Saturday, 12 September 2009

Napoleonic Wargaming

Napoleonic wargaming was never something that I particularly 'got into'. That is not to say that I have not tried; in fact at one time I owned quite a large French Napoleonic Army that contained numerous infantry, cavalry, and artillery units, including some Allied contingents. The problem seemed to be that the people I wargamed with at the time were only interested in fighting large battles, and my troops never seemed to fit in with the club's plans. In the end I left the club ... and eventually sold my collection.

A few years ago I began collecting the BATTLE OF WATERLOO series that was published by Del Prado. Each issue had a short booklet that described some aspect of the Napoleonic Wars in general or the Battle of Waterloo in particular. It was accompanied by a selection of pre-painted 25mm figures, and as a result I acquired a small collection of figures that represent units drawn from the various nations that took part in the Battle of Waterloo.

This collection has been sitting in storage in my wargames room ever since. When Paul Leniston started his Napoleonic Wargaming blog some time ago, I toyed with the idea of actually fighting some Napoleonic battles with my figures, especially as Paul's rules seemed to fit in with many of my own ideas about wargames design. Other projects then came along, and this idea was sidelined for the time being. It has not, however, been forgotten, and some of the recent work I have been doing with regard to writing the back-history of Laurania has resurrected the project somewhat.

Another reason is the publication of Neil Thomas's book entitled NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING (ISBN 978 0 7524 5130 5. Price £16.99. Published by THE HISTORY PRESS).

I already own his book WARGAMING: AN INTRODUCTION, and although it contains rules that do not quite fit in with my style of wargaming, they are very workable and well thought-out. I expected the same from this book, and I was not disappointed. The book is divided into three parts and three appendices:
  • Part One: Historical background
    • 1. The Old Regimes
    • 2. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars
  • Part Two: The Art of Napoleonic Warfare
    • 3. Napoleonic Strategy
    • 4. Napoleonic Tactics
  • Part Three: The Napoleonic Wargame
    • 5. Wargaming the Napoleonic Wars
    • 6. Napoleonic Wargames Rules
    • 7. Napoleonic Wargames Armies
    • 8. Napoleonic Wargames Battles
    • 9. The Wargame in Action
  • Appendix 1: Bibliography
  • Appendix 2: Figure Sizes, Scales and Prices
  • Appendix 3: Useful Addresses
What I like about this book is the fact that everything that someone starting out new to Napoleonic wargaming needs to know is here. It is a basic primer, but it does not set out to be anything other than that. I also like the author's attitude to his rules. For example he writes with regard to basing one's figures that 'The widths and depths provided below are suggestions only – there is absolutely no need to re-base existing wargames armies in order to play these rules, although base widths should ideally be consistent.'

Bravo for common sense!


  1. So you skipped his Ancient & Medieval Rules then? Interested to see how the 8 units a side thing works with Napoleonics.

  2. Trebian,

    I would have bought it had I seen it on sale just because I try to support all wargames publications if I can.

    The eight-a-side idea sounds interesting; time - and possible play-testing - will see if it works.

    All the best,


  3. Bob, I've had this book for about ten days and am writing a review for Henry at Battlegames. Part of the review process will be fighting some battles with my school wargames club - I think the boys will enjoy the game, which has some neat ideas, like the special rules for different nations/armies. But I do feel that these rules are simply a good, 'fun' set for a toy soldier game [nothing wrong with that!], wrapped up in a great deal of indifferent padding and glossy, irrelevant photos. Thomas claims his game portrays battles between armies; in reality, he has a mixture of small units acting at a low tactical level - bath-tubbing as practised by the old school, rather than a genuine army-level game. In the old days of our youth, such rules would have been published as a card-cover pamphlet, not a complete book, at a fraction of the price!

  4. arthur1815,

    Having now had the opportunity to read the rules at length, they are very much in line with what you say - they are 'fun' rules and nothing much more.

    However any wargames book that has the potential to encourage more people to become wargamers - and to my mind this book has that potential as it is essentially a primer with some simple rules - is a good thing and should be given some support. You are right about the padding - particularly the pictures which don't seem to have much to do with the text.

    It is not in the same league as Paddy Griffith's NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING FOR FUN (which I understand is now back in print thanks to John Curry) but at least it is available in the bigger bookshops and is being bought.

    I would give it a score of 8 out of 10 for some of the rules mechanisms and 7 out of 10 overall.

    All the best,


  5. Agreed, any book that helps encourage its readers to take up the hobby is good - but I wonder how many youngsters would be put off by the lengthy Historical Background and never read as far as the rules? Contrast the maps and battlefield in Quarrie's Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature!
    Are youngsters used to the Warhammer style presentation going to be impressed by this book? I feel neither the author nor his publishers have a clear idea who their target audience is and how best to address them...
    But perhaps you and I can tweak these rules into a better army-level game?

  6. arthur1815,

    The problem with so much wargames publishing these days is the triumph of visual design over content.

    The 'Warhammer' generation wants full colour, lots of diagrams, and 'codex' guides on how to create an army. None of the wargames books on sale that I have seen - other that those produced by GW, FOW, or Osprey - have that, and are judged - rightly or wrongly - against that standard.

    You are probably right about the writer and publisher not knowing their market ... but then again, who is to say that GW, FOW, and Osprey have got it right? Certainly not the 'old schoolers', of which - I suspect - am slowly becoming a member! (I get my bus pass next February!)

    I would certainly consider trying to 'tweak' the rules to make them more army-level (e.g. one base per battalion would be a start, with each of the eight 'units' representing a regiment/brigade - not quite army-level, but certainly approaching corps-level) but I am trying to resist yet another project at the moment!

    I hope that the play-tests with your pupils go well,

    All the best,



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