This game profile is unusually long, even by my self-indulgent standards; for this reason, I suggest that those readers who are already familiar with the basic outlines of the 1812 game system, or those who are simply pressed for time, skip the first part of this essay and scroll down to the later sections, beginning with “Sitting Down to Play,” which deal with the scenarios and, more to the point, with the unique and challenging operational problems presented in grand-tactical 1812. It is in the last few sections of this profile that the structural elements that set this simulation apart from the other titles in the LEIPZIG family of Napoleonic games are examined in some detail. Finally, given my atypical (bifurcated) approach to this particular post, readers who work their way through this entire essay will note a bit of repetition because of the “interconnectedness” of several of the different sections on game mechanics and tactics; for this I apologize in advance.



A few months prior to the outbreak of war between France and Russia, Tsar Alexander Ist — in hopes, perhaps, of heading off the impending conflict with Napoleon — offered the following, surprisingly prescient, observation to the French Ambassador to the Court at St. Petersburg, the Duc de Vicence, Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt.

“If the Emperor Napoleon decides to make war, it is possible, even probable, that we shall be defeated, assuming that we fight. But that will not mean that he can dictate a peace. The Spaniards have frequently been defeated; and they are not beaten, nor have they surrendered. Moreover, they are not so far from Paris as we are, and have neither our climate nor our resources to help them. We shall take no risks. We have plenty of space; and our standing army is well organized … Your Frenchman is brave, but long sufferings and a hard climate wear down his resistance. Our climate, our winter, will fight on our side.”

Armand Augustin Louis de Caulaincourt.
Original steel engraving drawn by
E. Charpentier, engraved by Goutière. 1837

The Tsar’s warning went, of course, unheeded in Paris, and on 22 June, 1812, the uneasy five-year peace between the empires of France and Russia finally came to an end. Napoleon, exasperated by Russia’s abandonment of the “Continental System” and suspicious of the Tsar’s barely-concealed, warming relations with England, had decided — through brute military power — to bring his fellow emperor to heel. No shots were fired on that day in June, yet the war might be said to have officially begun when a small troop of Polish cavalry first trotted up to an isolated stretch of the Niemen River in Central Europe.

The newly-arrived horsemen’s interest in the Niemen was not accidental: they were a hand-picked band of mounted scouts dispatched to reconnoiter this particular section of the boundary between the Duchy of Warsaw and Holy Russia, and to determine if its banks were free of unfriendly eyes. However, besides being on the lookout for Russian patrols, the cavalrymen were also searching for something else: a safe site for a large army to pass over the Niemen and into the territory of Alexander the First, the Tsar of All the Russias. Moreover, this advanced party was in a hurry. A huge host — personally commanded by the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte — comprised of some 240,000 men, 100,000 horses, hundreds of guns, and over 20,000 vehicles was following close behind. Thus, once a promising section of the river had been thoroughly reconnoitered by the Polish cavalrymen and found to be deserted, a messenger was sent galloping back to alert the main body and its commander that this stretch of the Niemen appeared to be unguarded. And given the importance of their mission, it was not long before the Polish horsemen were joined by the impatient French Emperor, himself, and a small carefully-selected retinue of officers and men.

Polish Uhlans.
Napoleon, already thinking about his opening moves against the Russian forces to the east, had decided to ride ahead to personally examine the crossing site before his sappers (engineers) actually set to work bridging the Niemen. The French Emperor was eager to press forward, and as darkness fell, Napoleon, his chief engineer, and a small escort moved stealthily back and forth along the western bank of the Niemen, carefully inspecting the slow-moving river and its near and far shores. Within hours, a satisfactory crossing point had been selected and a small party of French soldiers was dispatched across the river to secure a section of the opposite riverbank.

Events now moved ahead very rapidly. Once both banks of the crossing point had been placed under the Emperor’s control, French sappers immediately jumped to the task of bridging the dark waters of the Niemen. Their work went quickly and, seemingly within hours, three pontoon bridges had been constructed across the river; as soon the sappers had completed their labors, the huge French army that had gathered west of the river began to pass over the Niemen and onto the soil of Holy Russia. The French crossing actually began on 23 June and would ultimately require four days to complete. Nonetheless, once it had begun, Napoleon immediately turned his thoughts to the next phase of his offensive: the finding, pinning, and then the complete annihilation of the, as yet, invisible enemy armies that, the French Emperor knew, waited for him somewhere to his front. The Russians, Napoleon was certain, would have no choice but to fight; thus, in the Emperor’s mind, only two important questions remained to be answered: where would they offer battle, and when? And on these two questions would hang the fate of the whole campaign.

These, of course, were issues that would have to wait, and as the long French columns of men, vehicles, guns, and horses passed over the Niemen and into Russia, the decisive actions that Napoleon was sure he would fight were still in the future. In the meantime, it was clear that the French invasion had started out well, and despite an inauspicious fall from his horse at the beginning of the campaign, the French Emperor was full of optimism.

The Boasted Crossing of the Niemen
at the Opening of the Campaign
in 1812 by N. Bonaparte,
Artist: Matthew Dubourg; John Heaviside Clark
In Napoleon’s own mind, he had ample reason to be confident both in his careful preparations and in his overall plan of campaign. A massive effort had been made by the French Commissariat throughout the Empire to secure the food and other stores necessary for a comparatively short campaign in Russia; in addition, besides the formidable force under his direct command, the French Emperor controlled a further 400,000 men who were variously deployed to cover his northern and southern flanks, with yet additional troops held in reserve. Moreover, morale among the officers and men of Napoleon’s Grande Armée was high. Most expected the campaign against the Tsar to be concluded in a month or two, at the most; and given the outcomes of earlier French clashes with the Russians, another victory against an enemy that had repeatedly been defeated in past years seemed all but certain. For Napoleon and the soldiers who followed him, however, this invasion — despite its vast resources and promising beginning — would turn out very differently from all of the Emperor’s previous campaigns. Still, in these first heady days of the invasion, no one in the French army, including the Emperor, himself, could foresee what the days to come held in store for the dusty thousands who resolutely marched east: that only a lucky few of the soldiers who now followed the Emperor into Russia would ever live to cross back over the Niemen; and that, as a direct result of this ill-considered and unnecessary campaign, Napoleon and his empire would ultimately fall.


Tzar Alexander
1812: The Campaign of Napoleon in Russia, as SPI wargames go, is a relatively unusual offering. Its oddness stems from the fact that the 1812 game package actually includes not one, but two very different design treatments of exactly the same subject: Napoleon’s disastrously unsuccessful invasion of Russia. Designed by John Young and Phil Orbanes and published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1972, both games in 1812 share the same title and the same game box; however, each design takes its own approach to simulating Napoleon’s ill-fated campaign against Tsar Alexander Ist: one game — the version designed by Phil Orbanes — uses a strategic (area-movement) game system to tackle this problem; the other design — the one offered by John Young — employs a modified version of the grand-tactical (hex-based) game platform first introduced in LEIPZIG (1972). Oddly, despite SPI’s best efforts, both 1812 game designs received only a modest amount of attention in the hobby press when they initially appeared, and both now are largely forgotten. In my opinion, this is too bad. The two designers of 1812 both confronted an extremely difficult simulation problem and each followed his own unique path on the way to solving that problem. The end result of this unusual collaboration is a pair of different, but interesting and, I think, very challenging and enjoyable games.

Napoleon Bonaparte astride his Arabian stallion, Marengo.
Regrettably, there is one other thing about the commonly-held hobby view of these two underappreciated designs — besides their relative obscurity — that I still find, even after all these years, somewhat frustrating: there was (and still is) a wide-spread predilection among the gamers who are familiar with SPI’s 1812 to discount John Young’s grand-tactical design in favor of Phil Orbane’s area-movement version of the game. The main reason for this well-entrenched bias seems to be an almost universal belief among the small band of players who have actually played both games that the area-movement version is better balanced than the grand-tactical design; that, while the French have a fighting chance of winning in the area-movement version, Napoleon has virtually no prospect of scoring any kind of meaningful victory in the John Young game. This popular viewpoint, I am absolutely convinced, is misguided; and it is one that I will attempt to correct in this essay. Not surprisingly then, the discussion that follows will focus almost exclusively on my personal favorite of these two very different games, the underestimated and much misunderstood grand-tactical (hex-based) version of 1812.


The Components

Viewed from the standpoint of contemporary gaming, 1812 is, without doubt, much more notable for the design work that it showcases than for its presentation or production values. In fact, components-wise, this early Napoleonic offering is pretty standard fare for early-seventies’ SPI games. Both the map and the Terrain Effects chart are printed on heavy-stock paper, while the clearly-written rules are presented in the compact, if somewhat awkward map-fold format that SPI tended to favor during the period before rules “booklets” made their wide-spread appearance. One nice feature of Simonsen’s design work on this title is that virtually all of the frequently-used tables (CRT, Forced-March, Attrition, etc.) are printed directly on the map surface. Since several of these charts are used by one or both players during almost every game turn, this both simplifies and speeds the flow of the game. I do, however, have two complaints about the graphics presentation of grand-tactical 1812. The first is that, although an ongoing tally of French Victory Points is critical to play, no Victory Points Track is included with the game. My second beef is that the Turn Record/Reinforcement Track is integrated directly into the body of the game’s rules, and is not printed on a separate piece of paper stock. These irritating little problems were probably the result of an attempt by SPI to cut overall production costs but, I personally find both of these omissions to be thoroughly irksome. In the end, I hand-drew a Victory Points Track; and after only a couple of attempts to use the Turn Record/Reinforcement Chart that actually came with the game, I decided to hand-draw a separate copy of this game track as well, so that I or my opponent could refer to the rules without having to fiddle either with waiting reinforcements or with the game turn marker. Excluding these two nits, however, the graphics and presentation of the grand-tactical version of 1812 combine, on balance, to form a game package that is both functional and yet still moderately attractive to the eye. Of course, far more important than the physical quality of a game’s components is how those components actually work to support the simulation’s basic design architecture. In the case of grand-tactical 1812, I am happy to say that they fit together very well indeed.

Interestingly, the first thing that new players tend to notice about John Young’s design is the rather unusual look of the game map. For starters, the 22” x 34” four-color, hexagonal 1812 game map requires a separate partial map section to display part of the Baltic States and St. Petersburg, and for this reason, it requires a slightly larger table area than might otherwise be expected. Each hex is 25 kilometers from side to side. The actual geographical region depicted by the map roughly stretches from Thorn in the west, to Moscow in the east; and from St. Petersburg in the north, to Kiev in the south: an area that, in total, covers more than 1,500,000 square kilometers. What really gives the game map its distinctive appearance, however, is that the playing surface has been divided into 58 colored “Supply Areas” — roughly analogous to provinces — which play a critical role (more on this, later) in the game’s supply and attrition subroutines. Variations in types of terrain, considering the geographical scope of the game, are actually quite limited; in fact, almost all of the map’s playing area is devoted to Clear terrain hexes. Moreover, the effects on play of the few other terrain types that appear in the game are comparatively modest. All-Sea hexes and the region where the Pripet Marshes would ordinarily be displayed, for example, are off-limits to movement; unbridged River hex-sides cost one additional movement point to cross; bridged River hex-sides, on the other hand, may be crossed without penalty. Also, while I am on the subject of rivers in 1812: some players will immediately notice that the courses of many of the familiar rivers on the game map seem to have mysteriously strayed from their actual channels by dozens and even hundreds of kilometers; this isn’t a big thing so far as the play of the game is concerned, but it is a bit odd, nonetheless. In any case, only two types of terrain affect combat: River hex-sides (whether bridged or unbridged) and Fortress hexes. Units defending behind a river hex-side or within a fortress are doubled, and benefit from several other defensive advantages, as well. Interestingly, although important cities are noted on the game map they have no effect on movement or combat and, except for the single exception of Moscow, have no real effect on the play of the game. Because of the extended duration of the historical campaign, the effects of weather range from benign to severe; and the arrival of winter exerts a powerful influence on play during the last stage of the game. As evidence of this, beginning on game turn twelve (the first turn of winter), movement allowances for all units, combat or otherwise, are reduced by a single movement point. More importantly, the onset of winter also triggers very significant and onerous changes in the supply rules; and these winter-related changes, interestingly enough, penalize both the French and Russian armies equally.

The game counters for the grand-tactical version of 1812 — as is typical of all of the titles in the LEIPZIG family of SPI games — are clearly printed on matté-finished cardboard and show each unit’s type, size, combat power, and movement range. Russian units are printed white on a forest green backing, while the French counters are light blue with dark blue print. Most of the infantry and cavalry pieces depict abstract, corps-sized units; with each corps counter representing approximately 25,000 men. Separate artillery counters are not included among the game’s combat units; instead, as is the case with the other titles in the LEIPZIG game series, they are considered to be factored into the organic combat power of the game’s infantry and cavalry corps. Other types of units present in the counter-mix include infantry and cavalry divisions (these are substitutes for corps-sized units reduced through forced-marching); leader units; supply trains; supply depots (French only); and assorted “area depletion” markers.

The Game System

The movement rules in grand-tactical 1812, for those readers who are unfamiliar with the LEIPZIG Game System, are a bit unorthodox; moreover, they can also be more than a little nerve-racking. This is because players may choose, at any point during their movement phase, to increase the movement allowances of some or all of their units through the use of “forced-marches”. All units that can otherwise legally move, may, at the phasing player’s option, conduct a “double forced-march”. What this means, in game terms, is that a cavalry unit with a regular movement allowance of six movement points could potentially dash ahead expending twelve movement points instead of its regular six. This bonus, however, comes at a price: a die must be rolled for each unit attempting to forced-march; if the die-roll is successful, then the unit completes its march with no ill effects; if the attempt is unsuccessful, however, the unit may either have to abandon its forced-march attempt, or risk ending its move either disrupted or, if it is an infantry or cavalry corps, reduced to a weaker “division-sized” unit. Even worse is the fact that any non corps-sized units (that is: divisions, leaders, or supply trains) would, in such an instance, be completely eliminated and removed from the map. In addition to double forced marches, any infantry-type unit (only) may attempt a “triple forced-march; which means that an infantry corps can, with a good die roll, catapult itself forward fifteen hexes rather than its usual five. Not surprisingly, both the risks and the rewards associated with triple forced-marches are greater than for double forced-marches. That being said, forced-marches are, even if rarely employed, an important element in the game.

The Zone of Control (ZOC) rules for grand-tactical 1812 will immediately be familiar to anyone who has played any of the other titles in the LEIPZIG series. All combat units — that is: cavalry and infantry, only — exert a zone of control into the six adjacent hexes; moreover, these units do not lose their ZOCs even if they are "disrupted" as a result of voluntary or involuntary retreats. These ZOCs come in two types: cavalry units (whether corps or divisions) exert a total zone of control; infantry units exert a partial zone of control. All units must halt upon entering a total ZOC and all non-cavalry units must halt upon entering a partial ZOC; however, cavalry units (only) may exit or even move through a partial ZOC by paying two additional movement points for each partially-controlled hex that they exit. Non-cavalry units that begin their movement phase may exit an enemy partial or total ZOC without penalty, but only so long as they do not move directly into another enemy ZOC. Cavalry units that begin their movement in an enemy ZOC may, of course, exit an enemy-controlled hex for an uncontrolled hex without penalty; in addition, however, they may also move directly from a partially-controlled hex directly into another enemy-controlled hex, but must end their movement (just like non-cavalry units) if the new hex is totally-controlled. Zones of control mutually extend into adjacent enemy-occupied hexes with only a single exception: Fortress hex-sides block ZOCs, and they do so for units both inside and directly adjacent to the fortress hex. Non-combat units (leaders, supply units, etc.) may freely stack and unstack without penalty; regular combat units, on the other hand, must pay one movement point to unstack and, more importantly, may not voluntarily stack with other friendly combat units unless the newly-assembled force attacks an adjacent enemy-occupied hex during the very next combat phase.

French baggage wagon.
If there is a single key element in the 1812 game system that outweighs all others, it is the crucial role that logistics plays for both armies as they march and countermarch across a largely inhospitable countryside in the summer, fall, and winter turns of 1812. In game terms, this means that supplying combat units in the primitive vastness that was early 19th century Russia — as was the case for the historical commanders — is probably the thorniest game problem facing both players in 1812. Armies on campaign during the Napoleonic Wars relied heavily on the surrounding countryside for food and fodder. Thus, combat units in the game must consistently be supplied or face a very real risk of being eliminated; moreover, supply for both the French and the Russian armies is, with very few exceptions, tied directly to the previously mentioned differently-hued “supply areas” on the game map. These geographical areas, depending on whether or not they have already been used to support combat units (of either army), can be in one of three possible conditions: undepleted; 50% depleted; or 100% depleted. Undepleted and 50% depleted areas may support an unlimited number of combat units for a single game turn; however, any changes in the status of supply areas that have been used in this way is tracked by placing an appropriate information marker in each of the affected areas at the end of the game turn. Combat units that occupy a 100% depleted area must either be able to draw supply from an alternative source (an adjacent area or a depot unit) or they must each roll for elimination. Typically, small contingents of combat units — two to three corps, for example — can operate on the map without degrading the supply status of an area, even in winter; larger forces, on the other hand, must constantly move into new, as yet unused areas, or face the prospect of heavy losses. This is where the game’s supply units come into play. Interestingly, both French and Russian supply trains, and (French only) supply depots are included in the 1812 grand-tactical game’s counter-mix; however, unlike the other members of the LEIPZIG family of Napoleonic titles, supplies in this game are important only for purposes of attrition, and are not used to support stacking, forced-marching, or combat. Nonetheless, the importance of the four French and two Russian supply trains cannot be overstated; it is no exaggeration to say that — because of the game’s unique area-based supply rules — the effective use, by both sides, of these critically-important units (more on this later) will largely determine the strategic flow and even the ultimate outcome of the game.

The fight for the Great Redoubt, the Battle of Borodino.
The stacking/combat rules in the grand-tactical version of 1812 are, for the most part, relatively straight forward. Under most circumstances, combat units (of any size) may not stack together except when conducting an attack; there are, however, two exceptions to this standard proscription: first, units may stack without penalty in a friendly-controlled fortress, but only if they have been required by the combat rules to retreat into the fortress hex; second, during the movement phase immediately before combat, an attacker may stack an unlimited number of combat units — literally the phasing player's entire army, if he chooses — in any otherwise legal hex on the map. Non-combat units (supply trains, depots, and leader units) are, as might be expected, exempt from all stacking restrictions. [There is one other exception to the prohibition against stacking that will sometimes arise as a result of combat: this occurs when an attacking stack is counterattacked and forced by a Dr1 or Dr2 result to retreat one or two hexes. In these instances, the retreating combat units are displaced without unstacking.] Units in a stack must all attack the same enemy hex; separate units in the same stack may not attack different targets, even if the stack is adjacent to multiple enemy-occupied hexes. Moreover, units in different hexes may not combine their attack strengths unless assaulting a garrisoned fortress. In all cases, combat between adjacent opposing units is voluntary; however, if a fortress garrison elects to attack an adjacent enemy unit, then all enemy units adjacent to the fortress must be attacked. The only exception to this requirement is if the besieging units are separated from each other by a river: in that case, the fortress garrison could choose to attack only those enemy units on one or the other side of the river instead of the entire besieging enemy force. Of course, there is one feature of the LEIPZIG combat subroutine that, more than any other, helps to give this game system its Napoleonic flavor: the rules permitting “retreat before combat.” In this game, as was the case historically, forcing battle upon an unwilling foe is always difficult, and often impossible. The reason for this is simple: all undisrupted units that are not surrounded by blocking terrain or totally-controlled hexes, and which are also not attacked at a combat differential of 500% (five to one) or higher, may retreat before combat by moving their full movement allowance directly away from their original hex. These units — excluding leaders which can never be disrupted — are then disrupted for a full game turn. Supply trains and depot units are affected just like combat units and may not be used as a supply source while disrupted; combat units that are disrupted still defend normally, but may not move, and if disrupted again, are eliminated. Undisrupted cavalry units that are not surrounded may always retreat, no matter how great the combat differential. This is an important consideration for both offensive and defensive tactics. The capacity of undisrupted cavalry to retreat before combat — even in the face of overwhelming odds — allows a defending force to hold a much more powerful attacker at arm’s length almost indefinitely. However, this is true only so long as the defender can afford to give up one or more hexes per game turn, and, more importantly, only so long as he has enough cavalry to screen both his front and the disrupted cavalry units retreated during the previous game turn.

The Combat Results Table (CRT) is the same “differential type” of table found in the other titles based on the LEIPZIG Game System. To compute odds using this type of table, the attacking player simply divides the total combat strength of his units, multiplied by 100, by the total strength of the defender. Thus, twenty factors attacking ten defense factors would yield a positive attack differential of 200% (20 x 100 = 2,000 ÷ 10 = 200). The advantage of this type of CRT, particularly when used in a game like 1812, is that percentages can play an important role both in odds computation and in combat results. While this system appears a little awkward on its face, it is really very easy to use, and works very well for this particular type and scale of game.

In 1812, units will inevitably be lost and armies will be reduced in strength as a result of many causes: because of combat; from unsuccessful forced-marches; and from the lack of supply. However, there is one other element — besides the game’s unforgiving supply rules — that sets this historical design apart from almost every other simulation of its type; that is its inclusion of a special category of “attrition” casualties unconnected to any of the game’s other more conventional player actions. These losses — according to the game’s designer — represent the effects of a myriad of non battlfield-related misadventures and hazards, any of which might cause a soldier of this era to drop out of the ranks. To simulate this aspect of Napoleonic warfare, both players follow a similar procedure: at the beginning of every game turn, a die is rolled — after reinforcements have been placed on the map, but before the start of the movement phase — and the result is cross-referenced with the phasing army’s Attrition Table to determine losses (if any) for that game turn. Interestingly, only corps-sized units are affected; divisions — even if they are the only available (that is: infantry or cavalry-type) units on the map — are always immune to attrition results. What is particularly frustrating about these regularly-occurring attrition casualties is that neither player can really do anything about them. These randomly-generated losses, although usually very different in their impacts on the two armies, are built-in to the strategic framework of the game’s design. Not surprisingly, the cumulative effect of attrition on the two belligerents is enormous: as a rule, the French will tend to lose forces roughly equal to 75,000 men per month; the Russians — benefitting, in a sense, from the “home court advantage” — will only tend to lose, on average, the game equivalent of about 25,000 men per month. The damage that these “extra” casualties wreak on the combat capabilities of the two opposing armies, particularly as the campaign wears on, is difficult to overstate. Napoleon might conduct a flawless campaign and never lose a single unit in combat or on the march and yet, by the end of the last turn of the game, still see almost two-thirds of his army (the equivalent of 475,000 men) in the “dead pile.” Clearly, attrition losses — of one sort or another — are represented, to one degree or another, in a number of other Napoleonic-era simulations; in 1812, however, this strategic factor plays a far more important role than it does in most other simulations. In fact, in this game, attrition is more than an aggravating and unpredictable source of casualties; instead, in 1812, attrition losses actually help to drive the pace and tempo of the game.

Leader units, in the grand-tactical version of 1812, play an important combat role in the game because they increase the offensive or defensive strength of the combat units with which they are stacked. Depending on the bonus ratings of the individual leader this can either be inconsequential: the Russian general Sacken, for example, has a combat value of 1/1; or enormous: Napoleon’s value is 25/25. What this actually means when it comes to play is that Napoleon, if stacked with a French force of twenty-five combat factors, would double the force’s attack or defense strength to fifty combat factors. [Please note: how these bonuses are to be computed in combat situations in which the defender is doubled can be a little sticky: a strict reading of the post-publication 1812 errata would seem to imply that the leader bonus does not benefit from terrain effects; however, this interpretation is both a little murky and very punishing to the already disadvantaged Russians. For this reason, I strongly urge that players treat leader bonuses exactly the same as the strength of combat units when it comes to terrain modifiers (that is, for example, to treat the doubled defensive value of an infantry corps stacked with Essen as 18, rather than 14 defense factors) . This minor "tweak" may not necessarily be correct, but it will certainly make for a much better game.] Over and above this specialized combat role, however, leader units possess certain unusual characteristics that make them extremely useful for other, non combat-related tasks. A more detailed description of these additional capabilities and missions, however, will not be offered at this time, but will be taken up later, in a separate section of this essay.

Victory Conditions

Before Moscow in anticipation of the deputation boyars
Oil on canvas.
Vasilyevich Vereshchagin
The winner of the grand-tactical version of 1812 is determined based on the French player’s accumulation of Victory Points, which is accomplished mainly through the capture and control of Russian fortresses, but also through the capture and control of the non-fortress hex of Moscow. Not surprisingly, besides losing points whenever any of these objectives pass back into Russian hands, the French player also loses a substantial number of Victory Points if the Napoleon leader counter is eliminated. The anti-French player wins by limiting or reducing the final count of French Victory Points. Determining the winner is just that simple. Moreover, an ongoing turn-by-turn record of these points must be maintained because additional French attrition losses are automatically triggered — because of the outbreak of political unrest in Central Europe — if the French Victory Point level falls too low. The object of the game is for the French player to accumulate as many Victory Points as possible by the game’s end. This final tally determines whether the French or Russians win, and what the level of victory will actually be. Either player can win a decisive or a marginal victory; and a draw (a Russian moral victory) is also possible.


Marshal Davout in Chudov Monastery, Moscow
Oil on canvas.
Vasilyevich Vereshchagin
1812 offers a trio of different scenarios, and, somewhat surprisingly, despite the fact that the French are the invaders, the Russian player moves first in all three scenarios. So far as these three different game offerings are concerned: although it is understandably tempting to go straight to the longer Scenario #1 (the full “Campaign Game”), I strongly recommend that players looking at the game for the first time start with the shorter Scenario #3, the “Winter Retreat Game.” This scenario is only nine turns long and simulates the problems facing Napoleon — having marched his main force deep into a hostile country — as he now must fight to preserve his army, along with the hard-won fruits of his campaign, in the face of rapidly deteriorating weather and the steadily-growing threat to his long line of communication posed by resurgent Russian armies on both of his flanks. The piece count for both players in the scenario is relatively low, and the victory conditions are very straight-forward. Nonetheless, all of the combat arms are present for both armies, and most of the map will typically be battled over in this introductory game, as well. Considering everything, beginning with this shorter, simpler scenario is probably the best way for players to quickly develop an understanding of the basic mechanics of the game system, and of this game’s unusual dynamics of play.

Once players have thoroughly familiarized themselves with the grand-tactical 1812 game system by playing through Scenario #3 a few times, they will usually want to move on to one of the longer, earlier scenarios. Of the three different situations presented by the designer, Scenario #1 (the full campaign game) is my personal favorite despite its longer playing time. Unlike the second two scenarios, the campaign game allows the players a great deal of latitude when it comes to their respective game strategies. This, for me, is its greatest advantage over the other, shorter scenarios. The other major appeal of Scenario #1, at least from my standpoint, is that, because it begins with the Russian moves just prior to the start of the French invasion, it leaves both players free to make their own mistakes. And, with nineteen game turns to be played, the opportunities to make mistakes are plentiful, indeed.


The LEIPZIG Game System — besides doing a nice job of modeling many of the key aspects of Napoleonic warfare — is also clean, logical, and comparatively easy to learn. This is probably why SPI chose to stick with this basic game platform in two of its other grand-tactical level Napoleonic titles: the (hex-based) version of 1812 being discussed here; and the more ambitious and richly-detailed simulation of the campaigns of 1805, 1806, and 1809, LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1972). Interestingly, each of the three LEIPZIG-based games possesses idiosyncrasies that, to varying degrees, directly affect its play. Grand-tactical 1812, like its cousins, is no exception. That being said, what follows are a few observations and tips — based on many hours spent playing and studying this particular game — aimed at helping new players (or old ones who are disposed to give this title another look) to become more comfortable with the sometimes unusual design features that characterize 1812. One final caveat: the following remarks are valid for all three of the game’s scenarios, but their main focus is really on the nineteen-turn Campaign Game. Scenarios #2 and #3 are both interesting and eminently playable; but it is Scenario #1 which, I personally believe, really does the best job of conveying — at least, in game terms — the strategic ebb and flow of Napoleon’s 1812 campaign.

The Opposing Armies

The two armies that confront each other on the 1812 game map are virtually identical as regards the characteristics of their component combat units: all infantry corps in the game, for example, are 5-5s, and all cavalry corps are 3-6s. Where the French and Russian armies really differ is in their respective operational capabilities and — for much of the game, at least — their actual combat power. Moreover, both sides begin the game with all of their units assigned to specific map hexes that more or less replicate the two combatants’ historical starting locations. Napoleon’s Grande Armée starts Scenario #1 with eighteen infantry, nine cavalry corps, fourteen leaders, and four supply trains: most of which are deployed in a sweeping arc that extends from the city of Memel on the Baltic, to the Polish city of Lublin in the south. To oppose this intimidating hoard of French and Allied troops, the Russian commander can initially call on only seven infantry corps, five cavalry corps, six leader units, and two supply trains; furthermore, this already outnumbered force is rendered even less combat-effective than its numbers might suggest because of its deployment in a line of outposts stretching from Riga in the north, all the way to Brest-Litovsk in the south. Thus, given both its raw numbers and its initial deployment, the Russian army starts the game in a genuinely precarious position; however, the good news for the Tsarist player is that his situation — barring excessive (and unusual) Russian forced-march, attrition, or combat losses during the early turns — should gradually improve as the game wears on. The Russian army — when it comes to preserving and accumulating combat strength over time — enjoys two significant, built-in advantages over the French: a much lower attrition rate, and a significantly higher reinforcement rate. And these two factors, in most games, should combine to slowly, but inexorably narrow the raw numerical gap between the two opposing armies. In spite of all this, however, the Russians can still expect to be heavily-outnumbered almost everywhere on the map for at least the first half of the game.

Marshal Prince Mikhail Kutusov
A marked disadvantage in combat power at the start of hostilities, unfortunately, is not the Russian player’s only problem: he is also saddled with a gallery of leader units that, besides being few in number, run the gamut from mediocre to downright irrelevant when it comes to their combat ratings. By way of example: the French player starts the game with fourteen leader units and receives two more as reinforcements; the Russian commander, on the other hand, starts with six leaders on the map and receives five more as the game progresses. The difference in total numbers, however, does not begin to tell the full story. In fact, the real picture only emerges when the combat bonus ratings for the leader units of the two opposing armies are compared. Starting with the Tsar’s generals, the total of all attack and defense bonuses for the eleven Russian leader units is 30 and 32 respectively; this yields an average individual combat bonus rating of 2.72(for attack)/2.91(for defense). In contrast, the total of all French leaders’ attack and defense bonuses is a whopping 108 and 132 respectively; this yields an average French leader combat bonus rating of 6.75/8.25. Obviously, to say that the Russian leader units are outclassed by their French counterparts is to make an understatement of grotesque proportions. What all this means, in terms of actual play, is that while the Russian army’s initial deficits in both its number of units and its combat strength will, for the reasons already outlined, usually diminish and perhaps even disappear over time, the Tsarist player’s enormous disadvantage when it comes to leader units — even after the arrival of Kutusov (leadership rating: 3/7) and Tsitshagrov (7/1) on turn seven — will plague him throughout the game.

Because most of the characteristics that separate the two opposing armies in 1812 are fairly obvious, it is easy to overlook a less noticeable difference that, on its face seems relatively minor, but in truth, is probably the most significant one of all: the contrast between the French and Russian mobile supply trains. Only a handful of these specialized units actually appear in Scenario #1; nonetheless, their strategic importance cannot be overstated. The Russian disadvantage in this area starts with the numbers. Napoleon’s army begins the game with four supply trains; the Tsar’s army starts with two; and neither side receives any more as reinforcements once the game begins. Thus, the French army opens its campaign with twice as many supply trains on the map as the Russian army: an advantage that, in itself, allows the advancing Grande Armée a great deal more flexibility in its logistical arrangements than the supply-challenged Russians. Putting aside the discrepancy in numbers, however, the two sides’ mobile supply units are, in many other respects, comparable. The supply trains for both armies, for example, are identical in terms of their movement and (parenthetical) defensive combat ratings, and they also share the same ability to immediately 100% deplete any supply area that they occupy at the end of their movement phase (the key, by the way, to virtually any effective Russian defensive strategy, particularly during the early game turns). In addition, both French and Russian supply trains can, if conditions are right, project supply from a 50% depleted or totally undepleted area to neighboring friendly combat units in an adjacent 100% depleted area. However, here the similarities end. Where the Russian logistical capabilities really suffer in comparison to that of their French adversary is in the area of depots: the French supply trains can completely strip an undepleted area and, if the French commander desires it, create a depot unit; the Russian army’s supply units cannot. The impact on play of this unique French capability is enormous: each French depot can supply up to five friendly combat units (any size) indefinitely; and even more importantly, although a depot unit cannot move on its own, it can be carried along by a supply train as the mobile supply unit accompanies Napoleon’s army forward. What this really means for both players is that, while the Tsar’s forces can usually delay the French army by totally depleting one supply area after another as they retreat to the east, such a “scorched earth” strategy can only slow Napoleon’s pursuit, not stop it; in most cases, to actually halt the French advance, the Tsar’s army will, at some point in the game, have to turn and give battle.

Happily for the Russian commander, there is at least one aspect of the 1812 game system in which his army actually enjoys a noticeable edge over that of his foe; that is in the area of reinforcements. The Tsarist commander will, as the game progresses, receive fourteen new corps and five leaders, versus only six incoming corps and two leader units for the French. Moreover, along with this better than two-to-one superiority in fresh, incoming units, the Russian player also enjoys a great deal more latitude than his opponent when it comes to where his newly-arriving corps and leaders can be brought into play. And this is not a trivial advantage. In the case of the French army, reinforcements may enter the game only from the western map edge. The majority of reinforcing Russian units, on the other hand, may enter play either along the eastern map edge or, far more handily, at any friendly fortress that is not currently besieged and that has never been passed through by an enemy unit. In essence, what this means is that French reinforcements will mainly serve as attrition-fodder, while newly-arriving Russian infantry corps will often be able to pop into existence right where they are needed most. And there is yet more good news in this department for the Tsar’s army: in addition to these flexible reinforcement arrivals, the Russian player also receives three special contingents of incoming forces: one group which enters at any hex (unoccupied by a French unit) along the north edge of the St. Petersburg map insert; and two other contingents which both enter play at any open hex or hexes along the southern map edge in Russia. [Interestingly, these units were originally allowed to enter play in Austria as well as Russia, but the "Austrian option" (sadly, for the Russian player) was eiminated in subsequent errata.] Needless-to-say, it is these two southern groups that create the most problems for Napoleon’s army because, unlike all other Russian reinforcements, these units may move into Austria if the French commander fails to block their movement west. Hence, although the French player can deal with this two-staged threat to his southern flank in a number of different ways; deal with it, he must. And any response that the French commander decides on — if it is to be effective — will probably require that he deploy at least four or more combat units, plus a few leaders, in the far south where they will be far removed from the main action of the war for at least the first half of the game.

Napoleon near Borodino
Oil on canvas by
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin
Finally, no discussion of the two opposing armies would be complete without at least a brief mention of the somewhat unusual role that combat units play in 1812; it is, I think, a difference worth noting. In most conflict simulations (Napoleonic and otherwise), the main function of combat units is to fight; in 1812, however — as is the case in the other LEIPZIG-based games — the primary mission of combat units is to march. What I mean by this is that, in a typical wargame, combat units will spend most of their oftentimes short careers on the game map slugging it out with units from the opposing army, in one battle after another. This is simply not the case in 1812. On the contrary, combat in this game will usually be limited to a handful of engagements, only one or two of which might truly be described as major battles. Instead, the units of both sides will spend the majority of the game maneuvering against each other: an ongoing contest of threat and counter-threat; and one that will only very rarely be punctuated by actual fighting. This baked-in emphasis on maneuver versus combat is, in my opinion, one of the strongest features of the game’s design architecture because it requires the players in 1812 to approach their respective goals in much the same way as did their historical counterparts. Thus, the French commander will steadily push east, looking always for the opportunity to engage and destroy the main enemy force in a single decisive action. The Russian player, on the other hand, will constantly fall back in an attempt to stay just out of reach of the onrushing French juggernaut. And when the climactic battle finally comes, it will — as was the case in the actual campaign — usually occur at the time and place of the Russian commander’s choosing.

What’s a Player to Do?

File:В Городне - пробиваться или отступать.jpg
Napoleon and his generals discuss strategy
during the retreat, 1812. Painting by Vasily Veschchagrin.
To my mind, one of the most important measures of a conflict simulation’s appeal, both as a historical model and as a game, is to be found in the number of historically plausible options that it encourages its players to explore in the course of a typical gaming session. In this regard, 1812 does, I believe, a first rate job. The size and scope of the game’s playing area; the ever-present threat of surprise enemy movements; the unpredictable effects of attrition; the unforgiving supply rules; and the clearly-defined, but difficult to achieve victory conditions: all of these elements combine to present the players with a richly-textured, exciting, and very challenging gaming experience. And nowhere is this aspect of 1812 more evident than in the options available to both sides during the first few turns of the game. Of course, as already noted, the one aspect of the 1812 campaign game over which the players have no control is that of the opening set-up: the units on the map at the start of Scenario #1 all begin in their precise historical locations, unlike the game’s two later scenarios which allow some flexibility in deployment. Nonetheless, both players still have a number of different strategic options beginning with the very first turn of the game.

The Russian player, because he is the first to move in 1812, is in a unique position to control both the initial direction and the tempo of the game. Moreover, in spite the French army’s overwhelming starting advantage in combat power, the Russian commander need not adopt a purely passive strategy and simply fall back during his first movement phase. Such a conservative approach may be the Russian player’s safest course of action; it may even be his best overall strategy; but it is, most certainly, not his only alternative. In fact, for the offensive-minded Russian commander who occasionally likes to completely disrupt the carefully-laid plans of his opponent, several intriguing options are available that permit him to take the fight to Napoleon on the very first turn of the game. Two examples of these high-risk, hyper-aggressive Russian openings are particularly interesting and, because of their very real differences, also serve to illustrate this point about player options very nicely. The first of these, I will call the “Death Ride” opening; the second, the “Dash into Austria” gambit.

French cuirassiers vs Russian dragoons in 1812,
by Afanasii Shelumov.
The Russian “Death Ride” opening is, by far, the more speculative and hazardous of the two. Without going into too much detail, it involves the dispatch, on the first game turn, of four of the five starting Russian cavalry corps and one leader (Milordovitch) to encircle the bulk of Napoleon’s main army — six infantry corps, four cavalry corps, two supply trains, and seven leaders (including Napoleon, himself) — in supply area FW9. At the same time all this is going on, the Russian player also orders the infantry corps in Vilkomir to march north to link up, in the East Kovno supply area, with the Russian supply train from Riga. The rest of the Russian army, not surprisingly, scurries east, being sure as they go, to garrison those friendly fortresses that are within forced-marching range of the few French units in northern Poland that are still free to maneuver. At the end of his movement phase, the Russian player 100% depletes the East Kovno and Drissa supply areas and then sits back to await Napoleon’s inevitable riposte, a riposte that he knows will cost him dearly. It should be noted that, in spite of its stomach-churning risks, the Russian commander actually hopes to accomplish several important strategic goals with this, admittedly, extremely audacious (if not foolhardy) move. First, of course, he seeks to postpone the French offensive in the center for a full game turn while Napoleon scrambles to clear away the encircling Russian cavalry; second, and more importantly, he expects to seriously disrupt French movements and logistical arrangements for the coming campaign by delaying, perhaps for several game turns, the creation of advanced French supply depots; third, the Russian commander hopes to draw the units in Novogorod and Schtschosin north and away from their usual blocking positions near the southern map-edge; and fourth, he seeks to provoke an overreaction on the part of the French player: one that might lead to extra French casualties from hasty, poorly-considered forced-marches. Needless-to-say, the obvious downside of this Russian opening move is that, while Milordovitch and even the units in East Kovno might conceivably escape to fight another day, fully 80% of the Russian army’s starting cavalry will, almost certainly, have migrated to the “dead pile” by the beginning of the second game turn. For this reason, if for no other, this Russian strategy is not recommended for the faint of heart.

General Prince Bagration leading his troops into battle.
The Russian “Dash into Austria” opening gambit is both less ambitious and also — because it jeopardizes only two cavalry corps, one infantry corps, and Bagration — slightly less risky than its “Death Ride” cousin. In “broad-brush” terms, this first turn move calls for Bagration’s force at Radetshko to march to Brest, while the cavalry corps that start in Bialystok and Brest both force-march southwest to occupy the ungarrisoned, but French-controlled fortresses of Kamosc and Lemberg. As might be expected, the rest of the Russian army avoids any other adventures and, instead, rapidly retires to the east. Clearly, the success of this gambit depends on the Tsar’s cavalry reaching their respective objectives safely. The good news for the Russian commander is that, if both cavalry marches are successful, Napoleon must then deal with a relatively major inconvenience well away from his main axis of advance. This partial disruption of Napoleon’s operations on the central front, however, is of only secondary importance; the “Dash into Austria” gambit is really aimed at accomplishing two very different, but related goals: one psychological; the other positional. The psychological goal, simply stated, is to induce the French player to overreact to the unexpected Russian incursion. Such an overreaction is plausible (even likely) because the Russian capture of the two French fortresses instantly reduces Napoleon’s Victory Point level below his starting “political” attrition threshold; this threat, the Russian commander hopes, will cause the French player to panic and force-march the majority of his nearby units against the unexpected Russian invaders in a frantic attempt to regain his two lost Victory Points before the end of the game turn. Of course, there is no guarantee that the French player will actually panic; instead, he may well pursue a more prudent approach to these unwelcome interlopers and take an extra turn to bring his units into position to attack the Russian units now garrisoning Brest, Kamosc, and Lemberg. Such a cautious response would, of course, cost the French player an additional corps in attrition losses, but it would also insure that he did not end up burning-out a sizeable part of his southern army in unsuccessful forced-marches. This more conservative French response, however, fulfills the second, “positional,” goal of the Russian player perfectly because it creates promising raiding opportunities for the Tsar’s forces in the far south. The reason for this is simple: although local French forces can move to attack all three Russian units at 2-to-1 on turn two without forced-marching, this one turn delay guarantees that the French commander will have only one game turn — assuming that all three attacks succeed, which is far from certain — to redeploy these units to intercept Tormassov’s party of Russian reinforcements which enters along the southern map-edge on game turn four.

Of course, in most games, the Russian player will prefer to be a bit more cautious in the early game turns. In this case, a typical conservative opening move will often end with the Russian commander establishing a line running roughly from Dunaburg in the north to the Pripet Marshes in the south. To fill in the southern section of this line, the three units in the Bialystok salient can all force-march into the Minsk area where they will be joined by the infantry corps that begins the game in Lida. If the Russian player is lucky, he will finish his first-turn move with four corps each, in both Svir and Minsk. This also means that the Russian commander will be able to 100% deplete the Drissa and Riga supply areas using his two supply trains, while — thanks to the four corps deployed in the two other areas directly in Napoleon’s path — he will also be able to 50% deplete Svir and Minsk by the end of turn one. On game turn two, the main Russian army in the center will resume its eastern withdrawal, depleting (when possible) one supply area per turn as it goes. This Russian “retreat-deplete” strategy will typically continue for much of the first half of the game. However, there will come a point in most games — most often between game turns nine and eleven — when the main Russian army will have finally assembled enough combat power (five or six infantry corps, three or more cavalry corps, and all leaders except for Essen and Tormassov) to enable it to turn and strike back at Napoleon’s vanguard. This battle will usually, but not always, be fought somewhere in the vicinity of Smolensk, Kaluga, or Vyazma (the reasons for this will be discussed in more detail in a later section of this essay); but, because both sides will be expecting it, this clash will almost never result in a short, quick fight. Instead, the Russian counterattack — particularly when launched against a careful and resourceful French player — will most likely lead to a multi-turn slugging match; and, barring dramatic events elsewhere on the map, the outcome of this protracted engagement will likely determine the ultimate success or failure of Napoleon’s campaign.

The French player, predictably enough, begins 1812 with his own share of interesting strategic alternatives. And, although Napoleon’s early moves will largely be shaped by his effort to balance the conflicting demands of reliably supplying his army’s advance against his need to rapidly acquire additional Victory Points, the decisions that he makes at the start of the game will be hugely important in shaping the future focus and scope of his army’s operations. Given his starting set-up and the geography of the battle area, some aspects of the French player’s overall plan of campaign are virtually baked into the game. A substantial part of the Grande Armée, for example, is always going to march straight up the middle because that is where the bulk of the army starts and that is where the majority of the Victory Points are. Where the French player is actually going to have to make choices between competing options is around the strategic “edges” of his main plan of campaign. And this is also where things can get interesting.

When the French player sets about planning his army’s future operations, there is no doubt but that some of his options will seem more appealing than others. Nonetheless, given the scope and unpredictable nature of 1812, he will still have his share of difficult strategic choices to make. For instance, should the French commander gamble on an early try for St. Petersburg in the far north, or should he, instead, make a quick, but risky dash for ancient Kiev in the south? What about the several, early-game threats to his flanks from Russian reinforcements? How many units should the French player detach to protect his fortresses in the south during the turns when those Victory Points holdings are most at risk; how about those in the north? Or should he just leave token forces to cover his flanks and, instead, make a massive effort against distant Moscow, capturing the Russian fortresses that line his route, as he moves east? And, as if the French player’s life wasn’t complicated enough already, there are also the turn-by-turn operational details of his campaign. Where on the map, for example, should he assign his various leaders; and how should he handle his inevitable attrition losses? And what approach should he take to forced-marches; which is to say: Is it more profitable for the French army to race forward in an early attempt to trap and destroy a few extra Russian units when the enemy is still at his weakest; or should Napoleon conduct a slower, more methodical advance, so that when the inevitable showdown with a resurgent Russian army finally comes, his main force is as strong as possible? All of these decisions are important, and none of them are easy.

Clearly, if the examples cited above illustrate anything at all, they show that both the Russian and the French players begin 1812 with a variety of interesting strategic alternatives from which to choose. Some of these options will, needless-to-say, see more use than others in the course of regular play; but virtually none of them are completely without merit. What this really means is that while most games of 1812 will tend to develop along fairly predictable lines, the game system is both textured and flexible enough that it never completely loses its capacity to surprise. And it is this built-in uncertainty that helps to create both the competitive challenge and the tense excitement of the game.

Forced Marching

Russian infantry under Durohov on the march, 1812.
Painting by Chagadeyev.
.Among the structural elements which help to give the games in the LEIPZIG series their unique “feel” is the unusual capability that these games provide for commanders to catapult their forces across the battle area with forced-marches. As previously noted, all units may attempt a “double forced-march;” but only infantry units may attempt a “triple forced-march.” [Oddly enough, one result of the differences between the “double” and “triple” forced-march tables is that it is often more beneficial for an infantry corps to attempt a triple forced-march (two-thirds chance of moving ten hexes without being disrupted or reduced) than it is to attempt the slightly safer, but less predictable double forced-march.] Interestingly, this set of limits on forced-marches has the curious effect of giving triple forced-marching infantry a maximum range of fifteen hexes: three more hexes than the maximum range of forced-marching cavalry — an acknowledgement on the part of the designer, perhaps, of the old Prussian adage that “it is better to beat your soldiers than your horses: your soldiers will grumble, but march on; while your horses will finally stop, and, despite further beatings, refuse to move any further.” This also means, by the way, that the maximum reach of a forced-marching infantry corps is exceeded only by the sixteen hex range of a double forced-marching leader unit.

Pavlosk Grenadiers and Swiss Infantry at Kliastilzy, 1812.
Inevitably, both the French and Russian players will encounter situations in which resorting to forced-marching, despite its attendant risks, will seem almost irresistible: this is to be expected; after all, the possibility that an infantry force might lunge thirty hexes across the game map in only two movement phases dramatically expands the scope of the battle area and makes even distant objectives vulnerable to an unexpected enemy stroke. In addition, there are many situations when this tactic need not even be executed to be effective; often the mere possibility of an enemy forced-march will be menacing enough to induce an opponent to either reinforce or, alternatively, to withdraw from a position. Moreover, the ever-present threat posed by this movement option means that both players must tend very carefully to their defensive arrangements or risk a sudden, devastating enemy blow. Unfortunately, the obvious and important benefits from conducting successful forced-marches can easily lay a psychological trap for the overconfident or unwary player. In 1812, and especially in the nineteen-turn campaign game, for instance, the French commander will be sorely tempted to throw his army forward, particularly in the first few game turns, in an effort to close with and trap some of the retreating Russians; the Russian commander, on the other hand, will usually be just as keen to avoid an early clash with the French juggernaut. This game dynamic creates real strategic trade-offs for both players; and not surprisingly, how the two adversaries choose to cope with this dilemma will often go a long way towards determining who’s left standing at the end of the game.

French infantry.
There is, of course, no doubt that forced-marches in 1812 can be quite useful in the right game situation. They can, for example, allow a player to extricate himself from an otherwise dangerous situation, and they can also provide the means by which an unexpected maneuver can be used to dislocate or break an enemy position. That being said, there are, nonetheless, two categories of units that should almost never be risked in forced-marches: leader units and supply trains. The rationale underlying this injunction should, of course, be obvious. Unlike regular combat units, leader and supply units are not merely reduced in strength and mobility as a result of an unsuccessful forced-march die-roll, they are eliminated entirely. And for both sides, but especially for the Russians, these units are scarce to start with. In spite of these very real concerns, however, players will still occasionally be tempted to gamble on forced-marching these valuable units; in a very few instances, the risk may even be warranted by circumstances; more typically, however, it will be a very bad idea.

In the case of leader units, a player’s urge to resort to forced-marches will usually arise in response to an impending attack. Most likely, this will occur when the phasing player — having already assembled a powerful stack of combat units — finds that he still needs to augment his battle strength in order to achieve the odds that he wants, and the only way that this can be accomplished is by rushing a distant leader or two into the action. There will, on rare occasions, be battles that are crucial enough to justify taking such a risk; more representative of these situations, however, is one in which the would-be attacker has (without really thinking) impulsively committed his forces to a fight that could just as easily have been postponed for one more game turn. Even in those rare cases when forced-marching a leader into a battle might actually be justified, because the combat bonus values of the various leaders differ, some leader units will still be better candidates for forced-marches than others. The Napoleon leader unit, not surprisingly, represents a special case: because it is worth 5 victory points (as much as either Moscow or St. Petersburg), it should never, barring an extraordinary battlefield emergency, be risked in a forced-march.

Obviously, if forced-marching a leader unit is usually a bad idea (except, of course, to avoid certain elimination), it is even a worse idea to force-march a supply train. In spite of this fact, however, there will still be times during a typical game when both players will probably choose to force-march these extremely valuable units: the Russian commander from necessity; the French player from a desire to improve his offensive prospects. The situations in which the Russian supply trains are most likely to be risked in this way are: first, when the supply unit at Riga attempts (usually on game turns one or two) to force-march north into the Livonia supply area in order to avoid being trapped and destroyed by the rapidly advancing French; and second, when the Russian supply train on the central front seeks to avoid a French ambush by force-marching from the safety of the fortress of Polotsk to that of Vitebsk (typically on or about turn three). The French player will usually seriously consider force-marching a supply train in one of two situations: the first is when, during the early game turns, he decides to hurry the supply units in Danzig and/or in Warsaw east in order to support the army’s advance; the second is when, during the last few game turns, an opportunity presents itself to force-march one of his forward supply trains into a supply area containing a sizeable contingent of Russian units in order to 100% deplete it. One final point needs to be made when it comes to forced-marching leaders and supply trains, and that is this: the unexpected loss of a leader will always be painful, but, except for the elimination of the Napoleon unit, rarely will it be fatal; the loss by either player of a single supply train, on the other hand, will almost always be a strategic blow, if not an immediate and decisive game changer.

French infantry on the march.
In the end, what all this boils down to is that, as with most game tactics, forced-marches should be employed very selectively. In the early stages of the game, the reduction of a few corps to divisions will often seem inconsequential. This is particularly true for the French player who begins the game with a tremendous advantage in units and combat power; however, it also holds just as true for the initially out-numbered Russians. As attrition die rolls transfer one corps after another from the game map to the “dead pile,” any losses due to unnecessary forced-marches will invariably come back to haunt the offending player in the middle and later game turns. Speaking from my own experience, I have found that it is not at all unusual, given the heavy level of casualties that are built into the 1812 game system, for a player’s victory or defeat to hang, at game end, on the survival of a single corps-sized unit or two.

The Supply Rules

Napoleon, talking about the importance of supply, once observed that: “An army marches on its stomach.” In a very real sense, Napoleon’s observation, colorful though it may be, describes both a military truism and the central theme of 1812. In this game, as in the actual campaign, protracted, large-scale military operations are virtually impossible without adequate logistical support. For this reason, no player should expect to be successful who is not absolutely fluent with every aspect of the 1812 supply rules. Let me stress this point, again: in this game, more than almost any other that I can think of, the rules governing supply — complicated and detailed though they may be — are simply too crucial both to the fundamental design and to the “spirit” of the game for players not to take the time to master them completely. And, although a fairly-detailed outline of the game’s supply rules appears in the “Game Description” section of this essay, there is one supply-related topic that is, I think, well worth considering further: the important, but somewhat different strategic roles that the two armies’ supply trains play in grand-tactical 1812; because, in a very real sense, these six (two Russian and four French) units control the rhythm of the entire game.

However, before actually moving on to a discussion of the specific game functions of the two sides’ supply trains, I think that it would be useful to spend a little time on one particular aspect of the supply rules that — I have found, at least — seems to be either misunderstood or misinterpreted by a surprisingly large faction of otherwise knowledgeable players. This misunderstanding arises because of a difference between the supply function of “supply areas” and that of French “supply depots.” In the case of the map’s differently-hued “supply areas,” supply usage is computed based on the number of CORPS-SIZED units that occupy each area at the end of the game turn. What is important about this turn-by-turn process is that only the combined totals of all occupying infantry and cavalry corps are counted against an area’s supply capacity, NEVER the number of divisions. This means, in essence, that any number of division-sized units can cluster in the same supply area without causing any depletion effects whatsoever. The rules governing the use of French depot units, on the other hand, are not nearly so liberal. For example, a French depot may supply, without being expended, up to five units of any size, assuming that the five units in question all occupy the same supply area as the depot. The key difference is that, while divisions are irrelevant to capacity totals in supply areas, they count just like corps do against the supply capacity of a depot unit. This may seem like a trivial difference, but it can be important, particularly during the winter game turns when both movement allowances and area supply capacities are reduced. It can also have a significant impact on play when multiple retreats unexpectedly swamp the capacity of either a supply area or a French depot.

Now that our brief “supply areas versus depots” rules detour is out of the way, let us turn back to the more important subject of the different roles of the French and Russian armies’ supply units in 1812. And since the Russians are the first to move, it is probably easiest to begin with a discussion of the Tsar’s supply units, before moving on to consider those of the French army.

The Russian player, the reader will recall, starts the game with two widely-separated supply trains: one in Riga, and the other in the Dvina River fortress of Drissa. In the case of the Riga supply train, the most conservative and also probably the best use for this unit is to create a logistical “moat” between the northern wing of the French army and St. Petersburg: it does this by depleting, first the Riga, and then the Livonia supply areas on turns one and two of the game. If the French player declines to dispatch a force in its pursuit (a strong possibility, given that the pursuers will have a 50% chance of elimination due to lack of supply), the Riga supply train continues its retreat north into Esthonia where it (hopefully) rejoins the other two members of the original Riga garrison. Needless-to-say, the depletion of the two supply areas that lie between the Dvina River and Esthonia, and the threat of depleting yet a third area (Esthonia), should be enough to discourage all but the most optimistic of French commanders from dispatching an expedition towards St. Petersburg. This is not to say, by the way, that the Riga-Livonia-Esthonia sequence of moves is the only course open to the Russian commander; only that it is probably the safest. And safety, in the case of both of his precious supply trains, should be uppermost in the mind of the Russian player. An early misstep with the Riga supply train can have very unpleasant consequences for the Russian commander; a mistake with the Drissa supply unit, on the other hand, is even worse: it can lose the game.

The greater strategic importance of the Drissa supply unit derives from the fact that, of the two Russian supply trains, it is only the Drissa unit which allows the Russian player to effectively delay Napoleon’s advance in the center during the critical early game turns when the strength disparity between the two armies is at its greatest. To accomplish its crucial mission, the Drissa unit retreats turn-by-turn from one supply area to the next — usually in the following sequence: Drissa-Polotsk-Vitebsk-Orsha-Smolensk — depleting each of these supply areas as it goes. Once Smolensk has been 100% depleted, typically at the end of turn five, this Russian supply unit then retires to the relative safety of the Kaluga area. At this point in the game (usually on or about turn six), the role of the Drissa supply train changes: from now on, its mission will no longer be to deplete the supply areas in Napoleon’s path, but instead, to provide much-needed logistical support to the combat units that make up the main Russian army. Moreover, such support will really be indispensible when it comes time to actually fight the French. The reason for this is simple: the presence of the supply train permits the Russian commander to support up to six corps during summer game turns and three corps during winter turns in or from any single undepleted area without causing the supplying area to be depleted. This is true — whether the affected corps are relying for supply on the same or an adjacent area — so long as the Russian supply train supporting them is undisrupted, and the affected units are drawing their supply from an otherwise viable supply source.

French supply wagon.
The primary function of the four French supply trains is, not surprisingly, quite different from that of their out-numbered Russian counterparts; simply stated, it is to provide reliable logistical support for the combat units spearheading the French advance. How these units actually go about accomplishing this mission will vary depending on where on the game map they actually start. For example, the two French supply trains that start at Pilviki immediately split up on turn one, create depots, and then — as the game progresses — proceed east along parallel routes as quickly as possible, without force-marching. The French supply train in Warsaw, on the other hand, will usually either remain in the south near Volhynia until turn seven (the last game turn on which Russian reinforcements are scheduled to enter along the southern map-edge), or, if the southern option is rejected, immediately begin to move to the northeast so as to be in position to support Napoleon’s mid and late-game advance in the center. Getting the Danzig supply train into action, because it begins the game so far back from the front, is a bit trickier. If the French player feels it is worthwhile, he can order this unit north in the hopes of supplying a mid-game drive against St. Petersburg or, if that option seems unpromising, of supporting the left wing of the French advance east along the Dvina. The other alternative is to send this supply train south (my usual choice) to join the French forces covering Napoleon’s (initially) static right flank. In either case, however, the French player — in order to keep to his offensive timetable — will probably have to risk force-marching this awkwardly placed unit at least once, and possibly twice during its first few moves. If the southern option is chosen, this unit (if it survives its forced-marches) should arrive at the front just in time to support a French drive against Kiev. This new French offensive will typically jump off with an advance into the Volhynia supply area on or about turn seven. Once Kiev falls — typically sometime between turns nine and eleven — this southern supply train/depot combination will then continue to head east, supporting the French forces that recently took part in the battle of Kiev, as they now hurry forward to reinforce the French right wing.

From this point forward in the game, how the French player chooses to utilize his advanced supply trains (all, of course, still accompanied by depots) will depend on two factors: the outcome of the Battle of Smolensk, and the size of the Grande Armée compared to that of the Russian army. If the French army received a serious check at Smolensk, then Napoleon may well opt to hunker down and concentrate on preserving the Victory Points he already has. On the other hand, if the Russians are still in retreat, and if he still has enough cavalry left to screen his front and flanks, then the French player will want to advance on a broad front; in the process, pushing the Tsar’s forces into a steadily narrowing belt of undepleted supply areas near the east edge of the map. This final drive will usually create opportunities for the French player to use his supply trains in a completely new way: to indirectly attack the Russian army by eliminating its remaining sources of supply.

Moscow ablaze.
Not surprisingly, players seldom think of them in this way, but supply trains — besides fulfilling their usual role as logistical support units — can also be employed offensively by the French player during these later game turns. When used in this way, a French force accompanied by a supply train/depot enters an undepleted or 50% depleted Russian-occupied area, at which time the French supply unit immediately 100% depletes the newly-entered area. Because this action occurs prior to the supply determination inter-phase at the end of the game turn, any Russian units in the affected area that cannot be supported via a Russian supply train in yet a second viable supply area would be unsupplied and hence, subject to possible elimination. In theory, of course, either player could use a supply unit for this purpose, but both the turn sequence and the French ability to use depots combine to insure that it is almost always Napoleon’s quartermasters and not the Tsar’s that will actually attack using this tactic.


French heavy ambulance.
Although a variety of different design elements — both old and new — combine to give 1812 its distinctive “feel,” both as a game and as a historical simulation, one of the features that really sets this title apart from the other members of the LEIPZIG family of games is its use of an ingenious, but simple design mechanism to simulate the losses incurred by both the French and the Russian armies during the 1812 campaign due to non combat-related factors such as starvation, desertion, accident-related injuries, and illness. These various types of casualties are lumped together and collectively referred to by the designer as “attrition” losses. The method used in the game to determine attrition losses has already been described earlier in this essay; suffice it to say that it is simplicity, itself. Attrition casualties are also handled in an uncomplicated manner: any required losses are removed from play immediately by the owning player, prior to movement. The French player can lose as many as two corps or as few as no corps as a result of any single attrition roll, but the Grande Armée’s losses, on average, will tend to be one corps per game turn. The Russian player — statistically speaking, at least — would seem to have a much easier time of it. Each time he rolls for attrition, he has a two-thirds chance that he will sustain no losses, at all; and only a one-third possibility of losing either a cavalry or an infantry corps. This means, in a nutshell, that French attrition losses should be approximately three times those of the Russians. That, in theory at least, is how attrition is supposed to affect the two opposing armies; the reality, however, can sometimes be very different. And although the attrition rules are simple enough to be encapsulated in only two brief paragraphs, it should come as no surprise that they, nonetheless, have a profound effect both on the pacing of the game, and on the psychology of its players.

Bad News from France, Napoleon
encamped in a Russian
Orthodox church. Oil on canvas by
Vasily Vereshchagin.
Based on the preceding discussion, it is obvious that the disparate impact of attrition on the French and Russian armies is bloody, but uncomplicated; however, in addition to regular attrition, the French commander (only) must also cope with another potential source of attrition-related casualties: “political” losses. Built into the 1812 game system is a requirement for the French army to steadily add to its tally of Victory Points or see additional French corps removed to the “dead pile” due to the effects of political unrest elsewhere in the Empire. Thus, in each game turn box on the Turn Record Track there is a small italicized number which indicates how many total Victory Points the French player must have accrued by the end of that game turn; if the French Victory Points total falls below this number, the French player must remove one corps-sized unit (his choice) from the game map. The slowly escalating threat from “politically-driven” losses insures that the French player must steadily press east while, at the same time, he continues to maintain control over the Victory Points hexes that he already has.

Needless-to-say, most players, after examining the 1812 attrition rules, will assume that attrition invariably hurts the French and helps the Russians. Based purely on the “Laws of Large Numbers,” this view makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, nineteen — the number of attrition die-rolls each player will make in a complete game of 1812 — is not a particularly large number. Thus, it occasionally happens that, in the course of a particular game, the random distribution of attrition outcomes will vary widely from the mean, and the attrition effects that the Russian player counted on, and the French player dreaded prior to the beginning of play, will turn out to be very different from expectations. This can have an interesting effect on the interactive dynamic of the simulation. Because a typical game of 1812 will tend to produce very few major battles — as was the case, by the way, in the actual campaign — the number of casualties caused by the attrition die-rolls will often replace combat as the arbiter of each side’s good or bad luck. What this means, in terms of the game’s participants, is that attrition results can often have an exaggerated effect on player morale. Moreover, the sheer randomness of each player’s attrition losses, over time, has another, somewhat unexpected, but positive effect on the game: it tends to make each playing of 1812 an unpredictable and therefore, uniquely different gaming experience.


It is an interesting, if unexpected feature of John Young’s simulation of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia that fortresses — extremely important both as sanctuaries and as defensive strong-points in all of the other LEIPZIG-inspired games — are actually almost valueless to the defender in the case of this game. The main reason for this weakness is that, in 1812, fortresses only double the defense strength of their garrisons while fortresses in both LEIPZIG (1972) and LA GRANDE ARMÉE (1972) triple the defensive value of their occupants. I should note that, in the original grand-tactical 1812 rules, fortresses also tripled the defense strength of their garrisons; this defensive multiplier, however, was reduced from triple to double in the game’s post-publication errata. And as if this reduction wasn’t enough, special limits on stacking and supply further undermine the usefulness of fortresses in 1812.

Consider the following: in both LEIPZIG and LA GRANDE ARMÉE, players are permitted to voluntarily stack — without expending either combat or stacking supply — the equivalent of one army (that is: up to eighteen combat factors) in a single fortress hex; just as importantly, fortresses in these two games also serve as a supply source for a garrison (of any nationality) of this size, or less. The fortress rules in 1812, on the other hand, are far more restrictive. For example, under most circumstances, only one combat unit (of any size) may voluntarily occupy a fortress hex. Please note, however, that there is one important exception to this prohibition: additional combat units may stack in a friendly fortress if, and only if, they have entered the fortress hex as a direct result of a retreat result; this is because the retreat rules always require that retreating units move towards and, if possible, halt once they have entered the nearest friendly-controlled fortress. This even applies if the results of multiple retreats would cause the affected units to violate the regular stacking rules. In addition, fortresses in 1812 may only serve as a supply source for a single combat unit, and then, only if the unit both belongs to the fortress’ original owner, and the fortress in question has never, at any point in the game, been controlled by the opposing side. In those cases in which there are additional combat units in a fortress, then these extra units must be supplied by other, alternative, means.

The cumulative effect of these changes is to make fortresses in 1812 pretty nearly indefensible when confronted by a moderately powerful enemy force (four corps or more) which is also accompanied by a few reasonably good leaders. The reason for this is simple: the stacking rules virtually guarantee that, under ordinary circumstances, the most powerful fortress garrison possible will never exceed 10 defense factors (5 combat factors plus 5 leader points) which, when doubled, presents a far from intimidating adjusted defense strength of only 20 factors. And because a 2-to-1 attack — even taking into account the special rule exempting fortresses from retreat and exchange results — yields a two-thirds chance of success for the attacker, only rarely will a player (usually the Russian) risk a garrison in what would almost certainly be a suicidal mission.

“Rarely,” however, is not the same as “never,” and, when it comes to at least two key fortresses, the Russian player will very likely elect to stand fast rather than retreat even when faced with the certainty of powerful French attacks. And the two friendly-controlled fortresses that the Russian player will almost always choose to fight for are Smolensk and Kiev.

In the case of Kiev, a determined Russian defense of the Dnepr fortress is likely for two reasons: first, because it is worth three Victory Points; and second, because the French attack will usually not develop until the middle-game; thus, the longer the Russian garrison can hold out in Kiev, the fewer game turns the French player will have left in which to march his southern units east to reinforce Napoleon’s main body in the center. Both of these reasons, because they are essentially strategic in nature, usually have little to do with developments elsewhere in the battle area.

Battle of Smolensk.  Painting by Peter von Hess.
Smolensk, on the other hand, is different. Like Kiev, the French player cannot really afford to bypass Smolensk. Thus, a spirited fight for the Russian-controlled fortress, even though it is worth only one Victory Point, still has at least some strategic benefit to the Russian player; however, it is the several unique tactical advantages that it confers on the Russian army that make a diehard defense of this fortress especially appealing. In a nutshell, this last Russian-controlled fortress on the route to Moscow poses a set of very thorny supply problems for the advancing French. Interestingly, however, the crisis in Smolensk will not develop quickly. Instead, the Grande Armée will probably arrive on the border of the Smolensk supply area sometime around turn seven, but any further advance will, if the French player is prudent, probably be postponed until both the right and left wings of the French army can advance to screen Napoleon’s flanks from Russian interference. Once his flanks are secure, the next issue for the French commander to contend with will be the fact that Smolensk, unlike all but a handful of other fortresses on the map, is completely surrounded by the hexes of a single supply area. What this means in tactical terms is that, for the French player to launch an attack against the Smolensk garrison (probably eighteen defense factors) at 2-to-1, he will have to allot at least four corps-sized units (plus leaders) directly to the assault; since, it will be recalled, the fortress is within a now 100% depleted supply area, the French commander is placed on the horns of a dilemma: he can commit six or more corps to the area in order to maintain a cavalry screen for his attacking units and their accompanying supply train/depot, and then expend the supporting depot at the end of the game turn; or he can gamble, conserve his supporting depot, and attempt to shield the French forces in the 100% depleted Smolensk area with a single cavalry picket and a few leaders, in the hope that his assault succeeds on the first attempt (a two-thirds chance). In both cases, the main Russian army will almost certainly be lurking close-by in Kaluga and Vyazma so as to be within easy striking distance of the Smolensk supply area. Critical to the plans of both players is the fate of the Drissa supply train; if it has survived to this point in the game, then it will almost certainly be in a position to project supply from Kaluga into Smolensk for up to six Russian corps-sized units, without depleting its host supply area. This last point is important because it means that the Russians, assuming they have the available combat units, will be able to fight a protracted battle for possession of Smolensk, despite its 100% depleted status. And a protracted battle is the last thing that the French player wants or needs. Both the “attrition” and the “Victory Points” clocks are running, and Napoleon cannot really afford either to be halted or even to be significantly delayed if he wants to gain and hold onto a Decisive Victory.

Given the importance of the actions around Kiev and Smolensk, the game will usually reach its tipping point, as noted previously, sometime between turns nine and eleven. This is because, if Napoleon does not capture either Smolensk or Kiev by game turn eleven, then he faces the unpleasant prospect of French “political” losses being added to those from regular attrition; thus, from the middle-game on, the threat of extra “politically-induced” casualties will become an ongoing worry to the French player because he will already be averaging a loss of about one corps per turn from regular attrition. In terms of the game’s victory conditions, Napoleon can win the game without capturing Smolensk; he just cannot win it decisively. Finally, as an interesting aside: although, strength permitting, it will usually make strategic sense for the Grande Armée to pursue the Russians all the way to the eastern map-edge, the game’s victory conditions do not require that the French player duplicate Napoleon’s route of advance and capture Moscow in order to win. Instead, to achieve a Decisive Victory, the French player only needs to seize and maintain control of twenty-two Victory Points hexes — essentially, every fortress west of, and including Smolensk — by the end of the last game turn. Thus, although the capture of Moscow may well add a little historical “garnish” to the French player’s campaign, it is not really necessary.

"General Winter"

The Night Bivouac of  Napoleon's Army
during retreat from Russia in 1812

Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin
Oil on canvas.  Historical Museum, Moscow, Russia
One of the most widely-held misconceptions attached to the 1812 campaign, even today, is that the harsh Russian winter was the decisive factor in Napoleon’s final defeat; this, despite the fact that the majority of French losses actually occurred during the summer and not the winter months. For this popular historical myth, ironically enough, we can probably thank the French Emperor, himself, more than anyone else. Faced with a military disaster of truly epic proportions, Napoleon — almost as soon as he reached Paris on 18 December, 1812 — ordered the start of a cynical disinformation campaign aimed at shifting the blame for the Russian debacle away from him, and onto the hostile Russian climate. And despite the fact that Napoleon’s Russian adventure was already a strategic shambles long before the Grande Armée began its harrowing winter retreat from Moscow, the idea that the Russian winter was the Tsar’s most powerful ally against the French army quickly assumed an unshakeable popular acceptance in Paris that, in time, spread beyond France’s borders and took on the status of conventional wisdom.

The truth of the matter, however, was that the undeniable miseries experienced by the retreating French were as much the result of an almost total (but at least partly preventable) breakdown in Napoleon’s logistical arrangements, as they were the result of the awful Russian climate. Somewhat surprisingly, the Russians — because the Tsar’s commissariat service was both utterly corrupt and totally incompetent — suffered almost as badly as the French; this, in spite of the Russian soldiers’ native hardiness and their long experience with their own country’s harsh winters. In actual fact, both armies endured incredible hardships during the winter portion of the campaign; and it turned out that, contrary to Napoleon’s repeated excuses, the brutally cold weather of the Russian winter was really neither side's ally.

Napoleon leads his army in winter.
Happily, both from a historical and from a simulation standpoint, this myth of “General Winter” is nowhere to be found in John Young’s version of the 1812 campaign. Instead, players will probably be surprised to discover that, in grand-tactical 1812 and particularly in Scenario #1, the winter game turns will often impose a far heavier burden on the Russian army than on the French. This is because — although both armies suffer identical winter effects when it comes to their movement and “supply area” capacities — the Russians will, nonetheless, still be at a serious disadvantage due to the unique ability of the French supply trains to create and transport supply depots; something the Russian supply units simply cannot do. And in the game, the French player — benefiting from historical hindsight — will probably tend much more assiduously to his logistical arrangements than did his historical counterpart. What this really means is that, even with the onset of winter, the French army will still be able to move wherever it wants so long is it operates in groups of five or fewer combat units, and each of these groups sticks close to its own mobile supply train/depot. In contrast, the Russian army — because it has no depot units — will have to disperse its strength into small detachments or risk depleting the few undepleted areas still left to it at this late stage in the game. In the end, the arrival of winter — instead of helping the Russians — will actually make it much more difficult for the Tsar’s army either to screen its front or to concentrate and fight a protracted battle without risking prohibitive losses due to a lack of supply.


Emperor Napoleon and his Battle Hardened Generals,
painting by Messioner
Leaders have already been touched upon more than once in this essay; nonetheless, a few additional comments regarding these surprisingly versatile units are probably in order. And while the often-critical role of leaders both in offensive and defensive combat has already been described, what has not hitherto been commented on is the usefulness of these units when it comes to other, non combat-related tasks. And because combat is actually relatively infrequent in 1812, it will, oddly enough, usually be in their non-combat roles that leader units demonstrate their greatest usefulness.

For starters, because they are not considered combat units, leaders in grand-tactical 1812 cannot be lost either through attrition or from lack of supply. This ability of leaders to move safely into or through 100% depleted supply areas is not a trivial matter, as will shortly be seen. In addition, leaders in 1812 — unlike comparable units in every one of the other LEIPZIG-based titles — cannot be disrupted either as a result of battlefield defeats, forced-marches, or retreats before combat. This unique trait is important because it allows both players to use their respective leader units to block enemy movement or even to help shield friendly positions from attack. Leaders employed in this way, for instance, can be positioned next to a friendly-occupied fortress in order to deny a critical hex either to enemy units attempting to pass adjacent to the fortress, or to a hostile force marching up to attack. Even more importantly, however, leader units can assist friendly cavalry in creating an impenetrable line of units and totally-controlled hexes. When used in this way, leaders are positioned in intermediate hexes in a diagonal line of cavalry in order to extend the length of an AV-proof defensive screen. This specialized use of leader units is especially handy for extending the effective reach of a friendly cavalry screen on an army’s flanks.

Interestingly, one often-overlooked, but particularly useful role for leader units in 1812 is for them to be dispatched into the enemy rear as unsupported “raiders.” Since an ungarrisoned fortress is automatically captured as soon as an enemy unit (whether combat or non-combat) passes through it, leader units are — in this particular instance, at least — the equal of any infantry or cavalry unit. Moreover, leaders are especially well-suited for this type of “behind the lines” raid because they are not only immune to all adverse supply effects, but they are also the fastest units on the map. Thus, if an opportunity to pass through or around the enemy’s front should present itself — almost a certainty at some point in an 1812 game — then these fast-moving units (Generals Oudinot and Sacken, by the way, were born for this role) can, using forced-marches if necessary, race straight for the ungarrisoned Victory Point hexes in the enemy’s rear. Once loose behind the opposing army’s lines, these elusive raiders can roam across the map almost at will: passing through unoccupied, enemy-controlled fortresses and racking up Victory Points as they go.

This tactic can occasionally be of use to the French in the early game turns, but it is much more likely to benefit the Russians in the middle and end game when the cumulative effects of attrition have ravaged the French army, particularly its cavalry arm. And since, in the later stages of the campaign, depleted areas will almost always blanket much of the map, these nimble, difficult to destroy units can avoid most serious risks by sticking mainly to 100% depleted areas that are also out of the support range of enemy supply trains or depots. In most cases, because of the lethal effects on regular combat units of being unsupplied, the opposing commander’s response to an enemy “nuisance raid” will be to send leader units of his own into his now vulnerable rear areas with the mission of reclaiming as many unoccupied fortress hexes as possible, once the rampaging enemy leader and his retinue have moved on.


“He that makes war without many mistakes has not made war very long.”

Napoleon Bonaparte

1812 was first published almost forty years ago. In spite of that, and in spite of the fact that a number of new titles dealing with Napoleon’s campaign against Russia have seen print since the SPI game first appeared, it is still my favorite treatment of the disastrous campaign that ultimately led to the end both of Napoleon’s reign and of his empire. Because the Napoleonic Wars are of particular interest to me, I have examined most of these newer titles, and played quite a few of them. Some of them I liked, and some I didn’t; but the fact remains that whenever I get the urge to revisit Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, it is almost always 1812 that I take down from the shelf.

The reason I return to this title again and again is simple: the grand-tactical version of 1812 — putting aside its heavily abstracted game system and unimpressive graphics — offers a manageable and, I would argue, historically illuminating simulation of one of the most decisive military campaigns in history. The mechanics of play may appear somewhat cumbersome and artificial, but their aggregate effect is to convey a real sense of the very different strategic challenges that faced both Napoleon and Tsar Alexander in the summer, fall, and winter of 1812. In my view, this is the main reason that John Young’s treatment of Napoleon’s failed invasion of Russia really works, both as a game and, even more importantly, as a historical simulation. And if this contention seems a bit overgenerous, perhaps a little personal history will help to flesh out my argument.

Crossing the Berezina, winter 1812.
When I initially sat down, many decades ago, to play 1812, I was already familiar with a variety of different accounts of the French invasion of Russia. Each of these carefully-researched historical studies seemed to approach the disastrous campaign from a slightly different angle, yet they all produced pretty much the same verdict: the French invasion, ill-considered from its outset, had ultimately failed because of numerous missteps on the part of only one man: the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. This generally-accepted and convenient conclusion, however, had always seemed to me to be both too dismissive of the wartime role of Tsar Alexander, and too lacking in nuance to be truly satisfying. Moreover, based on the French Emperor’s long record of battlefield accomplishments, it just seemed incomprehensible to me that a military commander of Napoleon’s genius would have made the series of strategic blunders in Russia that were ascribed to him; especially if better, more sensible alternatives were really all that self-evident. Nonetheless, the fact remained that, if the writings of the majority of 20th century military historians were to be accepted, Napoleon’s mistakes were, for the most part, both eminently avoidable and painfully obvious to everyone but the French emperor, himself. Or so, at least, a broad sampling of different historical scholars all seemed to suggest. And who was I, at the time a mere college student, to argue?

Still, I was uneasy with the seeming superficiality of the established and Franco-centric view (Napoleon got all the blame and Alexander none of the credit) of France’s failure in Russia, and this discomfort, more than anything else, probably accounted for my interest in seeing how grand-tactical 1812 would actually work as an abstract model of the historical campaign; stated differently, I was keenly interested in seeing if John Young’s game design had any real simulation value, over and above a few well-known names on some game counters, and a vaguely recognizable map that covered much of Central Europe and northern Russia. In this, I was pleasantly surprised. After playing through the grand-tactical 1812 campaign game a few times, I was quite taken aback (in a good sort of way) to find that — in spite of my own 20/20 historical hindsight — I nonetheless managed, in the course of my first few games as the French, to repeat many of the same strategic miscalculations that Napoleon had ostensibly made during his own campaign against the Tsar. Which is to say: because I was convinced that a decisive French victory depended on my delivering a quick knockout blow to the Tsar’s army before either the weather, the steady influx of Russian reinforcements, or political unrest elsewhere in the Empire could affect events on the battlefield, I force-marched my army deep into the vast Russian interior in a relentless pursuit of the constantly-retreating enemy. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that while my rapid marches invariably gobbled up a lot of terrain, I was also consistently burning out a sizeable part of the Grande Armée in the process. The end result of these early all-out French offensives was that my advance usually petered out somewhere around Smolensk, Kaluga, or Vyazma; and that once my eastward progress stalled, the attrition table and raiding Russian leader units tended to do the rest.

Napoleon and Marshal Lauriston , Peace at any cost!
Oil on canvas.
Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin
Of course, the great thing about wargames is that players can refight the same campaigns over and over again, experimenting with different strategies and tactics, and learning as they go. In the case of the original commanders, on the other hand, refighting old campaigns is something that they can do only when they sit down to write their memoirs. In my own case, multiple games of grand-tactical 1812 ultimately convinced me that the soundest French strategy was one that capitalized on the clear-cut logistical advantages of Napoleon's army; in short: a plan of campaign that relied on a methodical, carefully-orchestrated broad-front advance into the Russian heartland, rather than on a rapid-paced and risky pursuit of the Tsar's retreating forces. This result, interestingly enough, appears to fall in line with the opinions of a number of Napoleonic scholars, including my personal favorite, David Chandler. However, pleasing though it is that John Young’s simulation seems to steer its players towards a historically plausible conclusion, I still remain unconvinced. There must have been some reason that Europe’s greatest soldier — against the advice of a number of his generals — decided to press on with his offensive in the autumn of 1812; and if there was, what was it? The historical record shows that Napoleon at least considered the possibility of discontinuing his advance before the onset of winter, consolidating his gains — while resupplying, reinforcing, and wintering his army in Smolensk — and then resuming his campaign in the spring of 1813. Yet instead, he decided to roll the dice. For my own part, I suspect that Napoleon saw something that his generals did not: that what made perfect sense from a military standpoint, was pure folly when viewed politically. And that whatever else might happen, Napoleon knew that neither France nor her Emperor could afford another military ulcer in Russia, to match the one still festering in Spain.

In the end, of course, games like 1812 are only abstract representations of the designer’s view of historical reality. As such they will always have flaws. This game, much as I personally like it, is no exception; thus, it is easy to find elements in 1812 that either make no sense or that even fly directly in the face of logic. The unique capabilities of the leaders in the game, and the arbitrary and often capricious effects of attrition on the opposing armies are just two examples. There certainly are more. Nonetheless, 1812 delivers in the one area that matters most: it conveys, at least in my opinion, a real sense of the strategic challenges (military and otherwise) that confronted both Napoleon and Tsar Alexander as the war ground on through the summer, fall, and winter of 1812. Moreover, it is a game of cunning and maneuver, and not of constant combat; a game in which sudden, unexpected moves can achieve great things; but also a game in which bold strokes can, because of failed marches, sputter out and come to naught. And, above all else, it is unpredictable. Certainly, this game is not for everyone. However, for those players with an interest either in Napoleon’s ill-fated invasion of Russia or in Napoleonic warfare, more generally, I cannot recommend it too highly.          

Author's Postscript

Although, for reasons unknown, I neglected to mention this fact in the above essay: SPI issued an interesting response to a written rules inquiry regarding both LEIPZIG and 1812. In answer to a mailed-in post-publication inquiry about the forced-march capabilities of mobile supply units in both LEIPZIG and grand-tactical 1812, the SPI rules editor formally declared that: in both LEIPZIG and 1812 (although this interpretation is not made clear in either the original rules or in the errata for these two titles) mobile supply units may attempt to TRIPLE force-march in both games.

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles, which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.

Recommended Artwork

This map of the Battle of Borodino makes a fine wall decoration for the game room with a Napoleonic theme.
Buy at
Map Showing the Russian Positions at ...
Buy From


  • Great stuff, it encouraged me to draw the game from storage.
    Will bring it to the club next week,thanks!

  • Greetings Moltke:

    Thank you for visiting and for your comments; I sincerely appreciate both.

    Regarding your plan to take a copy of "1812" to the club: I hope that your fellow gamers will give you the opportunity to revisit this great old title. If they do, let me know how your session turns out; I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with the game.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Fantastic piece! I've spotlighted this article on CSW Newsdesk.

  • Greetings John:

    Thank you for visiting my blog and, of course, thank you, as well, for your kind words. I appreciate both.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Great stuff, just one minor change required:

    "reconnoiter this particular section of the ancient boundary between the Duchy of Warsaw and Holy Russia"

    the boundary was "ancient" for 5 years only. ;-)

  • Greetings Jaro:

    Thank you for your interest and for your comments; both are sincerely appreciated.

    So far as your historical observation is concerned: You are, of course, quite correct.

    I'm afraid that my literary bent overcame my desire for historical accuracy; although, in my own defense, I was actually thinking more in terms of the deep divide between Polish and Russian national identities, and not so much about the political realities of the period.

    Best Regards, Joe

    P.S. I'm going to go ahead and change that sentence, however, lest others misconstrue the meaning of my description.

  • Excellent review and a real pleasure to read. The original release of the game was about the same time I began wargaming, but alas, I never acquired a copy nor had a chance to play it. If I may, I will recommend the 2009 release, Russia Against Napoleon by Dominic Lieven for Russian-centric view of the 1812 campaign.

  • Hi Joe!

    Thanks for answering! To be more precise, Neman river was an ancient border between Polish and Lithuanian nationalities/entities up until 1795, Russians (a term created by Peter I) live more to the East ;)



  • Greetings Tom:

    Thanks for taking the time to visit and to comment on my post; I sincerely appreciate your interest.

    I will make a note of RUSSIA AGAINST NAPOLEON, although given the fact that I currently have about twenty newer games that I have not yet really even looked at, it will probably be awhile before I actually get around to trying to acquire it.

    As I indicated in my essay, one of my pet peeve's when it comes to modern analysis of the 1812 campaign is the general lack of credit given to Tsar Alexander by western historians. The Russian ruler actually outmaneuvered Napoleon completely on the diplomatic front: first, by inducing Bernadotte of Sweden to remain neutral; second, and even more importantly, by tamping down Russia's long-simmering border dispute with the Ottoman Empire so that he could shift significant forces away from the south and into the expected path of Napoleon's impending invasion.

    Certainly, David Chandler, among others takes note of the shrewd machinations of the Tsar; but, in the end, still attributes almost all of the blame for the failure of the 1812 campaign to the French Emperor, while giving -- I think, at least -- far too little credit to Alexander's contribution to the Russian victory. This is why, despite the fact that Curtis Cate is not a formally-credentialed historian, I still think that his "The War of the Two Emperors" actually gets closer to the essence of the French failure than most of our modern historians.

    Thanks again for your interest and Best Regards, Joe

  • Greetings Again Jaro:

    The Baltic States, like Poland, were extraordinarily unlucky both in their geograpical location and in their history. The presence of a militarily assertive Sweden to the west and an expansionist Russian Empire to the east, made things extremely difficult for the peoples in between. And of course, the concept of a "Greater Russia" was, as you note, a purely political invention created by Peter the Great.

    Thanks again for your interest and comments and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • I have both Leipzig and Grande Armee (1805-1806 and 1809 Campaign), bougth both in the late '70. I missed to buy 1812 and your masterful review make me cry about that...
    Thanks, a great and pleasantful article.


  • Greetings Fabrizio:

    My sincerest thanks for your interest and your kind words.

    So far as LEIPZIG and LA GRANDE ARMEE are concerned, both are excellent games, and I still drag them out to play occassionally, even after all these years.

    1812 is, as I noted in my essay, a very different game. Nonetheless, I think it is well worth owning for anyone with an interest either in Napoleon's disastrous 1812 campaign, or in the Napoleonic Wars, more generally. By the way, copies of 1812 still show up periodically on eBay; in fact, my current copy was purchased on eBay several years ago, after my original copy basically wore out.

    Thanks again for your interest and
    Best Regards, Joe

  • Excellent review Joe. This game has long been a favourite of mine. It is difficult to get opponents to play it due to its scarcity but I think it is a great game.

  • Greetings Gilbert:

    Thank you for visiting my blog and, of course, also for your kind words.

    Obviously, you will get no argument from me when it comes to 1812. The game, as I noted in my essay, is far from perfect; but, it continues to retain its appeal because -- in my view, at least -- John Young got almost all of the 'big' things right in this design. Moreover, 1812 is one of the very few games on this topic -- and believe me, I have probably at least looked at most of them -- that really imparts the feeling of helplessness that I think Napoleon must have felt as he watched, utterly powerless, as his campaign slowly collapsed right before his eyes.

    Thanks again for your interest and Best Regards, Joe

  • Can you please post this as a printable file, such as PDF or DOC?

    I was one of the naysayers of the 1812 hex version, but your insights mean I need to revisit my earlier analysis as perhaps too hasty. I guess I was disappointed with the changes from the Liepzig/LGA system.

  • Greetings Don:

    Regarding your question about posting this essay as a PDF or DOC file: I can't, but I suspect that, as soon as my wife gets home from work, I can probably persuade her to do so.

    I understand your initial frustration with the comparison of 1812 to LEIPZIG and LA GRANDE ARMEE. It took me a little while to come to terms with a number of John Young's design decisions. In the end, however, his changes in the LEIPZIG game platform not only work, but work a lot better -- at least, in my opinion -- than the other two systems would in the context of this particular campaign.

    Much the same thing is true if you try to graft the LA GRANDE ARMEE rules onto LEIPZIG. Napoleon ends up trapping Blucher and most of his army in Leipzig on the first and second game turns and then, with one of the Coalition's best commanders and a sizeable chunk of its army (particularly the cavalry divisions) bottled up, Dresden and Berlin are easy pickings for the French in the early and middle game. Fun for the French player, but for the Coalition player: "not so much."

    Best Regards, Joe

  • The PDF file creation widget works great and it comes in at 43 pages.

  • Greetings Again Don:

    I'm glad that you like it. Of course, this is just a try-out; but if enough readers find this feature useful, I may include it with other future posts.

    Thanks again for your interest and Happy Holidays, Joe

  • Joe

    I hope you do use the pdf on future postings. I printed out the Rand Games history and it came out smaller then what was on the screen.This would be a most welcome addition

    So,Whats you thoughts on the Area version of the game

  • Greetings Kim:

    It would seem, based on visitors' comments like yours, that the PDF widget is working out pretty well; so, I think -- when I have a little spare time, that is -- that I will add it to a number of my other posts, including the Rand Games history piece, you mentioned.

    So far as the Phil Orbanes' Area Movement version of "1812" is concerned, it was very popular with my group of gamers when the title first came out. For my own part, I enjoyed the Area version well enough; but, when everything is said and done, I quickly found that I really prefered the "LEIPZIG" grand-tactical game platform. I guess its main appeal is that it just creates more opportunities for maneuver and battlefield surprises.

    In addition, while the "double-guess," chit-based combat system used in the Orbanes' design can be kind of fun, I just don't find it that convincing as a simulation device. In oint of fact, after the novelty wore off, I found that, not only did I not particularly like its use in "1812," I also discovered that I didn't care that much for its use in CAESAR'S LEGIONS or in the several other titles in which it has appeared, either.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • On the article suggesting pre-empt moves by Russia forward (as they move first), I am reading histories and this does not seem possible.

    Czar Alexander was going to do NOTHING to trigger a war, it was going to be entirely Nappie's choice. So my suggestion is that the Russians cannot invade French territory on turn 1.

    P.S. I liked the area game when it first came out, much later I analyzed it and found some gamey tricks and my friends claim I "squeezed the joy out of the game by breaking it."


  • Greetings Don:

    I am inclined to agree that Tsar Alexander would have been very chary of any preemptive moves against Napoleon's gathering army in 1812, but I suspect that his hesitation would not be for the reasons you suggest. In some ways, provoking Napoleon at this stage in the game was probably the least of his worries. Instead, the Tsar had plenty of other issues to consider.

    First, Alexander was saddled with senior commanders who were not only largely talentless, but who he also knew -- in more than a few cases -- both distrusted and detested each other. Thus, although Barclay de Tolley was (in theory, at least) the commander-in-chief of all Russian forces in the west, it is doubtful that either Prince Bagration or Constantine would have jumped to obey him had he ordered a major movement against the French.

    The other issue was the matter of Napoleon's less than enthusiastic allies. Even as the Prussian and Austrian contingents assembled near the Russian frontier, secret diplomatic embassies from the Tsar were on their way to Vienna and Berlin in the hopes of prying these two former Russian allies away from Napoleon's orbit. Thus, in view of the Tsar's diplomacy, it is probably unlikely that he would have further provoked the court in Vienna by invading Austrian territory in advance of a move by Napoleon against Russia. Better to wait for a French reversal or two and then see if the the French Emperor's allies were still so keen on a war with Russia.

    So far as the game goes, of course, diplomacy doesn't really figure in. And since that's the case, these and other similar Russian moves do tend to keep the French player on his toes. These aggressive Russian openings may smack of pure gamesmanship, maybe, but they are interesting, nonetheless.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Yes, there was a lot that Alexander was juggling. I got the non-Chandler book you recommended but just started it, since Nappie looms so large over history, I can see that his opponents get shorted.

    I am not sure if these Russian pre-empts were seen during playtesting, so I am doubly unsure if they were intended by the designer. There is no similar possibility in the area game where the Russians also move first.

    Most playtests tend to follow historical lines, simply because people are not sure what they are doing. It takes a great playtester to wring out such manuevers as you presented, as they are so unexpected.


  • Greetings Again Don:

    I probably should post more book reviews (I have 60+ volumes on the Napoleonic Wars, alone), but every time I start to write one, I end up rereading virtually the entire book. However, the fact that Alexander doesn't get more credit for the Russian victory against Napoleon long ago became a pet peeve of mine. Considering what the Tsar had to work with, he really accomplished quite a lot; and he completely outmaneuvered Napoleon on the diplomatic front.

    So far as play-testing goes: I am sure that you are correct. In my correspondence with John Young a few months after the appearance of LA GRANDE ARMEE, it quickly became apparent that the "Prussia First" strategy that my group of gamers had adopted for the "1805" Scenario had never been tried during any of the play-test sessions at SPI. When I apprised him of it, John really didn't like this alternative French strategy at all, but he could not offer a reasonable set of rules that would preempt it within the overall confines of the game system.

    In a broader sense, of course, any play-testing process that does not consider hare-brained, "out-of-the-box" game strategies like those I have proposed for LA GRANDE ARMEE and 1812 is virtually always going to leave open opportunities for the creative (or sneaky, if you prefer) player to exploit. Interestingly enough, I had very much this same discussion with Eric Walters about the importance of having at least one real "kook" in any group of otherwise experienced play-testers. Speaking from my own bitter experience, I was fortunate enough to play with some very creative, even diabolical opponents; and the end result of that competition was that, despite my many frantic trips back to review the rules, I was often completely surprised by the direction of my adversaries' play. For example: did you know that there is actually no rule in SOLDIERS which prohibits a player from machinegunning his own disrupted infantry in order to clear fire lanes against enemy hexes? I know that there isn't because after one of my French opponents did exactly that in one of our games, I tried to find it. Live and learn, I guess.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • When I have playtested a game, I have tried to see the extreme possibility and then have pushed it to the limit, thereby "breaking" the game with the current rules. I also try to do this when a game I like first comes out, THAT is the time to try to get any errata for it.

    There are all kinds of ways to do this, go off the CRT charts either low or high, throw everything to achieving one victory condition and ignore all the others (instead of a more "reasonable" balanced approach), put your own units OOS, overstack and gain benefits, etc.

    Anyway, thanks again for your great article.

  • Greetings:

    I agree completely! The appeal of wargames -- at least for me -- is that they offer an opportunity for players to examine historical events with "new eyes." This is something that books, no matter how well-written or carefully researched simply cannot do. Russ Gifford puts it best, I think, when he refers to conflict simulations as really serving, for the interested player, as historical "labs."

    Of course, this characteristic of wargaming points to another element of the hobby that is particularly interesting to those of us who have been involved with wargames for a long time: the "puzzle" aspect of different wargame designs. Like you, whenever I approach a new title, I begin by first trying to understand what the designer was trying to show in the context of his game, and then by trying to falsify his underlying thesis by experimenting with unusual or unorthodox solutions to the central problem posed by the game. This often creates an interesting give-and-take between players: as first one player develops a new line of play, and then another attempts to refute it with a new response. This is where the so-called "chess-like" dynamic that characterizes many of the older, heavily analyzed titles comes from.

    Unfortunately, nowadays, it seems like fewer and fewer gamers are willing to invest the time necessary to really master the intricacies of a game system before either moving on to other, newer titles; or, alternatively, before proposing major modifications to a game's original design platform. Obviously, in the case of many of the "monster" games published over the the last thirty or so years, modifications to the original design -- in the form of substantial amounts of "errata" -- are often necessary because of the inability of a publisher to really thoroughly playtest one of these behemoths before putting it into the marketplace.

    The majority of simpler games, however, are another story. I think that far too many players today are too impatient when it comes to evaluating many old and even newer games. Often what these "smaller" games require are not extensive rules changes, but simply different (strategic or tactical) approaches by players to the original challenges posed by these designs' basic game problems. As you note, this opportunity to experiment -- at least for me and my gaming friends -- is really where much of the enjoyment from our shared hobby originates.

    Best Regards, Joe

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