1814 And All That – Pt6 – “I can explain, Sire…”
Yesterday saw what will probably be the final outing – at least in this form – of my bizarre design for the even more peculiar 1814 campaign in France. This was the ‘curtain down’ on the 20yr Napoleonic saga, fought with French forces which in total were only slightly larger than one of the corps which went into Russia only two years before.
The game premise (outlined in previous articles) puts the players as individual French Marshals. As such, they must not only run operations against huge but ponderous allied invading forces, but also consider their personal futures. To that end, they have to build pots of ‘personal influence’ with the various candidates who *might* take over the throne of France. And itf this sounds vague, you’re right – only England (well, Foreign Minister Lord Castelreigh) had anything like a clear policy, which was ‘get rid of BigN and put Louis back’. Everyone else seemed to change their minds, swayed by news from the front, mistress pillow-nagging, mystic visions……..
After the first main try-out, I took suggestions on board to make Napoleon an NPC and allow players to ‘bid’ for his ear each turn. You see, he had no strategic plan other than opportunist battles which would put the enemy off, and as Jim pointed out their was no way he (as Napoleon) could enforce discipline anymore. Anyways, I always loved the ‘cardboard Hitler’ model from The Last War, so that was that.
Enough of the history stuff – how did it go?
The ‘robot’ allies did almost what the real ones did, but while several Marshals (Nick ‘No Deals’ Ney and Dave ‘Love it or hate it’ Marmont) were feathering future nests with various candidates for the throne and trying to look busy, the hard-core ‘Momentum’ group of Richard, Andrew and Brian decided to risk all on supporting the Boss and trying to win significant actions in the centre and north, in the hopes that this could force a truce…
Well, I have to say that – after a slow start – the 7 or 8 turns were quite exciting for me. Some rather hairy, close-run actions caused the allied monarchs to move a little on their political support tracks. However, ‘V-for Victor’ in the north set about trouncing the mainly Russian force under the detested Bernadotte of Sweden, while in the centre almost everyone gasped when Brian (Mortier) took Napoleon and the Guard around the flank of the giant Blucher force, leaving a huge gaping hole in the French centre with only some very reluctant Marshals nearby… There were lots of suspicious eyebrows raised as to whether this was the old Master at work – or some nefarious deal with the Prussians!
In the south, the enormous Swartzenberg force lumbered on well behind DaveB who fell back and (I think) failed to destroy any bridges in their path. I think Dave was ignoring exhortations to ‘get stuck in’ because even after the Austrian force split at the first interesting crossroads (stupid but historical), each part was still much bigger than his entire unit!
Well, Victor continued to kick Bernadotte off the map but the ‘main event’ in the centre was as dramatic as the Italian campaign – Napoleon & Brian from the north, Andrew from the south, strung-out Prussians caught off-guard, mud and blizzards slowing-up concentrations of force, the Guard marching off when the boss was suddenly recalled to Paris – oh, and then ther was that coup attempt…….
In the middle of all this, Dave and Nick were engaged in some ‘favour trading’ of cards. Unfortunately, Dave had the special ‘Fouche’ card (head of the secret police) which allowed him to look at some of Nicks hand, to see the sort of things he was collecting. Now, as an utterly corrupt official, Fouche could be bought-off but Nick (who had no Napoleon support cards in his defence) decided to refuse an offer he, err, couldn’t refuse – so Dave ‘shopped’ him to the Emperor! At this point, the two player options are either (a) try to flee to the allies, or (b) mount a coup in Paris. Now, as military governor of Paris, Nick thought he was in a good position. Unfortunately, confusion in the bidding for BigN’s presence at the front (a tie!) resulted in him going back to Paris… After some discussion among the players, we felt that BigN would let him off once (as in 1815), but Nick then lost *all* his political support cards, effectively making him a – somewhat reluctant – Napoleonist!
The climax came when the two forces under Brian and Andrew finally met-up and in a major battle crushed Blucher’s forces. Even as a fast-play battle (using cards as trumps) it swung back and forth – early failures, a great lunchtime, losses in the afternoon as victory slipped away; but then BigN decided to commit the Guard at dusk and, losing 1/3 of their number, they broke through in the way that perhaps they should’ve at Borodino….
This significant victory did not immediately stop the Austrian juggernaut under Swartzenberg in the south, but the successful Marshals acted together and used their political advantage of the big wins to move all the allied monarchs on the support track to all favour one candidate, triggering one of the game conditions for a truce. Even the ‘rat’ Talleyrand was back on board, to smoothe the negotiations, as Andrew had his control card as well! And so the 1814 campaign goes into the Alternative History books as the founding of the Napoleonic dynasty in France, with BigN soon retiring in favour of his Austrian wife and half-Austrian son. Metternich and the Tsar are not too unhappy with this, the former especially chuckling for years about the ‘Prussian failure’ which postponed German unification for decades and thus helped to secure Franco-Austrian supremacy in Europe well into the later 19thC. But that’s another game….
I liked the very stylised map and the political ‘favour’ cards. I also thought that the ‘army management’ went well, with a simple set of command options. I especially liked the movement of front and back markers for each force, showing how strung-out they were (and so potentially weakening any engagement). Yes, you could certainly add more period flavour with more detailed character profiles/ratings, plus a better political profile for foreign policy ‘edge conditions’ (i.e. would England ever tolerate BigN remaining under *any* circumstances?). Still and all it was as fun as my Sikh Wars extravaganza, and only slightly more believable!!
My thanks again to those who have indulged my somewhat old obsession now with this hugely messy but fascinating ‘1814’ period yesterday. All the comments (improvements) and intensive play have made it something I will look back on fondly. I only hope the Balkan try-outs are half as good!