The jokes were inevitable as French troops battle Islamic fighters in Mali: France surrenders to a handful of ragtag guerrillas, or French weapons for sale, never used and dropped once. Sacre bleu! Those who mock French martial prowess should remember that 200 years ago, the world wasn't laughing at cheese-eating surrender monkeys. They were on their knees begging God to save them from Napoleon's armies. With that in mind, FP takes a look at five historical simulations of France at war.
1. Citadel. With French paratroopers descending on Timbuktu, this is probably not a good time to recall Dien Bien Phu. Although a defeat, the French paratroopers and Foreign Legionnaires (the same sort of troops fighting in Mali now) fought with legendary ferocity and valor. Citadel is a board game where one player control the French Union forces (a polyglot colonial mixture of French, Algerians, Moroccans, Thais, and Vietnamese), and the other player controls the Viet Minh. The Viet Minh have a horde of infantry and artillery, plus the minor tactical advantage of having the French surrounded in an isolated jungle valley. The French have fortifications, air support, ten light tanks, and the élan of the paratroopers and legionnaires. Of course, Mali isn't Vietnam and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is not the Viet Minh. But if there is a sudden buying spree of Bernard Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place, it might be time to look for an exit strategy.
2. They Shall Not Pass: The Battle of Verdun, 1916. An army of dairy-loving, cowardly simians does not endure 400,000 casualties in a ten-month struggle for a muddy, shell-pocked lunar landscape. This board game covers the epic battle in which the Germans intended to bleed France -- a battle that defined the word "attrition" -- but the Germans were bled white themselves. Verdun was a pyrrhic victory for France, but it was a victory of endurance and determination.
3. Campaign Austerlitz. The sun rose on French arms in this computer game of the most glorious of Napoleon's victories. Campaign Austerlitz puts you in charge of the French Grande Armee, or the larger but clumsier Austrian and Russian forces. Both sides pound each other with cavalry charges, artillery cannonades, and infantry assaults. The Austro-Russian forces have numbers on their side (and God, too, at least in their own minds), but the French have better troops and commanders. Fortunately for Napoleon, he was wrong when he said that "God is always on the side of the bigger battalions."
4. Empires in Arms. The French aren't backing down in this huge, strategic-level board game of the Napoleonic Wars. It's the other armies, like the Prussians and Austrians, who get beaten down by the French again...and again...and again, like German-speaking bowling pins. With a large economy, the most powerful army in Europe, and the genius of commanders like Napoleon, France is the strongest power in the game. It can be subdued only by the combined efforts of the other European nations.
5. Napoleon's Last Battles. Napoleon lost Waterloo, but it was the "nearest run thing you ever saw in your life," said the Duke of Wellington, who had survived too many battles with the French to dismiss them as white-flag wavers. Napoleon's Last Battles is four smaller board games in one, with each game covering a specific battle in the Waterloo campaign (Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo). Or, all four can be linked together for a grand campaign game. If the British and Prussian armies can unite against the concentrated French army, they can cast Napoleon into bitter exile on a barren rock in the South Atlantic. But it will be far from easy.
Underestimate France at your peril. Vive L'Empereur!