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Borodino: Napoleon in Russia 1812» Forums » General

Subject: First impressions rss

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John Davis
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I've just finished my first solo game of Borodino. My first impressions:

* Rules are easy to read but occasionally tricky to find a specific rule during play.

* I like the look of the map, but it is frustrating that the terrain is ambiguous in places (a couple of times I inadventently overstacked).

* Complexity is OK, but the stacking and movement limits are a bit fiddly (I'm sure this will go away with experience). I probably forgot a few minor rules but if I reread the rules now, I think I should be fine for future games.

* Game scale and unit density feels about right.

* Cavalry in marshes and woods seems too strong. I just don't buy that heavy cavalry are the best troops for clearing enemy infantry out of marshes. In future I'll play with "all cavalry fight as B1 in marsh and woods", which is simple and fixes the problem just fine, and has the side-effect of making all cavalry equal in woods, which feels about right.

* The French seemed to have much the easier time of it, and won by a large margin. Perhaps I need more experience to get the best out of the Russians? The French certainly seemed easier to play.

* French artillery is devestating, once the Guards batteries get into action. Not sure how to counter this from the Russian side yet.

* It feels like the victory conditions might be tweaked to encourage the French to go for a decisive win. Maybe levels of victory would help - "tactical victory", "decisive victory", "strategic victory" etc. Right now it seeme easy for the French to get a small VP lead and then sit back and wait for the Russians to attack, which is completely ahistorical and does not give a good game.

* Borodino succeeds as a game in thet as soon as I finished it I wanted to play it again!

Caveats: I've only played one game. A couple more and I might well reconsider my views! I'm not a Napoleonic history expert, or an experienced Napoleonics wargames player, so I can't really judge the game on that basis.
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Shayne Richards
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Nice report, I like your victory condition options to milk more from the game. If you have the time venture over to the columbia games forum for Borodino. When this first came out there was extensively huge conversations and posting on this game with an encyclopedia of input from the designer. Most of your issues are addressed in depth there with insight from the designer and play testing etc. also there is a heap of discussion on the French power and I have placed a lot of detailed Russian strategy on the forums that will help you deal with this.

I have placed some specific Russian tactics on that forum for people to consider, and the designer has also contributed a lot of input on how best to play from a Russian perspective. The trick is to really think laterally as the Russians. Don't go into trench warfare mode or try and necessarily meet force with force. The French are very strong down the middle but are vulnerable on the flanks, particularly if you upset Ney and force the guard to cover. Also think about careful Russian gun placements to utilize border terrain. I found that by conceding one or two start positions the Russians can set up very nicely and negate a lot of the advantage that the French guns have, and force the guard, who risk heavy VP losses.
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Shayne Richards
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CG games forum link is here,

http://www.blockgames.us/viewforum.php?f=41
 
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Carl Willner
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John,

Glad to hear you liked Borodino and are looking forward to trying it again!

And if you are anywhere near Charlottesville, VA come February 2014 and are looking for some face to face play, I will be running the first tournament of the game at Prezcon there, as part of the ColumbiaCon Battles and Campaigns event (the other two games in that series for the tournament will be Texas Glory and Shenandoah).

Shayne's perspective is very valuable as he was part of the vigorous debate after the game first came out and has been through a number of games now, and you have touched in your comments on some things other players also asked about. I won't try to address all of that here - you can get a much more complete picture on the Columbia web site link Shayne provided - but just a couple of points:

Regarding the cavalry, the issue of course arises because infantry are not allowed to form squares in woods or marshes as they are in clear terrain. The -1 penalty on cavalry in woods and swamps properly lowers the light cavalry to a 1 to hit, comparable to the Cossacks who have no penalty and weaker than regular infantry who are normally 2s. But it still leaves the heavy cavalry at 2 to hit, and a couple of elite heavy units at 3. With their ability to hit first as Bs vs. the infantry Cs, the heavy cavalry remains rather strong, and some players have been trying to mass all of the French heavies together to hammer their way through places like the Utitskii forest. As discussed in more detail on the Columbia site, there are ways this can be countered, by massing strong Russian cavalry and artillery, with some Guard or Grenadier infantry, but I realize players are still troubled by the spectacle of big cavalry battles in the woods, even though the rules do note that the woods were mostly light and not impervious to cavalry movements. Some players suggested letting squares be formed in woods or marshes too, but this does not feel right to me in terms of what could really be done in a Napoleonic setting - we don't want to address one concern about something that feels unrealistic by introducing another even more unrealistic element! Others suggested reducing the cavalry to Cs in woods and marshes, but the problem with that is that in Columbia's system, the letter ratings also govern order of retreat and the cavalry surely had enough of a mobility advantage to scout and break off combat before becoming heavily engaged by infantry.

So, if any rules change were to be made, what you suggest about having all cavalry be B1s in woods and marshes is the one I'd be most inclined to now (and the 1 rating for all cavalry in woods is similar to what's been done in Columbia's more recent new edition of "Napoleon"). But there are no official changes yet for Borodino on this - any such changes would have to come from Columbia - nor am I endorsing semi-official "house rules." Players are, however, free to experiment and report results to me and to Columbia, though I'd recommend becoming familiar with the standard rules first, as you have done. The cavalry issue can cut two ways - in one game with the Russians, my French opponent was launching a major attack on the Fleches, and I hit his artillery and reserve infantry in the Utitskii forest with a major cavalry counterattack from two adjoining areas and managed to annihilate two French units, a significant Russian success that helped offset the loss of the Fleches. In limiting the French ability to do cavalry attacks in difficult terrain, one also necessarily limits the Russian ability for counterattacks in the same places.

The other point you made that I wanted to address now is the strength of some of the artillery, especially the French Guard. The crucial role of artillery at Borodino was one of the features of the battle we particularly wanted to show in the design. If you look at the history of Napoleonic battles, the ratio of guns to men was higher at Borodino than in any of the other major battles such as Austerlitz, Jena or Waterloo. That was because of the heavy attrition in men that both armies had suffered through the summer, which did not affect the artillery anywhere as heavily, so that the corps that the French had at Borodino arrived there with only about 45% of the men they had at the start of the campaign, but 85% of their guns. The predominance of artillery accounted, in large part, for the casualties being so much higher at this battle than most - it was the single bloodiest day of the Napoleonic Wars. That being said, I realize there is a temptation for the French player to mass all of his strongest artillery units - the Guard heavy and light (in which the guns were after all manned by the finest gunners in Europe, favored by an artilleryman-Emperor), supplemented by some other heavy guns such as Davout's or Eugene's - to batter his way through any strong Russian position, without risking his men in melee assaults. Though the Russian player can feed in supplies to offset some of this damage, eventually after several turns he may be forced to abandon positions under continuous heavy artillery bombardment to save units from elimination, or else cycle in fresh units from some other corps to keep up the fight. For example, the Guard heavy and light guns and Davout's heavy guns, all commanded by Napoleon at the cost of 1 supply point per turn, could on average inflict about 3 steps of damage against the Russians in the Fleches each turn, reduced to 2 by a point of Russian resupply (remember, two of the three French artillery units would not be firing at full strength either, but reduced by 1 for being in the woods on the flanks, since only one artillery unit can fire from each area). After about 4 turns of this even a solid 4-unit Russian force of units starting with an average of 3 steps each would have to fall back to save the units.

But this powerful role of the artillery can cut two ways as well, just as with the cavalry issue discussed before. If the Russians park their 3-step Guards artillery on the Semyonovskaya heights, with the +1 elevation bonus, and put a 2 step heavy artillery (say, from Dokhturov's corps) in the Great Redoubt, those two units could together inflict the same 3 average steps of bombardment damage each turn on the French celebrating their conquest of the Fleches. One Russian army leader, either Kutuzov or Barclay, could command both of those units, just as Napoleon can do for the French guns, so it would also only cost the Russians one point of supply per turn to keep up that bombardment continuously. In a couple of turns, the French would either need to find they had to press on with another assault against the Great Redoubt or the Semyonovskaya heights to try to improve their position (and neither one is easy to take), or fall back from the Fleches again to avoid the heavy damage - if they keep feeding supply into the Fleches to partly offset the damage (and only one point of supply can be used in an area per turn, so they can't repair it all), that will of course deprive them of the ability to use those supplies elsewhere to keep up their offensive against other Russian positions.

This type of Russian response, coupled with attacks on other flanks where the French may be weak as Shayne suggests, can make it rather costly for the French to implement the strategy of just trying to take the Fleches and then holding their ground, aiming to win by a 1 point margin on the redoubt points. The Russians need to keep thinking about setting up these kind of artillery killing zones, where the terrain gives their guns an edge in numbers or elevation over the French. I appreciate that it does not make for such an interesting game if the French are trying that "take the Fleches and stop" strategy all the time, though once the French have even one unit in the Fleches blown to bits by the Russian guns, the point value of the Fleches will be offset by the 2 unit points for the Russians and the French player will have to start up his offensive again and do what Napoleon did historically - take not only the Fleches but also the Great Redoubt, while inflicting heavier Russian losses than French ones, to secure his win. Some of the Russian defensive positions are pretty hard to take even with massed artillery - the Utitskii Kurgan in the south, for example, has the uphill defensive bonus against bombardment, plus woods on some of its flanks and marshes on other flanks where artillery can't be used at all. Against the Kurgan, even the best massed French guns probably won't manage more than 1-2 points of damage per turn, most of which the Russians can counter with resupply.

Hope all this helps, and I would be interested to hear more about your experiences after you've tried the game a few more times.

Carl

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John Davis
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Shayne and Carl, thank you both for your detailed and informative responses.

I played another game of Borodino today (not yet finished) and the Russians have done much better - at least partly because they are spending more commands on bombarding the French rather than moving reserves. I've reached Noon and the French have had to pause their attacks due to taking a lot of step losses. Unfortunately, the VP score is French: 12, Russians: 4. If the French sit back and wait for the end of the game I really can't see how the Russians will be able to stage any kind of comeback.

Looking at the board, the Russians have a solid line of defenders in decent terrain, and have taken fairly minor casualties (8 units). It's hard to see how this can be seen as a "French victory" from a historical perspective - Napolen was trying to smash the Russian army, not just give it a nose-bleed!
 
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Carl Willner
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John,

From your report on point totals and Russian casualties, I'm inferring the French have Shevardino and the Fleches, while the Russians have the other three redoubts within their lines (but have forgotten to leave a garrison in one, such as Maslovo), and the French have lost one unit while the Russians have lost the 8 you reported. Right? 4 French redoubt points for 2 redoubts, plus 8 points for 8 eliminated Russian units, would yield the French 12, and 2 Russian redoubt points for 2 redoubts plus 2 points for 1 eliminated French unit would yield the Russian 4.

To get where they are, have the French needed to commit their Guard to the battle (apart from bombarding Guard artillery, which was all Napoleon historically did)? And if so have the Guards taken significant step losses, or even unit losses? Or have the French gotten where they are without the Guard, just by using their regular infantry and cavalry? I'm trying to get a sense of how critical early commitment of the Guard to the battle has been to French successes.

There is, of course, a big difference between the kind of victory that would have been needed for Napoleon to force the Russians to retreat and let him take Moscow, and the kind of decisive win that would have crippled the Russian army and given him a win for the entire campaign. You're absolutely right that Napoleon needed to smash the Russians to win the war, but that was not what he got - nonetheless, he did inflict about 50% more losses on the Russians than he suffered, controlled the battlefield at the end and took Moscow, so Borodino is usually counted as a pyrrhic French win (though there are plenty of folks in Russia who would still insist it was a draw, or even a Russian win in the sense that the Russian army survived and recovered to win the campaign). All Napoleon got historically was enough of a win to enable him to reach Moscow, rather than having to fall back to Smolensk, and that's what victory in the game deals with. The French ended up historically with 6 redoubt points for Shevardino, the Fleches, and the Great Redoubt, and enough Russian unit kills to give them at least 18 and probably 21-22 total points (a Jager unit at Borodino, possibly another Jager unit in the south, all 4 combat units of VIII Corps lost in the Fleches apart from the CHQ, two HQ losses including the Bagration AHQ and Tuchkov CHQ, a division from VI corps and the VII Corps artillery lost in the Great Redoubt, and likely a division each from III, IV, and VII Corps). Against this, the Russians had 2 redoubt points for Gorki and the Maslovo redoubts, and enough French kills to give them a total of 10-12 points (one Polish V Corps division, at least one and probably two divisions of Davout's I Corps, one of Murat's cavalry corps, and the IV Corps cavalry division overrun by the Cossacks and Russian 1st Cavalry Corps). So, we have a historical margin for the French in game terms of somewhere between 6 points at minimum, or 12 points at maximum depending on how losses are assessed. The 8 point difference you have in your game so far falls within that range. If you were looking at having levels of French victory, my own sense is that a French edge of fewer than 8 points is something of a marginal victory (enough to avoid defeat and cause the Russians to fall back again, but still but leaving the Russians strong enough to try to fight again before Moscow as they seriously considered doing), in the 8-19 range the substantive victory that Napoleon actually got historically (enough to get the French into Moscow without another battle, but not enough to win the campaign), and only a margin of 20 points or more yielding the decisive victory that could have led Tsar Alexander to make peace, with his army too weak to resume the offensive during the winter. These numbers shouldn't be taken as too definite (the dividing line between marginal and substantive, for example, could arguably be set as low as a 6 point margin or as high as a 10 point margin), since all we know is what was enough to get Napoleon to Moscow in real life but without winning the war, not for sure how much less or more would have been needed to lead to a considerably different outcome.

I'm glad to hear you are finding some of the ways for the Russians to do better by more effective use of their artillery. If you haven't found these tricks already, don't overlook: 1) having Russian artillery bombard into adjacent battle areas, where the French move first and create a battle before your guns can fire at them otherwise - you might inflict some losses on your own troops but are likely to get more losses on the French that can give the edge in the battle; 2) when counterattacking on turns where you control the order of battles, using horse artillery, cavalry or light infantry to create battles from which you intend to retreat quickly with the movement edge, but which prevent the French from reinforcing the main battle you create and crucially limit the number of areas they have to retreat to in escaping your attack - that is one of the most powerful ways to get enemy units killed; and 3) when facing a strong French cavalry or combined arms attack, forming squares initially to hold off the French cavalry and then breaking squares, even at the risk of a straggler penalty, to pull your troops back before they can be hit again. Survival for the Russians often depends on being able to judge well when to fall back from heavy French attacks, ideally just before they happen, and minimize the unit losses.

Carl
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John Davis
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Hi Carl,
Good analysis. The Russians do not hold the Grand Redoubt - they lost it, the French moved in and the Russian artillery bombardment was so intense thet the French were driven back out. Currently, neither side wants to move in.
The French committed some of the Guard in the fight for the Fleches (Davout could have got the job done but was busy trying to push through the woods to the South). The French Cavalry Corps has driven the Russians back to Utitskii Kurgan but have not attacked there.
Both Davout and the Guard took heavy losses (several units reduced to strength 2) in the fighting but didn't lose any units.
I'm still learning the nuances of the system, and I am sure my Russian performance will continue to improve. Right now I'm seeing most of the damage done by the French artillery, and I still need to figure out how to play the Russians to counteract this.

Interesting analysis of victory points. Certainly, if the French had a target of something like a 20 VP margin to achieve a major victory, that would help to encourage a more aggressive (and historical) French approach.
 
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Carl Willner
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Thanks for the extra info about your game, John. There has been a parallel discussion going on here on Boardgamegeek about the role of Fog of War (hidden block strengths) in Borodino and other other Columbia games, and since I understand your games so far have been solitaire, I'm also wondering how much difference it will make when you have the chance to do a game with an opponent and the Fog of War element is in operation. I had observed, and others agreed, in the other discussion that without Fog of War the French tend to be somewhat more aggressive, as they can more easily calculate their chances of winning a battle and don't have to take so many risks.

It's interesting to hear that both the French and Russians have targeted so much artillery on the Great Redoubt as to turn it into a no man's land - if the situation hasn't resolved itself in some other way before the end, presumably whichever side moves first on the last turn of the game will rush a lot of troops into the Great Redoubt, hoping to withstand the other side's bombardment and counterattack for one turn to claim the redoubt points. Usually the most effective ways to limit the other side's artillery are to take advantage of terrain (elevation, woods and especially swamps where artillery can't be used) and try to limit the number of borders that the guns can be positioned to fire through since only one artillery unit can fire through each boundary. For example, to hold onto the Great Redoubt it is often necessary to hold on to Borodino, as well as Semyonovskoye, so that the French can't get more than three artillery units into position against the redoubt with one firing out of the woods at a penalty. Once the other side has too many guns in position to bombard an area, it's usually time to pull back.

As for the victory conditions, we couldn't have the French able to win only when they are able to achieve decisive victory margins such as 20+, which is quite hard to do against an experienced Russian player. If that were the only way for the French to win, you could expect to see the Russians constantly pulling back and not contesting any close battles - but the Russians weren't planning to just fall back again (even if some of the more intelligent generals like Barclay realized it would likely be necessary) and were aiming to keep the French out of Moscow. The Russians also need to have an incentive in the victory conditions to fight for their redoubts and look for opportunities to counterattack and kill some French. Getting the right balance between those competing goals - not making it too easy for the French to win with just a slim margin, but also not making it too easy for the Russians to win by falling back -- is the challenge.

Carl
 
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Shayne Richards
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Hi John, try this little tactic...play solo but as the Russians. I found that this allowed me to care more for the Russians and be forced to look harder at the Russian options and tactics. Still play the French obviously but be bias...push the Russian left flank hard, supported by troops at the rear, it is a gamble but if it pays off it forces the french to have to move troops and lessens the impact they have on the centre. Likewise keep strengthening the Russian right to try and hold the right flank. It's not always going to work depending on dice, but if you can force Ney and some of the guard to have to shift to either or both flanks, it uses valuable supply for the French and takes the focus from the centre.

Regarding the French sitting back and protecting VP, I think at some point, the spirit of the game, and also the historical intent and aim of the French reuqires the French player to push on.
 
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