Paul and Jan 1970 (note stills from Waterloo on the wall)
I was pleased to receive so many comments, and such thought provoking ones, to my last post “When is a game too big”. Indeed it was those comments which suggested the subject of this post.
I have often wondered why Napoleonic wargaming rules are designed around an infantry battalion, rather than a corps. It seems to me that the essence of Napoleonic warfare is large formations of 20,000 men or so. Even small Napoleonic battles are much larger than most wargamers can cope with using battalion based rules.
I suspect for most of us the glamour of the period is first and foremost the uniforms. But a close second is the image of Napoleon or Wellington directing their corps and divisions in grand strategic and tactical manoeuvres.
Am I alone in seeing myself as a Napoleon or Wellington when I was drawn to the concept of Napoleonic Wargaming?
Why were the original, and subsequent, rules not written to allow the wargamer to command an army of 6 to 8 corps?
We started wargaming in 1969, when the world (particularly of Napoleonic wargaming) was much more innocent and simple. My inspiration was “Charge, or How to Play Wargames”. I no longer have my copy, so I can’t check. But I don’t remember anything in that great book which suggested scale or army organisation. I recall that the infantry “units” were about 16 figures.
I accepted that wargaming armies were made up of “units” of infantry, cavalry and artillery. The aim seemed to be to collect as many actual figures as possible and eventually be able to fight a large battle like Waterloo.
But there was little, if any, reference to actual orders of battle. And even less suggestion how to produce an historical order of battle on a wargames table.
The 1970s and 1980s were an exciting time to be a Napoleonic Wargamer. Gone were the simple days of Don Featherstone and his home produced Wargamers Newsletter. Along came Peter Guilder and His Wargames Holiday Centre. At the same time Wargames Illustrated appeared with its glossy pages and photos of large 25mm armies marching around the 36 foot by 6 foot wargames tables of the Centre. It was inspiring, to say the least.
But it was, for me, a disappointment to find that even the great Peter Guilder did not have detailed orders of battle. When you fought Waterloo or Leipzig on his tables you were given an order of battle. It included corps, but (as I recall) not divisions or brigades. Each corps consisted of about ten 36 figure infantry units, plus cavalry and artillery. Each French unit had 6 bases representing grenadier, voltiguer and fusilier companies, in effect an infantry battalion. His epic “In the Grand Manner” rules were battalion based.
All of this is not to say that I did not enjoy wargaming with battalion tactics, sending out skirmishers and forming column, line and square. But to do so I had to ignore the “elephant in the room” that what I was doing was using battalion tactics to fight battles which were historically based on divisions and corps.
With the introduction of small figures the problem was eased. But I have always favoured my 20mm, then 25mm and finally 28mm figures. I did experiment with 6mm figures, especially after seeing photographs of the Battle of Leipzig in one of the glossy magazines. But I have never taken to them and always revert to my first love.
Now that we live in the age of the internet little has changed. The instant availability of information has certainly changed. There are a mass of forum where you can get an instant response by an expert in any aspect of Napoleonic history. You have but to ask and within minutes someone will tell you how many buttons there were on the gaiters of an Italian infantry sapper, and more than likely include a link to an illustration of the same. People argue at length, and get very heated, about how infantry formation were directed during a battle. They will discuss at length the relative sources available for strategy or tactics. But at the same time they accept that their basic unit will be a 12, 24 or 36 infantry figure infantry battlaion.
I was delighted to discover Snappy Nappy rules, which does try to solve this problem. I have never used them, but their concept helped me to develop my own wargame rules.
Would it have been different if Don Featherstone had written rules similar to Snappy Nappy back in the 1960s? If they had formed the basis of his book “Wargaming” and all his subsequent wargaming books. Would Peter Guilder have called his 36 figure units a brigade, and grouped them as divisions and corps? The actual games would have looked the same, but the historical feel would have been much more accurate.
If the early rules and playing experience had been corps, rather than battalion, based would Napoleonic Wargame have developed as it did? Perhaps specific rules for battalion tactics would have been developed anyway, much as skirmish rules are now. But they would have fit neatly into a gaming population which accepted that the only way to fight large scale Napoleonic wargames would be with brigades, divisions and corps.
Does it matter? No. But it would seem to have been a more logical evolution of wargaming the battles of the Napoleonic Wars.