HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL IN 2011

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HAPPY THANKSGIVING, 2011!


Another year is rapidly approaching its end and it is again time to take note of the onset of the Holiday Season. Unfortunately, another somewhat melancholy Thanksgiving post seems all too appropriate as we gather with friends and family to celebrate this year's holiday. Much has happened since last Thanksgiving, but regrettably, very little seems to have improved from last year to this. Nonetheless, in keeping with the original spirit of this special day, I remain hopeful that 2012 will see a happier and more prosperous holiday than this one for us all.

General George Washington and Old Nelson,
The Prayer at Valley Forge, by Arnold Friberg
Today is Thanksgiving. And, as every school child in the United States knows (or should know), this annual feast day traces its beginnings all the way back to 1621, when a pitifully small group of Pilgrims from the Plymouth Plantation (only thirteen, in all), along with about ninety neighboring Native Americans, celebrated the colony's first successful harvest. Interestingly, this first "Thanksgiving" feast lasted a full three days. A number of the other early American colonies, it should be noted, also observed, on a regular basis, their own versions of the Plymouth settlement's first harvest feast. As a widely-recognized national holiday that was no longer limited to a few states in New England, not surprisingly, Thanksgiving is most closely associated with two of the American republic's greatest presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. On 3 October 1789, the first president of the fledgling United States of America, George Washington, proclaimed a national day of Thanksgiving; however, it was the sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln who, while the nation he presided over was racked by a terrible Civil War, proclaimed the final Thursday of November, 1863, to be celebrated across the North as a national day of remberance and religious observance. That date, and the holdiday it marks, are both with us still.

Of course, nowadays, in spite of its religious antecedants, the final Thursday of November is, for the vast majority of Americans, almost exclusively a secular holiday that is mainly associated with family gatherings, turkey dinners, and football. It is also — famously or infamously depending on one's point of view — the day that preceeds the peculiarly American commercial free-for-all known as "Black Friday". Nonetheless, as we make our separate arrangements to celebrate Thanksgiving with our families and friends, let us all take a moment to remember those whose lives and circumstances have been made more precarious by our nation’s ongoing economic problems. And let us also set aside a little time to remember those who wear our country's uniform, and who presently serve in faraway and often perilous places on our behalf. This year, like the two preceding it, has been a challenging time for a great many Americans, but let us hope and pray that the year to come will be a better one for all of our fellow citizens, both friends and strangers, alike.

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2011 WORLD BOARDGAMING CHAMPIONSHIPS TOURNAMENT RECAP

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BPA Posts This Year’s WBC Tournament “After Action Reports”

It’s that time of year again. Don Greenwood and his tireless (and largely unpaid) minions have at last made available the long-awaited — at least by me — event recaps from the 2011 WBC Convention Tournaments.

For the many wargamers (like me) who, for one reason or another, were unable to attend this year’s WBC Convention, the recent posting of the 2011 tournament “After Action Reports” represents an excellent opportunity to vicariously enjoy the championship matches of each and every one of this premier convention’s hundred-plus gaming events. These extensive post-tournament narratives — which are compiled by each of the hard-working tournament Game Masters and published every year on the BPA website — provide an overview of virtually all of the late-stage (semi-finals and finals) convention action, and, most importantly, allow nonparticipants to follow the competitive ups and downs in all of the games that personally interest them.

Speaking for myself, even in those years when I put aside my deep dislike for air travel and make the trek back to Lancaster, I still look forward to checking on the results of the various tournaments: reviewing the different reports always brings back a flood of pleasant memories both of friendships renewed and of the whole recently-past convention experience. Moreover, these reports, besides being interesting in their own right, are an excellent way for players to do a little research on the specific gaming events that they are considering entering at some future date; and, I should add, they are also a great way for players to check on the tournament fortunes of their friends within the hobby.

As a final note, I strongly encourage those visitors to this blog who are specifically interested in past or future WBC Conventions, or who have a more general interest in high-level tournament play, to visit http://www.boardgamers.org/.  I'm pretty sure that you won't be disappointed.
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THE CURIOUS SAGA OF THE D10 "POSTAL" COMBAT RESULTS TABLE

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A question a few days ago from one of this blog's visitors regarding the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table got me to reminiscing about the early days of "play-by-mail" gaming. It was, for those of us who were in the hobby at the time, an interesting, if occasionally frustrating period. And while I don't claim that the personal recollections that I am about to recount regarding this long-past era are totally correct in all of their particulars, they are, nonetheless, accurate enough to satisfy the relaxed requirements of this somewhat whimsical look back at the rise and fall of "postal" gaming.

Double click image to view chart full size and print. A hat tip to Joe Angiolillo for redoing the above chart so that it is actually legible.
 

PROLOGUE


A Present in the Mailbox
by Joe Ruiz Grandee, American b 1929

A long, long time ago, before Al Gore invented the Internet (or discovered that there was money to be made lecturing the rest of us about the weather), wargamers who wanted to expand the available pool of opponents beyond their immediate circle of family and friends (and honestly, how many times can you beat your younger brother at D-DAY before he loses interest, anyway?) had only two viable options. On the one hand, they could travel to the small number of sparsely-attended tournament conventions (this was before the advent of "Origins") which — during the "Jurassic" era of wargaming — were usually organized either by the earnest, but affable loons from the Spartan International Competition Society (SICS), or by the somewhat more reality-grounded members of the Avalon Hill International Kriegspiel Society (AHIKS); alternatively, they could try their hand at playing wargames by mail. Attending tournaments was a problem for a lot of us back then because there just weren't all that many of them to start with. Moreover, those that did get past the planning stage — or so it appeared to those of us living on the West Coast — always seemed to end up being hosted at least half a continent away (usually in Baltimore). Under those circumstances, it is probably not surprising that quite a few avid gamers (me included) turned to play-by-mail (PBM) as a less satisfying but cheaper (you could buy an awful lot of stamps for what it cost to trek to a wargame convention) substitute for tournament "chasing". However, inexpensive or not, it turned out that playing wargames by mail, besides being slow (the U.S. Postal Service isn't called "snail mail" for nothing), presented players with a completely new set of problems. Which is to say, once a gamer decided to take up postal competition, successfully tracking down a reliable opponent (a bigger challenge than one might think, in the early days) and actually getting a game started was a bit daunting; particularly because, in the beginning, no one except for those actually involved in the first pioneering efforts to promote PBM play (the aforementioned SICS and AHIKS, augmented by a few independent gamers) seemed especially interested in helping players with this side of the hobby.

Double click photo to view full size or print.
But "all things come to those who wait"; and so it was with play-by-mail wargaming. As might be expected, the boys in Baltimore — in keeping with Avalon Hill's traditional glacier-like reaction time when it came to changes in the hobby that they had helped to create — were, at first, slow to follow up on this budding interest in postal play among their customers. However, proving yet again that "even a blind pig finds an acorn once in awhile", when the evidence became overwhelming that PBM play was not some temporary fad, but was rapidly becoming a staple feature of the wargaming subculture (if, indeed, there actually was one), Avalon Hill finally — beginning in the mid to late sixties — threw its minuscule corporate weight behind this new and financially promising gaming alternative. Having decided to jump in, the first order of business for the Baltimore game publisher was to bring order to the somewhat chaotic PBM game environment by standardizing the grid coordinates of its various titles, since none of the early games had numbered hexes. A number of players, using chess as a model, had come up with their own "home-brewed" griding arrangements, but Avalon Hill regularized the basic system so that everyone was playing with the same game maps. The next thing that the powers at Avalon Hill did was to tap into the commercial end of postal gaming by selling preprinted PBM "Order of Battle" sheets (in tablet form) to complement their early games. [Unfortunately for the gang in Baltimore, the rapid proliferation of office copiers in the 1970's insured that, within a decade of its launch, this lucrative little sideline pretty much went the way of the supermarket "TV tube-tester".] Probably even more important than the useful (but surprisingly expensive) PBM tablets, was the game publisher's decision to allow the (initially) tiny pool of subscribers to its bi-monthly "house organ", The General, to advertise for opponents within its pages.

THE 'POSTAL' COMBAT RESOLUTION PROBLEM

Double click photo to view full size or print.
Certainly, the contributions of Avalon Hill to postal play, when they finally came, were helpful; there was, however, one additional impediment that still remained to be overcome, even after players had gridded their game maps, acquired their Avalon Hill "Order of Battle" game sheets, and tracked down a postal opponent or two. That was the problem posed by the baked-in need for there to be some way to "remotely" resolve the outcomes of individual PBM battles. And this was, it should be noted, not a trivial issue. After all, wargames were, and are, called "wargames" for a reason: they almost all involve combat which, in turn, relies on some random means of generating combat results. In the case of face-to-face play, this process is easy: the player conducting his or her move (the phasing player, in contemporary parlance) will, once all movement is completed, simply specify the order of any combats to be executed, roll the six-sided die (that came with the game) for each combat, and, as these battles are resolved, cross-reference the resulting die-rolls (one at a time) with the appropriate odds-columns and numerical cells on the game's Combat Results Table (CRT) to determine the actual outcomes of all this "cardboard" mayhem. This process, of course, is easy when one's opponent is able to watch as the die is being rolled for each battle; it is a little more difficult, on the other hand, when one player is in San Diego and the other is in Saint Petersburg. Needless-to-say, as the concept of "postal" play began to gain traction, several different ideas were quickly put forward, from different quarters as possible solutions to this thorny little problem.

The "Honor" System


Double click photo to view full size or print.
The first suggestion to surface, which emanated from the likes of Tom Shaw and Tom Oleso in the early 1960's, was the hopelessly naive "Honor" system. In a nutshell, the panglossian proponents of this approach argued — since the PBM participants were, after all, only playing a recreational game — that attacking players should be content to simply allow their distant (and often faceless) opponents to roll the die on their behalf and then notify the original attackers of the outcomes of their various battles. This hare-brained idea, not surprisingly, went nowhere. The vast majority of gamers, it turned out, were (and still are) an intensely suspicious lot; and, in their almost universal rejection of the "Honor" system, they proved that they were also more than a decade and a half ahead of Ronald Reagan when it came to adopting the motto: "Trust, but verify."


The "Matrix" System

 Opening the campus mailbox
A very different method for tackling this problem, although workable, turned out — in the eyes of quite a few of us — to be a lot more trouble than it was worth. This was the "Matrix" system pioneered by AHIKS. The logic behind this approach was impeccable; it was the cumbersomeness of its execution that was the problem. The key feature of this combat resolution system, not surprisingly, was the multi-cell matrix. These matrices would vary in their cell counts, but for most games, a matrix displaying one hundred individual numbers, each ranging from 1 to 6, would suffice. A typical 10x10 (hundred number) matrix would be set up as follows: across the top of the chart would be a longitudinal series of ten letters, starting with "A" and ending with "J"; running down the side (from top to bottom) would be another (latitudinal) series, this time consisting of the numbers "1" through "10". For the system to work, each player had to procure two identical copies of their own 10x10 charts; one copy would be kept while the other copy was sealed in an envelope and sent to a neutral umpire. For a phasing player to actually resolve his or her combats, the cell coordinates for each battle would have to be listed along with the specifics of the battle, itself; i.e., all adjacent units in 3 to 1 vs. 4th Rifle C9 (+5). Along with the cell coordinates (which could only be used once), a number from "0" to "5" had to be included with the other combat instructions. [This was done just to make sure that a devious opponent, for example, had no incentive to list nothing but "5s" and "2s" in each and every one of the cells of his matrix.] To actually resolve the battle, the defending player would first find the appropriate cell on his matrix, then the number in the cell would be added to that of the value of the integer sent by the attacker. For example, if the number in the cell was "4" and that sent by the attacker was "5", the defender would then perform the following short computation: 4+5=9-6=3; which, in this instance, shows that "3" was the actual die roll. Needless-to-say, besides being both tedious and time consuming, this process was also highly vulnerable, unbelievable though it might seem, to mathematical errors. And this could be a major problem because the different copies of the matrices were not exchanged and inspected by the two opposing players until after the conclusion of the last game turn. Human frailty being as common as it is, it is not difficult to see why this procedure repeatedly led to "scrapped" games because of mistakes in simple arithmetic. Although AHIKS persevered with this ponderous combat resolution system for years, most of the rest of us couldn't wait for a less-complicated substitute to come along, and sure enough, it wasn't very long before one did.

Double click photo to view full size or print.

THE NYSE Stock Sales System

The third method of PBM combat resolution would probably never have come into use if its predecessors had not been so unsatisfactory. As already noted, the "Honor" approach to die-rolling was, for obvious reasons, out of the question for everyone except, perhaps, for Tom Oleson or Nelson Mandela, and, just as clearly, the "Matrix" system was both too error-prone and too awkward for the majority of non-AHIKS players. So, given that neither of these approaches really worked all that well, the question on most postal wargamers' minds was: what actually would? Which is to say, what kind of relatively simple-to-use (and inexpensive: most of us, after all, were students in those days) mechanism was there, already widely available, that could reliably generate hundreds, if not thousands, of tamper-proof random numbers day after day. The answer to this question, happily both for Avalon Hill and for a growing fraternity of PBM players, turned out to have literally been lying on most people's doorstep from the very beginning; and that was: the New York Stock Exchange stock reports that could be found in the financial sections of virtually every daily newspaper in the country. This idea, in its own way, was a major breakthrough. The key to this system lay with the information on stock transactions transmitted by the NYSE to the wire services at the end of each trading day. These reports, which covered virtually every individual security traded on the NYSE, listed the high and low prices for every stock traded on the exchange; they also reported the sales volume, in hundreds of thousands of shares, for those same stocks. Assuming players stuck to those stocks reported with large numbers of daily transactions, this "sales in hundreds" tabulation was a perfect mechanism for generating random numbers. 
Double click photo to view full size or print.
Thus, it seemed that the Monday through Friday NYSE documentation of America's capitalist activity, so far as the usual PBM issues were concerned, was the perfect answer to the postal players' combat resolution conundrum. It did, however, present a couple of problems of its own. First, because not all local newspapers went to press at the same time — there was, remember, the pesky issue of different U.S. Time Zones — some papers published the NYSE stock reports prior to the actual close of that day's trading. This meant that the "sales in hundreds" figures in one player's local newspaper might not match those printed in his or her opponent's community paper. Needless-to-say, this was a problem. Happily for all concerned, the solution turned out to be relatively easy: it was to require the use of a single national publication that, it was assumed, would present uniform reporting from one end of the country to the other; and the national publication that best fit this description, not surprisingly, was "The Wall Street Journal" (WSJ). Better still, since virtually every library in the country already subscribed to the "Journal", the penniless (all of our extra money was already going to buy new games, after all) members of the PBM proletariat, assuming that they could get to a library, didn't even have to actually buy newspapers to check their combat results.

The Birth of the D10 "Postal" CRT


Double click photo to view full size or print.
However, no sooner had the idea of the stock market "sales in hundreds" combat resolution system been put forward than another problem reared its ugly head. This one had to do not so much with the "Journal's" mechanism for generating tamper-proof random numbers as with the numbers themselves. The problem was both simple and obvious. In face-to-face play, the phasing player's battles — as already noted — were typically resolved using a six-sided die and a Combat Results table that was designed around the numerical values ("1" through "6") possible with that die. Unfortunately, the last number in a stock's "sales in hundreds" WSJ entry could be anything from "1" to "0" (10). This was a trifle inconvenient to those players who had originally hoped to precisely match the distribution of combat outcomes found on the "standard" D6 Avalon Hill Combat Results Table in the new postal system; regrettably, it was clear — even to the arithmetically-challenged members of the gaming community — that ten was not evenly divisible by six. [Which, by the way, was not nearly the problem that many postal gamers initially made it out to be: a fact that will shortly become abundantly clear.] Nonetheless, the popular consensus among PBM players was to forge ahead and to create a new (ten-based) D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table that could be used in lieu of the standard Avalon Hill D6 version whenever postal games were played. Thus it was that, thanks to the efforts of an unknown and unsung designer (probably Tom Shaw), the D10 "Postal" CRT at last came into being sometime around 1964. And, interestingly enough, once its final form had been settled on, it was instantly (no hesitation on the part of the boys in Baltimore this time around) copyrighted by Avalon Hill. Still, all was not perfectly harmonious in "River City". The D10 and the D6 Combat Result Tables, although similar, were, and are, different enough that the introduction of the D10 CRT (and its formal endorsement by Avalon Hill) actually generated a modest amount of controversy within the hobby. And that controversy — unfortunately for those of us who liked the new CRT — did not diminish with the passage of time.


The main reason for this ongoing kerfuffle was that the D10 CRT was slightly more "attacker-friendly" than its predecessor (a fact that becomes obvious the minute the two tables are laid side-by-side); hence, while some "traditionally-inclined" players disliked the changes it made to the distribution of combat outcomes; to other players, its modest rejiggering of combat results in favor of the attacker was actually considered to be a plus. This is because, for quite a few face-to-face and PBM players, the old D6 CRT was perceived as just a bit too skewed in favor of the defender; hence, for many of us, the minor adjustments in the distribution of combat outcomes in the D10 CRT were a welcome correction to what we saw as the "standard" CRT's baked-in "pro-defender" bias. Welcome or not, however, it was a correction that would not long survive the assaults of its critics.

The Return of the "Original" D6 CRT


1960's U.S. letter carrier
If the dictates of simple arithmetic were the initial impetus behind the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table, they were also its undoing. The problem — which many of us recognized from the outset — was that the D10 CRT was, in reality, an artful solution to a nonexistent problem. That being said, it wasn't long before a growing chorus of the D10 table's critics — who, inconveniently for the rest of us, had apparently mastered the mysteries of "long division" — pointed out that to convert a base-ten integer to a base-six integer, it was only necessary to divide the former by the latter; the "remainder", if there was one, would inevitably yield a value of "1" to "6" ("0", in this case, counting as "6"). Those of us who actually preferred the D10 table quickly countered this argument by pointing out that requiring players to divide large (often, very large) numbers by six opened up the possibility of mathematical error; and we all knew the problems that simple addition and subtraction had created with the "Matrix" system. Not willing to be outmaneuvered on this front, the anti-D10 forces responded by pointing out that the main source of the problem with the "Matrix" approach was not really the occasional mistake by a careless player; but, instead, it was the fact that errors of this sort — because the two players could not review each others' Combat Resolution Charts on a regular basis — were concealed until a game was finished. And since, in the case of the D6 "Division" method, the attacker could always check the defender's arithmetic immediately, the "Matrix" argument simply did not apply. This last argument was enough to convince Tom Oleson who, in turn, persuaded the editor of The General to publish his article on this system in the Nov-Dec 1974 Vol. 11, No. 4 issue. Back in 1971, Avalon Hill had issued its most complete guidelines, up to that point, for PBM play. At the time, this little booklet pretty much had the authority of a Papal "Bull"; particularly since it covered a number of different PBM issues including postal combat resolution. Shortly after Oleson's article, the PBM Guidelines were reprinted, but this time with the stipulation that, henceforth, the "Division" system, used in concert with the original D6 CRT, was to be the only "authorized" method for resolving postal combats. This unequivocal declaration, by Avalon Hill, more or less ended the D10 CRT's ten year reign as the CRT of choice in the realm of postal play, and, except for a small band of "partisan" hold-outs, it largely faded from the popular gaming scene after 1974.

EPILOGUE

Bruno Sinagaglio
If the official Avalon Hill Play-by-Mail Guidelines published more than forty years ago pretty much eliminated the D10 Combat Results Table as a feature of most regular play, it did not succeed in completely quashing its use. Interestingly but not that surprisingly, a few grognards, by mutual consent, continued to use the D10 table both in their face-to-face and in their PBM games long after it had officially passed from the popular gaming scene. And so things puttered along, decade after decade. Then, a few years ago, the old base-ten CRT made a minor comeback of sorts when Bruno Sinagaglio (may his tribe prosper and his flocks increase) resurrected the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table as a play-balance option for the WATERLOO players participating in the Grognard "PreCon" event that he runs every year at the WBC Convention in Lancaster. The widespread acceptance by both the old and new participants in Bruno's annual celebration of the early days of wargaming has led many of us to believe that, while the D10 CRT is probably never going to supplant the traditional Avalon Hill D6 CRT in regular competition, it just might (thanks to Bruno) have gained a new lease on life when it comes to classic titles like WATERLOO, STALINGRAD, and D-DAY. Of course, only time will tell; but for those of us who prefer the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table to the "standard" D6 version, the portents of things to come are at least promising.
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'STALINGRAD' ANYONE?

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Sometimes what initially seems like a "hare-brained" idea, upon reflection, doesn't seem "hare-brained" at all. Such is the case with the idea of a STALINGRAD PBeM Tournament. Many of us who were first approached about the idea were skeptical, but, after kicking the idea around for awhile, a lot of us former "skeptics" have decided to climb on board. Thus, after over thirty or so years and against the odds, it really does look like there actually may be a new STALINGRAD tournament shaping up.

After decades of neglect on the part of traditional tournament organizers, it looks like a PBeM STALINGRAD tournament may soon be getting under way thanks to the ad hoc efforts of a number of the game's many fans over at the Consimworld STALINGRAD Forum . This PBeM tournament is actually the "brainchild" of Brian Britton, but among those who will be helping Brian to get this project off the ground are long-time players such as Joe Angiolillo, Ed Menzel, and myself (just to name a few). The tournament, itself, will be free; however, the way things look at present, participation in this competition will probably be restricted to members of the Consimworld Forum community. And while a few administrative details still need to be worked out, the general outlines of the tournament are already taking shape.

For starters, to maximize the gaming opportunities of the participating players, the competition — instead of using a "winner take all" Single Elimination format — will be organized along the lines of a "Swiss" style multi-round tournament so that players who suffer an early defeat will still have a chance to fight their way back and to gain a shot at making it into the "final four". In addition, because of the well-known pro-Russian bias associated with the standard version of STALINGRAD, several special tournament rules have been added to even the playing field for the Axis players. As might be expected, Soviet replacements in the tournament matches will be computed using the already popular, "reduced" 4-5-6 replacement schedule. However, the standard game's Turn Record Track will be extended by two full months; that is: all of the games in this tournament will end at the conclusion of the July '43 game turn (26 game turns), instead of at the conclusion of its regular end date of May '43 (24 game turns). In addition to an increase in the number of game turns, the Axis player — to further improve play-balance — will (on a one-time basis) be allowed, prior to the commencement of each new match, to stipulate whether both players will be required to use the traditional D6 Avalon Hill Combat Results Table, or whether the D10 "Postal" Combat Results Table (a "downloadable" file of this CRT will be made available for those players who do not already possess their own copy) will instead be used to resolve ALL combats for the duration of the game in question.

As things now stand, the actual PBeM game platform to be used in individual tournament matches will be left to the players to decide among themselves (please note that there are several gaming sites that currently support STALINGRAD play, including VASSAL, Cyberboard, and Zun Tzu); in those situations where there are compatibility or download problems, however, rather than being locked-out of competition, players will be able to resort to a spreadsheet format such as the one already posted on this blog.

As indicated previously, there are still a few tournament details left to be worked out (e.g., the actual number of "Swiss" rounds to be played, and the maximum time limit to be allowed to complete each round, among other things), but most of the more important elements of the tournament seem to be rapidly falling into place. For those readers who would like to visit the Consimworld STALINGRAD Forum in order to peruse the tournament discussion which is currently still in progress, a link has been provided at the bottom of this page. Please note that new visitors can drop in on any of the Consimworld Forums at any time, without having to formally join the forum community; however, if a "guest" decides to participate directly in the ongoing discussions in one or more of these game-related groups, then he or she must sign up and pay a nominal membership fee to the hosting site, Consimworld.
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A FEW THOUGHTS ON VETERANS DAY, 2011

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Up until a few days ago, I had planned on writing a completely new piece to commemorate the return of Veterans Day; however, upon reviewing the short essay on this little-understood holiday that I first published last year, I have decided that I really don't have anything new to add to the sentiments already expressed herein.

November 11th: A Day of Remembrance and Thanksgiving

World War I Memorial, on the National Mall, Washington D.C.
Today, November 11th, is Veterans Day. Here in the United States, it is now mainly seen as a national holiday dedicated to those Americans, both past and present, who have taken up arms in the defense of the Republic. This contemporary view of the purpose of Veterans Day, however, is very different from its precursor which was first celebrated in 1919. Not surprisingly, as the years have passed, the original purpose and meaning of this national holiday has gradually faded into obscurity. It still, of course, shows up on calendars, but the significance of November 11th no longer exercises the hold it once did on the public consciousness. Time passes and memories fade; and probably nowhere is this observation more accurate than when it comes to the United States. In fact, it seems that, when it comes to important commemorative dates from our history, we Americans tend to be an oddly forgetful lot.

World War I Poster
Perhaps, this widespread inclination towards historical amnesia comes from the fact that we are a nation of immigrants. It could be that our forebears, having gambled their lives and futures on an uncertain fate in a new land, consciously chose to leave behind their traditional ties to history and place. Alternatively, it could be that both our knowledge of and appreciation for the significant events of the past have been largely erased by a modern educational establishment that no longer really teaches history at all. How else can we explain the various academic studies that show that the majority of present-day high school seniors cannot even place the American Civil War in the correct century; or that an embarrassingly high percentage of recent graduates from our most prestigious “Ivy League” universities cannot correctly identify the member nations that fought on the side of either the Axis or the Allies during World War II; much less those that belonged to the Entente or to the Central Powers during World War I? Whatever the reason, holidays such as Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Washington and Lincoln’s Birthday, and even the Fourth of July have all gradually lost much of their historical significance and their popular cachet when it comes to contemporary American culture. This popular tendency to discount the past, I cannot help but believe, is quite unfortunate. It is unfortunate because it weakens the shared historical narrative that binds us together as a nation, and also because, by encouraging us to focus too much on the mundane “goings on” of the present, it undermines both our ability and even our willingness, as informed citizens, to wisely plan for our collective future.

General John J. Pershing,
Commander, American Expeditionary Forces
Veterans Day, as a national holiday, especially suffers in this regard: first because its significance as the date of the armistice that ended World War I is far removed from our contemporary national experience; second, because it was very early-on eclipsed by its proximity on the calendar to more commercially important holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas; and third, because once the American military became an all-volunteer force, the direct connection between those who serve and the larger society mainly disappeared. During both World Wars I and II, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War, mass conscription guaranteed that the burden of military service was widely-shared by different sectors of society. Not so today; instead, we now live in the era in which the vast majority of Americans not only do not choose to enter military service, but do not even have a personal connection to those patriotic few who do. Thus, although it may be regrettable, it is hardly surprising that a great many ordinary Americans give little, if any, real thought to either the historical meaning of November 11th, or to its more immediate significance as a day that commemorates the very real sacrifices of those who currently serve.

WWI Veteran at Armistice Day Commemoration
Speaking as a veteran of the Vietnam War, I must confess that, for much of my adult life, I nonetheless failed, like many others, to treat November 11th with the seriousness and respect that it deserves. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that while I and my countrymen may occasionally suffer our lapses when it comes to acknowledging those who now bear, or who have borne the past burden of the nation’s defense, we still can and do make an honest effort to honor, however awkwardly, our debt to America’s veterans. For this reason, I believe that in spite of our wide-spread national tendency towards historical forgetfulness, it is the fundamental decency and goodness of ordinary Americans that will continue, in spite of the superficiality and shallowness of our popular culture, to come through time and time again. So, on this Veterans Day, I join with many of my fellow Americans in saluting the servicemen and women who repeatedly go into harm’s way on our behalf, and I also salute the countless numbers of civilians who, in ways too numerous to count, honor the service of our veterans, both past and present.

A Brief History of this Special Day of Remembrance


The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a major
war memorial to 72,090 missing British and Commonwealth men who
died in the Battle of the Somme of the First World War and who have
no known grave. It is located near the French village of Thiepval Picardie.
On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, World War I — the “War to End All Wars” — finally came to an end with the formal acceptance by representatives of the German government of the Allied terms for an Armistice. The Continent was again at peace, and the carnage of four years of industrialized warfare, after consuming the greater part of a generation of European youth, had finally sputtered to an end.

After the guns became silent in 1918, many European countries came to commemorate November 11th as a day of remembrance and thanksgiving. In the British Commonwealth, the red Poppy became the symbol for the end of the First World War’s bloodshed and the advent of peace, and remains so to this day.

Across the Atlantic, American President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the national observance of the first Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. Seven years later, the U.S. Congress passed a concurrent resolution calling for the President to again declare a formal observance of November 11th as a day of remembrance for all those Americans who had fallen during the Great War. Finally, on 13 May, 1938, the U.S. Congress enacted legislation to make Armistice Day a legal holiday.

The Desert View High School ROTC
marches in the Tucson, Arizona
2007 Veterans Day Parade.
In 1953, thanks mainly to the efforts of an ordinary store owner named Al King from Emporia, Kansas, a movement gathered momentum in the United States to transform Armistice Day into a national holiday that would celebrate the sacrifices of all American veterans, not just those who had served and died during World War I. This change was formally recognized when President Dwight Eisenhower signed the new measure into law on 26 May, 1954. A few months later, Congress amended the language of this act to replace the word “Armistice” with that of “Veterans” and, with this final change, our current federally-mandated holiday took on its present-day form.
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SPI, NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES (1976)

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NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES is a set of four games, each of which simulates a different battle in Napoleon's short-lived 1815 campaign against the British and Prussian armies in Belgium. Each of the games that make up the NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES Quadrigame can be played individually, or they can be combined to allow players to simulate the entire three-day campaign. The four major engagements depicted in this collection are the battles of LIGNY, QUATRE BRAS, WAVRE, and LA BELLE ALLIANCE (WATERLOO). All of the games in this set, including the CAMPAIGN GAME, were designed by Kevin Zucker. NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES was first published by Simulations Publications, Inc. (SPI) in 1976. This game was later reissued (with some modifications), first under the TSR label, and then by Decision Games.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

 Napoleon addresses his Guard,
 Battle of Waterloo
Napoleon Bonaparte's fateful decision to cross into Belgium at the head of a French army on June 15, 1815 was — based on the cold realities of France’s strategic situation — probably his only viable option. Military action was clearly required; diplomacy was, at least temporarily, out of the question. The Emperor's former enemies, by their rapid and hostile response to his reappearance in France, had made it abundantly clear that they would not tolerate his return to the throne. Thus, after Bonaparte’s surprise escape from exile on Elba and his triumphant arrival in France on March 1st 1815, the member nations — England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia — of the same reactionary Great Coalition that had defeated and deposed him over eleven months earlier, quickly scrambled — within the space of a few days — to convene an emergency meeting in Vienna to deal with the renewed French threat. From Vienna, they formally declared Napoleon to be an “outlaw” and demanded his abdication and the restoration (yet again) of the Bourbon monarchy. To back up their demands of March 13th — which they knew Bonaparte would disregard — the individual member nations of the Coalition pledged to immediately begin to raise fresh armies of 150,000 men each for a renewed war against the “Corsican Ogre”.


Field Marshal Prince
Blücher von Wahlstadt

The first of the Seventh Coalition armies to actually take the field in anticipation of the coming war with France were those of Prussia and Britain. By June, 1815, the Anglo-Allied Army under Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian Army, commanded by Field Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt, had massed most of their troops in Belgium near the French border. To the east, the Austrians were assembling another army which, when formed, would equal or exceed the size of Napoleon’s own. To make matters worse, farther to the east, the Tsar was also mustering new troops whose strength, when ready to march, would equal that of the Austrians.

Confronted by an alliance that, when fully assembled, would outnumber his own forces by more than four-to-one, Napoleon decided to strike first. Gathering what available troops could be spared from other fronts, some 123,000 men in all, Napoleon force marched his newly-raised Armée du Nord towards the enemy encampments near the French border and, on the 15th of June, stole across the Sambre River into Belgium. Once his army had advanced within striking-distance of his enemies, Bonaparte’s plan of campaign, based on his theory of the “central position,” was simple: he would drive the Armée du Nord between the dispersed bivouacs of Wellington and Blücher, and then defeat each enemy army in turn before they could combine their forces against him.

DESCRIPTION

NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES is a grand-tactical (brigade level) simulation — based on the popular NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System — of the four separate battles fought between Coalition and French forces during Napoleon's short-lived 1815 campaign against the Prussian and British armies in Belgium. The combat units represent the actual military formations that took part in the historical campaign, and up to two combat units (unlike some other NAW-based titles) may stack together in the same hex. Each of the four-color game maps depicts one of four different areas in Belgium over which the opposing armies maneuvered and fought during the most critical days of the campaign; that is: the period beginning with the 16th and running through the 18th of June, 1815. The terrain displayed on the game maps is relegated to ten different types: Clear, Forest and Marsh, Crest Hexsides, Roads, Trails, Chateaux Hexes, Towns, River Hexsides, Stream Hexsides, and Bridges. Roads accelerate movement, trails and bridges allow movement through otherwise difficult (or blocking terrain), and forests and marshes slow movement and also halve the attack or defense strength of cavalry units. Towns, streams, and bridges double the strength of any defending units occupying them. "Chateux" hexes represent a special case: these virtual fortresses permit no stacking, but do triple the defense strength of any single INFANTRY unit (only) garrisoning them. In addition, these defensive hexes cannot be bombarded and adjacent enemy units need not be attacked by units in chateux hexes. Infantry units defending in chateux hexes also enjoy other defensive advantages: enemy attacks at 4 to 1 or greater odds are resolved as 4 to 1's, and retreat results do not affect the defender.

The specific game-related actions of each player in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES are organized into a sequence of game turns which are composed of a French and a Prussian and/or Anglo-Allied player turn. Each player turn is further divided into a Movement Phase followed by a Combat Phase; the French player is always the first to act in all scenarios and in the Campaign Game. Game turns, because of the multi-day duration of the campaign, are of two types: "daylight" game turns which represent one hour of real time; and "night" game turns which are three hours in length. As is typical of other games in this series, zones of control (ZOCs) are sticky, and units may only exit an enemy ZOC as a result of combat (either through retreat or elimination). Combat between adjacent enemy units is mandatory, and the phasing (attacking) player must engage all enemy units which are adjacent to his or her own. Combat may, at the discretion of the phasing player, take one of two forms: direct assault (with adjacent units of any type); and bombardment attacks (which may be conducted by artillery units at a range of two hexes). In all attacks in which the defender is either eliminated or forced to retreat — with the single exception of assaults against "chateaux" hexes — the attacker may (but is not required to) advance ONE of the victorious attacking units into the newly-vacated hex.

The Combat Results Table of NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES is heavily weighted in favor of "attacker" and "defender" retreats, and neither "defender elims" (D elim) nor "exchanges" (Ex) appear until the attacker has achieved odds of 4 to 1 or better. Because of the relatively "bloodless" nature of the game's CRT, the key to tactical success in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES, as it is in the other games of this series, is the "surrounded" attack: that is, a planned sequence of assaults in which the phasing player uses successful advances from other attacks to surround a target unit with units and ZOCs and, via a subsequent retreat result, eliminate it.

In addition to the game's Standard Rules, NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES also includes a pair of "Optional Rules" which can be added, at the players' discretion, in the interests of added realism. These special "Optional" rules are: the Combined Arms Attack rule which permits the attacker to shift the odds of any attack one column to the right (i.e., a 1 to 1 becomes a 2 to 1) if the target hex is being assaulted by a force containing infantry, cavalry, and artillery; and the Imperial Guard rule which stipulates that if any infantry unit (Guard cavalry and artillery units are exempt) belonging to the French Imperial Guard is involved in a combat that results in an "attacker elim" (A Elim), an "attacker retreat" (AR), or an "exchange" (Ex), the French Demoralization level is immediately reduced by twenty points. It should be noted that, in the course of regular play, both "Optional" rules actually tend to benefit the P.A.A. player; nonetheless, once players have become familiar with the basic game system — because these rules add an interesting (and challenging) element of historical "realism" to the game — it is strongly recommended that both be incorporated into play.

Players win in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES by inflicting a certain level of casualties on the opposing force or forces. This casualty requirement will vary from scenario to scenario, and from army to army. Moreover, it can take one of two forms: Demoralization, which, in the case of the French, results in their immediate defeat, but in the case of both the Anglo-Allies and the Prussians merely eliminates their ability to advance after combat; and Disintegration (requiring a higher number of casualties than that of Demoralization) which immediately signals the defeat of the P.A.A. force or forces involved in the action.

The four games that make up the NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES Quadrigame — as previously noted — all utilize a similar mix of game components, and all are governed by the same set of Standard Rules. However, because the circumstances in each of the four historical engagements are different, each simulation also lists its own short set of Victory Conditions (typically in the form of "Demoralization" and "Disintegration" levels) specific to that game. Needless-to-say, this uniformity in design makes it effortless to move from one game to the next in this set without requiring the players to do any additional preparation or study. Moreover, each title, although similar to its counterparts in structure and presentation, still offers a different and unique gaming experience. And for those players who have both the time and the desire to refight the entire campaign, NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES offers that option as well. The Campaign Game, however, unlike the shorter scenarios, utilizes all four game maps, all of the historical units from all three armies (a unit manifest is included with the special Campaign Game rules), and covers the most critical three days that followed Napoleon's crossing of the Sambre into Belgium in 1815. In addition, the expanded game also introduces new (and fairly detailed) rules to cover command and control, supply, and post-combat unit reorganization. Finally, it should be noted that the simulations in this series are all designed to be about average in complexity, and playing times for the shorter, one-map games will typically vary from two to three hours; playing time for the four-map, thirty-seven turn Campaign Game, on the other hand, will typically run about fifteen hours or more.

THE INDIVIDUAL GAMES

LIGNY (16 June 1815)
is a simulation of the first major battle of Napoleon's 1815 campaign. The Prussian commander, Field Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt — instead of retiring in the face of the unexpected French advance — chose to offer battle near the town of Ligny. The Prussian positions were generally strong with the main part of the Prussian army deployed around the village of Ligny and on the high ground to the northwest of the town. As a further barrier to enemy movements, a series of shallow streams wove through and around the town; collectively these were known as Ligny Brook. In addition to favorable terrain, Blücher's command, which totaled about 84,000 men and 224 guns, actually outnumbered the opposing French forces, which numbered only 75,000 men and 212 guns. Nonetheless, the French — under the personal direction of Napoleon and undeterred by their foe's numerical advantage — commenced an assault against the Prussian line at about two o'clock in the afternoon. For much of the day, the Prussians held their attackers at bay; however, because of the exposed positions of many of the Prussian units, the French artillery was able to exact a terrible toll on Blücher's troops. By evening, the Prussians had committed the last of their reserves and the entire army was nearing the limit of its endurance; at this point, and with the light rapidly fading, Napoleon ordered the elite infantry of the Imperial Guard forward supported by a division of heavy cavalry. The Prussian line bent and then buckled in the face of this last ferocious assault. Fortunately for Blücher, who had been injured when his horse fell on him late in the action, darkness allowed the beaten Prussians to withdraw unmolested and in relatively good order: the victorious French were too exhausted to organize a pursuit until the next morning. Prussian losses were heavy with probably somewhere between 12-20,000 killed, wounded, and captured, while another 8-10,000 abandoned the fight completely and deserted for home. French casualties were considerably lower, with most estimates placing Napoleon's losses at around 6,500-7,000 men killed and wounded. Ligny, there can no doubt, was a significant French tactical success; unfortunately, it had not been the decisive victory that Napoleon had needed. The Prussian army had been badly mauled; but its escape under cover of darkness guaranteed that it would survive to fight another day, and that day would come much sooner than Napoleon expected.

QUATRE BRAS (16 June 1815)
depicts the action at Quatre Bras between the advanced guard of Wellington's Anglo-Allied army (ultimately reinforced to about 36,000 men) and the left wing of the Armée du Nord (approximately 25,000 men) under Marshal Ney. Napoleon had instructed Ney to take possession of the vital crossroads at Quatre Bras to prevent Wellington from coming to the aid of his Prussian ally at Ligny. Unfortunately for the French, Marshal Ney, unsure as to the local strength of the Coalition forces to his front and awaiting reinforcements, postponed action for several critical hours. Finally, with no sign of the additional troops he had been promised (they were marching and counter-marching back and forth between Ligny and Quatre bras and would end up taking part in neither battle), Ney opened his assault at about 3:00 pm with a series of tentative and piecemeal attacks against what was, in the beginning, an out-numbered British (and Dutch-Belgian) detachment. The initial French advantage in rifle strength did not last, however, and although Ney's attacks were gradually able to push the enemy line back during the afternoon, the arrival on the scene both of the Duke of Wellington and of substantial Anglo-Allied reinforcements finally allowed the British, as evening approached, to counterattack the French all along the front. This assault, coming as a surprise to the tiring French troops, quickly succeeded both in wresting the initiative away from Ney, and in throwing the French back from all of the hard-won positions that they had gained earlier in the day. Ney's troops had had enough for the day, and fighting finally sputtered to an end at nightfall.
 
Battle of Quatre Bras
Somewhat surprisingly, word of Blücher's defeat at Ligny and of his subsequent retreat did not actually reach Wellington until mid-morning on the following day. When it finally did arrive, however, its implications were dire: it meant that Wellington's position at Quatre Bras was no longer tenable and that a general withdrawal was now necessary. In spite of his danger, the "Iron Duke" held his forces at the crossroads, and did not actually order their retreat to commence until early in afternoon on the 17th
. While Wellington dithered away the morning — and in one of those inexplicable occurrences that seem to happen in wartime — Ney's forces, which were still bivouacked near Quatre Bras, made no move to interfere with the activities of the decamping British; yet, had Ney only renewed his attack before noon, then he would have pinned the Anglo-Allied army long enough for the rest of the Armée du Nord to arrive and overwhelm Wellington's greatly out-numbered forces. Such a French victory, on top of the one at Ligny, would have ended the campaign there and then. Fortunately for the British, the nearby French troops, instead of attacking, spent the morning around their campfires peacefully tending to the preparation of their breakfasts, while their commander — apparently oblivious to the opportunity that was unfolding before him — ordered no offensive action at all. Ney's failure to act throughout the morning of the 17th would be one of the great "missed opportunities" of the campaign; unfortunately for the French Emperor, however, it would not be the last. So far as the action at Quatre Bras, itself, is concerned, although the numbers of troops involved in the fight for the crossroads were relatively small and the action short, both sides still lost approximately 4,000 men killed, wounded, and missing. Interestingly, the battle, while inconclusive could, in the end, be considered a French success: the British managed to retain possession of the crossroads, but they were, as Napoleon hoped, prevented from intervening on behalf of their ally at Ligny on the 16th.
WAVRE (18 June 1815)
is a simulation of the battle between the right wing of the Armée du Nord, under Marshal Grouchy, and the Prussian rear guard, under General Baron von Thielmann. The troops under Thielmann, which numbered somewhere between 17,000 and 27,000 men (estimates vary widely), were tasked by Theilmann's commander, Marshal Blücher, with tying up the 33,000 men under Grouchy while the rest of the Prussian army marched to the aid of the Anglo-Allies at Waterloo. In this, the Prussian commander was successful. Grouchy, in one of the most controversial (if not incomprehensible) decisions of the entire campaign, chose — instead of immediately marching to the sound of the guns at Waterloo — to attack the Prussians to his immediate front. The casualties of the two armies were comparatively light; both the French and Prussians each losing only about 2,500 men killed and wounded. The battle of Wavre ended with a modest French victory, but Grouchy's chance to change history had slipped away. Instead, while his troops fought a largely pointless action against Thielmann's delaying forces at Wavre, the fate of the entire campaign was being decided on another battlefield only a few miles away.

LA BELLE ALLIANCE (18 June 1815)
depicts what is, perhaps, the most famous military engagement in European history, the Battle of Waterloo. The site at which the battle was fought, interestingly enough, had actually been pre-selected by Wellington during a tour of the Belgian countryside in the weeks leading up to the battle. The presence of several walled chateaux and the gently undulating lay of the ground had convinced the British commander that this patch of terrain offered excellent defensive advantages to the British and their Dutch-Belgian allies if they should ever be obliged to mount a defense of the Brussels Road. The site had only one worrisome defect: the forests that would likely be at the backs of a defender's lines would make the orderly retreat of an army from the battlefield, if it were defeated, next to impossible.

On the morning of 18 June 1815, the two opposing hosts, after having spent a rain-soaked night within earshot of each other, formed for battle. Wellington's polyglot army — which was composed of British regulars, Belgians, Dutch, and Nassauers — deployed along a low-lying set of ridges and in two walled chateaux (known locally as Hougomont and La Haye-Sainte) on the north side of the battlefield, while the French army took up positions along the high ground to the south. A shallow valley, cloaked with sodden rye grass, separated the two forces. In total numbers, the two belligerents were not that unevenly matched. Wellington commanded a force of some 24,000 British and 43,500 allied troops (approximately 67,700 men, in total) along with 156 guns; Napoleon's army was slightly larger, numbering roughly 72,000 Frenchmen with 246 guns. Although estimates of times vary, the two armies had probably largely completed their dispositions sometime around 9:00 am. Then, having taken their respective places on each side of the battlefield, an unexpected quiet settled over the massed ranks of both armies. Everyone stood stoically by and waited.

Wellington directs deployment from his
famous position under the tree
The one that everyone, on both sides of the battlefield, waited for was Napoleon. The French Emperor had earlier inspected the rain-soaked fields of rye and, after conferring with his senior officers, had decided to delay the start of the French attack until the muddy ground had dried sufficiently that it would not seriously encumber his artillery and cavalry: the two arms in which he had a pronounced advantage over his British adversary. This decision, by Napoleon, to postpone the start of the battle would have fateful consequences later in the day. In the meantime, the "Iron Duke", having watched the French stand silently in their serried ranks for a time, dismounted and lay down to rest under a tree near the center of the British lines. Minutes turned into hours and then at 11:00 am — so unexpected as to be almost shocking — the sound of an artillery cannonade suddenly erupted on the French left. The one and only battle that would pit the two greatest generals of their age against each other had finally begun. And with its start, the fate of two great empires now depended on what would happen, in this small corner of Belgium, in the course of the next few hours.

A PERSONAL OBSERVATION

The NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System, as I have noted a number of times before, is probably one of the most successful conflict simulation design platforms ever created. Besides being used in numerous SPI (and other publishers’) Napoleonic games, it has also been the foundation for the SPI BLUE & GRAY Civil War Quadrigames; in addition, it has showed up in at least one WWII title, BATTLE FOR GERMANY, and it has even appeared in a modern naval game, SPI’s 6th FLEET. These games, whatever their differences, all share many of the same characteristics: they are easy and comparatively quick to play, full of action, and they usually model interesting and historically significant conflict situations.

British guards defending Hougomont, Battle of Waterloo
Such is the case with NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES. It would be difficult, even taking into account all of the military campaigns that have colored European history — both before and after Napoleon's ill-fated gamble in the spring of 1815 — to think of another military clash that possesses the same unique historical cachet, and the same sense of high drama as the Waterloo Campaign. Moreover, no other sequence of military actions has provoked more nagging what if (?) questions than those raised by the mistakes and bad luck that plagued Bonaparte's audacious and nearly successful attempt to save his throne in June of 1815. It is no wonder, then, that the Waterloo Campaign has been an obvious topic for game designers going all the way back to Avalon Hill's publication of Thomas Shaw's and Lindsley Schutz' WATERLOO in 1962. Thus, when it comes to Kevin Zucker's design treatment of this popular topic, the only real question to be asked is: does the modified NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System used in this design offer players enough historical detail to permit the Campaign Game in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES to work, both as a game and as a simulation. In my view, the answer is an emphatic, yes. There are, to be sure, far more detailed and, I would say, cumbersome simulations of the 1815 Campaign than this one available to those gamers who prefer a more complex simulation of the events of June 1815. However, for those players who are looking for a game with enough size and scope to simulate the entire campaign, but who do not want to commit months of their lives to a single gaming project, Kevin's design is probably for you. What I mean by this is that, almost alone among the many grand-tactical, multi-map monster games dealing with famous Napoleonic campaigns that are available today, this title is one of the very few that doesn’t require weeks of preparation and rules study before players feel knowledgeable enough about the game system to finally sit down and play.

French cavalry attack
Of course, along with a game's basic design platform, other factors also heavily weigh on whether a game will generate interest among the ranks of the gaming public. And since appealing graphics have become a steadily more important feature in game designs in recent years, I feel obliged to at least touch on the overall quality of the graphics in NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES. Given that the game was originally published in 1976, it should come as no surprise that it is not as visually striking as some of the newer Napoleonic titles currently making the rounds among gamers; nonetheless, in my view, the game's graphics presentation is both reasonably attractive and functional. The maps, as is typical of Simonsen's work during this period, are both nicely-rendered and unambiguous. The counters are simple but clearly-printed. And not inconsequentially, the Rule Books are well-organized and clearly-written, and the various charts and tables are all both easy-to-read and readily accessible. Finally, different players have different opinions when it comes to the old SPI plastic "flat pack" which, it turns out, was the original packaging used for NAPOLEON'S LAST BATTLES. Personally, I happen to like them, but for those gamers who don't, later versions of the game were packaged in cardboard boxes, rather than "flat packs".

Marshal Ney at Waterloo
So where does all this leave us when it comes to Kevin Zucker's (multi-map) take on the Waterloo Campaign? Certainly, as I indicated previously, NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES is not a particularly complicated game; yet, I believe that it does have enough historical ornament to be satisfying to any but the most dedicated, detail-obsessed monster game fanatics. Moreover, what it lacks in operational “nitty-gritty,” it more than makes up for in ease of learning and playability. Granted, this may not be the definitive conflict simulation of the Waterloo Campaign, but it is a heck of a lot of fun to play; and with four unique game situations, as well as the much longer Campaign Game, different battlefield strategies seem to emerge every time you begin the game anew. For this reason, I strongly recommend this title, both for those experienced players interested in the Napoleonic Wars generally, but also for casual gamers who enjoy a challenging, fun game that doesn’t require hours to figure out or to learn. For those players who are particularly interested in Napoleon's 1815 Campaign, and who also would like a game that doesn't require weeks to set up or to play, this title is probably a MUST OWN.

Design Characteristics:

  • Time Scale: 1 hour per game turn (daylight turns); 3 hours per game turn (night turns)
  • Map Scale: 480 meters per hex
  • Unit Size: Each strength point represents 350-750 men or 1 battery of artillery (6 to 14 guns)
  • Unit Types: army commanders (e.g., Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher), officers (mainly corps commanders), infantry, cavalry, foot artillery, and horse artillery
  • Number of Players: two (the Campaign Game, however, is a possible candidate for team play)
  • Complexity: average
  • Solitaire Suitability: above average
  • Average Playing Time: 2-3 hours (depending on scenario); 15+ hours for the Campaign Game

Game Components (for all four Games):

  • Four 17” x 22” hexagonal grid Map Sheets (with Unit Starting Positions, Turn Record Chart and Terrain Key incorporated)
  • 400 ½” back-printed cardboard Counters
  • Two 8½” x 11” Standard Rules Booklets (with Individual Scenario Instructions and Terrain Effects Chart incorporated)
  • Two 8½” x 11” Campaign Rules Booklets (with Additional Campaign Instructions and Unit Manifest incorporated)
  • One small six-sided Die
  • One SPI 12” x 15” x 1” flat 24 compartment plastic Game Box (with clear compartment tray covers) and clear plastic box cover with Title Sheet

Recommended Reading

See my blog post Book Reviews of Waterloo, Day of Battle, and The Campaigns of Napoleon and The Face of Battle; books that I recommend as highly-readable sources for those visitors who are interested in further historical background.



For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme:

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THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS IS 236 YEARS OLD TODAY!

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As is my custom, I try to commemorate important dates in American history as they come around every year. I first posted this piece on the birthday of the United States Marine Corps last year and, except for acknowledging the change in the circumstances of my nephew's deployment, I see very little else that I would like to change.

The Continental Marine Corps, landing for the Battle of Nassau.
Although I personally served in the US Army many, many years ago, the 10th of November has taken on a new significance to me, of late, because of my brother’s son. As most frequent visitors to this blog already know, my youngest nephew is a US Marine who has only recently returned from an extended deployment overseas. This was his first overseas deployment and, as might be expected, it was a long, dangerous, and often arduous tour; however, difficult as this period was for all of us here in the “States” who worried about him, his reassignment to duty in the US has been a great relief to us all. Moreover, it appears that, barring unforeseen circumstances, he should be serving "Stateside" for some time to come. So, in recognition of the service of my nephew and also of that of the thousands of other men and women who wear the “Globe and Anchor,” I have decided to join the small chorus of those who celebrate the birth of the Marine Corps two-hundred and thirty-six years ago, today.

General John A Lejeune with
French Legion of Honor medal.
Just like the new nation that it was intended to serve, the Marine Corps came into existence during the Revolutionary War; and its accomplishments, from that day to the present, are too numerous to list. However, to honor its long and indispensable service to these United States, the date of the Corps’ establishment was formally commemorated by its 13th Commandant, the legendary Major General John A. Lejeune, on November 1st, 1921. On that date, the Commandant issued the following proclamation and ordered that it be disseminated on 10 November to every Marine unit under his command, wherever it was serving around the world. This tradition, first begun ninety years ago by the “Greatest Leatherneck of All Time,” continues to be followed to this day. Major General Lejeune’s special Birthday Proclamation reads as follows:

MARINE CORPS ORDERS
No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS U.S. MARINE CORPS
Washington, November 1, 1921


759. The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10 November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress. Since that date many thousands of men have borne the name Marine. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war and in the long era of tranquility at home generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas so that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the birth of the corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has long been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE
Major General Commandant
75705-21


U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial,
(aka "The Iwo Jima Memorial")
Washington, D.C., Sunset Parade.
Major General Lejeune could not know, when he penned his Birthday Proclamation in 1921, what the coming years would hold for his beloved Corps. He could not know, for instance, that future generations of Marines would see bitter action in the Pacific, in Korea, in Vietnam, in the Middle East, and in Afghanistan and Iraq; but, if the Commandant could not be sure where the coming generations of Marines would fight, he was nonetheless confident that those future Marines would meet whatever challenges they encountered head-on with all the skill, courage, fidelity, and determination demanded by the deeply-ingrained traditions of the Corps. And the general’s faith in the spirit and battle-worthiness of the Marines to come after him, future events would show, was well-placed.

Happy 236th Birthday to the United States Marine Corps; may it have many returns to come.

USMC Seal
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