The Ultimate Napoleonic Wargame Rules Review and Comparison

Instead of posting single Napoleonic rules reviews for all the sets I own, this post aims at a more comparative approach among sets which share the same scope. Therefore the list is categorized by scale and then by alphabet. My current recommendations are listed at the beginning of each category.

My aim is not to give in depth reviews about the mechanics of each rule set but rather a short summary of how it plays and what are its high and low points in contrast to other rule sets.

With new rules coming out and my focus shifting I will add and modify the list. The version history below will give a brief overview for returning readers.

Are you interested in a rule set and my thoughts about it that’s not on the list? No problem, just write a comment. But please keep in mind that I’m not interested in skirmish games, overly complex, or very simplistic rules. As this is my hobby I’m also inclined to do what I like and may not come around your wishes. Such is live.

Version History

2022-09-13: Added texts for Republique and Shako II. Minor corrections and changes to existing reviews.
2022-08-09: Added review of Polemos Ruse de Guerre, added Shadow of the Eagles, added links to several battle reports
2022-08-01: Added Grand Armee, Republic to Empire, Napoleon at War, Snappy Nappy, Lasalle and Empire
2022-07-31: First post

Definitions

Maneuver Unit: The usual size of an infantry unit the player will maneuver around individually. The sizes are based on the French system: Soldier(s), Company, Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps, Army. Note that other unit sizes for cavalry and artillery fall in line with the infantry scale unless otherwise noted.

Player Formation: The usual size of a player’s force, assuming each side has only one player. The sizes are analog to the Maneuver Unit size above. A term like ‘reinforced Division’ is often used, which means that force compositions of infantry, cavalry and artillery resemble army like quota. Fielding a French infantry corps would otherwise only have very little cavalry. To give a more rounded game it is assumed that the formation has been reinforced with units from a nearly cavalry corps and so on.

Note that a size refers to the most common game size. Division or reinforced Division means that the players could play with a full corps per side but this would be a big game for this particular rule set. If Corps is mentioned on the other hand, a corps per player would be an average sized game.

Experience: This is subjective view of the amount of time I spend with the game by studying the rules and playing. None shows that I read the rules but didn’t play so far. Low means that I ventured forth into a couple of games. Medium means that I play the set from time to time and know what I’m doing. Any set I play or have played on a regular basis and for many games receives the High rating.

The reason to list experience is to put my thoughts into perspective. I want to talk about rules I have not that much experience without the reader thinking that I necessarily know everything about the set.

Battle Reports: I list some of my most relevant battle reports with the rules so you can read about it in action. If you want to find more, you can follow the tags. When used as battle engine during campaigns I linked the first post of the campaign and not the battles as the campaign context is often needed to fully understand some events during the battles or house rules used.

QRS: Quick Reference Sheet. Just an abbreviation in the text as I find QRS particularly important to play games in a quick manner. This holds especially true for playing a lot of different games solo.

Operational

No reviews so far

Army Scale

These sets aim at major battles fought between multiple corps (or large number of divisions) per side. Waterloo, Austerlitz, Wagram, Eylau and Borodino come to mind. To achieve these battles or ones of similar size in a manageable time, maneuver units are often brigades. Battalions or Regiments are also possible but require tight mechanics and some sets go as far up as the division but lose quite a bit of detail to bring the period to life.

Recommendations: At this level there are two major things you need to ask yourself about the rules: What level of abstraction and what level of friction do I want. If above all else you want a good game with less details and period flavor go for Blücher. If you are leaning towards authenticity Age of Eagles is a good system albeit one that takes time and money to get to work. Big Bloody Battles is the less intensive but very capable alternative. It can also be used for borderline operational games.

Last but by no mean least I would like to mention Volley & Bayonet if Brigades are too far up the scale ladder for you or you don’t like heavy friction mechanics in your games. The fact that it plays so well and believable with less forced restrictions is a great feat.

Absolute Emperor

Author: Boyd Bruce
Maneuver Unit: Division
Player Formation: Army
Experience: Low-Medium
Battle Reports: Eylau

An army level game with entire Divisions as units and all this in a 64 page Blue Book Series entry from Osprey. What I expected was a game tailored to this rarely used unit choice. Sadly the rules are more at home in the Corps scale with units being Battalions or Regiments. In no way do the units feel like Divisions. Bathtubbing basically comes with the rules which is a strange decision.

Regardless of scale issues it is mechanically sound enough but not written cleary. It also models the period strangely at times. Assault columns are basically useless apart from faster movement rates. Cavalry can charge infantry frontally without closing fire and be at an advantage in the melee. Infantry can charge and countercharge cavalry. Or maybe not. With the rules all over the place it it is hard to know. Target numbers for your dice to roll are hidden in a paragraph at the beginning and not on the downloadable QRS. Movement rates in terrain are hidden in convoluted sentences instead of a table and not on the QRS. Some terrain effects seem to be missing.

If you want an easy army level game focused on the action rather than details, Blücher beats Absolute Emperor handily in my opinion without the need of more figures or time investment.

The one thing I liked was the Elán system. Commanders have a finite number of Elán points to change their orders and do limited other actions. Losing units and routing enemy units can reduce or increase the score respectively. This marriage of limited command points and formation morale is quite interesting. Though the actions to spent points seem to have low impact (apart from general order changes). And the order system is as much an interpretation nightmare as with most other systems that use the attack, defend, attack in X turns scheme.

Age of Eagles

Author: Bill Gray
Maneuver Unit: Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience: Low-Medium

The basic mechanisms of Age of Eagles, in fact quite a few rule sets, stem from the widely acclaimed Fire and Fury ACW rules. On first glance they are very easy and sound. Complexity comes with the many modifiers and some tables used to simulate the intricacies of period tactics. Although I loathe large lists of modifiers AoE is probably the only set where I can stomach it. That’s because nearly every modifier and difference in firing values is to model Napoleonic combat quite well (according to my reading). I have found no other rule set on this scale which models fighting tactics this well throughout the period. Volley & Bayonet comes close but AoE goes farther categorizing between linear, columnar and impulse (flexible mix of both) tactics. It also models skirmishers and high level command differences between armies effectively.

All this means that you have to look up stuff on the QRS constantly like with old school rules (which AoE probably is). You also need a metric ton of stands as units are composed of one stand per 360 men of infantry or cavalry. French at Austerlitz? 200+ stands of miniatures and a big table to fit them all on it. On the upside, brigades can use formations which depict high level organization like a supported line of assault columns. Paired with the many stands it gives a sense of scale and space on a battlefield like few other army level sets. The first time I marched the endless snake of an Austrian division to the front was an eye opening experience.

If you have the kit, the time, tend towards a more detailed depiction of army level battles and can live with being glued to the QRS sheet, AoE is at the top. Especially if historical battles are your forte with a number of scenario books, online resources and adjacent period rules available. If you like the direction but are intimidated by the amount of stands or modifiers, take a look at Bloody Big Battles.

Bloody Big Battles

Author: Chris Pringle
Maneuver Unit: Brigade-Division
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Medium-High
Battle Reports: Napoleonics with BBB, Big Bloody Scharnhorst campaign

Originally aimed at warfare after Napoleon’s reign and before World War I, Bloody Big Battles (BBB) nevertheless has all the mechanisms and stats needed for Napoleonics. There are also several house rule documents in circulation at groups.io to bring more Napoleonic details into the game. Apart from that I would describe the rules as intelligently streamlined Age of Eagles (AoE). BBB reduces quite a bit of complexity and loses fiddly details in order to depict even larger battles with less miniatures: 1000 men per infantry or cavalry stand, although I often use 750 and went as low as 500 without problems. When thinking of the biggest battles of the era, AoE would give me amazing detail but BBB makes it actually possible in a manageable time frame. Yes, I have to look at the QRS sheet but less so. As you can see with the aforementioned house rules, I’m not alone. People tried to marry the best of both worlds with adding some of AoE’s mechanics back into BBB. With these changes complexity creeps back in so I’m wary nowadays to modify BBB too much. Among all true army level systems it is probably the best middle ground between playablity and period flavor. This might sound like a compromise, but it is not. BBB stands on its own, and for me among the very top.

Blücher

Author: Sam A. Mustafa
Maneuver Unit: Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
High
Battle Reports: Battle of Asendorf

From a pure rule mechanics point of view, Blücher is one of the best wargame rule sets I ever played (regardless of the period). Rules are clean, streamlined, elegant and work really well. This is, in part, achieved by Sam Mustafa’s clean and concise writing style and organization of the material. The command and control system is a very clever twist of pip rules akin to De Bellis Antiquitatis and the cornerstone of the system. Compared to other army level systems Blücher plays blazingly fast and really puts you in the position of an army commander. The price for all this is period flavor. With so many tactical details of the era filed off the differences in armies and their systems of maneuver, combat, command and control there but superficial. Sometimes when I play games, stories unfold on the tabletop as a village is stormed or a general wounded. With Blücher it has a bit more of a Euro boardgame for me. Good mechanics, tough decisions, fun to solve the puzzles but less flavor.

Blücher comes with a pre-game maneuver game (mini-campaign) which absolutely warrants purchase, even if you never play the game itself. It is, simply put, the best way to set up a custom battle I have seen in any rule set. Although it is a game in itself and takes more time than rolling for terrain and flank marches on a simple table. With some adjustments it can easily be scaled up into a theatre campaign as my campaign has proven.

Empire

Author: Jim Getz & Scotty Bowden
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
None

WIP

Grand Armee

Author: Sam A. Mustafa
Maneuver Unit: Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
None

WIP

Napoleon’s Battles (4th Edition)

Author: Robert L. Coggins & S. Craig Taylor, Jr.
Maneuver Unit: Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Low

WIP

Polemos – Marechal d’Empire (2nd Edition)

Author: Chris Grice
Maneuver Unit: Regiment-Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Low

WIP

Republique (5.0)

Author: The War Times Journal
Maneuver Unit: Regiment
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Low
Freely available here.

The fact that Republique is free still astounds me. Make no mistake, this is not a shoddy word document without images. The Republique rules are presented in a proper website structure with links to certain topics, formatting and graphics for explanation. I would describe the overall style as functional, as there are no fancy images, quotes or flavor evoking texts. Maybe this presentation is part of the missing appeal for some.

The rules itself are solid and similar to Shako in spirit. Command & Control is done via a set of defined orders and drawing arrows on maps but the quality of a commander is also important to change orders. Other rules are sufficiently far removed for the scale to make the game flow quickly. For example by only representing skirmish fire and rolling musketry and charges into an assault phase. Of particular interest is a simple but thought provoking movement classification. Units either use the Prussian or French movement system, with the former being very rigid. Few other rule sets, Bataille Empire among them, represent differences in movement doctrines.

Although the mechanics are easy the wealth of represented period flavor makes the game a bit daunting still. Big battles with skirmisher bases, formations, movement doctrines, morale and attrition (base removal) takes some time to get used to. Therefore I still need more experience with the set. If you like what Shako does but not how it does it or you don’t have enough miniatures to field Battalions, take a look at Republique.

Shako II

Author: Arty Concliffe
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Low

Big battles with battalions as maneuver units, troop quality, skirmishers, formations, orders drawn on maps, couriers, artillery bounce and more… Are you mad enough?

Actually the madness you need to succumb to in order to play Shako is more in the area of miniatures. You need a lot. The rules itself have been cleverly reduced to quickly flowing mechanics and quick resolution. Battalions can evaporate quickly and later on entire divisions will quit the field. Playing with a Corps is therefore a rather small battle. As I said, you need a lot of kit to play Shako properly and also table space to deploy everything.

Command and control well done with certain order types drawn on maps of the tabletop. Republique uses a very similar system but Shako does it with representing couriers on the battlefield. Yes of course, you also need models of couriers. Both rule sets give one a lot of insight about commanding an army. Properly even more so when playing multiplayer games. Then again, that is what both games seem to be designed for. Playing a two player game or even solo is a daunting task, for the movement of tens of battalions alone.

I still need more experience with Republique and Shako to give a better feedback but both seem to be proper big battle systems for people who do not want to omit detail but want to cut out unnecessary complexity. A good comparison is Napoleon’s Battles which uses Brigades as maneuver units but overwhelm the players with detailed unit statistics. Shako and Republique manage to codify units in an easier way and still leave enough details to notice in big battles.

Snappy Nappy

Author: Russ Lockwood
Maneuver Unit: Brigade
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
Low

WIP

Volley & Bayonet (Road to Glory)

Author: Frank Chadwick & Greg Novak
Maneuver Unit: Regiment
Player Formation: Army
Experience:
High
Battle Reports: Weil Campaign

Another older system that is well liked. It is one of the reasons for the ‘Experience’ category within this post. I needed quite a few battles until I noticed the intricate design and understood how everything worked into a cohesive system. I really disliked it at first for its lack of command friction mechanics and formations. With every battle I noticed that friction actually stems from the way maneuver and combat works and formations are not needed here. It is one of the few system that models the advantages and disadvantages of defense. Being stationary with units grants a significant boost in fighting power. Unless you are Wellington, this usually means that you are getting blasted by artillery, though. You can either take the cannon balls or move and lose your precious defensive bonus. Attacking a position is really difficult and takes a good amount of reserves (as it should). Forfeiting the positional bonus and going on the counter offense is also a good tactic after the initial enemy attack faltered. Apart from the state of individual units, divisional morale is tracked and an important part of reading the battle. Extricating a division from fighting before it breaks is a common and challenging task. At times all you can do is to let it stay in position for its defensive bonus and let it break as retiring would open up even more problems.

Other games present you with similar situations but do this by way of command rules and dice to introduce friction. Volley & Bayonet does it by virtue of their movement, morale and combat rules alone. In contrast to other games I think more about what my units can do by themselves rather than issuing limited command points or roll dice for one formation and shift my plan upon the result.

Skirmishers, morale and the difference between linear and columnar tactics are well covered without being cumbersome. An easy pre game system spices up the pick up battles. It is by far less time consuming than what Blücher does if you want to concentrate on the battle. It can also be ported to your favorite set of rules easily. The lack of formations and blocky Regiments can detract from the visual appeal of the game, though. This is reflected in the pictures of the miniatures battles throughout the book which just don’t do it for me.

Corps Scale

With Corps level rule sets there is always the option to go a lot bigger and cross the border into the army level. Depending on complexity, big games might take a long while to finish though. Therefore about a (reinforced) Corps is usually recommended. Many of these rules are light on depicting higher level command. Instead it is assumed that you are fighting a part of a bigger battle or that groups of people in a multiplayer game are representing the command structure.

Recommendations: For a detailed rules set that plays well and reasonably fast I recommend General d’Armee. I personally prefer Black Powder with heavy amendments (see below). Both sets seem very different but games flow in a similar manner and a lot faster with Black Powder. For low miniature counts, quick play but no less interesting decisions I highly recommend 2×2 Napoleonics.

2×2 Napoleonics

Author: Jon Rigsby, Eric Sprague, Rod Humble
Maneuver Unit: Regiment
Player Formation: Reinforced Corps
Experience:
High
Battle Reports: Plancenoit, Peninsular Bash
Available freely here

With the rules market flooded I didn’t expect much from a free word document with only basic layout and sparse writing. What I got was a gem. On a 2 by 2 foot table quite big battles can be played with a small figure count. Nothing special so far. The mechanics, however, almost seem alien in comparison to most of the other rule sets on this list. Yet, they are simple and elegant. After the first read you will probably scratch your head about a couple of the rules and modifiers. But with every game another intricate principle of the rules reveal itself. What begins as a jumbled mess will make more and more sense and actually resemble a Napoleonic game.

Cavalry, for example seems almost laughably weak but after you carefully positioned and released them into weakened enemy troops they can cut a bloody swathe through the enemy, winning you the game. You learn and keep your cavalry in reserve just as real commanders did. Infantry, on the other hand, bogs down in fire fights and becomes stationary for long stretches of the battle to a point where you need reinforcements to press an advantage.

Of course the nods to quick play and small scale come at the cost of some period flavor and shortcuts. There are no higher level formations and armies are limited in size (the latter is easy to fix). Games end rather quickly with a De Bellis Antiquitatis-like victory condition of 5 units routed. but overall it is an absolutely great system that is incredible fun to play. It lends itself very well for solo play as units get increasingly hard to move and turns fly by. Yet interesting decisions are abundant.

Bataille Empire

Author: Hervé Caille
Maneuver Unit: Battalion-Regiment (can scale)
Player Formation: Reinforced Division to army
Experience:
Low
Battle Reports: Plancenoit

WIP

Black Powder (1st and 2nd Edition)

Author: Rick Pristley, Jervis Johnson
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
High
Battle Reports: The Allure of Simple Wargaming, Unterphalen Campaign 3, 4, 6

Most people either love it or hate it. For me it is a bit of both. The game as written has a very solid foundation but the Second Edition squandered every chance to adjust some of the problem areas. I am actually quite angry about what I basically see as cash grab edition (and I rarely see it this way with historical wargaming). I would go so far to recommend buying the 1st edition, if it is cheaper. It is still my favorite book of the two. Some of the many source books try to modify problematic rules but then you have a mess of special rules strewn around in several books.
Honestly you can easily cut a lot of the chaff away to make it easier, tighter to play and way more believable for Napoleonics. With the modifications I made and borrowed from other players it is the best Battalion/Regimental scale to me. Of course this comes at the tail end of a long list of personal changes done as a solo gamer. I say Regimental because it is easy to upscale (use as is or increase stamina throughout by 1 or 2). The mechanics seem gamey to many but when I did comparison games of the same scenario and forces between different games, Black Powder was always faster, more dramatic and at least similarly believable.

The mechanics add a lot of uncertainty into the game which make other games pale in comparison. In many games you know exactly when the enemy is in charge range, how much your troops can take, or that you can react to a flank move. In Black Powder you have way less of this God Factor which leads to interesting decisions and exercises in risk taking. Units don’t move at a critical moment or zip around the battlefield changing the tactical landscape. Some units take a beating turn after turn and don’t break, others quit the field after the first charge. This is arguable a more believeable commander’s perspective than in games where the commander knows every measurement and strength point of both sides. As quite a lot of dice rolls are used this is not totally chaotic as it sounds to people not familiar with the rules. You can carefully balance the odds as a player, they just don’t always fall in your favor.

With my amendments (Black Powder Edition N, link following) it actually makes sense to fight like a Napoleonic army (much more than before at least). I have done careful maneuvers with the French that approach in ordre mixte (the real one, not the Black Powder formation rule) or rows of assault columns and either soften up the enemy or just smash through unsupported lines. I released the cavalry reserve on a massed cavalry charge to break the enemy. I did careful maneuvering over a number of turns to slowly retire from a difficult situation. And of course I tried all of the above and failed miserably when the unexpected happened. And I did all of this with a look on the QRS at times and the rulebook even less.

De Bellis Napoleonicis (2.1)

Author: Alex Testo and Bob Carter
Maneuver Unit: Brigade (see below)
Player Formation: Army (see below)
Experience:
Low

De Bellis Napoleonicis (DBN), as you might have assumed goes back to the wargaming staple De Bellis Antiquitatis (DBA). For the most part DBN is a solid port from DBA pre Version 3 from Ancients to the Napoleonic era. There is an optional rule that introduces hit points to model the attritional nature of horse & musket combat as well.

As with all the DB+a letter (also called DBX) rule sets, including the original, the focus is on a quick game, not on authenticity. The artificial nature become even more apparent in DBN, where the close to 12 unit army and command based on big groups of units looks decidedly not Napoleonic. Especially when you take into a account that the single base units actually represent a brigade each. This is also the reason I put DBN into the Corps scale category. It gets better when you play with multiple armies per side and treat units as Battalions or Regiments but the problem remained for me. Another problem is shooting. DBA as such has limited amounts of it for a good reason. Melee is the system’s strong point. In DBN I have to mentally square off shooters against each other in opposed die rolls which feels weird.

If you like DBA, chances are that you will like DBN and its focus on a good game above all else. For what its worth the rule book is written in clean, understandable English (in contrast to DBA) and offers quite a bit of extra content to add period flavor here and there.

Field of Glory Napoleonics (2nd Edition)

Author: Richard Gordon and Brett Preston-Thomas
Maneuver Unit: Regiment
Player Formation: Reinforced Corps
Experience:
Medium

As a spin off from the once popular Ancients set Field of Glory (FoG) the Napoleonics variant (FoGN) shares much of the same DNA. These are so called competition or tournament sets which focus on detail and long watertight explanations of their rules. Especially in the Ancients scene there is nothing wrong with that but I have a feeling that competition play far less important to Napoleonic players.

It is at least less important to me, which makes FoGN rather clunky to understand and play. It has many tables, modifiers and extra rules to cover intricacies of the period but also to keep your nose in the rulebook at all times. A QRS of several pages length that doesn’t even help in 60% of times speaks volumes.

As the title says the rule set is currently in its second edition which did a very good job in terms of layout and explanation. It also added a cool and impactful setup phase where both commanders decide on battle plans which then regulate set up and certain advantages for each side. Nevertheless most games I played I didn’t finish because everything takes so much time to do and I’m never feeling in the flow of the game. This problem might incline oneself to get a deeper understanding of the rules but only if there is a certain draw to them. Sadly, there is not. FoGN is more detailed in the minutia of maneuver and combat than most sets on this list but nothing stands out as particularly eye opening or different in a positive way. Command goes through a clunky table of situations, firing goes through several tables to figure out how many d6 to roll against which number and what the outcome is. Morale is handled by… yes, more tables. Even an old fast play version to try the rules is only a couple of pages long but contains 10 tables. Many of which have to be consulted frequently.

Going by the rare occasions I find coverage of FoGN games I think I am not alone. A shame really, considering the good production values, deep army list resources and clean writing and layout of the books.

General d’Armee

Author: David C R Brown
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Divisions to Corps
Experience: Medium

GdA brings being a corps commander to live really well with its command and control rules. Your limited focus can shift the odds to act in a manner you want significantly at one place but this comes at the cost of leaving more things up to chance at the other places of the battlefield. Though the choice of weighing your influence is yours and that gives a great period feel and generates interesting decisions.

Where GdA falls down the ranks a bit for me is the rest. You can control formations and skirmisher screens, there are many different status effects for troops. It plays elegantly apart from the somewhat convoluted fall back rules. It just has a lot of mechanics to go through all the time. In some other rules systems these are baked into other mechanics, here you have more tables, details and management. This gives believable battles and forces the use of period tactics but is a bit too much for me to spin on the plate at the same time. To be honest, I think a big part of the problem stems from playing solo. GdA seems a tad too detailed for doing that. Although I know a part or two where streamlining wouldn’t hurt in a 2nd edition (I’m looking at you rout / fall back / fire discipline).

If you take this personal view out of the equation, GdA is a Corps level set I can recommend for players who know the period and are looking for a well designed, well presented and more detailed but not cumbersome set of rules.

Lasalle (2nd Edition)

Author: Sam A. Mustafa
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
Low

WIP

Napoleon at War

Author: Ángel Saquero
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
None

WIP

One-Hour Wargames

Author: Neil Thomas
Maneuver Unit: Probably Battalion or Regiment
Player Formation: A task force or a Reinforced Division
Experience:
Medium

Some books are just treasure troves. One-Hour Wargames (OHW) falls into this category. Its nine variations of the same basic rules cover anything from Ancients to WWII it very coarse grained detail. These are beginner rules or for people who are not into the hobby that much (which is totally fine). I quickly learned that they are missing way too much flavor and details for me personally.

But the 30 scenarios can be easily adapted for other games and are an invaluable resource to spice up non historic pick-up games. They also thought me a lot about scenario design in general. Part of marriage between the rules and the scenarios are random force tables. As every army fields at most six units it is practical to randomize the types of units player get somewhat. This makes the scenarios much more replayable and takes agency from the player in a believable way. Generals have to use what the got to pursue their goals. No more shopping for troops in points lists. Polemos does something similar but more detailed and geared to Napoleonics.

Polemos – General de Division (2nd Edition)

Author: Chris Grice
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Corps
Experience:
None

WIP

Polemos – Ruse de Guerre

Author: Glenn Pearce
Maneuver Unit: Battalion or Regiment
Player Formation: Reinforced Corps
Experience:
Low
Battle Reports: Elchingen

To be clear, Ruse de Guerre (RdG) is not intended for Napoleonics but all the mechanisms are there to play the period, apart from different cavalry types. This can be fixed with grading heavy cavalry as more or less experienced. Although not necessarily similar to 2×2 Napoleonics both games omit some details (like low level formations) in order to have easy to memorize mechanics and modifier lists. Going through the motions is quick and easy without losing too much flavor.

Apart from solid rule mechanics to manage movement and combat, the command and control rules are the most important aspect of the rules. Command points regulate the actions of a commander and his troops like in the De Bellis Antiquitatis games family. But in RdG the process is much more involved in a good way. Players start of a bidding war with their points each turn instead of a simple initiative roll. Consequences of winning or losing a bid can be high which is a much more involved and thorough representation of battlefield initiative than most other games on this list achieve. As usual, such competitive elements are less suited for solo play.

Formations (like Divisions) tie nicely into the command point rules. In rules like Black Powder and General d’Armee formations are groups of units which move, fight and break together. The move together aspect is stressed in RdG by the costs of command points as it is in DBN. But where DBN uses straight forward command point costs, RdG’s costs are tied to winning or losing the initiative as well as the actions which are about to be performed. Where I had problems with DBN the mechanics of RdG result in a more believable handling of a Division on the table. Instead of waiting for a good die roll for command points, a player also wants to win the initiative and can still only commit a limited amount of units to the assault. But losing the initiative can also come with a lot of command points, which represents phases of high activity and lulls in battle nicely.

It is this command system which will either make or break RdG for a player. All the other rules are in place to facilitate its strength in a fast flowing way, omitting some details to achieve it.

Rank and File

Author: Mark Sims Stone
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
Low

An interesting rule set that is quite easy and generic to play without using period specific rules (of there are some in the rule book). Everything works with bases and casualties eventually remove bases. In this sense it is similar to Fire and Fury (or Age of Eagles or Bloody Big Battles) but with Battalions instead of Brigades. But it does not feel like it, especially as there is virtually no command friction. It actually reminded me of a more deterministic Black Powder in a sense that players always know that troops will move, how much they will move (apart from retiring) and how much they can take before quitting the field. The comparision goes as far as some modifier lists, which read very much the same as Black Powder (which was printed later).

From the limited experience I have with Rank and File I can say that I didn’t like it. Not because it was bad in any way but because the other sets mentioned have more of the flavor and uncertainty. If you are in the camp of Black Powder ‘haters’ due to its uncertainty, you might want to take a look at Rank and File though. With its base removal it also has a decidedly old school feel.

Republic to Empire

Author: Barry Hilton
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
None

WIP

Shadow of the Eagles

Author: Keith Flint
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
None

WIP

Simplicity in Practice

Author: Neil Thomas
Maneuver Unit: Battalion
Player Formation: Reinforced Division
Experience:
Low
Battle Reports: Simplicity in Practice with Adjutant Introuvable
Only available online in Battlegames Magazine issue 23

Neil Thomas wrote Simplicity in Practice (SiP) as proof of an argument: That rules can be very simple to understand but intricate and interesting to play. His design notes also give a great insight into the thought processes of these rules. As a magazine rule set of about 2 pages SiP is missing all the extra bits you get in rule books like set up rules, army lists, advanced rules, rules explanations and clarification for corner cases. Still SiP manages to prove the point, mostly. The melee rules pile up amounts of d6 instead of modifiers to rolls. Whoever scores the higher sum wins. Now this is a bit novel but also problematic. The modifiers are absolutely punishing for the attacker unless the defender can be whittled down by simple attrition. This can be read as the necessary 2:1 advantage an attacking force needs to have according to the ‘rules of war’. But it doesn’t feel that way on the tabletop. It seems like you are sending your units into suicide missions or just don’t melee at all because it seems unwinnable as attacker.

Apart from proving the point there is nothing in SiP I find particularly interesting in comparison to other sets. I would consider it an upgrade for One-Hour Wargames if one wants a bit more but not the complexity or breath of rules of many other sets on this list.

Miscellaneous

The following category is for non-tabletop games that are noteworthy.

Command & Colors Napoleonics

Author: Richard Borg
Maneuver Unit: Variable
Player Formation: Variable
Experience:
High

Wargaming is not about the spectacle of miniatures for me and therefore historical block & card games take up a big part of my board game collection. Command & Colors Napoleonics (CCN) is a game I often use as a gateway to tabletop gaming. With so many rule sets and battles to choose from, Analysis Paralysis sometimes makes it hard to decide on anything to play next. CCN give me a treasure trove of scenarios (which can be accessed online as well). I can just open a box, pick a page in a scenario book and go for it. I never have to worry about figures, terrain, rules, table size and all that stuff that makes tabletop games so flexible but also far less approachable at times.

As said on the Here’s no great matter blog, the experience of Command & Colors Ancients “was not after all playing out an engaging alternate history, but the thrill of how you handled your cards, positioned your units, rolled your dice and bluffed and outwitted your opponent.” The same holds true for CCN. Arguably, this is the reason why it works so well to invigorate the interest in the history and bigger tabletop projects. I can just play and have a good game but then I want to know more, play a more believable game or I can just pack it away and focus on other things.

CCN can also bridge to gap to people who are less interested in the period or tabletop games. Although I made the experience that it takes a bit getting used to and games can get one sided rather quickly if one player has way more experience in the game. This can be solved by handicapping the experienced player with less command cards.

On itself CCN is a very good game. One I’m happy to own with nearly all expansions. On spectacle and authenticity it cannot compete with my favorite tabletop games. On the other hand, being a hex boardgame, none of the listed tabletop sets can compete with CCN on clarity of rules and the very engaging and quick “make decision -> see outcome” cycle.

Bonus Tip: The blocks and terrain from CCN can be a wonderful alternative to miniatures (as seen in this battle report). They are well scaled for playing on smaller tables with sizeable enough armies and are easy to stow away. That’s actually 50% of the reason I bought CCN in the first place.

21 thoughts on “The Ultimate Napoleonic Wargame Rules Review and Comparison”

  1. Interesting project. I haven’t found anything I would disagree with too much, except maybe thinking that DBx is under-rated as a simulation. Good luck with expanding this.

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    1. In terms of DBA and Ancients I’m inclined to agree. With DBN I had my problems in this department. Have you played DBN? Are there particular things that you think it simulated well that I might have missed?

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  2. Very nice page – hope you keep it going. Given your contrasting reactions to Age of Eagles and Rank & File, I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on March Attack ( by the same author as R&F, and sharing – I think – some commonalities with the Fire & Fury family.).

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  3. Outstanding compilation of Napoleonic rules – thank you for posting. So much out there to choose from! I’ve tried and own most of the rules mentioned above but keep coming back to black powder for its speed and relative simplicity. It gives me just enough crunchiness without being too simple or too complex.

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    1. @thedisgruntedfusilier. Same with our small group in Mutford – we enjoy BP1 and (agreeing with the website owner) certainly I would not recommend BP2 to anyone. Another gamer explained that BP1 is essentially a raw framework onto which you can build house rules as appropriate. For example, all our commands are coded and we draw a counter from a bag to see which command goes next. Of course having house rules means playing people from other groups can be problematic.

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      1. “a raw framework onto which you can build house rules” is a good way to describe it. If someone does want exactly that from a set of rules Black Powder is king.

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  4. DBN doesn’t have fixed 12 unit armies. It has points values for units, the player is allotted 12 points. The points can be upscaled without any detriment, and several historical scenarios are available from the DBN site that use a lot more than the basic 12 point armies. Waterloo, for example, has 46 French units, 44 Allied and 27 Prussian, as well as special rules and victory conditions.

    If you wish to use all militia (M), you get 24 units. Of course if if your army consists of Old Guard (E) you only get 8 units 🙂

    DBN is much more subtle than DBX, and owes little to Barker’s game except the concept. It’s also ideal for smaller figure sizes – 6/3/2mm.

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    1. You are right about the points system. I slightly changed the text but my original points holds true in my perspective. You can use more or less troops in any game. But the usual intended size for a game is around the 12 unit mark. Even if I use multiple armies per side, which I have, the problems remained for me.

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      1. It’s all personal taste, and I’m grateful that you undertook this project.

        I agree with your criticisms of Absolute Emperor, or Absolute Shambles as we call it.

        Like many Osprey rules there’s probably quite a good game in there, but the editing and layout are chaotic. It’s not as bad as Wargames Foundry’s Napoleon though. They are truly dire.

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  5. An excellent resource. Looking forward to seeing your thoughts/modifications to Black Powder. Thanks

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  6. What a fantastic resource, thanks for all your time and effort that you have / will put into. This and for sharing. I have some of those rule sets that you mention so far and we seem. To have a similar outlook, so I look forward to whatever follows, cheers Norm.

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  7. Nice work. I agree with your summary of Black Powder – I enjoyed many games with these rules but period flavour can be a problem.

    I will simply mention ‘Shadow of the Eagles’, because I wrote them. Published by Partizan Press.

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  8. a great resource this page will be, though i think it will take a few lifetimes to cover all the rules out there – will you be trying all the older rules out there too like first edition Napoleon’s Battles, Legacy of Glory and also all the free rules out there like Elan Deluxe, and Guard du Corps?

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    1. Thank you Mitchell. I will only cover different editions if I ‘grew up’ with them, so to speak. As with older rules. Everything is possible if it seems interesting to me.

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