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'**.


  1. Not a problem planning to play a new set of rules 'as is ' the first time. Especially to give new mechanics a try. Otherwise you risk changing the new rules into your own. Again and again.

  2. Much to digest: first, thank you for the well done in depth analysis of these rules (as always). I found your general insights on research and the authorial stance of many rules writers to be most trenchant. The Dunning Kruger Effect comes to mind (as does the inverse for accomplished researchers and academics). Although I recognize that wargame rules do not need to conform to the same rigorous citation standards as peer reviewed papers and studies, I share your chagrin when I am subjected to paragraphs explaining some vision of "friction" (for example) to justify what is, in fact, a derivative DBA/Pip activation rule mechanic common to so many systems--and failing to spend a few words to acknowledge both the source and the fact that you are not really doing anything new here.

  3. Another solid overview of the rules' mechanisms accompanied by your honest assessment. What is not to enjoy?

    I may be beyond the life cycle of looking for more Napoleonic rules, though.

    I agree with Joe, above, that it is best to play RAW a few times before properly assessing their worth and need for modifications.

  4. There seem to be quite a few derivatives of the Empire system. We have played a homegrown set and they seem equally as dense as what you have described above, with some elements quite familiar. I too like a detailed set, and three hours to finish a game does not seem overly complicated.

  5. A pretty comprehensive review James - I must agree with the implication that there is little or nothing new and/or unique in commercially available rules - perhaps the only exception I would make is the WWII system Crossfire - but then, I don't know the history of wargame rules, so the ideas I think seem unique in that set, may have already been used in the 60's!

  6. Great review that made me chuckle! I've picked up General de armee( I can't help it!) in spite of the fact that we'll probably stick with Blackpowder as we finally seem to know what we're doing!
    Best Iain

  7. Thanks for the review, James. I enjoyed it (and the commentary about author hyperbole). I had no particular interest in these rules to start, and the review is quite thorough enough to make it clear that these would not be what I am looking for at this point in my hobby career. Others will surely differ, which is fine. Vive l difference! :-)