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Subject: Not Even Napoleon Would Call This A Boardgame!!! rss

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David G. Cox Esq.
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Napoleon’s Battles


Grand Tactical Miniature Wargaming Rules for 1792-1815
Designed by S. Craig Taylor
Published by The Avalon Hill Game Company



My first experience with simulation wargames was in Canberra in 1980. I was attending a Square Dance function that coincided with CanCon. I had a look and guess that I became seriously infected with wargame-mania.

The first thing that I noticed was that there were several quite different groups of games. They can be divided into two broad groups - board games and figure games (minatures).

Although I have, in the previous 29 years, had limited exposure to minatures via the Empire, WGR, Flames of War and On To Richmond game systems, I have never felt the need to leave my beloved boardgames for the sake of painted lead figures.

The two main reasons for this is that I really enjoy the greater variety provided by boardgames and don’t have the interest or patience needed to paint up an appropriate number of figures to go and fight a serious battle.

Napoleon’s Battles is a unique Avalon Hill product - it is neither a boardgame nor a card game. It is a set of rules for miniature battles of the Napoleonic era.


Components

The game comes with quite a bit of material, albeit only enough military unit counters to play the first two scenarios.

Introduction Booklet - 32 pages of information about the history of the period, battles, national differences between the armies and how to go about building and painting your own personal Napoleonic army.

Scenario Booklet - 48 pages of data to allow you to play the eight historical scenarios contained in the game. The first two scenarios are only corps level actions and are quite small - they can be played using the cardboard counters that come with the game. The remaining six scenarios (Marengo, Auerstadt, Eylauy, Talavera, Borodino and Waterloo) are considerably larger, representing combat at army level, and these require the use of larger forces than are provided in the basic game - you really need to have a miniature army to play these scenarios.

Rule Booklet - 36 pages of rules, with a basic game, an advanced game and further optional rules.

Game Summary Cards - two identical cards with the sequence of play and die roll modifiers.

Template Card - two identical cards with templates to facilitate both movement and artillery fire.


Terrain Cards - two cards with terrain such as a hill, buildings and orchards.


Counters - military units (horse, artillery, infantry and leaders) for the two small scenarios and markers to represent a unit’s current strength, state of readiness and morale.


National Information Cards - these are a crucial part of the game design and allow each nationality to display it’s own national strengths and weaknesses in combat. Cards are included for French, Austrian/Prussian, Minor German State, Bavarian/Saxon, Britain, Danish/Swedish, Italian, Ottoman, Polish, Spanish/Portugese, Russian and Westphalian armies.


Impressions of the Game

One of the important aspects of the game design is that it has been created to allow the recreation of large battles. You take on the role of Army. Wing and Corps commanders - brigade level decisions are handled by the game system via dice. The game system has one inch represent 100 yards which and each turn represents thirty minutes of real time. One of the nice aspects of the game is that you are fighting a battle rather than just a small part of a battle.

The system is fairly straight-forward. The active player works out which of his units are within command range of the appropriate leader. Those units within range are active and those out of range do nothing. Clearly leadership is important in the game and the French have a significant advantage due to the overall quality of their leaders. Active units move. The inactive player may be able to react with cavalry. The inactive player then resolves artillery fire followed by the active player’s artillery. Units that are adjacent to enemy units must then resolve combat and the results of the combat are implemented.

Combat is resolved by each player rolling a D10 and adding/subtracting modifiers for size, morale, terrain, leadership and other such criteria. The higher number wins. It is a combat system that Craig Taylor also used in his Smithsonian series of games by Avalon Hill. It is simple and yet it works okay.

Important aspects that the commander needs to keep in mind are that manoeuvring prior to combat is crucial. Having a plan of how you would like the battle to proceed is generally a good idea. Having a reserve works like an insurance policy against bad dice rolls. One forces are in contact with the enemy you, as Army Commander, have relatively little control over how the battle will go.

I am not a great devotee of figure game (well hell - I don’t really enjoy them at all - at best I will tolerate them). Having said that, Napoleon’s Battles is a system that works, creates an impression of reality and allows you to fight big battles.

On the negative side you can’t fight the interesting battles without a big army that you have to provide – unless of course you have friends with figures who will lend them to you. The two introductory scenarios are fairly basic and are really only learning experiences to allow you to ease yourself into the game system.


[Naturally, to have a battle look like this takes more than what you will find in the box.]

I actually find the system a bit on the fiddly side. As part of the scenario details you have a lot of little tags that need to be cut out and attached to the unit bases so you can see modifiers, command ranges, etc. To me, this sort of tag (which is similar to a boardgame/wargame counter that has different factors on it) detracts from the visual impact of a miniatures battle.


The Final Word


If you want to play with figures and fight big battles this game is what you are after. If you are like me and don’t want to carry a lot of lead soldiers around with you, let alone have to paint them in the privacy of your own home, for goodness sake stick with board-based wargames where everything you need to fight your battles and wars comes in the box when you buy it.


arrrh "Dead Men Tell No Tales!"


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Martin Gallo
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Pretty good summary. I agree with you about painting, so I found two solutions that make the game far more enjoyable to me.

The first one I tried was using some art software to make more counters. This eventually expanded from simple scanning into finding overhead artwork and cutting and pasting. One advantage of this method was that I could include a lot of the requisite info on the counters which saved me the 'hassle' of looking stuff up during the game.

The second one I tried was 'based' on the first idea, and I actually bought several boxes of 1/72 plastic figures and glued one to each counter (in strict violation of the number of figures rule!) but never bothered to paint them.

Both methods worked well for my tastes, but I do not dare bring them to the club meetings for fear of getting laughed and/or shamed out of the room. There are some picky people out there.
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Robert Wesley
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I'm more of the "dabbler" type, so I have many boxes of the 1:72 'guys' myself, while I am finding that using the RISK "minis" like these here


atop a 'mound' of 'putty' that don't dry OUT or UP upon 'Scrabble' tiles may be an alternative for this here. With as few as 2 copies, then you can conduct large enough encounters and with ALL of those similar to one another, then you could have 3 'types' of these. How about that?
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Martin Gallo
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I have some Scrabble tiles that I bought for that very purpose - Had not thought of Risk dudes...
 
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SIMONE DONNINI
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This game is 20 years old but its still kicking a** to all other napoleonic miniature wargame rules.

This game is really accurate and funny
 
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Kevin Duke
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Yes, it's an interesting review.

I'm curious-- you've cited the original Avalon Hill version. Have you seen the "NB III" version that Lost Battalion has recently released?

It looks very sharp and seems to have advanced the system quite a bit, but I'm looking for people who have really worked with it.
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Warren Bruhn
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I've played a couple of games of NB now. I had fun, and I'll play again. However, I do have some complaints about it.

I've played 8 different Napoleonic miniatures rules systems, and I'd rank NB as 7th out of the 8. The only one it is superior to in my experience is Battles for Empire, and that is because Battles for Empire is an extremely overcomplicated system. Shako, Brom's Standard Rules, Vive L'Empereur, and 3 sets of rules developed at the local game club were better than NB.

The thing NB excells at is distribution. Unlike most miniatures rules, which have limited publication runs and distribution by small publishers, NB was introduced and sold by the mighty Avalon Hill Game Company. More than 50% of the miniatures gamers in my geographic area play NB, some to the total exclusion of other rules, while other Napoleonic miniatures rules have only small followings.

NB requires a player to unlearn a lot of whatever the player knew about Napoleonic tactics. NB players need to accept that a brigade in column fires just as well as a brigade in line. Really? NB players need to accept that a line is a far superior formation for melee than column, not just for the British, but for everyone. Uh, right? NB players need to accept that infantry brigades smaller than 1920 men, and cavalry brigades smaller than 960 men had no impact on the multi-corp sized battle. For sure? NB players need to accept that incorporating most of the foot batteries of 6 lbr, 8 lbr, and 9 lbr guns into the infantry brigades reasonably reflects the impact of these guns, even though the infantry brigades only fire at 2 to 5 inches, while the same or smaller sized guns in the horse batteries can fire at 9 inches. If you believe that, then perhaps there's a bridge in Florida you'd like to buy?

After playing a couple of games, and after reading up on the design philosophy, I get the impression that the design decisions were made before reading up on a lot of the history, and that history was then shoe-horned into the pre-existing design decisions. Does this matter to the success of the game? No! This game sold a lot of copies, and will continue to do so. Why? Because the rules are at a reasonable level of complexity. Because Napoleonic players want to be able to resolve big battles in a reasonable period of time, and most of the better rules are aimed at smaller battles. Because some good game design techniques were employed, particularly the opposed die roll technique, which keeps both players engaged in combat resolution. Because there are only a few things about Napoleonic warfare that have to be ignored or unlearned as described above. Because the charts are pretty easy to use. Because there's a lot of people out there who play NB and collect miniatures based for this game, and because most of them are really good guys to play with. Because, as long as one ignores or pretends not to notice some of the actual mechanics at the tactical level, the ultimate results of the big battles produced by NB are quite plausible.

Am I going to play NB again? YES, of course I am. I've got several friends who have big collections of 15mm miniatures for NB. Theres lots of great guys who play NB around here. The NB game is actually fun to play, as long as I can stay blind to some of the mechanics that seem nutty and wierd to me. And its as good an excuse for a party as most of the miniatures games that I play. And it's the only game being played around here that depicts the ever popular big Napoleonic battles.

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Frank Hall
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I have played wargames for nearly 50 years, board games nearly as long and even fought in a real war in Vietnam with 2 different Marine Infantry Battalions and even a minor author having written Hammer of Freedom: Organization of USA and USMC Ground Forces in WWII.. First let us state that all board and miniature games can never show the true realism of war. All they can do is try to get you to understand some of what happened.
I have a degree in history and own and have read over 400 books on Napoleonic Warfare and have been to a few Napoleonic battlefields. I find Napoleon's battles to be an excellent set of rules for what it states that it is a game that tries to show the big picture. The former reviewer states that you have to unlearn tactical details. Yes you do. You have no control over many of the tactical details because you should never play this game unless you control at least a combined arms group of at least four divisions. You are a corps commander not a regimental colonel.
As for the column line statement-the rules clearly state that all infantry fire is from the skirmish units of the brigade and so has nothing to do with what formation each battalion is in. The actual combat is the volley firing of the units. That is when it shows that lines have a superior firepower over the column no matter what nation is using what formation. The only advantage columns give you is speed and the ability to cram more troops into contact just like they did at the time. The fire rules do a great job showing how superior skirmishers affected combat in a very simple way. About the only thing I agree with the above reviewer is that the incorporation of medium foot artillery is not something that I can understand but artillery would be overwhelming if you used the M. foot batteries. As for the statement that units smaller then the minimum sized units would influence combat-this is a brigade size game and you sometimes combine smaller units into larger units to make the game work. Little difference then saying when playing a battalion tactical game that independent companies should be able to influence the battle. They are not included because the game is scaled at the battalion level and should be combined to form battalions.
The rules do an incredible job showing how better organized, and trained troops can defeat poorly organized or trained troops.
It is important not to compare tactical rules with grand tactical rules. It is like comparing Johnny Reb to Fire and Fury. They are comparing completely different levels regiments vs brigades just like comparing NB's brigade level game to a tactical Napoleonic game. I play Corps Command (each player commands a division in a Corps) when I want to control battalions, I play Napoleon's Battles (each player controls at least a Corps)when I want to control Corps.
In Napoleon's Battles you can actually see a good commander control his generals as they control their Corps and or Wings of multi-Corps if you have very experienced players. You can actually see the French Imperial Guard along with 5 other French Corps battle many enemy Corps or Corps type units and finish in a day. And have a blast doing it. FH

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alex w
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I have but a 6x4 table that is just sufficient for the 2 intro battle.

Looks like I need to get another similar sized table for the bigger battles.

I printed the 'labels' and made token stands for them for unit identification. Cardboard soldiers but stand up labels. I placed the labels in the middle of the unit to 'see clearly'.

Can't Say the intro battles are nice. Need to try the other bigger battles.
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David J Schaffner
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I've played Napoleon's Battles only a couple of times as miniatures presentations that friends have hosted, but I'm done with it. I find the movement charts cluttered and complicated, and doubt the dozens of individual movements rates and terrain modifiers for the varied units can be substantiated. The rates seem to have been derived by plotting national "characteristics" onto a curve graph, and then the data was transferred to the movement charts as if human beings of the era were mechanical hardware:



I also think that cavalry is given too much flexibility, and if you understand what is allowed as "recall" options within the rules, you'll find non-phasing enemy cavalry fighting post-melee combats of their own choosing, and all within the attacking player's turn (not as specified pursuits of their defeated opponent, but as newly directed attacks against different enemy units). To compound the problem, infantry units (note: these are multi-battalion/regimental brigade formations) attacked by cavalry must roll to see if the whole unit succeeds or fails to form tactical square formation(s), and with failures resulting in the whole brigade not forming up, whereas these inter-brigade maneuvers are not required in any other mechanics of the game system, except in the use of a staid, tactical wheeling template to measure grand-tactical facing changes:



I find this lack of scale discipline within the rules as a bit "schizophrenic", which renders the cavalry able to fight a game within a game, not tied to the time scale that is evolving for the other combat arms which are strictly controlled by a rigid command structure.

Many gamers have probably invested time in learning Napoleon's Battles, and this "puzzle-solving" exercise is what we as players often endeavor to do to discover the "magic" that surely is to be found within one game system or another, but I find no joy with these rules/game, and certainly no magic in it in my opinion either.
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Ben Bosmans
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usmctoysold wrote:

I have a degree in history and own and have read over 400 books on Napoleonic Warfare and have been to a few Napoleonic battlefields. I find Napoleon's battles to be an excellent set of rules...


The rules do an incredible job showing how better organized, and trained troops can defeat poorly organized or trained troops.
It is important not to compare tactical rules with grand tactical rules. It is like comparing Johnny Reb to Fire and Fury. They are comparing completely different levels regiments vs brigades just like comparing NB's brigade level game to a tactical Napoleonic game. I play Corps Command (each player commands a division in a Corps) when I want to control battalions, I play Napoleon's Battles (each player controls at least a Corps)when I want to control Corps.
In Napoleon's Battles you can actually see a good commander control his generals as they control their Corps and or Wings of multi-Corps if you have very experienced players. You can actually see the French Imperial Guard along with 5 other French Corps battle many enemy Corps or Corps type units and finish in a day. And have a blast doing it. FH



This is spot on. Most miniature gamers are tactical gamers. Controlling battalions and some Regiments.

This game is indeed about fighting/commanding (with) Brigades within Corpses and apparently many miniature wargamers feel inconveniant about that.

So it is more attractive for board wargamers, but ... these guys complain about the masses of miniatures to be painted before you can even enjoy the thing

That aside the game is a great system and belongs in every Napoleonic wargame closet. It has one huge negative point: it costs a fortune in miniatures because even the smallest historical battles need hundreds of tiny soldiers. And it has odd bases too.

Instead of 15 mm you could adapt to 6 mm play though. I didn't play in 10 years, but I will be doing the Quatre Bras scenario in a few weeks for which I finally now have almost all 15 mm miniatures in place (after almost 30 years ...) I still lack a few Hannover and KGL troops, but who cares really.

Advice: buy 6 mm Nap : cheap and easy to paint.
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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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Ben_Bos wrote:
...This is spot on. Most miniature gamers are tactical gamers.

Hi Ben,

Great response. In my experience (started with the rules from Featherstone's WAR GAMES in 1962) I have found that most wargamers want to be the General, the Corps Commander, the Division commander, the Brigade commander,the Battalion commander and the Poor Bloody Infantryman as well as the dashing Cavalryman and the poor bugger who has to sight the guns.

We suspend belief in each phase, so we issue orders for our armies, but want to be there organising a square when the opponents dastardly cavalry show their faces.

And, worst of all, or maybe best of all, we make these transitions in or head without even thinking about it.... And it bloody well works, for some reason. Admittedly, not all wargamers are as insane as those who comprise my group.

Regards,


Jim

Est. 1949

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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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da pyrate wrote:
...I was attending a Square Dance function...

David,

I would pay good money to see a video of that... devil

Regards,


Jim

Est. 1949

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David G. Cox Esq.
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oneilljgf wrote:
da pyrate wrote:
...I was attending a Square Dance function...

David,

I would pay good money to see a video of that... devil

Regards,


Jim

Est. 1949



A few years back I was booked by a square dance club in Aberdeen to stay there for a week teaching them some dance moves and 'calling'. You would be surprised.

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Jim O'Neill (Established 1949)
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da pyrate wrote:
...A few years back I was booked by a square dance club in Aberdeen to stay there for a week teaching them some dance moves and 'calling'. You would be surprised.

David,

I am flabbergasted and welcome the fact that a good old Aussie can teach those Granite Munchers a thing or two. That is nothing short of


Pyuredeadbrilliant.

I know what I'm talking about, as I spent a month in Aberdeen one week.

My regards and respect: I tip my hat to you,


Jim......mb

Est. 1949

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