Sunday, 4 November 2012

Rules for Napoleonic wargames: spoilt for choice or just $#@%! confused?

My recent post reviewing the Napoleon at War rules generated some interesting comments and also prompted the unanswerable question; which set of rules are the best for large-scale Napoleonic games? (Although to be fair, the question was couched as “in our opinion”).
Wargames rules have come a long way since "Little Wars"
We are truly spoilt for choice with rules for Napoleonic wargaming, as this list from Deep Fried Happy Mice demonstrates. The worry is that he does not have them all listed either (not to mention the many free sets of rules)!
That is part of the reason why we three amigos at the ANF have been trying a few different sets of rules. We have written and posted a review of most of them (see the tab ‘Evaluating Rules’ above). As Julian said in response to some comments to my post reviewing Napoleon at War, we have settled on Shako with a selection of the rules from Shako II, plus some of our own, and have dubbed the result Shako-ANF. While I like to joke about Mark and Julian being SS-Oberstgruppenführer and SS-Obergruppenführer respectively, where SS stands for Shako Stasi (ha, ha!), I don’t think any of us thinks we have the ultimate Napoleonic wargames rules yet—just the best set that any of us has seen in our time of wargaming since the late-70s/early 80s and, most importantly, the set that suits us best.
For each of us it is a matter of what we want in a set of rules. More game or more simulation? Something that can be easily completed in a single evening of wargaming, or as set that suits a more leisurely approach?
Then there are the specifics of the rules. What figure scale do they use? How long will a turn take to play? How do they manage time and command and control? Do they allow for Napoleonic unit formations? How do they treat higher-order (brigade/division/corps/army wing) formations? How do they restrict the player’s ‘helicopter view’? Do you get units slowly whittled down, absorbing a certain level of casualties before ‘breaking’, or are combat results dealt with quickly and decisively with the loser obliterated or ceasing to be effective? How devastating is artillery fire? And so on...
Fortunately there are plenty of reviews amongst our blogger friends to give those interested an idea about each set. Here are just a few examples to assist you; and perhaps to confuse you further!
The net result of all this? Most of us settle on a set that suits us best, but we are always wondering about the latest set to be released, not to mention some older set about which we have recently become aware. Choice is a wonderful, double-edged sword!


  1. In the end, "BEST" is what works for you and your players.

    A really good referee and willing players can create the ultimate 'kriegspiel' where there are almost no written rules (other than movement and ranges) the rest is handled by the referee (nominally with agreement from the players).

    1. Good point.

      Actually we as wargamers end up doing an ad-hoc kriegspiel when trying a set of rules for the first time, as usually one player has read them in more detail and has a better understanding than the others!

  2. Isn't every Napoleonic player after the Holy Grail that is 'the perfect set'? I'm currently getting quite excited about trying out Volley & Bayonet but I think I'll probably end up tweaking them to suit my needs..... I also have a brand new copy of Shako (1st edition) to read through..... oh, and Grande Armee fast play..... Does the search ever end!!!

    1. Yep! It's almost the same as the concept of finishing the army isn't it...?!!

      [BTW: thanks for commenting Steve as I had forgotten to link to your 'quest' as discussed on your blog (sorry!). See the link to Steve's blog at right ("Steve's Wargame Stuff"). No doubt we'll have some posts with your impressions of V & B, Grande Armée and Shako in due course Steve?

      Another solo player, Lee, has put a lot of interesting posts about specific rules (particularly modifying "Command and Colors" for the tabletop) on his beaut blog, "A Napoleonic therapy project for 2012", see link in the list at the right of this blog.

  3. I would echo MurdocK's comments. Any rule set is good as long as the players are reasonable and willing to "work together" in interpreting the rules. Our club takes turns hosting games and that week's scenario designer acts as a quasi-referee. Since we each take a turn in designing and "guiding" games it has taught us all to be a little less self-serving in working out the rules when there is a question. Besides, most of our difficulties stem from not reading the rules that are already in the book. Find one that suits your chosen scale and press on!

  4. True I have never had a game that I didn't enjoy.

  5. I am surprised there's no mention of Age of Eagles.I find them extremly flowing rewards planning,random rolls determines success of manouver amd morale.and no record keeping

    1. David, Thanks for dropping by our blog and making a comment.

      As I'm sure you are aware, the list of Napoleonic rules is almost endless, so that we are truly 'spoilt for choice'. We do not claim to have tested them all and the list here and of those we have tested (under the tab above) are but a sample.

      Our friends and wargaming colleagues at the Serpentine Wargaming Group in Albany (Western Australia) have incorporated aspects inspired from Fire and Fury into a framework from Empire to produce their "Empire and Fury" rules. Mark and I visited them last year and played out a re-fight of Talavera using the rules ( I paid them another visit last weekend and had another enjoyable game using the same rules (tweaked somewhat from our first experience).

  6. Excellent post and I note predates my acquaintance.

    I would further expand the choice and confusion by adding in:

    Scale (and Napoleonics is well represented from 3mm up to 54mm very easily, with even bigger scales and of course reenactors available); and

    Style (by which I mean skirmish, competition, grand battle, campaign and those who want to just game or simulate battles).

    At some point choice becomes a curse.