Reviewing Grand Battles Napoleon

Now you have your "Marshal's baton" share with us your military tactics, uniform sources and generally anything to do with the Napoleonic wars...

Reviewing Grand Battles Napoleon

Postby FredericktheGreat » Thu Jul 17, 2014 10:27 pm

With the chance to pre-order your copy of Grand Battles Napoleon launching tomorrow, 18th of July, it seems like a good time to review the game and ponder the authors musings!


Grand Battles Napoleon is a set of rules for recreating Napoleonic battles with model soldiers. Players can play GBN using any scale from 6mm all the way up to 28mm miniatures and there are guidelines for gaming in the various scales. Units represent infantry regiments, cavalry regiments, artillery batteries and skirmish battalions and screens.

Why did we fix the unit size at regimental and not battalion or brigade, I hear you ask? Although brigade level games are quite fun and allow players to re-fight massive battles without blowing the budget, it is impossible to represent your favourite regiments, like the Russian 6th Jager, French 57th Ligne, Austrian Deutschmeister regiment or Baden light dragoons for example. On the other end of the spectrum, battalion level games are great for micro level tactics but are an obstacle to corps and larger level games able to be played in a couple of hours. Since I wanted a degree of individual unit narrative without compromising the corps + requirements of a game, that could be finished in 2-3 hours comfortably, the regiment as the basic unit seemed the logical decision.

Players take on the role of army or corps commanders. Each player usually commanding around four to five divisions, with each division composed of between two to seven units. Thus the average size of a game is a corps + assets depending on which nation you are using.

Players are welcome to create their own armies using historical orders of battle. However, we have worked hard producing comprehensive and historically accurate army lists called Parade Handbooks for almost every major and minor nation that fought in the Napoleonic wars. Each nation is represented by two Parade Handbooks, the first for the era Revolution to Empire, covering the period of mostly linear style warfare from 1790-1807. The second handbook is for the era Empire to Liberation, covering the period of mostly column tactics and self contained corps style warfare from 1808-1815. These lists are points based, although if players just want to create historical lists from them and dispense with the points, they can do this too! We have also provided, in our supplement Legion d’honneur, a national summary for almost every single unit that fought between 1808 and 1815 for every nation with a points cost per unit for player that just want to get stuck in quickly!

The game is driven by two important, and to my mind exciting mechanisms, command initiative and response. Both these mechanisms make the game completely interactive at all times. Inspired by the other game we publish – Koenig Krieg, the initiative system has been adopted for Grand Battles Napoleon. In a time where games designers are seeking new ways to make the game interactive, we here at Siege Works Studios have been doing this quite successfully in our 18th century game since 2009.

Grand Battles Napoleon is definitely not a you-go-I-go game. It is very important that players understand the function of initiative in this set of rules as it governs most of the actions that occur during a turn. Actions are not sequential, neither are they simultaneous. Instead commanders test initiative several times during the turn.

The player who wins the initiative test may activate one of his divisions or force his opponent to activate one of their divisions instead. Both players roll for initiative round after round until all units on both sides have had a chance to act. In this way each player is kept “in the game” at all times, with each general tied to their initiative command ability and the important decision to strike now or force their opponent to act instead!

The second exciting mechanism is response. Response is divided between command response and unit response. Commanders need to perform response tests if they wish to perform sweeping grand tactical orders, maintain command control should they find themselves outside command range of their corps, wing or army general or to steady the troops from becoming demoralised as casualties in the division mount.

Unit response allows your troops to act out of turn and react to movement within their zone of control or when being charged. So that even within the other player’s activation the non acting player is never really out of the game.

I have always found the Napoleonic wars an excellent period to wargame. Warfare raged all across the globe, in Europe, America, the Middle East and India, providing us with many interesting campaigns and armies to draw from. The uniforms of many of the major nations and their allies were splendid in their restrained magnificence, giving us plenty of painting and organisational opportunities.

It was an age where the individual could still make a difference and many young and ambitious soldiers rose to command armies during this period of history. As such, the individual soldier was still, in a way, a prized object. The Napoleonic soldier no longer was forced to hack at his enemy with sword and spear at close quarters, nor had he yet sunk into the mire of trenches, drones and massed firepower.

Furthermore, as a games designer, I was intrigued by the parity between the three arms of the army. Artillery was powerful and maneuverable, but not yet heavy enough or technologically advanced enough that it dominated the battlefield from afar.

Cavalry was still the most fearsome weapon at the general’s disposal. It was plentiful, often comprising up to one quarter of an army’s total strength and was often composed of large quantities of battlefield cavalry, able to cut a vulnerable enemy to pieces, especially the heavy cavalry, like cuirassiers. Nonetheless cavalry could be checked by artillery and infantry squares.

Infantry was the body of an army. It could protect itself from cavalry with the bayonet and deliver a potent fire at close range, especially if the infantry were able to form line. However, its dense formations made good targets and when placed under pressure, infantry divisions could become shaken, demoralised and collapse, when pressed hard.

In Grand Battles Napoleon, I have tried hard to represent the intricacies of each arm and emphasise their relationships with each other. Units act via operations. The types and amount of operations a unit may perform are defined by the type of unit, is it cavalry, infantry, skirmishers, the units national character, i.e. does the infantry prefer fighting in lines or column, and the quality of the troops, are they guards or militia?

These rules give you everything you need to run set-piece battles from the heights of Valmy, pyramids of Egypt, river systems of Seringapatam to the plains and villages of Aspern-Essling and chateaus of Waterloo. Alongside the Parade Handbooks, to be released over the next few months, will be many historical re-fights. Or if time is pressing, you and a few mates can settle in on a Friday night and play any one of 10 points based missions from Grand Battles Napoleon and Legion d’honneur. There are also rules for running tournaments and linked campaigns.
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