Napoleon Retreats: Designer's Notes


In early March 1814 Napoleon consistently under-estimated his opponents and over-estimated his own potential. That was all about to change at Laon. “Arrogance means that one knows how to press forward but not how to draw back, that one knows existence but not annihilation, knows something about winning but nothing about losing.” Napoleon pulled back to Soissons on the 11th—12th to care for the wounded, re-supply, and incorporate reinforcements.

Retreat isn’t always something bad. Success consists in retreating correctly, in order to preserve the army and strike again. On the 13th Napoleon came right back and pummeled Saint-Priest’s Corps. The French player can win by holding his ground at Laon and then retreating successfully to fight another day. Without Marshal Blücher to stoke the pursuit, the Prussian Chief of Staff, August von Gneisenau, became cautious just when the prize was nearly within grasp, and refused to pursue. Boldly masking his true strength, Napoleon’s gamesmanship negated the numerical odds.

We had to seek an understanding of the situation at Silesian Army HQ and create a rule that would impart the essence of it; to evaluate the effect on the performance of the army in a tangible way. The Silesian Army Sickness Table was the result. The “sick” commanders did not always leave the battlefield for someone else to take their place. The reduction to zero reflects the fact that the whole army, the staff, everybody is sick—not just the commander. When Blücher became sick, the other commanders refused to take responsibility. That means, a zero.

Windmills were often used as points of reference and observation. Like all spot features (farms, tuileries, and water mills) they have no effect on play. The tuileries scattered over the landscape are tile and brick factories. “The clayey soil of our district, admirably adapted to the making of bricks, lends itself equally well to the making of mud. Continually churned by camions and marching troops, it becomes on the highways the consistency of a purée.”

OSG’s Bautzen game from Napoleon’s Resurgence revealed an interesting snafu in the Bombardment process. Artillery produced the majority of casualties on the battlefield, but our table wasn’t contributing its share of destruction. What made Bautzen unique was the heavy predominance of guns and cavalry against a large assembly of French infantry. With a new ARF Step the non-phasing player may bombard each Player Turn. This increases by more than one-third the proportion of casualties from artillery.

The extra half-map for Fismes was added rather late in development. Originally we thought of printing a “Transit Track” to allow for units shuttling across a quiet quadrant. It took a couple months to realise the correct solution. The only town of interest is Fismes, in the center, where Napoleon originally intended to catch Blücher in the act of crossing the river. John Devereaux elegantly developed the Fismes scenario, honing the skills he developed during the Hal project, and completed the same for Reims, while the rest of us were fully occupied with the crazy battle of Craonne. Thanks to Andreas Gebhardt for creating the Vassal playtest Module.

Napoleon could muster but a half-formed, green weapon to defend the heart of France. Louis Bélanger and I spent over 6 months trying to gain an understanding of it. Just look at the French Initial Set up Card: not a well-oiled fighting machine with all its Corps, Divisions, and Brigades in order, but a hodgepodge of units in all states of organization, out of muskets and low on everything… except Hope.

-Kevin Zucker