Wargamer’s Notebook 25

The Napoleonic Fair has changed. Many more book stands, fewer figure manufacturers and even more people. I am not honestly sure it is still a show worth attending since it is a major crush, largely the same every year and represents a potentially huge drain on the wallet. I escaped this year with a book I have been hunting for five years and some newer volumes, but apart from that, zip – not that I wasn’t tempted by plates, pictures, books I would never read and figures that I will never paint. But the real point of going was to witness the efforts of Alan Martin and his SAS chums. The result was hugely uplifting – an excellent, large Peninsula game that was well staffed and surrounded by interesting literature. Well presented with some superb scenery and consequently imposing, it drew in the public in large numbers. Questions were answered quickly and with enthusiasm and while I was convinced of the plan in writing, I am now completely sold having seen it in practice. It is impossible to say how many recruits were captivated, but I can’t think of a better way of approaching this thorny issue. Congratulations to all involved.

Two interesting sets of rules have arrived on the desk, which makes the number I have to try close to twenty… oh well. Can’t complain. A-Z Rules have a range of four games available: ACW, Ancients, Age of Sail and the Campaigns of Napoleon. As is my wont, I have tried only the latter set but the innovative systems and well explained concepts are common to all. I liked this set of rules, despite large numbers of modifiers (!), which we recently tried for a small battle. They work on the ‘love it or hate it’ 6 to hit system and National Characteristics, but the results are credible and the system was unusual enough for me to take notice. There is a clever restriction of a general’s ability to react to anything and the feel was good. We shall return to these rules in time. A to Z rules are available from Delphi Corporation, 355 Purdy Hill Road, Monroe CT 06468, USA.

Napoleonic Command is an interesting set of rules. Indeed, it is almost an exercise in military historical study rather than a rule set per se, but given the drift from reality of many of its rivals, this is refreshing. And from reading is also eminently playable and the most innovative set I’ve seen in a while. The idea is basically to raise the level of command to the top level, by which you write orders and then, generally speaking, you stand back and wait to see what happens. Subordinate commanders are given very restrictive scope for action, much as I see it, and the rest of the rules are simple mechanisms for resolving the outcome of the two commander’s actions. This is a thin book that may prove to require some filling in on the more obscure rules, but I hope not. Looks good. Available from Jeffrey A Knudsen, Crusader Games, 3811 W 34th St, Cleveland, OH 44109, USA. I will definitely return with more comments when I have played this one.

Christopher Moeller has designed and produced, as a cut out gamekit, Napoleon’s Eagles. This is a card game allowing you to play the battles of the 1815 campaign and further expansions are planned, probably starting with the 1806 campaign. The game cards are nicely done, mainly featuring Christopher’s own artwork, and, by his own admission, the design is by a ‘one book willie’ rather than a doctoral thesis. Make of that what you will, but the game is quick and fun, using playing cards as a driver, and not likely to trouble the historians. Christopher Moeller, 210 Parkside Drive, Pittsburgh, PA 15228, USA.

They’re coming in droves! Siggins can’t cope! And where are the British equivalents? I recently saw an advert for ‘Woodens’, which are 30mm x 3mm-ish flat wooden figures, laser cut from wood and then pre-coloured to a very high standard. The idea seems to be a good one, especially since they look very impressive in toy soldier stylee and would allow one to get into a new period with minimum fuss. Two drawbacks: they only have Foreign Legion and Arabs so far, albeit in several varieties, and they are not exactly inexpensive at $14 per set of 4 to 10 figures. But bear in mind there is no painting involved, and you can do battles like Tony bath used to, and you can start to see the potential. Next up are ACW and sailing ships. Windcatcher Graphics, 1902 Prelude Drive, Vienna, VA 22182-3346, USA.

Talonsoft have finally finished off their long running Battleground series and have moved on. Whether they have moved on technically is perhaps debatable after spending a few hours with Eastern Front, their new platoon level system. The game is a good one, allowing you to play big, monumental stuff like Stalingrad or smallish skirmishes, but the system is slow in making its decisions and moving the sometimes vast numbers of Russians. I have also seen some odd graphical glitches. Counterbalancing this are the usual superb graphics (no-one can say these games don’t look stunning) and tens of scenarios – all different, all interesting as far as I can tell – which really hike the play value. It may therefore be a case of teething problems, but problems there are which is surprising since the game isn’t too detached from the BattleGround engine. All that said, I think Battleground had probably run its course and it will be interesting to see where this series goes next. My guess is the Western Front! Also from Talsonsoft’s UK distributor, Empire Interactive, is Flying Corps Gold. I enjoyed the original, but this is far better – the graphics improvement alone is worth the price of the upgrade. Excellent stuff.

After a virtual drought, it has been an excellent month for books. We start with the new Waterloo book from Peter Hofschroer which, if nothing else, should set straight the ‘pro-British bias’ that Peter has long whinged about. Whether the emphasis will drift too far back towards the Prussian/German contribution remains to be seen. Initial dipping has produced an excellent chapter on my beloved Brunswickers and indications of some completely new research. Looking forward to this one. Next up is L’Epopee Napoleonienne which is from the prolific and very reasonably priced Histoire & Collections company. Written by F G Hourtoulle, a name I seem to recognise for some reason, and illustrated by J Jirbal (MS:With hindsight, this could be the author and Hourtoulle the artist?), this is a marvellous book – each section of the French Army, the token opponent and a good few famous Napoleonic events, are analysed and captured in a colour plate. Stylistically these are a little unusual for watercolours (sort of stylized Leliepvre), and unlikely to form the basis for colour swatches, but nevertheless well done and appealing. They grow on you. Finally, I’ll admit to a weak point for Angus McBride’s artwork. Accordingly I own a lot of Osprey books on subjects I wouldn’t usually bother with just to get the plates. Imagine my pleasure at finding Ancient Celts from Concord Publications which contains no less than twenty superb plates for £12. Great value, if you can ignore the turgid Tim Newark accompanying prose.

Around 50% of you will probably consider this great news, but I am going to take a short break from the column. Purely personal reasons, nothing more, and I hope to be back as soon as time and family commitments permit. Thanks for reading so far and I’ll see some of you for a pint at Salute, Partizan I or even Historicon, which is a distinct possibility this year.