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Subject: Is Austerlitz ‘ungameable’? rss

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Steven Goodknecht
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Awhile back there was a discussion here on BGG in the Wargame Subdomain as to whether Austerlitz was an ‘ungameable’ battle. It got me wondering whether it was in fact true. Looking back over time, I have owned a few games on the subject. My first was SPI’s 1972 Austerlitz and their 1980 mini-game The Battle of Austerlitz; also 3W’s 1981 Napoleon at Austerlitz from The Wargamer magazine and The Gamers 1993 Austerlitz. Now, the only game I own on the subject is 3W’s Napoleon at Austerlitz 2nd edition. And those five games certainly aren’t the only games on the subject. So if Austerlitz truly is ‘ungameable’, it certainly hasn’t stopped a number of designers and companies from making the effort.

For what I look for in a Napoleonic game as far as scale, Napoleon at Austerlitz 2nd edition is the game that I prefer of those that I have owned. It is mostly regimental level, 400 yards per hex and the 18 game turns represent 30 minutes each. It is an operational level game with some tactical overtones. There are leaders, command control and both fire and melee combat.

Graphically, the 2nd edition is far superior to the 1981 version that came in The Wargamer. The original map appeared to me like it was very heavy-handedly colored with dark crayons. The new map was done by Joe Youst and is much more subtle and subdued. I’m not wild about some of his color choices but it is still a major improvement over the original. The silhouette counters were done by Beth Queman and again, are much better than the original counters. All in all, not a bad looking game.

I’m not going to go into any detail about the actual game system. I have already done that in a review of the Aspern-Essling game. The systems are nearly identical and repeating it all here would be redundant. If anyone is interested in the game mechanics, they can read that review here: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/661448/the-good-the-bad-...

There are two major variations to the system in NaA that I will mention however. One, NaA uses Pollard markers instead of the roster sheet used in some other games in this series. For me, it’s neither better nor worse; unlike many gamers, I was never bothered by using the roster sheets. Those that don’t like them will be happier with NaA.

The second major difference lies within the leader rules: There are no army commanders. In fact, the Allied army doesn’t even possess an army commander. Nor are the leaders required to role for initiative to see if they will move.

To understand how the game works requires a look at some salient features of the battle. No doubt the Napoleonic legend helped to make the Battle of Austerlitz loom large in the history books but despite some hyperbole, it was Napoleon’s greatest victory. It is one of history’s best-planned battles; even on the eve of battle Napoleon was still fine-tuning the details. One could say Napoleon orchestrated the battle. Despite a few hitches the battle went much as Napoleon had visualized it before the first shot was even fired. Marshal Soult had hoped to be made Duke of Austerlitz for his contribution to victory but Napoleon saw Austerlitz as his battle from start to finish and he wasn’t willing to share the credit.

This is not to say that the Allies couldn’t have won the battle or at least finished better than they did but the deck was stacked against them from the beginning. They suffered from over-confidence and did precisely what Napoleon wanted them to do. Their plan of battle was ambitious and required a vast amount of coordination. The allied battle plan exceeded their leadership and staff capabilities. Tsar Alexander I with no battle experience decided to take command of the battle and face-off against Europe’s premier general. Allied Commander-in-chief Kutuzov was mostly a mere spectator and he was opposed to even fighting the battle.

On the other hand, Napoleon was at the peak of his powers and the Grande Armee of 1805 was the finest army that he ever put into the field. In terms of training, organization and leadership, it outclassed the Allies from top to bottom.

So how does Napoleon at Austerlitz level the playing field? It appears the designers decided to do it in the area of leadership; the aforementioned lack of army commanders. Napoleon is here but not Alexander, Kutusov nor Buxhowden who was in overall command of columns I, II and III. The Allied player will not be hampered with Alexander’s inept meddling. Instead of coordination breaking down, the Allied column leaders aren’t required to roll for initiative and will be able to move whenever and wherever they desire.

I also question some of the ratings for the leaders. Several of the Allied leaders are equal to several of their French counterparts. Of course these types of ratings are always subjective and open to debate. But no rally rating for St. Hilaire and Vandamme? If he hadn’t been mortally wounded at Aspern-Essling, St Hilaire would have received his Marshal’s baton after Wagram. War-weariness had yet to creep in and most of the French leaders were at the top of their game at Austerlitz

In the Aspern-Essling game as Archduke Charles you struggle with a lethargic command system, trying to get the cumbersome Austrian army moving while the French with better leaders and command structure are able to react and parry the Austrian thrusts. You learn a lesson about the leadership at that particular battle.

Playing Napoleon at Austerlitz, you won’t have to worry about coordinating the various unwieldy columns and deal with an overly ambitious plan of battle. With NaA you are given an opportunity to win as the Allies but you won’t come away with an understanding of how the Allied command structure really worked, or didn’t.

Napoleon at Austerlitz isn’t a bad game and is really a fun game to play. Just be ready to accept some fudging. I suppose that is how you make Austerlitz ‘gameable’.
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Have you tried Napoleon's Triumph?
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Steven Goodknecht
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No, I haven't considered Napoleon's Triumph for a couple of reasons. One is the blocks. I play solo a lot and I don't think it would work too well. Two, many say the game is counter-intuitive. I have such a hard time remembering rules anymore, it's tough with games that are intuitive!

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Kim Meints
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Steven

You might want to Checkout Austerlitz 20 by VPG.

That is a very playble game and gives both sides the chance to win(Historical scenario slightly pro French -Basically showing why Nappy won the way he did.

For the 3 scenarios there are the Historical Battle,the Free Set Up giving the Austrians a better chance and the Early Battle where it starts on Dec 1 and Nappy decided to stay on the Pratzen Heights(where he was on Nov 30/31) and let the Allies try taking the high ground from him.Napoleon originally was going to saty and fight from that position but decided on the trap and later commented he could have still won from that early spot but it would just be another field victory.

There's a very good video on the game and also some nice AAR's.
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Steven Goodknecht
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Kim,

I've considered trying one of the Nappy20 games. The small footprint is appealing. I'll check it out. Thanks!

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Kim Meints
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Right now we're finishing up Aspern20 and it will be released the end of June bundled with Wagram20. They'll be the first games of the Napoleonic20 series to have the new Gold Standard components with the laser cut counters and larger cards.
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Christopher Fasulo
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Captian Kirk says he doesn't believe in the 'no win' scenario. I don't believe in the 'ungameable battle'. Some are very hard to present in a balanced manner.

You might want to take a look at Grognard Simulations Incredible Courage at Austerlitz. Shameless plug of course. The game models units at squadrons for cavalry, companies for infantry, and sections for artillery. Hexes are 100 meters and the terrain has been redone per Rick Barber's features. The rules are not overly complicated. I have customers tell me that other than cavalry charges the game is as easy as the original Blitzkrieg to play. The entire Austerlitz battle is broken up into 3 separate games, Telnitz, Pratzen, and Santon. In Santon I have added a set of battalion counters for those who prefer them and it helps to speed up play.

Regards,
Chris Fasulo
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Grognard Simulations
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No Expectations wrote:
No, I haven't considered Napoleon's Triumph for a couple of reasons. One is the blocks. I play solo a lot and I don't think it would work too well. Two, many say the game is counter-intuitive. I have such a hard time remembering rules anymore, it's tough with games that are intuitive!
Both are valid reasons; it's not good solo, and the rules are difficult to internalize. I brought it up because you talked about the difficulty of simulating the situation, and I think the victory conditions in NT do a brilliant job of achieving that. The French are a superior army, but the Allies must attack, at least inititally. The overall shape of the battle develops more naturally than in other Austerlitz game I've played.
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Jay Sheely
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Quote:
and I don't think it would work too well.
Quote:
it's not good solo,
I'ld say it's impossible solo - or at least wildly absurd. Not knowing what you're up against is a huge part of the game.

But WOW what a game!! I eagerly check for any scrap of news about his newest games. Few and far between these days. Get well soon, buddy!
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Lance McMillan
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The fundamental problem with gaming Austerlitz is that the Coalition player, if he is even remotely aware of the historical course of the battle, will never allow himself to get sucked into the same trap that Napoleon sprung on his historical counterparts. It's a matter of fore-knowledge rather than commander ratings. To avoid this pitfall you have to allow the French player to forge his own trap and give the Coalition player incentives to behave in the over-confident manner as occurred historically.

Many games try to avoid this either by forcing the Coalition player to act "historically" by imposing rigid idiocy rules, or having the action begin after the Coalition forces are already committed to their fatally flawed assault -- both courses which mean that the players will entirely miss the point of Napoleon's brilliant strategy which enabled the victory in the first place. In both cases, the designer is effectively "scripting" the game to produce an historical outcome, which the player's skill will have only minimal impact on.

The alternative, which I believe presents a far more accurate view of the overall situation, is to allow the French player to deploy his army in a completely ahistorical manner, while simultaneously allowing the Coalition player to direct his attacks along completely different axes of advance than occurred historically. The problem is this doesn't result in a "recreation" of the historical battle, so those players with a more rigid/unimaginative mindset won't understand what's going on. They'll complain that the game fails to re-create the historical battle because the main action doesn't occur on the Pratzen or at Sokolnitz but somewhere else -- that somewhere being where (presumably) the French player planned for his trap, or which the Coalition player forced because of a more rational approach to battle.

The reality is that the designer can't please everyone. If he tries to recreate the historical course of the battle, you're forced to constrain the players' freedom of action; if you try to capture the historical "feel" of the battle and allow players free reign, you risk having the battle develop along completely ahistorical lines.
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Andreas E. Gebhardt
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Lancer4321 wrote:
The fundamental problem with gaming Austerlitz is that the Coalition player, if he is even remotely aware of the historical course of the battle, will never allow himself to get sucked into the same trap that Napoleon sprung on his historical counterparts.

The reality is that the designer can't please everyone. If he tries to recreate the historical course of the battle, you're forced to constrain the players' freedom of action; if you try to capture the historical "feel" of the battle and allow players free reign, you risk having the battle develop along completely ahistorical lines.
Absolutely true, wise words, Lance!!!

Andy
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Lincoln Graves
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I have played a number of these but my favorite grand tactical game available for Austerlitz is in Triumph and Glory. This is a pretty game. Chit draw for command activations makes this battle fairly open and replayable. The French definitely have the advantage and the coalition player's victory conditions force him to not sit on the heights and await the French onslaught. The Jours de Gloire iteration found in Vae Victus is essentially the same system but I haven't tried it yet. Another benefit to this system is the vast number of battles available. Once the system is learned you have over 30 games that can be played using the same set of rules. Frederick Bey can be thanked for this. He has produced one or two games using the system every year for over a decade. GMT has issued Triumph and Glory which also include Wagram and the same system is used later in the stand alone Borodino.

In all these games, even if you are playing the historically winning side and do what was originally done, victory is still very open ended.
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Jason Cawley
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Seconded. I've played the Triumph and Glory Austerlitz scenario through, and won as the French. Quality ratings and Napoleon's sensible organization and deployment make it a French favored fight, without hamstringing the Allied commander with special rules. Chit pull gives it drama and both sides have chances. The rules do give the Allies some incentive to advance their left early, but the ability of the French to smash their center does not depend entirely on that being pushed too far.
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