Napoleonic war gaming or just PBM?

Austerlitz by Supersonic Games engages the player on 3 levels: economic, diplomatic and military. Austerlitz captures beautifully the many aspects of the Napoleonic era.

Economic historians emphasise this aspect of the period: the financial management of war economies, the industrial revolution in Britain, trade and privateering, the Continental System and the British blockade. In Austerlitz the players have to consider similar problems; how to build a strong economy that will produce the raw materials, how to raise the finance to build your forces, where and what to trade and how to attack your enemies economies.

The player has a wide choice of some dozen or so production sites to build factories, mills, lumber camps and vineyards among others. Each will produce the relevant goods which go towards fuelling the economy or trade. Shipping goods off to other trade cities can produce good financial returns, but you may find yourself competing for markets. Then troops may start to appear to acquire or “protect” markets!

Diplomatically the game is what players make of it. If a true Napoleon appears and shows his skill on the battlefield then other players will either react to form coalitions against the upstart or else submit to pressure. But more often than not there will be a web of constantly shifting alignments as countries seek an advantage.

But Austerlitz is essentially a war game and it is here that it really scores. There are some negative features such as army sizes are a little larger than they should be, however, these are minor quibbles, often to do with play balance and gaming. The main play balancing in the game is the evening up of power in the 16 empires figuring in the game, so France is not so colossal.

The real test of the Napoleonic Wargamer comes in handling the strategy and tactics of the game. Mutually supporting corps are necessary for conquest of wide areas of territory but you need to concentrate them before a major battle. Handling a number of columns is quite a Napoleonic art, so that troops arrive at the right time. Operating on interior lines and concentrating on one enemy before turning on another can pay dividends. Unlike many games of a similar type , in Austerlitz the better (luckier!) commander can face several opponents and hope to win.

While smaller battles are fought/calculated using a mathematical formula, the larger confrontations are simulated in a tactical battle. Each player deploys his troops onto the battlefield and gives detailed orders to each battalion group. These simulated battles are the most impressive feature of Austerlitz. The range of terrain, troop types, and possible orders bring out the finer features of Napoleonic Warfare: cavalry and line infantry, skirmishers and squares, artillery and lancers, cuirassiers and riflemen….. The range of the battlefield ploys is infinite, and despite fighting 6 major battles, I reckon I haven’t done more than dip my toe in the water.

I do find myself comparing situations in the game to historical occurrences. One series of turns became like the 1813 campaign, except the ‘Napoleon’ won. Several battles have looked very much like Waterloo, with a mixed enemy on sloping terrain blocking my route. It is a measure of the success of Austerlitz that these comparisons can easily come to mind.