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Monday, November 9, 2015

Napoleon at War; with Blucher and Wellington too! A Review!

By Mitch Reed

Some may be shocked to find that I do play games other than Flames of War -- before FoW I was really into playing with 1/2400 Dreadnoughts, your occasional board war-game, and now I am in love with Star Wars Armada (like everyone else). One of the games I have gotten into over the last year is Napoleon at War, which recreates the fighting in Europe from 1805-1815. 

Why Napoleonics?  I have to admit it’s not a subject I spend much time reading about or that I have more than a casual interest in.  However, in the words of the very wise Tim Grimmett “Napoleonics is like going back to the roots of the hobby”, a truer statement than this would be hard to make.  If we were to teleport back a few decades and attend a gaming event we would see the Napoleonic period stealing the show. In fact, I have always noticed tables of gamers pushing around beautifully painted soldiers in straight lines.

My British forces about to be attacked by Chris Corman's French

The next question would be “why this rule set?” a question I feel I have a better answer for.  One of the things I liked about FoW (besides the period) is the fact it is a points based systems that lends itself for tournament gaming.  I have never made a secret that I enjoy the social aspects of gaming as much as a win, and feel if I sit down with a player at a tournament, that after 2 ½ hours I leave the table with new a friend or cohort (some in Western PA will dispute this). 

My move into this period started with one of Throckmorton’s wild statements “I want to get into Naps”.  My first comment back was, good luck finding a decent ruleset, which of course he had a reply; Napoleon at War.  I also said that Naps will be a gateway drug leading into American Civil War and the like so that in a few years I will find myself in a run-down hotel room looking to score a game with my armies from the Polish–Muscovite War of 1605–1618. (ed. By Fire and Sword anyone?)

The English are backed up by some black Brunswick troops

Like any other investment, I did my research and looked at other games from the period.  I have to say that there are a lot of great rule sets that range from the very simple to the hardcore grog level. I also saw a wide selection of scales and sizes; you can play Naps with anything from 6mm, to large 28mm figures in actions ranging from the skirmish level to the battalion level to whole armies slugging it out.

Cannons go BOOM

It was a “gaming lesson” given by Ken Jacobsen one afternoon at the Game Vault in Fredericksburg VA that got me hooked to not only this period but the Napoleon at War (NaW) rule set.  Many of you in the FoW crowd probably know Ken, he tends to run very boutique lists with his friend Chris “the other guy” Corman.  For those who have played Ken you know he is a passionate gamer who never met a set of dice he liked, however when explaining the mechanics of NaW, he is gifted teacher that understands the game very well.

The attraction for me was the statement told to me by Ken and Chris during the demo game, “this is like Flames of War, but for Napoleonics”.  It’s a list based, d6, I-GO YOU- GO game that uses pre-set missions for a game that lasts about 2.5 hours.  So I was hooked right from the start.

French and British forces about to enter in melee 

The Mechanics
The game is from a Spanish gaming company called “Man- at-War” and the hardbound core rules will cost you around $50.  The rules were originally translated from Spanish and you will notice that some of the text is very oddly written; however it is not that distracting from understanding the rules of the game.

Man-At-War not only produces the rulebook, but it also has a limited collection of miniatures made for the game, sound familiar?  More on this later.  The game is meant to be played with 15mm to 18mm figures, however it all comes down to base size doesn’t it.

Each turn is split up into the following phases, which each player runs in order during their half of their turn.

Initial Phase: Where you check morale and for victory conditions

Movement Phase:  Where you obviously move

Firing Phase: Where you conduct ranged weapons attacks

Combat Phase:  Where you can assault your opponent

Reserves and Support Moves Phase: Where you roll for reinforcements and move units which are not committed.

I picked my units from the Waterloo OOB, I got some excellent flags from Stuart at Maverick-Models in the UK. 

Some key terms that a player must understand in order to play are;

Engaged/Unengaged:  This is very important on how your troops perform on the table.  If you are within firing or combat distance of an enemy unit you may not be able to maneuver your troops as you like.

Advantage/Disadvantage and Favorable/Unfavorable:  Determines how well positioned your troops are in any given situation -- adding two d6, dividing your available die rolls in half, or making formation changes and maneuvers more difficult. 

On the other table was the Russians vs Swedes

The Forces
One thing about the game I like is that you have all lists for all the major players in the period.  You can choose French, Russian, Austrian, Spanish, Prussian, Swedish as well as some of the minor forces that played a role on the battlefield.  Some nations can field different types of lists, so if you want to run Heavy French Cavalry or British Infantry, you are in luck.

As for the nationalities, there is some discussion among players as to how national special rules effect the play of each nation.  From playing the game I feel this gives units a distinct flavor and playing style, while some feels these break the game at times.  I have to really disagree with the latter comment, I feel that like other games, the special national rules add to the challenge of the game.  I know from my short time in playing NaW that French infantry is way different from my British infantry and I have to figure out how to beat not only a type of list (infantry or cavalry) but a list from a specific nation. 

In the game you assume the role of a division commander and units are basically infantry battalions with 6 stands each with the option to use skirmisher stands to mark their presence on the table.   Cavalry is made up of a unit of 4 stands, and cannons can be 3 or 4 stands in strength. Leaders for brigades and divisions are also represented in the game.  Each unit in the game has a rating for its Valor and Discipline; Valor has 3 levels (Brave, Courageous and Insecure) as does Discipline (Elite, Drilled and Raw) and are based on the actual abilities of the force you are playing.

Flow of the Game
Once you are at the table the game flows rather intuitively for all of the phases.  I will highlight some of the things that are of interest in some of the major phases.

Initial Phase
This is where you take a check for units that have been depleted, if they fail they run.

Very cut and dry, units move depending on formation -- which they can change during this phase.   You also do not move the whole unit; you move the command stand and dress the remaining formation off of it.  Moves can be simple or complex: a complex moves consist of making two turns in a movement sequence when engaged (threatened by an enemy unit) and it forces a player to pass a discipline test in order to complete the move.

Each stand basically gets to roll two dice if it remained stationary during the previous movement phase and hits on a 4+. If you moved a unit, that unit will get only half of their dice; terrain also may modify your amount of dice.  Every 4 hits removes a stand and left over hits force your opponent to make saving roll or lose another stand.  So let’s say you get 6 hits, one of your stands is immediately gone and another has to make a 2+ saving roll. 

Two things I like in this phase are how skirmishers effect firing, each skirmisher base you have removes one d6 from your enemies firing pool. Also, if you take fire, you can return fire!

Very bloody but also very simple.  You move into contact and the target unit has some options; they can run or stay and fire.  If your defensive fire hits the attacker they have to make a Valour check to complete the charge, then the swinging begins. Where, much like in Flames of War, a hit removes a stand.

Reserves and Support Moves Phase
I like this phase!  This is where you get reinforcements, roll to replace lost infantry stands, and move any unit that is not engaged.

I just wanted to give an overview of the rules, obviously the rules go into greater detail and units like cavalry and cannons have specific rules that dictate how they move and fire.

French in Line and Column formations, note the skirmishers 

Adding to the tournament vibe of this game is the fact it comes with 6 scenarios for the players to use much like the missions for FoW.

In this period, charging guns does suck

Building My Force
Right after my first game I knew that I wanted to build a British list based off of Wellingtons forces at Waterloo. Having collected forces in other periods before I thought I would use some lessons learned when collecting my British Napoleonics.  No such luck.  I got the bulk of my force at Old Glory 25, joining the Old Glory Army gives you a heck of a discount and the folks at OG25 are great to work with.  I also went to other dealers such as Eureka Miniatures to get some unique sculpts that I wanted.  Beware, not every companies 15mm is equal, so it is best not to mix figures from multiple suppliers in one unit, yes it is that noticeable.

When buying my force I did not heed any lessons of the past and went with the “go big or go home” methodology. I ended up with 12 Foot (and 3 Highlander) units, 4 Light Infantry, and 2 Rifle battalions, 4 artillery batteries, and one brigade each of light and heavy cavalry.  Then throw in 4 battalions of allied infantry (Brunswickers) and I have a huge force. Since I have only played at a 1500 point level so far, most of these units will never see a table together unless I can talk someone into doing a 3000 point slug fest.

With all of this lead to paint and so little time I opted to send them to Fernando in Sri Lanka.  They do excellent work, and I felt that paining Naps myself was well above my skill level. The figures came out excellent and I was able to give detailed instructions to Fernando’s folks using this great website.

Once the figures came back, it took me about 3 weeks to get them all on bases.

What was my total investment here?  Well I did not do it smartly and I could have gotten a smaller army and painted it myself to save money, but my layout was around $850 broken out as follows.
  • Rules: $100 (I also got the "100 Days" campaign book)
  • Un-painted minis: $225
  • Storage: $100 (I went to Dave’s Baggage train, not only do they sell storage boxes and bags, both guys play the game and are working on the American Civil War version of the game)
  • Bases: $25 (also from Dave’s Baggage Train)
  • Painting: $400 (With shipping which is expensive)
Like I stated above you can do this a lot cheaper if you have the time.

Here comes the Cavalry!

Overall Thoughts
While I try not to write articles that will cause arguments I feel I may have here.  One thing about the Nap community is how they strongly defend their favorite ruleset over others.  As I stated above, I did look at other systems and picked this one for its ease of use and the fact it was geared for tournament play.  One of my close gaming friends John  tried out NaW last year at Historicon and did not like the rules because they did not seem historically accurate; he likes to actually smell the gunpowder in the air.  I have to agree that the rules are not like a Napoleonic simulation; however such a detailed game would not really appeal to me with my basic level of interest in this period of warfare.  I would have to place NaW’s accuracy a notch above the accuracy of FoW for a comparison.

The Union Brigade arrives to save my left!

I found NaW a very fun game that is also challenging and you hardly notice the time go by.  I am sure many of you have noticed the similarities between NaW and FoW in the article and this was done on purpose. The mechanics and tournament focus of both games are similar and I wonder why NaW does not have the wide appeal that FoW has.

Scots Grey's on the move!

So, if you have been thinking of branching out and trying the Napoleonic Era, I would recommend Napoleon at War.  I would also recommend seeking out a demo game if one is available.  I promise that you will not be disappointed.

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