A classic Napoleonic delight
Napoleonics were my first love in wargaming. It all stems back to watching Waterloo aged about five. Mum brought me a big ice cream tub of Airfix plastic figures at a car boot sale the following week. Even aged five I knew which side was which. The British had to form squares against the French cuirassiers. The local library became another inspiration. The beautiful Blandford uniform guides were for some reason put into the children’s history section of the library. Hours were spent pouring through the different brightly coloured uniforms of the different sides.
When I was old enough to get an adult library card I was able to get to the wargames section upstairs! The best book by far for me was Napoleon’s campaigns in miniature by Bruce Quarrie. As an enthusiastic teenager in the early 90s, this really inspired me. It was funny to hear Gary Sheffield mentioning the same book as inspiration on Henry Hyde’s Battlechat podcast last week. The book had been republished repeatedly from 1977 and clearly I was reading it at the twilight of its lifespan.
On the WSS podcast in December I said I had asked my brother to get me a copy this Christmas. My brother failed to deliver anything and my idea of re-reading it passed. As luck would have it all-round good egg Charley Walker offered to send me a spare copy he had. Thanks Charley!
Why was this book so good? It was a really comprehensive guide to inspire a new player. Painting and collecting guides helped you to organise your army. Accessible historical accounts gave me an overview and level of detail needed to set wider reading in motion. Logistics and marching speeds were discussed. The book even had rules for land and sea battles! Everything you needed to create a whole campaign! I remember using it to design an entire Peninsula War campaign aged 14. The campaign was a huge megalomaniac dream and was much to big to ever game!
The rules were much more detailed than the other books in the library. I turned up my nose at the simplicity of the Stuart Asquith books and delighted in the detail of Bruce Quarrie. In truth, the rules were very bulky with long lists of modifiers. Games were very slow and required huge amounts of paperwork. There were also some elements that might raise an eyebrow today. The national statistics meant you were fine as a British or French player - but woe betide the poor Spanish or Austrian general! The simultaneously written orders were also exceptionally clunky.
Today the rules wouldn’t pass close inspection compared to some of the more streamlined systems, but they really inspired to me to love Napoleonics even more. Once Sharpe was on telly I was even able to convince a friend to get some British to fight my French. I’m not sure we ever really completed a game, but I can still remember the delight of riding down a British battalion with my guard lancers before they formed a square, and cursing the RHA counter-battery shrapnel fire!