The Napoleonic Wars, The French Revolutionary War, Napoleon, 28mm
The aim of this little game was to try out a new set of rules – Napoleon – from Wargames Foundry. Our resident rules lawyer Bill Gilchrist posted a review of them on this site, but we were keen to try them out first hand. Unfortunately, Bill was the only one of us who’d read them from cover to cover, without being distracted by the pretty pictures, and he couldn’t make it that evening. That meant that this was very much a learning game for the rest of us. Chris Henry supplied the French, defending against two Allied columns.My Austrians (two line battalions, a battalion of Grenzers and some skirmishers) attacked from one side, while Iain Gales British (two battalions of Guards) appeared on the French flank. The arrival of French reinforcements – a brigade of cavalry commanded by Colin Jack – were rolled for at the start of each turn. He needed a 5-6, and they duly appeared on Turn 2, on the French left flank. Still, this was a really small game, played to try out the rules rather than to win tabletop glory.The battle itself was a slow affair, partly because we were learning the rules as we went along, but also because the movement distances dictate a fairly leisurely pace. Just 4″ move a turn for units in line and 10″ musket range means that it takes several turns to close with the enemy, unless you try moving in march column. We left attack columns to the French Revolutionaries, as we wanted to fight the game using historical tactics.The key thing is “engagement range”. Once you get within 8″ if infantry of 16″ if cavalry you have to stop, and the enemy is pinned as well. Then you lay down “command cards”, and you can choose what to do next – advance and fire, form square, charge etc. etc. This system had its charms, but it also produced a lot of annoying little anomalies, and we constantly had to look up rules governing cause and effect.For instance, a battalion of Iain’s British played an “advance and fire” card, and the unit duly moved forward and pelted a battalion of Frenchmen. As far as we could see you only test morale at the end of the turn (unless you suffer casualties from artillery), so Chris was then able to play his card – a “charge”. The French automatically charged in – there was no morale test needed on either side (as far as we could see), or defensive fire, and the two units were locked in combat. Bizarrely, in the melee phase it seems that a unit in column has less chance of winning a melee as a unit standing in line – two French dice as opposed to three for the British. Granted, if the French had more room to charge they’d have got another two dice bonus, but they didn’t. The result was that the column was routed. While this was probably a fair result , the mechanism seemed wildly illogical.Another quirk is that casualties seem to have little impact on the game – they don’t seem to reduce the effectiveness of morale, or firing. You can reduce a unit to just a few figures, and if it still rolls well for its morale tests it still fires with the effectiveness of a fresh battalion. That’s just plain silly. And so it went on – more quirky outcomes, fairly lethal shooting (even my scummy Grenzers did well), and the slow plodding of troops across the table, until they reach “engagement range”. Unfortunately Iain had to leave early, by which time the British were threatening the French right flank, while – with the exception of the Grenzers – the Austrians had gone onto the defensive, forming square to receive the French cavalry. At that point we packed it in, promising each other to give the rules another go, after we’d all had a chance to read them from cover to cover.First impressions though weren’t particularly favourable. While the card system is quite clever, the rules themselves seem to lack clarity, hence the range of strange events. It seemed like the whole business of “if you do this, then what happens to that unit” hadn’t been thought through properly. While these are all things that can be sorted out by amending the system a little, or adding house rules, you don’t really expect to have to do this, especially after shelling out £25 for a set. We’ll certainly try them again, but as it stands I can’t see Napoleon becoming our rules set of choice.