Saturday, 14 January 2017


One of the lesser known games in Phil Sabins 'Simulating War' is Kartenspiel, partly because it is buried in the appendices. It is an attempt to model a Napoleonic battle as a card game, in the style of Clausewitz (who observed that war is very much like a game of cards, with its mix of calculation,bluff and limited knowledge).

The game system is designed for ten(!) players, but I reckoned as a minimum I could get away with four. This was good, as I had four players at the club Christmas games day. The battle is abstracted out as four (opposing) Corps sized engagements, and the forces are allocated to each side as playing cards, each representing a division of infantry or cavalry. Initially the CinC holds all the cards, but then allocates some of them to each Corps. Once allocated, they are committed and cannot be recalled so the CinC has to deploy his forces wisely and keep a reserve. The Corps commanders then simultaneously  decide whether to attack or defend, and once all attacks are declared, the battles are resolved. It is only at this stage that the forces allocated to each Corps are (briefly) revealed. Battles are entirely deterministic, the side with the most combat power wins and if they double the enemy, they inflict an extra loss. An attacker can never lose more than three divisions in a battle and a defender can never lose more than two, so combat tends to be quite attritional.

I couldn't resist having a tinker around with it, one major thing missing was any consideration of terrain (something which shapes any battle) and also explicit representation of artillery which was assumed to be factored into each division. I added some simple terrain rules, and also allowed each side a single 'grand battery' which didn't greatly affect the outcome but did explicitly represent the third arm. I also couldn't resist using some toys, so I marked up a battle board into four zones and dragged out my Austrians and French.

Tim and Russell took the French (on the left above), Graeme and Jerry the Austrians (right).  

After a few turns of pounding,this was the French left/Austrian right. Lots of forces sucked into the IV Corps sector, while a couple of Austrian divisions hold a village opposed by the French grand battery.

The slugfest in IV Corps merely resulted in lots of casualties. The French had more luck against the village, gradually whittling the defenders down with repeated assaults supported by their guns. Alas it was in the woods of I Corps that the battle was decided. The French committed all their reserves in IV Corps in a huge effort, but the Austrians opposed them with enough strength to hold them up, while attaining a critical force superiority against the lightly held woods. With no reserves left, the French could only watch as they eventually managed to break through.

The saving grace was that as neither side had any reserves left at all, there was  no French rearguard, but neither was there an Austrian pursuit, so the French just fell back to lick their wounds and reorganise.

This seemed to go swimmingly well, and the rock/paper declaration of attacks/defences and cavalry charges was hugely entertaining as the Corps commanders thumped the table and the respective Army commanders looked on and hoped  they would make the right decisions. Russell actually threw away a chance to take the village on the last turn, much to 'Napoleons' fury, but c'est la guerre.

Thoroughly recommended, and one of the better simulations of mass nineteenth century warfare I've seen, especially the ability of subordinates to utterly mess up the CinCs carefully laid plans, and with not a dice in sight. Great stuff.

This will probably be making an appearance at COW.


  1. Martin
    I'd certainly like to see this at COW. Thanks for posting

  2. Thanks, I just need to plan it as a session.