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.
Russian Transport Wagon
Russian transport wagon (pre-war use: hauling coal). This one is from Perry and it was a pleasure to paint, at least once finished. I put a little extra effort to the base. It was first covered with a layer of milliput which excels for this kind of job. I made various "tools" to make the wheel-marks and hoof-marks. Then I went on with texture, tufts and paint as usual.
Russian Transport Wagon/Ambulance
Transport wagon with wounded. I painted the uniforms of the wounded one by one while painting each unit. This meant that once I finished the wagon the soldiers were all finished and eager to hitch a ride!
The wagons (including the ammunition wagon I showed together with the artillery) took a great deal of time to complete. There ire many things to do - horses, custom bases, assembling the wagons and painting horses, men and the wagons themselves, all in different colours. All in all it´s kind of like painting cavalry and artillery together, but a little worse. In hindsight I am glad I have done them. They look beautiful and add character and realism to the force and the entire project. But you really have to ask yourself if it´s worth it. In the time it took to paint these I could have painted up an infantry battalion or a cavalry regiment. And the wagons are mostly for show - you can´t really bring them on to the battlefield!
However, I also feel a little morally compelled to do these kinds of things as well. Partly for historical correctness - the armies of this time used a lot of horse-drawn wagons! But also partly because it is so nice of the Perrys to cover these subjects, and their Russian range is great in this aspect. That should be supported!
This said, I have two limbers and a another ammunition wagon acquired for my Cossack artillery... I have certainly not learned my lesson!
When choosing Russians for Napoleonics you really need to paint some guns. Actually, my main reason for taking 12 pdr (that's heavy field artillery) was aesthetics - in miniatures the bulkiness of the human figures dwarfs the smaller 6 pdr guns. So if you want something that looks like bad-ass guns you need to go to the heavies. This is a little unfair - I can tell anyone who hasn't tried it that when you stand besides a 6 pdr at a museum, they indeed feel quite big!
The Russians paid great effort to the artillery arm - with many guns and a great proportion of heavy ones. They also organized them in very big batteries - 12 guns per battery when most other nations had six or eight. Maybe this overworked the commander and probably they also often had more of the batteries guns in reserve during battle (in a six gun battery maybe four guns fired and two were in reserve, but some argue that the big Russian batteries maybe had four or six guns in reserve). In any case this made the Russian batteries more resilient and likely to keep up the fire for longer time.
Another reason for the big batteries may be that properly trained commanders were in short supply in the Russian army, whose officer corps were known for being not too good! Drinking, gambling and a place in the army because of birth privileges anyone?
The artillery pieces were modernised and of very good quality - with state of the art aiming devices for instance. The Russian artilley also had very good horses.
However this does not count for much in a skirmish game, so let's see what I did with the miniatures!
The business end. The guns and most of the crew are from Perry Miniatures. To flesh out the crews for SP I got three more, including an artillery officer, from Front Rank. They are the two behind the guns and the third from left on the right hand gun.
I am very pleased with how the polished bronze turned out. I mixed gold in it at first, then washed with black ink and then added more layers of "highlights" in which I had silver as well as gold to get it bright enough.
A three-horse ammunition wagon. This set up is known as a "troika" and a famous Russian one. Most (all?) other nations chose even pairs of horses for their equipment. To have a three-horse variant must have been convenient. So, not only be good-looking and useful for Sharp Practice, this one adds a certain Russian flavour I really like. Thanks Perry for making these more usual wagons, they add a lot!
Thats all for this time. Next time I will show even more wagons!
As I said before one thing thats makes Sharp Practice stand out as a game I want to play is that you more or less need all the "extras" miniature-wise. The use of Deployment Points (DPs) is an example of this. You COULD just put down a blingy dice to mark them. But you could also make a nice little diorama (or four) themed to your army and it will look really great!
Here is how I did my DPs.
This is Perry's Russian casulaties pack used straight away. The positioning took some time and I added some extra debris and blood to the scene to finish it. Two Jägers are carrying their wounded/shell-shocked/drunk/depressed officer away from the battle, other wounded are reaching out for help.
I tend to use this one as my main DP as it seems to be near the thick of the action.
Cossack Scouting Party
This DP depicts two Cossack scouts asking local kids of the enemies activites. The Cossacks are from Front Rank, slightly converted to look casual and talking. I don´t know the manufacturer of the kids, I bought them at Salute more than 15 years ago. Finally they were put to use!
Actually, the scene holds another story as well. The boy holds a lost horseshoe and is inspecting if maybe one of the Cossack's horse lost it! At the time his friend is talking to the scouts. The bit with the lost horseshoe is extra fun for me as I have a background as a professional farrier. But I bought the model before I went into that trade myself, probably as a gift for my father - also an farrier. He never got it, because he has no great need for 28mm kids holding horseshoes... but I figured I might one day, and that day showed up!
Cossack Horse Handler
This DP is made from Eureka miniatures from their Cossack range. It can also do double duty as a horse holder if I need that. I don´t see many people use this Cossack range but it´s really good! It has a lot of Cossack extras and dismounted Cossacks that I have put to good use! A tip for you Russian Sharp Practice players out there!
I tend to use this one as a movable DP.
From the same Eureka range - Cossack plunderers! I really like the one with the duck, so fun! There is certainly something going on while the rest of the force is busy fighting it out with the invaders!
This one would be a good "Dummy DP" (but don´t tell Jonas).
All my DPs on show. I don't think I ever used all of them in a single game. But they were fun to make, I've got use for some miniatures I'd never paint otherwise and they look great at the tabletop!
If I made one more it would be an artillery one, with a wrecked gun/cassion on. That iconic broken gun style, maybe with a broken banner and abandoned drums well.
Another idea is one with a couple of dead horses (it sure died many horses in Russia), and a crying or stranded cavalryman if I could find one.
During my Napoleonic/Sharp Practice period I have accumulated a couple of officers and other folks I will show of here. A great thing about Sharp Practice is that you have many good reasons for buying all the nice officers and other miniatures you want - you can actually field them at the actual tabletop. Even civilians, though we don´t use them in our games - not yet anyway. Good game design!
The whole gang from left to right: Orthodox priest, mounted carabinieri field officer, line officer, combat medic, mounted line officer and another line officer!
I did some small conversion on this Perry mounted field officer. First I put a plastic head on it, screaming as you should do on a raised horse. Then I changed the sword to a nicer one (the original is not that hot). The head and sword are much better in their plastic variants, both from the plastic Perry Russian infantry set.
I am very pleased with the painting on this particular one. I put extra effort on the horse (the lighter parts around the belly and... bow?) and, yes everything, the silver on the uniform/shabraque and trousers are also to my liking.
I re-used the head from the other mounted officer on this one. I wanted my carabinieri officer to look like he's keeping up a higher pace to match my carabinieris, which are perry's metal ones and have some speed to their poses. I also fixed some damage to the miniature and the tassels with green stuff.
This is the classic officer from the Perry plastic infantry. I cut off the scalp, carved some place for a bicorne (Perry's French plastic box bicorne I think) and greenstuffed hair and plume. The plume is maybe the only combination of white/black/orange that was not really used... I was also unsure about the Jäger variant of the officer "frock coat". Maybe this is close or at least close enough!
This doctor, or more like "medical officer", actually seems to expect more action with his sword than the bag of medical supplies! He started out as a Prussian medical officer from Black Hussar miniatures. The uniform is close to the Russian one. I greenstuffed the epaulettes. For the buttons on the cuffs I had to cut off the original ones with a knife and replace them with plastic ones from the perry infantry set. I carved them off with a VERY SHARP THIN hobby knife and then glued them in place.
I drilled a hole in the arm and stuck in a pistol. It´s a Victrix plastic British one - very good for conversions! The head is also swapped. It´s a Perry metal head from their "marching casually infantry command 1809 kiwers" set.
The priest! Actually the photo does not really do it justice. It´s a Foundry model and it was a pleasure to paint.
Since I started Napoleonics I knew I wanted hussars. They have the most elaborate uniforms (at least in the Russian army) and have a cool air around them as death-seeking party people.
When all regiments have very distinct colours you have many good options. From the beginning I fell for the Akthyrka hussars with brown, yellow and blue in their uniforms. Brown uniforms!? Yes, I don´t know what hit me but I like the combination. They also started using lances in 1812 (not all hussar regiments did) and are said to have used them with skill at Borodino - so you can use them as lancers in Sharp Practice without twitching your eyes.
To avoid too much brown I opted for black horses with many white markings on them. "Then they'll be the first squadron of the regiment" I thought... but then it came up that the Russians just blended horses without even trying to sort them by colour. My bad. But the combination of brown in the uniforms the and black horses looked good! When I painted up some additional hussars later on, to beef up the unit, I gave them two dark brown horses and it looked good as well.
The miniatures are Perry, and I like them a lot. They could have had more defined detail (whch would have made them easier to paint) but I still think they are the best ones out there. Painting these brings a good looking unit with speed in it to my army. They are quite a headache to paint with all yellow/blue and fur details in the uniforms, but it's well worth it when you are finally done!
I had them with pelisses even though armed with lances because it looks so badass. It was a quite hard decision, but I don't regret it - the pelisse is half the hussar! I also made them with the campaign trousers on - that´s because I´m a sucker for the hearts on their knees. A military uniform with hearts on it? You just have to do that! The full dress without pelisse would have been the most realistic/historical choice. But I regret nothing!
I made one conversion and that´s the flanker with a carbine. You can see him at one of the flanks of the unit!
The "Command group" - NCO, musician and officer. The officer has a more exclusive, (self-purchased) uniform that is redder and makes him stand out. I re-painted the musician's horse when I added the lance-armed hussars. I usually don´t re-paint miniatures but here I made an exception.
A close up of the NCO, with a good view of the sabertache-cipher. I hand-painted this on all hussars. Take one line at a time and it´s not THAT hard.
I used wire lances instead of the pewter ones that I got with the miniatures as I think wire looks much better, mostly because they are thinner. I also got plastic pennants from a club mate who had left overs from Warlord's plastic French lancers. I trimmed them and bent them a bit so they didn't look all the same or too big for the wire lances.
The sabre-armed second rankers. I think the models really has a good panache to them!
The Akthyrka hussars arrayed for battle. A most pleasant sight to behold and something of a mile-stone accomplishment for me as a Napoleonic player!
Hurrah, hurrah, hussars!!!
I’ve recently seen an interesting question pop up several times: what’s the best way for a new player to get into Sharp Practice? Now, I’m in no way going to say that I have the definite answer to the best way, especially since that depends on personal preference. But the question tickled my brain enough into researching a few alternatives for a new player to get a playable force on a limited budget.
The result is this, a quick look at a couple of solid foundations for a collection. I’ll focus on French this time, as it’s what I know, but if there’s a demand for it I'll see if we can cover other starting forces as well. These are not the only ways to get started, but I hope they can be useful if you are unsure about where to start.
To make it a little bit more of a challenge I set a spending limit of £50, as I think that’s a reasonable entry point for a skirmish miniature wargame. A lot of these options are actually available slightly cheaper if you look at some online stores, but I'll use RRP.
Alternative 1: The Practical Path of Perry
I start with this one, as it was the one I went with myself. The Perry plastic French infantry box is a good deal, as it comes with a lot of different infantry. One box alone is a bit shy of a working force, but it’s close. Each box comes with:
On the other hand, if you add a second box, things look much better from a Sharp Practice point of view:
Now, the Perry boxes retail at £20, so we have some money left in the budget. I’d spend it on getting a blister pack of cool leaders. Perry have several interesting offers that would add some life to your force. Maybe some mounted colonels (FN4) which will stand out nicely and can be painted as captains or lieutenants instead of colonels. You can also get a blister pack of NCOs (FN13) which will make more interesting leaders compared to if you paint regular troopers as NCOs.
If you’d rather get more unit types, you could spend that extra money on a cannon instead, to use as a strongpoint for your balanced infantry force. Another good option is a blister of six more skirmishers (FN7 or FN8) to better cover your infantry and make your force more versatile. Either way, you’ll end up with a diverse army with many types of infantry.
With this balanced force, you can add pretty much anything. If we keep to the Perry theme, I’d look into getting two boxes of their lovely cavalry boxes, as that would give you a substantial mounted wing. French cavalry always looks good, so grab the opportunity to treat yourself! With such a lot of ranked infantry, why not get some Hussars or Chasseurs to add some speed and ability to threaten flanks?
Alternative 2: Warlord Speed Paint Greatcoat Horde
I’ve seen Warlord’s Waterloo starter box mentioned, but I don’t think it’s the best start out there for a French player. The troops simply don’t come in numbers that are really useful for SP2.
Instead, if I decided to start an army using Warlord, it would be to maximize the use of their infantry boxes in full greatcoats. Nothing says speed painting like covering 80% of the model in brown or grey, and then just applying a wash! With this alternative you’ll have your force ready to hit the table in record time.
In my opinion, Warlord’s best looking boxes for the French are their greatcoat infantry boxes. For £16, we get 8 flank company troopers, 16 center company troopers, and a command group including two leaders. Let’s get burn our budget (£48) on three boxes, and we can form them into:
You can check me out painting Warlord in greatcoats here.
This is a force that’s heavily centered around your line formations. Use the skirmish screen to protect them on the way forward, try to get into position to unleash both formation’s volleys on the same target, and watch them suffer. The lone Grenadiers can be used to protect the flank of one of your formations if your opponent tries to encircle you.
With this base, I’d keep a close look at Warlord’s news as they regularly offer sprues on sale. If you pick up a few more sprues, or simply another box, you can beef up your Fusilier formations to four groups each, which makes them a bit scarier. In addition, your Grenadiers will probably work better if you can get them up a formation of two groups.
What I’d personally like to add, is cool looking skirmishers! While your Voltigeurs in march formation are technically right for the job, a skirmish screen in action poses just feels that much better. So if possible, I’d start to upgrade my force by getting some Voltigeurs in skirmish poses. As a bonus, you can use your old replaced Voltigeurs in line formation, giving you an even bigger wall of greatcoat-wearing menace. Warlord has metal Voltigeurs in action poses, but you can find cheaper options from Perry, Front Rank or many other makers.
Alternative 3: The Victrix Skirmisher Circus of Death
My third option is the direct opposite of the previous one. Does a big mass of ranked up, quick to paint model sound too boring for you? Then I have just the thing for you.
Victrix makes sets of plastics that tends cause a start divide in hobbyist forums: either you appreciate the large number of parts and options for converting unique poses, or you curse over minis that take a lot of time to make, parts that break, and poses that are not ideal for large marching battalions.
Victrix has two boxes of basic French infantry, one with uniforms from 1804-07, and one for 1807-1812. They are very similar - if you don’t have a period in mind it’s basically down to if you prefer bicornes or shakos, though I’d recommend the latter uniform, as it covers a lot of the big Napoleonic events.
The £25 box has 60 minis. About one third in shooting poses, one third in loading/holding muskets, one third in marching poses. The box includes 4 drummers, 4 flag bearers and 8 are officers. The arms comes with epaulettes that denote flank company troops, so we have a lot of leeway in how we utilize the box – a big advantage compared to the previous options, which are made for games where you move entire battalions around.
I’d start by using the kneeling models and some of the shooting ones to form two groups of skirmishing voltigeurs. Then I’d form up the rest into four groups of ranked up infantry.
Now, the easy way to blow the rest of the money would be to simply double up: get another box, and we’ll have four groups of skirmishers and eight (!) groups of ranked up infantry, for exactly £50. Those could be formed up into two neat formations of four ranked up groups each, both covered by a skirmish screen of two groups.
But if we want to make something a bit more different, we could go for a skirmish heavy force. If we decrease the size of the two blocks of infantry to three groups each, then we can cram out six(!) groups of skirmishers to overwhelm the table, including some extra figures to spare. This would make for a much different force than the two previous ones, centered around using the rapid moves of skirmishers to surround the enemy and hurt them at long distance, while still having enough of a backbone in the ranked groups to deliver the knock-out blow close up.
With so much infantry, you’ll probably wish for some variety after painting them all up. With so many skirmishers, chances are that there’ll be weakened targets just waiting to get charged by something heavy, like cuirassiers or dragoons. Again, Perry’s plastic boxes are a good foundation for a heavy cavalry wing.
Bonus Alternative X: Crazy Cavalry Crusade (a.k.a Jonas Starts Cheating)
For this one, you say to hell with conventions and go for a dragoon horde. Several online stores will give you a discount on Perry plastic boxes, so use that to just slightly break the £50 budget and get three boxes of French Dragoons.
You will now have enough cavalry to make a formidable wall of horses – two formations of two groups each, with extras to make additional leaders. Paint some of the extras as leaders to the dismounted dragoons you also get in the box, and you have four groups of skirmishers to field as well!
This is probably not the best start out there, but it would be different, and quite thematic for a peninsular war force. (don't actually do this if you are new to the game!).
Tip of the Iceberg
As you can guess, those are just a few good ways to get started with Sharp Practice as a French player. You might have noticed that I didn't even get into metal miniatures. Doing so often cost a bit more, but opens up a ton of options for building the foundation of your force.
If you have a certain alternative that you really like, don't hesitate to write about your favourite French starter force in the comments. :)
"My friend, any hussar who does not die by thirty is a blackguard..."
"Glory is fleeting,