Saturday, 25 September 2021

Napoleon at Leipzig, The Battle of Nations, October 13th-19th 1813, 5th Edition, Operational Studies Group on Vassal - Part One

Back in the day when dinosaurs ruled the earth, I mean for you 'Millennials', pre internet and in a time when talking about digital meant using your fingers, Steve M and I sat down a few days before the Xmas holidays got into full swing, sometime in the late 1980's, to play my first edition copy of Napoleon at Leipzig from Operational Studies Group.

Of course the only computers around then was the Sinclair ZX Special or perhaps the Atari ST, which were not really up to handling a board game of this complexity, in fact they were not really up to much considering the computing power of an average modern day mobile phone, and so we were playing the traditional way using a hard copy paper and cardboard counter game, and we were happy because that's all there was!

Napoleon at Leipzig First Edition

As you can see from the pictures of that first edition game, which I still have as a treasured part of my collection, the artwork was pretty basic with the box cover featuring Marshal Ney leading the cavalry charge at Waterloo and with counters you could describe as functional rather than attractive.

First Edition Counters, functional but not attractive

Well it's all very different now, and sometimes I don't think the youngsters of today realise how very lucky they are, but us old codgers really appreciate the changes to wargaming and boardgaming and the 5th edition of Napoleon at Leipzig helps illustrate what I mean together with its Vassal reincarnation that makes playing a mammoth game like this very doable and great fun.

Yes we could set this thing up in hard copy, leaving it in situ and playing as the opportunity presented, but frankly I am now of an age where messing about with hundreds of small counters and a pair of tweezers is not really very appealing; not when we can get together over a table with laptops, back to back, and enjoy the graphics power of Vassal without any chance of a stack of counters getting knocked over in the mayhem of battle, and we can save the game at any time, to pick it up exactly where we left off.

Leipzig Map at 11am on the 14th October at the start of our mammoth game. Napoleon can be seen in the north in road column, bringing with him his guard and guard cavalry, as Murat squares up with Witgenstein in the south and the lines there start to take shape near Libertwolkwitz.

When I describe this game as mammoth, I'm not kidding and the sight of the hardcopy map laid out shows the need for an aircraft hanger to accommodate it, but the new version of the game is truly a stunning piece of artwork with counters to match and so Steve and I were keen to rekindle the memories of our previous game over which we played into the wee hours of the several days it took us to get it done.

This time however we were using the latest Vassal module together with all the new rules including things like vedettes and strategy cards to modify the play and we decided to go large and start the game right at the beginning on the 14th of October as the armies started to arrive on the field of battle before the walls of the great city of Leipzig.

Close up of the various units. The Vassal module allows each side to mask units out of sight of the enemy only showing those visible to the player and, with me being French, showing my masked units with a yellow border, allowing me to see at a glance my units that are masked to Steve.

With lockdown restrictions gone, Steve and I are now able to play face-to-face once again, but I think this is where the versatility of Vassal really shines through not only as a remote play platform but also as one where the size of the game map wise and with a multiplicity of counters in play makes the aspect of setting up, saving and coming back to, so easy and a reason to keep playing Vassal while we are both so competent at using it, something likely to lessen as we play more games in hardcopy format.

The Control Panel to the side of the map makes management of weather changes and reinforcement arrivals a doddle and where we keep our cards that are in play that impacts movement rates and other game aspects.

Reinforcement Schedule with stacks of units yet to arrive with General officer counters and their portraits clearly visible

Both of us are well read on our Napoleonic history and so were both aware of how the battle was set to unfold, but I chose not to refresh my memory on exactly how the actual battle unfolded so I could play it somewhat as Napoleon found himself, having to react to an unfolding situation.

That said the game has moved on from the original version we both played back in the late eighties with the inclusion of cards that can slightly alter the historical account with variations to the reinforcement schedule and slowed rates of movement to interfere with precise placement of specific corps

Current weather and game cards in play. The Late Start card was particularly problematic as the French struggled to get their Corps Commanders to wake up and get their troops into position.

The game starts with Marmont's corps in the north together with the French Leipzig garrison in situ, and with the bulk of the two armies already on the battlefield facing off to the south of the city with the French under the command of Murat and the Allies, under Schwarzenberg.

Leipzig - Southern Sector, 11am 14th October 1813 and two moves into our 'big' game with me as French and Steve commanding the allies

The game is scaled around one hour moves at brigade level, with each hex equating to 525 yards of ground and with slope hex-sides representing a rise in height of 50 -100+ feet, with die rolls using a traditional d6.

Thus with brigades forming divisions and divisions forming corps, the key pieces are the various corps and army commanders, as seen in the illustration above, with, in this example, Napoleon obviously an army commander and a very good one, having three command points allowing him to command three subordinate corps commanders out to a range of four hexes without them needing to activate themselves, and with an example of a subordinate such as Oudinot here, able to command his corps units out to a range of three hexes, but if out of command activating himself on a 4 or less as defined by his Initiative Rating.

Likewise the various brigades have their corps affiliation clearly identified with the above example of Marulaz's Light Cavalry brigade of  French IV Corps able to break down into four vedette counters and having an Initiative Rating of 3 able to activate itself on 3 or less on a d6 should for some reason it finds itself outside of command from its IV Corps commander.

Leipzig Map at 5pm on the 14th October at the end of our first day of play with Napoleon bringing some order to arrangements in the south as a massive allied build up starts there, and with the first elements of Marshal Ney's norther French corps starting to arrive as the Old Guard start to assemble around Leipzig.

Obviously at this scale artillery ranges are out to a maximum of three (extreme) hex range and close combat occurs hex side to hex side, with line of sight able to run along hex spines to target an enemy close to, but not in, blocking terrain.

Napoleon at the head of his guard heads south past Leipzig to oversee Marshal Murat's defensive arrangements as darkness and heavy rain brings the 14th October to a close

The 14th of October is characterised by both armies arriving and the respective lines around the city of Leipzig starting to coalesce as the race is on to 'get there fastest with the mostest' to quote a certain US general of a much later period.

This race generated some town fighting in Liebertwolkwitz as the Austrian IV Corps tried to stage an early coup by ousting the French V Corps as the French just managed to enter the town first, and seeing them winning the struggle before barricading themselves in and around the church on the eastern outskirts.

The 14th October saw an early struggle with the Austrians and Lauriston's Vth Corps which left the French firmly in control of Liebertwolkwitzbut but with Victor and Poniatowski struggling to form a cohesive defence between Markkleeberg and Wachau with the French mode card drawn at the start of the day that saw most of the French corps commanders struggling to wake up at the start of the day!

The struggle for the town saw us both trying out the rules and relearning the principles of artillery barrages and mixed arms combat with Pajol's heavy cavalry managing to catch an Austrian brigade with a charge in support of a combat that broke the Austrian formation up, sending it to the reform box.

Pajol's V Cavalry Corps made an early impact as Murat brought the French cavalry up on the 14th to help stabilise the hold on Liebertwolkwitz on the 14th October. 

As the first day of our game came to a close we are remembering the grinding battle of attrition this game creates presenting both players with the challenge of managing the combat in localised areas while trying to keep an eye on the bigger picture of the evolving lines around the city in what was the biggest horse & musket battle before the modern age and the titanic struggles on the Western Front in the First World War and thus demonstrating perfectly the command and control limitations of this age stretched to their limits in this battle.

As our game evolves I will follow this post up with the AAR's for the others days as we refight OSG's Battle of Leipzig on Vassal.


  1. I had this game and fought many solo fights with it. The counters are much nicer in the new edition but I liked the autumn colours in the woods on the original map. I agree that using Vassel would work well given the size of the map and scale of the monster.

    1. Hi Peter, I know what you mean about the map, I too liked the colours that seemed to really enhance the high ground well and made line of sight around ridges seemingly easier to confirm, but perhaps I'm imagining that.

      We're really enjoying the Vassal module and I think it's allowed us to play than we would have otherwise.


  2. I have fond memories of our group playing the original OSG Napoleon at Leipzig back in the day (I was Blucher). THis is the title among those that I have re-acquired--despite there being later versions, I actually prefer the original graphics and counters. Thanks for posting.

    1. Hi Ed,
      Yes like you Steve and I fondly remember our game way-back-when and every time I get the box out and loom at the pieces it brings back memories which prompted our replay with the 21st century model.