Sunday, 6 December 2009

How to Get People Into Gaming Napoleonics...

...when it appears to be a losing battle!

All has been quiet here recently- too quiet, but there are some good reasons for this.

First off, I have been beavering away on my 20mm WWII Soviets for a game coming up sometime in January.  The good news is that I have been making excellent headway on assembling a 1944 tank brigade and motorcycle battalion, and have managed to maintain strict (for me!) project discipline so that I can now see an end in sight by the new year.

This means that I have consciously been avoiding the temptation of looking too closely at Nappy forums and blogs, for fear of distraction and of getting sidelined by all the new rules, figures, and other assorted goodness that seem to be pouring out of the hobby cornucopia these days.

The other reason I haven't been active on the Napoleonic front is that simply it has been proving a tough sell to other members of the club here, particularly in 28mm.  This is due to a number of factors as follows;

1)  Many members are more focussed on 15mm or even smaller through having played DBR or similar sets. 

2) The learning curve; none of the guys here are familiar with Napoleonics.  And admittedly it is a complex period, in terms of time frames, uniforms, tactics and organization.  Some members find the whole thing rather intimidating, if not absolutely overwhelming, for the beginner.

3) Nappy Grognards have a bad rep (go figure!), and people are simply hesitant to dip their feet into the piranha-filled pools that are various fora out there in order to seek more info (it is worth remembering that we are in Japan, and the exhortations by Crusty Old Purists for newbies to "Look It Up For Yourself At A Library" simply isn't an option here, so the Internet represents the best place to hunt for references).   

In this context,  even "helpful" advice along the lines of "Check the 1820 manuscript edition of the French regulations for Light Infantry in the Gironde archives" is pretty well worse than no advice at all.

4) A bewildering choice of rules, from skirmish to battalion-based games all the way up to corps level.  

Surely we all welcome the current bumper-crop of Napoleonic rules.  But as with so much in life, there is a reverse side to the shiny gold coin.  While variety is good, there is a downside in that first of all, gamers have to decide on which of the many new rule sets everyone can agree on.  No mean task!  And how can someone unfamiliar to the period even begin to make a judgment on which one set best suits their temperament, time, budget, and gaming philosophy?

A lot of Nappy rules require a good number of figures with specific basing conventions.  This can be a problem in that even if there is common consensus on a given set of rules, it can take a while to assemble the minimum number of miniatures- the "critical mass"  required for a decent game.  This is much less of a problem with, say, WW2 games.

But before this, it is necessary to get people hooked on the period in the first place, let alone on a particular set of rules.  Those new to the period need to find themselves gaming early on with whatever number of miniatures are available at the time - and they have to find themselves enjoying the experience if they are to stick at it.  

I suppose that initially one could use cardboard counters.  But in a period where I feel the visual appeal is paramount, cutout counters are not exactly ideal for getting the juices flowing amongst the wavering and uninitiated.  I need to persuade prospective gamers early on that of course they want to part with their time and money, and to invest in Perry and Front Rank miniatures in expectation of More Joy to Come!

Now, all this has resulted in me back-pedalling the era.  I was thinking of doing DBN, but what with so much DBR being played, I very much doubt whether the system offers a different enough "flavour" from the usual gaming experience so that it makes people want to rush off and spend money reserved for their kids' education on a container load of Perry Miniatures instead.  

Furthermore, at the level of representation of DBN there is a good argument that the smaller scales really do suit these particular rules best.  An argument hard to counter except for personal reasons (i.e. I'm well and truly committed to 28mm with hundreds upon hundreds of the buggers!).

A daunting situation all round.  But there has been some recent light at the end of a darkening tunnel, and it's looking as if there is the beginning of some interest in doing Napoleonic skirmishing.  Well, this is an ideal level of representation for 28mm, people don't need a whole lot of figures to start out with (or shall I say,  get hooked on...), and I have a number of rule sets that may fit the bill- Sharpe Practice by the Two Fat Lardies, for example.  

But in the interests of simplicity and ease of play, I have also been working on a set of small-scale rules based on mechanisms from, of all things, Wings of War- but that is the subject for another post!

Now there will be nary a redcoat in sight, as I will initially be doing Freikorps and petite-guerre actions in Central Europe and France in 1813-1814.    Eventually of course, I want to work my way up to larger games.  I was intending on using General de Brigade, but I will be closely following reports on how all the recent new rule sets that have been vomiting forth from the wargames press these days play out.  

If Nappies do end up taking off here, I'll try to get people to commit to at least a brigade.  With all those great plastics out there now, at least cost is no longer an excuse!


Rafael Pardo said...

You could try Lasalle, the new rule set of Sam Mustafa
Best regards

JAM said...

Nice to see you back Robert. I am setting up my first game of Lasalle as we speak.


Peter said...

I'm curious as to why people are choosing Lasalle or any of the other new glossy rules. I've got all of them - Black Powder, Republic to Empire, Lasalle and even Napoleon - and will slowly digest them for potential consumption on the gaming table.

FWIW based on my reading so far I would see Black Powder as a simpler game than Republic to Empire but the latter seems much more Napoleonic to me and probably more the level of detail I'd prefer. Probably too much detail for some though!

I haven't started reading Lasalle yet. A quick flick seemed to show many (no doubt useful) diagrams rather than pictures of figures (the curse of the eye candy has drawn me to the others first perhaps) and most of the pictures there were seemed to be of 15mm. I am so fickle!! 8O)

von Peter himself

Iannick said...

Hmmm...I missed your return it seems!

Nice to see you back.

- This means that I have consciously been avoiding the temptation of looking too closely at Nappy forums and blogs, for fear of distraction -

That I can relate! I try to concentrate on Napoleonic blogs and forums for that reason.

Iannick said...

Agree with Peter, RtE is definitely on the complex side. I want to play though before really judging it. It's so hard to get a good idea of a ruleset just by reading it.

Robert said...

So far I find myself in two minds. I actually don't mind a complex rule set (I used to play Bruce Quarrie's rules years ago), but that was just solo or with a good friend or two who didn't fight tooth and nail over rule interpretations. So RtoE sounds intriguing.

But as far as gaming with a group who are unfamiliar with Nappys. and who only have three-five hours at most for a game once or month or so, it will have to be something simpler, and which does not require a lot of miniatures while everyone gets started. Black Powder? Lasalle? The jury is still out, but I can't justify ordering a copy of each just yet, so I'll have to peruse various on-line battle reports for a while to try to get a sense of the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Johs's reports on Lasalle were very helpful in that regard.

Then of course, there is the issue of compatible basing and figure ratios- groan!

Docsmith said...

Hi Robert

I know what you mean - there are a plethora of Horse&Musket/Napoleonic rule sets out there and a real dilemma as to which to go with. Locally in my part of Australia we appear besotted with WRG - which I have issues with. Although the mechanism is one everyone is familiar with and reasonably simple to follow, it allowed for some ridiculously unhistorical shenanigans on the tabletop, while ignoring a lot of what did actually happen. This offends the military historian in me - you may as well be playing fantasy IMHO. And my pet hate - rules 'lawyers' - I don't know why, but WRG seems to attract them!

So out of all the others around, those I reckon are the right balance between historic reality and playability IMHO have been General De Brigade and Warhammer English Civil War, with 'Fire & Fury' not bad either. The Warhammer mob have since brought out specific H&M rules, the latest from the same authors being 'Blackpowder' which I am keen to try.

I have also been involved with the writing and publishing of rules and there is a set called 'Elan' which is a free download:

While I do not involve myself with them any longer I can say that the author, Phil Jones, went to some lengths to ensure a good play mechanism that still reflected what actually occurred on the Napoleonic battlefield. His artillery treatment including bombardment is particularly good. His treatment of cavalry and obvious bias toward French Guard less so, but its a good set to get your teeth into and best of all - its free!

Last but certainly not least are some more H&M freebies written by an Aussie wargaming mate of mine Adam Stone. The 'Pro' series covers specific sets from Seven Years War through to the Franco-Prussian War. Personally I think these are less convoluted with plainer and simpler language - also well worth a look:

Given they are all in PDF format and free - how could you go wrong? [Grin]

Hope the above helps you encourage more in Japan to leave the little kiddies fantasy stuff and get into some good grownup historical wargaming!



Robert said...

Thanks for the links, Doc, and my compliments on a great blog!

"This offends the military historian in me - you may as well be playing fantasy IMHO."

I too used to feel that way, but not anymore. I've mellowed, and so long as people are using Napoleonic wargames figures, getting out of their wargaming what they want, and inspiring manufacturers to churn out more miniatures, then it is Napoleonic wargaming and all power to 'em.

I started years ago with Airfix figures and rules that were laughably simple now. But, by God, I was having fun as I hurled column after column at the enemy.

If you told me then that it was fantasy because of the rules I was using I would have just nodded my head, said "Oh, really?"- and continued on my own merry way and having fun.

Now I wouldn't be happy playing the same rules now- I know so much more about the period than I did then- but it was Napoleonic all the same, we all have to start somewhere,- and it worked for me. Some people go on to more complex rule sets, others don't really care; they are happy to just roll dice, shoot the breeze and to enjoy, first and foremost, the spectacle of Napoleonic wargaming. One man's meat...

Fantasy to me isn't in the rules that are used- fantasy is Orcs, Elves and the like. Fantasy was never my taste, but it was the subject matter that made a game "fantasy", not the rules (indeed some "fantasy" rules are actually pretty darn good).

Fantasy is where you choose to see it and how you choose to define it- after all, my plans for Freikorps Pfaffenhofen could be construed as pure fantasy itself, seeing as it never actually existed!

"Hope the above helps you encourage more in Japan to leave the little kiddies fantasy stuff and get into some good grownup historical wargaming!"

LoL!!! But why on earth would I want to be a grownup? I spend enough time on grownup pursuits such as work and paying bills. All told I find being a grownup highly overrated.

I choose to concentrate my gaming energies in giving what remains of the kid in me free rein!

Regarding rules, I think for now I'm going to stay the course with General de Brigade. or even Sharpe Practice. I like the idea of being able to get in a good game with a brigade or at most no more than a division a side, seeing as we are far from critical mass with any collection yet.

Docsmith said...

Cheers Robert - actually couldn't agree more! My 'fantasy' comment was more inspired by those of a rules-lawyerish bent who claim a specific interpretation/rules set is the correct one (its been my experience that WRG at least seems to attract rules lawyers) BUT if it ain't fun (historical or not) why would you bother?

The 'grownup' comment was meant strictly tongue-in-cheek - grown men pushing any type of miniature around a table doesn't fit many people's definition of 'grownup' activity! And who wants to grow up eh? Waaaay too much fun to be had doing this for a hobby!



Robert said...

"The 'grownup' comment was meant strictly tongue-in-cheek - grown men pushing any type of miniature around a table doesn't fit many people's definition of 'grownup' activity!"

It was indeed taken in that spirit! And I'm certainly with you on rules lawyers- I've had my fill of them over the years!

Give me someone who can take bad a result on the chin and laugh it off over a glass of brandy after the game anytime.