1814 And All That
Or, How to get rid of a tyrant in a big hat
without really planning…
By Peter Merritt
I grew up with the usual fairly conservative histories of the Napoleonic Wars (and most wars in general), which were written in the ‘inevitable movements’ fashion, i.e. Napoleon/Hitler was doomed, we were bound to win in the end, this (our) general was unfortunate etc etc. More recently, however, after some considerable reading on these subjects and the campaign of 1814 in particular, I was struck by the highly variable fortunes – not to say policies – of the various key players, whose orders and even objectives shifted on an almost daily basis! No longer was it at all certain, until the end of March, just who would sit in the big chair in Paris – nor who would be fighting whom in April…..
# The Players: These should all be ‘some’ Marshals (the Allies were so appalling that for the moment they can easily be run via a series of die-rolls; alternative form is suggested later…). ‘Big N; is actually an NPC in this – in part because for most games we are short of a military/political genius, and also because he was so ‘focussed’ on the action. His plan was, essentially, to hang-on long enough for the Allies (already war-weary and suspicious of each other) to break down – assisted by the odd victory – and then agree yet another armistice. The ’operational’ plan was simply to fight, move, delay, damage – and watch his back in Paris….
# Forces: ‘corps units’ of wildly differing sizes – and strengths
# Political Objectives: Each turn everyone will choose from a list of actions, of which ‘operations’ are only a part!
- Manages their political capital (drawn cards) on which of the (five?) rulers will be acceptable to the Allies when peace is declared
- Bid for ‘control’ of Napoleon this turn
- Creates ‘political crises’ in Paris (the fab ‘Balkans/Boundy Option’)
- Expose a scandal with another player (if you have the ‘Fouche’ card – see ‘Politics’, below)
- Finally, do some actual operational ‘stuff’ with armies etc; remember, defending France etc…?
# Allied ‘Policy’: Now, at first glance this appears to be quite random – ‘cos it is, just like the historical version! Yes, they invaded France with at least five possible outcomes, and each monarch vacillated enormously during the campaign. They could be influenced, however (battles, astrologers, mistresses, Talleyrand etc), so that is where the actions of Marshals come in…
# Game ends when either the Allies end the turn holding Paris (actually a mega-crisis), or the number of unresolved crises reaches a tipping-point – or the Allies are crushed and they sue for peace…
# Success/Failure for the players is measured by how much ‘clout’ he has managed to accrue with whichever of the possible candidates ends up as ruler of France. Of course BigN wins if the Allies do not! The level of success is via building ‘sets’ of playing cards of the appropriate faction.
Hopefully, from the above you will notice a number of key game theory options:-
- Early on, it is in every (French) player’s interests to fight like hell, if only to gain more time to build the ‘retirement fund’ with the candidate of your choice – or later, to prevent another from winning!
- The results of battles won or lost can seriously affect Allied policy (and therefore the chances of your chosen candidate)
- After a while, Napoleon will have to split his time between command in the field (at which he’s still VERY effective) and ‘Paris’, where it is easier to resolve political plotting/crises.
- Eventually, two or more Marshals acting at the right time could force sufficient crises and/or let their chosen Allied force through to Paris to suddenly end the game. Of course, this requires fine judgement of what is the ‘right time’ or retirement could be much more swift – and terminal!
THE RULES BIT…
I had already run a try-out of the overall system (way, way back in 2011/12 – yikes!!), and while the players had a lot of fun politicking and as always made invaluable suggestions, the operational part of the system was – frankly – kriegspieled to death on the day in order to focus on the ‘bigger picture’.
However, there were 4-5 major actions in the campaign, arguably 2-3 of which could have had much more significant effects. I therefore still wanted an operational system which was fast to run, plus a ‘big battles’ sub-system which had player options but was again only 5 minutes tops (assuming you didn’t want to resolve it as part of an actual campaign game with ‘toys on the table’).
So what happened?
I was very pleased with the turn-out on the Sunday – not only ‘grognards’ of game design and Napoleonic operations, but also a couple of completely new faces (to me). Indeed, I was also pleased that there was sufficient noise and action that we soon acquired a ‘groupie’ for Marshal Grouchy, who seemed to enjoy himself even though not involved in any form of risk or even decision-making – much like Louis XVIII, now I come to think of it….
Well, after a slow start I think the players got into things – collecting playing cards to denote secret political influence (the ‘suites’ were allocated to the possible successors); trading, bluffing, blowing-up bridges etc (these being critical to field operations). Indeed, after a couple of turns my function was really only to call time and hand-out new cards – great! A couple of players even had the temerity to conduct actual field operations – gasp!
One important change from the first try-out was what to do about ‘Big N’. Jim had pointed-out that, although he was great at operations, he had no way to really control players (=buy their loyalty). Further reading also confirmed – for me – how erratic his plans were (just beat the Allies into yet another exhausted armistice). For these reasons I dispensed with BigN as a player, allowing the Marshals to bid for his ‘ear’, moving him (and the Guard) to different points (“I have a cunning plan, sire…”) or back to Paris to deal with the stroppy parliament. The fact that moving him to one point might actually remove him from another (thus allowing a crucial Allied advantage for their chosen candidate) was soon grasped by the sneakier elements……
I won’t bore people with a blow-by-blow account. Suffice to say that Mukals good plan to let ex-Marshal Bernadotte of Sweden have a ‘home run’ through to Paris was thwarted by one of the newbies who remained utterly loyal to The Boss and turned up to fight! In the end, therefore, I got my test battle…
Overall, the system was remarkably well received – for which I am both immensely grateful and not a little staggered!
- The movement rates of (certainly French) armies needs to be increased. This is both more realistic, and gives players the incentive to move around. For example, one lot were moving at the same speed as the Austrian juggernaut under Schwartzenberg – well THAT can’t be right, can it?!!!
- Clarify who can do what, when (the political ‘horse-trading’); this was abstracted on Sunday but is actually more apparent in the full version of the game.
- Don’t even think of trusting Mukal or DaveB in a political game
Thanks again to all who played and I hope to schedule a rerun of the full version sometime early in the 2018. Please do feel free to make follow-up comments. If you want a copy of the full rules as they stand, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will post a notice when the revised ones are available.