HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDAt 8:00 am on 2 December 1805, near the small Moravian hamlet of Austerlitz, the 85,000 soldiers of the army of the Third Coalition pushed 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, had massed almost half of its strength in four large columns on the Allied left wing, and now these columns began to advance towards the southern section of the French line. The close-packed coalition battalions, because of the fog and broken ground to their front, quickly became intermingled and confused as they closed on the French ranks to their front. None-the-less, some of the advancing and disordered Russo-Austrian formations covered the intervening distance between the two armies quickly, and soon they emerged from the wispy morning mist to smash into Napoleon’s weak right flank near the villages of Telnitz and Sokolnitz. The Allied plan was simple: break the French right and then drive west to cut Napoleon off from both supplies and reinforcements.
The fog lifts at Austerlitz to reveal the full fury of the battle.
Across the fog and smoke-shrouded battlefield, Napoleon watched, with satisfaction, the distant enemy columns as they formed on the coalition left and then began their advance towards his weak right flank. Napoleon had reason to be pleased: the Tsar’s soldiers were attacking exactly how and where he wanted them to. The French Emperor had been animated, but in good spirits throughout the morning. A courier had arrived, during the night, with reassuring news from one of his best and most reliable commanders. In this latest dispatch, Marshal Davout promised Napoleon that his hard-marching IIIrd Corps would soon arrive on the field to reinforce the intentionally-weakened French right, just as the emperor had intended. Now, Napoleon had only to sit patiently by until the troops on the Russo-Austrian left had advanced a little farther into his carefully prepared trap. As he waited for the coalition columns to march unknowingly towards their ruin, the French Emperor’s confidence was buoyed by his absolute faith in two things: the élan and courage of his battle-hardened soldiers, and the arrogance and stupidity of his adversaries.
The Coalition columns did not falter, and once the Allied troops had gained the ground around Telnitz, a general mêlée quickly escalated on the French right. Despite the fog-induced confusion among the coalition ranks, the winter battle seemed to begin well for the attackers. As anticipated, the outnumbered French troops steadily gave ground in the face of the powerful Allied assault, and the officers and nobles commanding the Russo-Austrian Army grew increasingly confident that their attack would indeed break the French flank and sever Napoleon’s communications with Vienna. But all was not as it seemed. 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 threatened flank just in time to reinforce the wavering French line. The Russo-Austrian commanders, now fixated on pressing forward with their assault, began to strip more and more troops away from the coalition center around the Pratzen Heights in order to reinforce the faltering coalition attack. It was a fatal mistake.
Napoleon surveys his retreating foe from the Pratzen Heights.
At about 9:00am Napoleon finally unleashed the fresh battalions that he had been holding in reserve. These troops had hitherto been concealed from Allied eyes by the morning mist. Now, they were unseen no longer. Suddenly charging up from the fog-shrouded hollows just below the heights, yelling French soldiers and horsemen crashed into the Coalition center and, after a sharp action, pushed the stunned defenders off of the high ground. Even the heavens seemed to smile on the French effort; as Napoleon’s attack drove the coalition troops from the crest of the Pratzen Heights, the “Sun of Austerlitz” finally broke through the haze and began to shine down on the desperate, bloody contest below.
The battle would continue with bitter fighting all through the day and well into the evening, but the Allied position was doomed. The French Emperor, for all intents and purposes, had won the day with a single masterful stroke, and all this before the morning had even passed. In fact, this victory — Napoleon’s greatest military triumph — had been assured as soon as French troops had surged up and over the Pratzen Heights and, by so doing, had split the Russo-Austrian army in two.
AUSTERLITZ: The Battle of the Three Emperors, 2 Dec 1805 is a brigade-level simulation — based loosely on the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — of the decisive battle, in winter 1805, that ended the War of the Third Coalition. The French victory over Tsar Alexander’s army at Austerlitz dashed any prospect for the Third Coalition to continue the fight against France and, thereby, brought Napoleon’s brilliant 1805 campaign against Austria and Russia to a successful close.
The differently colored game counters represent the historical units from the three national armies — those of France, Russia, and Austria — that actually participated in the fighting. The game map is an oddly flattened-out — the famous Pratzen Heights, for example, virtually disappear — primitive (even for SPI) two-color rendition of the terrain in that region of Moravia over which the battle was waged. To reduce set-up time, the locations of all starting units are printed on the game map. In addition, because AUSTERLITZ uses one of the most accessible, popular, and successful game systems ever devised, its basic mechanics of play are both intuitively logical and extremely easy to learn for players of virtually any experience level.
AUSTERLITZ is played in game turns, each of which is composed of an Allied (Austro-Russian) player turn followed by French player turn. Each player turn follows the same sequence, and is divided into two phases: the Movement Phase; and the Combat Phase. The stacking rules are relatively simple, but interesting. Friendly units may move through or stack with other friendly units without paying any movement penalty. However, the composition of friendly stacks is limited depending on the nationality of the phasing units. The French player may stack up to three units in a single hex, but only so long as the total combat strength of the stack does not exceed fifteen combat factors; the Allied (coalition) player may stack an unlimited number of units together, but the final strength of the combined stack cannot exceed ten combat factors. Units, when defending in a stack, combine their combat factors and are treated as a single unified strength. Individual units in an attacking stack, however, may attack the same or different target hexes during the combat phase.
All units possess a zone of control (ZOC), and all units must expend one additional movement point to enter an enemy ZOC. In addition, ZOCs are both “rigid” and “sticky” for infantry and artillery units; that is: infantry and artillery units must halt upon entering an enemy ZOC, and may not exit an enemy ZOC voluntarily, but only as a result of combat. Cavalry is an important exception: these units may voluntarily leave an enemy ZOC by expending two additional movement points and may even, if they possess sufficient movement factors to do so, move directly from one enemy ZOC to another. In addition, units may not retreat into an enemy controlled hex whether as a result of an AR or DR result, even if that hex is occupied by a friendly unit. Terrain effects on movement, because this battle was fought in winter, are relatively benign: swamp and knoll hexes cost two movement points to enter, and frozen “unbridged” stream hexes cost one additional movement point to cross. Also, as might be expected, certain types of terrain multiply the combat strength of occupying units when being attacked; this multiple can be from two to four times the defending units’ basic combat strength.
Combat in AUSTERLITZ is mandatory between adjacent opposing units. All adjacent enemy units must be attacked, and all friendly units in an enemy ZOC must participate in some form of combat. Attacks, however, can take one of two forms: direct (adjacent) attacks; and artillery bombardment (ranged) attacks. Thus, while all adjacent enemy units must be attacked during the active player’s combat phase, artillery units may either attack adjacent enemy brigades normally, or they may attack opposing units that are two hexes distant using “bombardment” instead of conventional assault. This combat flexibility dramatically increases the usefulness of artillery units in this game system: they can attack independently, soak-off, or increase the odds of a friendly attack — all through bombardment — against non-adjacent enemy units. Moreover, they need not attack an adjacent opposing brigade so long as they are bombarding another enemy unit (within their two-hex range), and some other friendly unit or units satisfy the attack requirement against any enemy units next to the friendly artillery. The possible outcomes for all types of combat tend to fall into one of three categories: Retreats, Exchanges, and Eliminations. All battles, in AUSTERLITZ, are resolved using a single “odds differential” Combat Results Table (CRT). And, as is typical with games based on the NAW Game System, the distribution of combat results tends to favor retreats except at higher odds. For example, the distribution of combat outcomes for a four-to-one attack in AUSTERLITZ is identical to those of three-to-one on the Avalon Hill classic CRT. This means that, for a player to achieve offensive momentum and a favorable rate of attrition, he must consistently attack and carefully time his advances after successful individual battles so as to achieve surrounded attacks against enemy units.
Although AUSTERLITZ is a comparatively simple game, Morale figures prominently in its play, and especially in its final outcome. Both the Grande Armée and the army of the Third Coalition begin the game with a 70 point Demoralization threshold. As soon as one army loses seventy or more combat strength points, then that side immediately becomes demoralized; and once this happens, the opposing army can no longer become demoralized, whatever its eventual losses. The effects of Demoralization are devastating to the affected side. Demoralized units are halved both in movement and in combat, and, more damaging still, they lose their ZOC for the remainder of the game.
Victory, in AUSTERLITZ, is determined on the basis of accumulated victory points tallied at the end of the match. These victory points can be acquired either by exiting the battlefield from certain hexes on the eastern and western edges of the game map, or by destroying enemy combat factors. Of the two, destruction of enemy units is by far the most promising path to victory for both armies. In essence, the goal of each side is to inflict sufficient casualties on the other to cause the Demoralization of the opposing force. Once this goal has been accomplished, victory is virtually guaranteed. Each game turn represents one hour of real time, and a complete game is thirteen turns long. AUSTERLITZ offers players only the Historical Scenario; there are no optional rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONAfter thirty-six years, John Young’s AUSTERLITZ is definitely beginning to show its age. However, despite its frustratingly inaccurate map, its generally primitive graphics — Simonsen had yet to really hit his stride at SPI in 1973 — and its obvious lack of period “chrome,” AUSTERLITZ, nonetheless, manages to present an intriguing and surprisingly textured variation on the standard NAW Game System. In itself, the game situation that confronts the players is fascinating. And the combination of unorthodox (for this game system) stacking and cavalry rules makes for a nerve-racking test for both players. The Russo-Austrian Army is powerful, but slow; Napoleon’s Grande Armée is both more flexible and much more nimble. This disparity, not surprisingly, tends to favor the French. On the other hand — unlike their historical counterparts — both players have a perfect view of the enemy’s dispositions. Napoleon’s original plan is obvious; but happily, there really is no reason for the Coalition player to repeat the mistakes of the original Russo-Austrian commanders. In a nut shell, the trick for both players is to maximize the advantages of their own force, while minimizing those of the enemy. In AUSTERLITZ, as in many other titles, this is the central challenge of the game. And the player who solves this puzzle first, will typically be the player who wins.
On a slightly different topic: AUSTERLITZ is only one of a large collection of SPI titles that were authored by John Michael Young. His varied game designs span the period from the Napoleonic Wars, through the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War, and up to and including World War II. Many of them, I still periodically take down and play. I suppose that means that, over the years, I have become a big fan of Young’s many games. Probably because there have been very few of his designs that I didn’t like. His titles — except, maybe, for SEELÖWE — are almost always innovative, interesting, playable, and fun. And 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.
- Time Scale: 1 hour per game turn
- Map Scale: 400 meters
- Unit Size: brigade
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, and artillery
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average
- Solitaire Suitability: high
- Average Playing Time: 2-3 hours
- One 22” x 28” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track, Combat Results Tables, French and Allied Victory Points/Demoralization Tracks, French and Allied Reinforcements Displays, Exited Units Boxes, and printed Starting Set-Up locations incorporated)
- 100 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 6” x 11½” map-fold Rules Booklet
- Two 6¼” x 11½” Terrain Effects Charts
- One small six-sided Die
- One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers)
See my blog post Book Review of this title; a book that I strongly recommend for those readers interested in 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.