Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Sunday 27 August 2017

Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun: The Brigade Game - First Thoughts

Okay, well, technically these are second and third thoughts since I have messed about with these a little before, but these are my first considered thoughts...

Paddy Griffith's Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun contains many different sets of rules for tackling different aspects of Napoleonic warfare: 1:1 skirmish gaming (see a game here), a divisonal-level game, an army-level game, a campaign game, a siege game and a TEWT game.  As well as this, that rarest of things, a game designed for the player to be a brigade commander.  I'm not sure that I know of any other rules designed to be played with a handful of battalions and maybe a cavalry squadron or two.  The one perhaps closest, Scott Bowden's Chef de Bataillon, focuses on a single battalion in detail. Back in the 80s, one wise member of my club at the time felt that Newbury's Napoleonic rules were okay if you limited the forces to a strong brigade a side. One could do worse than use the Charles' Grant Napoleonic rules.  But I digress...

I set up a small scenario (on a terrain modified from Clontarf, of all things...) to test them out.  Three B-class Austrian battalions would take on two B-class French battalions occupying a hill. The aim of the game wasn't to use clever tactics or anything, just to go through the mechanics for each side.

I was using my 6mm Baccus Napoleonics which are based on 60mm x 30mm bases.  The rules are really designed for one base to be a half company (a section) but I thought that would be a bit cumbersome so I used battalions of four bases, so one base roughly represented a company.  The ground scale used 5cm = 10m.

One French Bn in line occupying the hill, with another one in reserve behind it; three Austrian battalions in column approach.

The Austrians coming onto the board

Another shot of the French!

Okay, each sub-unit within a unit has to take a morale test when the enemy is seen; two companies become 'shaken' and start firing wildly despite the Austrians being out of range

One Austrian company also becomes shaken

And another company in a diffferent battalion

Shaken sub-units cannot advance; so two Austrian battalions are trying to regain their order.  The central battalion continues its advance.  There is still some disorder within the French ranks.

A closer view of the Austrians

The Austrian Bn on the left (as seen) has rallied its shaken company and has begun to advance; the centre Bn is shaking out into line formation; the Bn on the right still has shaken companies.

The Austrians are advancing again, although the last Bn still hasn't rallied yet!

At 200m range, another morale test must be taken; both sides had a shaken company but the Austrians have sorted themselves out and resumed the advance; the French are still struggling to calm down

The Austrian line advanced and started exchanging fire; the French have finally got into order but have taken some losses (each red counter represents a loss of grade, so the French now have two companies which are now "D" class); the Austrian line has taken some losses too, and is shaken to boot.

The French brigadier tried to bring up his reserve battalion but its leading companies became shaken upon sighting the enemy; its commander is trying to rally them

Instead of rallying, the Austrian Bn in the rear has become progressively more shaken!

The firefight continues with further losses; the Austrian column tried to attack but failed to charge; it luckily avoided becoming shaken as a result

It tried again with some success and pushed the two left-hand French companies back down the hill, although its third company became shaken and didn't join the advance!  The remainder of the French line is looking distinctly shaky so unless the French brigadier can get the other battalion into action, then it is looking grim...

The French are taking more casualties; those with three markers are now permanently shaken and only of marginal use

A wider shot; you can see that the French reserve Bn has fallen into total disorder; the French were then swept away
Game Notes: Well that was very interesting.  I found it a fascinating exercise, playing at a level I have rarely gamed at, or seen gamed. The rules were pretty easy to follow, although not always perfectly organized (rules in one section seemed to fall better in other sections) and with a nasty typo in the firing chart.  However, easy enough to overcome this.  The basic mechanisms were great, with a tight focus on command (orders from brigadier to battalion commanders) and keeping units in order.  Disorder happens very easily (firing and changing formation causes disorder) and there are plenty of opportunities for units to become partly shaken.  This made for a game both playable and engrossing.
However, I have serious problems with some of the calibration of these rules, enough for me to wonder how much playtesting was done of the final versions.  Some things seemlike oversights: there is a reasonable chance of a draw in close combat, but no rules as to what should then happen, for instance.  But the biggest problem I have with the rules currently is this: B Class troops (so regular troops of all nations) have a roughly 20% chance per sub-unit of failing a morale check; the chance of rallying is 10% per turn.  Sub-units adjacent to the shaken sub-unit must then test for morale themselves.  Unless I am miscalculating something, then that makes it more likely that a unit will become entirely shaken once one sub-unit is than that the unit will rally!  I feel I must be missing or misinterpreting something but I'm not sure what...
Anyway, a fascinating game and highly recommended, but be prepared to do some mild tweaking to make it into a fully formed game.  In some ways, that comment might do for many things about wargaming that Paddy Griffith wrote!
One potential issue is that there aren't many published scenarios for this level of battle to my knowledge.  Some of the tabletop teasers series will be suitable, but otherwise some adaptation and thought might be needed (not bad things, obviously!)


  1. I enjoyed this mining of an old classic - I hadn't looked at my copy for years. The rules are skimpy and open to interpretation; on the spreading of disorder along a unit there are two possible mitigations:
    1). Shaken units get a chance to rally in the turn after they became shaken before adjacent units have to test.
    2). The wording on testing for an adjacent unit could(?) be interpreted to mean it only tests on THE turn after the adjacent unit became shaken and not subsequent turns.
    I can't see an obvious typo on a quick scan of the firing charts, where is it?
    As for brigade sized scenarios the Finnish War of 1808-09 offers many and there are loads of detailed maps available online - try this site for starters.

  2. Thanks Rob.

    Re: the typo error - I really meant a formatting error. p.86 of the John Curry edition, long range fire, first firing band is for 'C/D' troops - 99% sure it should read 'A/B'. In fact, it just needs the correct firers from the short range section moved up.

    For the "Shaken" units, I did do '1' but it only makes a difference on 10% of the occasions. I did consider that interpretation of '2' but I initially thought that the subsequent wording didn't support that interpretation "this allows unease to spread down a line of troops, unless it is checked early". However, this probably needs revisiting.On the other hand, maybe just resetting the score needed for rallying (which is the same for 1/1 Imperial Guard Grenadiers as it is for 4/2 Neapolitan Line Infantry...) might do the trick just as well.

    But I must re-iterate that this didn't detract from the game too much: I truly believe that in its way it has elements of genius in it, by capturing the crucial elements in a simple format.

    Thanks for the recommendation about the Finnish War. Thinking about it, the War of 1812 probably has some useful actions in it too.

    All the best


  3. I quite like the idea that once a unit starts to get shaken, there is an influence going on that can be like a domino effect. Paddy seems to be taking some control away from players in this rule set and perhaps the results gives a better reflection of command problems.

    I have always thought that in most games, units recover too quickly, especially from rout status, once something is fleeing, to have it back 3 turns later fighting at full gusto feels wrong.

    I liked that on seeing the troops ahead, some sub-units started getting twitchy .... nice effect.

  4. Thanks Norm. Funnily enough I have just been reading your brilliant Tiger vs T-34 comparison on your blog...

    Agreed - the mechanic is simple but brilliant. I'm just tempted to think that the calibration of the mechanic is out - should entire regular infantry battalions routinely get shaken, refuse to advance and fire wildly at 200m before being under fire, never mind taking a single casualty...But the overall idea is spot on for this level of combat.

  5. John
    Here are the firing factors from the original 1980 edition:
    Long range
    A/B 8 9 10
    C/D 9 10 11
    Shaken or E 10 11 12
    Effective range
    A/B 6 7 8
    C/D 7 8 9
    Shaken or E 8 9 10

    Hope this helps!

    P.S. I can send you a scan of the chapter if it would be any help.

  6. Many thanks Allan, that is very kind. Luckily the formatting error can be understood with a bit of thought, it just looks a bit confusing to begin with.