Sunday, September 18, 2011

Napoleonics and Performance Anxiety

So here's a picture from a Napoleonics game I played in at the end of the summer (exactly a month ago, August 18*) up at The Game Connection. These figs are Ron's - the owner of the store. When I sometimes refer to a game at Ron's, this is where I'm talking about. In any event, I love playing Napoleonics - I love the history, I love the decisions, I love the spectacle.

And this is what makes me bottlenck on actually doing anything with them myself. For some reason, when you say 'wargaming' to me Napoleonics is probably what I always thought of first, despite the fact that I only even saw my first game of them played two or three years ago. It's where a lot of the 'grognard' geek-lengendry seems to come from - as far as I know, while Saint Gary came from a medieval wargaming background, Dave Arneson was a Napoleonics wargamer before they went off and invented D&D. And frankly, it makes me nervous every time I start to seriously think about doing something with it myself. Even list-writing, which people like my old friend Chris Norwood (of blogging fame) can tell you is a throwback to the endless stacks of RPG characters I used to make with no real expectation of them hitting the table, seems intimidating to me. For example, my primary wargaming buddy Britt and I have discussed doing some Napoleonics ourselves a few times, and I even proposed we both build forces for Gorodetshcna, using the OoBs from Napoleon's Battles v3, which we both own. Cool, all the work is done already, off to buy minis, right?


I picked Gorodetschna since Britt is working up some Russians, and I wanted to do not-France. The probelm is that I cannot figure out which of the myriad units fielded by the gloriously heterogenous Austrian Empire are supposed to have been at Gorodetschna. Are my Austrian line units German or Hungarian? Is my light cav made up of Dragoons, Hussars, or Uhlans?

There's a stereotype about Naps gamers that they're universally detail-obsessed, that fistfights and bitter recriminations will arise over incorrect regimental facing colors, or improper bricole usage. Now I'm not going to get to that level (God willing), and none of the people I've gamed Naps with seem to have those tendencies either - but it would be nice to have the RIGHT DAMN NATIONALITY represented by my minis. So, off to the stacks to do some research. In the goofy sci-fi and fantasy make-em-ups I have previously played, this hasn't been a problem, and those of you who know me know that an enforced trip to the library to pore over some dusty-ass history books is a B'rer Rabbit in the briar patch moment. But still, it's one more step between intention and actuality, and with higher stakes (or at least real historical verisimilitude) than whether or not my Space Elfs are the right colors.

And while we're on the topic of minis and colors - I'm a very, very new painter. So far my best success has been with Heavy Gear minis, roughly-28mm tall mecha suits. This means I can basecoat them with colored primers, hit a few items with gunmetal, a few more with a dot of color or two, and call it a day. MAYBE hitting it with a wash or ink if I get really ambitious.

This will not cut it for Napoleonics, I think. And even at our chosen scale (15mm), there can be a startling amount of detail on each individual mini - uniform, harness, weapon, flesh, plus stuff like uniform facings and frogging and buttons and oh god the bees in my head make them stop. Seriously, I am honestly afraid of putting brush to mini with this scale.

And yet I keep checking 15mm minis websites, making up shopping lists, fiddling around with the handful of Napoleonic history books I have (80% of which are written or edited by David Chandler, which is something I never knew before being bitten by the Naps gaming bug). Clearly it's a sickness. Because I'm already thinking of bagging the Gorodetschna plan and talking to Britt about trying to build up to playing the Battle of Borodino next year, just in time for its bicentennial....

^NB: I wrote this, as well as the previous two entries, all on the 18th, but I've spaced them out for publishing them since I didn't want to push my first new content in a month off the front page within an hour.


  1. Don't let Napoleonics intimidate you, Ken. Sure. there's plenty of stuff to know, but you don't need to know all of it, and stereotypes to the contrary, most Napoleonic gamers really aren't THAT obsessive.

    OK, well, I mean we want to know the right information (when it exists), but once it comes down to putting troops on the table only the rare sociopaths are going to get their nose in a snit if your Grenz are in Brown coats when they should still be wearing the white ones, or if you substitute a Hungarian unit for a German one.

    The Austrians are a fun army to collect, and contrary to expectation, although there *is* a lot of white, there are plenty of other colors, too! No need to worry about Guards, either - just your trusty Grenadier of the Reserve.

    Of course, sooner or later if you do Napoleonics, *someone* is going to have to paint (or buy painted) French...

    Whatever you do, have fun!


  2. Peter,

    Thanks for those kind words! I agree that a lot of the perception of the Napoleonics gamer as being detail-obsessed is exaggerated, but my problem is, like you said, knowing that there is in fact (probably) a historically correct way to got about painting and fielding my little toy soldiers! History is a much more intimidating taskmaster than fiction.

    As for the necessity of the French, I'm already confronting it - another gamer at my primary FLGS (which is not the place I do my minis gaming) is interested in doing some gaming next year, themed around the 250th of several of the battles of the Russian campaign. So in addition to the Austrians, now I'm looking at French AND Russians. Hope I haven't bitten off more than I can chew!

    Thanks again, and please keep checking back - I'll be posting my progress here, and I can always use feedback and advice from more experienced Naps gamers!

  3. For inspiration, I just posted the Battle of Eylau to my blog, and of course we'll be doing Borodino (and ? Smolensk and the Berezina at Historicon in July for the 200th anniversary of the ill-fated Russian Campaign. French, Austrians, and Russians (my three favorite armies and in that order, which is also the order in which I collected them originally) is a tall order for a year's time. You'll need some help from your friends for that, I suspect! OTOH, those armies allow you to fight battles from the campaigns of 1805, 1807, 1809, 1812, and 1813 (I definitely don't get picky about the uniform changes over the 10 years of the Napoleonic Wars, or even the Revolution).

    Good gaming!

  4. Peter,

    Fortunately I have a friend who's working on his Russians, but I will totally agree that I may be biting off more than I can chew. In the interest of efficiency I might need to concentrate on the French first, even though I think the Austrians would be more fun.

    Your Battle of Eylau stuff looks phenomenal. Looking forward to seeing what you do for your 200th anniversary Russian Campaign!