HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDThe Battle of the Moskova, like virtually all of Napoleon’s set-piece battles, began with a massive cannonade. At 6:00 am on 7 September 1812, French artillery opened fire on the troops of Marshal Prince Kutuzov’s Russian army who were deployed in strong prepared positions astride the main road to Moscow about a mile from the small Russian hamlet of Borodino. Kutuzov’s force, numbering approximately 120,800 men with 640 guns, occupied a powerful defensive line, improved by extensive fieldworks, that ran east to west along the Kalotchka River and extended on his left through the village of Semenovskaya to the forest in the southwest. Napoleon’s force numbering some 135,000 men and 587 guns followed up the artillery bombardment with a major assault against the Russian left.
The battle raged all day, with fieldworks changing hands over and over again, as first one army and then the other attacked and counterattacked over the same bloody ground. By the end of the day, Kutuzov’s army was forced to retire, but it did so without interference from the exhausted French. Russian losses from the battle totaled about 15,000 killed, including Prince Bagration, and another 25,000 wounded. The French Army suffered about 30,000 casualties, including twelve generals killed in action.
Napoleon’s forces had carried the field at Borodino and thus, could claim a tactical success. Kutuzov’s men, on the other hand, had managed to fight the French to a standstill for most of the day and had then withdrawn in good order. Thus, in the end, it was Kutuzov and not Napoleon who scored the far more important strategic victory. And although he could not have known it at the time, the bloody, but indecisive French victory on the banks of the Moskova actually spelled the end of the French Emperor’s hopes for a successful conclusion to his campaign against Russia.
GMT’s BORODINO is a grand tactical (brigade/regiment) level simulation — based on the TRIUMPH AND GLORY Game System — of the largest battle of Napoleon’s 1812 Campaign in Imperial Russia. This massive clash was Napoleon’s last chance to destroy the main Russian army barring his path to Moscow. As the battle began, the fate of the entire French campaign hung in the balance: a French military defeat deep within Russia would be a catastrophe; a decisive French victory at Borodino, on the other hand, could yet retrieve Napoleon’s faltering campaign against the Empire of Tsar Alexander I.
GMT’s BORODINO is played in game turns, and each game turn is further divided into five interwoven player phases. These rigidly-sequenced game phases proceed as follows: the Orders Phase; the Initiative Determination Phase; the Activation Phase; the Reserve Phase; the Group Morale Phase; and finally, the Overall Commander Movement Phase. After both players have finished moving their Overall Commander, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence repeats itself until the scenario ends.
Richard Berg’s BORODINO focuses extensively on army leadership, and command and control. These factors are represented in the game through the use of formation “Orders” and through group “Activation.” For units to operate at maximum effectiveness, they must either receive orders directly from their Overall Commander, or they must successfully pass a die-roll test to be placed under orders. These orders are assigned to “Orders Commands” which must, in turn, be composed of all or part of the same “Activation Group” (typically a corps). Specific Orders Commands are placed under orders by their owning players at the beginning of each game turn, before the players know the sequence in which their Activation Groups will be randomly drawn from the Activation “pool.” It is important to note that each unit within the same Orders Command must be within two hexes of another unit in the same Command; this means that, as a result of combat or maneuver, it is quite possible for a single Activation Group to be composed of multiple Orders groups. After the Orders Phase, both players roll a die to determine which of them holds the Initiative for that game turn. The player with the Initiative is allowed to activate a single Activation Group before the rest of his Activation markers are inverted and placed in the Activation pool. Then, each player brings an Activation Group into play by randomly drawing that group’s chit from the pool of “Activation Markers.” If the die rolls tie, then neither player receives the Initiative. The Activation Phase is the game segment during which most of the important player actions take place. During this critical game phase, player actions are conducted in the following sequence: artillery units that do not move or change facing may fire; all eligible units, except for the Overall Commanders, may move; eligible infantry and cavalry units that, just prior to combat, pass their “commitment” die roll may conduct shock attacks, and eligible cavalry units may charge enemy units; finally, any disordered units that performed no other action during this phase, may attempt to rally. The last three phases of the game turn — the Reserve Phase, Morale Phase, and Overall Commander Movement Phase — are all pretty much self-explanatory.
The game mechanics of GMT’s BORODINO, although fairly complex, are generally logical and, once learned, easy to execute. Nonetheless, the various game functions do require some study on the part of new players in order to master them. Stacking rules are detailed, but not overly complicated. In most cases, stacking is limited to two units of the same type per hex. That is: two infantry or two cavalry units may stack together in the same hex, but not one of each type. Three non-artillery units from the same Activation Group may stack together, again so long as all three units are of the same type. Stacking rules apply at the end of movement and during shock and fire combat. In GMT’s BORODINO, all combat units have zones of control that extend into the six surrounding hexes, unless blocked by impassable terrain. Moreover, given the game scale, it is not surprising that all combat units also have a facing, and these two factors, ZOCs and unit facings, interact in interesting ways. ZOCs are rigid but not “sticky.” Units must stop upon entering an enemy unit’s ZOC; in the next movement phase, however, the same unit may move directly into another enemy unit’s ZOC so long as the second ZOC is not a frontal ZOC. GMT’s BORODINO uses a ten-sided die and the familiar system of cumulative die roll modifiers (DRMs) to resolve the outcomes of Artillery Fire and Shock Combat. The two Combat Resolution Tables are (more-or-less) bloodless and stipulate combat outcomes in terms of retreats, disordered results, and unit cohesion checks. Morale, not surprisingly, plays an important role, both in terms of unit capabilities and in terms of accumulating victory points. Additional game rules cover Infantry Squares, Secondary Shock Combat, Advance after Shock Combat, Retreat before Shock Combat, and Cavalry Pursuit. The BORODINO scenario includes “special” rules for the Burning of Russian Towns or Bridges, the Moscow Militia, Movement Restrictions on the mobility of Napoleon and Kutusov, the French Imperial Guard, the French Cavalry Reserve, and the Initial French Artillery Bombardment. To add a little additional variation to the game, Marshal Davout’s Plan for a flanking maneuver against the Russian far left is included as an “optional” rule. The points required for a player to win vary depending on the game being played. Victory points are awarded for the capture or control of specific geographical objectives and by inducing the morale “Collapse” of enemy Activation Groups. The game’s winner is determined by comparing the victory points of the two armies at the end of the last turn.
GMT’s BORODINO offers two scenarios: The Battle for the SCHEVARDINO REDOUBT September 5, 1812, and the Grand Battle Game: The Battle of BORODINO September 7, 1812. The introductory SCHEVARDINO REDOUBT scenario is an excellent way for players to familiarize themselves with the game system; it is shorter, simpler, and does not use either the “Command” or the “Activation” rules that are integral elements in the Grand Battle Game.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONThe Battle of Borodino, like the Battle of Waterloo, is historically fascinating at least as much for what didn’t happen during the course of the action, as for what did. For this reason, the numerous what if’s? of the battle continue to intrigue and puzzle historians and gamers to this day. What if Kutusov had attacked Napoleon’s still-concentrating army on September 6th? Alternatiely, what if Napoleon had taken Davout’s advice and had allowed his most brilliant corps commander to attempt a flanking maneuver against the Russian left, instead of crashing his army head-on into Kutusov’s strongest defenses? Finally, what if the French Emperor had released the Imperial Guard from the reserve and thrown it against the Russian center-left during the early stages of the critical struggle for the Great Redoubt?
It is probably because of the built-in drama of the historical situation that a number of very good treatments of this bloody clash have emerged over the years. There have been simple games like John Young’s early “beer and pretzels” S&T Magazine insert game, BORODINO (1972); there have been massive — thousands of counters on a map the size of a pool table — richly-detailed simulations like GDW’s, LA BATAILLE DE LA MOSCOWA (1975); and there have been any number of designs that fall somewhere in between these two extremes. Richard Berg’s vision of the battle, BORODINO: Battle of the Moskova, 1812, belongs to this middle category. It has an interesting amount of historical detail, but not so much that it overwhelms the players. I do have to register one small nit: GMT’s version doesn’t really permit players to experiment with every last one of the many what ifs that are associated with this battle — there is no possibility, for example, for a Russian spoiling attack on September 6 — but the designer does make provision for Davout’s audacious flanking maneuver; and, of course, the French player also can opt to throw the Imperial Guard into the fray, if he really wants to see what might have happened had Napoleon heeded Marshal Ney's request for fresh troops to support his struggle to capture the Great Redoubt.
Finally, BORODINO: Battle of the Moskova, 1812 has excellent graphics and great eye appeal. The four-color map is attractive and unambiguous. The rules and player aids are, in the main, 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 — quite colorful and attractive. In short, GMT’s BORODINO is visually appealing, challenging, and — once the game system is mastered — fast-moving and playable. For these reasons, I think that it is excellent choice for most experienced players and a particularly good pick for those with an interest in games of the Napoleonic Wars.
- Time Scale: 75 minutes per game turn
- Map Scale: 325 yards per hex
- Unit Size: brigade/regiment. Each infantry strength point represents approximately 200 men; each cavalry strength point approximately 150 riders; each artillery strength point is usually equal to 4 guns
- Unit Types: commanders (army/corps), infantry, cavalry, foot artillery, horse artillery, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: high
- Average Playing Time: 3-6+ hours (depending on scenario)
- One 22” x 34” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Orders Boxes, Unit Status Boxes and Turn Record Track incorporated)
- 420 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
- One 8½” x 11” Rules Booklet (with Shock Resolution Table, Artillery Fire Table, Strength Ratio DRM Table, and Scenario Instructions incorporated)
- Two 8½” x 11” back-printed BORODINO: Battle of the Moskova Player Aid Cards (with Terrain Effects Charts, Shock Tables, Artillery Tables, and Strength Ratio DRM Tables incorporated)
- One ten-sided Die
- One roll of Plastic Baggies for punched unit storage
- One 4¼” x 5” GMT “Game Inspectors” Slip
- One 9¼” x 12” x 1½” bookcase style cardboard Game Box
See my blog post Book Review of this title which I strongly recommend for those readers interested in further historical background.
Recommended ArtworkThis map of the battle makes a fine wall decoration for the game room with a Napoleonic theme.