Wednesday 16 August 2023

Creating a pair of Epic Pocket Armies - new project

The Epic Napoleonic Project … St. Amand 1815

This post is looking at the start of a Napoleonic project that is based upon French and Prussian forces from the 1815 campaign, using the Epic 13.5mm figures from Warlord Games.

It assumes a ‘from scratch’ approach and the ‘want’ to play games along the way, rather than waiting for armies to be fully painted etc and so there will be something of a staged building program.

If you have been overwhelmed by the volume of content that you get in the starter sets - you don’t need it all straight away. So I am hoping that this post will be a bit of an inspirational post to those who keep checking their still unopened Epic starter boxes on their shelves.

If that’s you or any of this is of the slightest interest, then please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

This project is going to have three main stages.

Stage One is to get a very basic force for each side. This will be something along the Neil Thomas type of army, with 4 infantry units, 1 cavalry unit, 2 brigade commanders and 1 artillery unit. 

Additionally, it will be nice to have a terrain piece to give a Built Up Area (BUA) for the army pairing to fight over. I will be using Battlescale’s 10mm resin buildings for their small footprint (available from Battlescale or Pendraken) rather than the MDF kits supplied with the starter sets.

Finally, each side will find it useful to also have 4 bases of skirmish figures. I have already tried putting 4 of the single skirmish figures to a base and it seems to give the right look, so I will go with that. These bases can help identify a light battalion that goes into full skirmish order or a line unit that throws a couple of companies of skirmishers out to their front.

To start with, each unit will just be formed from 2 bases. This will give units in line a frontage of 120mm and those in assault column a frontage of 60mm.

If using Black Powder rules, these sort of forces might work best on the table by halving all measurements or for rules like Shadow of the Eagles, just using their 15mm based charts and Quick Reference Sheet.

Using the Epic figures and their basing system, each starter force will need; 

8 bases of infantry, which is 16 strips in Epic language, which is 160 figures.

2 bases of cavalry, which is 10 individual models.

2 bases of artillery and crew (2 guns and eight crew).

2 bases of command, a single mounted figure to each base.

4 bases of skirmishers, needing 16 single skirmish models.

Stage Two will be to grow each unit by 50%, so infantry and cavalry will have three bases instead of two. This gives line a frontage of 180mm, while column remains at 60mm.

This does no more than to create a better aesthetic on the table. Both column and line look more convincing, without having to resort to the 4 base unit that Warlord Games have designed most of their regular units around and it does give us the army architecture that the rest of the project will conform to.

The side benefit of this is that the player can now move back and forth between stage one and stage two style battles, so sometimes using 3 bases per unit for smaller games and other times when needing more units, just use 2 bases as done with stage one.

An additional group of buildings to give a second BUA will be added, plus an additional command base with a single command figure.

Stage Three, a slightly less urgent program of growing the armies with a view of reaching about 12 units or so per side. 

As with stage two, having at this point gone with three bases per unit, there remains the flexibility of returning to two bases per unit in some games, so that the same collection can cope with representing bigger battles (up to 18 units per side).

An additional group of buildings to give a third BUA will be added, plus an army commander, with two command figures on a single round 40mm MDF base.

As readers of this blog will know from previous posts, I will happily put out raw plastic figures on the table, while things get painted if it means a game gets done rather than just imagined and that will remain an important principle during the life of this project ….. to get playing from day 1.

Either way, all this might sound a bit basic, but to my mind is a surer way of making steady and sustainable progress to getting these sets done.

If I could have a preference, I would be inclined towards 1809 French / Austrian armies for the Danube campaign, however, at this point in time, Austrian Epic are no more than a glint in the eye of Warlord Games’ release schedule (unless John Stallard has a really nice surprise for us!) …. so I will be going with a French / Prussian Pairing.


For the project, I am minded to design a scenario around a local action and then have bolt on amendments that would allow the parameters of the scenario to expand as the armies start to grow. 

Since we are in 1815, the fighting for St. Amand at the Battle of Ligny is one of my first thoughts as an action of interest, starting with just 4 - 6 units per side and a BUA for a stage one sized game. 

I have a boardgame that covers the subject, that should be a useful resource for scenario design - perhaps even play the game and let the scenario self generate itself.

Adjustments, compromises and oh yes! ….. just making it up as you go along!

Black Powder rules, which Warlord Games bundle with the Epic starter armies, treats units as being either large, regular, small or tiny. The number of bases they have in a unit will reflect this, though 4 bases is an average (regular or standard size).

I have never really gone with this approach. Instead I always use the same number of bases for all units, though size if relevant can be noted in the unit’s stats. So in my rules, big units still only have 3 bases, but have a bit more staying power, small units likewise have 3 bases, but lose a bit of firepower etc, though I know this sort of thing does not sit easy with a lot of napoleonic fans, so those wanting different unit sizes will need to make some adjustment in the way that they collect and arrange bases.

I was though, heartened to see (as in … I am not alone!) that the Shadow of the Eagles rules by Keith Flint, likewise do not physically differentiate between unit sizes, though the author advocates that very large battalions can be dealt with by deploying them into two units. I have some reservations with the flexibility that this can give to what should be a big lumbering single battalion.

I would really like to have a go at giving my own rules (Eagles at Quatre Bras) a chance to breathe and develop with this project, so these may in fact be the ones that see the most light of day here, every game is an opportunity for improvement.

I do wonder whether differing rule sets are much more akin to each other than we generally perceive and that most in general are really just attempting to do the same thing as each other, through different words, terms and small variations of mechanisms and that in truth it just becomes personal preference rather than an absolute question of one set being a significantly better simulation than rulesets ‘x’, ‘y’ or ‘z’. 

Perhaps all we really want for the most part is for general outcomes to be in the same ball park, to feel right and be easy to play. Anyway, my point is that the project is a good opportunity to get your home brew rules up and running …. something that might get these bases to the table in the middle of the working week!

As for the Epic figures themselves, I am not a big fan of the apparent gap between Epic infantry blocks on the supplied 60mm bases, caused as the strips themselves are only around 56mm long. So I will be basing on 55mm MDF and just shave off a sliver of base edge at each end of the infantry strips, which reduces this effect. 

I also find the 20mm depth of base a bit too shallow for cavalry, causing horses to nibble the tails of the horses in front of them when ranking into column, so these will go onto MDF bases that are 25mm deep, just for a bit more room.

Above - this is the Prussian starter army in raw plastic. The four infantry units are; 2 x Musketeers, 1 x Fusiliers and 1 x Landwehr (the latter shown here in column). The cavalry are Uhlan Lancers. 

The figures are fixed with Copydex glue to the WG plastic bases. It is a sort of latex glue, that when used a bit sparingly, makes it easier to separate the plastic figures from plastic (not MDF) bases when sending to the painting sticks.

If you are a gamer who bought into a couple of Epic starter sets and they still sit on your shelf unpainted, then perhaps now is the time to get these figures from sprue to table and the series of articles that spin from this post may encourage you to have a go and follow along, with your own variations on the theme.

The starter sets are stuffed full of content, but by planning a project out in these sort of stages, breaking into the sprues and just taking the units you immediately want, it is much less of a perceived painting challenge etc. and hopefully more likely to see things getting done.

Most of the Epic painting tutorials that I have seen on the internet or in the hobby mags, seem to go for a very high standard of paint job and if you want that, the details on these figures can certainly give it ….. but, for my money, a certain amount of more basic ‘churn’ is needed here if one is to get enough of these to the table (plus the other Epic periods in my collection that beg for equal attention!) to do the job in a timely way. In truth, at three foot, they pretty much all look good, however they are painted!

Anyway that’s it for now, my painting has been a bit lack lustre of late (read … all year!), so hopefully this project will make some better use of the evening light before the shorter winter days start to return.

If any of this is of interest, you may want to keep an eye out for future posts in the ongoing Epic St. Amand Project series here, plus I will open up a tab on my Commanders web page that will give additional commentary as this project trundles along.

Good luck to anyone who picks up their plastic snippers and starts a similar project today.

Above - a recent ‘big battle day’ mostly with unpainted plastic, this was played out on a 6´ table and the units were formed of 2 bases. By comparison, our stage 1 starter army could have plenty of room on a 3´ x 3´ or a 4´ x 2´ type space. 


Resource Section.

Part II is available and discusses experiences after painting the first unit. LINK

Part III is available and looks at the three scenarios for St. Amand 1815 that I have developed to work with this project. 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.


  1. You are very organized there Norm, with the amount of figures involved I can imagine one has to be. Keep us posted on progress.

    1. Hi Phil, hopefully, from small acorns, mighty oaks grow!

  2. An excellent post Norm and a great way to set out on a project, so that you can hit 'goals' on the way and feel like you've achieved something, which is of course good:). With my 19thC Armies I took a similar approach to try and get a core force together so that I could play either a small BPII action of a Rebels & Patriots type skirmish, then work up from that. One advantage of 1" square bases is that you can sort of get a skirmish look to the game, but not prefect of course.

    I agree on the painting front. My Damascene conversion as it were was when I saw my friends painted 6mm figures which looked fine at game distance, but had 'errors' when looked at up close. This liberated me and my approach to painting, which has gone more towards a good simple paint job, with bright colours and highlights to make the figures 'pop' when on the table.

    Once again agreement on the rules front. Most rules seem to me (if they are any 'good') to more or less achieve or be aiming to achieve the same thing. How they go about it is the differentiator IMHO, so ultimately based upon my experience is finding a set that works for you and you feel comfortable with. Hence BPII and it's variants work for me, give me a good game and allow me to play the game rather than stick my nose in a rulebook trying to find the relevant section. Other games might be more 'accurate', but these days I struggle to chop and change between rules engines, so I stick to core sets that have a similar engine, which makes it so much easier to play the game.

    Anyway, enough waffle and I look forward to following your progress with interest!

  3. Hi Steve, agree on the painting. My ‘moment’ was earlier this year, seeing an Epic ECW game on the Warlord Games’ trade stand, close up, I was surprised at the generalised painting, but at normal game distance, they looked very good.

    I hope to come up with something similar.

    Funny thing, that as I stop and think about it, I feel disinclined to buy more rules! Or at least there is nothing at the moment that grabs my fancy, even just to explore!

  4. You are a most thorough planner, Norm. Can't say I approve of playing with unpainted figures but live and let live, I say! Watching the project develop will be good fun and inspiration for many.

  5. Hi Jonathan, I’m looking forward to this and if it draws some interest along the way, then all the better. Things might start to look a bit more exciting 2 or 3 posts down the road. I am starting on Prussian musketeers tomorrow.

  6. Norm, as always well detailed plan and one that should inspire others to follow. My failing is not playing as I progress! My Quatre Bras project is making excellent progress and I need to post an update, I’m staying with two base units as the primary structure with the occasional 3 base unit for a very large unit and I will detail my ‘tweaks’ for Shadow of the Eagles in my blog.
    If you can find some one with a printer then MC miniatures on Wargaming 3D doe some excellent ‘epic’ figures ( including Austrians) I have their British in stove pipe for my Hanoverians and they look good.
    I certainly agree that as time goes by the choice of rules becomes a personal choice of what seems to work for you in reflecting the period. I would certainly give your rules a try out for sure.
    I’m looking forward to seeing your progress and I really must get some of my little guys on the table.

  7. Hi Graham, very much looking forwards to your first post on Quatre Bras and also your Shadow of the Eagles tweaks.

    Some years ago, I was working on a QB scenario - using figures on hexes, which is the point when my Eagles at Quatre Bras came into being. Since then, I have ‘unhexed’ them and tried to merge them with my ACW set, so things are a bit messy, but it will all bottom out in the end.

    Thanks for the tip on MC Miniatures.

  8. Definitely eyeing how you’ll paint in ‘basic churn’ mode. I think simple should work ok, gray primer, couple colors maybe in contrast, straps/bags, bayonets, caps, then done? Will see. Thanks for the great post. I’ll put my epics on bases this week.

    1. Hi, I did one unit ages ago, which is the one show in the first photo and that was painted properly (as in it took a long time!), so I will be trying something new.

      I prime these in Vallejo black acrylic, but the problem with that for the Prussians is that you can’t see where you have put the primer and where you have missed, so I thought I migh add a touch of grey to lighten the primer,

      I bought my Prussians from Warlord Games at the Phalanx Wargame show last year and their ‘freebie’ was a rattle can of Humbrol blue for base coating, so I will be also looking at that.

      Thanks for visiting, good to hear that you are doing some Epics this week, I will keep the commentary going here and on the Commanders site, if any of that helps you keep the project going. Let us know how you are getting on.

  9. Will be watching this project with great interest, especially considering I bought way too much epic pike and shot for both ECW and TYW, and have only finished 4 pike units to date. Perhaps the pocket army concept would be good to get some 1HW Pike and Shot battles on the table.

    Also, I will happily volunteer to playtest EAQB if you are looking for any volunteers :-)

    1. Hi Steve, I knew that this particular post would catch your eye. I know from painting even basic ACW, that these stands can take a while to get through, especially if you go with the number of units per stand that Warlord suggest, though that is hard to avoid in Pike and Shot.

      Thanks for the offer on the rules. There will come a point when I do that. At the moment, I am changing things after every game and then having to go into the 28mm file and the ACW file and adding in the same amendment if appropriate and then checking that in each of the sets, the change does not break anything, so it is quite plodding at the moment and there are definite things that I don’t like and would like to change before sharing.

      As you know, the current EaQB deviates significantly as I attempt to merge them with the ACW to form a core Horse & Musket set, each with their own amendments - a bit messy at the moment :-)

      I’m quite taken by this whole thing, so there should be more movement on this than there has been for a long time.

  10. Cracking post Norm, full of great information and inspiration, I may finally get my epic ACW project underway!!

  11. Thanks Donnie, my brushes will come out today ….. that alone is cause for some celebration :-)

    There is a YouTuber called Leon66 and he is doing his ACW, but on deeper bases, so as to make the groundwork a very visible part of the stand. I think it is a good look for the ACW, but I don’t think it would look as good on Napoleonics as the Assault Column formation might look too dispersed - worth a look though.

    I hope what follows continues to be of interest. Cheers.

  12. Thanks Norm, this is a great example and something of an inspiration for how to approach a project ( if only I could stick to a plan.. ).
    I too have cracked a wry smile at the over-complicated painting schemes that have appeared in hobby magazines for the 'Epic' figures - your use of them unpainted is a good antidote!

  13. Hi David, I have just been watching a Little Wars TV video on painting 10mm AWI and the bloke uses black primer, mainly highlights the visible points, which leaves a lot of black lining (something I have never been good at) and he doesn’t use a wash!

    The Epic are notably bigger than the 10mm, so I am not sure whether I will get away with all of that. But I am giving it a go.

  14. Very interesting to see your approach Norm , one day perhaps Napoleonics on a bigger scale we’ll see ?

    1. This comment seems to have stuck ? How frustrating and random

    2. Hi Matt, I’m sure that is true, they sit there, but I can’t stand to let them go!

  15. I love this kind of post. Although I'm not interested in Warlord's Epic figures per se (although I did see them in-person last night for the first time, and they do look nice), I am a big fan of your Pocket Army approach. It has shaped my own project planning and progression since I first encountered it. Getting something on the table, a minimum viable product if you will, has a powerful impact on keeping enthusiasm up for the remainder of the project. I look forward to updates as you move forward.

  16. Thanks John, there is more to come, so I will keep things going as a bit of a series.

  17. Good Luck on this project. You already have something of a head start yes?

    I agree that once a rule set becomes, not sure what the right word is…competent? Then after that it’s all personal preference. Our personal preference is the intersection between the style of game we like to play and our preconceptions on what a genre looks and feels like. And our preferences can change over time so finding “the best rules’ is hard because no one rule set is objectively better than another (once it passes the threshold of being competent) and it’s a shifting target.

  18. Thanks Stew, yes I agree. Competency, preference and a shifting target could make the perfect circle.

    I don’t really have a head start (although I could if I wanted to), instead, I am deliberately setting this up as a ‘from scratch’ project in the hope that others will follow suit with their mountains of plastic. The stuff I have already painted, I will hold back until Stage Three.

  19. Very organised Norm, but probably needs to be given the scope of the project. Good Luck attend your efforts and progress!

  20. Thanks David, I have drawn up a set of linked scenarios and we played the first last night, just six units per side plus a few Jägers and it all seemed to go very well and gave a nice evenings game, plus a few more ‘things’ cropped up to add into the rules.

  21. Good way to motivate yourself to carry on making steady progress, eat an elephant one mouthful at a time! Personally I do find the painting of new units an achievement as and of itself, I have LOTS of figures and models that have rarely if ever graced an actual game....and that doesn't worry me too much! But I realize many find the painting a bit of a chore....

  22. Hi Kieth, once a unit or two are done and then some artillery, I do find a project becomes quite self motivating. I have been looking at some 1/35 model kits, now that is something I would pursue without even relating it to the the table …… but where would I put it? Or the next one :-)

    1. Yes.....I consider some pure "military modelling" every so often but have the same dilemma!

  23. Excellent planning as always I look forward to your impressionistic painting or fast and dirty!
    Best Iain

  24. Hi Iain, I am struggling with the ‘fast’ bit 🙂


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