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Subject: Doomed victory and doomed game rss

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Andrew Hobley
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Borodino – Doomed Victory (BDV hereafter) came as a subscription game with S&T 138, back in July 1990. As someone with an interest in this period I thought, “Oh good”, read the rules, punched the counters, played a few turns and then thought “Oh, bad!”. A few years later, when I cleared out unplayed games from my collection, I dithered over this one, but decided to keep it as it may have some value.

Several years later – to be precise September 2012 – I decided to play both BVD and Borodino (the 1972 SPI game) on the 200th anniversary of the battle itself. I laid both out on my table for sole games.



My session of Borodino can be read on the Forum for that game; this review is of the later game. And being later it has more sophisticated rules. But - spoiler alert - I would play the older game any day rather than this one. (There are other games of Borodino available, but these are the only two I have played; the Napoleon 20 version which I also have is yet to be put to the test).

So what do we have in BDV?

Map

The map shows the battle field, with three levels of terrain, woods, rough, slopes, the rivers Kalotcha and Moskova with bridges, roads, villages and the three fortifications, the Shervardino redoubt, the three Fletches south of the village of Semenoskaya and the Raevtsy redoubt. The back of the Raevtsy redoubt and two of the Fletches are closed by a ditch, impassable to artillery. (As the Raevtsy redoubt starts garrisoned by artillery one wonders how it got there). All very normal and easy to understand. However the errata are vital to adjust some slopes.

Counters

Each counter shows unit designation, corps, attack and defence. The units for some corps (French) and the two Armies (Russian) are the same colour to aid command management. For the avoidance of confusion in the illustrations to this review the Russians are red and light green. The French are blue apart from IV Corps dark green, VIII Corps brown and V Corps purple.

There are two counters for each infantry and cavalry units. For infantry one side shows column formation, the other line, with a separate counter for square formation. For cavalry we have line/disorganised, and column as the separate counter. Artillery have two sides – limbered and unlimbered as do Commanders - active and inactive.

Rules

The first part of the rules covers the different unit formations and their effects on combat and movement. As you may guess combat and movement factors differ depending on your formation. So in Junot’s VIII Corps 23 infantry division has combat and movement factors of 20-5 in line, 7-6 in column and 20-0 in square. The Corps cavalry has 5-14 in line, 0-15 in column and 3-5 disorganised. The artillery can either move with no attack value (limbered) or fire with no movement (unlimbered). There are movement costs to change from one formation to another. The formation has an effect on movement and on the combat modifiers. For example artillery firing at an infantry square or column at 1 range gets a +8, at a unit in line at the same range +4. Depending on the formation of attacker and defender, and whether attacked in flank, rear or front varies the combat modifier. Disordered is the formation cavalry fall into as soon as they attack, so to reform them they have to be pulled back and formed back to line (they cannot attack in column and become disordered if attacked in that formation).

Zones of control only exist for infantry in line and unlimbered artillery. There is no stacking. Combat is mandatory if adjacent. Artillery can range fire up to four hexes. The combat results table is differential, so French II Corps 11 Division (Combat strength 18) v Russian IV Corps 11 Division (Combat strength 14) is +4 , not 1:1. Results are retreat one or two hexes, eliminated or exchange. The first exchange result occurs at +7/8, the first eliminated at +13/14. The result of this is that it is a fairly bloodless CRT, mostl results are retreats.

There are optional rules on leaders - dice equal to or less than their command ability and they are active, if inactive their Corps does not move. As happened historically the Russian command structure is a nightmare, and I had to sketch it out on a separate bit of card to get it clear.

Victory depends on how many Russian combat points the French can eliminate. One failure I shall mention is French losses are not taken into account. So theoretically if the only unit on the map at the end is the French IV Cavalry corps artillery (Combat Strength 2) the French win a decisive victory! Somehow I think not.

Again if you want to play the game you need the errata. The game is from the era when you waited for the next magazine to get the errata to find out how to play the game in the last edition. As I ended my S&T subscription shortly after (no time to play any new games and very little to play what I had) I only hope things got better.

The Shervardino Redoubt

I started with the warm up action of 5 September 1812, when the French blundered into the fortification at what the Russian commander Kutuzov though was his extreme left wing. In the photo the blank units are reinforcements and not available until turn 5. Winner occupies the redoubt at the end of the six turns (three hours).

On turn 1 the French 5 division attacked the redoubt. Combat strengths were 35 on the French side, 2 for the Russian artillery, +8 for being attacked by infantry in line and +2 for the redoubt. So 35 v 12, a combat modifier of the maximum 16. With a low die role the artillery retreats and the redoubt falls to the French. The Russians counter attack, the best they can mange is –10 (the minimum combat modifier) and are lucky just to retreat.



And essentially it is game over. The Russians cannot recapture the redoubt, and the best result they can get is an exchange, which will eliminate all the attackers and allow the French to move another unit into the empty redoubt at the start of the next turn. But I played on. Surprise, surprise, the Russians were driven back. But the biggest shock was the effect of two French cavalry units charging a Russian infantry unit in line from flank and rear. Most of us would expect disaster and a Defender Eliminated – but no, it was just a two hex retreat, the effect of the ‘soft’ CRT.

Borodino itself

So on to the big day itself.



At 6am the French artillery moved forward. By 6:30 am their fire had driven the Russian infantry from the right hand Fleche, and I Corps soon took the left hand Fleche. Russian counterattacks on the strong 2nd division (CP 28) were a disaster, resulting in the French advance after combat taking the last Fleche soon after 7 am.

The French IV Corps had driven the Russian artillery (CP 1) from the Raevtsy redoubt, Raevtsy himself led infantry to retake the fortification around 7 am. The French launch another attack, take the redoubt, but are thrown out by the Russian Imperial Guard. By 8 am the French take and hold the redoubt and south of the Fleches the French have driven the Russian back across the Semenoskaya ravine.

Around Utisca the Russians have been driven back and have retired into the woods. And here is a curious thing. Although attack is compulsory if next to an enemy unit the combat effect for a wood is ‘No attack’. So the French cannot attack Russian units in a wood. So any Russian unit in a wood is safe as long as there is no French unit in a clear hex next to it – when presumably the Russians have to attack. Unless no attack means no attack in or from a wood?



In any event it is all over for the Russians. By 8:30 am the fortifications have fallen and there is nothing to stop the French sweeping them off the map – which they do. Result a French decisive victory.

Where does it all go wrong?

There are several flaws in the rules. For example an infantry unit almost surrounded by cavalry and attacked is very likely to get a retreat result and retire through the gap in the enemy ranks to reform - a result of the lack of any zones of control.

But the real flaw is the interaction of the combat values and the combat result table. The rules say that the combat values were calculated based on “… the Operation Lethality Index from Trevor N. Dupuy’s Quantified Judgement Model.” Well that’s as maybe, but they are flawed. Putting on my anorak I analysed the combat strengths for Borodino (1972), BVD and Borodino Napoleon 20 and the results were –

Borodino – French 173, Russians 177
Borodino Napoleon 20 – French 23, Russians 30
Borodino Doomed Victory – French 530, Russians 264

For the infantry units alone the average strengths are –

Borodino – French 5, Russians 4
Borodino Doomed Victory – French 18, Russians 10

Now while there can be plenty of debate about actual combat factors the Russians were no pushover, as the French casualties at the battle showed. In BDV the combination of the lower Russian strengths and the differential combat results table means the French will mostly drive the Russians back, despite the fortifications, and the Russians cannot counter attack successfully. Hence after only 2 hours of fighting in my game the Russians had lost.

While I am looking at the combat factors the Russian artillery has been very badly done down. Most Russian artillery units have strengths of 1 or 2; this combined with the no staking rule means they are no more than speed bumps for the big French units. Again this does not square with what French participants in the battle thought. I suspect the designer may have been confused by the Russian ’Unicorn’ howitzer making up around 50% of the gun strength. Howitzers were not as effective as normal cannon, but in fact a Unicorn is not a not French/British style howitzer, but a very effective hybrid gun.

So what is needed to fix the game? All the units strengths need to be redone. The CRT need changing either for an odds version or with exchanges and elimination at lower odds. The ZOC rules need tweaking, or something needs doing so infantry hit by cavalry from almost all sides don’t just waltz off to the rear unharmed. The rules on combat in woods need fixing. And there may be other stuff as well.

So the choices are fix the game. Or ditch it as too broken to be worth fixing. Much though it hurts me to do so, having hung on to the game for 13 years, by the time you read this all the game (bar the map which has not so much wrong with it) is in the paper recycling bin. And if I play Borodino I have the 1972 version or the Napoleon 20 one.

And yes, I could have put it up for sale. But after this review who will be buying?!
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Seth Owen
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I reached much the same conclusion as you did, as you can see by my review.

I, too, feel that the game is hopelessly flawed and not salvageable and compares very unfavorably to the older SPI game that it's supposedly a remake of.

Sadly, I think the designer made a fundamental design error and misunderstood the proper application of Dupuy's QJM.

If the Russians fight they cannot win. If they hide in the woods (which the victory conditions allow) then they cannot lose.

It's just a bad game.
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Tim Benjamin
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Why are so many magazine games so poorly (if ever) playtested?
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Leo Zappa
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This is why I've never had a subscription to a magazine with wargames. Too many duds. Instead, I wait for the reviews (and the errata), and cherrypick the better ones off of eBay. Games like this one validate my approach. This is one of the reasons I find BGG so valuable - it's reviews like this that help me save money by avoiding duds!
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Darin Leviloff
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To be fair, this game was published over 20 years ago by a different publisher than the current owner. It's hardly fair to blame the whole medium for this flawed work. The same magazine had an award winning Borodino game about 60 issues later.
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Lawrence Hung
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I was too lucky to find it broken early enough more than twenty years ago. This is a game very nice to look at, like the counters and the map. Everything seems to be alright on paper, plus the so called Dupin model. But everything just falls apart once the game is started. They just don't work with each other. One of the few games that got a 2 from me.
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Alan Sutton
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Crassus wrote:
To be fair, this game was published over 20 years ago by a different publisher than the current owner. It's hardly fair to blame the whole medium for this flawed work. The same magazine had an award winning Borodino game about 60 issues later.


What was this award winning one called?
 
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Kim Meints
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Clash of Eagles: Borodino & Friedland. S&T #195

Based on SPI Napoleon's Last Battles system.

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M St
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Alas, while far better developed, it is about as far from Napoleonic tactics as this one, just better balanced and easier to play. It's all 1970s odds and ZOCs, 3:1-ZOC-off-and-retreat combat.

The best small Borodino game I've found is Eagles of the Empire: Borodino, but it requires an open mind as it is very different from the usual fare at this scale. (That's because it's closer to actual Napoleonic tactics than usual at this scale.)

Quote:
Why are so many magazine games so poorly (if ever) playtested?

Because magazines generally promise to come out on a fixed schedule. Even with the more reliable magazine publishers, there is usually limited time for testing and feedback. If you are dealing with a magazine publisher with weak development skills, e.g., DG or ATO, silly things happen. If you are dealing with one who doesn't care like Keith Poulter, the result is often disaster. In those circumstances you get a good game if the designer already submitted a working design and it's not screwed up. (And even 3W had some of those during their run.) But if you have a design that really needs testing, it's out of luck.
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