Basic tactics for SPI's game Napoleon at War / explained by Bob Merry

This article has been written in an attempt to give newcomers to
boardgaming a little insight into the tactical possibilities that arise
from a grasp of some of the basic rules. My own interest lies
principally in Napoleonic warfare and I have, therefore, based the
examples on the Napoleon at War rules. However, there are a large number
of games, from SPI and others, whose rules are based on those developed
in 1972 for Napoleon at Waterloo, refined in Borodino and Austerlitz and
now used for the Napoleon at War and Napoleon's Last Battles
QuadriGames. Consequently, many of the tactics described here can be
readily adapted for games with similar rules.

The tactical key is mainly to be found in the Combat Results Table, an
example of which is shown below:
Combat Results Table

The first point to notice is that between odds of 1-2 and 3-1 the only
results are Dr and Ar - an apparently "bloodless" form of combat. At 4-1
and above there are De results but coupled with these are chances of Ex
results. As we shall see, this is quite significant.

Now let us look at a couple of the rules which will have a bearing on
our tactics. Firstly, we will quote part of the rule concerning
retreats: "A retreating unit may not retreat into a prohibited hex,
cross a prohibited hex-side, or enter an Enemy controlled hex. If no hex
is open to retreat into, the unit is eliminated". This is, in fact, the
most common way of eliminating Enemy units. The rules also allow a
player, prior to an attack, to voluntarily reduce the odds for that
attack. With these factors in mind, let us consider a few examples. In
each case, the attacker is moving up the map.

Consider Fig.l. The attacker, who is about to move, has a strong
infantry unit and a cavalry unit available to engage an isolated enemy
cavalry unit. How should he plan his attack ?

Figure 1

The first alternative is a direct assault by the infantry . This attack
(Fig.2.) gives odds of 4-1, with a one-in-six chance of eliminating the
Enemy unit, a one-in-six chance of a very costly exchange (since all 9
strength points are required to satisfy the Ex rule!) and four chances
of the Enemy making a withdrawal. Although this can be followed up with
an advance after combat which, because combat in NAW is mandatory in
Zones of Control, commits the Enemy to either fighting at 1-5 next
phase, or reinforcing the position, generally speaking this is not a
very good tactic. Nevertheless, it occurs surprisingly often when the
uninitiated attempt to employ brute force against small units.

Figure 2

In Fig.3., the cavalry unit has been involved, increasing the odds to
5-l. There are now two chances of a De result, two chances of an Ex
result, but with the cavalry unit now able to absorb the attacker's
share of the loss and only two chances of a retreat. This is clearly
preferable to the previous example and may well be occasionally used
where a frontal attack on a weak point is unavoidable. However, in the
example we are considering, there is another alternative.

Figure 3

A typical strategy used by Napoleon was to send part of his force to
outflank the enemy and cut his supply lines before the frontal
engagement. We can adapt this principle here in a tactical situation. In
Fig.4. the more mobile cavalry unit has circled the enemy (and his Zones
of Control, which do not allow movement through) and come up behind. The
infantry has moved ready for the frontal assault. The enemy is now
surrounded by Zones of Control with the four hexes marked 'x' in Fig.4.
being adjacent to one or other of the attackinq units. There is now no
escape route in the event of a Dr result and the enemy will be
eliminated instead. In which case, why risk an exchanqe? In some games,
losses can more easily be borne by one side. If the attacker were to be
in the situation where any loss would cause a weakness, either because
of the disposition of his forces or because the effects of losses hit
him harder, it would be preferable that the one-in-six chance should be
one of Ar rather than Ex. The odds should be voluntarily reduced to 3-1
before the attack. A throw of 6 would be frustratinq but qenerally
speaking the reduction in odds is advisable, especially in the early
stages of a game.

Figure 4

So much for picking off a weak, isolated unit - now let us see how to
deal with a short line of units, such as that in Fig.5. Here, the three
infantry units should be vulnerable to the superior strength of the
attack, so how can we best take advantage of the situation? The flanking
enemy cavalry prevent us from getting units to the rear of the line, as
we did in the previous example and many players would settle for the
frontal assault, merely hoping to gain ground. However, intelligent
choice of the order of combats and the use of the "advance after combat"
option open to victorious units may prove to be a little more

Figure 5

Fig.6. shows the situation after the Movement Phase. The cavalry units
have moved to the flank to hold the opposing cavalry, leaving all the
infantry units free to deal with the enemy infantry. Bombarding
artillery are also useful in diversionary attacks in those games where
they can attack from two hexes away. Leaving aside the flanks, which are
straightforward, we can now concentrate our attentions on the three
combats in the centre. We will use two units of 6 strength points each
to attack the left hand infantry unit, a similar combination against the
right of the line and two 9 point units against the centre. This gives
us three attacks to be resolved: (A) at 2-1, (B) at 3-1 and (C) at 2-1.
The possible orders for these attacks, allowing for the symmetry of the
situation, are, basically, ABC, ACB or BAC.

Figure 6

Fig.7. shows the position after successful attacks at (A) and (B), with
the appropriate advance after combat. The final enemy unit is now
surrounded by ZOCs and a third lucky throw of the die will eliminate it.
A similar fate awaits the centre unit if we resolve the combats in the
order ACB. Tempting as it may be to "roll up" the line in a logical
order, we have a potentially more profitable alternative.

Figure 7

Look at the situation in Fig.8., which results from successful B attack.
Now, both the other units are vulnerable. A word of caution, however.
There is a one-in-three chance of failure in each of the 2-1 attacks and
a one-in-nine chance of them both resulting in an Ar results. In this
event, the advanced unit from the initial attack would itself be cut off
and unable to retreat as a result of the counter-attack in the next
phase. Each situation must be judged on its merits, but remember that a
weak unit is just as effective as a strong one in cutting off retreats
with its ZOC, so it may be wise to use weaker units for advancing after
combat in positions similar to the example cited. It is also possible in
many NAW-type games to enhance attacks with bombarding artillery but,
again, keep the odds down to 3-1 to avoid Ex results.

Figure 8

The tactics described above can be extended to longer lines, with
attacks being alternated along the line to create the "surround with
ZOC" situations. Reasonable luck with the die should allow the odd prize
to be picked

So far in this article, we have looked at some basic attack situations
and seen how we should try to devise attacks that surround the defender
with ZOC so that retreat is impossible. We will end by seeing what
lessons can be learnt from this to aid the defence.

In many games, one side starts as the weaker force and has to hold
ground until the arrival of later reinforcements redresses the balance.
The Allied position at Waterloo is one such example, whilst the Allied
side in Battle of Nations is probably an even better case. On the first
day of the Battle of Nations, the advantage is definitely with Napoleon
and, unless the defence is conducted correctly, he can take advantage of
this to end the battle before the main body of the Allied reinforcements

Consider Fig.9. Here the defending units are spread out such that it is
irnpossible to surround any units because of the ZOC over lapping. Even
after successful attacks, advances after combat will not cut off the
line of retreat of any other units and the advanced units may themselves
become the tarqet of counter-attacks. Of course, when adopting extended
line defence like this, it is more than ever important to protect the
flanks adequately or else units may be picked off one by one. The pivot
of such a line should be a strong defensive barrier, such as an
uncrossable riverside hex, a well defended town or some terrain feature
that will limit the mobility of any cavalry unit that attempts to
outflank the line in the way that we saw in our first example.

Figure 9

Well, I hope that this short article will enable newcomers to
boardgaming to appreciate some of the basic tactics and to avoid what
should, to more experienced players, appear to be the obvious pitfalls.
Have a careful look at your next game and see if the rules are based on
the NAW system. You will find a wide range of games that can be played
using these basic tactics. New subscribers to Strategy & Tactics will,
of course, have an excellent example in the form of Napoleon at
Waterloo. Like many of the early examples of the qenre, however, the
Combat Results Table is a little different and the chances of Ex results
greater. The rules also do not allow for voluntary reduction of odds and
care is needed in planning attacks. It can be most annoying to lose your
Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard in an exchange with a piffling little
cavalry unit that blocks its advance - believe me, I know from bitter