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Subject: Borodino: A Look at an Old SPI Classic rss

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Sim Guy
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The most famous battle fought on my birthday was the Battle of Borodino, September 7th, 1812. The battle, Napoleon's high water mark in Europe and the victory that probably sealed his fate, was fought 199 years ago, this year. And I fight it all over again, most every year. I own a few games on the subject, and I rotate them through every few years, as I have for the last 19. Next year will be the 200th anniversary of the battle and my twentieth replaying – I like how that worked out.



The Bits

More often than not, I pull out the old SPI classic, and a true classic it is from the beginning of wargaming's golden age. Published in 1972 in SPIs third year or so of existence, when there were probably less than 100 total wargame titles on the market, it was trademark SPI. Designed by John Young, sporting Redmond A. Simonsen signature graphic style and touch with the rules, this was SPI to the core. The map and counters, the mechanics, the fanfold rules, the flat plastic box meant SPI to the long time Grognard. Pulling this game off the shelves is like traveling back in time to an era when the games were simpler, the choices were fewer, and players defined themselves as SPI or Avalon Hill devotees.

I was an SPI guy. Sure, Avalon Hill had been around longer, and their games were more professionally produced, with mounted maps and glossy counters, but SPI games seemed more serious, more polished as simulations (and besides, everyone knew that the best AH games were all designed by SPI's founder Jim Dunnigan anyway). This would change with time, but we're still back in '72.

When measured against contemporary standards, Borodino really shows it's age: the three color map, the standard single-sided counters, the relatively basic rules. On the other hand, the game contains nearly every element that would be found at the core of most wargames for the next couple of decades; the counters showed strength-movement values beneath the NATO type symbology; movement and combat were subject to terrain effects; units projected zones of control that could be lethal to move through; combat was odds-based and dice only had six sides; turns were conventional IGO-UGO. Heck, I don't even need to read the rules to dozens of games from these years, except maybe to find the victory conditions.



My copy of Borodino is in excellent condition, the rules folder looks crisp and new, and the almost 40 year old counters are not showing any signs of age (they could stand to be clipped, however). My original copy is long gone, out there in the community somewhere I hope. I obtained this one about 12 years ago upon the untimely death of an acquaintance of mine. His considerable game collection ended up at my FLGS, and I bought up as much as I could afford at the time, nearly 60 games, including many old SPI titles – they are all in immaculate condition. I've played this copy three or four times since then, mostly over Labor Day.

I went with the historical 7 September setup; the game will let you start on the 5th, allowing you to screwup the march onto the field, but Kutusov's Russians are very well disposed, and who am I to improve upon Napoleon's approach march. So I let them handle it until the decisive day. Also, all of the forces are on the field, so I don't have to worry about reinforcements.

Setup
The setup was one aspect of the game where it's age is obvious: the map pre-dates hex numbering, and if you don't think that's a big deal, you probably don't own anything that isn't. In many later games, unit counters' initial positions would be printed directly on the map, or would have the number of their setup hex printed on them, or a listing in the rule's scenario section with the unit and its starting hex number. Those little numbers are important. The map sheet includes a graphic of the setup for the three scenario configurations, but the print is so small that my tired old eyes could barely make out the numbers, much less the historical unit designations. So my setup is correct only down to the strength and movement values. Too bad too, because I would have liked to know the Corps designations, so that I could at least make an attempt to keep the higher echelon units together.

Mechanics
This game is Simple. The rules are clear, uncluttered, almost devoid of chrome – if you wanted to introduce a novice player to the basics of hex and counter wargames, this would be a good place to start. The turns are IGO-UGO, there are few movement and combat modifications and the combat is resolved on an odds-based CRT. Locking Zone of Control and basic ranged artillery rules are introduced. The only special rules involve the defensive works, and they are straightforward and understandable. Victory conditions are similarly easy to grasp: The Russians need to hold the redoubts and destroy as much of the French army as they can; the French need to take the redoubts and move the army towards Moscow.

Game Play
The rules are simple, so the players are able to concentrate on strategy and tactics, which is good because the situation is difficult for both sides. Although the basic mission for each side is clear, as the fighting progresses, how to accomplish the mission gets more complicated. It also becomes clear to veteran gamers, and history buffs, that Borodino is very definitely a Game and not so much a Simulation, if you care about the distinction. Your units are not restricted by any sort of command and control structure; your cavalry units may find themselves holding the line alongside an artillery unit. Again, this leaves players free to do as they choose, but it most definitely diminishes the games value as a window into the past.
The game plays quickly, and experienced players should be able to finish in a couple of hours or less.

Scenarios

There are three scenarios which let the player start at different points of Napoleon's approach march: September 5th, 6th, or 7th, plus the Grand Battle game which Starts on the 5th and runs through the 7th, in order to depict the entire approach. I usually skip the preliminaries and go right to the 7th or I find that the battle often is over after the first day.

Overall Impression
Long out of print, and I can't see Decision Games resurrecting this one without a major update, this review is obviously not meant to generate sales, but maybe it'll change your mind about passing on it in a game sale somewhere.
This game is a product of its time, and it was a time when the designers were still learning their craft, and gamers were just waking up to the hobby en mass. This game was just about all that most of these early gamers could handle, but the gamers and the hobby grew up together (and here we are). The game seems almost childishly simple to us old Grognards, but most of us can remember a time when it didn't seem so.
Today this game wouldn't rate a second look with most gamers, even in a bargain rack, and thats too bad because this is just the sort of game a lot of gamers seem to be looking for, from what I've seen in many of the forums.

My Collection Rating
: 6
Why so low, for a game I so obviously like and enjoy? Simply because of it's age and style. It's ahistorical, not very attractive, and a little basic. But I play it because I 'grew up' with games like this – it doesn't look as old to me as it does to a twenty-something gamer from my group who's used to glossy rules folders and miniatures. Just sayin'.
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Kim Meints
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I grew up with this game also as a teen. It's one I still come back to each year to play.
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Pete Belli
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One of my first "real" wargames.

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Kim Meints
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I would consider the Borodino in S&T #195(paired with Friedland) as the upgraded version since it's based on the SPI Napoleon at Waterloo/Napoleon's Last Battle's game system.


My original counters got pretty worn out and had to buy a replacement set.Mapsheet also. Now I own multible copies of the game in both flat tray editions (White box and Coversheet)and S&T's.

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Sim Guy
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How good a job did they do with it (DG)?

I can think of a number of design ideas I'd try; corps integrity, chit activation, e.g.
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Kim Meints
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Well I wished the did more battles in the Clash of Eagles system(what they termed those 2 games).Maps were great and the rules right out of Napoleon's Last Battles.

I did something like them back in the late 70's making my own maps and counters for those battles plus so many more using the NLB rules.
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Steve Herron
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I played it this year too, it is nice to relax and play a game like this. It has been one of my favorite SPI games. If decision Games reprinted it I would be happy just for a new map & counters, keep the rules the same.
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Peter Rice
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This was my first S&T subscription game and I loved it. For a fifteen year year old this was manna from heaven. Tactics two got put a way for a long time after this.
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Kim Meints
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I knew it would happen.Between the review here and the AAR of the game I now have it set up on my table for a nice good old SPI holiday time for game playing.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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SimGuy wrote:

This game was just about all that most of these early gamers could handle, but the gamers and the hobby grew up together (and here we are). The game seems almost childishly simple to us old Grognards, but most of us can remember a time when it didn't seem so.

There were many far more complex designs available at that time - USN had been published three issues previously. Borodino was simple by design, and immensely successful, if judged by the number of published designs that succeeded it built on the same Napoleon at Waterloo chassis. I still remember Borodino fondly.

P.S. Happy Birthday!
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Sim Guy
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Sphere wrote:
SimGuy wrote:

This game was just about all that most of these early gamers could handle, but the gamers and the hobby grew up together (and here we are). The game seems almost childishly simple to us old Grognards, but most of us can remember a time when it didn't seem so.

There were many far more complex designs available at that time - USN had been published three issues previously. Borodino was simple by design, and immensely successful, if judged by the number of published designs that succeeded it built on the same Napoleon at Waterloo chassis. I still remember Borodino fondly.

P.S. Happy Birthday!


Indeed, I remember seeing USN for the first time and thinking that I could never wrap my brain around it. The first time I played it felt like a major accomplishment, even though we got a lot of rules wrong. The second time went much better. By today's standards, USN '72 would be considered a little more than average difficulty, 6 or 7/10. And that's sort of my point about growing up with the hobby - in the early '70s there weren't many devoted wargamers around (we were all noobs, almost), except for maybe miniatures types. Even 'experienced' wargamers had 5-10 years with a few serious but relatively simple offerings from Avalon Hill.

Playing Borodino for the first time felt like playing a fairly large game, at the time, and it wasn't even a full size map. In my most avid wargaming period (late '80s - early '90s), my preferred game size was 2 maps and 400 counters, expecting to play it for from four to twelve hours. Anything else didn't seem worth the effort. I came to crave that sense of accomplishment.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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SimGuy wrote:
In my most avid wargaming period (late '80s - early '90s), my preferred game size was 2 maps and 400 counters, expecting to play it for from four to twelve hours. Anything else didn't seem worth the effort.

I don't think any of us should project our personal experience on wargamers as a group - we're all different to some degree. I played a great many of those heavier games in the same era, and enjoyed them thoroughly, but that didn't lessen my appetite for or appreciation of faster, more elegant treatments.
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Sim Guy
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Oh, not projecting. I was unusual in my group for wanting to play the longer games - whole weekend long games, if I could manage it. Most of the guys I played with preferred something that could be played in an evening; some a little longer some a little shorter. When I was in this phase I couldn't get enough.

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Orion J.N. Winder
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Love this old game, and it's hitting the table once again, in responce/reminding from the "Great S&T Playoff". My copy has definately seen some "love", as there's a bit of coffee/chocolate stains/splash on the rules, and even abit of it on a couple of map hexes. The map's been cut from the rest of the charts (for better use, and to ease the use of plexi for the paper map), and the rules have anoint-tations for errata and "fixes" from old moves mag.

Still a great game, and one that will be probably drug out every few years or so, as it's always a great play solo or for two. I normally like the full Grand game the best, with both optional rules (Moscow militia & Imperial Guard rule) as I feel that it makes it even more reflective of the difficulties on both sides.

I do totally agree that it's sad that you can't really make out the unit designations on the Russian units, (Even with my super "readers" that I use for miniture painting) but all in all it's a great old game. Thanks for the fine review, for this old classic!
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Roger Morley
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I bought this a few years ago ( I am too young to have seen it the first time around ) but I really enjoyed it.
It is, compared to new games, a standard basic wargame, but for it's time I am sure it was a big deal. So when I played it, I took in mind when it was published and played it for what it is, and as I said, really enjoyed it.

I mentioned this on a wargaming page on Facebook, and a game designer called Richard Berg happened to mention " you may have played Borodino, but it is definately not Borodino"

I thought that comment was rather rude really, considering the age of the game.
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Kim Meints
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Roger

Thats basically how Richard is.He's well know throughout the hobby since his early days designing with SPI(he has a Borodino design by GMT) and can,OK Has fuffled many a feather but I've playtested for him over the years and he's really a outstanding person. Just have to ignore his knife cut remarks many times

I just had Borodino on the table 2 weeks ago and the long 3 day Camapign game(only scenario I play when I do except the 3rd day battle sometimes).
I so loved the game when it came to me with my S&T subscription. I then got the White flat tray version than the black flat tray w/cover sheet.
Many say the Napoleon at Waterloo game system does reflect the tactics etc of the era (and that system is used in so many SPI games)but for pure fun when wanting a easy to learn & play game it still can't be beat.

And when a teenager back then and having mainly the Avalon Hill games SPI with all their new topics not seen or published by others it was a great time.Even with the fllod of publishers/designs nowadays I think that era held for me at least more fond memories of game playing.
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Hi Kim,
I have seem in various places how Richard Berg has ruffled the feathers of a few people with his cutting remarks/criticisms, and at times putting the boot into some of his own creations

As with any game, I play them for what they are, and I very seldom ever play a game I did not like (there are one or two that I just could not connect with at all), and as far as playing old games from the 60's, 70's and even 80's, I give them extra consideration when playing to allow for when they were designed.

My first foray into wargames was in 1981 with SPI's Napoleons Last Battles, which I absolutely loved playing, and is probably why I enjoyed Borodino.

I only got back into wargaming about 3 years ago after a 25 year absence so I have a lot of catching up on old games, so alot of older games are still good and fresh as far as I am concerned.

Some players do grumble about how basic/standard these old games are, but I find their simplicity quite refreshing when faced with the ever growing list of games becoming complicated in their attempt at being more realistic whistle
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Roger,

Have you had a look at Hexwar (www.hexwar.com)? All sorts of old SPI titles that you can play using their software and against other people.
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Roger Morley
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Thanks Geoff.
I am aware of Hexwar, but their prices are rather steep, and since I have have quite a few SPI titles for Cyberboard, including Borodino, and since Cyberboard is free, there is no contest.
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nemesisuk wrote:
So when I played it, I took in mind when it was published and played it for what it is, and as I said, really enjoyed it.

I mentioned this on a wargaming page on Facebook, and a game designer called Richard Berg happened to mention " you may have played Borodino, but it is definately not Borodino"

I thought that comment was rather rude really, considering the age of the game.

I find this funny.

I am looking at this game because it is listed in Stategy & Tactics Staff Study Nr. 2: Wargame Design as a game that everyone with more than a "passing interest" in wargames should have. The writer of the chapter in which Borodino is suggested goes by the name of Richard H. Berg.

Evil twin or did he change his mind over the last 39 years?
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Grognard1914 wrote:
nemesisuk wrote:
So when I played it, I took in mind when it was published and played it for what it is, and as I said, really enjoyed it.

I mentioned this on a wargaming page on Facebook, and a game designer called Richard Berg happened to mention " you may have played Borodino, but it is definately not Borodino"

I thought that comment was rather rude really, considering the age of the game.

I find this funny.

I am looking at this game because it is listed in Stategy & Tactics Staff Study Nr. 2: Wargame Design as a game that everyone with more than a "passing interest" in wargames should have. The writer of the chapter in which Borodino is suggested goes by the name of Richard H. Berg.

Evil twin or did he change his mind over the last 39 years?

I suspect he may have recommended the title for many of the same reasons I endorse it above - simple mechanics, understandable rules, and quick playing, as well as a gateway game to numerous other contemporary titles.
RH Berg's take on the battle, Borodino: Battle of the Moskova, 1812 is thirty years newer, and takes advantage of those years of advancement in the state of the gaming art in mechanics, graphics, and design philosophy. Having played both games, I am reminded of the similarities in the way that the old SPI Blue and Gray games were updated and modernized in Across 5 Aprils. I feel a lot of John Young's old Borodino in Berg's new Borodino. I suppose it's possible that RHB sat down with a copy of the '72 game and thought "I can do better than that" and pounded out his game for GMT in '04. Doesn't matter to me, I like both games for different reasons.
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SimGuy wrote:
...as well as a gateway game to numerous other contemporary titles.

What other games use a similar system?

How are they similar and how do they differ?

Is Borodino similar to Napoleon's Last Battles?

Do you have any suggestions for a simple to moderate complexity Napoleonic game that is in print and/or easy to acquire?

Any advice would be appreciated but I think the La Bataille series may be too much for me right now.

Are we sure there isn't another R. H. Berg? In the chapters of the S&T book that are written by him he refers to Richard Berg as if that is a different person.
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Grognard1914 wrote:
SimGuy wrote:
...as well as a gateway game to numerous other contemporary titles.

What other games use a similar system?

How are they similar and how do they differ?

Is Borodino similar to Napoleon's Last Battles?

Do you have any suggestions for a simple to moderate complexity Napoleonic game that is in print and/or easy to acquire?

Any advice would be appreciated but I think the La Bataille series may be too much for me right now.

Are we sure there isn't another R. H. Berg? In the chapters of the S&T book that are written by him he refers to Richard Berg as if that is a different person.


It is the same Berg.
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Grognard1914 wrote:
SimGuy wrote:
...as well as a gateway game to numerous other contemporary titles.

What other games use a similar system?

How are they similar and how do they differ?

Is Borodino similar to Napoleon's Last Battles?

Do you have any suggestions for a simple to moderate complexity Napoleonic game that is in print and/or easy to acquire?

Any advice would be appreciated but I think the La Bataille series may be too much for me right now.

Are we sure there isn't another R. H. Berg? In the chapters of the S&T book that are written by him he refers to Richard Berg as if that is a different person.

SPI put out a large number of games on Napoleonic battles, using the same base system. Their free introductory Napoleon at Waterloo game was probably the simplest example. Austerlitz and Leipzig are other contemporary titles, and the Napoleon at War, and Napoleon's Last Battles Quadrigames are essentially the same system, with some incremental additions and enhancements mostly dealing with command and control. The movement, combat, and zone of control are common mechanics across the games.

The American Civil War Blue and Gray games also use this system as a base, as well.

The La Battaile Series are great games, but are very much more complex - probably much better simulations, but at a price.

The simplest of the contemporary Napoleonic games (IMHO) are the Victory Point Games "20 Series" games; Leipzig 20, Dresden 20, etc. These are high quality, smaller, quicker playing games, that still manage to capture much of the feel of the battles they depict. They are even simpler in scope than the SPI titles, but they also take full advantage of the advances in graphics for modern titles.
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Thank you.

I have Napoleon's Last Battles but only played it once under less than ideal conditions. I will have to give it another try.

I also have Jena 20 and Ney vs. Wellington is coming in the mail.

Now I just need the time to play and the space to set one of them up.

If I decide to try the La Bataille Series, is La Bataille des Quatre Bras the best place to start?
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