Tuesday 7 March 2023

Napoleonics - scales and rules - update

In a recent post (link below in the resource section) I discussed a plan to concentrate on choosing one figure scale for Napoleonics, from the three different scales currently sitting in the lead / plastic mountain and also to settling on a single ‘go to’ set of rules.

I have been spending some time with two different scenarios, trying different rules and scales, often with the help of blank bases and a bit of imagination!

Last week, I set up my scenario ‘B’ using the Warlord Epic figures with the Valour and Fortitude rules (free on the Perry website) by Jervis Johnson (also co-author of Black Powder) and on Sunday, I replayed the same scenario with the Shadow of the Eagles rules by Keith Flint (also author of Honours of War).

For a brief (yes - honest) look at some conclusions re these two games, please use the ‘read more’ tab.

Scenario ‘B’

Scenario ‘B’ has a French force of two infantry brigades and a cavalry regiment of Cuirassiers. Each infantry brigade has a gun battery attached.

They face a Prussian force of two infantry brigades. 1st Brigade has an artillery battery (on the hill) and 2nd Brigade, with 6 units, has 2 Landwehr regiments in the mix.

Photo left - the Prussian commander on the hill uses his spy-glass to observe the approaching French assault.

The back story is that the French are in motion to attack the hill position, but their right hand brigade crashes into a Prussian brigade making their own probing attack.

An important dynamic is that the French cavalry unit is an independent formation (has its own leader) with orders to move around the enemy flank and unhinge the defences on the hill. The Prussians do not have cavalry and have not deployed their infantry to better protect that open part of their flank.

The scenario is intended to examine, command and control, cavalry Vs infantry, inferior units (Landwehr), casualty rates from approaching fire (as the French advance some distance towards the hill) and how that impacts on the final assault, plus counter-battery fire. 

This time, Warlord Games Epic scale figures grace the table.

Valour & Fortitude.

I have already played these rules a few times, so I am getting beyond the learning curve and appreciating some of the nuances.

Units are activated by brigade and there is a 1 in 6 chance of failed activation, which leaves the brigade just sitting there ….. it will of course happen when you most need that brigade! :-) though this is dampened down a bit by allowing the first brigade to always activate (i.e. no die roll) if it is within command range of the army commander - so do your important stuff first, this part of the battle is getting commander focus.

There have been some tweaks to the system and I am play testing some newer tweaks for the designer, so things are evolving and because of that the rules are still in my hands a fair bit.

The French cavalry did get behind the hill, causing the reserve Prussian regiment to go into square, while the French infantry assault the forward slopes.

I liked that the French cavalry ‘threat’ kept the infantry unit in square and also the square was dangerous enough to the cavalry to discourage a charge. 

Also accumulated losses at the unit level eventually become rout tests for individual units and routing units in turn eventually causes ‘Fortitude’ tests for the whole brigade, so that the brigade ‘structure’ and its integrity / cohesion matters here.

2nd French Brigade get assaulted by two Prussian columns, one regular, the other landwehr.

In this game, Prussian losses saw the brigade on the hill forced back off the hill when failing a brigade test, which felt natural and in keeping with what was going on around and it was good to see the brigade act in unison. 

This left the Prussian 2nd brigade out on a limb, so that they were compelled to likewise ‘choose’ to fall back and so the game ended in the French favour. 

The action flowed naturally with a good narrative, though I still spent a while flicking through the rules for answers and then going to the Q&A sheets for guidance. 

I know the author is trying to keep a slim set for conventions, but I would like to see more of the Q&A type stuff actually absorbed into the body of the rules and perhaps some extended examples of play added.

Shadow of the Eagles

Shadow of the Eagles is a fully fleshed out set and though meant as a simple set, there is enough here that a few games (as is the case with pretty much most rules) are needed to be properly up and running and fully appreciating design intention.

It has been a while since I have brought this to the table, so I was doing a lot of rule referencing. 

Play rolled out in exactly the same way as described above, with the cavalry moving around the Prussian flank

Note bottom right, the cavalry are flanking the Prussians, but the Prussian reserve regiment has anticipated the move and has already gone into square to protect the rear slope.

All units are the same size i.e. the same frontage, so you don’t have large or small units, which is different to many of the current systems I play, but it works! 

Units take hits. Once regular units (for example) reach 4 hits they are weakened and when they reach 7 hits they are routed and removed from play.

The brigade commander can move to a unit and attempt to remove a hit and a unit more than 9” from an enemy (6” in this scale) can also attempt to remove a hit (without a commander), but the initial 2 hits are permanent and always remain.

Weakened units cannot advance towards the enemy and have a fire / melee penalty, so a force can quickly lose its offensive capability through the accumulation of hits and units reaching ‘weakened’ status.

As the player, you find that by mid-point of play, you are trying to manage that accumulation of hits, one way or another. If it is your unit that is weakened then you are trying to recover it, if it is the enemy unit, you want to attack it and push it over the edge.

A lost unit is simply a lost unit and just counts towards the condition of the whole army - not the individual brigade, so complete unit losses do not directly impinge on the brigade, but units that stay in play while carrying a lot of casualties do, as the brigade, as an organisation, becomes increasingly impotent as more of units weaken. 

You become restricted to what you can do and the brigade commander gets distracted by trying to rally units back to better health (for which he has to join the unit), suddenly, he needs to be in several places at once!

Overall, a unit seems to have enough poke in them to do one thing, i.e. assault that hill or town or enemy line etc. Doing that will likely weaken them and you then need a combo of rallying them back to effectiveness (i.e. not being weakened) and having fresh units on hand to take over.

I stupidly attacked the square with the cavalry and it bounced off and took a total of 3 casualties. Units that lose a close combat retreat a number of inches equal to 2 x Average Dice (yes Average Dice - how superb!) and gain an extra casualty, so becoming ‘weakened’ is never too far away.

It does bring in the discipline to play of softening up the enemy before closing and generally needs an attacker to have a local advantage in numbers.

Some systems go for disorder to make their formations vulnerable, but here the slow slide of build up of hits essentially does that, as you can visually see those units that are close to either weakening or rout. 

There is grazing fire (artillery fire bouncing through a unit and then hitting the unit behind) which I like.

Units can give supporting fire in a charge situation, but outside of that, there isn’t an obvious role for ‘supporting’ units, especially rear supports, which seem common to a few other modern designs, but perhaps this is handled by the fact that once a weakened unit retires to recover from hits, the ‘support’ is then the fresh unit that takes on the burden of the fight and to an extent protects the recovering unit.

One aspect that I want to take a bit more time to think about is the way the system handles melee and multi unit contact in melee in relation to the way the attack dice are allocated - more on that after I do another reading of the rules, it just feels a little awkward at the moment.


V&F feels like it is suitable for the bigger game, with several brigades and multiple players at the table and as such, a good proportion of the system is working with the brigade as being a central command structure.

SotE works better for the smaller table and for gamers wanting around a division of three brigades (or less) per side. Here it is the status of the  unit and the army, rather than the brigade itself, that matters and a brigade is not suddenly going to disappear off the table, leaving too much of a deficit for a small game.

V&F for those familiar with Black Powder, feels like a slicker application of that system, which I like.

SotE has a whiff of old school charm about it, which I also like.

V&F movement is easily implemented, things can just move over there.

SotE has more involved movement i.e. you just can’t move things in an easy care-free way to get over there. Units pivot and wheel and this brings into play the advantages of new regime training (who find that easy) over old regime training (who don’t).

Both systems are self contained. V&F has downloadable army lists, with each add significantly to the base game engine. SotE has a full list of army lists, with restrictions and advantages listed, but no real extra rules, as the rules are already in the body of the book. I really appreciate that neither have followed the codex style of support books.

Both systems use hits without immediate saving rolls and both allow commanders to subsequently try to rally off excess hits.

I am now in the process of re-reading both rule sets fully and will no doubt pick up plenty of subtleties that I have missed. I will then run a new scenario, probably one involving buildings sitting on a crossroads to test out rules for built up areas.

28mm, 20mm and Warlord Epic (13.5mm) figures, but which one?


The scale looks nice on the table as you get the impression of the scope of the battlefield and the hill feels a bit more like a hill than a bump. I like plastic and like 1 piece figures, though I prefer the aesthetic of the bigger figure and I am less keen on painting the smaller scale, though I am just in the process of trying out a faster painting method that abides a bit more with the three foot rule - so who knows!

I note Epic have just announced ECW armies for release in April … they might give me an alternative world for some later Piggy Longton adventures! I recently bought some excellent 10mm resin buildings from Battlescale for ECW in anticipation of this new release, so again - who knows!

Anyway, in coming to a close, I should add that scales are being looked at elsewhere as well, as I see the benefits of gaming WWII tactical at one scale lower than everything else I am doing, as the small footprint buildings are a better fit.

Above - this is a WWII scene with Victrix 12mm plastics. The bridge and building are both 10mm from Battlescale. I had these infantry sections on 30mm bases with 4 figures per base, but have now re-based to 40mm frontages with 6 figures per base, which I think looks a bit more ‘section’ like. I will stick with these if going with Epic.

Above - this is the same scene in 1/72 (20mm). The tanks are Plastic Soldier Company and the infantry (on 60mm bases) are AB (metal). The bridge is an Italeri 1/72 fast build kit and the resin building is from Lancer Games. In the first instance, I am thinking of the new Rapid Fire Reloaded for these for a first trial. I will stick with these if going for 28mm, but if choosing 20mm for Napoleonics, might have to consider going to 15mm (again!) for WWII, to get that 1 scale down effect for buildings.

Anyway, there we are. I have a few more games to run and will also be bringing in the Black Powder rules and my own rules for a dabble with this scenario. 

I am finding that all three scales have great strengths and you would win an easy argument by saying just keep all three, but that can’t happen and I doubt the audience that follows this blog would have a general consensus on a single scale.

Once all of this hullabaloo is done, I do wonder whether deciding on a scale will finally simply come down to a case of mind over heart or heart over mind! (Edit - see the Storm & Conquest link below).

Resource Section.

Initial post on this subject. Looking at scales, basing and the relationship between tactical and higher level games. LINK


Can I draw your attention to this lovely post, that has a 28mm game of Valour & Fortune in full swing. LINK


My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and gives a flavour of where current projects are up to. Link.