The story of Napoleon at War started many months ago when my good friend Ricardo asked me if I would be able to develop rules for a miniatures game set in the Napoleonic era which could not only be used to recreate real, historic battles but that could also be used to organise tournaments.
What seemed like a simple proposal, one simple and innocent question, turned into months of work and countless playtests.
Napoleon at War is not the first Napoleonic game I have designed, but it is the first, which, even before starting, had so many requirements (each contained in that one, innocent question): Rules which allow you to recreate historic battles with miniatures need to recreate the atmosphere of the epoch and would normally be played in a laidback way, allowing even for some of the rules to be relaxed or remodelled as the historic battle developed. On the other hand, a game used in tournaments requires, in my point of view, several indispensable ingredients:
The duration of the matches and the size of the table should be standard and not too large: tournament halls can become crowded places. We also have to play a minimum 3 rounds in a day for the tournament to be hard-fought and for the best player to win, so the games shouldn’t last more than two and a half hours.
The number of miniatures making up the armies must be reasonable: enough to make the game aesthetically appealing and but no so many that it takes us six months to prepare our army to play.
We need different scenarios to provide different challenges for the player so as not to play the same match over and over.
If we work on this basis, we’ll need rules which provide a taste of the era and the appearance of a Napoleonic battle throughout the match, played with a reasonable number of miniatures, on a standard size table, with the ability to settle the game quickly but historically accurately, and in which each game is different even though the adversary is the same. Phew!
From all of this, Napoleon at War was born.
In Napoleon at War, each player becomes the commander of a division of the Napoleonic era and has to face different situations, similar to those faced by the real Generals.
In the Napoleonic age there were not only infantry divisions, but also cavalry, light infantry, vanguards, elite infantry and cavalry…. Generals commanded Cuirassiers, Hussars, Cossacks, Grenadiers or many others who fought and
died on the battlefields of the Old Continent.
And so we came up with the Army Lists. This system of lists with points of value is nothing new in miniature games, however the angle we’ve given it in Napoleon at War is: a cavalry commander faces different challenges to an infantry commander. If he attacks repeatedly, his battle plan has to be different…
To reflect all of this in the match we’ve paid special attention to the behaviour of the real historical units and adapted the rules so that the fighting styles of the miniatures are similar to their real-life counterparts.
However, a game of Napoleon at War doesn’t represent a complete battle but an essential part of one, in which our forces have to accomplish a mission. So, there is no strict time limit but a flowing of initiative as each side tries
to achieve its objective.
We’ve also opted to settle the combats, whether they are firing or mêlée by throwing a considerable number of dice. Far from basing the game on luck, having more throws increases the likelihood of the victory of a skilled General (although we might have a few surprises).
Along with the dice rolls we’ve decided not to use a long list of modifiers but to add or subtract dice from the total number thrown, since it’s easier and feels more intuitive: a good volley of shots allows you to roll a good number of dice. The more favourable the situation, the more dice you roll. But, if the enemy is covered, dice are taken away from our volley of fire. The result of each individual impact stays the same however, making it easy to
calculate the result.
Another aspect which concerned us during the development of the rules was the way in which the players move their soldiers in close order formation: if we calculate wheels by degrees, or keeping the corners in a fixed position or any other known system, we spend too much time measuring, or even worse, arguing about the turn, than making decisions, which is a General’s real job.
As for moves, we decided that the units at a certain distance from the enemy should be able to move with much more freedom than those who are under direct attack, or threatened by the presence of hostile troops. So we decided to make two different movement phases, allowing only the troops that are not engaged in combat to move in the second phase, so reflecting their increased capacity to respond to orders when not in a combat situation.
We didn’t want a large number of markers on the table or to have to do any type of paperwork, but on the other hand we did think it was important to physically take the casualties from the table, so adding drama and making the battle more physical.
To sum up, we believe the result of so many hours of design is a fast, fun and exciting game which visually reflects the results of the different clashes in a Napoleonic battle. Of course, the best way to see this is to play it yourself. So, let’s play!