Napoleon in Russia, 1812
Designed by Tom Dalgliesh and Carl Willner
Brief Historical Background
(taken from Wikipedia)
The Battle of Borodino otherwise known as Bataille de la Moskova fought on September 7, 1812. This battle was the largest and bloodiest single-day action of the French invasion of Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. The battle involved more than 250,000 troops and resulted in at least 70,000 casualties. The French Grande Armée under Emperor Napoleon I attacked the Imperial Russian Army of General Mikhail Kutuzov near the village of Borodino. The French eventually captured the main positions on the battlefield, however in doing so they failed to destroy the Russian army despite heavy losses. About a third of Napoleon’s soldiers were killed or wounded and Russian losses were also very heavy. However, the Russian casualties could be replaced easier since large forces of militia were already with the Russian Army and replacement depots which were close by and had already been gathering and training troops.
The Russian position at Borodino consisted of a series of disconnected earthworks running in an arc from the Moskva River on the right, along its tributary, the Kolocha and towards the village of Utitza on the left. There were thick woods scattered along the Russian left and center that made the deployment and control of French forces difficult. The Russian center was defended by the Raevsky Redoubt which was a massive open-backed earthwork that mounted 19 12-pounder cannons which had a clear field of fire all the way to the banks of the Kolocha stream.
The Russian General Kutuzov was very concerned that the French might take the New Smolensk Road around his positions and on to Moscow. To prevent this he placed the more powerful 1st Army under Barclay on the right, in strong defensive positions that were virtually unassailable by the French. The 2nd Army under Bagration was expected to hold the left. The fall of Shevardino affected the Russian left flank but Kutuzov did nothing to change these initial dispositions despite the repeated pleas from his generals to redeploy their forces. When the action became a defensive rather than an offensive battle, the Russians, had their heavy in artillery wasted on a right wing that would never be attacked, while the French artillery did much to help win the battle.
This is a somewhat short historical introduction to the Battle of Borodino in1812. This battle was considered a French Tactical Victory. Can the French perform better? Can the Russians defeat Napoleon? Now you are the generals and can control the outcome of the battle.
Borodino 1812 is a block game that recreates this historical battle. It has been designed, like many other Columbia Block Games, in that it has similar components and flows from sequence to sequence. I am not going to say that if you know one you know them all because Borodino 1812 has just enough details different to make the game worth buying and a joy to learn.
First of all, you must remember that the Battle of Borodino was an extremely large battle even by Napoleonic terms. There were approximately 135,000 French and 150,000 Russian troops that took part in the battle. The main battle was on September 7th and was the single bloodiest day of battle in the 19th Century.
Blocks, or units on the map represent divisions, cavalry corps or divisions, or artillery brigades. Each step on the block is equivalent to 1600 infantry, 1200 cavalry or 24 guns of their specific units. The entire map shows the area of the battlefield that is 7.1 miles by 6.2 miles and overlaid on this is an area grid to control movement, combat and stacking depending on the terrain.
Sequence of Play (SoP)
The Sequence of Play in Borodino is rather straight forward. One of the key factors is a players Initiative as he controls all activity. The SoP is:
1. Initiative – Both players roll 2d6 and high roll is Player 1 for this turn.
2. Player 1 then has three phases which are
- Command: Activate Headquarters that can command units
- Bombard: Reveal and fire commanded artillery
- Move: Move any commanded units that did not fire stopping when entering an area with an enemy.
3. Player 2 now repeats the above phases.
4. Resolve all battles. One by one all battles are resolved as determined by Player 1.
5. Supply: Both players now use their supply points to add steps to units that are in supply.
This Sequence flows very naturally from step to step and it takes no time at all to pick up and have memorized. While the Sequence may seem simple, it is a Sequence that fits the Borodino situation perfectly.
Combat in Borodino is similar to that of other Columbia block games. As you can see from the example block sticker below, each block contains all the information needed to determine the outcome of a combat. As hits are taken, the block is rotated counter-clockwise to the next lowest value.
Each of the unit types, Artillery, Cavalry, Leader and Infantry, have different Firepower designations. As units are moved into areas, they are standing up vertically so that each player cannot see the values of the units. Once you are resolving the battles, the unit is laid face up on the map so that players see the units’ values.
At the start of the phase, Player One will begin to activate units. This is done by selecting a Leader and looking at his Command Range. The Command Range is the yellow number on the lower right of the Leader Block. Following this, Player One will announce which units will perform a Bombard. Looking at the example below, Eugene is our leader and the French player announces he will Bombard Borodino with the Heavy Artillery. Looking at the block, we see that this Artillery unit has a strength of “2” and a Firepower of “A3”. What this means is that the gamer will throw “2d6” and score a hit on a roll of a “1, 2 or 3”. These values could be modified by defensive terrain, but for our example that is not being considered. For our example, let’s say that Eugenes Heavy Artillery is having an off day and the 2d6 die rolls scored a 5 and 6 which are both misses. You should note that only a single Artillery unit from an adjacent border area can Bombard. We would then continue around the map, completing all of the Bombard orders in the different areas.
Next, units that were activated under the leader that gave the Bombard order can move units into an adjacent area for combat. Again using the example above, we can move only the two Infantry units (4C2 and 2C3) and not the Horse Artillery (2A2) into Borodino for an attack. The reason that the Horse Artillery cannot move into Borodino is that according to the rules if there is multiple terrain in an area (or in our case between areas) you must use the border terrain with the lowest Battle Limit. In our case we have a ford and a bridge across the Voina stream, either of which will allow us to move 2 units. However, since we must choose the lowest Battle Limit we can only choose one of the crossings and that means we can only move two units into Borodino. At this point, Player 2 would repeat the “Activate Command, Bombard, and Move” and then we would resolve the battles as chosen by Player 1.
The order of battles would be as follows as determined by the Player and Firepower of the unit. In our case the battles could be resolved as:
Russian “B” Leader (2B2)
French “C” Infantry (2C3 and 4C2)
Russian “C” Infantry (3C2 and 2C2)
The order of battle is always “A”, “B”, then “C”.
As hits are accumulated, they are immediately applied to the strongest enemy unit that is being attacked. If two units have the same value, then the owner chooses which unit will absorb the hit. Finally, if a unit is at its lowest Strength Value and takes another hit, it is eliminated from play. The above sequence is repeated a total of four times with units being forced to retreat during the fourth round, taking pursuit fire. However, units can voluntarily retreat during some of the rounds thereby staving off elimination.
Borodino 1812 may appear to be a simple game but looks can be deceiving. There is a lot of hidden depth and a certain ebb and flow that occurs during the game. You can tell when a game is well designed when the rules are easy to read, understand, and follow, while the gameplay offers a lot of subtle nuances. The physical components are up to Columbia Games standard high quality but I have to say that they have really outdone themselves when it comes to the map. Just looking at the map you can see that extra thought and work went into its production and it is really beautiful. I believe that it is the map interacting with the various systems that makes the game successful.
While I hear that there is a strategy that make the French all but unbeatable, I would say don’t let that deter you, as it is just as much a challenge to come up with a Russian winning strategy. Not only that, but the French plan assumes minimum French losses which doesn’t always occur. Either way, for all you old time grognards, how many times have you heard of the unbeatable strategy being beatable.
Borodino 1812 is a solid game where the systems work well together and present their own unique challenges of strategy for the gamer to overcome. Finally, if your tentative of the French master plan for winning, then just don’t allow it in your game and you will be rewarded with hours and hours of enjoyment and replay value, either solitaire or face-to-face, as player’s attempt to discover a new master plan for mastering Borodino.