1809 (Victory Games)
Playings, 3 (1 Austrian win, 2 French), 15 hours.
Ever the popularist ZOCo has tried out one of the few VG games that is no longer in print. Two possible reasons for its demise are the 8' of table space needed plus the estimated 20 hours playing time. 1809's 3 maps are set out in line abreast rather than forming the more usual box pattern, the Frenchies start at one end and aim to make their way to Vienna, 7'or so away at the other. Capturing Vienna sure helps victory but the game is won by moving a victory scale to + or - 4 for an instant win. The scale begins at +1 in favour of Austria and will generally change as the result of major battles. If a battle involves the loss of at least 7 combat factors the difference between the non-retreating and retreating sides' loss is compared to a D6 roll. If less is scored the non-retreating side moves the marker 1 closer to home. It is possible for the non-retreating side to suffer greater casualties but it is not possible to roll under a -ve total.. The effect of a few decisive clashes should push the game to a finish before the final game turn and considerably reduce the quoted 20 hours playing time.
Although 1809's maps do take up considerable space, another half map or so would greatly improve the game. All big stacks begin squashed up against the East map edge with both sides receiving considerable reinforcements from that edge in the early turns. If the victory marker has made it to the +3 box the Austria can snatch victory by marching off with Charles and 20 SPs on a stated East map edge. Few pieces are set up on map at the start but their arrangement is rather jumbled due to being set up according to historical reasons rather than game winning considerations. Both sides will try to combine into the largest possible stacks, the French will try to support his isolated units and the Austrian make the best of this isolation. Austria has some chance of a quick victory by whipping French armies before they have a chance to sort themselves out then marching off map. A little extra map to the East would clarify where these reinforcements came from before arriving on map.
Any victory plan will involve wining battles which are risky affairs, only generals reside on map and combat units are hidden, plus the random nature of combat means that even a good peak at both sides' strength will not be much help. Combat is odds based with a single D6, some terrain will shift the odds 1 column, several French leaders and the Austrian leader Charles can influence the die roll by 1 point in their favour. Combat is mandatory except into fortresses. A force could win at 1:3 or lose at 3:1, think before going into combat. Combat is fought in a number of rounds allowing good odds to come out in the wash but important battles tend to be of the range 1:2 to 2:1. Before any rolls are made both sides secretly select a posture, fight or retreat, if the losing side has picked retreat then its loss number is treated as a retreat of that many hexes and the winner must roll to see how far it will pursue. The winner's loss number is taken as casualties but the loser takes as many as the winner pursues or the same as the winner if that is a greater total. This sort of combat is more of a skirmish by patrols than a battle, retreats are strictly controlled and will be towards base areas, armies in separate stacks can be split apart by retreat results. There is a limited role for artillery but not enough to ever affect a battle.
If the loser chose to fight (it does not matter what the winner chose) then both loss numbers are played as strength point losses and the non-phasing player (winner or loser) must counter-attack perhaps at less than favourable odds. If the loser of this combat reveals a fight chit then both players start again (choosing new chits if they wish), if not he retreats as before. If battles go to a number of rounds then combat can become very bloody for both sides. A commander can only select the fight option as many times as his strategy rating, (French forces excel here, Napoleon and Davout are 5s, Austria's best is 4) allowing forces to be worn down by constant attacks then finally forced to retreat, although the winner may be in pretty sorry state himself. Attrition battles are more acceptable the turn before replacement units are due to appear because a stack can be filled up (48 factors maximum), sent off and hopefully filled up again afterwards if things do not go so well. It would make more sense to wait for the new troops before going to battle but that's stacking rules for you. Forces of above 48 points must be in more than 1 stack, the best way to do this is to have 2 stacks adjacent. Only 1 stack can attack the other takes part in any retreats but does not help the assault. If the enemy has not been forced to retreat then he will have to attack all adjacent forces which means both stacks and some pretty iffy odds. If the 2nd force is not quite adjacent to the enemy there is a risky reaction move which should shift it into place. The high degree of risk plus large losses to both sides will keep battles infrequent although combat in which 1 side retreats after the 1st die roll will be more usual, it is possible to move faster by retreating from combat than in regular movement. A nasty surprise can ensue when a force that expects to lose and retreat instead wins the 1st round. If the opponent chose to fight he must now be attacked at possibly poor odds plus 2 sets of rolls on the combat table will increase the casualties of a force that is eager to avoid battle.
A stack can lose far more strength from movement attrition than from battles, the maximum being 9 factors plus a possible reduction in number of hexes moved. With decent size forces being in the 20 to 40 region and 2 or 3 such forces (plus some odds and sods) per player a loss of 9 is bad news. The obvious way to cut down on attrition is to slow up, generally stacks will keep to 3 MPs a turn along good roads allowing a movement of 6 hexes. The attrition chart is graded in MPs, 0-1, 1-2 and so on but it is possible to spend 1/2 points along good roads and fall outside the ranges quoted, I plumped for the lower range when considering halves. Attrition rolls are increased by 4 when reacting in an opponent's move, this keeps reaction moves down to the absolutely necessary. Most turns will see no reaction moves, their big benefit being to allow battles to be supported. Using reaction moves to move away from battle is penalized based on both commanders strategy rating.
The whole system of supply and attrition makes good gaming but feels more at home in the18th century depot system than in 1809. Both sides have a supply source which must be placed in 1 of a few specified map edge hexes and a centre of operations which can move. The distance between the supply source and the centre of operations defines how many operations points each side receives. 1 point can be spent to move a stack or the point can be saved and the stack moved if less than or equal the commanding general's strategy rating is rolled on a D6. All units must be moved using operations points before any are rolled for which prevents players trying their luck 1st. Both sides begin with a decent pool of points but are likely to receive less each turn than they are likely to need. The French are lucky because their centre of operations begins in the same hex as the supply unit and the closer these 2 are together the more points come in each turn. Also French generals average better strategy ratings, the French can save points and keep a pool by risking rolling for moving better generals. Apart from Charles Austrian infantry generals are 1s or 2s and unlikely to move without some help. The effects of attrition are modified by how many operations points are in stock, as the Austrian spends more points than he receives he becomes more susceptible to attrition as the game progresses.
To confuse matters a general must be within dispatch distance of the centre of operations to move by spending operations points. There is no such restriction on rolling to move but any general so moving will check for attrition as if 0 operations points were pooled. This mechanism does prevent the supply source and centre of operations remaining stacked together for maximum operations point income. Instead as the armies move forwards the centre of operations will have to shift and move further from the supply source. Dispatch movement distances are 18 for the French and 26 for the Austrians presumably because of the famed (although not necessarily better) Austrian horses. In practice generals will stay on the same map as the centre of operations. When the centre is moved forward to keep up with the boys it fails to bring in any operations points while mobile. The unit can move 10 hexes along major roads or any distance downstream along the Danube. This makes both sides advance and retreat along roads that follow the Danube and crossing sites of major roads become potential battle sites. Rules are devoted to damaging or destroying bridges plus repairing them and the use of pontoons indicating that the playtesters noted this as well. The need to stay in range of the centre of operations restricts cunning flank movements and end runs. Not every crossing can be blocked but the obvious ones will be, any force that makes it through will eventually run out of range and begin to attrit away. The Austrians receive a considerable reinforcement army from the East map edge, if the French have blocked off communications from its entry hex then this force will decline noticeably in size before it gets back in communication.
The lines of communication rules do make good gaming and the results seem right. French troops move forwards having to keep river crossing clear, there will be occasional lurches as supply lines are tightened and the centre of operations is moved forwards. The Austrian centre of operations is more likely to move backwards than forwards but the need to pay to move nearly every Austrian stack whether retreating or advancing will eat into the operation point pool. The result of this is that if the Austrian is to win he must either rely on the French cocking up a run of battles or do something before his operation point bank has run down to the point of making any movement attrition heavy. The Austrians can hold a line (or more accurately a bridge) but the essential pursuit and counter-attack will burn up operations points. Generally any immediate move back to Vienna will leave the army weakened by attrition, the French will have plenty of game turns to catch up. If the French relies mainly on rolling to move a substantial operations pointy surplus will shield French forces from all but the worst attrition die rolls.
With armies atempting tolive off the land in this period of the Napoleonic Wars operations points cannot be thought of as bags of oats in a shed, throw a few onto a cart so the boys can move a little further, the further the destination from the depot less oats will reach the boys (the draught animals eat them). Nor can the centre of operations be thought of as some ACW wagon park as popularised in photos of the time (being big, unusual and not moving much they make good camera subjects). This explanation may have been what the designer (Zucker, who else?) was thinking of possibly caused by a diet of too many ACW books and not realizing just how populous the Danube basin was. The armies could requisition or steal foodstuffs but ran into problems if they had to spend long periods in places that were not set up to handle massive population increases. Fortresses held the rump of the depot system and could support modest forces because of the trade and artisan network that was alraedy in place to support the troops. Other areas would see farmers and shopkeepers able to make a quick profit from a friendly army passing through or hide the best wine from a hostile. In time any army would drain an area dry. In game turns modest forces in fortress hexes should be safe from attrition, other armies would be more susceptible staying in 1 place than from slow movement, long continuous marches are asking for trouble. Attrition would be a factor of position and distance moved, position being based on population and transport nets, major roads and rivers are the obvious places.
1809 is one of the few games where forces will hardly ever move at maximum speed because of the dangers of attrition but the centre of operations is purely a game mechanism rather than an actual object. The centre of operations can be forced to move by occupying its hex, this will stop it bringing in any points the next turn, however it is unlikely that there would be any physical presence in that hex. The purpose of the centre of operations is to keep all generals within dispatch distance of that point or all within double dispatch distance of each other. It succeeds in penalizing forces that are a long way away from other forces. Isolated garrisons will not be moving much and will not suffer from this problem. The distance of the supply source and centre of operations apart reflects increasing difficulty in moving as troops get further away from home. Unfortunately the concept of spending points to move and saving points to buy immunity from attrition does not fit in with armies need ing to be supplied whether they move or not. Operations points would be better treated as morale points with penalties for moving backwards (the press like to see an advance) or sitting still in positions that are hard to supply (the boys like to be fed). To be fair the supply system does keep armies tied to the Danube and cuts down on unrealistic movement. Players will gear their forces to just the right size to minimise attrition and take advantage of non-moving armies being immune unless they become huge and start to roll bad.