Backs against the river

The  famous struggle for LW1 and LW2!

The famous struggle for LW1 and LW2 at Friedland!

On the table is the game Friedland by Joseph Miranda, about the 1807 victory of Napoleon over Bennigsen. It was touted as part of the Napoleonic Battles System, but it appears the series never progressed beyond this one game.

The game was published with Strategy & Tactics #151 (May 1992 is the cover date) which, for reasons I have never fully understood, also included Vance von BorriesVittoria – another Napoleonic battle with a completely separate (folio like) game system.

I have been trying to reorganize my S&T collection, as well as fill in the gaps, and replace some of the games that have become casualties for one reason or another. In the midst of one such reorganization session, I saw the Friedland issue and was reminded about a recent Consimworld discussion about realism in Napoleonic games. That sparked me to have a closer look at the game, as I didn’t bother to play this one the first time around.

Friedland uses half a standard sized map (the other half in the package is for Vittoria) and around 100 standard half-inch counters. Turns are an hour. There is no ground scale given. It looks to be between 500-700 yards per hex, but it would be good to know for sure.

The map and counters are nothing special, and at least do not get in the way of playing the game. The rules are, maddeningly, split into basic and advanced. Worse, they are bound in with the Vittoria rules and tables. I made a separate copy of each relevant page and assembled my own, properly ordered set.

Friedland has a top down “I go, you go” command system layered on to a divisional level view of battle.

Each side has its own turn to do command, movement, and combat. In your turn, you roll for command, starting with the army leader. If he succeeds, he is in command, and all the troops and leaders (and their subordinate troops) in his command range, act according to your wishes. You repeat the process with corps commanders out of command range of the army leader, and then for combat units out of command range of their corps commander.

Leaders can fail the command check (it’s a 1d10 roll versus leadership rating) thus rendering their troops immobile. However, there are two chaotic elements worth noting.

First, some failure results force units to be impetuous (instead of immobile) and try to move forward and attack enemy units. That can throw a bit of a spanner in the works.

Second, in the opposing side’s turn, there is a (recommended) advanced rule called reaction.  Reaction (which, optionally, can be mandatory and so even more chaotic) may also spur your units into an impetuous advance towards the enemy, or to deliver a fearsome artillery barrage to break up an attack.

There are some (expected) loose ends, such as the fact these command rules apply to artillery. Given the potential death dealing nature of artillery, and the lack of a move and fire restriction, this makes these units somewhat of a cross between foolhardy cavalry and tank spearheads.

Combat is interesting, but complex.

Part of the complexity is because there are different types of combat for each unit type. For example, infantry may attack using a linear or column combat results table (CRT), and suitably rated infantry may also use the skirmish CRT. Cavalry has a probe and a charge CRT, and artillery a plain old bombard CRT. Interestingly, none of this is odds based; it depends on the strength of the attacking unit and the relevant terrain. One nice touch is that the terrain you attack out of can have an effect. No more attacking out of rough terrain as if instantly and optimally deployed for battle.

The other part of the complexity is that the range of type combat results is wide. From the CRTs, you get results like ab, adW, d, H, P, [PC], Td, TE, TZ, W, X. No DEs on show!

The range is because the designer is trying to convey the gradual wearing down of units, the fluidity of the combat – so, for example, there are several counterattack results – and the lack of control. You get enforced advances, cavalry needing to check for restraint, and so on. However, the individual results can be hard to assimilate because you need to remember which ones depend on the presence of infantry in good order, the effect on disordered units, and so on. It works (or seems to). But it is also hard work.

And when I say it works, I mean in the context of a game because both sides are trying to master the same CRT interaction. As a simulation, I think it’s a bold try but comes up short. Primarily this is because it is possible for units to enter combat, become disordered, retire, recover, and return to the fray exactly as before.  But it is also because sometimes you can see an entire division eliminated in a single turn. (Though using an advanced rule, it is possible for an eliminated division to be returned to action.)

Incidentally, the game includes a neat disintegration rule that does show the gradual wearing down of the army with losses and certain other combat results. So, I might be too harsh and the overall effect may be better than it appears to me at the moment. I am only going on the basis of a couple of incomplete solitaire play throughs so far.

The design includes a friction rule – essentially random events – and elan markers. The elan markers allow designated units to have special, tailored effects. For example, a British unit with an elan marker (obviously not present at Friedland!) gets a two column shift on the linear CRT. A French unit with an elan marker gets a one column shift on the column CRT and a two column shift on the skirmish CRT. And so on.

There are a lot of good ideas here – some of which, I think, surfaced in the designer’s Empires at War series – and it’s a shame there wasn’t any more effort put in to the system, as it may well have been worth it. It’s crying out for some form of orders restriction, and a reworking of the combat system. It may only need some fine tuning. I doubt I’ll have the time or persistence to do anything more with the system, primarily because I prefer Napoleonic games at the brigade or battalion, rather than division level. However, one never knows. I am certainly going to keep it on the table for a bit longer.

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