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The Napoleonic Wars – Playing the Period

Let’s give Boney a damned good thrashing!

Napoleonic Wars in the Journal


It began with a false start. Wargaming pals badgered me into trying the period, and in the end I opted for the British in the Peninsula. I painted up one 30-figure unit – the 3rd Foot (“The Buffs”), but then the project ran out of steam. I suppose it was all those fiddly facings, and white lacing.

After several months I was encouraged to start again, this time because of a forthcoming Peninsular game organised by the “League of Gentlemen Wargamers”. This time I persevered and built up a small division of around 350 figures – ten battalions of infantry, plus skirmishers and a battery of guns. Since then I’ve added more figures, including cavalry, more Portuguese, and extra artillery.


For the most part these figures were from Elite Miniatures. I really like the look of them, and en masse they look excellent. I have plans to expand my little army further, adding a couple of new infantry units – the 71st and 92nd Highlanders – and more British cavalry.

Later on, I decided to build up a second “Napoleonic” army, this time a Russian one. A guy in South Africa was selling his Foundry figures on E-bay, and so I bought eight 32 man battalions. While the painting job wasn’t the best, they gave me an instant army, or at least they would have if I hadn’t wanted to tinker. You see, they were all in full dress uniform, and I preferred my Russians to look a little less pristine. Consequently I bought more figures in greatcoats and forage caps to make the units look a little scruffier. I suddenly found I had twelve battalions – almost 400 figures, not counting cavalry and guns.


I repainted and rebased them, and they’ve seen action. I also added cavalry, artillery (you can never have too many Russian guns), and staff, and I’m gradually building it up into a large and well-balanced army. My love affair with Russian armies never seems to have gone away. I suppose its the doughty but ill-led infantry that do it for me, plus the heavy reliance on artillery, plus all those rapacious Cossacks…

I’ve tried fighting this period in a number of ways, but I don’t really enjoy those games where a single stand represents a battalion or a brigade, and you spend your time refighting Leipzig or Waterloo. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy refighting big battles, but not when you’ve only got as many men on the battlefield as a typical battle scene from Sharpe. I like refights where you’ve got a few thousand men on the table, and where a battalion looks like a proper battalion, with a few dozen figures in its ranks. I also like smaller scenario-based games – the sort of thing you find in those scenario books by Charles S. Grant, where each unit has a role to play, and isn’t just there a little cog in a bigger machine. That’s why I like rules like General de Brigade, with figure ratios of 1:20 or thereabouts.

What really appeals to me is the visual aspect of this period. After all, it is probably the prettiest one of them all, when soldiers looked like peacocks, meaning that figure painters are in their element. Games look great – or rather they should do, particularly when you use 28mm figures. Sure, you don’t get the chance to refight Waterloo except over a long weekend, with lots of friends bringing their own lead to the party, but what you do get is style – “Napoleonic” style and spectacle by the bucket-load.

Napoleonic Wars in the Journal


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