Article published in The General, Vol. 17, 1980 (see also this PDF). By Mark G. McLaughlin

Avalon Hill - The General - 17

To many, war is the crashing sound of multiengined Allied bombers devastating German cities, the noiseless prowl of U-Boats seeking heavilyladen North Atlantic tankers or the grinding might of the panzer armies crushing their way across the endless Russian steppes. There are some of us, however, who tire of these constant replays of the late night movie and prefer to recall the days when war at least seemed more glorious, more civilized and more manageable. To this group, war is more fondly fantasized as the martial beat of a thousand massed drums, the terrific thunder of brass cannon in battery, the staccato of regiments of gailytailored cavalry and the bright gleam reflected off raised sabers and brandished bayonets: For us, war is Napoleon.

WAR AND PEACE (with apologies to Mr. Tolstoy for borrowing his catchy title) is the first boardgame which presents this era of war not as an occasional remake of the battle of Waterloo or the slugfest at Borodino, but as a strategic enterprise for the mastery of Europe. The ten scenarios provided allow the players to meet on those above mentioned fields of glory but, more important, allow them to circumvent those overtraveled roads and shape their own paths to conquest or ruin.

The game can be played per campaign, from the bright sun of Austerlitz to the rainy morning of Waterloo, in short scenarios of ten or fewer turns, or in more ambitious undertakings such as the two Peninsularcampaigns which deal with all or part of the six-year war in Spain. The entire scope of the Napoleonic Wars, from Lisbon to Moscow, from 1805 to 1815, can be played out in the grand campaign.

The difficulties in designing a game which lent itself both to the short and long term struggles for control of Europe were problems of exclusion, not inclusion. There are more books on Napoleon (c. 250,000 according to the Library of Congress) than on any other figure in history, with the possible exception of Jesus. There are several dozen board and miniatures games which deal with varying aspects of the period, and every gamer who has ever played one of those games or painted a battalion of figures has his own idea on how those wars should have, could have and were fought. With all of this wealth of information available, certain common denominators had to be found.

War and Peace - Avalon Hill - The General - Ad

As with most games, the first requirement for W&P was a mapboard. AH’s decree that it would have to fit the dimensions of a bookcase game box happily narrowed down the overblown “monstergame” options to a more workable proportion. A map of Europe was sectioned off to exclude those areas marginally affected by the Napoleonic Wars, reduced to a playable surface and then “tilted” to make maximum use of the gameable areas (the arrow which marks North on the mapboard is actually northwest). Borders, physical features, cities and some artwork completed the board. The superimposed grid set a diameter per hex of 40 miles.

Napoleonic armies maneuvered in large corpssized formations. This formation, however, became too restrictive for the game, as armies tended to be massed in one or two huge stacks and all maneuver became incidental. To allow more flexibility and “feel” in the game, the scale for units was dropped from the cumbersome corps to the more maneuverable division. Each strength point represents 5,000 men-roughly the size of a division or brigade, depending upon the army. Cavalry strength points resemble corps, since a cavalry division rarely exceeded 2,000 men.

This level of representation made research much easier-although on occasion a strength point has been rounded up or down, especially for special units and some satellite forces-but there were too many independent units of march around. The introduction of leaders (which, in effect, act as corps headquarters) solved that misrepresentation. Leaders move infantry units, which do not possess independent movement capabilities, and thus corps and armies can be formed and split up at will by the players, each force tailored for its own strategic purpose. Cavalry, already in corps-like formations, retains independent movement so it can screen, guard supply lines and race ahead to secure important positions, as did Napoleonic cavalry.

The rate of movement was based on the combination of three factors: (1) how far a unit could march in a month, (2) how many months it actually took a unit in a real Napoleonic campaign to go from one point depicted on the board to another and, (3) the road conditions in early 19th century Europe. The month-long turns were chosen to allow for several short scenarios as well as the multiyear campaigns, and because they seemed to fit well with the scale of hexes and units. The second factor was easily determined from historical performance and the third, road conditions, was a matter of record in first-hand accounts, both military and civilian. These were tempered with the necessity for units to stop, rest, forage and, to a lesser extent, with reasons of playability. As pointed out in the game’s Designer’s Notes, no army can march at full speed for more than a few days without completely falling apart. The Force March Table allows players to attempt to force march their men into the ground, but constant use of this tactic rapidly reduces the overall number of strength points available for important battles.

Despite popular opinion, Napoleonic warfare was not just a series of one-battle campaigns. True, each campaign which Napoleon embarked upon had its decisive battle, but all of them had numerous smaller engagements-most of which did not include the Emperor himself-which set the stage for the climactic grand battle. These smaller fights ranged from the cavalry and rear guard skirmishes between small divisions to sieges and full set piece battles between corps of 25,000 men or more per side. The famous “battalion” square” order of march by which four or more corps moved within half-a-day’s march of each other was designed to enable the corps to fight these types of combats with the security of knowing they could be rapidly reinforced by an adjacent corps. The corps itself was a combined arms unit set up to fight on its own for a day or mor’e to gain time for the rest of the army to come to its aid.

War and Peace - Avalon Hill - The General - Map 1810
Exemple of situation in january 1810.

The combat system in W&P reflects this type of maneuver. Corps travel in stacks of 5-10 strength points to cover strategic areas, to minimize attrition and to engage enemy forces, fortresses or other obstacles in their path. Combat is between adjacent stacks. After each round of combat (i.e., one roll of the dice) adjacent corpS have an opportunity to reinforce each other and thus broaden the scale of the fighting: this chance is increased by the value of the corps commander who is attempting to join the battle. A combat can go on for several rounds and draw several stacks into the inferno, thus creating the meeting engagements and reinforcing battles so common to the era.

The combat resolution itself depends partially on numbers, but morale, terrain, leadership and other factors are equally important. The Combat Results Table is set up in a manner that one level of numerical superiority (i.e., 3:2, 2:1) is equivalent to a difference of one in morale, leadership or terrain factors. Combat results are set up to prevent one side from becoming completely annihilated in a single battle (demoralization eventually forces retreats) but allow for crushing victories in which one side takes far fewer casualties than the opposition. Even a victor loses men, however, and there are very few combat results that leave the winner unscathed.

Cavalry pursuit favors players who keep their cavalry as a reserve: superior cavalry allows a beaten player to freely retreat from a battle or grants the victor the bonus of riding down his enemy’s stragglers. When the tactical matrix optional rule is used, the use of cavalry for covering withdrawals becomes even more pronounced, because a force outnumbered in cavalry can literally be eliminated as it is unable to escape from a victorious enemy (as were the Prussians in 1806).

The morale factor which separates the armies is based on several points: organization at the tactical level, performance in combat, motivation of the individual soldiers and the training and doctrine of the combat units of an army. There are four levels of morale: Poor (untrained militia, semitrained Landwehr and nearly anarchic Cossack units), Regular (average military units), Superior (troops of nations whose training, motivation, etc. clearly outmatched those of the average armies) and Elite (Guards). These levels of morale are represented on a scale of 0 to 3 (lowest to highest). Spanish, Prussian, Austrian and satellite’ armies are regulars (morale of I) while the forces of Britain, Russia and France are considered superior (morale 2). French and Russian guards are morale grade 3. The tenacity displayed by the Russians in defense of their homeland (mapboard “4”) merited a special morale grade of 3 inside Russia.

The leadership value of the generals who are represented in the game is based on a similar scale. Napoleon and Wellington were unquestionably in a class by themselves and thus deserved a rating of 3. A number of French marshals and allied generals showed remarkable strategic or tactical talents and thus received a 2 rating. Other generals received this rating either on the merit of their outstanding organizational ability (such as Barclay) or for pure tenacity (Blucher). Many generals were granted a rating of I (albeit some received this rating as a playbalance gratuity). The unidentified leaders who have a 0 rating represent the constantly changing pool of corps-grade officers whose contribution to the armies they led was either minimal or unspectacular. Joseph Bonaparte, sometime king of Spain, and several of the Spanish generals (a term I apply to them loosely) were given a zero rating based on their incompetence. They were named and included in the game for color.

The other matters which affect a battle-terrain, entrenchments, supply and fortifications- are self explanatory.

Continual battles will, of course, leave an army too exhausted to fight the climactic battle of a campaign (unless the battles have all been victories up to that point) and players should choose their battles carefully, as did the soldiers of the era. Continual battles force players to keep massing their troops in large stacks which suffer horribly from attrition. Corps movement helps reduce losses from attrition.

Supply lines, which were extremely important to how an army lived and fought, are based on supply heads (i.e., major cities) and on local depots and routes of march, which are represented by “stringing” units behind an advancing army. This simple rule also takes care of representing supply columns, garrisons, stragglers, reserves which constantly flow up to the front and other facets of an army on the move. It also fits the maxim that the farther the army advances into hostile territory, the weaker it becomes. Armies which fight at home thus receive a tangible benefit from shortened supply lines. Harassing supply lines with roving partisans or cavalry is an art in itself, and the necessity of leaving strong detachments to guard these lines is thus represented in the game.

There are a few simple rules in W&Pwhich were added for flavor and realism. The basic rationale behind these rules was to allow for the exigencies of Napoleonic warfare without cluttering up the rules-or the players’ minds-with a lot of peripheral data. Whenever possible, rules have been generalized, shortened and simplified with that doctrine in mind.

One example of that doctrine of short, sweet elegance is the French Imperial Guard rule (which the developer, Frank Davis, deserves credit for). The French can add a force as small as a single strength point of Guard to a battle and dramatically change the die roll of the battle. This often assures a high chance for victory, but it also eliminates the Guard at a rapid rate. Napoleon rarely used his Guard in battle. Often, the mere sight of the Guard would terrify his enemies or inspire his own troops to prodigies of valor. The Guard’s effect on the morale of both armies in battle was far greater than its numerical effect. For this reason Napoleon jealously hoarded his guard; it always stayed in the reserve and was committed only after the battle had passed its crucial stage or in dire circumstances. Napoleon’s refusal to commit the Guard at Bordino cost him a victory in that battle, but allowed his army to escape the Russians later in the campaign. Had it been ruined at Borodino, no French would have escaped Russia. Players have the same choice as Napoleon: throw in the Guard to win a battle, or conserve it for the really crucial moment in the campaign. This choice becomes even more pronounced in the grand campaign, when the presence of the Guard can affect not only a battle, but the war itself.