Review – Borodino 1812 from Columbia Games


Review – Borodino 1812 from Columbia Games

Design – Tom Dalgliesh, Carl Wilner

Here’s one for you war gamers, especially if you are into Napoleonics. The latest release from Columbia Games who were kind enough to send me a copy to review.

From Boardgamegeek

Borodino was fought between the Army of Imperial Russia and Napoleon’s Grand Armee on September 7 1812. The battle ended with a French victory, but strategic defeat. Losses were terrible on both sides, but the Russians could replace theirs. One week after the battle Napoleon occupied an undefended Moscow, hoping to impose a peace, but after four weeks was forced to retreat home with calamitous results.

The historical battle involved wave after wave of frontal attacks by both sides, focusing on the Russian redoubts. However, the game will show all the options available to Napoleon and Kutuzov, including some not attempted historically. The French player has several possible lines of attack and the Russian player must try to anticipate and counter them all. The tactical interaction of Napoleonic infantry, cavalry and artillery is also emphasized, including cavalry charges and squares. This makes for exciting and tense gaming.

Again, Columbia Games have taken their solid core game engine and adopted it to fit a more tactical scale as they have done with some of their previous games.


I received the unmounted map version of Borodino 1812. The map comes on card-stock which is fine. The art, I have to say, is outstanding. What surprised me, was just how difficult the terrain appeared to be. Good grief! You can quickly see why the Russians chose this ground for the fight. The real question here is, why in the world Napoleon felt that this ground would work in his favour. I don’t know enough about the history but he was clearly focused on pinning and destroying the Russians, regardless of the terrain.

Anyway, the map is gorgeous, showing lots of woods, rivers , streams, hills, swamps, villages, bridges, dams, fords and the famous Redoubts which were built by the Russians to stymie their enemy.


This is a block game and comes with –

• Game Map

• 103 hardwood blocks: 47 French (blue), 56 Russians (green)

• Label sheet (for the units)- It didn’t take me too long at all to apply the stickers to the blocks

• Order of Battle Cards (2)

• Dice (4)

The artwork on the stickers is clear and looks great, as per the usual Columbia Games standard.


Gameplay overview

Borodino has 3 scenarios –

After weeks of retreat from Smolensk, the Russians halted to fight for Moscow. The battlefield they choose was Borodino, planning to defend the Kolocha River. Shevardino redoubt was built to anchor the western end of this line. Historically, the French won control of the Shevardino redoubt by 7pm and retained it against a Russian counterattack. Russian losses exceeded French losses.

This is the shortest scenario at 7 turns.

The French army attempts to breach or turn the Russian defensive line, while the Russians seek to hold their positions.

This full day lasts 15 turns


Borodino 1812 is played in Game Turns that simulate one hour of real time. Each Game Turn has four distinct phases: Initiative, Action, Battles, and Supply.

To start each Game Turn, both players roll two six-sided dice. High total is Player 1 for this Game Turn. French win ties.
ExcEptIon: French player has the first turn for all scenarios (no roll).

Player 1 completes all three Action phases, then Player 2 does the same:
[1] Command friendly units by activating (turning face-up) any/all HQs in their current location. HQs may instead move into an adjacent friendly or vacant area and then activate. This is a key aspect of the game and very interesting as the command capabilities of the French allow them to control more units per individual leader than the Russians.
[2] Bombard with any desired artillery under command of an active HQ. Artillery bombard into adjacent areas; firepower may be modified by terrain. Interesting this as you will find that you will need to bombard units in tough defensive positions.
[3] Move any/all friendly units (except Artillery that bombarded) within command range of an active HQ. Units generally move from one area to an adjacent area, but can move further by road. After all movement is complete, active HQs are reduced one step and can move normally. This is interesting and challenging as when the commanders lose steps, you will find yourself choosing whether to use Supply points to build them back up, or risk out-of-command units losing stragglers if they try to move.

After both players have completed their actions, battles are fought between opposing units in the same area. They are fought one at a time in any sequence determined by Player 1. The attacker must win a battle by the end of round 3, or retreat in round 4 taking pursuit fire. Units have different strengths and capabilities as well as “steps” in terms of how much damage they can take before they are knocked out of the battle. As units take hits, you will be forced to decide how far to carry on fighting, or to pull back, hope to disengage, and try and use supply to reform for another fight. Its tough to make these choices, and yet, very interesting. There is a good feel for the ebb and flow of sending troops into the assault and managing your resources as units take hits.The elegant system doesn’t bog down in minute detail, but gives a good feel for the problem of the problems faced by the commanders.
After all battles are resolved, a simultaneous Supply Turn is played. This phase simulates a complex variety of battle effects, such as restocks of ammo or rallying troops. There is simply not enough supply to keep all units at full strength so players will have to make choices and defend their supply lines as well as keep the pressure up. Frustrating, yes, but interesting.


Being a block game, a very cool aspect of the game is the limited information you have about the enemy as the information about their strength is hidden by the blocks. Add this to the terrain and command control problems and you have a nice challenge ahead of you.


The process will be very familiar to veterans of Columbia Games’ block war games and they should be able to get into Borodino 1812, easily. The game turns move along at a reasonable pace but there are some interesting decisions to be made which will slow things down a bit. The French player definitely as the onus to attack, but this will shift to the Russians should the French succeed in taking Redoubts, which earn victory points.


The most obvious way to go is through the center of the battlefield. Yes, there are options to the north and south, but all three routes present plenty of obstacles which will slow you down and a smart Russian player will do all they can to position their units to take best advantage of a lot of defensible terrain features. The center route provides the tempting targets of the redoubts and in a close game especially, those victory points could make or break your plans.


Right, this is my first tactical game from Columbia Games and my first time with this system faced with the challenge of maneuvering a big ol army which is relatively slow and cumbersome, trying to keep it together, get enough units into position to assault specific targets, i.e. the Redoubts. Tricky stuff as I couldn’t have everyone fighting at all times, as you find in so many war games. I had to pick specific points of focus. I also had to manage my commanders and resupply at the right time to be able to keep some sort of momentum going but the truth is, it wasn’t easy to do that. I found that I would have intense periods of fighting, with mixed success, and then had to pause, regroup, use supply to gt back enough strength of command to restart. It occurred to me that this was in a sense, a view of what it must have been like to bring an army to bear in the Napoleonic era.

To put it simply, you will pick and choose carefully, which commanders to activate and when, whilst choosing whether to resupply them or individual units. You won’t be able to do it all, that’s for sure. A heck of a challenge.

The system works well and adds a few tweaks such as the need to use combined arms – maneuverability of Cavalry, Bombarding with artillery and straight-up assaults by infantry. You can also use cavalry charges and infantry can form squares

Did I like Borodino 1812?

This was definitely a different experience for me compared to the other block games that I’ve played. I played the 2 shorter scenarios as I just won’t be able to find the time to play the full campaign game. I found it a tough game to play. Not in complexity, but in the toughness of the nut that needed cracking. I think that this game is pretty much on a knife edge and that 2 skilled players will make for a closely fought game. It also feels cumbersome in that the armies ar big and not very mobile, instead, serve as blunt instruments, butting heads for the most part.

it feels right to me, indeed, I was challenged in trying to maximise damage to the enemy yet still try and keep my commanders in a position where they could maintain a cohesive approach. The terrain is a bear and trying to get the Russians out of the Redoubts was really tough as they take double hits.

I found that playing this game was fun and challenging. I prefer simpler games, in the interest of time but this is a nice change and fun for other reasons that stretch and push me. I think there is a stronger sense of a momentous event, that defined Napoleon’s Russian campaign.

Borodino 1812 looks and feels good. It will take me many more plays to get a sense of satisfaction from it I think. Right now, it is a sense of frustration and intrigue at the challenge of the game. What’s really interesting here, and to the credit of the designers, is that this feels like a deep game, and yet they’ve done it without adding another 20 pages of rules. It is very playable and that, for me, makes a real difference. I don’t want to lose the will to live. I want a game that is interesting, yet simple. Intriguing enough to make me want to come back and have another go.

Borodino 1812, does a pretty darn good job of grabbing my attention, building my curiosity and still keep it fun. I don’t consider it a light game as the tactical flavour of the decision making did make my brain ache but not because of the mechanics. Instead it was the toughness of the nut, represented by difficult terrain, and command and control issues which are at the heart of the game.

A really nice job.

For more information, including some very interesting historical background go to –

3 thoughts on “Review – Borodino 1812 from Columbia Games”

  1. Reblogged this on The Big Board and commented:
    Another detailed and thorough review from Boardgames in Blighty. This Columbia game appears to have some nice meat on the bones!
    As you know I was recently bemoaning the lack of depth and theme. Columbia appear to be doing it right here! Bravo. Napoleonics is notorious in the hex and counter world for being long on rules and complexity for a sometimes poor representation of the era and only fair to middling theme. If this review is solid like most others are here, then we got a winner!


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