Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat ry

THE NAPOLEON GAMBIT
or how to defeat Napoleon in battle in "Empires in Arms"


Risto Marjomaa

Empires in Arms

"Empires in Arms" is a game which simulates the so-called Napoleonic Wars and it certainly gives credit to the term "Napoleonic" for this particular period in European history. The leader counter representing Emperor Napoleon I of France is the most important counter in the game. At the head of strong French army corpses it forms the key strategical component of the game around which much of the play and the decisions of other players must revolve. France is the dominant power in the game mainly due to the superior performance of its large army under the personal leadership of the Emperor. No really decisive battles are likely to be fought without Napoleon's presence, usually on the victorious side.

The nation best placed to grab the dominant position from France is Russia (I do not mean "dominant" in game terms, but in terms of superior military prowess as relative to other players). Russia has large armies, relatively good leaders, sound military reserves and a secured strategical position on the eastern edge of the game map. However, in order to replace France as the dominant military power, Russia must be able to defeat the French in battle in a decisive manner. This inevitably means a confrontation with the Corsican genius himself. The question is, how the Russian army should prepare for such an engagement?

The usual reaction of a Russian player threatened by Napoleon is to panic and call together all available manpower with scant notice to cost or the ability of the leading general to command a large number of corpses. The player simply hopes that although his oversized army is more than likely to be defeated by Napoleon, it might cause the French enough casualties to decisively reduce their potential fighting strength. Such a plan, however, contains an obvious flaw. Low tactical rating of the commanding general and poor morale of the troops under him means less and lower dice rolls and, consequently, less casualties inflicted. France is likely to win the battle and has a chance to practically destroy the Russian fighting potential at a single stroke. The Russsian player risks a possible destruction of his whole field army, economic bankruptcy in the "Instability Zone", and nasty, enforced peace terms. This article means to study the alternative option that Russia really seeks to win Napoleon in an open combat; not merely to bleed his army to death.

What, then, is the ideal composition of a Russian army poised to defeat Napoleon in battle? First we have to consider how to construct a victorious army from the existing Russian army corpses. The Russian player cannot complain a lack of material from which to built his armies. Even the French do not have such an impressive number and variety of corpses from which to choose. Unfortunately, this apparent advantage is to a large degree deceptive as the Russian player soon finds out. A major army should have at least some one hundred thousand men in order to both hurt the enemy with heavy casualties and to maintain itself as a viable fighting force after having itself taken losses. Of the available corpses the imperial guard is indispensable for such an army due to the additional fighting morale it provides. If morale is broken in a battle, the actual number of troops present has but little worth. Artillery corps adds enemy casualties and the three largest Russian infantry corpses provide necessary numerical strength. This adds up to 72,000 men of which 6,000 are cavalry. Three more infantry corpses is needed to bring the figure to 100,000, and as the number of cavalry still remains very low (10,000 is a rough minimum for a successful pursuit), one cavalry corps should be added to provide more shock power.

Guard, artillery, 76,000 infantry and 11,000 cavalry sounds adequate for a major army, but there is one grave problem in a set-up like this; it calls for nine corpses, too many for the Russian high military command to handle. With nine corpses the tactical rating of even the best of them drops to two, while Napoleon, who only needs six corpses to make up a similar army, retains his rating of five. The result of a battle between such commander ratings is almost predetermined. Russia detracts one from its dice rolls, while France adds one. With the superior fighting morale of the French troops, Napoleon is almost certainly going to win no matter what tactical choices are done. The only Russian hope is to gamble with the Defend-option, a rather desperate bid under the circumstances.

Eight corpses is consequently the effective upper limit for an ideal Russian army fighting against Napoleon. Then both Kutusov and Prince Bagration can manage a tactical rating of three, which gives no minus to the roll. But which corps should then be left out? Sacrificing one small infantry corps might not sound so bad, but can in fact prove fatal. 140,000 Frenchman (an ideal figure for six French corpses) supported by artillery causes losses amounting on the average to some 20,000 men per battle round. This means that even if the French are defeated you might not have enough men left to take advantage of your victory. Besides, if you loose you might have nothing else than your dearly bought cavalry to cover the retreat.

The best solution to this problem is undoubtedly to get allies with larger corps sizes. Minor powers have generally too weak corpses for this purpose and Turkey and Spain should also be omitted out of hand due to their low fighting morale. This leaves three main possibilities; England, Prussia and Austria. The British might sound as an obvious choice, but their corpses are small in size and cannot consume much more casualties than do the smaller Russian ones. (The Duke of Wellington would certainly change matters entirely, but he is best to be left outside this article). Mere superior morale does not in itself lower casualties, a fact which the British player would be well advised to keep in mind. Perhaps surprisingly, the best ally is probably Prussia. The Prussian I Corps does not only provide additional manpower for the army, but also 4,000 more cavalry. Thus the Russian cavalry corps is no longer needed and can be replaced by another large Prussian corps.

However, if Russian foreign policy has failed to secure allies against France, you have to do with what you have. In that case, there seems to be but two options left open; either to discard the cavalry or the artillery corps. The first choice might seem like a lesser sacrifice; cavalry superiority provides no benefit against Napoleon in any case. However, horsemen do increase the all-important battle morale and are crucial in pursuit. If you really plan to defeat Napoleon, instead of just causing him serious casualties, the best choice is probably to leave the artillery behind. Artillery never decides the outcome of a battle unless the enemy is completely wiped out, an option that does not apply to major battles between large armies.

We have now put together an army containing six infantry, one guard and one cavalry corpses. This means 86,000 infantrymen (of which 10,000 in the guard) and 11,000 cavalrymen; altogether 97,000 men. Who should be placed to lead such an army? Only two Russian generals are up to the task; Prince Bagration and Kutusov. Of these two the latter is perhaps a little better, but not decisively so as strategic values are not likely to matter during the course of the battle.

Our ideal Russian army thus comprises of some 100,000 men in eight corpses and under General Kutusov. The next problem is how and when to commit this army in a decisive battle against the French Emperor? DO NOT ATTACK YOURSELF!! Napoleon is much too likely to win with the defender's Outflank-option to be given the chance to choose it. Furthermore, when they are defending the French are likely to have the next move and can thus either escape after a defeat or definitely crush the already defeated Russian army.

Your army should be placed so that the French are forced to move through it and cannot easily turn its flank threatening its supply links and forcing it to counter-attack. Benefits of terrain should also be used to their full extent. A river is beneficial, but not absolutely necessary. Defense on a mountainous country is an ideal choice, although it might be hard to come by because of geo-strategical reasons. Forest is almost a minimum condition as open terrain is decidedly dangerous with its heavy casualty rates. Swamps are better to forget altogether as the increase of morale losses can only help the French. The province chosen should also contain a depot with a garrison of 10,000 men. These troops can be added to the Russian fighting force without impairing the capabilities of the commanding general. A depot makes also the turning of your flank by the French a less likely event.

When everything is ready and Napoleon has been "lured" to attack, it is time to decide what tactics should be used to bring about a glorious victory. And here lies the major weakness of the whole enterprise. It tells much of the superiority of the Corsican genius in this game that even in ideal conditions the Russian army is still likely to loose the battle. The Russian player has only three viable options; Defend, Cordon and Escalated Outflank. The first two are conservative choices and offer at least survival if the Gods of War do not favour your dice. Yet, they contain also a major flaw; neither of them promises victory if the Frenchman chooses the feared Probe, Napoleon's steam-roller. This means that Escalated Assault must be added to the list. Outflank is much too uncertain and mere Counter-attack an unnecessary risk, as even in ideal conditions it might only extend the battle to another day. Choosing Escalated Assault is certainly a desperate risk as it can mean disaster. However, fighting Napoleon IS a desperate mission in itself and only a perfect choice and good dicing can give victory to Russia. You should also not forget your guard. It is NOT merely a handsome decoration for parade use, but can give the decisive two steps of additional morale loss if used at a right moment.

One should also always think ahead of what happens after a battle has been fought. With 100,000 men you are not going to bleed France to death even if you win and the Russian casualties are likely to be heavy whatever the outcome. This means that if Napoleon has a reserve corps at hand, you must be sure that you can bring in your own reserves before the enemy can rally and strike again. If possible, you should time the battle so that next month brings in conscripts which can be drawn directly to the main army to compensate for losses. Moreover, you should always have a depot and some reserve troops placed on your chosen route of retreat so that in case of a defeat you can make up a part of your losses already during the withdrawal after a lost battle.

Considering all this, it is also worth while to ask why should the Russian player even try to defeat Napoleon in battle? This might sound as a surprising question to pose, but it is in fact a crucial one in the light of all the risks involved. Russian defeat is always more likely than not and it often means the beginning of the end for the Russian war effort. On the other hand, even a victory in a battle against Napoleon does not usually guarantee that you also win the war. The French are likely to return with vengeance after dipping at their almost limitless reserve pool and might then be in an increasingly nasty mood if it later comes to negotiating the terms for your surrender. So, why even bother to try?

Defeating Napoleon is foremost a political and not a military victory. It can show to your allies that there is nothing to worry. It can also encourage new allies to join you against the French ogre. At least it improves your own Status and brings in some well-earned VPs. It also pushes the French Status down towards the dreaded Instability Zone. If the Russo-French war has been relatively well-matched until now and there is an imposing alliance backing you up, a defeat might seriously unnerve the French player. Yet, if none of such benefits are likely to occur, it is usually better to avoid Napoleon in direct battle and to adopt instead a strategy of evasion. Take advantage of the huge size of the Russian territories by slowly retreating in the face of the invaders and try to reduce the French operational force by forcing him to disperse his troops to cover his garrisons and supply lines. Your Status is hurt and you cannot win the war with such a strategy alone, but at least you win time and as the French forces are extended and vulnerable someone else might stab Napoleon in the back. If even this seems unlikely, you better surrender as quickly as possible and quit being a martyr (read: a sucker) of a doomed cause while the other players benefit from the fact that you are keeping Napoleon occupied for the time being.

Risto Marjomaa


Translation of the article published in our club's magazine "Insignia Imperatoria" 2/1991



If you are interested in Strategic and Simulation Games,
please contact Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat/Finnish Simulation Game Players
or the chairman of the club Eero Hurmalainen.

Game evenings every Wednesday starting at 5:30pm
Liesikuja 7 A 3.kerros
Oy Finnrock Ab, VANTAA 01600 (Myyrmäki)
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Our game club's own web.pages (most of them in Finnish only, sorry!):
Diplomacy SM 1996
Empires in Arms
Empires in Arms (English version)
Empires in Arms and Lady Fortune
Empires in Arms and Lady Fortune (English version)
Europa Universalis
EURODIPCON III 1995 Cirencester
EURODIPCON IV 1996 Oslo
FLAT TOP -Korallimeren taistelu
Keskeneräiset peliprojektit
Ligne Maginot
Ligne Maginot (English version)
Ligne Maginot (In Deutsch)
Machiavelli-turnaus 11/96
Machiavelli-turnaus 1997
Pax Britannica
Ropecon'98
Shanghai!
Suomen Simulaatiopelaajat ry

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Updated April 15, 2005 by Ville Hurmalainen
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