenario. Still, a few of us were not quite ready to give up completely on the Austerlitz campaign. And so, after ignoring the scenario for months, our little group finally set up the LA GRANDE ARMÉE map again and took a completely fresh look at the set of strategic problems presented by the first scenario in John Young's design. What we discovered transformed the 1805 Scenario into a completely different, and for our group, virtually unplayed, game situation.

The 1805 Scenario (Version 3.0): Prussia First



Emperor Frederic William III of Prussia

The factors that constrained French play, we all agreed, derived from the scope of the battle area and the ever-present threat of Prussian entry into the war. With the traditional French strategy, only half of the north-south map width was ever really in play. This meant that during the crucial turns of the middle game, the Coalition player only had to defend three or four areas against the advancing French. Thus, the 8 to 3 French advantage in cavalry divisions was essentially valueless during this critical phase of the game. Moreover, with Russian reinforcements being catapulted west using double-forced-marches, Napoleon could never break the mountain defenses or penetrate east far enough along the south bank of the Danube to threaten the enemy position around Vienna before incoming reinforcements arrived to strengthen the entire Coalition line. And then there were the Prussians, hanging around in the wings, ever eager to enter the war against Napoleon at the most inopportune moment. What could the Napoleon of 1805 do to rebalance this strategic situation in his favor? At last, someone finally asked the question that should have been obvious at the outset: “Why not just attack the neutral Prussians, and eliminate them as a threat right at the beginning?” Despite a great deal of initial skepticism, when pressed, not one person sitting around the game table could come up with a single good argument against a preemptive French invasion of Prussia. It wasn’t precluded by the rules; it wasn’t particularly difficult or complicated; and there was almost nothing that the Coalition forces could do to interfere until the French Army actually entered Prussian and Saxon territory.

1805 (Version 3.0): Early French Moves and Coalition Countermoves

The arguments in favor of a preemptive strike against Prussia and Saxony, once the option is seriously considered, are compelling. Such an attack would come as a complete surprise to the Coalition player; it would, at a minimum disrupt his plans, and could even seriously dislocate his defense of Austria. The French invasion can be carefully preplanned so that the main Prussian forces can be surrounded or destroyed on the initial turn of the attack. The French Army will be able to pass across two of the main terrain barriers — the Weser River and the northern belt of the German Alps — without any Prussian opposition at all. As an added bonus, because of Coalition weakness, Napoleon will still be able to seize Ulm on turn three, and occupy it for the remainder of the game unless confronted, during the last few game turns, by a very powerful Coalition force. In addition, by engaging and destroying the Prussian Army early, Napoleon will not be obliged to dispatch units to the south and out of play during the last few game turns, when he most needs all of his combat power. Finally, it will be virtually impossible for the Coalition player to prevent French combat units from crossing to the east of the “B” and “C” objective lines; he simply doesn’t have the cavalry to screen the open terrain in the north half of the map, or the combat power to oppose the French advance directly.

Still, a French invasion of Prussia and Saxony, on its face, seems like an audacious choice for Napoleon to make on the third turn of a twelve turn game. For one thing, his army will be far removed from the southern map edge: so exiting French combat units on turn twelve will probably not be possible. For another, it will take at least three game turns for the Emperor to properly position the French Army. Thus, the French must win in the north and center, and win decisively. For this reason, Napoleon’s primary goal, during these preparatory moves, will be to position his forces for the most effective initial attack on the various enemy garrisons that will spring into existence the minute the first French unit advances one hex into either Prussia or Saxony. Fortunately, the Coalition forces are in no position to do anything to block French plans, and are too weak to act in any case. The other advantage is that German territory snakes its way deep into Saxony, allowing French forces to advance close to enemy fortresses without provoking any hostile response. This last factor is particularly important because it means that the invading French can eliminate the Gottingen garrison without firing a shot (the first French move of the invasion), and trap the main Prussian army and its best leaders in the fortress of Magdeburg, where the “Special Prussian Fortress Garrison” rules virtually guarantee their destruction. With only a few infantry corps, a single leader (Wurtemburg 1/1), and no cavalry left at all, once the French have destroyed these other Prussian forces, Berlin’s days as a Prussian-controlled fortress are numbered.

1805 (Version 3.0): The Coalition’s Response

On game turns seven and nine, powerful Russian forces enter the map from the east. Unfortunately for the Coalition commander, no depots enter with these Russian reinforcements, only supply units. While the Prussians will probably retain control of Posen and its supply depot through to the end of the game, one depot will have a difficult time supplying both the Russians and the surviving Prussian infantry corps. From game turn seven through to the end of the scenario, events become steadily more unpredictable. Once Berlin falls to Napoleon — and it will — the French Army will then maneuver to react to Coalition moves while probably shifting its center of gravity to the southeast. Accurate projections about the remaining game turns become steadily more difficult as much depends on the where the Russian reinforcements enter the map, and how audacious the Coalition player decides to be. One thing is certain, however, the last five or six game turns won’t be dull.

From the preceding discussion, it is clear that this unorthodox French strategy dramatically changes the general tempo and flow of the 1805 Scenario. When the French player opts for an immediate invasion of Prussia, the opening phase of the game stretches out to encompass game turn 1 through turn 5; the middle game typically runs from turn 6 to 9; and the end game usually comprises the game turns 10 through 12.

1805 (Version 3.0): Try it you’ll like it

This essay will not attempt to further break down the action of a “Prussia First” French approach to the 1805 Scenario with an extended discussion of the various segments of such a game. For players to gain a real appreciation for this alternative French strategy, they will probably have to find an old copy of LA GRANDE ARMÉE and experiment on their own. Suffice to say, however, that this alternate French strategic approach does make for a free-wheeling and very challenging set of game problems for both players.

NOTES ON TACTICS

Because of the extensive turn-by-turn description of the play of LA GRANDE ARMÉE in the preceding analysis, there is probably little reason for a lot of additional discussion of the operational elements of the game. Besides, this essay has run on long enough as it is. Moreover, many of these tactical nuances have already been described, or are self-evident either by reading a general description of the game and its rules, or by looking through the game’s “Players’ Notes.” Nonetheless, a few general observations might still be useful.

Cavalry

The “cavalry screen” is a very powerful tool in all of the LEIPZIG Game System titles, as has been noted earlier in this essay; it is no less so in this game. A weaker force can delay and block the advance of a much more powerful attacker almost indefinitely, so long as the defender has sufficient cavalry to maintain an impenetrable screen and, at the same time, can afford to trade space for time. For this reason, it is almost always a good idea to attack the enemy’s cavalry screen, even if the attack seems pointless. A disrupted cavalry unit must be replaced by another; the battle area may change and one fewer undisrupted cavalry units may actually turn out to make a difference. If cavalry blocks are a standard defensive practice in the game, the usual response of the attacker to this tactic is to attempt to overload the defending cavalry screen. The attacking commander does this by attacking every part of the screen that his units can reach; the idea of these attacks is to force more defending units to retreat before combat (and automatically become disrupted) than the defender can replace during the next game turn. This tactical approach — of attempting to “swamp” the defense — may even call for the advancing player to attack at 1 to 1 and, by so doing, give the defender the option to stand fast and test his own luck. However, one useful tactical trick that a defending player who is short on screening units can use is to alternate cavalry and low-value leader units on an oblique hex line. The use of leaders in this type of setting — so long as they cannot be surrounded — permits a small cavalry force to cover a broader expanse of open terrain without risk of loss.

Stacking

The stacking rules in this series of Napoleonic games are somewhat perverse. Units that end a movement phase stacked in the same hex must either be able to combine into a single larger value unit (i.e., two divisions combining to form a single corps), or the phasing player must expend a supply unit at the end of the combat phase to preserve the units in the stack whether they are involved in combat or not. Fortresses are an important exception: eighteen combat factors may stack in a fortress hex without penalty. In addition, any units (up to 18 factors) in the fortress are automatically in supply for both attack and defense. Stacking, besides requiring supply, also costs units movement points both to stack and unstack. In some cases, however, it may be possible for an attacker to stack without having to expend supplies either for stacking or for combat. These situations typically arise when a Coalition infantry corps (4-3) with a leader and supply is defending a mountain pass hex. Two supplied French corps (2 x 5-4s) can stack and with a good value leader offer combat at a combat differential of 125%. This guarantees a Coalition retreat result. However, the defending player may not want to expend a supply, lose the battle and either end up disrupted and scattered, or disrupted after having retreated only one hex. If the defending unit does retreat before combat, a single French corps and leader can advance, and no French combat or stacking supply would be required.

Supply

When it comes to supplies, the enemies of Napoleon invariably start with the advantage. The Austrians, Prussians, and Russians can almost always lavishly spend supplies to fuel double-forced-marches; the French, on the other hand, almost never can. It is always important for both players to be aware of how much supply is in an area, and where those supplies are coming from. Only if Napoleon’s forces can manage to overrun a few of the enemy’s supply depots, does this French disadvantage diminish. This does, of course, mean that enemy depots are a prime target for Napoleon’s army: particularly those of the Prussians, which cannot move. Napoleon’s supply deficit will directly affect French planning during all stages of the advance. Because an undisrupted depot can either move or create a supply unit, the French player should plan on advancing his depots one at a time, in a carefully planned set of forced-march bounds.

Leaders

Players can debate the meaning of the offensive and defensive ratings of the different generals in LA GRANDE ARMÉE, but it is impossible to argue that those ratings are inconsequential. For my own part, I view the ratings quite simply: each increase of “1” represents the ability of a general to effectively deploy and command a body of 5,000 men. Thus, General Baron Mack can, in game terms, effectively command 20,000 men on the attack, but a larger force of 35,000 when on the defense. In contrast to General Mack, Napoleon, by this measure, can effectively control 125,000 men on the attack or the defense. A look at the leader counters for the different national armies says it all. There is literally no comparison between the quality of French commanders and the military leaders of any of France’s enemies. This is an advantage that should not be squandered. Often it will take two or even three of the best enemy commanders to confer the same defensive bonus on a stack as a single French General like Soult or Lannes. This also means that even a supplied French infantry corps on clear terrain, with a mediocre leader like Bernadotte, is a difficult formation for enemy forces to attack.

Breakdown and Buildup

One of the most important advantages that the French Army has, besides leadership, is in organization. The French divisions and corps are both faster and more powerful than almost all of France’s enemies; only in the 1809 Scenario, in fact, will the French meet their match when they again fight a reorganized and modernized Austrian Army. Moreover, Napoleon’s cavalry during this period is without peer; in all three of the scenarios of LA GRANDE ARMÉE, the French cavalry divisions are the only mounted units in the game that may be combined into corps-sized units. When on the offensive, a player will typically break down his larger units for forced-marching and build them back up for combat. As a general rule when marching against a fixed objective, like an enemy fortress, it is usually a good idea to concentrate the arriving infantry into corps, if possible, a full turn in advance. This will typically make it much easier to concentrate for the actual battle and to achieve the best possible combat odds on the turn of the attack. Relying on last minute forced-marches, unless the units will all receive forced-march supply, is usually guaranteed to produce a maze of stopped and disrupted friendly units that end up blocking the approaches to the enemy position.

CONCLUSION

In the years since LA GRANDE ARMÉE first saw print, a number of larger, more complex titles have come into the marketplace. Many of these newer games have far more attractive (in some cases, visually gorgeous) graphics; almost all of them are far more complicated, and most are much more chrome-laden treatments of this subject. As if to prove this point, these newer games all have, if nothing else, much longer and more detailed rules. I know, because I have owned or played almost all of them. And, to be fair, some of these games I really have come to enjoy. None of these newer titles, however, no matter how many extra counters they have, or how long and detailed their rules are, really does a better job than LA GRANDE ARMÉE at capturing the feel of Napoleonic Warfare at the grand tactical level. In addition, none of the many other Napoleonic games that I have owned and played, no matter how interesting their designs or knowledgeable their designers, have been able to match the excitement, the frustration, and the sheer intellectual exhilaration that comes from playing LA GRANDE ARMÉE and really seeing a plan of campaign develop completely as envisioned. This title was first published in 1972, but any game that can still entertain, challenge, and genuinely surprise its players can never really be obsolete. For that reason, LA GRANDE ARMÉE still remains, after more than three and a half decades, one of my all time 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 early Gunpowder Era and the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War, up to and including World War II 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 THE FALL OF ROME and 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.

2 comments:

  • I would love this game but I'm always thrown by the "Defender Retreats Scattered" result. Take an Austrian army in retreat and you get an arc of units that is, excuse me, ridiculous. How do you handle it?

    Incidentally, I'm the guy who wrote the negative review of TSR's version in MOves magazine. I stand by that review.

    cperleberg@cox.net

  • Greetings:

    Thank you for your interest and for your comments; I sincerely appreciate both.

    You are, of course, quite correct that in the 1805 Scenario, an Austrian army that suffers a "Drs" result will end up having to break down into a fan-shaped mob of twelve 1-5 brigades. In John Young's defense, I think that, although the "1805 Austrian" example may be a little peculiar, the simulation outcome that he was actually going for was to create a game situation in which elements of a routed army could be run down by a relatively weak force of pursuing cavalry. Moreover, in my own many, many play-throughs of the 1805 scenario, I don't think that I have ever seen an Austrian army (in those rare games when they actually did make an apperarance) concentrate for battle in a hex from which it could not retreat into a friendly fortress, if defeated. The Russians, because of their very different (and much more efficient corps-based organization), are a completely different matter, of course.

    Regarding the TSR version: I'm afraid that I have to agree that this game was a big disappointment. Excluding Kevin Zucker's game map, which I liked, the rest of the (very different) design of the TSR version of LA GRANDE ARMEE just seemed cobbled together. Perhaps the most generous thing that could be said about it is that it is an occasionally interesting "thought experiment" that suffers (unfortunately for anyone attempting to play it) both from obviously very hurried game development and insufficient play-testing. Sadly, these shortcomings might be forgiven and adjusted-for in the shorter scenarios, but they are impossible to miss or to really work around, once one of the longer "Campaign" scenarios is attempted.

    Thanks again for your comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

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