Rules Reviews

On this page I have listed reviews I have written of various Napoleonic rulesets.
In addition there is a detailed description of the review format I use.

Rules Reviews

I have written reviews of the following systems if they have a link - or they are on the list to add, though I will not be rushing to publish these!

Battalion Level Games:
Brigade Level Games:
  • DBN
  • Blucher
  • Volley and Bayonet

Note: You may notice my site also hosts a set of rules I wrote to fulfill one particular niche of play preference (prioritising simplicity, speed and a Clausewitzian character for large battles with casual players). These can be found on the 321 Fast Play Napoleonic Rules Page.  It is not for me to review my own rules of course!

Rule Review Format

At the outset let me note that if I review rules here then they must have at least some appeal or interest, even if this is towards components of the rules rather than the overall package. Furthermore all these listed rules have produced enjoyable games for many people, which is surely the main purpose of a hobby whatever other goals may be aimed for!

I am also not writing an overview of the rules for the most part, but a review. An overview is a simplified description of the rules which often runs through the sequence of play and comments on the main features. In contrast,  a review is an opinion as to the strengths of a ruleset and areas which might benefit from further consideration, which is obviously a far more contentious and subjective enterprise!

Much thought and effort by the authors of these rulesets has occurred,  and I definitely don't want to belittle this effort, even unintentionally. What criticisms I make reflect more than anything else how these rules meet or or fail to meet my own personal preferences, or those commonly raised by other wargaming community members of which I'm aware. Where possible I have linked to further discussions/ideas for houserules, especially where these seem to be frequently arising issues for groups playing a ruleset.

I mentioned preference and it's an important concept to keep to the fore. People have different preferences and rule creation involves tradeoffs in preferences. If you want to just try and simulate every minor detail of Napoleonic warfare, you will end up with an unwieldy system more effort than it is worth to play for most people. So prioritisation is key. An example of tradeoff would be the difference between casualties, fatigue, and morale. In rules last century these were often tracked separately, but in many present day rulesets these are instead represented by a single score representing a summed combat effectiveness based on these factors.  If you want the finer grained detail (say for interest's sake, given a commander would be unaware of such detailed information in the heat of battle), then you will want rules that meet that requirement. So this is a matter of subjective preference, as are innumerable other factors.  For example, one of my particular bugbears is "clutter" (see below), but I recognise this is my own preference and others will have quite a different view and that is ok! It's also ok if your preference changes over time, or if you have multiple preferences, such playing  battalion level one day, and brigade the next. Do what works for you, it is your hobby!

Each review begins with some brief information about the intended scale of the rules, and then nine categories of preference are discussed and given a rating out of 5, with 1 being "doesn't meet my preference at all" and 5 being "matches my preference very well". Below is more detailed information about the scale and category format.

Scale information

Command Scale
Is the player intended to be Commander of a Brigade, Division, Corps or an Army?
Or in other words, how large are the forces that a player is commanding in a typical game?
Rules set at a lower level often have difficulty scaling up to higher levels, and vice versa.

Note: For reference a brigade is maybe 1500-4000 men divided between maybe multiple  infantry battalions (each averaging maybe 400-800 men), cavalry squadrons (each averaging maybe 100-200 men) and artillery batteries (each 6-12 guns plus crew). A Division is multiple Brigades. A Corps is multiple Divisions. An Army is multiple Corps.  

There are also further complications caused by differing terminology used by some nations. For example a later Prussian Brigade was more like a Division in other armies, but the numbers I have stated should give a general idea of the size of forces I am referring to with use of terms in this post.

Tactical (Unit) Scale
Napoleonic games generally use either battalions or brigades as their tactical units. Many games use battalions as the basic tactical unit, but this also means games must be quite small in scale, use very small battalions in terms of figure, or have enormous resources in terms of numbers of figures and table space if you want to fight a large battle. Of course this latter 'problem', can also be an appealing spectacle if achieved, and can bring people together as they co-operate to pull off such an event.

If your basic tactical unit is a brigade then you can fight larger battles more easily, but you lose some of the lower level detail and character of Napoleonic units and formations. Problems are also raised such as how to best represent combined brigades where the included units have dramatically different arms or abilities. Brigade level games come up with various solutions to these issue, e.g. distinguishing between brigades with included artillery and those without.

Something of a compromise between battalion and brigade level is regimental levels of rules, where the basic unit is a regiment of 1+ (normally 2-3) battalions, but usually not as large as a brigade. I've found using battalion level rules with regiments as the basic unit works quite well for larger games, as the size of the game becomes more manageable, but it is still not as abstracted and avoids many of the problems you get once you shift up to brigade level game. Another advantage of regimental level is that it sets the scale of units at that of uniform distinctions. For more on the advantages of regimental level gaming see this post.

Lastly I should also mention skirmish games where one figure represents one man. I prefer massed battles to skirmishes so have little to say about such games on this site, at least at the moment, but many people enjoy this sort of game and it is a very economical sort of gaming too.

Figure Scale  
Most rules these days are basing agnostic, meaning they will work with whatever system you are using for basing your figures, and however many figures you have too, provided the opponents forces have a similar standard. Some rules specify basing requirements though so this is important to know if so.

Note: "Figure scale" also commonly refers to the size of  miniature figurines used (from bottom of feet to top of head/eye level). 6mm, 15mm, and 28mm are the most common. However 2mm, 3mm, 8mm, 10mm, 18mm, 20mm, 25mm, 40mm, and even 54mm figures have devoted followings! Again, most rules will accommodate any scale of figures, though they might be better suited to some than others.

Ground Scale  
How many yards/metres in real life does space on the table represent? Up to about 4-5 battalions in line per kilometre or up to 6-8 per mile seems to be about right, so you can also work out how much table space you will need for a historical battle on this basis. If the basing specified in the rules is flexible as above, then the ground scale will be too.

Time Scale
How long does a turn in the game represent? If it is a short time period such as 10 minutes, you will often need to play many more turns to get a result. If a turn is 30-60 minutes games are likely to be considerably speedier.

Preference Categories

How well organised are the rules in terms of clarity and succinctness of text, planning, layout, logical flow, ease of writing, indexing, and so on. If there is artwork or pictures on a page, does it add to the subject of the text, or is it just random decoration taking up space?

How intuitive, clean,  or convoluted are the mechanics that produce the odds ratios of interactions? Questions pertaining to this, include how many modifiers must be considered? Is there conservation of mechanic across situation where possible, as opposed to new procedures for each? What record keeping or memorisation is required? How well do the mechanics handle complex battlefield situations, both in terms of the resolution and players comprehending how to do this?

Note: Another consideration here might be word count of the rules. See this How long are your Napoleonic Rules? post for an examination of this detail.

How well do the rules simulate the major features of Napoleonic warfare for the level they are aimed at? The most contentious category here, because of course there are as many opinions as there are wargamers! For this opinion we rely on our reading of period drill manuals, reports, memoirs, and analogies. These are usually too sparse to infer anything other than generalities and bounds of equally persuasive possible interpretations. Nonetheless, effort and reasoning about these decisions can be one of the most historically interesting as well as important inclusions to a set of rules, whether this be brief or in depth.

How much are you fighting the enemy, and how much are you fighting against the command problems, inertia, logistical problems and so on of your own army? In games with no friction, you just move your troops wherever you want. In games with much friction, troop movement and action is often constrained, so that troops will sometimes remain halted or take actions you do not wish them to take, as happened historically. This friction can be frustrating at times, but in addition to being historical it can add much tension, excitement, and replayability to games and scenarios. The most common friction experienced in Napoleonic warfare was potential delays in troops advancing as their generals desired, and most rules seem to include at least this feature.

Note: An example of friction would be delays by many formations in the planned Austrian dawn attack at the Battle of Wagram in 1809. How does this play out if more of the Austrian forces end up advancing together? What if different units advance, and different units hold? Furthermore, how historical and how replayable is this scenario with rules where the Austrians will always just advance to action whenever you want?

Speed of Play
How fast can you play a game, given the time span and number troops involved? In general, the shorter the time span represented by a turn,  the higher the number of required tests and procedures,  the greater the list of modifiers to consider, and the more steps in troop attrition required, the longer a game will be.  Additionally, clutter (see below), detracts from play speed.

Clutter Avoidance
How many non-figure gaming materials do you need on the table? I'm talking here about things like casualty counters, status counters, order counters and so on. While these can be made aesthetically pleasing to a degree, more typically they detract from the visual aesthetic, and increase the appearance of the game to that of a boardgame rather than a miniatures game. They also add more objects to the battlefield that must be found and placed, moved and removed, thus slowing the game. I also generally avoid any game requiring card decks, drawing tokens from a cup or bag, bidding systems, incredibly large buckets of dice, or other such mechanisms, though I realise many people have fun with these.

Note: My ideal in terms of minimum clutter would be Ancients rulesets like DBA/DBMM, where besides your figures and terrain, you only need 1-4 dice plus a measuring stick to play!

Pickup Play Support
How well is the product supported in terms of having a clear, well thought out and tested system for generating equal or unequal battles, covering everything from army selection (e.g. with points based games), terrain setup, and deployment options? Most popular rules systems for other periods include this option these days, but there seems to be a strange lack of this in most Napoleonics rulesets.

Historical Scenario Support
How well the product is supported in terms of historical scenarios, i.e. battle descriptions with maps, comprehensive orders of battle for the rules (troop quality, numbers of men, deployments), special scenario rules and so on. It can be quite some effort to work all this out from the historical record, so there is a definite market for good quality products in this area. If these products provide force lists with enough information (i.e. number of units and strengths of these, scale of battlefield, deployments) that you can convert them to your own preferred rule system, then they also have a market to all Napoleonic players rather than the players of only one system. I frequently use scenario books designed for one rules system with another rules system. Designers take note!

Lastly a general impression of how well the rules work as a package given the above categories, and some caveats to consider if selecting them. Perhaps too, some highlighting of issues that might benefit from consideration or development in any future edition of the ruleset - at least according to my own personal preference or commonly expressed opinions in the wargaming community of which I'm aware!


  1. I've read your review of Lasalle and I very much hope you do more. With the dozens (100's?) of rules, finding reviews for them like this is rare.

    1. Thank you! Yes more will be added. You are right there are 100's of rulesets out there!

  2. Busy with a review topic list as well.

    1. Some great stuff there, will have a read, many thanks! :)