A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Big Shiny Wargames Rules Books - and the occasional nugget

Every now and then I thin out my collection of wargames rules, and each time the process is roughly the same.

(1) I cannot find something that I know is in the bookcase somewhere - perhaps it's in the overflow area - well, maybe it's in the overflow area for the overflow area...

(2) What on earth is this? - I didn't know I had this rule set - when did I buy/download this? Let's have a cup of coffee and a browse for a minute.

(3) Hmmm - nicely put together, but I'm never going to use these. Put them in the OUT pile...

(4) Now - where was I?

In this way, I have had most of the Napoleonic rules you can think of at some time or other. The life-cycle is obscure - usually I can't remember buying them - they sneak in under the radar from somewhere, often via eBay, I guess - I have a preliminary read when they arrive, get bored or alienated part-way through and then forget all about them. I am constantly reminded, as I have discussed here before, how fashions change. There was a time when rules came in stapled booklets, sometimes with a few card pull-outs for templates and key tables, and the cover illustration would be done by someone who knew the uniforms but couldn't draw for toffee - the sort of artwork now found only on Odemars boxes.

However, at present there are a lot of big, very impressive hardback rules volumes on sale - I just did a quick scan of Amazon, and found all sorts - often retailing at around the £30 mark, usually around 200 pages, and copiously illustrated. The cost puts me off most of them anyway, but also many seem to be picture books about the whole subject of wargaming. They are attractive, and I quite enjoy looking at this sort of thing (though I probably wouldn't choose to own many), but often they appear to be written for newcomers to the hobby. Field of Glory looks nice (though anything published by someone called Slitherine somehow puts me on my guard - someone may think it's trendy and now, but it puts me in mind of a period many years ago when I used to have to try to take seriously commercial software companies with names like Shadowfax). I haven't read the Black Powder book (books?), but it looks (they look?) terrific. And then there's the Neil Thomas books, which seem to get a mixed press - all potentially of interest. Anything which promotes the hobby and attracts new people to it is to be welcomed, I suppose, but we have to be sure to remember why we are buying what we are buying.

So it came as a surprise to find I have no less than 3 big shiny books which I haven't read yet. Since they all finish up in the same end of the Tall Books shelf, their threeness was made even more obvious. In the kind of phoney war period just before Christmas, when the visitors haven't come yet but I have put away my paints in readiness, I got the Big Three down and had a look.

I have the Wargames Foundry Napoleon book by Matthew Fletcher - I have it because it was on a half-price offer and they were offering free shipping on paints if you bought a book. Ker-ching. The book is fun - it is exactly the sort of promotional view of Foundry's gnomish figures you would expect. The rules are wordy and quite Grand Manner-ish - laborious handling of skirmishers, for example - but they appear to boil down to a 2-page QRS - which you would have to photocopy if you wanted to make use of it. The rest is a hotch-potch of history, painting guides, pictures and more pictures - only some of which are relevant to the text. I enjoyed looking at the book, but will never refer to it again, will never attempt to read it right through, and am left thinking that it falls between two stools - it is too padded to be a useful presentation of a rule set, but the tables and so on make it far too fiddly a read for someone looking for a general introduction. Nice though...

Next to it is Lasalle, from Sam Mustafa's Honour series. Now I'm not going to say anything critical about Lasalle - it has a lot of enthusiastic followers, and looks like a good game, though I'm not crazy about the Command rules. I also have a faint concern that Mustafa - not noted for accepting the views of others - might arrange for a horse's head to be placed in my bed if I make any dissenting noises. I am actually a fan - I have played Grande Armée, and I liked Fast Play Grande Armée (which really only existed in unpublished, beta-test form), though eventually I was disillusioned when the Command rules did not provide the degree of Fast Play I was looking for. My main gripe against Prof Mustafa is that he seems to have given up on Bluecher - the grand tactical bit of the Honour series which was the one I was really waiting for - but his credentials are well established - his games are played by many experienced people, and I am sure they work well. I am disappointed that my (second hand) copy of Lasalle shows signs of splitting down the spine - this is not a cheap production - but it is all there, including a heavy duty pull-out QRS. Looks good, actually - I have decided I will have a serious go at Lasalle sometime soon.

The most surprising one of the three is the rule book for Napoleon at War, which is the new figures-&-rules-&-concept-&-packaging move from the man who brought us NapoleoN Miniatures. The figures are 18mm - I have only seen pictures - and I have no intention of buying any, but I bought the book for old time's sake. It is clearly related to the old NapoleoN rules - the hexes are gone, but the interesting rule whereby moving and manoeuvring is slower and more difficult when close to the enemy is still there, overall the game looks sensible and well thought out and the translation into English is a lot smoother. For me, it does have the advantage of being aimed at the sort of big battle I enjoy most. There is a little bit of the rules which I took a great liking to - it is maybe not that significant - it may not even be original (some of the NapoleoN systems were said to be borrowed from Flames of War, for example, which is a noble tradition), but I liked the simplicity.

It is in the very basic area of casualty calculation. Personally I cannot be bothered keeping written rosters, I don't care for casualty markers or miniature dice (though I have used them), and I don't want singly-based figures (too much hassle and too many broken bayonets) - I like my units to be either still in action or not - or at least to be disabled in big enough lumps to make the handling and the arithmetic easy and the level of attrition to be immediately visible. I like my casualties to come off in complete subunits or not at all. The NaW rules have infantry battalions which typically comprise 6 square bases each of 4 figures; the approach is buckets-of-dice - each base in the front row gets 2D6 when they fire (only 1D6 if they are moving, or being charged for less than a full move), and a 4 or better on each dice gets you a hit - there are further adjustments for cover and troop class and all that, but basically Peter Young would recognise this as a good standard approach. And then there is a Saving Throw - before you groan out loud, it is a Saving Throw such as I have not seen before, though you may have.

Each complete 4 hits removes a base, and any odd hits left over are the subject of a 1-dice Saving Throw (carried out by the owner of the target unit). If the dice comes up greater than the number of odd hits, then you forget them - if not, you lose another base. I like it - it is crude enough for me to be able to remember it, it gets the commander of the target unit involved in the firing process, and makes the "luck" element of the game lumpy enough to be entertaining. I do not use 4-man bases, but I do use 6-man bases, and it occurs to me that the same mechanism would work just as well for them. No doubt I'll forget I read this too, but - if only briefly - I did like it.


  1. Hi Tony - Those big shiny rule books get me every time but always seem to disappoint slightly. I have to say though that I only ever look at the pictures and never get as far as trying the rules. I bought my copy of Fire&Fury (surely the original glossy) in the mid 90s and still haven't played them!


  2. I purchased Lasalle not too long after they came out. One thing I dislike is the bounce through for artillery. Suddenly a battery had plenty of power, which may be accurate, but the extra time working out the bounce through slowed it down. Plus Sam seems to have no concept of physics, as cannons do indeed have certain ranges, but the ball would not continue to bounce the entire length due to obstacle and friction after it hit the ground.

    I also was able to get him to fess up to why he made all the British units as veterans and many of the French units were trained. His answer? Game balance! I sold mine on eBay shortly after that. Sure, you could use your own brigade stats for the ratings of the battalions within, but many do not understand the basis for Sam's cookie-cutter approach and would sneer at an attempt to alter it.

    I'd sell it. I didn't enjoy it enough. As far as Blucher, I think you're reading my mind, he gave up on it. His new project out in 2012 with cards probably won't last either.