It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a wargamer in possession of a perfectly sufficient skirmish force, must be in want of an excuse to get more stuff.
Expanding From Skirmish Games
I still believe that skirmish gaming is a great starting point for a Napoleonics wargamer since they require a far less intimidating amount of miniatures. You don't really have to grapple with the entire complexity of the army organizations either, as simply getting a few sets of guys you think look interesting to paint will work out just fine.
As a wargamer you should not feel in necessary to expand your collection further if you don't really want to. But there are six reasons for why our club have started to plan for larger Napoleonics armies:
Three years after getting my first Napoelonics, my French collection has now reached several hundred painted minis. I can barely pretend to be painting at close to the speed by which I buy new ones, and my wishlist is still larger than the stash in my wardrobe - I even barely have any infanterie légère at all! There's simply no way to excuse this behaviour pattern with skirmish gaming anymore, and there's no end in sight.
So let's paint up some proper sized armies.
Skirmish Games vs. Major Battles
If you're new to Napoleonics and reading this, let's go through the difference between skirmish games and grander scale games. It's easiest to explain through the organization of a Napoleonic Army, as the two styles puts you in very different levels of command. I'll use the Grande Armée at Borodino as an example, as that's what I've been using as inspiration for my collection:
The army was divided into several corps. At Borodino Napoleon had 5 army corps (mostly infantry), 1 imperial guard corps (a mix of infantry and cavalry) and 4 cavalry corps present.
The first corps was led by the Iron Marshal himself, Louis-Nicolas Davout, and consisted of 5 infantry divisions plus some reserve artillery.
Each of these divisons was led by a General de Division, and had 2-4 infantry brigades and 2 batteries of artillery.
Each brigade was led by a General de Brigade, and consisted of one or two regiments. Some brigades in other corps that was made up of smaller regiments, such as the Westphalians in the VII corps, could include three regiments.
Each regiment was led by a Colonel, and would have up to 5 battalions, but some would have as few as a single one present on the day of battle.
Each battalion was led by a Chef d'Batallion, and had six companies - four center companies and two more hardened flank companies.
Each company was led by a Capitain, and would at full strength be 140 men, though this was rarely reached even under perfect peacetime conditions, not to mention during a long campaign.
For our skirmish games we've imagined that a big formation on the table represents a company or less. The whole force might represent parts of one or more battalions, often with some supporting cavalry or artillery. So as a French player you can imagine that you're in the role of a Capitain or Chef d'Bataillon, fighting a small skirmish consisting of a few hundred men at most.
This next step would be try the kind of games where you manouver around battalions as the primary tactical unit, or in some cases even brigades. So instead you might imagine yourself as a General de Brigade, or even a General de Division, struggling to enforce a battle plan through your various sub-commanders as thousands of soldiers crash into each other. As your collection (and gaming tables!) grows, you might end up commanding entire corps or more. In other words:
The Great Malmö Napoleonic Summit of 2019
When you set out to collect a large Napoleonic army in 28mm it's a good idea to decide on some basics first. If there's an established group playing in your area you can check out how they treat these things. Since our club is expanding from our current group of Napoleonic players we took the time to have some casual planning meetings as well as online discussions, while keeping an eye on what seemed to be the current standards out there.
When we started to talk about scaling up our Napoleonic battles, the term "Big Boy Napoleonics" eventually developed when referring to these grander games. Somehow it has stucked, and now forms a convenient way to distinguish our skirmish gamings from this glorious growing monstrosity.
1. What are we even collecting?
First out, we agreed that we wanted to start out with building battalions as the main "Big Boy" building block, so that they might form up a brigade or two as the army that we field on the table. In the long run we will probably end up being able to form an entire division. For my French for example, that would mean forming a handful of battalions as a starting point.
We already have a whole bunch of Russians, French and British. Zach is busy painting up Portuguese to form an allied brigade, Shirty has a whole bunch of Russians to expand his force, and I have enough unpainted French infantry to form a regiment or two. We also easily have enough Russian and French cavalry to form some cavalry brigades already. So this madness looks pretty much set to begin.
2. What rules are we considering?
Rulesets are not necessarily too important when planning your armies, unless you're going for a ruleset with very strict basing considerations. Overall, as long as both sides are constructed more or less the same, you can nudge a ruleset into working for you. That said, it's a good thing to start scouting for rules when you start. We're already looking into General de Armée, General de Brigade, Black Powder and Lasalle, and if you have your own ideas of what we should try don't hesitate to make a comment.
3. How will we base the miniatures?
This is probably the biggest question, and the one you'll see endlessly discussed online. The fast rule of thumb is that as long as both sides batallions are roughly the same width, you're fine. But the width of a batallion will vary widely depending on how many miniatures you plan to use for each batallion, and how much space you leave between each miniature. Some common ways to do it are to have 24 or 36 miniatures in a "normal" sized infantry battalion, and either 15mm or 20mm width per infantryman.
In our case, we already have three collections based for Sharp Practice, with individual basing on 20mm round bases which we put in sabot bases. This is not really ideal for larger battle games where you are not going to remove individual casualties. However, we also don't want to rebase everything and make it harder to play skirmish games. We're not looking at abandoning Sharp Practice, which we are quite satisfied with. We solved the conundrum like this:
36 miniatures in two ranks with 15mm width per man is almost exactly the same width as 24 miniatures (or three SP2 groups). So we can field "Big Boy" battalions of 36 against our old Sharp Practice miniatures, as long as we field the latter as units of 24. This way we can cram quite a lot of battalions out of our current forces, without having to rebase them.
24 miniatures per battalion has the advantage of each battalion being cheaper to buy and faster to paint. For a French battalion, each company would be four miniatures. However, 36 miniatures per battalion has the advantage of looking cooler. Using 20mm width per miniature would make it easier to use our old miniatures, since they're based on 20mm round bases. However, 15mm width is much closer to realistic formations, and we agreed that it looks better as units. 10mm width would be pretty much spot on with actual historical drill, but is impossible to do with almost all 28mm miniatures out there as they are too bulky.
For cavalry we'll keep the same basing scheme (20mm width per horse), but consider about 12-14 horses enough for a standard regiment.
So basically we will maintain two paradigms, where infantry can either be based for Sharp Practice or "Big Boy", yet still be fielded against each other without any real issues. When painting up new Napoleonics we'll simply decide on one basing scheme or the other, depending on what we plan to use them for.
Levée en Masse!
Now it's just one tiny detail left - calling up all those extra troops! This process will look a bit different for the various armies, as we both have different starting points and different goals. I'll write up my plans for the mighty French army later on, so watch out for future updates.
"Glory is fleeting,