Napoleonic Rules Pet Peeves

I’m slowly collecting 25mm Napoleonic figures and will start painting them in earnest once I get through the backlog of 15s I’ve got to do.  In the meantime I’ve been doing a lot of reading, both of the Napoleonic history books I own and the many sets of rules I own.   I have no idea what rules set will be used yet, but I’ve started thinking about things that drive me crazy about most rules for the period.  Here’s a short list:

  • The “zippy little battalion’ – where individual units can run around and hit units on the flank with laser-guided precision, even in the middle of a general combat. (pretty much any tactical set I’ve ever played)
  • Rules that don’t punish you for leaving your flanks unguarded.  (Napoleon’s Battles and Volley & Bayonet come to mind)
  • Rules that in general give the commander too much control over their units when hotly engaged with the enemy.
  • Over-effective skirmishers that operate like they are armed with assault rifles.  (See: Empire British & French lights)
  • Allowing unit interpenetration at will with no ill effects.   
  • Rules that are mostly concerned with the processes of fire combat and/or melee instead of command/control and morale.  
  • Rules that make the French units more powerful than their allied counterparts to try and emulate the successes of the history books.  This has been mostly visible in the Empire series of rules, where the French have either gotten more powerful over time or the Allies have just gotten worse & worse (British excepted of course).  

There are other things that I don’t care for as well.   There are rules that are too mechanistic and become nothing but an exercise in mathematics like the Complete Brigadier, or ones that are almost totally left up to chance and random luck (Piquet and to some degree Napoleon’s Battles).    Trying to find the right set of rules is pretty damn hard, even with the number of options on the market today.    It’s no wonder that so many folks decide to write their own rules sooner or later.


4 Responses to “Napoleonic Rules Pet Peeves”

  1. 1 Joe Knight March 10, 2009 at 7:31 am

    “Rules that don’t punish you for leaving your flanks unguarded. (Napoleon’s Battles and Volley & Bayonet come to mind)”

    I think this is one of the most misunderstood aspects of Napoleon’s Battles there is. (Meaning you are not the only person to field this complaint my friend.) 🙂

    The generally reasoning for no flank penalty in the traditional sense in two fold: 1) The maneuver unit in NB is a brigade that is representing multiple battalions. As the player you are basically giving orders for placement and it’s general stance for formations. Deploying a brigade in line in NB doesn;t been all the battalions are assuming a line formation as well, it simple means that a larger majority of the brigade’s comabt power is beening focused into engaging the enemy in combat. Likewise, column represents that the brigades is focusing more on maneuver. How each baatalion is actually deployed in formation and facing is abstracted to be upto the brigade commander. (Which you are not.) This reinforces the ‘grand’ tactical goal of NB. 2) There is actually a penalty for getting hit in the flank in that you cannot conduct the normal defensive fire to break up the enemy assault. That can be a pretty big swing in any combat for NB. Once a attacker is disordered by fire, it’s usually all over but the crying. 🙂

    Lastly, I believe an optional rules exists, despite all that, that let’s you take a +1 for flanks. (Though is was only a capitualtion from the designers to those who didn;t follow their design rationale.) Doesn’t hurt to try to make every yahoo happy I guess. (Bart… you’re the best kind of ‘yahoo’… honest.) hehe.

    A belated apologie to the readers for the spelling/typing mistakes… I don’t time to reread this twice to cover up my horrible skills as usual. 😉


  2. 2 Bart March 10, 2009 at 7:55 am

    Hi Joe,

    I realize that in higher-level games like V&B and Napoleon’s Battles that the assumption is that your brigadiers know what they’re doing and will protect themselves without the gamer having to do anything about it. It’s a design decision that the rules authors have made. I understand the rationale… it just doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me. Overall NB is a decent set of rules, but this is just one of those areas that gets under my skin ever-so-often.

    My main issue is two-fold: First, from what I’ve read leaders were very concerned about leaving their flanks exposed, especially when deployed in lines. Even though we’re dealing with each unit as a brigade instead of a battalion, I feel there should be some penalty for leaving one’s flank hanging out exposed. What that is in terms of NB I’m not sure. A +1 may or may not be enough since the game is mostly dependent on the mechanism of opposed die rolls for combat adjudication.

    For what it’s worth, there’s an almost 1,000 post long thread on the command radius rules on TMP that has morphed into a long discussion of how brigades manuevered on the battlefield and how important covered flanks and supports were. It’s a long slog to get through, but pretty interesting to me at least.

    The other issue with no flank penalties is that it allows gamers to be a lot more aggressive with their units, flinging single brigades forward to try and exploit small tactical advantages with no sense of fear. Again, it’s allowable in the rules, but it doesn’t feel ‘right’ to me. That’s a nebulous thing I admit, but to my mind a Napoleonic combat isn’t really about individual units (whether brigades or battalions) flying all over the battlefield on individual missions. It’s more about trying to identify the weak point in the enemy line, softening it up (hopefully) and then launching a massive attack at that point and hoping it goes in all the way instead of getting bogged down in a firefight that damages both sides. The combination of no flank penalties and concrete command/control rules in NB allows a general in command to launch brigades hither & yon with control that would make a WWII Panzer leader jealous.

    For what it’s worth, that problem is not confined to Napoleon’s Battles. Most rules allow the gamer way too much control over their units once they are engaged in my opinion…

  3. 3 Joe Knight March 10, 2009 at 8:48 am


    I gave up on the command radius discussion when it hit page 6. I understand they started getting into ‘Regulation Battalions’ but I just don’t have the time to keep going on it if I want to keep my job. 🙂

    Anyway, if it doesn’t feel right, then there’s not much else to be said.

    On the second point as far as too much control, playing the different systems I have, I have always seeen the ‘whole line rush’ in wargames as people want to fight, more than they want to preserve their armies. One ruleset I play implements a fatigue system as well that points you into more historical behavior. If you do not have local or force reserves ready to swap out for your battered attacking battalions, the you will be swept aside from counter-attacks from those that do. All in all, it comes down to each individual’s ‘view’ of how things worked. And there will never be a ‘correct’ view as with all history, two people reading the same material will sometimes draw opposing conclusions.

    How did a battle look and feel in reality? None of us will ever know.


  4. 4 Bart March 10, 2009 at 9:02 am

    You’re absolutely right that no one will ever ‘know’ how a battle truly would play out. From what I have been reading, though, it was probably a a lot more chaotic and uncontrolled once units became engaged that most wargame rules would have us believe.

    Fatigue-based systems look more interesting to me as well, for it seems naturaly that as a unit spends more time fighting, it’s combat functionality would slowly but surely decrease even if morale stayed relatively high. Getting a tired/damaged unit to take even more offensive action should get progressively harder as they take more abuse.

    Part of the point of keeping reserves would be to react to unexpected situations, and also to have units that you can actually direct to do something. When a unit is engaged in a firefight or trying to assault an enemy position, I am guessing that changing orders or formations in the middle of all that smoke, sound and chaos would be very tough. Fresh units would know what they are expected to do and would make at least some more progress in doing it compared to a unit that had already been in the line for any period of time.

    As I get older and read more, I am starting to get more drawn to rules that worry about command/control and morale more than the actual processes of fire combat or melee. A rules author can make combat processes very ‘realistic’ and complex, but I don’t know that they add that much to the experience of the wargame. I played Empire for many years and spent more time consulting charts than I did thinking about what I was actually going to do with my troops as I remember. You could get close to the same results with a more simple combat system and give the commanders more time to worry about how well their units are holding up, and whether or not they feel they can accomplish their orders or not. Those are the issues I’m more worried about.

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