Saturday 30 October 2021

The Enduring Appeal of the Napoleonic Big Battle

 A ‘big battle’ set of rules for, well, big battles….

There is something of the operatic epic about many of the battles of the Napoleonic wars. Colourful uniforms, dashing cavalry, determined grenadiers, stoic infantry squares, the crash bang wallop of the artillery and plumed and resplendent generals and ADCs darting hither and thither whilst great lines of skirmishers harry, hassle and annoy in equal measure. Then there are the personalities - the rock stars of the age - imposing their will on the battle in question and leaving their mark, for better or worse, on the canvas of history. It is fair to say that in many respects history became legend and legend became myth - and the course of the history of the Napoleonic wars is replete with copious amounts of both.

During the life of this blog I have often mentioned my fondness for the 1815 campaign in Belgium. Waterloo exercises a peculiar fascination for me ever since I first started wargames back in the early 1970s. In fact my 1815 Allied army made up from Airfix figures and organised as per Bruce Quarries's Airfic Magazine guide - late morphing into Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature - is one of the few armies I have ever painted to a state of relative completeness.

For me there is something about this campaign that I just do not seem to be able to get over - nor do I wish to! 

It is all about the big battle. For my Napoleonic adventures (aka 1815 with perhaps a side hustle in the shape of the 1812 Russian campaign) I wanted to fight (and still do) big actions involving divisions and corps. From a practical perspective - by this I mean in terms of playing space - I am limited to a table of 6ft by 4ft but in all honesty I prefer to fight over a much more compact space, say 4ft by 3ft, or even 3ft by 2ft. Clearly using  this small size of playing area  means using either smaller figures or fewer numbers of anger figures or even dispensing with using figures at all. I fully appreciate that the latter option may come across as heresy for many gamers but certainly not for me!

Several levels of Portable Wargame goodness

I have been inspired by the large scale Napoleonic rules in Charles Wesencraft’s Practical Wargaming as well as more recently, Volley and Bayonet by Frank Chadwick and the Portable Napoleonic Wargame by Bob Cordery. In fact the latter has been taken to a quite remarkable level by Mark Cordone. If you check out Bob’s blog you will see what I mean as Mark organised a very effective refight of the 1813 Battle of Leipzig using Risk figures - and Napoleonic ‘big battles’ do no come much bigger than that!

I really thought I was on to something with the Del Prado collection for 1815 but something about it did not sit right with me and so it was disposed of. To be honest I am thinking that for the scale of games I envisage fighting using figures is probably less of an issue - especially as the block armies work just as well along with 3D scenery. Something to think about going forwards anyway - and with implications for the ACW project as well.

When I saw that Osprey were releasing the set you see at the start of this post it was only going to be a matter of time before I acquired a copy. Absolute Emperor are also well supported by a dedicated Facebook group and there are certainly plenty of good ideas contained therein. There is absolutely no hurry with any of this as the ACW remains front and centre. Having said that the thought of a minor diversion into Belgium during 1815 would be hard to resist - except that I will.

For now anyway….:-)


Ray Rousell said...

Uh oh!

David Crook said...

Hello there Ray,

I should have mentioned that nothing will be happening with this for a while - at least until the ACW ships are finished. Ironically it would not be something that would take a vast amount of organising when I do get to it.

I shall use that restraint for which I am widely regarded for….

All the best,


The Jolly Broom Man said...

You’ve got the blocks…you’ve got the rules. My guess is your resolve will break in under a week! Lol.

nundanket said...

For the truly big Napoleonic battle I don’t think you can do much better than Polemos Marechal de l’Empire, or General de Division. You can easily tailor it to your space as all measurements are in base widths.

Steve J. said...

I was always put off the Napoleonic era as a kid due to the massive Waterloo games that seemed to appear in the superb Airfix magazine back in the day. Just something that was way beyond my means in the early 1970's. I'm now discovering the joys of 'Nappies', but for big battles prefer using Bloody Big battles ruleset and for smaller engagements, Shadow of the Eagles rules.

Anyway, I shall look forward to seeing what approach you take as this project/idea progresses.

David Crook said...

Hello there JBM,

You may think that….I couldn’t possibly comment….

Seriously though, Whilst I have the blocks and the rules the movement trays are still in production and I really need to think about scenery. I am hoping that Brigade will be at Salute in a couple of weeks so we shall see.

‘My resolve will break in under a week?’ Psshhh, How very dare you…..

Now where did I put my copy of the Campaigns of Napoleon?

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there Nundanket,

There are some good suggestions there old chap and so I shall be ‘doing the rounds’ at Salute on the hunt etc…

We shall see what we will shall see.

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there Steve J,

My excursion into in Airfix Napoleonics was brief but enjoyable - mainly because I moved to London and at the club I joined in Newham had gone through their phase of the period. I was seduced by all manner of other periods and so never really moved past the size of army I had - one battalion of Guards, two of Highlanders, three of line, a rifle unit and a unit of Brunswick Jägers supported by a regiment of heavy Dragoons, a regiment of hussars, two foot and one horse artillery battery. It was a small force but I had great fun with it.

Fast forward to today and the way I shall be fighting battles for the period will be very different!

All the best,


Unknown said...

I may have asked you this before (as I am sure countless others have) and I just wanted to ask where you get your "blocks" from and how you mark them up etc for playing with.

Nice to see you back posting,
Kind regards,

David Crook said...

Hello there Steven,

Many thanks old chap! My blocks are for the most part Jenga blocks that have been cut in two. For a fuller overview take a look under the Blocks folder for how these have evolved - there are plenty of pictures - and the Games folder so that you can them in action.

All the best,


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

I am trying to avoid looking at the Warlord Games Napoleonic as I succumbed to their ACW (which paint up vey nicely thank you .. fun with the Portable Wargame Rules seem the way to go for me

David Crook said...

Hello there Geordie,

I am programmed at the DNA level to always look at anything with Waterloo in the title (it can be inconvenient walking by the train station and don't get me started about Abba!) so I will take a look at this and will probably drool away accordingly - not buying it though, far too much painting for my taste!

All the best,