Thursday, September 18, 2008

Napoleonic Rules

A question on Napoleonic rules has popped up and I would like to moment and provide my thoughts, what little there are on the subject.

The Source Comics and Games has a large selection 15mm Old Glory Napoleonic Figures, pretty much the complete line [except of course what I need], they are restocked once a quarter or every six months so they must be selling some figures. The question is where are the figures going?

I could joke and say into private collections but let’s take a wider look for a second. I know of seven groups playing games using 15mm Napoleonic figures. The first group is south of the cities, near Rochester, which is playing Empire, the St. Paul Irregulars play Piquet, there is a St. Paul Group playing Napoleon’s Battles, Bob’s Source group still plays Empire, a group near St. Cloud that plays Big Battalions, a group in Maple Grove plays Empire and the Centurions who play Napoleon’s Battles and when I force them my House Rules.
Now after that how many other “basement” groups are there and what are they playing. I know by watching which rules are sold at the Source there is other interests. Are those rules being played?

A study a few years ago looked at the rules being played for the Napoleonic Period, the largest answer to the survey was “House Rules”.

Let’s take a moment and consider the three Empire Groups that I am aware of. The last version of Empire, Empire V, was published circa 1990. Yes there was an attempt to update in 2005 called Revolution and Empire, but that was a cruel joke. The problem for these three groups is that even though they play the same core rule set, their interpretations of the rules vary greatly. Made worse by the fact the groups have all instituted house rules to correct the “flaws” in the game that those groups deal with. You could not take one player from one group and drop him in another group and expect him to survive. I am pretty sure the Empire groups eat their young.
Yes I have a dislike of Empire V; there are three good armies in the Game, the French, The Prussians, and British. You don’t play one of those sides and you are extremely handicapped. I bet that if I visited the other two groups I would find mostly those three armies represented. Jack Anderson has had his Austrians since Empire III so I am not sure his count when you deal with that problem.

The one nice thing about the Napoleon’s Battles group is that you basically can take players from one group and drop them in another and 99% of the game plays the same.

But why all the difference in rules?
I believe the answer is because we all have a difference of opinion on what matters in the game. In looking at the groups I see the Empire players as far more competitive players, the kind of players looking for every edge they can find. In the Napoleon’s Battles group players are more social. The house rule groups are a mixed bag. In those groups you find a single mover and shaker who wants something in particular and when they don’t find it they right their own.

You know not that I think about it, I wonder why SPI hasn’t written their own rules for the Napoleonic Period.

Anyways I am a House Rules guy. I say that even though the group I play with primarily plays Napoleon’s Battles I am constantly thinking about how I would rewrite or do things differently.
I have written two sets of house rules for the period. The first is a beer and Pretzel kind of game. Originally based on “House Rules Napoleonic” and now it has more in common with “Wilderness Wars”. The other game is a far more complicated rule set based upon nothing I have ever seen, called Horse Musket and Gun. Sooner or later I will get off my ass and fix the one problem with that set and play some more.

However we have other things going on as well for the period.
For 1798, the War in the Alps, I have a Russian Army that I keep getting closer to finished, so at some point I will have to get an opposing side for it. Tom Dye has offered to punch out whatever I need as he still has the Minifig Molds. Maybe that will be my project over the winter. The problem is what do you do for rules. As Jim has pointed out House Rules are great in the basement but not so good in the open play.

Well enough for now. And yes tomorrow I may rewrite this article to be more coherent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'll bite...

There's something special about the Napoleonic period. The sweep of grand tactical combat combines with the intricacies of battalion tactics more in this period than in any other one I've come across.

The Empire folks (of which I used to be one) strike me as the same sorts of gamers who like Advanced Squad Leader, or the Europa series. They want to make the big strategic/operational decisions and then slog it out using the smallest units possible. They want to commit II Young Guard Corps while at the same time pondering whether to deploy le Terrible 57th in column of divisions or not. The combination of control freakability (is that a word?) and chrome is very attractive to certain people. Those are the same people who usually are more 'serious' and therefore competitive in their gaming. Empire has a high learning curve, so most new players leave in frustration after getting their ass handed to them repeatedly... before the lessons of the game have a chance to truly sink in.

The bias in Empire is obvious as you state. French & British skirmishers operate like they were armed with assault rifles.

Other rules, like Napoleon's Battles, offer a less-intensive experience. Some people are put off by the scale, or the mechanics, so they either try to form a group around their own preferred set, or they write their own.

The peculiar basing requirements for some tactical sets of rules means that there are a crapload of Napoleonic figures in circulation that are totally incompatible with other peoples' collections. Even if the magical 'one rules set' would appear, many folks wouldn't wnat to rebase their figs to take advantage of it.

Having had some time to reflect on things, I can now understand how the NB basing system can be seen as a good 'standard' basing scheme... at least for the Twin Cities area. Certain things may not look as appealing, but what the hell... I still want to push figures with other gamers, and if my personal preferences aren't always met, so be it.