If the sun rose on Napoleon at Austerlitz on 2 December 1805, it set on the French Emperor at Leipzig on 19 October 1813. The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of Nations, was the disastrous climax to a French campaign that had begun promisingly only six months before. Napoleon had opened his military operations to regain control of Germany in the spring of 1813 with a set of auspicious victories against the newly-formed alliance of Prussia and Russia: first at Lützen on 2 May, and then at Bautzen on 20-21 May, 1813. In both of these major engagements, failures on the part of his marshals and a paucity of cavalry deprived the French Emperor of the decisive battlefield success that he realistically needed to bring about a peace on favorable terms. These victories did, however, badly shake the morale of Napoleon’s adversaries. Thus, with the Allies now increasingly desperate to avoid yet another crippling defeat, Austria intervened to broker a temporary armistice with the French Emperor. After hesitating for several days, Napoleon — his own army worn down from its nonstop campaigning — reluctantly accepted the Austrian plan. It was a mistake.
In summer, the armistice ended. Napoleon had made good use of the temporary truce to reinforce, reorganize, and reconstitute his forces, but his foes had also been tireless in their own preparations. Moreover, Allied spirits had been largely restored by the news of Wellington’s victory in Spain against Marshal Soult at Vittoria. Thus, when hostilities resumed in late July, France faced a much stronger enemy coalition than it had in May. Austria had at last openly joined the Allies, and even more deplorable: the ever duplicitous former French marshal and current King of Sweden, Bernadotte, had also entered the war against his former sovereign and benefactor. Outnumbered and facing four different enemy armies, the French Emperor nonetheless did not hesitate, but immediately resumed the offensive.
Unfortunately for Napoleon, the repeated military failures of his marshals were again fated, as they had been in the spring, to undermine any battlefield successes that the Emperor was able of achieve on his own. Nonetheless, the French campaign began auspiciously. At Dresden, on 26-27 August, Napoleon defeated a combined Austrian, Russian, and Prussian force of some 170,000, under Schwarzenberg, with a much smaller French army of 120,000 men. Coalition losses from this engagement were very heavy and the confidence of the Allied high command again wavered and began to crack in the face of yet another defeat at Napoleon’s hands. Again, with the Allies retreating in disarray in the aftermath of Dresden, encouraging tidings from several fronts soon reached the Coalition high command which quickly restored their morale and rekindled their resolve. In the west, Marshal Oudinot incomprehensibly abandoned his drive against Berlin after a single minor setback at the hands of an inferior Prussian force. Soon, additional good news reached the Allied Headquarters: a French force under Marshal MacDonald, it was learned, had been dealt a severe check on the 26th, losing some 15,000 men and 100 cannon; and on the 30th, near Kulm, Marshal Vandamme’s corps was overwhelmed by a vastly superior Allied force, and — although over half of the French troops engaged in the action managed to escape — the gallant marshal and 13,000 of his soldiers fell into enemy hands.
In the face of one disappointing report after another, the Emperor still maintained his aplomb. Nonetheless, the unpleasant new reality of the French position was inescapable; the strategic situation, in a matter of days had changed completely. Oudinot’s timidity, MacDonald’s poor judgment, and Vandamme’s bad luck had all combined to put the fate of the Emperor’s entire campaign in the most extreme jeopardy. Desperate measures were now called for. With enemy armies rapidly converging on him from three sides, Napoleon decided on a gamble. First, he would concentrate the bulk of his remaining forces west of the Elbe River; then if he could not bring about a battle with one of the still-separated, but advancing Allied forces, he would march on Leipzig in an effort to bluff the converging armies into falling back beyond his reach. This maneuver, Napoleon hoped, might yet prevent the whole strength of the Allied forces from uniting against him. His decision made, the Emperor ordered his soldiers to resume their march into the heart of Saxony. At about noon, on 14 October 1813, Napoleon arrived at Leipzig; as the Emperor and his entourage entered the ancient Saxon city, Napoleon could hear the rolling reports of cannon in the distance. Clearly, the Emperor's bluff had failed. The Allies were not withdrawing, but, instead, were continuing to advance against him. A major battle was now inevitable; the crisis point of the 1813 campaign was finally at hand, and Leipzig was soon to be the site of the greatest battle of the Napoleonic Wars.
THE BATTLE OF NATIONS: The Encirclement at Leipzig, 16-19 October 1813 is a grand tactical (division-level) simulation — based on the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — of the final decisive battle of Napoleon’s 1813 Campaign to restore French control of central Europe. The game map covers the area in the Saxon region of Germany in which the battle was fought, and each hex on the map sheet represents 800 meters from side-to-side. THE BATTLE OF NATIONS is played in game turns which are further divided into two symmetrical segments: the French and then the Allied player turn. Each game turn always begins with the French player turn and proceeds in a set sequence: first the movement phase and then the combat phase. Once the French combat phase is completed, the Allied player then repeats the same sequence of actions. At the conclusion of the Allied player turn, the game turn marker is advanced one space, and the turn sequence is repeated until the game ends. Each daylight game turn is equivalent to two hours of real time. A complete game varies in length from five to twenty game turns, depending on which scenario is being played.
The game mechanics of THE BATTLE OF NATIONS are easy-to-learn and intuitively logical. Stacking is prohibited at the end of the movement phase and throughout the combat phase; however, units may move through friendly-occupied hexes without penalty. Also, as might be expected, different kinds of terrain affect both movement and combat odds, but these various terrain types are limited to the following categories: clear, road, towns, forest, rough, marsh, rivers, streams, and bridges. Movement across rivers or into marshes is prohibited except along roads (or bridges). Forest and rough hexes cost two movement points to enter, and streams cost all units two additional movement points to cross. In addition, movement from one road hex to another is performed at ½ movement point per hex. Rough and marsh hexes double the strength of the defender, and defending units are also doubled if attacked exclusively across either bridge or stream hex-sides. Interestingly, although there are no formal supply rules in THE BATTLE OF NATIONS, French units are still required to trace a ‘Line of Communication’ to a specific road hex on the west map edge to avoid being eliminated at the end of the last game turn of each scenario.
Zones of control (ZOCs) in THE BATTLE OF NATIONS are both rigid and sticky. This means that units must stop immediately upon entering an enemy unit’s ZOC; and once in an enemy unit’s ZOC, they may only exit that unit’s ZOC as a direct result of combat or during movement on a night game turn. In addition, combat between adjacent enemy units is mandatory during day turns, and all units next to an attacking enemy unit must be attacked. Combat in THE BATTLE OF NATIONS, like all of the other games in the NAPOLEON AT WAR Series, is resolved using a traditional ‘odds differential’ Combat Results Table (CRT), and individual battle die rolls are limited to one of five combat outcomes: AR, AE, DR, Ex, and DE. In the case of retreat results, the owning player determines the route of retreat. However, if the only legal flight hex available is already occupied by another friendly unit, then that unit is ‘Displaced’ to make room for the retreating unit. Multiple units can be displaced in this way, so long as none would at any point be forced to enter a hex blocked by terrain or enemy ZOC’s.
Victory in THE BATTLE OF NATIONS is achieved by eliminating sufficient enemy combat strength points to cause the opposing force to become ‘Demoralized’. Unlike other games in the NAW Series, however, in this game, the ‘Demoralization Levels’ of the two opposing armies change from day-to-day as friendly reinforcements arrive on the battlefield. Thus, on 16 October, the ‘Demoralization Levels’ of the French and Allied armies are 100 and 80 respectively; by 18 October these levels have changed to 110 to 160. Clearly, this means that if the French army is to win at Leipzig, it must do so before the Allied army has completed its concentration in the immediate battle area. In addition, any French units that cannot trace a ‘Line of Communication’ free of enemy ZOC’s and across traversable hexes at the end of the last game turn is considered eliminated for purposes of computing ‘Demoralization’.
THE BATTLE OF NATIONS offers two short scenarios: the ‘First Day’ Scenario (5 game turns), and the ‘Third Day’ Scenario (9 turns). The centerpiece of the simulation, however, is the Grand Battle Game (20 game turns) which covers the action at Leipzig from the morning of 16 October through the first few hours of the morning of 19 October, 1813. There are no ‘optional’ rules. Players should note, however, that two brief but important corrections to the Allied reinforcement schedule appeared as official game Errata in Moves, No. 29, shortly after the game was published. These corrections are currently available at Grognard.com.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
SPI’s NAPOLEON AT WAR QuadriGame first appeared in 1975 and, because I was already very interested in the Napoleonic Wars — I had just finished my first reading of Chandler’s ‘The Campaigns of Napoleon’ a year or so earlier — I immediately ordered a copy of the new QuadriGame from the publisher. I was not disappointed. Almost from the moment that I first opened the box, most of the titles in NAPOLEON AT WAR were an instantaneous hit with me and my friends. Of the four games included in the set, WAGRAM was initially far and away everyone’s favorite, followed closely by MARENGO, and then JENA-AUERSTADT. Only THE BATTLE OF NATIONS was a disappointment. Because of the sheer size of the battle, and the 100 counter limit imposed by the QuadriGame design format, there were no artillery units included in THE BATTLE OF NATIONS counter mix. This seemed, on first inspection — because of the critical role of ranged artillery fire in the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — to be a fatal flaw. So after a brief glance at the game map and counters, I put this title aside and did not look at it again for years.
In 1979, Operational Studies Group (OSG) published the first version of Kevin Zucker’s detailed but playable treatment of the Battle of Nations, NAPOLEON AT LEIPZIG. Here, at last, was a game that did the Battle of Leipzig justice. It was historically colorful and textured enough to be interesting, but — because it was heavily influenced by Zucker’s earlier SPI design, NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES — it was also very easy for experienced players to learn and play. It had, however, one minor problem: both the ‘Standard Campaign Game’ and the ‘Early Start Campaign Game’ were, not unexpectedly, a little long. Even the ‘Standard Campaign Game’ typically required several full days to play to a conclusion, and the ‘Early Start Game’ was more time-consuming still. This inescapable fact presented me and my regular opponents with a problem: because Zucker’s design required a fairly significant amount of ‘table time’, it was extremely difficult to experiment with different game strategies without investing a great many hours pouring over the game map. This, of course, is a persistent issue when it comes to playing ‘big’ games. It simply takes a long time for players to discover that they have screwed-up and that they need to try a different plan. Finally, I decided to try a short-cut. To improve my ‘learning curve’ in the larger game, I turned my attention again to the much simpler title, THE BATTLE OF NATIONS.
My original idea was to experiment, using the simpler game, on several plans — particularly for a major French attack of the 17th — that I might then, if they showed any promise, be able to transfer to the larger, Zucker simulation. Much to my surprise, in the process of conducting these trial-runs, I discovered that THE BATTLE OF NATIONS wasn’t nearly as bad as I had originally assumed. In fact, given the simpler design’s limitations, it was actually a pretty good little game. And I was not alone in reaching this conclusion; a number of my friends also took a renewed interest in this and several of the other titles from NAPOLEON AT WAR, which over the years, had been pretty much set aside and forgotten. WAGRAM again regained its favorite status, but this time around, THE BATTLE OF NATIONS, was a close second. The moral of this little tale, if there is one, is that — when it comes to games, at least — first impressions really can be completely wrong.
So, what does all of this mean? Certainly,NAPOLEON AT LEIPZIG (of which there have now been at least four different versions published) is still, in my opinion, the best and most manageable overall simulation of the multi-day engagement. But for players who want to refight the greatest battle of the Napoleonic Wars; but who want to do so in a single afternoon, THE BATTLE OF NATIONS is probably both the easiest and most enjoyable option. Moreover, unlike its more detailed counterpart, it is a very easy game to play online. For these reasons, I believe that THE BATTLE OF NATIONS, despite its age and obvious simplicity, is still a good bet for almost any gamer. The historically fascinating game situation presented by the Battle of Leipzig, combined with the well-tested NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System makes for an exciting game that is easy to learn and fast-paced to play. Moreover, like all of the other titles that make use of this game system, it is both simple enough to serve as introductory game for beginners, and still challenging enough to make for an exciting contest between experienced players. Thus, for gamers with even a passing interest in either the 1813 Campaign or the Napoleonic Wars, I recommend THE BATTLE OF NATIONS, highly; it is both a great solitaire game and an excellent choice for players of almost any skill level. Finally, for those players who would like to try the game online, matches are available to paid subscribers at Hexwars.
- Time Scale: 2 hours per day game turn; 14 hours per night game turn
- Map Scale: 800 meters per hex
- Unit Size: division
- Unit Types: infantry and cavalry
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 1½ - 3+ hours (depending on scenario)
- One 17’’ x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record Track and Terrain Key incorporated)
- 100 ½” cardboard Counters
- 20 ½” cardboard Random Number Counters (included in all of the 'folio games' as a substitute for a six-sided die)
- One 8½” x 11” NAPOLEON AT WAR Standard Rules Booklet (with Combat Results Table and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
- One 8½” x 11” THE BATTLE OF NATIONS Exclusive Rules Booklet (with Combat Results Table, Terrain Effects Chart, Initial Set-up, and Reinforcement Schedule incorporated)
- One 4½” x 8½” SPI Products Catalogue and Mailer
- One 8½” x 11” Strategy & Tactics Subscription Mailer
- One 9” x 12” cardboard Game Folio
See my blog post Book Review of this title, The Campaigns of Napoleon by David Chandler, which is strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.