I suspect that most Napoleonic wargamers have a Napoleon figure and at least one French guard unit, probably grenadiers, in their collection.
In early 1970 I had been wargaming for about a year, using Airfix plastic figures. I borrowed a copy of “Charge, or how to play Wargames” from my local library. This was a hardback book with glossy pages and lots of black and white photographs. At the end was a list of model soldier manufacturers and the cost of their figures. The cheapest metal figure was made by Hinton Hunt. A week later Jan and I visited his shop in Camden Passage in London. I remember wooden trays with compartments filled with shiny model soldiers. Amongst my very first purchase was a figure of Napoleon and a handful of French guard grenadiers. I knew nothing of figure scales or orders of battle so I just picked a couple of each of the figures which appealed to me most. In addition to the grenadiers I brought home a selection of Polish lancers, British Scots Greys and RHA gunners.
They took pride of place amongst my large collection of Airfix French infantry, British Highlanders and French Artillery. Many hours were spent playing the battle of Blasthof Heath from “Charge” to try and master the rules.
In those early days of wargaming no one even noticed if a unit of French guard grenadiers fought regularly alongside a couple of line units. It was only when I, and apparently the rest of the British wargaming community, became aware of orders of battle for real battles which confirmed that the French Imperial Guard were actually a reserve formation which rarely, if ever, took part in actual fighting.
I have never been one for historical orders of battle, but over the years my collection of model soldiers was expanded to include a more balanced ratio of guard to line troops. For many years the Imperial Guard gathered dust on their shelf in the wargames room.
In 2009 I decided to reorganise my whole concept of Wargaming. I would start a fictional campaign based on the 1813 campaign. The armies would cover all of the major, and many of the minor, players in that campaign. The aim was to use all of my figures in a sequence of campaigns based in Germany and Spain.
Because this was a solo project I did not have to convince anyone else or defend my fictional orders of battle. I ended up with eight French corps of 32 infantry, 4 cavalry, 4 gunners and 1 gun. There was one old guard and one young guard corps.
I was determined that the French old guard would be elite, but not super human, troops. One of the 4 infantry brigades would be A class, the other three B class. This compared with a Prussian corps where the grenadier brigade would also be A, two musketeer brigades would be B and the landwehr brigade would be C. The old guard would have an edge, but only a very small one.
It has never worried me in the heat of a wargame that the old guard grenadiers might be defeated by a Prussian landwehr brigade. If the French player rolled a 2, and the Prussian one a 6, the grenadiers would lose.
However when I type up the battle report I often wonder how this might be received by the general wargaming community if they read it on the Campaign Diary Blog.