That is, why is the Napoleonic era popular with wargamers, and why would I recommend it to others?
I’ll admit up front that it is an era I am only recently re-entering. I’ve played games based in the Napoleonic era in the past, but haven’t in a while; my attention has been elsewhere. But I find myself dragging out my history texts and starting an army.
It’s a subject that has maintained a hardcore following with wargamers over the years while others have faded. Here are a couple of my theories as to why this is.
1: There are lots of participants. From France, England, and Russia, to tiny city-states and even the USA, there are plenty of "factions" to choose from. Back in the hex-and-counter days a wargamer didn’t have to invest much time in an army, you’d just punch out the counters and play. In a miniatures game you need buy the models, then sink a lot of time into building and painting them. As a result, you’d better select an army that appeals to you. In the Napoleonic era there are plenty to choose from.
2. An intriguing strategic situation as a result of the above.
3. A sprawling war that lasted from 1792 to 1815 (although most games start in 1805), so you aren't stuck just focusing on a single campaign or battle. This may seem an odd assertion as I am focusing on Waterloo, but the point is that this is not a limitation of the era – you can cover anything from Valmy to Austerlitz to Borodino.
4. Tactics that are easy to understand but hard to master. From the rock/scissors/paper interactions of infantry/artillery/cavalry to "line vs. column" it is possible to learn the basics quickly, but it is still a challenge to pull off a good plan and win a game against an opponent.
5. There are lots of cool and interesting units, from Hussars and Highlanders to Cuirassiers and Cossacks.
6. None of the nations involved are the clear bad guy. No one gets stuck playing as the Nazis. Even the Revolutionary fervor of the French had dimmed considerably by the time Napoleon took over.
7. Uniforms that are colorful and fun to paint. How can you say no to this?