Playings; 3 (12 hours plus untold hours painting)
Hidden inside the familiar TAHGC bookcase box lies a set of minatures rules at the cost of a top of the line boardgame. The popular glossy American set Battles for Empire costs around half the price and untold basic presentation British rules up to half as much again. To compete with this pricing Napoleon's Battles is aimed at the newcomer to figure gaming, who does not know any better and the boardgamer who will buy anything with a TAHGC tag on the box. Compared to Combined Arms (GDW) which has a similar sized box, Napoleon's Battles makes more than the usual effort to get itself played.
Most of the box contents will never be used after the 1st game, the rules are simple and easily memorised but certain factors will have to written out, the charts provided are too general for gaming (it takes too long to find the relevant bit). Making a play sheet for the troops actually in use saves a lot of hassle, each army will have about 2 each of infantry, cavalry and artillery types, all with some constant factors and others that depend on the initial size of the unit. All the relevant data, plus the organisation of both armies will fit on 1 side of A4 and save a lot of headaches. Another tip, having drawn up armies, keep the details to save having to bother again. Finally invent some victory conditions before starting play, the set scenarios have these but there is no formula in the rules. Without some set victory condition the game will drag on with rallies and last ditch stands long after the players' interest has expired.
Napoleon's Battles relies on D10 rolls modified by standard factors rather than using charts. The D10 gives a wide spread of results (obviously) so can pull up the odd surprise. The scale chosen represents 1 Battalion as 4 figures, a step or 2 up from most Napoleonic rules, this also leads to some unusual situations. The basic unit is the Brigade, usually 6 Battalions of infantry, cavalry units are a little smaller, artillery can be grouped together or attached to infantry units. All parts of a unit must remain adjacent, the whole Brigade must be in line, column or column of march, no Order Mixed here. With only 4 figures to a Battalion, the ground scale (100 yds : 1 inch) forces pretty short ranges. Infantry can fire out to 3" which is far longer than the approved shooting range (100 yds optimum). Napoleon's Battles defines shooting as combat between skirmishers (which we do not see) thrown out in front of units, so line and column formations shoot equally well (column of march troops and cavalry do not fire, artillery must be unlimbered). The non-moving side fires 1st, then if still able the moving side fires, moving will not affect the ability to fire. Both sides roll a D10 and adjust for modifiers, if the shooting side scores at least double, the target suffers 2 casualties (2 figures from a base of 4) if it scores more but not double, 1 hit. If the target scores higher no hits are scored (the best cavalry can hope for). The only way to get more than 2 hits on a unit in 1 shooting phase is to have 2 units shooting at it although there are rules governing who can shot at whom (closest unit). 2 hits will generally disrupt a unit and prevent it from firing until a turn has been spent without moving.
Melee combat is usually rare in Napoleonic gaming either due to one side being shot apart before either side risks engaging or from 1 side or the other running away when they should be standing and fighting. Not so in Napoleon's Battles where combat is defined as close range fire plus that final charge after the opposition wavers. This nicely gets over the problem of how often bayonets were used at this time with the loss of a great deal of atmosphere. As many units can be piled onto a single defender as will fit but each defender must be attacked as a separate combat. Brigades may choose to go into square or will do so on a D10 roll when attacked by cavalry. They usually succeed and are then next to impossible to break with cavalry but easy meat for infantry. Only 1 attacking unit is matched against the defender and this must be the largest unit. Assuming an attack is part of a general battle line it is still possible to crunch 2 columns into the front of 1 line but the 2nd will have no additional effect except to get to fight after the 1st has been repulsed. With combat values based on short range firepower, line is preferable to column, making line the better combat formation (although lines are painfully slow). Keeping it simple both sides roll a D10 plus modifiers (disrupted -3, routed -10, they won't be winning much). The difference, if any, is that lost by the low scorer. To prevent wholesale massacres the maximum that can be lost is a unit's rout number (4 for a 24 strong French unit), when not surprisingly the unit also routs. The optional rules allow units to pull out of combat but its a risky business, otherwise combat continues until all attackers have been beaten off or the defender beaten. Cavalry will bounce off if they fail to win but if they rout an enemy will tend to pursue. Routing units have to move back at least 1" up to a maximum of 18", provided that there is space to run. Cavalry has a good chance of slicing through several units in a turn and of catching routing infantry. When infantry routs away from infantry it should head for some quiet corner. A General beginning a turn with a routing unit rolls to rally the unit to disrupted, by not moving in the same turn the unit will go back to good order, albeit smaller than initially. Unless cavalry are on hand to ride down routed infantry, beaten units will trudge back to the line in a few turns. Units tend to hang about too long in Napoleon's Battles only disappearing when they run off the table or drop to a fraction of their starting size, this problem can make games drag on.
Generals are essential to Napoleon's Battles, C in Cs, Corps and Division Generals are required, functioning to aid combat, rally troops and to activate units. The shouting-range system is used, an unfortunate backslide in otherwise bold rules. Everyone in range of the C in C can move full distance as can units that are in range of commanders who are in turn within range of the C in C. Other Corps commanders who are out of earshot roll against their rating to move all subordinates full or half movement. Divisional commanders who are not within range of their betters roll a die to move subordinates 1/2 move or not at all, out of range individual units have had it. Thankfully there are no Brigade commander units. For those armies without a Corps structure (Britain), the game provides one. Generals move a healthy 36" (compered to an average Divisional commander span of 5") so by flitting around and doing the Wellington they can make almost all of an army move at least half speed.
As with any set of minatures rules a great deal of work is required before they can be used, the base system (in 4s) is unusual so players with existing armies will need to improvise. Enough is provided in the box to play but this is not of a standard that a boardgamer let alone the figure addict would be likely to accept. The large counters are the same size as figure bases boasting hardly inspiring line drawings. Compared to recent Command and S&T offerings they are pretty poor. La Battaille de Wot Not games provided far superior counters long ago, GDW covered this area with System 7 block counters which had a certain staff room feel to them. Anyone with this sort of hardware can play Napoleon's Battles by halving all distances. The cut out buildings and woods are likewise a joke, far more will be needed for the average battle. I played using 6mm strips in blocks of 2 representing 1 base or 2 bases when changing all distances to cm. The cm system worked better because less stretching is involved although columns of odd numbers of bases had to be fudged and extra casualty markers made up. The Irregular Napoleonic figures do not take to mounting in 1/2 " blocks, I tried and noted a tendency to lean and lose arms when shaving bases in 2. Heroics 6mms (taller and thinner) would fit on a 1/2" base, those less thrifty should stick with 15mms.
Ignoring all the counters and "aids", Napoleon's Battles is very similar in approach to DBM. Two figure game sets both emphasising larger scales than usual, both low complexity and both relying on modified die rolls rather than charts and tables. Anyone wanting a Napoleonic DBM would do better buying Napoleon's Battles than adapting DBM. The command system is inferior but DBM's dice system does not adapt well because of the larger number of set units in Napoleonic times. It is acceptable to have 1 big unit in Ancient battles which will split up due to terrain and combat. In Napoleonic battles a Division is fixed, dropping off units to hold some area is fine but transferring to a different command should be possible but lengthy. DBM has this failing when used to simulate disciplined trained armies like Romans. A greater quantity of published information and consequent density of know-it-alls makes Napoleonic gamers demand more perceived control. In ancient times the scarcity of hard fact allows game designs to bypass difficult areas. Note that this does not stop some gamers claiming to have the answers.
Napoleon's Battles suffers from a severe lack of chrome, most of the line/square/column decisions that amuse Napoleonic gamers are lost because of the game scale. With a player commanding 2 or more Corps he cannot keep track of what formation the 117eme Ligne is in, fair but that is what gamers like to do. The box gives the impression that it can be used to fight really big Napoleonic Battles, the names, a scenario book covers a selection from Marengo to Waterloo. I would not doubt that it is possible to play these battles but a very great number of figures will be required, ideally with teams of players. This sort of event does occur but is not a matter of turning up with Kingmaker under your arm (or ASL on a Porter's trolley) and hoping for a game. Considering the effort involved in bringing several big armies together and hiring a large enough room (Waterloo would not be a kitchen job) it would not be wise to choose Napoleon's Battles unless the rules had already been used for several smaller games. Smaller games mean less Corps but there will always be one C in C making armies easier to control, as long as parts of Corps and Divisions stick together it is not hard to shuffle a 2 Corps army forward.
TAHGC's problem is that of breaking into the market. Yet another East Front game may be just as dull for the USSR as the last however it does not often compete directly, some do witness TAHGC's Stalingrad, Russian Campaign and Russian Front. To make it Napoleon's Battles has to convert Napoleonic gamers from other rules, I have yet to find a Napoleonic figure gamer who has heard of it, the box format puts Napoleon's Battles in the wrong part of the shop or the wrong stall at the convention. A book format would have been better for this market. TAHGC must have known this and aimed its rules at boardgamers, with some success if the add-ons are any indication. Still today's boardgamer expects to play straight from the shrinkwrap plus is starting to demand full colour counters, neither of which can be got from Napoleon's Battles.
The contrast with ASL is interesting both periods are equally popular but TAHGC have abandoned a successful selling strategy, Napoleon's Battles could have been released as a pure boardgame. Consider a box with map and overlays plus umpteen pretty counters for say French and Austrians. Further dosh would buy counter sets for new nations plus new map boards, a ploy that has had the ASL freaks flexing the plastic for years. Having played with 1/2" figure stands I can see no reason for this not to work, a scale change would enable all the ASL boards to be used (then the gamer would not have to buy new boards, can't see that passing through accounts). A deliberate decision must have been made to go for the figures market instead of a modular boardgame, considering the number of ASL players plus how rare Napoleon's battles figure games are this may have been a mistake.