IT WAS the morning of December 2, 1805. Exactly one year earlier Napoleon had been crowned Emperor of France. The hostility of other European powers to the expansionist ruler had resulted in various alliances, the most recent of which was the Third Coalition. Napoleon's response was typically aggressive. He had already scored military victories but needed a yet more decisive demonstration of his might.
Austerlitz the game is a prequel to Lothlorien's Waterloo; a one player war game that gives you a chance to play the Napoleonic side for a change. The French player has to contain the Allied armies, dealing as much damage as possible and avoiding unnecessary loss of life.
The game ends if the Austro-Russian army reaches the left hand border with at least 7,500 men or when losses reduce either side to six units or less, or under 20,000 men.
You can't afford to get carried away with the prowess of your troops because the mists which hung over the battlefield that morning created confusion as to where the enemy was, and the computer reproduces that by hiding the movement of Allied units until they are in the proximity of your troops.
You can't afford to leave a gate open anywhere, and it's wise to use your faster moving cavalry to scout around areas where you think you may locate the Alliance, using the scrolling of the map to give you clues. It's probably also worth holding one or two units to move to trouble spots.
The map is in traditional wargame style, with the units represented by coloured blocks, the computer equivalent of cardboard counters. Every effort has been made to make it as large and clear as possible, so that it must be scrolled four ways to see the whole area, but the overlap isn't so great as to make you lose touch with what's happening elsewhere.
There are three main types of terrain - plain ground, ridges and frozen lakes - with streams, towns and castles dotted around. A strip along the bottom of the screen provides a menu for the single key command inputs, and messages appear in a separate overlayed window as necessary.
Once you've scrolled your way around the field you summon up a square cursor and choose a unit - a pity there's no joystick option for this. You can then look at details of morale and strength or the underlying terrain, or you can make a command.
Those can be on two levels. On the corps level you have a more sophisticated choice of options for each of the six corps commanders, such as movement, engage the enemy, retreat fast or withdraw.
The commander will take the three units under his command with him, though he may see fit to challenge your decision if it brings him into contact with the Alliance or results in heavy losses. At first it's wise not to overrule these objections as the commanders have more up-to-date information than you and a degree of intelligence.
The other level of command is to control individual units, and though that is slower it is necessary to regroup corps or draw up battle lines. You then exit the command mode and sit back to watch the blue blocks move in turn around the map.
Combat is resolved, with corps flashing as they take losses, the scale of which is displayed to the nearest 500. After which the computer takes its turn at moving and combat.
This is all very much the stuff of traditional wargames. In fact, apart from the hidden movement this could almost be a board game, though at least the computer takes care of all the book-keeping and calculations. However, I can't see it winning many friends among the uninitiated, who will probably find it rather slow. Not that the response times are slow - it's just that not a lot seems to happen. The whole thing may prove rather confusing too, and maybe it was a feature of the artificial intelligence, but I'm sure that one of my commanders was disobeying orders.
While it avoids the pitfalls of many early micro wargames Austerlitz is still far from perfect and it would be nice to see more originality taken in approaching this genre. Nevertheless, those who are interested in military problem-solving should enjoy challenging it at any of its three levels of difficulty.
Programmer: Ken Wright