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AUSTERLITZ:1805 from TRAFALGAR EDITIONS Having had the pleasure of playing and reviewing Waterloo 1815 , the first game in this s...





Having had the pleasure of playing and reviewing Waterloo 1815, the first game in this system from Trafalgar Editions, I've been waiting with anticipation for this second game to appear.  Apart from Austerlitz being regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest of Napoleon's victories, it's a battle I find particularly fascinating for gaming.

Though for the Napoleonic period, Waterloo inevitably has had prime place in history and on the gaming table, for me the close geographical confines have always been a restriction to manoeuvre and above all fog of war when it comes to the gaming table.  The combination of kriegspiel style blocks and the marriage of miniature style elements to boardgame ones in Trafalgar Editions' system was one I relished seeing get its full go-ahead in the much more expansive battle of Austerlitz.

Rather than repeat ground that I covered in my review of Waterloo:1815, I will concentrate on what I consider the differences and changes.  To help with this I've reposted my original review so that you can make easy comparison.

In all respects it's a fine follow-up, though the small wooden units have given way to more traditional cardboard ones -a feature that may disappoint some gamers.  However, I do find that the cardboard pieces are easier to read. Nor do they have the problem of balancing markers on them that was a difficulty with the wooden blocks and, best of all, there's none of the problem of applying very small stickers to wooden blocks that barely fit them. 

The next difference is that the map is even easier to deal with as you have little more than contours to take account of and small villages, especially as the significantly wooded north edge of the map is likely to see little game play occurring there.  Once again it is a solidly mounted board of several panels in two sections.  Though the joins are obvious in the photo below, they soon settle into place very tightly.

The bare map contrasts with the colour of the units that you can see below
I really like the format that they have gone for here and, I believe that they have also introduced them into new editions of Waterloo: 1815.  If this change from wooden blocks is not to your favoured taste, I think that the several other changes in Austerlitz will meet with nothing but applause. 

For me, nowhere is this more true than the rule book which is a major step up in quality., despite the slight hiccup in forgetting to change the year from 1815 to 1805!
 It is a substantial glossy production from the striking battle scene on the cover to the huge improvement in layout inside.  Instead of the very cramped small print which was one of the few problems that I had with Waterloo, these are laid out in two columns of very well spaced text that make reading so easy.  All illustrated examples are now in full colour to add to the quality and the standard case numbering for rules stands out in a clear, bold font.  
As a result, the whole process of learning the rules is much enhanced and the organisation steps you through the sequence of play very smoothly and is augmented with four full pages of additional examples. 

Though divided into separate igo-ugo Attacker and then Defender player turns, there is a strong element of interaction.  In the Rally Phase, only the active player attempts typical rally actions along with removing certain types of markers.  Then Defender Artillery fire is followed by the same for the Attacker.  The Attacker next conducts movement followed by Defender then Attacker Musketry Fire and a player's turn concludes with Close Combat.

The main rules remain virtually unchanged from those in Waterloo but have a much greater succinctness and fluency in the English translation.  Combat, which covers fire and close combat, has been streamlined into a single table with separate modifiers for each type. This is another change that I heartily go along with and its execution is carried out using one of the handy play aids [one for each player] that lays everything out in a large, capitalised font.  Having wilted in the past under one or two of my games that have a slew of tables printed in microscopic print, this gets a big thumbs up!  Though print on the terrain chart is, on the other hand, very small, it is still very easy to read and even easier to remember.  So, no complaints there.
The easy to read, easy to use all-in-one Fire & Combat Table

What Austerlitz 1805 introduces that is wholly new to the system is Fog and Fog of War.  With the battle being shrouded in fog in the early hours and played out on a much vaster geographical canvas, these were the factors I was most looking forward to exploring and the design here is very successful.  The fog itself is handled in a familiar manner - guaranteed to cloak the battle for the first 3 turns, a die roll may cause it to begin to lift on any of the next 3 turns and finally its dispersing will begin on turn 7, if a roll hasn't succeeded earlier.  

As to Fog of War, there's a very simple, but effective set of mechanics.  First of all, each player has a very nice A4 card strategic map for hidden movement of each side's Corps HQ markers.  The French have no restrictions on the number of Corps they can move, unlike the Allied army which has significant restrictions.  At the same time, both players have up to 18 numbered chits for movement on the game map, while the actual units these chits represent are placed in corresponding numbered holding boxes on the Strategic map.  As you might expect some of these chits may well be decoys!  While the actual fog endures, both players are severely limited as to how many chits they may move.
The French Strategic map on the left
The Allied Strategic map on the right
Consequently there is a slow build up that helps get you into the movement rules, before having to deal with combat, while introducing a nice element of bluff and uncertainty.  Little details like all chits having the same maximum movement rate neatly make sure you don't accidentally give away the presence of faster units such as cavalry.

One point that isn't wholly clear is what happens when the fog has totally cleared.  Wording seems to imply that Fog of War rules only apply until the fog has dispersed and this is supported by the lack of FoW in the last of the three shorter Scenarios.  However, in playing the whole campaign, I've chosen to continue to employ both chits and the hidden Corps HQ markers until either an enemy unit/chit comes into line of sight or a player chooses to deploy units on the map.
The Allied Strategic Map with Corps HQs in place
The full campaign can be played in an Historical scenario where both sides have designated Corps HQ set up and specific objectives.  For those who like even more uncertainty, there is what has become the customary choice of a Free set up scenario.  My preference tends to be for historical play, but each to their own choice.

In terms of new elements, the last one is the set of rules for solo play.  These add 4 more pages to the 15 pages of rules and do a good job of guiding you through the actions of your NP [non-player] opponent, with a healthy dash of allowing you to use common sense when the acuteness of an enemy threat should override a mechanistic approach.  For those who like BOTS that must be rigidly stuck to, this may be slightly disconcerting.  Having cut my wargaming teeth in the period when playing solo meant playing each side to the best of your ability, this common sense approach is very welcome.

To round off the package, there is the familiar set of shorter Scenarios, in this case three.  The first is a very small engagement both in number of units and geographical area - an excellent choice for learning the basic rules of movement and combat.
The next takes you north for Lannes against Bagration in a modestly sized encounter.
While the last Scenario, employing only marginally more units, covers the major French attack in the centre assaulting the Pratzenberg Heights.
Altogether, a good system has been built on to provide additional improvements in physical quality and a presentation of the rules that enhances their understanding while introducing strong new elements.  

On my wishlist for their next choice of Napoleonic battle would be Eylau - another climatic clash with opportunity for some really nasty weather rules!  I can only hope.

Once again many thanks to Trafalgar Games for providing this review copy of the game