Tsar Alexander I, 1812
At 8:00 am on 2 December 1805, near the small Moravian hamlet of Austerlitz, the 85,000 soldiers of the Third Coalition army threw themselves forward in a determined attack against the 67,000 Frenchmen of Napoleon’s Grand Armée. This combined army of Russian and Austrian troops, commanded by Tsar Alexander I, massed almost half of its strength in four large columns and advanced through the morning fog to crash into Napoleon’s weak right flank near the villages of Telnitz and Sokolnitz. The winter battle seemed to begin well for the attackers as the French troops retreated in the face of the powerful Allied assault. Those officers and nobles commanding the Russo-Austrian Army were confident that they would break the French flank and sever Napoleon’s communications with Vienna. But even as the Allied advance appeared to be gaining momentum, the 7,000 French troops of Marshal Davout’s IIIrd Corps, after having force marched a distance of some seventy miles to reach the battlefield, arrived on Napoleon’s right just in time to reinforce its wavering line. The Russo-Austrian commanders, fixated on continuing their attack, stripped more and more troops away from the coalition center on the Pratzen Heights in order to reinforce their left. At 9:00am Napoleon unleashed part of his reserve from the fog-shrouded valley just below the heights to smash into the Allied center and seize the high ground. As the French began their assault, the “Sun of Austerlitz” finally broke through the haze and lit the heights. The conflict would continue with bitter fighting well into the evening, but Napoleon had, for all intents and purposes, won the battle with one masterful stroke, once his troops captured the Pratzen heights and broke the Russo-Austrian center.
TGI’s AUSTRLITZ is a grand tactical (brigade/regiment) level simulation — based loosely on the CIVIL WAR BRIGADE Game System — of the final crucial battle in Napoleon’s 1805 campaign against Austria and Russia. The French Emperor’s decisive victory at Austerlitz clearly signaled that Napoleon had now become the dominant political and military strongman in Europe. And so he would remain for another decade, despite the constant machinations of the British Empire and the persistent military efforts of the reactionary monarchies of Europe.
AUSTERLITZ is played in game turns, and each game turn is further divided into five interwoven player phases. These strictly-sequenced game phases proceed as follows: the Command Phase; the Cavalry Charge Phase; the Movement and Close Combat Phase; the Fire Combat Phase; and finally, the Rally Phase. Once both sides have completed their respective player turns, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is again repeated until the scenario ends. The historical detail presented by the Napoleonic Brigade Series Game System is especially evident in the specific player actions required during each turn phase. For example, just the first operation of a player turn, the Command Phase, is made up of five distinct segments, or sub-routines: Order Issue (during this segment, the phasing player generates and records new orders up the limit imposed by his command points); Corps Attack Stoppage Checks (if any of the phasing player’s attacking corps received enemy fire from two hexes distance or less during the preceding turn, these corps must now individually check to see if their attack continues, is stopped, or is repulsed); Initiative Order Determination (at this time, the phasing player rolls a die to attempt to establish initiative for individual leaders); Delay Reduction (during this phase, any leaders who have had their orders encumbered by any sort of “delay status” check to see if their delay status ends); and New Order Acceptance (the phasing player now rolls to see if the orders delivered this turn are accepted, delayed, or misunderstood).
The game mechanics of TGI’s AUSTERLITZ, although fairly complex, are intuitively logical and, once learned, are not difficult to execute. None-the-less, the game’s functions — despite their similarity to other Napoleonic battle games — do require some study on the part of new players before they can be mastered. The overall design architecture of the game is, given its subject matter and scale, more-or-less familiar. Stacking rules are detailed but reasonable; both the various types of terrain and elevation influence combat, typically through column shifts on the combat results tables (CRTs). Units do not possess zones of control (ZOCs). Combat, as might be expected, can be divided into three general categories: Fire Combat (both small arms and artillery); Cavalry Charge (shock); and Close Assault (infantry shock). Combat losses are administered through a combination of Morale Checks, Straggler Checks, and Step-Losses, and individual commanders can be wounded or killed as a result of combat. Leadership, command and control, and morale — as was the case historically — are all critical to the outcome of the battle. In addition, the game incorporates a number of elements that contribute both the texture of the game and to its “period” feel. Thus, rules covering unit facing, skirmisher units, line of sight, different infantry formations (square, line, column, and road march), forced marches, ammunition supply (both small arms and artillery), night operations, and the “fog of war” all play their part in the flow of play in AUSTERLITZ. The one somewhat cumbersome aspect of the Napoleonic Brigade Series Game System derives from the record-keeping necessary to track ongoing unit step-losses and the status of orders. However, even this aspect of the game is considerably simplified by the inclusion of detailed, easy-to-use “master” record sheets that can be photocopied as the need arises.
Victory in the game is determined by a comparison of battlefield losses. Because the purpose of battle, at least in the eyes of Napoleon, was to crush the enemy army and by so doing end the enemy commander’s will to resist, the winner in AUSTERLITZ is based on the destruction of enemy units, the wrecking of larger formations (corps and columns), and the killing or wounding of enemy leaders. The game’s winner is the player that satisfies the victory requirements of the specific scenario being played.
TGI’s AUSTERLITZ offers five scenarios: Scenario 1: Battle for the Goldbach Stream (9 game turns); Scenario 2: The Olmutz Road (8 turns long); Scenario 3: The Sun of Austerlitz (23 game turns); Scenario 4: Katusov in Command! (23 turns); and Scenario 5: The Advance to Battle (50 game turns). The first two scenarios are short enough to serve as introductions to the larger game; scenarios 3 and 4 offer two approaches to simulating the historical events of the Battle of Austerlitz; the last scenario covers two full days of action beginning with the advance to contact with Napoleon’s army by the combined Austro-Russian army on 1 December, and culminating with a simulation of the actions of the two opposing armies throughout the actual day of battle, 2 December 1805.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Coalition cavalry in action at Austerlitz.
Napoleon fought over seventy battles in his long military career, but the Battle of Austerlitz was his masterpiece. Through a combination of feigned weakness, acting, nerve, and superb timing, the French Emperor first drew an enemy army that did not need to fight into accepting a major battle on ground of Napoleon’s choosing, and then, by purposefully and visibly weakening his right, insured that his enemies would confidently march into a tactical trap from which there would be no escape. The battle raged from dawn to dusk, but Napoleon’s decisive victory was assured within the first few hours of the opening cannonade. Time would march on, and the French Emperor would live to win many more battles before his dominance of European affairs was finally ended in 1815; in all the bloody, strife-filled years that followed this single winter’s day victory, however, he would never enjoy another battlefield success to match 2 December 1805, and the brilliance of the blazing “Sun of Austerlitz.”
French Cuirassiers about to charge at Austerlitz.
AUSTERLITZ is the first installment in The Gamers’ Napoleonic Brigade Series of tactical simulations of battles from the Age of Napoleon. It is, to a large degree, a natural outgrowth of TGI’s Civil War Brigade Series, and as such, there is much in this game system that will be familiar to those gamers who have played any of the CWB Series games. There is also, however, a great deal that is different. The rifled muzzle-loading muskets of the American Civil War had both greater accuracy and greater range than the smoothbore muskets of the Napoleonic Wars. Cavalry and galloper guns could, with relative safety, approach much closer to an enemy firing line during the early years of the nineteenth century than they could by the 1860s. For this reason, the battlefield dominance of artillery and the shock power of cavalry are both much more significant in AUSTERLITZ than in the CWB titles. This greater variety of potential battlefield threats also explains the expanded number of different infantry formations found in AUSTERLITZ. Thus, from the simple infantry line and square, to the column and even the combination of infantry line and column represented by the ordre mixte, these various formations all had an important place on the Napoleonic battlefield.
General Rapp reports to Napoleon at Austerlitz.
TGI’s AUSTERLITZ is not a simple game. None-the-less, the rules are clearly enough written that a player totally unfamiliar with the NBS system can, with a little work, probably understand the basic substance of the game without a lot of help; players familiar with the CWB Series rules, as might be expected, should have little difficulty learning the game in the course of one or two play-throughs. That being said, this title is probably not a good choice for novices. The game system is just too detailed and richly textured. Still, the heart of the combat system: the tactical subroutines — although a little cumbersome for new players when they are initially learning the game — are intuitively logical and historically reasonable. And the flow and tempo of the game combine to produce a realistic, yet manageable simulation of Napoleonic warfare.
Finally, AUSTERLITZ has, at least to my eye, excellent graphics and nice visual appeal. The two glossy paper map sheets are attractive and unambiguous. The rules and player aids, although detailed and fairly lengthy, are clear and easy to use. Best of all, the back-printed unit counters are — as has become more and more common among the most recent batch of Napoleonic titles — both utilitarian and quite appealing to the eye. In short, TGI’s AUSTERLITZ is historically colorful, exciting, and — once the game system is mastered — eminently playable. For these reasons, I think that it is good choice for most experienced players and an excellent pick for those gamers who don’t mind a little record-keeping and who have a keen interest in games dealing with the Napoleonic Wars.
- Time Scale: 30 minutes per daylight game turn; 60 minutes per night turn
- Map Scale: 200 yards per hex
- Unit Size: brigade/regiment. Each infantry strength point represents approximately 150 men; each cavalry strength point approximately 100 riders; each artillery strength point is usually equal to 3 guns
- Unit Types: army commanders, leaders (e.g. corps commanders, etc.), headquarters, infantry, cavalry, foot artillery, horse artillery, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 4–18 + hours (depending on scenario)
- Two 22” x 34’’ hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Terrain Key, Elevation Guide, French and Allied Casualties Tracks, French and Allied Artillery Ammunition Tracks, Leader Casualty Boxes, and Turn Record Track incorporated)
- 560 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Napoleonic Brigade Series: Series Rules, version 1.0 Standard Rules Booklet
- One 8½” x 11” AUSTERLITZ Exclusive Rules Booklet (with Scenario Instructions, and French and Allied Losses Charts incorporated)
- Two 8½” x 11” Napoleonic Brigade Series Standard Charts & Tables Booklets
- Two six-sided Dice (one white, one red)
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed The Gamers Wargame Price List (as of 15 April 1993)
- One 4¼” x 10” The Gamers Customer Registration Card
- One 8½” x 11” Ad Insert for Articles of war, Ltd.
- One 9¼” x 11½” x 1¾” bookcase style cardboard Game Box
See my blog post Book Review of this title which is highly recommended for those readers interested in additional 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.