Sunday, 26 February 2023

Rules for Napoleonic wargaming: so easy my pet could write them

My pet computer, at least.

Cover pages of a small selection of available rules for Napoleonic wargaming. Collected yesterday from Wargame Vault*.


While trying to catch up on some of the (too many) blogs that I follow I came across a marvellous post by Roly over at 'Dressing the Lines'.

He describes a really interesting exercise in which he and his son got the latter's AI program to write a set of rules for Napoleonic wargaming. The result is broad and pretty generic in execution, but impressive from an evening’s ‘work’. About as much ‘innovation’ as modern writers of rules come up with too! The two versions of the introduction to the rules, written by the AI are brilliant. Especially the humorous one.

I recommend the post to you if you have not read it already.

*I wanted a bit of a 'mash-up' of covers of rules for Napoleonics to use as the piccie for this post. Unable to find one I made one of my own by going to Wargame Vault, getting it to list rules for Napoleonic land warfare and then copying the covers. Interestingly, I only knew of a few of these previously and managed to obtain a couple of them in the process (oh dear!). Actually, I have changed my tune from 'there are too many rules for Napoleonics' to 'we are spoilt for choice, with options to suit most scales and tastes'. Albeit the latter has the caveat of my well-known frustration (to people who bother to read what I write) of 're-packaging' of existing mechanics into something purporting to be 'new'...

As part of my catching up on blogs, I have had a couple of 'discussions' involving responses to comments and follow-up. One of these with Robbie over at 'The Independent Wargames Group' lead him to recommend that I read a post from several years ago of his interview with Chales Wesencraft. Interesting stuff in the entirety (two posts), but one response from Charlie particularly resonated with me:

"Wells said that wargaming was like chess with a thousand pieces. It's not, and never will be. Wargamers are individuals, each has a view about how to wargame and each has a view about what they want from a game. That's one of the wonderful thing about wargames. That and the military history. It's amazing what you learn as you research a period."

I had not been doing much with figures over our early summer. A little prep. and painting but mainly mucking about with other things during 'hobby time'—especially army lists for future historic re-fights of Napoleonic battles and to ascertain what figures I still 'need' for my megalomania. I went into my shed last weekend to 'engage' with figures for the first time in around three weeks or so and also finally took some time to look at blogs.

Who knows, I may even have something worth posting in a bit...

Sunday, 18 December 2022

Bataille Empire passes the first reading

Cover of the French Edition
Before we begin:

Rules authors, can you please, please stop treating us like mugs who came down in the last shower? The notion that you sat in a vacuum, surrounded only by your own brilliance, as you went 'back to the sources*' to create a set of rules from scratch is not supported in the least by the evidence. Taken on face value, your ability to come up with mechanics, and even entire paragraphs, that mimic rules produced before your 'epiphany' suggest an amazing repeatability of the process of writing rules (and a worry for human innovation). Bataille Empire are certainly not alone in this frustrating characteristic, just the most recent example that I have read.

(*Not to mention the complete bunkum of the concept that one has read all available literature. Anyone who has completed a PhD, or any academic research, will appreciate the near infinite nature of 'the literature', such that reviews are always bounded by specificity of topic, time, scope and/or other factor(s). Take your hands off it fellas...)

Rant done? Unlikely. I'll keep making the point as long as I keep finding evidence of it. With at least 17^, more sets of rules that I plan to read, possibly also to try and to assess, there will be more.

^Jonathan Freitag, author of the marvellous Palouse Wargaming Journal recently sent me a copy of "Old Trousers" (from a now long out of print volume of The Courier). They look interesting, definitely worth a read and likely a test too. The potential appeal is greater since they are a brigade-scale set of rules and I have fewer of these (around 13 at current count) to read and perhaps to try. Author Howard Whitehouse is already up a level in my estimation with this simple paragraph in his introduction:

"The die rolling for Leadership Points per division is essentially stolen from De Bellis Antiquitatis. Don Featherstone's recent rules are an influence, as are Paddy Griffith's divisional and army level games from his overlooked classic 'Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun' and Andy Callan's "Dark Age Infantry Slog". There may be something I made up myself in there somewhere”.

How refreshing is this?

Rules authors take note (most of you, at least). It ain't that difficult. You are not an island. Let us know where the inspiration(s) came from and how you have adapted, tweaked or added to them. This makes a 'new' set of rules more valid, rather than less. Added to which, there is an immediate increase in credibility and professionalism, not to mention the reduction in (unintended) plagiarism#.

#I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Deserving or otherwise.

Whitehouse also states:

“...anyone showing lawyerly persnickettiness be ducked under a bucket of icy water. Then again, that’s always good advice.”


Back to the topic

Bataille Empire seem promising to me, on reading.

They are principally another 'Empire-successor' set. Similarly to General d'Armée, to name but one, Bataille Empire includes a range of familiar concepts and mechanics, plus the odd nuance, to produce a novel whole. Also like General d'Armée, the rules are written for corps level actions. Larger scale games are possible, but will require some tweaks and/or house rules.

I got the version in English as a pdf.

Here are some of the key characteristics and mechanics that I am sure you will recognise, many remind me of Empire, others come from elsewhere:

  • Detailed orders that define what units must do and cannot do; charges, reactions to enemy and the like.
  • Commanders have a number of command points, determined by a die roll and modified by the commander's quality ('command value'). The command points of the C-in-C (corps commander) may be used to change orders of a division, to activate reserves (a specific version of the same thing), or to allocate to a divisional commander to assist him in his command. A divisional commander uses command points to activate groups or individual units. In both cases, it costs a point if within command radius, two if not.
  • Units are defined by type, class and level. A manoeuvre class and special abilities (characteristics) are added to these.
  • An average unit represents around 600 infantry, 300 cavalry and a battery of 6–8 guns. The rules suggest adjustments of ±25% to produce small and large units respectively. The suggestion is to group small units to reach the minimum size and to divide really large units into two standard ones. [I will adapt this for my playtest (basing and tastes), but will explain this when we get to a game.]
  • All distances are expressed in generic units. In this case called UD (units of distance). A UD is flexible, but the suggestion is that it will be one and a half base widths and represent around 60 metres, although other suggestions are also made and the flexibility is there to adapt to any scale of figures and basing.
  • Losses are separated into a fatigue/disorder type (strangely termed 'attrition') and losses. A unit has a 'cohesion level' of a certain number of losses it can take before it loses cohesion and ceases to exist as a fighting formation. This is specified by unit size and type (inf/cav/art/skirmishers) with modifiers for better quality (+1) and poorer quality (-1).
  • Skirmish companies are not represented directly, rather by an SK factor of 0, 1 or 2. The slightly confusing terminology of 'integrated skirmishers' (for skirmish companies, abstracted to an SK1 or SK2; SK0 for none!) and 'detached skirmishers' (for battalions of infantry that are deployed in skirmish formation—these are represented on the tabletop) are used in the rules.
  • Movement is divided into tactical and operational. Operational is conducted by an entire division, over large distances, but the units must remain outside a prescribed distance from the enemy (8 UD).
  • Aspects like opportunity fire, opportunity charge, counter charge (and how they are specified) are all familiar concepts.
  • Mêlée/close combat, which is termed 'shock combat' in Bataille Empire "...does not necessarily represent a fierce hand-to-hand combat, but rather a confrontation of opponents' morale and a short-range firefight. The losses represent both dead, wounded and missing. A shock combat never lasts very long and there is always a winner and a loser at the end of the fight" (p. 57). A note below this paragraph in the rules explains that shock combat is a composite of activation of charge, response of defender, reaction of attacker to any defensive fire and eventual resolution of any resulting mêlée.
  • Certain actions prevent units from acting again later in the turn. There is a nifty adaptation in Bataille Empire such that, rather than simply stating that, for example, a unit that fired earlier in the turn cannot opportunity fire, the rules use 'action markers'. Action markers are placed on units after certain actions (viz. makes more than one move or makes an operational move, fires, is engaged in shock combat or becomes disordered, reacts to being fired upon, artillery that was limbered and moves and/or unlimbers).
  • Fire arc and charge zone are both determined by an area that extends 45º from each flank of a unit.
  • Most of the specifics of rules and modifiers are also familiar, but I'll not list them here.

I provide this list for information and background to the rules. I do not see this as a limitation, but it does illustrate that the rules are a set derived and adapted from others.

What appeals

From this first reading of the rules, there are a number of aspects that appeal—and these far out-weigh those that do not.

- They are principally another 'Empire-successor' set....!

- The rules are well written, with clear headings and sub-headings as well as a table of contents that utilises the two levels of headings and an index. There is plenty of cross-referencing. Throughout the rules are copious, clear diagrams to illustrate the concepts that are explained in the text. The rules also include several notes about the designer's intent behind a particular rule/section of the rules.

Just one of the many clear and well-explained diagrams that accompany the text.

- The rules become clearer as you read through them. Some background and definitions are given early on, that leave the reader with questions, but these are used later in the rules and the use and detail of them becomes clear. I like the way that a picture of the rules 'opens up' in the reader's mind the more and more you read.

- The English version reads really well. I was a little concerned when I was offered that version as my translation of French is preferable to a copy written in poor English. I need not have worried. I suspect that Hervé Caille has a good grasp of the language, based on a brief email from him when I purchased the rules, but there is also a list of acknowledgements regarding the English translation, so it had the input of 'native speakers'.

- You get a lot for your cash. I paid the princely sum of €5 for a pdf version. For that I received a beautifully formatted 36.5 MB file of 256 pages! I printed and spiral-bound the first 91 pages (the rules), leaving the remaining pages of sample scenarios and long and detailed army lists in electronic format only. In writing this, I have realised that I must add the final page, the index for the rules, to my printed copy...

- Still on 'a lot for your cash', pages 92–102 provide introductory scenarios: a fictitious combat to begin with, Maida, Elchingen, Jakubowo and Plancenoit. Pages 103–254 provide data for the armies of all nations, large and small. I could not think of any that are missing—the Kingdom of Sardinia is there. People will argue about such factors until the cows come home (and go out to pasture again), but it is super useful to have them specified, by the author, in great detail, for units across the years of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, by unit and then for suggested army mixes. I can take them as read or tweak them to my hearts content. They are a fabulous resource in their own right. Well worth €5 on their own! [The rules begin with an introduction to the period, types of troops, formations and so on. While too general for an 'old grumbler' this is useful background for a beginner and also helps to explain some of the mechanics that follow.]

Value for money and then some! Excerpts of tables for one of the 23 nations that are provided over 150 pages after the rules. How many such lists include the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies?! There is accompanying text which provides some background to the army, where and when it fought during the period and organisation of the formations. Tables present types of units and factors for the rules as well as sample army lists for different periods of the wars.

- The rules are 'dense'. These are not a fast play set. There are quite a few steps to each turn and several factors for each test. Not the most detailed rules around in any way, shape or form, but they are more involved than most 'modern', simple rules that have you set-up, play, clear resolution and back on the street within two to three hours. I prefer the detail.

- Most of the specifics of the rules such as characteristics of different unit types and classes, a clear specification of orders and clearly specified actions and reactions appeal. I really like the rules for movement/manoeuvre and for passage of lines. Both sides take losses as a result of a mêlée ('shock combat'). At first, I was not sure about the 'action markers', but I think they are a good idea and save remembering what unit did what earlier in the turn! The suggestion in the rules is to represent these with cotton wool, which I think will add to the visual effect of the game.

-The additions of other mechanics as well as the changes and tweaks to the Empire-esque 'framework' read well, seem sensible and I expect, in the main, will make for a good system.


As I mentioned above, the aspects that concern me are fewer than those that appeal.

- The use of 'pips' for command activation. They are not the worst example, for my tastes, being more reminiscent of Polemos' tempo than of de Bellus Multitudinis' straight pip die roll. Also, having command points (as Bataille Empire terms them) at the corps and division level, with an ability to transfer them from the corps to divisional commander(s), should mean that it does not result in entire formations sitting around and twiddling thumbs. I'll see how they go with use.

- While I like the unit characteristics, I am not sure about the addition of 'special characteristics'. These include modifiers related to cuirass/half cuirass, lance, rifles and large/small sized units. These seem fine. Others such as élan, fast, good shooter, impetuous, poor shorter and tenacious I am not so sure about. Still, it is not a biggie, as I'll simply ignore them if I do not agree with them (although not in the initial playtest**).

- The specification of the order of activation of divisions by orders (retreat first, then manoeuvre, then attack, then engage, then hold) seems odd.

- Within a division's tactical activation, 'preparatory fire' by skirmishers and artillery are conducted prior to charges and 'shock combat', but regular firing is conducted last (although firing can and will occur as part of the mêlée ('shock combat') resolution). I am not certain that I like this timing of events. It is, of course, because the intense firing is included as part of 'shock combat', as described in the dot points above. We'll see.

Revised edition

I found only a few typos, or mistakes as I read through. Those that I found are pretty minor and it can be worked out fairly easily what is meant. For example, an infantry, cavalry and artillery unit are often referred to as 'an infantry', 'a cavalry' or 'an artillery', that is without the 'unit'. More serious errors occur in a few of the descriptions of modifiers. For example, a morale test is required when a unit suffers a loss from enemy fire (loss only not attrition). In the results of the morale test there is a special condition that if an unlimbered artillery fails a test it must immediately limber and flee, if its manoeuvring class allows it. Presumably, if the manoeuvring class does not allow it (Class C), then the gunners will flee without their guns? Later, in the modifiers for Shock Combat, charging cavalry receive a positive modifier for light, medium and heavy. Trouble is the modifier reads +1/+2/+2/+3! I had assumed that the second +2 was a typo. and, indeed, that is the case on the quick reference sheet, where this has been corrected. There may be a few more as I did not read the descriptions of all of the modifiers—that can be done when I use the rules.

Nevertheless, the errors seem to be few and/or extremely minor, so an errata would do the trick. There are errata available on the website, but these relate mainly to the army lists. Apparently, a file of errata is not enough and a second version is in production "I confirm we are currently working on a new version to include clarifications and small details that are missing." I'll likely avoid any second edition as experience suggests that the first is generally the best while second editions suffer from too many inputs and unnecessary additions. That from someone who is an incessant tweaker of rules!

On to a playtest...

I can see already that I would adjust a few things, if I were to use these more than once, but for the initial playtest I will do the rules, and Msr Caille, the honour of using them 'as writ'**.

Saturday, 10 December 2022

(not quite) Quatre Bras—testing March Attack

Last weekend's session in Albany inspired me to 'change tack' with Napoleonics. I will work on my figures for 1815 so as to be able to play out Quatre Bras (and later Ligny and possibly even both). I want to see if I can achieve as well or better than Ney but, more importantly, to try out the legion of different rules that I have under consideration. 

I did not expect to put figures on the table for some weeks. I have more forces for the Hundred Days in a 'good enough' state than for any other campaign of the Napoleonic era, but it will still take time to finalise even those needed for Quatre Bras. Ah, plans and intentions. Such things are always fluid. Fast-forward to the middle of this week...

Stephen was coming out to catch up on Friday (yesterday) with Julian and me. A change in commitments meant that Julian was not able to make it, so we needed an alternative to a potential game trying out some of his 1/700th planes. I asked Stephen if he'd be interested in a game of 'not quite' Quatre Bras to test out the rules March Attack? He answered in the affirmative!

I only have French and British that are 'good enough' for the table, so adjusted the orders of battle to pit a British-Hanoverian advance guard (part of Picton's 5th Division) around the Bois de Bossu and Ferme de Gemioncourt against part of Reille's II Corps.

View from the French (south) side of the table. An oversized Ferme de Gemioncourt in the centre-right, Bois de Bossu left and above that, crossroads in the distance.

Above and below: modern views of the same from the website of J.F. Schmitz Photography. Circa September 2012 (sans Bois de Bossu). These are just two thumbnails of a series of gorgeous photographs in his 'album' Waterloo 1815.
In the end I only brought on Jérome's division, but it was enough for this playtest over a few hours.

Changes to the look of the game

I have been waiting to play March Attack since I first purchased and read them in 2018. They are an Empire-successor set, having taken Empire as their starting point and made some adjustments and changes to simplify the detail and, some would say, encumbrances of Empire (more on that later). A really clever concept in March Attack is the use of a grid of the quality grade of troops (untrained, militia, conscript, regular, veteran, élite, guard) with the strength in hundreds to produce a 'combat value' from 1 to 10 (even higher for units of over 1 000 men). Combat value is then used as the basis of firing, mêlée and losses. In the rules as writ, each unit is represented by just two bases. I knew from the outset that this would not suit me, so decided to have each of my bases represent a 'point' of combat value. This had the two-fold impact of a range of size of the units (and generally larger units) and also immediately being able to determine what the combat value of any unit is. For artillery, I would represent this by the number of artillerists, something straight from Empire, (although for this game all of my bases had three artillerists each, so we just had to remember).

These increases in the size of units meant that I needed to adjust the ground scale. March Attack uses the same ground scale as Empire: 1" represents 60 yards. While increasing this I wanted to make it a more 'natural' scale as well. Thinking about the frontage of my units in line (double bases) and approximate frontage of the units in reality, it seemed that an increase of about one-third should do the trick. I used this distance in inches, converted to yards (based on the now 1" represent 45 yards) and then metres and rounded to produce movement distances and ranges in mm. This rather bizarre and somewhat questionable mathematical approach gave me a ground scale of 1 mm representing 1.5 m (1: 1 500). Edited tables and notes on the quick reference sheet saved these for posterity (and use in the game!).

In a similar manner I decided to represent the skirmish combat value of a division with an equivalent number of skirmish bases. In a more-complex-than-the-average-wargame-rules calculation, skirmish combat rating is calculated from the sum of the combat value for each of line and light infantry, divided by a factor (which varies according to the skirmish combat rating of the army—good, average, poor—and whether line or light) which is rounded up if 0.5 or more. The resulting skirmish combat value for the line and light are then added to together to give the division's initial skirmish combat value. As with most things, it sounds far more convoluted in description than it is to do. It is, though, part of the considerable 'overhead' of preparation of army lists that is required for these rules. Doing army lists is a joy for people like me, but it is not for all...

The calculation above gives the skirmish combat value of the division, which can drop two levels as the division loses units (battalions and/or cavalry regiments only) to become 'shaken' and then 'spent'. Skirmish combat is conducted on an area basis with the total skirmish combat value of divisions in each area of the battle (which is left to the players to decide) are compared and the side with the higher value rolls on a table based on the difference in skirmish combat rating to determine impacts (loss of one or more combat value of a unit(s) of the opponents).

The rules intend for this to be a completely abstracted concept, but I like the look of skirmishers on a table and, once again, having the number of skirmish bases represent the skirmish combat value saves looking up the orders of battle during the game. Having only one 'front' in this small game, the French had the advantage in skirmish combat (just three), so were able to produce a few losses of combat value to some of the British-Hanoverian units.

With that, let's go back to the table...

My deployment was pretty ordinary, as happens so often when I think more about the rules and game. The lead battalion of the 1er légère charged a battalion of Hanoverians, taking three losses of combat value form the defender's fire and that of their artillery mates, causing them to halt at 25 mm-ish. These rules are brutal.
Skirmish combat (exchange of musket v rifle fire) around the Bois de Bossu. But hang on, there is no tactical skirmish formation or combat. What? It's amazing how such big things can slip past when reading rules. That would not do. We made modifiers on the fly and the exchange occurred; in favour of the rifles inside the wood.
Those cheeky Hanoverians added insult to injury by charging my weakened and demoralised  battalion of the 1er légère. They had lost another 'point' of combat value to further fire from the artillery—fire is simultaneous and occurs in each of the players' phases. Demoralisation has two levels D1 and D2 and I represented it with the bases with the little 'pimples'.
The battalion broke (combat value of zero).
Not to be deterred, I sent the next battalion against those Hanoverians (who had again been demoralised), this time breaking through.
They pressed on and joined the other two battalions of the 1er légère in attacking those dastardly rifleman. Three to one advantage, surely they would be toast? Perhaps not. Stephen was consistently out-rolling me in mêlée.
Time for some casualty figures to represent the outcome.

We had played three turns, not bad for a new set of rules with a break for lunch, so it was now the 'last turn special'.

The luck was not all one way though. My die rolling for artillery fire had been excellent—low values are good here. Having caused a 50% loss of combat value to the unit in Ferme de Gemioncourt, it was time to try an assault.

My 1/3e ligne had a combat value of six, no modifiers. Stephen's 1/28th line had a combat value of three, plus three for the defences. Odds even. It came down to the rolls of the dice. Stephen's superior die rolling in mêlée one the day!
March Attack has 'strategic' and 'tactical' movement rates, an adjustment of the grand tactical and tactical movement in Empire. I used strategic movement to put my lancers over on the British left flank (they moved about a kilometre and remained outside 'engagement range' (350 mm or some 525 m). In his phase of the turn, Stephen then charged his hussars in his phase of the turn, my lancers counter-charged so we got to test out a cavalry mêlée
One match up had my combat value four against his five, the other we were four each. Guess who rolled better?! :)
Xena was paying close attention to Steve. I am sure that her licking helped his die rolling hand!


As many of you will know, I have a real thing about plagiarism amongst the writers of rules wargames (here he goes again...)— or, at the very least, the lack of acknowledgement of influences and ideas from elsewhere. It is as if the ideas and mechanics of a set of rules came 'as a vision' to the author while in the shower. Mark Sims' March Attack, published in 2011, takes the cake in this. These rules are clearly derived from Empire. Some things are exactly the same, such as move distances, engagement range, the text in the mêlée results table (and much more). It is so glaringly evident. Yet, there is no mention of the influence anywhere. Not in the Introduction, nor in the Design Notes. This is very, very poor.

That said, the 'framework' of Empire is a good one to build on as far as I am concerned and Sims introduced some novel and clever mechanics to simplify the Empire rules. What results is different, but clearly derivative.

What I liked

The overall 'feel and look' of the game was okay. It does not take long to get the turn sequence and key mechanics in 'front of mind' and the tables are clear and easy to use.

The rules are well written and, in the main, clear. It was easy to find those aspects that we needed to check during the game.

The big moves and action in a nominally 20-miinute turn mean that once you order your troops to move, they move and once engaged things happen.

The innovation of the combat value as a combination of strength and quality of the unit is really clever. As with so many scales in rules for wargames, only a portion of the full range is used most of the time. Hence most units end up with a combat value of from four to seven. There are a few threes, the odd eight and fewer nines or tens. This is not a big limitation, but it does give a large weighting to the roll of the die in firing and especially in mêlée (see later).

What I did not like

The rules are not really sure of their scale. While supposedly a battalion/regimental scale game, it plays more like brigade scale and would probably work better as such. Most of my negatives would evaporate at that scale.

Lack of tactical skirmishing is not something that I could accept. I am in favour of having the divisional skirmish screen and skirmish combat, but there needs to be the ability to have skirmishes fight against one another, or perhaps against formed troops. Quatre Bras and Friedland are two prominent examples without having to think to much or remind myself of other battles.

Casualties from combat applying to the loser only. This means that are victorious unit could be in combat several times and emerge unscathed, while the losers incurred two or three losses of combat value (sizeable losses in effectiveness)!

Picking up on this, firing and combat are brutal. The rules are intended to be 'fast play', so this is certainly achieved. Units that engage in combat are reduced to nought pretty quickly. Firing is a bit slower, but nonetheless losses of one or two combat value points are common. This is a core to the rules. Such fast play is not for me.

I mentioned above that the rules are well written in the main. A glaring contrary to this is with regards to changes or removal of disorder markers. March Attack has two levels of disorder, D1 or D2. They both represent disorder, but one last longer than the other. The simple mechanic is that D2 reduces to D1 and it reduces to no disorder. This is fine, but exactly how this occurs is not clear. The rules state that this is the last part of each players tactical phase (charge/move, firing, mêlée, change disorder markers). If this is followed, disorder can have little impact. For example, my attacking battalion loses, takes loses retires a distance and receives a D2 result. In the very next part of my phase I recover the D2 to D1? Surely not? We played it as occuring at the end of the turn, after both players' initiative. I am often left wondering whether anyone ever proof-reads rules! Do play-testers actually read the rules and play the game, or are they simply lead through them by the author? March Attack are not a set that leaves me thinking this, apart from this one, fairly glaring and important aspect.


I put a lot of thought and a fair bit of effort into March Attack. Such is never time and energy wasted and certainly not in this case. The overall mechanics, feel and look are there for me. I was pleased that using bases as combat value worked and my 1/3 increase in ground scale and 'metrification' seemed okay. Representing the abstracted skirmish combat value as bases of skirmishers was good early on, needed a bit of work as the forces got into the nitty gritty, but wasn't a failure. It was great to have Stephen's thoughts and comments on the rules and our insertion of tactical skirmishing 'on the fly' did the job. Overall, I was sufficiently happy with the first outing to use them again. "They are worth another go" was Stephen's assessment.

So, not a set of rules for the (metaphorical) furnace. However, the one-sided effects of combat and fast-play elements are too much at the heart of the rules to change and are a bit of a sticking point for me. In reality, with 18 other sets of rules for what I consider Corps/Army games at Battalion/Regimental level that I want to put through the ringer, it is unlikely that they will see the light of day again for a while (if at all)—unless I convert them to brigade scale?! Next up will be Bataille Empire.

As ever, it was a fine arvo', enjoying Stephen's company and wit, and appreciating his thoughts and suggestions about the rules.

Tangential Epilogue

Amongst the superb photos on the website of J.F. Schmitz Photography is this one of the old farm at the Quatre Bras crossroads. Poignant and pointed comment in an image, particularly given what occurred four years later.

I recall reading at the time about the demolition of the farm at the Quatre Bras crossroads in October 2016, but was taken back to it when a search for some background information about the buildings led me to this excellent, beautifully written post by Josh Provan "A Eulogy to Quatre Bras Farm". Well worth a read.

Of course, we cannot preserve and conserve all old buildings and sites. In this context one only has to consider the construction of the Lion Mound which forever altered the field of Waterloo all those years ago, or the lack of the Bois De Bossu in the photograph above from J.F. Schmitz. Surely these represent as great a loss as the old farm at the crossroads? Difficult choices are made and vested interests and the needs of the day will often have more weight than preserving the past. The Ferme de Quatre Bras joined the many, many sites, buildings and aspects of the past that first come to exist only in memory and then in books and writing. One of the great joys of our hobby is to bring the past back to life and in doing so to try to learn more about it and to do honour to the memory and the people involved.

Thursday, 1 December 2022

Quatre Bras in Albany

A few weeks ago John and Mitch called me to see whether I'd be interested/available to join them for a game down in Albany (at Mitch's place and HQ of the Serpentine Wargaming Club). The short answer was 'yes, provided that date 'worked'. On checking, it did, so I was 'in'.

After an enjoyable and uneventful 400-odd km Friday afternoon drive, I joined Mitch and John, along with Steve R and Steve W (who had travelled a similar distance from Perth). The other fellas had arrived before me, so all were discussing the coming game over a Friday arvo' bevy. I soon joined them. We decided on players for the coming contest. I would be French (naturellement) and would be 'joined' by Steve R., or more to the point, I wold join him as he would play as Ney as well. Mitch and Steve W. would take the Anglo-Allied. Steve W. had not played Napoleonics before, something that did not hamper him in the least.

After a meal at a pub in town, we returned to begin proceedings...

French ready for the off'. Anglo-Allied troops not yet visible (really?), so represented as 'blanks'.
After our first turn of advance, a few of the Dutch-Belgian defenders have become clear to us (within about 900 m at the nominal ground scale).
Our plan was simple and pretty straight forward, or so I/we thought. I would take the weaker brigades of Foy's division, along with Hubert's brigade of chasseurs à cheval, charged with performing a holding attack against the enemy around and in Gémioncourt. Meanwhile Steve with Jérôme's infantry and Wathier's lancers, the best troops in the army, would make a pivoting, right hook attack along the near-vacant north-east ridge, driving towards Quatre Bras.
I sent Jamin's brigade against the Dutch on the small ridge west of Gémioncourt. Note the Dutch square beside the farm, brought about by the charge of Hubert's 1e chasseur à cheval, who duly 'bounced', retiring back down the road.
Jérôme's infantry advanced slowly and steadily towards the Materne stream, although Wathier's lancers had 'hiccoughed' and missed a turn of movement—a 'hesitant' roll for activation. This was despite Steve having added an aide de camp to obtain a re-roll, making the quite sizeable 1 in 3 chance of a hesitant result from a single attempt a 1 in 9 one of two rolls. Each is a straight roll, no modifiers.
View west to east with French at right.

An attempt by Marbais' lead battalion to storm Gémioncourt failed, the attacking 1/92e ligne retiring through their second battalion causing them to be unformed.
Meanwhile, Jamin's 100e ligne attacked the Dutch on the small ridge...
...failing and incurring a few casualties.
To the east of Gémioncourt, Marbais' 1/93e ligne suffered at the hands of Stievenaar’s Belgian artillery, aka Steve W's dice rolling!
Back on Jérôme's (Steve's) flank, progress was slow, thanks to more rolls of less than '3' for activation.
Another overview from the west, Bossu wood in the foreground. Note the French chasseurs manoeuvring in that direction.

Another wiff from those Belgian guns sent the 1/93e packing. Now represented by the gap in the middle ground of photo)...

...and Marbais' brigade 'faltered' (I was lucky enough to convert this to a 'rally' in my next activation phase).
Over on the French right, Steve had managed to activate Baudin's infantry and Wathier's cavalry (the latter were to fail for over half of the turns of the game), but not Soye's infantry.
The delays meant that the Brunswickers and lead elements of Picton's 5th Division awaited them.
The latter linking up with Saxe-Weimar's Nassauers, who seemed to have acquired breechloading repeating rifles, such were Steve W's skills with the dice!

Back on the French left, the Dutch militia that had been forced into square in turn two, but had managed to survive the subsequent French artillery fire, now skulked behind Gémioncourt (left of photo).
Somehow I managed to miss another bit of minor glory from the 1e chasseurs whose charge
forced another of Bijlandt's militia into square (bottom right of photo)—hence my advice to note them six photos above.
Finally some coordinated activation on the right and Jérôme's infantry moved to attack. Trouble is, all that 'hesitation' meant that the flank was now well populated with allied troops.
On the French left, it was the 'turn' of Jamin's infantry to be active (while Hubert's chasseurs looked on) and they duly seized the small ridge!
Another overview photo.
Those 'breechloading-repeater-armed' Nassauers had managed to drive off Marbais' artillery battery, causing the brigade to 'falter' again. This time I did not roll so well on the faltered brigade activation table!

Having a 'hesitant' brigade  is far more serious than 'just' preventing it from moving, as Steve now found out.
Being 'hesitant' yet again, Wathier's lancers sat back and watched as the Dutch chevaulégers rode straight past them and charged their accompanying horse artillery. This was despite the fact that they had moved to the position that they now occupied in order to engage the enemy. Bizarre in the very least.
Worse was to come. The Dutch duly broke the horse battery, causing Wathier's horsemen to 'falter'.
In line with his dice rolling for the game, particularly on the Saturday, Steve rolled poorly on the faltering brigade table and 'whoosh', the lancers were gawn!

We decided on one last turn, to see whether we French could achieve some 'dernier hourras'.

With the gloves off, on the left, Steve had his best turn of the game, causing no little discomfort to Picton's Highlanders.
That was, until he rolled a double six, producing a 'destiny' roll for Soye, leading to his 'unsightly demise'.

Over on my side, Jamin's lead battalion charge that Dutch square, resulting in an indecisive mêlée, causing casualties for both sides and a 'bounce' for the French.
Still, my troops continued to hold the hill, an 'important' objective for which I was awarded the legion d'honeur and given a marshal's baton... or something like that.

Summary & Thoughts

Shared joy

What an enjoyable weekend!

The game looked marvellous, the company was excellent and beer and other beverages flowed at a steady but not crazy rate. The game was brought to a conclusion in good time (1700 on Saturday) so that we could discuss it for a while before adjourning for an excellent meal of Indian food and passively watching a mindless and silly film ('Morbius') that takes far more liberty with science and reality than we had done with history. Stil, it sucked me in, has some speccie effects and a plot that doesn't test a tired wargamer's brain much!

A giant thank you to John and Mitch for hosting the game and providing a glorioius combination of venue, terrain and figures. Special mention to John for assuming the mantle of umpire and forgoing the pleasure of pushing his own figures around the table over his excellent terrain cloths.

The rules

I have now played three games using General d'ArméeAbbach, Abensberg (north) and Quatre Bras—each of them reasonably sizeable actions (for the rules) and played to conclusion in sessions over two-days. My impressions of the rules have not really changed since I first read them; instead firming after now thrice putting them through 'contact with the enemy' (i.e. use in a game).

The core mechanics of the rules, movement, firing, charging, combat seemed pretty reasonable on reading. After three games, they have improved in my estimation to 'robust'. The same cannot be said for command and control.

When I read the rules, I struggled with Brown's aide de camp version of a 'pip' system. The line in the rules is that they 'represent command ability'. On reading, I thought, "Why have an abstract system to 'represent command' and not simply represent it directly?" After Abbach I wrote that, "There remain a few doubts in my mind regarding the ADC system,... It is possible, with more use, that this system will show itself as a mechanic that is too stylised for my liking...". I was a bit more comfortable with it after Abensberg, but this game has demonstrated to me why I 'had reservations' with an example of the worst that can occur.

So, the rules are okay from my perspective, but they are a long way from being my 'go to' set. At their core, the system works well, but the game aspects are not for me and detract from the rules as a representation of a Napoleonic battle. Clearly Brown likes this sort of stuff in his rules. I had a similar and more direct experience with General de Brigade. It was an evening game at the Napoleonic Wargaming Society. I was moving up my French force of a couple of infantry brigades and some cavalry when I rolled a 'blunder' (double one is it?). I followed this with some other pitiful roll and my cavalry about turned and began heading away from the enemy, who were a long way away and I had intervening infantry between the two. There was no cause for this in the game. It was purely some bad rolling. Such completely random aspects are not for me. If I were to have General d'Armée as my 'go to' set, I would make some fundamental changes to the system of command and control (including 'destiny'). John is considering some changes/adjustments, so I'll be interested to see how they go in the next 'contact with the enemy'*.

Historical insights

This was the fifth time (at least) that I have played a re-fight of Quatre Bras. I'd have to look back to count exactly, but there were four, or more, during the bicentennial year of the battle. I'd also have to look back in detail to check the results, but I recall that in all but one the French performed worse than Ney and his men. The exception was a game using Napoleon's Battles where they did decidedly better, but it took Ney's considerable (really, really considerable) bonus in combat under those rules to make it happen. I am left wondering if I can do as well as Ney, let alone better. That is a project for another time, but this game has brought it back to front of mind, so it may now be brought forward quite considerably!

*More to come

There are plans for another weekend in Albany in a month or few. I look forward to it immensely. The joy of shared time, plenty of banter and laughter, enjoying the love (obsession) of the hobby with a fine group of gents far outweighs any limitations to General d'Armée (or other set of rules).

Game Info.


General d'Armée


As written, the rules are for actions of division to corps size.

Minimum unit of manoeuvre is a battalion.

Ground scale approximately 1 mm representing 1.5 m (1:1500)

Figure scale can vary and was nominally ~1:25 in this game


1/72 (mixture of Airfix, Esci, Hät, Italeri, Zvezda, 3D-printed) with a couple of Minifigs & Hinchcliffe 25 mm as well