A long, long time ago, I used to keep a little notebook I’d take on work travel. I’d just sketch things down in it, some fiction, and the occasional idea for a game. Big Danged Boats came out of that notebook. So did a bunch of other things that eventually saw the light of day. One of them was an often visited, often alluded to project I called Voltigeurs and Riflemen. This was a skirmish game I envisioned taking place during the Napoleonic era. The units were single figures or small groups of up to four figures.
54mm British Riflemen, Peninsular War and Waterloo, Italieri, my collection
54mm British Light Company, Victrix, my collection
For my own reasons, I wanted the scale to be 54mm a figure. I love this size for Skirmish games; they are easy to see and easy to handle, and the size forces the battlefield to be manageable on one table. My original inspiration was an old book by Paddy Griffith called NAPOLEONIC WARGAMING FOR FUN. It’s a fun book about several versions of napoleonic games that Mr. Griffith designed over the years. Nothing I’d try these days, but one design I did really like was his version of a man to man Napoleonic game. This really doesn’t happen very much in this niche of miniature wargaming. Napleonics is for big battles, right? Lovely uniforms, massed infantry formations, artillery batteries, cavalry charges with hussars ranked knee to knee, resplendent down to their pink piping and pigtails.
Well, sure it is.
Still, I often imagine what it’s like in that space in between where the big battalions meet and crash into each other. There has to be a No-Man’s land where small groups of deployed skirmishers meet each other, for just a moment in time, before the big formations crash into each other. For that glorious 15 minutes to half an hour, there should be a place on a Napoleonic battlefield where individuals continue to make a difference, where Skirmishers can attempt to pick off officers and sergeants, disrupting the enemy advance. Such a game would have to move fast, represent individual soldiers by preference, possess command and control tracing back to individual leaders, and somehow represent the impact of that larger battlefield entering their little skirmish bubble during the course of the game. Skirmishers, after all, were detached from larger companies. Designated Light formations certainly could skirmish AND form formations. British Rifle Companies lived in the skirmish zone, their entire purpose in life was to leap nimbly about, find cover and load their slow but accurate Baker rifles to harass, impede and otherwise disrupt enemy attacks by killing the chain of command from a distance. Napoleon was not as firm of a believer in the rifle, but the Voltigeurs were also trained to screen an advance and act as elite marksmen for the French side of the field. It’s when these two types of soldiers– the nimble, slow-firing Britons and the nimble, faster-firing but more inaccurate French, intersected as screens for the big attacks, THERE is where a man to man game of Napoleonic warfare makes sense.
The V&R rules (* Voltigeur and Rifleman) I came up with featured breaking a turn down into segments. Again, this was heavily influenced by the Paddy Griffith book I mentioned above. You rolled for characteristics of the soldiers in your company, just like a roleplaying game. STR came in handy for giving more hit points and in melee, DEX allowed you to reload and aim faster and better, MOVE may allow a few more inches of movement more or less a turn, AIM was for firing, LDR was for Sergeants, Corporals, Lieutenants and Captains, and was great for Rallying, Moving men into and out of formation, and giving orders. As Paddy G. had envisioned it, every action took a segment. Where he and I parted ways was I thought he got a little too microscopic with his approach to actions and segments. Picking up a ramrod was a segment. Cocking a musket was a segment, attaching a bayonet a segment etc.
The “Action Chart” from Paddy Griffith’s ancient Napoleonic Man to Man Skirmish Game. This really impressed me when I was 15.
Every portion of the British Musket drill was broken down into segments. I thought that was fascinating when I was 15 and read Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun for the first time, but as an adult, now I can see that that would make for a miserable game for modern tastes. I didn’t have 30 years of experience back then. I don’t think any player these days, especially convention wargame players, have the patience for such micro management of actions. So, in fact, would V&R be miserable, as first I imagined it to be. I streamlined the actions to six for muskets and eight for rifles, seven if taploading– and it still doesn’t play fast enough for me.
Detail from a rogues gallery spreadsheet with many V&R characters rolled up.
I have looked for smaller scale miniature games that might work– I have high hopes for Sharpe Practice by Two Fat Lardies (and purchased it!), but it appears to be maybe one scale size too large, and maybe a little too much for 54mm figures. Great rules, though.. if I get a whole passle of 28mm Nappy figures, I’m going to be all in for this rules set.
For 54mm scale, though, I needed a rule set that emphasizes individual actions, not group actions. That’s why I started on Voltigeur & Rifleman– I still need something that’s relatively fast moving, and the V&R approach won’ t hack it without a lot of re-work and playtesting.
Enter CHOSEN MEN, by Osprey Games.
As I’ve covered in past blog posts, I tend to pick up most of Osprey’s “blue line” of wargame rules in a semi-desultory fashion. Some of them are great, some of them are bad, and some of them are mediocre. Since they are relatively inexpensive (for modern wargames, most of which tend to be hardbound and full of illustrations to drive the price point up), and even more inexpensive as Kindle publications, I usually put most of them on pre-order as Kindle publications and hardcover if it REALLY catches my eye. Since this book came out nearly simultaneously with the release of ROGUE STARS*, I said “what the heck” and pre-ordered both in paper. There’s always something entertaining in a Napoleonic skirmish rules set. Wow, I’m glad I did. Immediately, I can see there are many, many elements of what I am looking for in Chosen Men. The average force size is 3 to 6 units of maneuver of 5 to 20 models each. I would be reducing that. The average gaming area will be 4 x 4 feet, I will be attenuating that and rifle/musket range or the riflemen will become ridiculously powerful. Models have stat lines very similar to the ones I posted about in the illustration above, only it’s Melee (M), Resilience (R), Command (C), Wounds (W), Tactics (TAC) and Stratgy (STG). Melee is personal fighting skill, with sword or bayonet, Resilience works like Constitution or “Toughness”. Command is more like Morale in classic game design, as in being “In command, or capable of accepting commands”. Wounds is self explanatory, Tactics is like “Action Points”, and Strategy is only used by Officers or Sergeants– used to get their units to do special actions, and there is a finite number of STG points. Dice are all six-sided (I like this, but I don’t require it). Actions are determined to be successful by performing checks against skills, and two models opposing each other would determine outcome by roll-offs. There’s a lot more to it, but there is the gist. I love some of the extra chrome to give it exactly the setting I’m proposing– the skirmish events that take place in the grey area between the big battalions, where they start to encounter each other. One chrome element that lends “that big battle right over there” flavor is the “Cauldron of War Strategies” table.
The “Cauldron of War” is similar to a random events table that I came up with in V&R that provided that crucial “meta event” that I think has to be there for a game like this, set in this time period. You KNOW there’s a big event happening just to your flank or behind you– but that may or may not intrude into your personal little bubble of battle space. The Cauldron of War abstracts this element out nicely.
Chosen Men isn’t perfect for what I want to do with it. It’s not an exact fit for 54mm scale. For one thing, formations are still kind of sort of a thing in Chosen Men (though not the focus of combat or movement). I don’t know how that would fit in a man to man skirmish game– except maybe I do. Chosen Men measures fire combat and movement from the unit leader– the Sergeant or Lieutenant, etc. Formations form on him, and ranges also are measured from him. I’ll have to seriously tinker with ranges, scale and ground scale to make it work with 54s. I may have to write some conversion rules to make it fit. For instance, the standard units are like 6 figures for Chosen Men, and I was thinking 3 figure at most for 54mm. With that said, I like Chosen Men, it has the right feel for me and I’m willing to test this conversion here as soon as my tin soldiers get out of the warehouse.