Assumptions can be dangerous
Last week, I was contacted by a gent who wanted to get into wargaming and fancied giving Napoleonics a try. He asked for a few suggestions on where to start. This was quite a challenging question, as there are literally over a hundred Napoleonic rule sets (did you count those Guy? Ed.) and I would naturally add my own biases on the subject to any opinion I gave. There again I was asked for my opinion, biases and all. So I figured that as long as I pointed out that, there should be no problem.
After a few questions, it soon became aparrent that this was a true beginner, who knew nothing of rules or the multitude of scales. All he knew, is that he would like to start gaming Napoleonics. Okay thought I, then perhaps I should direct him towards some boardgames? Command and Colours Napoleonics and Waterloo, Quelle Affaire came to mind. Both would provide a good introduction to Napoleonics without the added need for miniatures.
The enquirer however was feeling brave and wanted to play a tabletop games with miniatures (huzzah!). After a brief discussion on games and scales ranging from 54mm to 2mm, he opted for 28mm. I admit, this is my preference, but I tried to ensure he made his own decision, not just follow my biases. Up next: what game to play?
Given he had limited space, perhaps a dining room table to start off with, I suggested the second edition of Sharp Practice. I’ve yet to play it myself, but we’ll give it a spin when it arrives. My local gaming groups tends to play Black Powder, but that would be challenging to use on a small table in 28mm. That is, of course, without some modifications. I’ve seen it played successfully on smaller tables with smaller units (infantry in units of 12 and cavalry in units of 6 - see the ideas in the Rebellion expansion), by halving the scale or by playing in smaller scales.
He also had some questions about painting. I assumed he had some experience, but was wrong there as well. Instead, he was eager to give it a try. I gave him a link to my painting blog on ‘Painting a whoooooole lot of French Infantry’, to show what was possible with even a meagre painting skill like mine.
This entire exercise made me question my own assumptions and biases. Why had I chosen 28mm as my main scale? I guess it comes down to ease of painting. My eyesight isn’t what it used to be - I’m naturally long sighted. Why did we select Black Powder? Because it’s pretty simple to pick up, I suspect, not because other systems would not fit the bill. It also taught me a lesson in technical jargon - it can alienate outsiders if we’re not careful. Wargamers, like any other subculture, speak a unique language which is hard to understand if you’re not ‘in the know’. No wonder Emma throws me the odd quizzical look…
I did hear back from the gent. He’s taken my advice and has taken his first steps with Napoleonic British and a copy of Grande Armee as rules (I have no experience with this rule set so cannot comment on how suitable it is for beginners). Hopefully he’ll let me know how he gets on.