Emperor Napoleon and his Battle Hardened Generals, painting by Meissonier
What had begun at Leipzig, on 19 October 1813, as an orderly French withdrawal — because of the dereliction of General Dulauloy of the Imperial Guard — became, instead, a military catastrophe. The premature demolition of the Lindenau Bridge insured that a substantial number of Napoleon’s troops, rather than being able to make their escape west, were instead trapped in Leipzig with their backs to the east bank of the Elster River. Because of this unexpected and unnecessary disaster, Napoleon began his retreat towards the Rhine with barely 100,000 of the 200,000 French and allied soldiers that had marched to join him in Leipzig only days before. The battle for Germany was lost; moreover, with the decisive Coalition victory against him at Leipzig, any prospect of the French Emperor relieving the tens of thousands of Frenchmen who still held out in isolated garrisons on the Vistula and the Oder was ended. To add to Napoleon’s increasing woes, France’s former German allies, one by one, switched their allegiance to the anti-French Coalition. The Empire east of the Rhine was gone; now, there was only France, itself.
Russian cavalry charge
The campaign of 1813, like that of 1812 had begun with promise and ended with disaster. In the space of only two years, nearly 1,000,000 French and allied troops had been lost. More importantly, these horrific casualties were, after two decades of war, finally beyond the capacity of an exhausted French nation to make good. Now, for the first time since the desperate days following the Revolution that had toppled the Bourbons, France again faced foreign invasion. Almost 300,000 Coalition troops were on the march towards the frontier on the Rhine; to oppose them, Napoleon could, at most, muster approximately 80,000 men. His only hope was that the victorious Allies might halt for a time while they reorganized their forces and established new lines of communication towards the French frontier. Even a few months’ halt would, the Emperor was confident, gain him enough time to raise fresh armies. Thus, if the Coalition forces only suspended their offensive operations until spring, Napoleon believed that his perilous situation might yet be salvaged. To increase the prospects for a temporary pause in hostilities, the French Emperor — with some encouragement from certain members of the enemy Coalition — embarked on a frantic diplomatic offensive to persuade his adversaries to convene a ‘peace conference’ at some indeterminate future date. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the Tsar, supported by the King of Prussia, was implacable: there would be no peace with France until Cossack riders grazed their horses in the garden of the Tuileries in Paris.
Marschall Vorwarts (Marshal Forwards) painting of Blücher by Johann Emil Hunten (1863)
On 22 December 1813, the Allied General Wrede crossed the Rhine and laid siege to the French garrison in Huningen. On 29 December, Blücher began to bring his army over the Rhine at Caub, Lahnstein, and Mannheim. On New Year’s Day, 1814, The Austrian Commander-in-Chief, Schwarzenberg, finally began a cautious advance against the light forces screening the French border to his front. The battle for France had begun; and, unfortunately for Napoleon, it had started months before the French leader had been able to complete his preparations. Nonetheless, the Emperor, after doing what he could to stabilize the political situation in the French Capital, travelled secretly from Paris to the front in order to take personal command of a French contingent of some 34,000 men. Napoleon’s first target would be his old enemy, Blücher, and the Army of Silesia. The French Emperor’s plan was a simple one: counting on surprise, he would smash the overconfident Prussian marshal and his army at St. Dizier, before any word had reached the Allies that Napoleon, himself, had again taken the field.
NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS is a strategic (corps) level game that allows players to simulate both Napoleon’s 1814 campaign to defend France from Allied invasion; and the newly-returned Emperor’s attempt, in 1815, to smash the new enemy armies that were massing in Belgium before they could launch a new offensive against France. The game map represents the area of France, Belgium, Holland, and Germany over which the 1814 and 1815 campaigns were waged. This region — part of which, aptly enough, is known as the “cock pit” of Europe — extends from Frankfurt in the east to Montreuil in the west and from Ostend in the north to Epinal in the south. The unit counters in the game represent historical infantry and cavalry corps. Two numbers appear on the corps unit counters: the first is the strength of the unit, in ‘power points’ (combat factors) in the 1814 Campaign Game; the second value is the strength of the same unit in the 1815 Scenario. In addition to these combat units, each player also controls those senior military leaders that either did or could have taken part in the actual campaigns. Interestingly, each military leader in the game is rated according to his skill in different types of tactical situations. These ratings will be discussed later, but it should be noted that they do have a significant impact on the outcome of individual battles.
NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS is played in game turns, each of which is equivalent to five days of real time. Game turns are divided into two symmetrical segments: a French Commander (FC) and an Allied Commander (AC) player turn. The French player is always the first to act, and each player turn proceeds in a set sequence: FC Indices Adjustment Phase; FC Reinforcement Phase; FC Movement Phase; and FC Attack Phase. Once the French Commander’s Attack Phase is completed, the Allied Commander (AC) then performs 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. The 1814 Scenario is twenty-five turns long; the 1815 Scenario is twenty-four turns in length. It should be noted that along with the new units that enter the game on certain turns as reinforcements, both players will also periodically be able to replace previously eliminated units using ‘replacement points’ that appear on the Replacement/Supply Points Tracks during certain game turns.
Field Marshal Karl Philipp Prince of Schwarzenberg, Austrian Commander in Chief,Leipzig, 1771-1820
The game mechanics of NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS are relatively easy-to-learn and, although a little unusual, are generally logical. The game map contains only four types of terrain: clear, forest, rivers, and fortresses. And of the four, only forest areas affect movement. Thus, the movement rules are, on the whole, straightforward and reasonable: all units may automatically move from one area into another adjacent ‘clear terrain’ area during the Movement Phase of any game turn. The movement rules for French units, however, are different from those of the Allies in one important respect: French units may try to move two areas, instead of the standard one-area move, by making a ‘forced-march’. In this case, the French player first expends supply for any units attempting a forced-march; he then rolls a die for each such unit. If he rolls a 1 through 4 for infantry, or a 1 through 5 for cavalry, the marching unit may move two areas, instead of one. If the die roll fails, the affected unit remains in its original area and does not move at all. The Imperial Guard and Napoleon, by the way, do not require a die roll in order to successfully force-march. This French advantage is also important because ‘forest’ areas typically require two game turns to enter: on the first game turn a unit seeking to enter an adjacent forest area moves onto the border between its starting area and the target area; on the next game turn it can continue on into the forest area or, should the phasing player change his mind, into another clear area adjacent to the unit’s original starting point. The off-shoot of all this is that a French unit, unlike its Allied counterpart, can enter an adjacent forest area in a single game turn if it expends supply and its forced-march die roll is successful. One other feature of forest moves should also be noted: for purposes of combat, the ‘border’ unit is still considered to be in its starting area should an enemy force enter that area seeking battle. Rivers and fortresses do not affect movement, but do affect combat. If an attacking force crosses a river boundary in order to attack an adjacent enemy force, one (1) is subtracted from the combat die roll (or die rolls, in the case of multiple battles) on the game turn of the river crossing, only. Fortresses possess an intrinsic combat strength. In addition, fortresses and any units garrisoning them, may be either besieged or attacked; however, if the phasing player decides to assault a fortress, only one corps may actually attack a fortress and its garrison, no matter how large the hostile force in the area containing the enemy fortress actually is.
Prussian General Friedrich Emil Ferdinand Heinrich, Count Kleist von Nollendorf, 1762 to 1823, painting by Hermann Scherenberg
In NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS, combat between enemy forces in the same area, under most circumstances, is mandatory. The only exception to this rule is that enemy units sheltering within a fortress may or may not be attacked at the phasing player’s option. Moreover, combat is also influenced by the nationalities of the forces involved. For example, in cases in which different Allied armies are attacking a French force in an area, the different national armies must each attack separately. When different Allied armies are defending in the same area, on the other hand, they typically are united in defense (under a single Allied leader) and must be attacked by the French commander as a single force. The only exception to this ‘unified Allied defenders’ rule arises when Napoleon is at the head of the attacking French army. In this case, the French commander may voluntarily choose the ‘Central Position’ Option and attack each enemy army individually; always beginning, however, by attacking the largest enemy force first. So long as each of the French attacks is successful, Napoleon may continue to attack each enemy army, in turn. In addition to conventional attacks, the attacker may also make a ‘Pinning Attack’ in an attempt to prevent the enemy force from moving during the opposing player’s movement phase.
Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blucher, 1742 to 1819. The Bluchermuseum is in Mainz.
The procedure for resolving battles in NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS is actually fairly complicated and involves several different operations. The first step in the combat process is for both commanders to secretly select a tactical card that represents their preferred course of action. For the attacker these options are: Flanking Movement; Double Envelopment; Central Position (Napoleon, only); Cautious Advance; and Rapid Attack. The Defending player’s tactical options are: Withdraw; Delaying Action; Passive Defense; Aggressive Defense; and All-Out Counterattack. These cards are revealed and then matched against each other on the ‘Tactical Analysis Chart’ (matrix). Depending on which option each player has selected, the combat instructions on the tactical matrix can stipulate anything from die-roll modifications, to changes in combat casualty levels, to no effect at all. This process is made more challenging — particularly for the Allied player — by the fact that, while Napoleon is rated as a level ‘five’ commander in all (both defensive and offensive) tactical situations, the Allied commanders each vary in their ratings from ‘zero’ to ‘five’, depending on the tactical option chosen. Thus, if Marshal Blücher selects an Aggressive Defense against Napoleon’s choice of a Flanking Movement, Blücher’s tactical rating for this action (four) would be subtracted from Napoleon’s rating of five to yield a ‘plus one’ die-roll modifier. The matrix requires an additional ‘minus one’ adjustment, so the final combat die-roll would be unmodified; however, the matrix also stipulates no adjustment in French casualties, but does increase the defending commander’s casualties by ‘plus one’ should the defender be required to retreat. This means that, if the combat result requires the defender to lose 10% of his force and retreat, he would lose at least 25%, instead. Once these first two steps have been taken care of, and the combat requirements, if any, of the tactical matrix have been established, the battle is rolled and the final results determined by cross-indexing the combat odds and die-roll using a traditional ‘odds-differential’ type Combat Computation Chart (CCC). The actual combat results for a battle can vary widely: the attacker or defender may be required to retreat; alternatively, both forces may take equal losses and stand fast; in addition, losses can range all the way from zero to 100% for either side, depending on the combat odds and die roll. Moreover, in the case of either an attacker or a defender retreat, the winner of the battle — if he has more cavalry strength than the loser — may conduct a ‘Cavalry Pursuit’. In this case, the retreating force must lose additional combat factors amounting to the difference between the combat strength of the pursuing cavalry and that of any cavalry accompanying the retreating army. Finally, in cases where players are obliged to remove a unit or units whose combat strength exceeds the actual loss required by the CCC, the excess combat points are transferred to the affected player’s Replacement Track where, after a one turn delay, they may be used to create new units or to resurrect previously eliminated corps.
French cuirassiers attacking a Highland square at Waterloo
The rules governing supply in NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS are, like the combat procedure, a bit complicated and take a little getting used to. To begin with, there are two types of supply: General Supply (forage-based) and Operational Supply (depot-based). In the case of General Supply, each national army must trace a supply path back to its own source; in addition, a single corps may draw supply from a fortress it is garrisoning. In both the 1814 and the 1815 Scenarios, the French army must trace an unblocked supply line back to any area — unoccupied by enemy forces — on the west or south map edge. The supply situation for the Allies, unlike that of the French, varies according to the scenario being played. In the 1814 Scenario, the Allied supply sources are, as follows: Army of Bohemia — Basel; both the Army of Silesia and the Army of the North — Frankfurt. Moreover, in the 1814 Scenario, all Allied armies may use each others’ unblocked supply lines to provide General Supply. In the 1815 Scenario, each Allied army must draw its supply from its own source only; these are: Anglo-Allied Army — Ghent; both the Prussian and the Russian Armies — Frankfurt; and the Austrian Army — Freiberg. This supply path MUST follow the shortest possible route (in areas) between the supply source and the various units drawing supply. For example, if an enemy unit enters an unoccupied rear area and, by so doing, increases the length of a supply path from three to four areas, then the previously supplied units would all immediately be placed out of General Supply. Moreover, a supply line may never be traced through an area containing enemy occupied fortresses, unless all such fortresses are besieged. Over and above these considerations, units in NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS that are in General Supply are also eligible to use Operational Supply. Both the French and Allied commanders begin the game with a certain quantity of accumulated ‘supply points’, and receive additional points as the game progresses. These supply points can be expended in order to permit a commander to ‘over concentrate’ his forces (assemble more corps) in a single area, to conduct attacks, or, in the case of the French commander, to make ‘forced-marches’. The effects of units being out of supply are relatively straight-forward: unsupplied corps may only attack once, and may only remain ‘over-concentrated’ in an area for one game turn before either supply or regular ‘concentration’ levels must be restored through movement. In addition, French units that are unsupplied may only make a single forced-march attempt until supply has been restored.
The winner in NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS is determined on the basis of control of certain geographical objectives. In both the 1814 and 1815 Scenarios, the Allied player wins by controlling Paris for two consecutive game turns, and by either besieging or driving out all French forces from Belgium or any areas east of the Rhine River. The French player wins by holding Paris while, at the same time, maintaining at least one supplied, unbesieged unit in Belgium or east of the Rhine. Any other result is a draw.
NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS offers three basic scenarios: the 1814 Historical Scenario; the 1815 Historical Scenario; and the 1815 Free Deployment Scenario. For the players’ convenience, all scenario set-up instructions are printed directly on the game map. There are no ‘optional’ rules.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATIONA visit to the popular wargame information site, boardgamegeek.com, reveals something that I personally find astounding: based on polling at http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/13801/napoleons-last-campaigns , NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS shows a mind-boggling average ‘Geek’ (approval) rating of 7.39/10. Not only that, but a number of visitors to this game site’s message board recommend this title as one of the very best of the Rand Game Associates ‘Command Series I’ games. Frankly, in spite of all this praise, I just don’t see it. Maybe it is just me, but I could never bring myself to like this title, and, believe me, I really tried.
To be honest, I understand and even appreciate several of the arguments that have been made on behalf of NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGNS by the fans of the game: the French advantages in leadership, concentration (stacking), and forced-marching are nicely balanced against the numerical superiority of the Allies. This built-in game tension makes for both an interesting historical simulation and a challenging set of problems for both players. But for me, at least, these elements are still not enough to salvage the overall game.
In the end, I suspect that the real determining factor as to whether a player will love or hate this game rests with the combat system. I personally found it awkward, time-consuming, and confusing. The cumbersomeness of the whole procedure just seemed to consistently outweigh the potential benefits of the ‘tactical matrix’, leader-versus-leader combat system. Moreover, the fact that players have to squint or use a magnifying glass to read the tiny print on the Combat Computation Chart (what’s wrong with calling it a CRT, by the way?) is also a major source of irritation, at least, to me. So while, I seem to be in the minority when it comes to this title, I still cannot recommend this game except to real Napoleonic game buffs. There are certainly some interesting ideas buried in the game system; nonetheless, in my opinion, they are simply too hard to dig out to be worth the typical player’s time and effort.
- Time Scale: 5 days per game turn
- Map Scale: 25 kilometers per inch (area movement)
- Unit Size: corps
- Unit Types: leader, infantry, cavalry, and information markers
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: average
- Solitaire Suitability: average
- Average Playing Time: 2 + hours (depending on which scenario is being played)
- One 17” x 24” area movement Map Sheet (with 1814 and 1815 Replacement Points Charts, Scenario Set-up Charts, Commanders’ Tactical Ability Charts, French and Allies combined Supply Point and Reinforcement Point Indices (Tracks) incorporated)
- 72 ⅝” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 8” NAPOLEON’S LAST CAMPAIGN Rules Booklet
- Two 8” x 8” Tactical Analysis Charts
- One 6½” x 8” Rand Game Associates Customer Letter & Questionnaire
- One 5½” x 9” Rand Game Associates ‘Command Series II’ Special Offer Brochure
- One 5” x 7” ‘Command Series II’ Subscription Form
- One 3½” x 6” RGA ‘Command Series II’ Special Discount Certificate
- One 3½” x 6½” RGA Prepaid Business Reply Envelope
Universal ‘Command Series’ Components Required:
- Universal Turn Recorder
- ‘Tac’ Cards (#’s 1-5)
- One six-sided Die
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles, which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.