Friday, March 2, 2012

Let's get started...

Grognard: “A Grumbler,” after Napoleon’s elite Old Guard Grenadiers, who openly spoke their minds in the Emperor’s presence. Also, a cantankerous, old-school wargamer.

Why do we play tabletop wargames? For many, myself included, it is for the visual appeal.

Computer-based wargames offer many possibilities that conventional wargames do not, for example, they do a great job of handling limited intelligence regarding the map and enemy forces, and the ability to “save” games or play against people in other parts of the world is very helpful. But no matter how good the game is, it is hard to beat the appeal of a beautifully made table covered with well painted toy soldiers.

Few eras can contend with the Napoleonic Wars here. Often-outlandish and brightly colored uniforms were the order of the day. Battles were huge, involving tens of thousands of soldiers. If I had to summarize a Napoleonic era battle in a single word it would be “spectacle.”

I’ve been drawn to this era for a long time, ever since I read my father’s copy of Chandler’s Campaigns of Napoleon. I’ve played hex-and-counter wargames from Empires and Arms to War and Peace to Wellington’s Victory. But I haven’t had a miniature Napoleonic army since I sold my 15mm French over a decade ago. There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is that I hadn’t found a rules set that really worked for me. Until the release of Waterloo, that is…

If you want an excuse to play big Napoleonic era wargames Warhammer Historicals’ new Waterloo delivers. The hardcover book is 288 pages long. Of this, 82 pages are devoted to rules, the rest to historical background, scenarios, orders-of-battle, painting guides, and beautiful, beautiful artwork.

The game covers the “Hundred Days” campaign. By 1814 Napoleon had lost his war and was forced into exile on the island of . In March of 1815 he escaped and returned to France. The nations which had defeated him previously declared him an outlaw and raised armies to oppose him. Napoleon quickly struck, attacking the British, Dutch, German, and Prussian armies in Belgium. After an intensely fought campaign the allies united and defeated him at Waterloo. There’s plenty of wargaming to be had in this campaign, and Waterloo covers it beautifully.

Normally I would be leery of a wargame rules-set with such a tight focus, wanting it to cover more. But the Hundred Days campaign and the battle of Waterloo is possibly the best known and most studied action in history. It occupies a unique position in our cultural history, appearing everywhere from the names of train stations and towns to songs from 70’s Swedish pop bands. If you know anything about the Napoleonic Wars you know of Waterloo.

In addition to the standard “Warhammer-esque” point-buy games the book contains scenarios and orders-of battle for the campaign, presented both in linked-campaign style and stand-alone games. The game provides rules and lists for the French, British and Allied, and Prussian armies. There are also rules and lists for the Peninsula campaign, including the Spanish and Portuguese. I strongly suspect that this is because many of the new plastic 28mm figures from Victrix and Perry include optional parts to make Peninsula-era troops.

Unfortunately the game doesn’t cover other armies. Russians, Austrians, Poles, Bavarians, and Ottoman Turks aren’t in the game. Earlier versions of the French, British, or Prussian armies are also absent. The game promises future expansions will cover these – normally the grognard in me would have been skeptical, citing the delays of Over the Top and other promised expansions from Warhammer Historicals, but Over the Top lived up to every expectation, so I’ll be charitable. Still, I can understand the grumbling of a player with an extensive Austrian army in this case.

The game itself is similar in some ways to GW’s Warhammer or Lord of the Rings, but there are many significant differences; it is a very well designed game. The standard unit of the game is a “battalion.” Each “battalion” is made up of several “companies.” This has caused some grousing amongst the grognard set, as it isn’t an exact representation of the historical organizations – a real-world British battalion would consist of ten companies, but in the game it uses 4-8. A British artillery battery consists of three guns in the game, while a historical battery would be five guns and a howitzer. However, it is worth remembering that all wargames make abstractions, and this one is no different.

Each infantry company is made up of six figures for regular infantry, or three for skirmishers or light infantry.  Cavalry has two figures per base, and artillery uses a cannon with crew. Basing is flexible – for example, the standard infantry unit of six figures can be made with figures on 20mm x 20mm bases (Warhammer standard) set up in a 3x2 rectangle, but other basing systems are easily accommodated. Basing systems can be quite contentious amongst the grognard set, so this flexibility is very helpful.

Artwork? The rulebook is absolutely beautiful. If you are familiar with the Warhammer Fantasy 8th edition rulebook you know how lavish this sort of production can be, and the Waterloo rules are simply astounding. There are photos of tabletop games, photos of historic artifacts, and pieces of historical artwork, from Henri Philippoteaux’s panoramas of Waterloo (a favorite of mine) to smaller vignettes.

Waterloo is a great game – hopefully les grognards will put aside their aversion to Warhammer and try it. If you have any interest in the era it is a worthwhile purchase, even if only as a reference work. It is a beautiful book. Even if you never play the game it is worth every penny as a work of art in its own right.

There are also, of course, numerous photos of beautifully painted wargame miniatures. At this point I must admit to my bias: while many of the photos are of miniatures from the collection of the game’s authors, there are also several vignettes from the collection of Scott Merrifield. Scott is a friend and opponent of mine. In fact, his beautifully painted French army is one of the inspirations behind the army that I will highlight in this blog…

So, what is this blog about?

Waterloo has motivated me; I’m going to build a British army in 28mm scale for this game and describe it in this blog. I’ve bought the figures already, now I just need to build and paint them. Don’t expect this to be a fast project - there are lots of little troopers, from Scots Greys to kilted Highlanders - and it will take me time to do them. It won’t be strictly Napoleonics, either. I’ll also put up posts on my other projects as well, from my WWI Germans and British to my Imperial Romans. I'll also post some book recommendations, some historical commentary, some reenacting photos - pretty much anything I want. And don’t expect consistent updates...

In the near future I’ll put up some more information on the army itself. I’m going to use Victrix and Perry Bros. figures, both metal and plastic, and I’ll also use some of the gorgeous flags from Flags of War to give my regiments even more visual appeal.

I look forward to the day when my “thin red line of heroes” finally runs that beautifully-painted French infantry to ground and forces Nappy to run to the Bellerophon and exile...

Over a beer in my basement, of course…

1 comment:

  1. Wow...what an excellent review and first post. I'll be linking to your site this evening.