Monday, 25 July 2011

More rules tried

We have had some great wargames at the ANF so far in 2011. Not only have they been challenging, close fought and interesting scenarios, but they have allowed us to try some other sets of rules for Napoleonic wargaming.

Thus far we have used Shako, Bruce Quarrie’s Napoleonic Wargaming, de Bonaparte à Napoleon (DBN), General de Division (GdD) and Shako II. We had a preliminary test of Black Powder when we paid a visit to the Napoleonic Wargaming Society (NWS) in June and we plan to use them in a game soon, along with Grand Battery.

Here are some one line 'reviews' of the sets that we have used so far.

Shako remains our most favoured set; elegant mechanisms, seems to recreate history well, a good compromise on scale and detail, clearly written rules and able to handle medium to large games well.

It was great to use the Quarrie rules again for their nostalgia value, but we soon realised that wargames rules, and we, have progressed a lot since the early 70s.

Le Feu Sacre failed to impress. As Julian quipped, "life seems too short to bother with wargames rules that don't have infantry fire!"

We had high hopes for DBN, but they bogged down badly in the game which we tested them with (Albuera). We'll try them again with a smaller battle, or perhaps part of a battle.

We had a preliminary trial of Black Powder at the NWS. They are a highly stylised set which are well-suited to multiplayer games and situations where only 3–4 hours are available for a game. We look forward to reading them and trying them at ANF.

GdD have some excellent mechanics, but we found the PIP-like version of the Polemos tempo rules frustrating. The version in MdE seems like a better system, although we have not used these rules yet.

We used Shako II in a game recently. There are many more changes than most reviews lead us to believe. Changes such as initiative, rallying, artillery fire effects, point blank volleys, divisional morale and hasty formation changes are significant. They still work extremely well and we are happy with the changes on a first 'outing'. We'll see how they go with more testing.

We have written more detailed reviews of some of these sets of rules ( with others to follow.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Napoleon’s Army in Russia: The Illustrated Memoirs of Albrecht Adam

This book is a gem on so many levels. The book itself, half-way between a coffee-table item and a standard hardback, is beautifully presented on high quality paper stock, the text is in a clear, pleasing font and the prints themselves are clearly reproduced. Each of Albrecht Adam’s paintings is printed on a separate page with the artist’s description on the page adjacent. The prints are introduced by Jonathan North’s description of the 1812 campaign and are concluded with Albrecht Adam’s memoir of his harrowing return journey from Moscow to Munich between September and December 1812.
Jonathan North’s seventeen-page introduction covers the events leading up to the 1812 campaign, the privations of the march on Moscow, the unsuccessful attempts by Napoleon to trap the Russian armies, the Battle of Borodino and, of course, the terrible retreat. His description is interspersed with numerous quotes from the memoirs of eyewitnesses. Lithographs of Prince Eugene, Napoleon and Murat by G. Englemann decorate the text. This section of itself is a worthy account of the Russian campaign, but it is Albrecht Adam’s eyewitness paintings that make this book so special.
As North explains in his prologue, these paintings were completed between 1827 and 1828 from the sketches that Adam had made while on campaign as a member of Eugene’s topographical bureau. The paintings are presented in 72 full colour plates, each one accompanied by Adam’s vivid description of the scene. These descriptions capture the hardship, the very real human experience, the weeks of marching and relative inaction interspersed with bloody battles. The vastness and colours of Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and White Russia and the tragedy and waste that is war are shown graphically.
Although he had been present in the 1809 Austrian campaign, Adam was clearly a sensitive man who was confronted by much that he witnessed. There is a personal aspect to all of the paintings and accompanying text, but it is particularly powerful in those depicting and describing sad or tragic events. For example, plate 8 shows the bloated corpses of nine horses; “because of the lack of forage the horses were being fed on green corn, trampled down by the rain. The poor creatures ate their fill but, shortly afterwards, collapsed dead. I have tried to capture this morbid scene in the plate opposite.”
As would be expected given the topic, examples of the human suffering abound. Two from the Battle of Smolensk are presented in consecutive plates. Plate 40, which is a touching scene of an infantry grenadier and hussar (or aide) carrying a wounded officer on the soldier’s musket and plate 41 which depicts the grim scene of the burnt out and destroyed town. The description of the latter reads, in part, “the Emperor’s expression altered significantly when his eyes alighted on the smoking ashes... Such destruction astonished him. And what a victory for our troops. Instead of finding shelter, food and booty there was nothing but rubble on which to pitch our tents.”
Such scenes of the suffering and tragedy of war are interspersed with those depicting the human spirit. Plate 48 “On the road to Viazma” shows Prince Eugene, accompanied by his staff and a regiment of Bavarian chevau-légers. Eugene is speaking with a young woman who is mounted on a horse, laden with necessities of life and holding her baby on her lap. “The sight perhaps affected the Prince’s paternal instincts... he sought details of the child and the condition of the mother. He learnt that the baby had been born on the road... He presented some gold coins to the woman, bade her farewell in an affable manner and modesty obliged him to turn a deaf ear to the praise which his action had given rise to.”
The camp scenes are particularly interesting and strongly portray a human element. Most of the scenes depicting troops naturally show entire units of the same type and formation, but the camp scenes present interesting exceptions. Several of them portray individuals from a mixture of units and present the us viewing them nearly 200 years later with a strong sense of the camaraderie of these men who were involved in such momentous events.
Amongst the 72 plates are numerous battle scenes from Ostrovno-Vitepsk (ten plates) Smolensk (two plates), and Moskva-Borodino (eight plates). Most of these paintings present a wide view of the battlefield, showing terrain, dispositions, formations and the smoke and confusion of battle. Such presentations are a boon to anyone designing wargames scenarios.
The depictions of troops from various French, Italian and Bavarian units are invaluable.  The troops are not shown in full dress uniforms ready for inspection on a parade ground, but in a mixture of uniform items used on campaign. Some uniform colours are wrong and certainly not as you are used to seeing them in a uniform guide. This principally relates to details such as the colour of epaulettes, trousers and shabraques (for example shown in red for cuirassiers). Despite these inaccuracies, they are of great value if you are painting wargames figures or other models.
The book is a fantastic source for any student of military history, particularly anyone interested in the Napoleonic period. It is especially of interest to wargamers with its eyewitness studies of terrain, armies and command. As the examples that I have presented illustrate, the text is genuine and touching and provides the sort of insight that can only come from someone who was an eyewitness. It is a tribute to Jonathan North’s translation that this is conveyed so strongly.
This is not the sort of book that you will read from cover to cover, but rather one that you will dip into at different times, opening at a random page, leafing through the pages or re-visiting a particular plate. Each ‘exploration’ rewards with a new insight, a new detail, a delightful aside of war or a harsh and often horrible reality.
Highly recommended.