Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Old Rules and New Ideas



A real blast from the past and a set of rules I have some fond memories of. These were the set of choice for my 1815 Airfix Anglo-Dutch army.

Way back in the early days of my wargames career I received as a Christmas present a copy of the AirFix Magazine Guide Number 4: Napoleonic Wargaming by Bruce Quarrie. This book was a revelation at the time and both myself and my then gaming friend, Paul, decided to raise armies organised as per the rules using our large supply of unpainted Airfix Napoleonics. In a relatively short space of time we were fielding armies of around 150 figures a side and had some really entertaining games using the Quarrie rules – they seemed almost an ‘adult’ step up from Charge! or similar….

I seem to recall reading somewhere that the idea of National Characteristics was originally mooted by a chap called Steve Tulk (?) and I believe the rules were published by the London Wargames Section (?) but I certainly stand to be corrected.


I remember seeing these on sale at the New Model Army Limited (the wargames shop owned by Eric Knowles) but I never owned a set.

This was the first set of rules I used that featured the concept of National Characteristics. The troops for each army were rated for just about everything – morale, firing ability, hand to hand ability as well as movement rates for every imaginable tabletop circumstance. This was quite controversial by all accounts but much of the perceived outrage amongst the diehard Napoleonic fraternity passed us by, located as we were on the Isle of Sheppey, far removed from the mainstream of the hobby.


One of the versions of Bruce Quarrie's Napoleonic book.

Looking back at the rules via the medium of Bruce Quarrie’s later Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature I can honesty say that whilst I enjoyed them at the time I would certainly not do so now. In my opinion rules have moved forward from these and whilst I respect the work that had obviously gone into them they are not the type of rules I would use now.

National characteristics are in my opinion a little bit of a slippery slope because where does one draw the line? They are hugely subjective in any event and so from my own perspective I prefer that troops are treated equally but with differences based on unit size, training, equipment, leadership and esprit de corps being used as the differentiating characteristic. For me this translates simply as rating troops as good, average or poor and adjusting the notional unit size accordingly - which is something that the Portable Napoleonic Wargame does. 

Command and Colours: Napoleonic allows for differing unit sizes and also for an element of National Characteristics but overall is far less rigid than the approach adopted by Messrs. Quarrie and Tulk. For the most part troops of the same notional type operate in a similar way which feels far more comfortable.

In summary I will admit to really enjoying my games with the Quarrie set 'back in the day' but it is hard to reconcile my current thoughts about rules with them. They were from a galaxy far, far away...

20 comments:

Mark Dudley said...

I have used a number of different Napoleonic rules over the years but have now regressed back to Charge for my classic Napoleonic games.

I used to visit the New Model Army shop using a Red Bus Rover ticket costing 3/6. I travelled from Ham and invariably used the Woolwich free ferry. I did not realise that the shop was owned by Eric Knowles

Independentwargamesgroup said...

I always liked the Bruce Quarrie book David, it was a good value synopsis of the wars and helped explain how the main battles were fought. I to used the rules but gave up on them due to the complexity in breaking each move down into 1/6ths or was it 1/8ths? Either way they were just too slow for me. I still have my copy though and still enjoy reading it.They were of their time when wargamers were still attempting to convince everyone that we werent playing with toys but were actually re-enacting military history. Thankfully I dont care now and just want to enjoy my toys and play a game based very loosely on history.

Trebian said...

That Airfix guide was the breakthrough set of rules for us to get into "grown up" wargaming back when we were in secondary school. They were detailed and looked very serious. Goodness did it take forever to play a game with them.

StuRat said...

I just liked his method for raising armies:

1) Paint a line infantry battalion
2) Paint a squadron of cavalry
3) Paint a line infantry battalion
4) Paint an artillery battery
5) Paint a line infantry battalion
and so on

Got you a reasonable force and minimized the chance of boredom.

Steve J. said...

Over the past few years I have added these original wargames book to my library, as I missed out on them first time around living in a village with limited access (and cash) to Cambridge. Whilst they are an informative read, with useful info here and there, I would not want to play a game with the rules. I much prefer today's rulesets, but I do enjoying having a look at them now and then.

David Crook said...

Hi Mark,

He certainly did although his wife, Ivy was the mainstay of the shop. Eric tended to be around on Saturdays as he worked elsewhere during the week.

I remember the old ‘Red Bus Rover’ tickets and indeed, I used them a lot when visiting London prior to moving from the Isle of Sheppey.

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hello there Independentwargamesgroup,

I can certainly echo that sentiment about the ‘dipping into’ value as well as trying to convince people that we were simulating military history. That seemed to be a theme through the late 1970s and 1980s as wargames rules seemed to get progressively more complex and less fun.

Ah, the good old days....NOT!

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Trebian,

I can remember trying to explain the rules to an uncle of mine - he was a company secretary for an insurance company and was pretty clever - and seeing the glazed look in his eyes as he had noo idea what I was talking about!

My friend Paul and I reckoned that the size of armies we fielded (around 150 figures each) were probably about as large as we would want when using those rules.

A place in time.

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Steve J,

I used to own all the Airfix wargames titles and often see them at shows etc. A brief and nostalgic look through usually brings back a memory or two as I then tuck them back on the shelf and move on....

All the best,

DC

LiverpoolDave said...

I wonder how many of us got into 'serious' Napoleonic wargaming via that Airfix guide and those Bruce Quarrie rules. I got them as a Christmas present in 1977 at the age of 13, having been drawn into Napoleonic wargaming by watching the Waterloo film on TV the previous Christmas. I found them extremely complex but never really questioned that as I had nothing to compare them with. Having read them several times I demonstrated them to my best mate, with whom I had spent many happy hours playing soldiers after watching war films on TV, and he was completely non-plussed. Nonetheless I had many hugely enjoyable games against my brother (who was more a sci-fi fan and to my annoyance kept making up fictional generals and even nations rather than using historical ones), first with Airfix soldiers and then, as I grew a bit older, with Minifigs.

It was not until ten years or so ago that I found myself again in a Napoleonic wargame, this time of course using a set of much newer rules (the Black Powder ones) and the contrast with the old Quarrie ones of my youth was disconcerting. At first I kind of bounced off them, regarding them as a simplistic decline from the considered purity of the late Bruce. Now of course I can see how wargaming rules have developed since then and recognise that newer rules tend to be more fun without necessarily being less 'authentic', however we might measure that.

More recently still I have started to get back into the hobby, largely under the influence of my mate Dave, he of the Ragged Soldier blog, and have built up a couple of substantial armies mostly comprised of the Perry 28mm plastics - if they had been available back in the 1970's my 13-year-old self would have been in heaven. I have still not played a real game with them as yet. I have a number of rulesets waiting to be tried, but just for old times sake I want the first to be a battle using those old Quarrie rules. I fully expect that I will find the experience frustrating but enjoyable and that I will then never use the rules again (although, like a commentator above, I will always get pleasure from reading them and looking at the pictures!)

Fully agree about National Characteristics. Like you say, maybe they can be regarded as a part of the 'scientific' approach that Quarrie was trying to bring to the hobby, but they are questionable to say the least.

David Crook said...

Hello LiverpoolDave,

I really enjoyed reading your comment so many thanks for taking the time to share it. For me the Quarrie set were a serious attempt to deflect the 'playing with toy soldiers' attitude that rules such as Charge! or anything by Donald Featherstone seemed to represent. They seemed very grown up and detailed and worked after a fashion but in my experience tended to cause more problems than they solved. For all that I had some really enjoyable games with them.

They are for me very much a period piece as I now believe thatt he same overall effects can be captured far more easily because the game is the thing and as I have mentioned ad nauseum, the feel and flavour is more important than rules that only marginally more simple than an act of parliament (or as easy to understand!).

You are right about the plastic revolution though - if the half the choice in 20mm plastics available now were around back then I am sure that many wargames careers may have taken a different direction!

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi StuRat,

That was the approach I adopted when raising the Airfix army - and it is a system with a lot to commend it.

All the best,

DC

Khusru said...

'but with differences based on unit size, training, equipment, leadership and esprit de corps ' I thought that was what the National characteristics covered in reality.
wasn't it?
It did give advantage to the early French for speed of march and elan. Probably why they always won!

Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Epic vintage stuff!

Norm said...

David, always nice to see these book sleeves grace a blog, as they plug me straight back in to that amazing voyage of discovering wargames as a teenager.

I recently picked up Grant's 'Napoleonic Wargaming', great nostalgic fun to handle the book again, but while I would like to throw down a test game for old time's sake, I tend to see them as being of their time, excellent for that, but there are many good options available today.

David Crook said...

Hi Khusru,

For me I prefer rules where all troops start as equal in abilities but that can be tailored for specific scenarios/campaigns etc at the players discretion. Quarrie made these perceived differences compulsory from the outset and for whenever a game was fought. In many ways I believe the idea was very sound in theory but the execution was too prescriptive. Just because the French were rated better overall than the Austrians does not mean they they were all the time and in every situation.

I take your point though and my response if probably not worded as well as it could be!

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

Indeed it is!

All the best,

DC

David Crook said...

Hi Norm,

Many thanks old chap - that is exactly my thoughts on it! For sure I could try a game using these rules for old times sake but that is all it would be. Rules (and gamers!) have evolved and it is a different world nowadays.

Despite the difficulties with the rules they will always have a place in memory as they gave me some excellent games back in the day.

All the best,

DC

Terry said...

Hi,
I well remember all the LWS rules sets from the 1970s (and still have many of them in my rules library). The Napoleonic set you show were written by Charles Reavley and revised in 1971 by Ed Smith and Tony Anderson. I've just checked my copy and national characteristics aren't mentioned in there.
I also remember the name Steve Tulk from the 'old days' as he was very much part of the convention scene in the 80s.
Regards,
Terry

David Crook said...

Hi Terry,

I stand corrected! I am sure that Steve Tull had something to do with the whole national characteristics thing and thought he was part of the LWS. I have heard of Ed Smith and know Tony Anderson but not Charles Reavley.

All the best,

DC