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Subject: Includes Variant after a Review of 1812 Borodino rss

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Dan Zachary
United States
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Note: This file is duplicated so that it is pulled up both my "Review" and "Variant" searches.

Thank you for reading this article!

After buying and enjoying "Waterloo 200," a dice-less block game by Emanuele Santandrea, I purchased Columbia Games' "Gettysburg: Badges of Courage" (BOC). It was the latter and my annual Napoleonic itch which eventually lead me to "Borodino 1812."

My purpose in this review will not be to explain the game nor "rate" its components; rather, it will be to share my reflections on the system's development and to discuss ---with fixes in mind-- what critics say our its shortfalls. At the start, I must say that I have only played BOC and 1812. I have not played Columbia Games' "Shiloh," for example.

Carl Willner, 1812's designer, made several changes in 1812 from its predecessor. First, instead of hexes, Borodino uses areas. That there are fewer terrain types and no LOS issues greatly simplifies what is probably the biggest challenge to smooth game play. Second, Carl has adopted the I Move-You Move-We Battle sequence of play further streamlining a game turn.

The third difference is that, while BOC rates unit's A, B, C, etc. melee order in terms of unit effectiveness, 1812 orders them in terms of unit type. Thus, artillery fires first, cavalry second, and so on. Effectiveness in 1812 is left to a unit's "to hit" rating. The mighty Old Guard hits on a 1-4 whereas the lowly Moscow militia only on a 1.

Last, 1812 introduces supply as a part of each army's turn action. In BOC leaders only really regained effectiveness during night time whereas in 1812 each army typically has four supply points each turn to strengthen leaders and rebuild bloodied units. The process of reducing superior leaders to boost up subordinate leaders in gone in 1812.

The last change in terms of game play is probably the biggest and, frankly, the most impressive. In BOC Lee pretty much had one function: a battery charger for Longstreet, Ewell, and Hill. Once he had given out his 3 command points he was done --at least-- for the day.

In 1812 with the supply points being available at the end of each turn and the fact that Russian Army Wing commanders (Barclay and Bagration) also commanded their own units makes superior leaders very important. Napoleon can now fulfill a much more historically accurate and satisfying role commanding the big guns and pulverizing the Russian legions with his grand battery.

The use of supply points also mean that armies have "strategic flanks" that can be attacked. Thus, the Russians are tempted to envelop Napoleons' left flank while the game gives a similar incentive for the Emperor to execute Davout's proposed maneuver and turn the Russian left, thus forcing him to fight away from his redoubts.

These changes alone and the fact that the big battle (September 7) is only one day as opposed to BOC's three make 1812 to my way of thinking a more accessible game. That the game also has nearly half the units, 100 versus 180 blocks, means one should be able to reenact it in a (albeit) long afternoon as opposed to a long weekend.

Carl Willner also chose to avoid the murky conclusion all too possible in BOC. In BOC the Confederates only win if they achieve a differential of +10 with the Yanks only needing to give the Reb's a maximum of 4 points. Thus, after 3 days of battle (41 turns!), it is possible for a soccer-esque draw. That this feels unsatisfying is to say the least.

Not so in 1812, Players tally their points with the side on the positive side of the ledger winning the laurels. Russians do win on ties, however. 1812, in contrast, encourages a conclusion.

It is, however, the victory conditions that critics of 1812 reserve their biggest complaint. The French player can simply surround the Fleches, Russia's most forward redoubt, with a ring of batteries. If the Guard artillery plus the heavy guns of I Corps are used, Napoleon can muster 19 points of death or 3.17 hits/turn on his foe. Redoubts, surprisingly, awesome in melee yield no benefit to its occupants in the face of bombardment.

The Russian player is faced then with an unenviable choice: Either risk the loss of units at a rate of 1 VP/piece or abandon the Fleches giving the French a 4-3 lead on points based upon the holding of redoubts. Now, the Russian player with his weaker command structure and more brittle units are forced to attack.

The battle for the fleches leads to the second complaint about the game's system. To offset the French flanking of the Fleches, the Utitskii woods become the focus of the fight. Ironically, the best troops available to Russia to contest the woods on is Golitsy's cavalry corps. "Cavalry in the woods!" critics exclaim.

Yes, cavalry in the woods even against infantry is still more effective as they fire first. Given that both sides have "heavy" cavalry that hits on "1-3" and "1-4," it is very much worthwhile even in the face of a -1 penalty to throw in the big boots to capture ... the woods. The optics, thus, do not look good.

In his defense, Carl Willner says the woods around Borodino had very little undergrowth. He also, cognizant of this criticism, is toying around with giving "heavy" cavalry a -2 penalty in the woods.

Another factor in titling 1812 towards the French is the lack of Guard commitment rules. The French player can commit the "grumblers" from the get-go even using the line infantry as "shields" to preserve their awesome hit ratio. Ironically, I like the "what if" dimension which allows for early French guard commitment. Still, this does not take away from the feeling that the game is stacked against Mother Russia.

Borodino 1812 is a good game with real improvements over BOC. It also has many touches which give it a Napoleonic rather than a Civil War feel. If the game currently stands unbalanced which, in turn, lend it to repetitive game play, the good news is that only a patch is needed. Thus, the game is both salvageable and very much worth salvaging.

What follows are my changes for "Borodino: 1812," ones which attempt to address the criticism listed above.

Variant Rules:

1) Unit changes: I would move to have Barclay changed to a 3-1-0 rating. This is done so that Barclay can more effectively move his assets. Barclay appears to get good acclaim as a commander so I have no issue with him being raised to a "4" versus Davout's and Napoleon's "6" command rating.

2) Combat Changes:
• In Clear, cavalry attacking order is determined by hit rating, ties going to the attacker: Attacking and defending B4s attack first, then attacking B3s before defending B3s, then attacking B2s before defending B2s, etc. One accompanying HQ may attack at the same time as one of its cavalry units.
• In Clear, all cavalry that targets units in square attacks at D1.
• In Swamps and Woods, Light Cavalry (B1 & B2) may retreat on B order or fight at D1. Heavy Cavalry (B3 & B4) retreat or fire at D1.
• Infantry units in square may shelter a larger CP non-infantry unit.
Once in square, a unit must use its "fire" to un-square.
• Bombarding: When an artillery unit fires:
Into a redoubt, -1 to Fire.
Into a swamp, -2 to Fire.
When reducing bombarding artillery, first reduce to A1; then, each additional point reduces strength points as Cossacks.

Clear Area Order of Fire:
• Defending Artillery
• Attacking Artillery
• Attacking B4 and B3 Cavalry + 1 HQ for per unit
• Defending B4 or B3 Cavalry +1 HQ per unit.
• Attacking B2 Cavalry +1 HQ per unit.
• Defending B2 Cavalry + 1 HQ per unit.
• Attacking B1 Cavalry + 1 HQ per unit.
• Defending B1 Cavalry and all remaining HQ and Voltigeur/Jager units.
• Attacking HQ (who have not yet fired) and Volitgeur/Jager units.
• Defending C Infantry
• Attacking C Infantry
• Defending Cavalry (versus Square) at D1
• Attacking Cavalry (versus Square) at D1

Non-Clear Area Order of Fire:
• Defending Artillery
• Attacking Artillery
• Defending B1 & B2 Cavalry units (retreat only), Voltigeur/Jager and HQ units
• Attacking B1 & B2 Cavalry (retreat only), Voltigeur/Jager and HQ
• Defending C Infantry units
• Attacking C Infantry Units
• Defending Cavalry Units at D1
• Attacking Cavalry Units at D1

3) Initiative Cards: (See entry in file section for actual cards.)

Purpose of these Cards: To create incentives for players to gain cards that can be used to control when they go in the turn order.

Initiative Cards: Cards are rated for:
• + or - Rating as determined by the player's orientation of the card.
• Initiative rating to break ties as determined by the top of his discard pile.
• Special Use: Reshuffle and reroll 1 or 2 Dice instead of modifying initiative.

Card Areas: Each player has 4 places where cards reside:
• Draw pile.
• Current hand hidden from his opponent.
• "Play area" when vying for initiative during the Initiative Phase.
• Discard pile which must always contain at least one card. The top of the discard pile is always used to break "ties" when determining initiative.

Beginning of Game: Before the game begins, each player shuffles his deck and flips the top card of the draw pile. This card's initiative rating will be used to break ties. Ignore any "Reshuffle" text. Players start with no cards in their hand.

How to Gain Cards:
1) Activating HQs: Draw a number of cards equal to the number of activated HQs. The drawer keeps one of the cards and discards the rest in any order.
2) Causing Battles: Draw a number of cards equal to the number of battles caused this turn. Simply reinforcing a battle does not count. The drawer keeps one of the cards and discards the rest in any order.
3) Gaining Ground: For each battle in which one of his units still occupies the area after all regrouping the victor draws 1 card.
Exception: If either side started the battle with only cavalry, cossack, voltigeur, jager, HQ, or horse artillery units and the last unit of that side to occupy the area retreated, then no card is awarded. If the last unit of such side was eliminated, a card is still drawn by the victor.
Note: This represents the ability of these units to probe and screen.
4) Capturing Redoubt: When control of a Redoubt changes, the occupier draws a card in addition to possibly "gaining ground."

How to Play Initiative Cards:
A) During the Initiative Phase, each player rolls his dice as per the standard rule.
B) Each player may then use his cards one of three ways at any time:
1) Play a card to his "play area," orienting the card facing him as to add to his sum total.
2) Play a card to his "play area," orienting the card facing him as to subtracting to his sum total.
3) Discard a card to use its special text to immediately reroll 1 or 2 dice
according to the explicit text direction. This will change a player's tie-breaker.
4) Players may continue to play cards until they run out of cards or choose to stop playing cards. If necessary, the current loser in terms of game's VPs passes first and then the current winner can pass or play. If the current winner plays, then the loser can play another card(s).
5) When both players pass, determine initiative. Ties go to the player with the higher initiative rating on top of their discard pile who will be the 1st player.
6) Next, each player discards his cards in the order that they were played. In other words, he stacks his cards on the discard pile with the bottom first played card going first into the discard pile and the last card played on top of the discard pile.
7) Loss of Momentum: If a player did not play an initiative card, he must discard one card.
8) Next, each player discards down to their hand limit:
Hand limit = 5 + his Army Commander's Rating (before Commander is reduced for activation).

Reshuffling the deck: Upon the discard of a "Reshuffle" card, immediately do the following:
• Pick up discarded cards except for the top card.
• Add them to the Draw pile.
• Shuffle the deck to create a new Draw deck.

Footnote: Cards were partially inspired by Mick Uhl, designer of AH's "Dinosaurs of the Lost World," a really chromy and cool game.

Last, thank you, Carl, for developing this game and continuing to monitor your game's page on BGG.
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