Danube 20 from Victory Point Games covers the Wagram and Aspern-Essling battles from the 1809 campaign. The following is an AAR on the Aspern-Essling game. For an actual examination of how the Napoleonic 20 system works, please see my earlier posts on Borodino 20 and Waterloo 20.
Please click below to get the full posting of this ASPERN - ESSLING replay.
The Napoleonic 20 series has become a firm favourite of mine and Aspern-Essling has always interested me, in part to the enjoyment I got many years ago from the version of the battle in the Wargamer magazine. It has the unusual situation of the river crossing, together with a relatively weak French force trying to prosecute an attack, making for an interesting game and certainly different from my Waterloo and Borodino N20 games.
The brief background is that Napoleon is trying to force a crossing over the Danube and he gets caught out by the Danube substantially swelling due to spring flooding. He has limited forces and only enough engineering resources to build a pontoon at one site, which is constantly under threat of being swept away by the water. For their part, the Austrian plan is to allow a proportion of the French army to cross the Danube and then to attack that bridgehead with over-whelming numbers, but they need to 'get going' to get that plan into action.
The scenario has the Austrians locked down in positions behind the Danube and attempts are made at the start of each turn to individually release their units, usually in one's and two's, via a die roll. The French must cross their pontoon to get onto the northern side of the river and each time a unit attempts to cross, a die roll checks to see whether the pontoon gets damaged and if it does, whether the crossing unit actually gets across before the damage occurs. Troops cannot cross a damaged bridge and via card play, a damaged bridge can become a destroyed bridge, which cannot be replaced during the game and so trapping the French and preventing new arrivals to the battlefield. The tension of play comes from the French having to get as much of their army across the Danube as they can, while keeping the pontoons open. For the Austrians, the tension comes from trying to get their units released and into action, to meet the French before they can assemble in full strength on the north of the Danube.
At the start of play, the two random event cards that can damage / destroy the pontoon are taken out of the pack for the first run of card play. When the first shuffle is called for, they are returned to the pack. The French player has to make a choice from which one of 4 possible locations on the map, the pontoon will be placed. Once selected, all reinforcement must come via that route.
Turn 1 - Morning 21st May. Morale starts at French 8 and Austrian 6.
The Austrians start their turn by rolling for release of their units. The number of French units already across the Danube is added to the die roll and units get released (or not!) according to the release table. They roll a '1', too low, no units released, so their turn ends.
The French pontoon starts the game in good repair, but each time it is crossed, a test is taken to see if it is damaged. Throughout the game, it's status frequently yoyo's between working and damaged. Just beyond, on the northern side or the river are two villages, Aspern and Essling. Occupying these is important and indeed, behind Aspern is the French bridgehead, which if captured by the Austrians, ends the game. Essling is also a French objective, so it is something the Austrians will capture if they can.
Again, the Austrians fail to release any units - frustrating for them, now is the ideal time to get into attack positions, while the French are fragmented.
The French occupy both Aspern and Essling. Napoleon wants to press on with his division to Raasdorf, but decides to see whether the reinforcements get across the pontoon first. Good decision, the unit does get across, but the pontoon is damaged in the process, other units cannot cross until it gets fixed - which is attempted at the start of every French turn. Napoleon now has himself and three units on the Northern side of the river, but he needs more reinforcements before sufficient Austrian units get released to attack him. The card drawn by the French requires the pack to be re-shuffled, this puts the two bridge destruction cards into the pack.
One Austrian unit is released, it moves towards Raasdorf.
The French fail their attempt to repair the bridge. Worse - they then draw their random event card that deals with flood waters. This essentially automatically causes damage to the working pontoon or can destroy a pontoon that is already damaged (on a die roll) ....... this causes mild panic, if the pontoon bridge gets destroyed it cannot be replaced during the game and Napoleon will be trapped with just part of his army (three units). The French are lucky and the die roll does not destroy the pontoon.
The Austrians release another unit.
The French repair the pontoon, but it immediately becomes damaged again when a divison attempts to cross, this time it is damaged before they are able to cross, so the unit stays on the south side of the Danube. A French unit advances into Raasdorf and Napoleon decides that despite his isolation, he needs to leave Essling and move up to support Raasdorf with another infantry division.
The Austrians get to release two units. They release the II Corps and although under pressure to get combat units released, they choose to release the army commander, Charles, so that he can assist with the expected attacks. They move IVb and the reserve cavalry (who will be within command range of Charles) to attack Raasdorf.
Both sides expend a morale point to improve their combat chances (represents bringing up reserves), but the Austrians roll a six (best result) and rout the French, who fall back to Essling and their morale drops 1 point. The Austrian cavalry fail their control check, so it is they, rather than the infantry that advance to occupy the town.
Turn 6 - night, forces can disengage, only move 1 hex and cannot fight or enter a zoc.
Austrian morale increases by 2 (rather than by the usual 1) because the French have not captured any of the Austrian objective hexes. the French do not get their morale increase for overnight resting because the pontoon bridge is damaged.
Turn 7 - day 2, morale is Austrian 8, French 8 (typically good levels for a N20 game).
The French fix the pontoon and get another unit across. They now have 5 units across the river. Napoleon moves onto Glitzendorf, which is an Austrian objective hex. The Austrians abandon the town and fall back, this detatched wing does not want to get hit by the French forces, it will almost certainly lose.
Turns 8 - 9
Napoleon manages to engage the isolated Austrian wing. They rout the Austrian IVa, which breaks (removing it from map) as it routs across the Russback stream, increasing the French morale and decreasing the Austrian by 1 each respectively. The French now control the eastern half of the battlefield. By entering Gitzendorf, the French automatically release the remaining Austrian army (the final 3 units).
Turns 10 - 11
The Austrians spend a morale point to force march and bring their grenadiers (elite) and II corps to clash with 2eB. The French are heavily out numbered and they rout, both sides now have a morale level of 6.
The French counter-attack, but an attack on the +2 column brings them an EXchange result. This will remove (break) both sides formation and worse, each sides leader is stacked with the respective units, so they also leave the map, but at least they will automatically return in the following turn.
Life is not so easy for Napoleon, whenever he gets this sort of result, he must roll on the 'Emperors Fate Table', this could remove him from the game. The French feel almost lucky that they just get a wound result, which drops the French morale down by 1 point.
Turn 12 - Night
The pontoons remain broken, so the French do not recover any morale for resting. They do however recover the 2eA from the broken pile during the night rally phase. The Austrians do not manage to recover any units.
Turn 13 - day 3, Austrian morale 7, French morale 5
The Austrian IVa and Grenadiers see an opportunity to attack the French Guard at Raasdorf, a little risky but worth doing, but they get an EXchange result, so both the Guards and the IVa are removed from play. The French still have two units on the south bank of the Danube and the pontoons appear to be repeatedly reluctant to repair.
The French throw in a counter-attack, seeing an opportunity to see-off the Austrian Grenadiers, but they get an 'attacker-withdraw' result. However, the French drew the 'Horrible Melee' card at the start of their turn, that allows them to convert AW results to a No Effect result, which is what they do. Combat is mandatory, so by staying adjacent to the Austrians they pin the Austrians and will force them to attack in the next turn.
Turn 14 - the start of the sudden death turns, based on a die roll at the end of the turn, the game can end.
The French re-take Raasdorf and rout the Austrian grenadiers - the game situation in terms of forces on the board is looking finely balanced at this point, though French morale is lower. The sudden death die roll is passed.
The French engage in a counter-attack along their whole front, but with mixed results and get another of those dreaded EXchange results, which in this instance is costlier to the French, who lose a 4 strength point unit. The sudden death die roll is passed.
The Austrians are able to push the French further back towards their bridgehead.
At last, the pontoon is repaired and a French unit gets across. The sudden death die roll ends the game (just 1 turn short of the natural end). The morale levels are Austrian 5 and French 2. The result is a draw. The French (only) can claim a marginal victory if their morale is higher than the Austrian morale, but I think looking at the map at the end of play, the French player would feel that they had had the worse of it.
I am a big fan of the 20 series, it is an elegant system, easy to grasp, fun to play and typically manages to bring out the essential elements of the battle being studied, to that end, Kim Meints has done a great job with this game, especially with balancing the restraint that either side has on its forces due to the historical factors and giving such game tension for both players - nothing is certain. I got into the game quickly because I know the series rules (version 3 - the latest, are included with the game). In our game, we only drew the pontoon destruction card once, but the French were unfortunate in the pontoons being out of action for so much of the game, though the Austrians struggled to get their army together quickly enough to take advantage of that. I don't play with the fatigue rules, as for me, they feel like a level of chrome that this elegant system doesn't need.
There are optional starting points for the French player to select for their one and only pontoon bridge and this will alter the course of the battle, plus there are a number of variant rules to try. That combined with the second game (Wagram), makes this package chock full of player opportunity. Expect it to hit the table a lot (see the edit at base of post).
Size: The game board is just 11" x 17" plus you will need a bit of space to the side for the game chart with the morale track. The box size is half standard size (roughly at A5 or half letter) and you are getting two different battles in this set, with plenty of variants. The N20 series works with 20 counters or less, so all in all this is a great game for our 'small spaces' blog and would also be a good travel companion.
Complexity: The box says 4 out of 10. that is probably about right. The difference will be whether you are familiar with the series or not, if you are, then you can just remind yourself of the series rules and read the special rules in depth, this would bring overall complexity down a tad. I had to keep checking on the special rules for my first game - but not to any great distraction.
Playing time: The box says 60 minutes. I would say a 'typical' game might need an extra 30 minutes in a relaxed game, but Aspern-Essling can end quite quickly if that pontoon bridge gets destroyed early and sudden death die rolls might also cause the game to end a bit earlier. This is an ideal game for getting some midweek gaming done.
Solitaire: The box says 5 out of 10. I have to disagree with that. I feel the game is a good solitaire experience. The random event cards keep a bit of chaos in the game and there is nothing really that breaks the game from a solitaire perspective - the only thing you lose is Fog of War, with the counters flipped face down. For my own player preferences, I don't see that as a loss as I never play those rules, even face to face, my memory is so bad, I fall victim to my own fog of war and the repeated flipping of units just to remind yourself what you have has never been a gaming experience that I have yearned for.
Support - There is a good intro preview video by Lance McMillan on YouTube. They get a couple of things wrong, but overall it gives a good idea of how the game unfolds and it is an enjoyable watch. LINK - http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1tHuUyB4BDw
EDIT Played again Face-to-face last night (21st March) and the whole thing played quite differently. The French in their first half of the game kept the pontoons open, so quickly got their army across, but in the second half, they had big problems with the pontoons and a number of routing French units were not able to retreat to safety as the pontoons were down. As before, the entire battle played out over a fairly small portion of the map and with so few units and needing to defend the bridgehead, I think that will often be the case ..... but despite the small area of operations, the turn-by-turn decision making felt critical at some points and really raised the enjoymet level of both gamers. We both thought that this was a game worth coming back to and ideal in giving a 'shorter' nights play. Now onto Wagram!
When setting up, I noticed a mistake I had made the first time around. I used the jigsaw type map and all parts are reversable with the other side of the map being for Wagram. By mistake, I got the centre panel the wrong face up. The difference being that Raasdorf should have been a hex that fully released the Austrian army once the French entered it, plus Glinzedorf is actually an Austrian Objecive Hex (in the same way that Essling is to the French). I don't feel it mattered too much, but players need to be mindfull about how the jigsaw map is set-up.