Thoughts on the perfect Napoleonic rules

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Thoughts on the perfect Napoleonic rules

A Critique

by Oliver Silsby

First I must thank Peter Hunt for all the credit he gives me in the rule making process.  In all modesty, all I was trying to do was put in my share of sweat and effort to advance mankind, to enhance world culture, in short to make the world a better place . . . and clearly all humankind can only benefit by someone finally devising the perfect Napoleonic rules!

Peter’s rules are a tremendous improvement in all aspect on my rough ideas.  In particular he did a thorough job with the charts and adding various historical details.  One key change, his charts create even more dramatic losses than mine, which actually given twenty minutes per turn is more realistic.  Another significant improvement is the reduction in the number of command pips.  In my rules there were too many pips and the commander really did not have to make any serious decisions until his entire command was out of control or routing.  He has also done a good job of adding more detail to enhance the historicity of the game, as to the quality of troops, size of formation and so forth.  All in all a definite step up in the charts.  I really think, Peter, it is time to consider commercial publication!  For only 20% of all royalties I will call off my lawyers.

However, I would not be doing my part for humanity if, from my (wargaming) semi retirement here in Taiwan , I did not put forward certain comments or alternatives, of course in the spirit of friendship and cooperation and in the never ending search for rule perfection. 

The background to my writing the original rules was that at a certain period of my life with time heavy on my hand I somehow managed to acquire and or paint enough figures so that somewhere in boxes in storage in my house there are about 18 - 20 divisions representing every nation involved in the Nappy wars, with the exception of the Spanish, Swedes and Danes.   From this came the desire to create a set of rules that would allow in a normal timed game the use of massive number of toys, where each player could be a corps commander with two to three divisions under his command, pushing around as many as 15-20 battalions.

Obviously to achieve this one has to avoid much of the detail of battle and operate from a grand tactical position.  Too many overlays to basic fire and movement and too many details will bog down the grand attack.  The discovery of the near automatic fire and melee charts was a great breakthrough.  In the average situation no dice, or adjustment to the dice, is needed to resolve combat.  Further avoidance of dice and calculations results from avoiding morale checks; instead the “hits” number for each unit is the morale equivalent.

The result is a game with almost no dice throws, something almost unimaginable but clearly possible.  “Dice dependent” is no longer a valid excuse!  Instead much of the game is almost self executing, not requiring computing or adjusting dice results.  The commander now spends most of his time commanding, manoeuvring, moving up reserves and back shot up units. Once he commits to combat, the “system” will produce a result on its own and very quickly.  He no longer needs to worry about that extra dice addition or what luck may bring. In a sense, the rules start to approach those written with a computer doing all the calculations, except with these near automatic charts there is no need to input data.  There is the need to keep a record of losses but if units are clearly marked that is quick and easy.

To force historical play I did borrow the idea from Bruce Meyer of brigade integrity.  I also added rules to force guns to stay away from the enemy, as with the exception of horse artillery, mobile artillery did not appear until WW II.

Peter has clearly gone beyond my simple patching and borrowing and has thought the system out.  As such, his rules hang together very well and need no change.

HOWEVER, as is indeed my nature, I propose, with Peter’s kind permission, a “stripped down” version of A Near Run Thing, for all of you who also want to play Borodino in one day on a one to one level.  So here would be the few changes to Pete’s rules to create “A Near Run Thing, Turbo Version”.

My first strip would be the morale rules.  The number of “hit” points for each unit is meant to represent the morale level of a unit.  Taking hits does not represent losses of men so much as losses of officers and cadres and so the reversion of the unit from a disciplined group to a mob, and then the mob off the field, common sense no longer being held in check by those nasty sergeants and captains, as they are shot or sabered away.  Therefore I would remove ALL morale checks from the game.  I realize that this could theoretically result in strange situations, namely Cossack cavalry charging a square of Old Guard infantry, something that never happened in reality.  On the other hand the rules are written in such way that the result of such a charge is certain, namely that the Cossacks will vanish from the battle and the Guard will probably not be touched in the least.  So a commander can take historically incorrect action but this should only result in horrific damage to him.

Related to morale is the ability of a unit to remain on the field or to attack once it has taken punishment.  I would add back my rule that a command could not attack after certain percentage losses and even had to retire out of enemy range with more hits.  NOTE, this only applies to commands, not the units. Therefore, a badly hit unit but in a command with few losses, could still attack with the rest of the command.  Of course, the commander is taking a chance to have the unit go forward, it probably should be left behind, as would have happened historically.

Peter has substituted the need to use more command dice for damaged troops, which also works but now allows actions that were not doctrine or historical, the ability to attack with badly damaged troops.  The complete inability to move forward or to withdraw would reflect the concerns of the brigade and division commanders, who did not want to see their command wiped out, but around to fight another day. Yes, there certainly were heroic actions were commands did fight to the last, but such was not typical and was usually on the defensive anyway, not in attack.

My next point is the speed with which guns can move.  In my rules I require multiple turns for field artillery to move, even requiring heavy batteries to take three turns to limber or unlimber the guns.  This does not reflect the actual time involved historically but the imposition of historical doctrine to prevent players from turning their guns into self propelled artillery.  Historically guns were highly priced and prized and so, very highly protected.  They were never allowed to be put into position of capture and only went forward after the ground was secured by infantry.  It was for this reason that horse artillery was developed.  An alternative would be that foot guns can never advance within canister range, theirs or the enemies. .Either way, foot guns need to be nearly immobile or suddenly one is in the mid twentieth century.

Last but not least, infantry skirmishers should be able to withdraw from any formed infantry without becoming disordered.  Light infantry needed to be highly trained to skirmish in the first place and if so was most capable of staying at the right nasty sniping range from formed units.  As for cavalry, such should be able to withdraw without disorder from any infantry or guns, even horse guns, from both fire and charge given, their greater mobility.

Vive L’Empereur!! A l’attack!

Oliver Silsby, Feb. 1, 2002

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