Napoleon’s 6 Days in 1814 (3) Betrayal, Deceit & Fake News!

The 1814 campaign was an extension of the 1813 campaign. In June 1813 after Dresden, Austria had offered Napoleon a moderate peace that was repeated in Frankfort in November after Leipzig. Wikipedia:

The proposal was that Napoleon would remain as Emperor of France, but France would be reduced to what the French revolutionaries claimed as France’s “Natural borders.” The natural borders were the Pyrenees mountains, the Alps mountains, and the Rhine River. France would retain control of Belgium, Savoy and the Rhineland (the west bank of the Rhine River), conquered and annexed during the early wars of the French Revolution, while giving up other conquests, including all of Spain, Poland and the Netherlands, and most of Italy and Germany east of the Rhine.

(…) Metternich told Napoleon these were the best terms the Allies were likely to offer; after further victories, the terms would become harsher and harsher. Metternich’s motivation was to maintain France as a balance against Russian threats, while ending the highly destabilizing series of wars. Napoleon, expecting to win the war, delayed too long and lost this opportunity.

In Spring 1814 the now cornered Napoleon tried to get the Frankfort proposal back on the table again but by then Czar Alexander had already decided to take Paris. The sudden victories in February caused a certain Allied confusion, but Alexander – according to historian Houssaye – had his own secret plan, and by the way, so had Napoleon:

on January 29, the Czar gave way to the representatives of Castlereagh and Metternich and agreed to open negotiations, but on the basis that France should revert to the frontiers she possessed in 1789, which was very different to the terms offered at Frankfort.

Rasumowsky

The Russian diplomat Razumowsky, received from the Czar secret instructions to drag out the negotiations as much as possible. While Napoleon offered

to negotiate on terms which he knew would be refused by the allies, who in their turn were only willing to treat on terms which the French could not accept. It was a comedy on both sides, planned and carried out with the sole object of deceiving public opinion.

So after the start of the negotiation in February the Russian diplomat immediately

objected that his credentials were not in order, and the conference was put off till the following day, but was again postponed for a day on account of Razumowsky’s credentials.

Caulaincourt

The French diplomat Caulaincourt could have accepted the Allied terms and end the campaign at once, but Napoleon had sent him contradictory orders: carte blanche and agree if acceptable “but if not, we will take the chances of a battle and run the risk of losing Paris and all that that will involve.” [He] often had no information except false news told him by the allies, who caused the diplomatic messages to be delayed to such an extent that couriers took six days to go and return from Napoleon’s head-quarters.

After the Montmirail victory, Napoleon revoked the carte blanche and ordered that only the Frankfort proposal was acceptable. He almost convinced Austria to accept an armistice. Caulaincourt made a sly proposal for an armistice: France was ready to give up fortresses near the Rhine border with Germany. Smart, because the armistice would

not have definitely pledged Napoleon’s word as to the territories to be handed over, and by giving up some fortresses on the left bank of the Rhine Napoleon would have regained the use of a veteran army. Finally, if the conditions should prove unacceptable, Napoleon would be free to denounce the armistice, and take the field with a larger and better-organized army.

Castlereagh

The British foreign secretary discussed negotiations with the Czar, The Czar formally agreed, but in secret “Alexander sent fresh instructions to Razumowsky, bidding him to continue causing as much delay as possible.”

The Coalition recovered and Allied reinforcements approached the French border. Castlereagh heard about Napoleon’s secret ouvertures to Austria.

Lord Castlereagh(…) was afraid that another effort in the same direction might succeed in detaching Austria from the coalition (…) This treaty, which was the origin of the “Holy Alliance,” was signed on March 1 at Chaumont,(…) The contracting Powers bound themselves for a period of twenty years, during which they each undertook not to treat individually with France; England guaranteed for the whole period of hostilities an annual subsidy of 150,000,000 francs, to be divided between Russia, Austria, and Prussia, and each of these powers undertook to carry on the war with a contingent of 150,000 men.

That sealed Napoleon’s fate.

Next: Soissons, and how a Brigadier-General betrayed Bonaparte and sold the empire

main source: Houssaye, Henry. Napoleon and the Campaign of 1814 . Kindle Edition.

Napoleon’s 6 Days in 1814 (2) Syria, But 200 Years Ago

I prefer pre-1939 wargaming because these wars were clean wars, no genocide, no war crimes, fair play. I should have known better. Although war crimes were not as industrial as for example the holocaust, the Armenian genocide, the bombings of civilian targets in modern wars or Ruanda, war crimes against civilians were common. I was aware of the dirty Napoleonic guerilla war in Spain. I never really realized that undisciplined Napoleonic troops routinely killed, raped, plundered and terrorized the civilians.

19th century French historian Henry Houssaye, in “Napoleon and the Campaign of 1814”, describes the war crimes committed by the allied troops when the entered France, in particular the feared Cossacks.

One of their favourite amusements was to strip men and women naked and drive them with whips out into the snow-covered country (…) in a college the head master would be stripped naked and flogged in the courtyard before the assembled scholars (…) at Athies, Mesbrecourt, Corbeny, and Clacy the whole towns were destroyed.

They robbed, tortured and killed civilians.

The priests of Montlandon and Rolampont were left for dead. At Bucy-le-Long the Cossacks roasted the legs of a servant named Leclerc who had been left in charge of a country house, and as he still refused to speak they filled his mouth with hay and set it on fire. At Nogent a cloth-merchant named Hubert was set upon by a dozen Prussians who pulled on his arms and legs till he was almost torn into pieces, and a kindly bullet ended his sufferings, and at Provins a baby was thrown upon the fire to make its mother speak. A woman of eighty was wearing a diamond ring, and as it fitted tightly and could not easily be drawn off, her finger was chopped off with a sword.

In Montmirail

One man was stripped naked and tied in a chair with his feet in a basin of melted snow, and was set in the street to watch his home being pillaged. The Cossacks also took fifteen of the leading men of the town, stripped them naked and gave them each fifty lashes with the knout.

A guerilla started:

The peasants who were so cruelly disabused of their trust in the proclamations cried out that they were ready to hunt the enemy like wild beasts, and this was no vain threat. (…)

At Montereau and Troyes in the latter part of the battles, the inhabitants hurled tiles or pieces of furniture on to the head of the Austrians and shot them from behind the shutters or from the manholes of cellars (…) The parish priest of Pers, near Montargis, became a leader of partisans, and at the head of a dozen men armed with double-barrelled guns he defended his village or laid ambushes and held up convoys: as chief of the band he rode on horseback with his cassock tucked up, a sword at his side, and a musket slung across his shoulders (…)

Near Piney, the farm of Gerandot was known as the Cossacks’ tomb: they were given a hearty welcome and provided with as much drink as they wanted, and then, while they were drinking their brandy, the farmer, with his servants and labourers, shot them through the windows; none ever came away from Gerandot to tell the tale of what happened there.

A young widow who lived in a large, isolated house near Essayes took in sixty Cossacks and made them all drunk, and then during the night with the help of her servants she set her house on fire. Near Bar-sur-Ornain the peasants murdered a Prussian general who had remained behind with a small escort.

I don’t think that the French soldiers behaved better during the years they campaigned in Flanders, Germany, Austria or Russia. I happen to think that the Prussians, Cossacks and Austrians just returned the favor.

Bloody wars. Very present-day-Syria. Wargaming is fun, but I prefer the gaming, not the war.

(to be continued)

Napoleon’s 6 Days In 1814 (1): And Now For Something Different

If you want to wargame Waterloo – stop reading. Don’t. Not again. Waterloo is trivial. A mythic but boring battle, the French army endlessly storming the hill until the Prussians spoilt the party. That’s Waterloo.

I of course understand why certain modern-day redcoats from that shopkeeper’s nation (as Napoleon once said) like the 1815 campaign. From a neutral wargaming point of view, 1814 is much more interesting. Why?

  • Napoleon was brilliant – not slow and fat, as in 1815.
  • The armies were relatively small, no Leipzig or Waterloo.
  • The armies were varied – the beautiful Old Guard, Polish lancers, cossacks, Prussians, Austrians.
  • The French and Allied generals were all where the action was. Here’s my favourite scene from the Battle of Arcis d’Aube, 20-21 March 1814 (found on Wikipedia)
Montmirail Battle, 1814 campaign

As a mob of fleeing French cavalry galloped for the Arcis bridge, Napoleon drew his sword and rode into their path shouting, “See who will re-cross the bridge before me”. At the same time, the crack troops of Louis Friant’s Old Guard division began crossing the bridge and took up a position to defend Arcis. Sebastiani’s badly shaken horsemen slowly began to recover from their panic and reorganize.[29] During this crisis an Allied howitzer shell landed sputtering near the rallying troops. Seeing his soldiers flinching from the missile, Napoleon intentionally rode his horse directly over the bomb. The shell exploded and killed the horse, which went down, taking the emperor with it. Napoleon soon emerged unscathed from a cloud of smoke, mounted a fresh horse and rode off to inspect his army.[30]

And besides to all the action, to a certain extent the February Six Day’s Campaign bears striking similarities with the 100 days campaign. Napoleon exploited the gaps left between the several opponent armies. He cornered Blücher who recklessly tried to flank him. He achieved 4 victories in 6 days, and his 30,000-man[1] army managed to inflict 17,750 casualties[4] on Blücher’s force of 50,000–56,000.

And just like in 1815, Blücher came back. Five days after the defeat at Vauchamps, the Army of Silesia was back on the offensive. Bonaparte should have known in 1815 that Blücher would return asap.

Researching the military history of the campaign is fun – research is an essential part of my wargaming hobby. I will share some of the highlights here.

One of the facts is the sudden weakness of the once almighty French Empire. The First Empire was in crisis after Leipzig and Napoleon tried to regain strength asap. He ordered three levies, a 160k, a 150k and a 300k in autumn/ winter 1813-1814. The last levy was a failure: the numbers revealed

a shortage of 237,000; up to then only 63,000 conscripts had been enrolled.

Even then, the army was underequipped and in a bad state.

For the training there was no time, and in January 1814 four-fifths of the men were still learning their recruits’ drill. The storehouses and arsenals of France proper did not contain sufficient material to clothe and arm them (…) There were arms at Hambourg, Stettin, Mayence, Wezel, and Magdebourg, but there were none at Metz or Paris.

Many of the soldiers were in the condition described by General Preval, commandant of the large cavalry depot at Versailles, who says, “There has just arrived here a squadron of light cavalry who are deficient of everything except waistcoats and breeches.” Only two men out of three, on an average, were dressed in uniform, and, more serious still, only one man in two was armed.

The depot of the 1st Military Division (Paris) had 9,195 men present, and 6,530 muskets, and the depot of the 16th Division 15,789 men and 9,470 muskets. At Rennes, Tours, Perpignan, and in all the garrisons in the west, the centre, and the south, the state of affairs was worse still. For instance, the 5th Light Infantry had 545 men and 150 muskets, the 153rd of the Line 1,088 men and 142 muskets, the 142nd 324 men and 41 muskets, and the 115th 2,344 men and 289 muskets.

Cavalry weapons also were deficient; the 1st Regiment of light cavalry had 202 sabres for 234 men, the 17th Dragoons 187 sabres for 349 men, and the 8th Cuirassiers 92 sabres for 154 men. There was also a shortage of horses, and in the large depot at Versailles there were 6,284 horses for 9,786 men.

(more later)

(Quotes from Houssaye, Henry. Napoleon and the Campaign of 1814 . Kindle Edition. A very well written historical study, published in 1888 (!), the author is the French scholar Henry Houssaye, text translated into modern, vivid English, Kindle edition only $4,53)

What Matters In Wargame Reviews: A Checklist

As a preparation for my first real ‘serious’ game review I try to collate a topic list with subjects that the reviewer has to cover. A checklist. Even Han Solo and Chewbacca use checklists in the movies, so why not a simple miniature wargamer? I based this preliminary list on the writings of Nikolas Lloyd, useful comments in a discussion thread on Lead Adventure and the Deltavector game design blogs. This checklist is a follow-up to my earlier blog about do’s/don’ts.

  1. Short hard facts.
    • How many players, time to play a standard game, costs, scale, time needed to prepare a game, IGOUGO/other activation system, # miniatures needed, price of the core game, type: is it a points-based-list building-balanced tournament game or casual game
  2. Scale of the game:
    • skirmish: individual fights with single miniatures, small squads tactical: combined arms, different unit types working together, divisions with support, battlegroupsgrand tactical: larger battles with brigades, or several brigades working together.
  3. A brief description of the game.
    • With brief I mean only an overview. A very detailed description of game mechanics is often boring and just a copypaste of the rules. It can be useful to link to publisher, a how-to-play-video or other detailed blog about the game rules.
  4. Layout and background
    • Some rulebooks are gorgeous coffee table books, others are PDFs in a very simple style. I like it if the book gives a brief historical and military background – or a convincing fictional background, if fantasy/SF. Is the layout good value for money?
  5. Completeness of the book. Does it have scenarios and army lists? The best sets of rules have some mechanism for creating scenarios and include army lists. For other systems supplemental books are a neccessity. I don’t like that really.
  6. What is the goal of the game designer?
    • An important point. If the designer wants fastplay, the design should be judged for (not) attaining this goal. For example, many old rulesets are trivially criticised because they were too complex, too many tables, etc. Old designs however stressed historical realism and had a more granular approach than modern games. So the reviewer’s question is: is/was the design ‘historical’? The goal of GW, as my second example, is to sell miniatures. So AoS should not subjectively be reviewed as ‘the inferior replacement of the WHFB-game that I as older gamer liked so much’ but as a marketing tool to reach a younger age group in a challenging market. Personal opinions about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ games matter very much, but are not leading.
  7. Resource management system
    • Some wargames have a resource management system. The Conan miniature boardgame and the Fast Play Grande Armee Sam Mustafa rules have a dice pool that can be used to reroll or influence results. The DBA pip system is in fact a limited resource of commands that can be given to battlegroups. In Maurice and Dropzone Commander, the players draw and discard cards.
  8. Setup
    • Some games allow you to make choices before playing, like dropoff-points (Chain of Command) or a mini-campaign game (Blücher). Others rules just suggest to make groups within 6 inch /15 cm of your table edge. Setup scenario’s can allow or force choices.
  9. Initiative/momentum
    • How can a player force the other player to act or withdraw? Chess, the ultimate diceless wargame, is a positional combination game. A move can force a countermove and you can take and keep the initiative. Although we are talking dice, good tactical wargames should have a system to put and maintain pressure on the opponent and force him to countermove. DBA and Blücher for example use a zone of control. Some games dice for initiative and the winner can choose to play first or last.
  10. Speed of the game
    • A wargame must move reasonably quickly. Modern gamers often have an afternoon for a game. So a game should be playable in 2-3 hrs. A more complicated set of rules should have ways of combining the efforts of many troops, and of requiring some to run away. Related is the subject of unit management. A unit could be a single miniature, a squad, or a larger battlegroup/corps. Players can control about 5-12 units per turn, as a rule of thumb. If the rules allow the player to micromanage subunits, the game might slow down – or the game might feel unrealistic, the godlike CiC controlling every single sniper before his multiple divisions encircle a city. A turn shouldn’t take too long and have opportunities to be interrupted. Again, this should be regarded with the game as a whole in mind. A game mechanic can work quite well for a skirmish or a medium-sized battle, but when it comes to large battles, it might be slow due to the number or units that have to be moved or the number or dice that have to be rolled. Might be boring if you have to wait 15 minutes or more before you can do something.
  11. Dice mechanics/game mechanics
    • I don’t mean to make every review a complex essay about the dice statistics and the tables. But a reviewer should pay attention to the dice mechanics used and the effect on the game. Buckets of dice affects a game differently than a quick combat results table.What is the move-shoot-ratio? A game where you shoot 4 x further than you shoot (m1:4s) tends to favour shooting (unless you make the weapon fire deliberately inaccurate or weak); a game where move 4 x further than you shoot (m4:1s) tends to make movement and manueuver all-important.  What’s the effect on the game you play? And is it realistic for the period?Lethality is a factor. How quickly can you hurt your opponent’s unit? If you hit on a D6 4+ and damage on a second 4+ ‘to wound’ roll then the lethality is 50%x50%= 25%. Cover can decrease the chance to damage. In comparison, for Infinity cover is a lot more important than for Lord of the Rings. Do you like that because in SF highpowered long distance rifles should be more important than in melee-centered fantasy combat? Again, move-shoot-ratio plays a role. If a long-distance-weapon is very mobile and very lethal, it might change the balance of the game.Relative unit strength. How strong is elite compared to recruits? Is the quality difference reflected in strength or in a morale value? Consistency of the mechanics. How many different dice/game mechanics are used? Is is one clear procedure, or with many different tables, different interlinked dice rolls with sometimes 1, sometimes buckets of dice?
    • Does the game have/allow deathstar units? A ‘deathstar‘ is a unit that comes at a huge points cost, but with near invulnerability and massive damage output and some sort of exploitable weakness (so that it can be countered). Insanely powerful units with huge blast weapons add too much randomness: the deathstar will destroy all opposing units independent of tactics used, or it will be destroyed and, because it is the main and overpowered part of the army, the battle is lost instantly. In general the deathstar criterium is part of the broad question ‘is the game balanced’. That’s a hard question to answer, and maybe not fair, the mythical French guard was in real life harder to beat than other units, and so was the mythical Königstiger tank. If a game is obviously balanced badly, a reviewer should mention that, in particular if the stated goal of the designer is to make a balanced ‘tournament game’.
  12. Uncertainty
    • Wargame generals tend to act like the 1000ft general, they see all units and know all their stats. That works in chess, but a) if you somehow try to emulate armed warfare, surprise is paramount b) as you see in Stratego uncertainty can make a game very interesting.
  13. Luck/strategy balance.
    • Wargames are not much fun if they involve decisions which are too easy or too rare. To continue to be interesting, the game should require the player to make decisions, and these should be difficult ones.
  14. Easy to learn, hard to master
    • That means that the same goal can be reached in different ways, with different tactics.
  15. Is the game engine suitable to the period?
    • Players should be encouraged by the rules to use historical tactics, but not forced to. Stupid tactics should be penalized.
  16. How’s the quickref sheet?
    • Did the author summarise the key rules on a few sheets, and is it a good summary?
  17. Clarity
    • Are the rules clearly structured and worded, unambigous, does the book give enough examples of play which properly illustrate how the game works?
  18. Support
    • Does the author, publisher or a community support the rulebook? Can I ask questions about the rules?

I’m thinking about standardized situations to playtest a game, like attacking a high point, attacking with superior numbers, attacking with elite or attacking by surprise. I must work that out.

Dropzone RCQ In Retrospect: The Overcomplication Trap

As the few regular followers of my blog might have noticed my current main project is 10mm scifi, more exactly 10mm Dropzone Commander. The basic game had good reviews in the starting years (between 2012-2015), the sculpts are lovely and the price OK, thanks to the low pound. Affordable fun. Sooner or later I will publish a detailed comparative review of the game, as part of my grand ambition to test several similar wargames and decide what I like most.

I bought for just 50 euro the 2017 version 1.1 two-player box (scenery, two armies, shiny rulebook, I can recommend it). I also bought the 2 supplements, the Reconquest I&II books, as part of the compendium. I will reserve my final judgment until I have played a few grand battles, but as a late convert I question the direction the game has taken.

My PHR army, against DZC’s cardboard scenery.

The core DZC game is a quite simple game, fastplay rock-paper-scissors with quick maneuvering, more or less. Quick dropships with slow infantry grab victory points. AA units can shoot at the dropships but not at infantry or grab points. Armour can shoot at AA and infantry but not grab victory points.

Game engine is the well-known 40K/epic engine. Roll to hit: roll to wound: roll for save: subtract damage. You might not like 40K but a simple standard and popular format is useful for fastplay. That I like. The original game has a simple alternate activation system, with a flexible shoot-move or move-shoot sequence that can sometimes be interrupted by your opponent’s reaction shooting. I played it yesterday and I had fun.

The four starting factions have strong national characteristics. Human UCM are the all rounders, certain defensive modifiers; alien Scourge are quick attackers; Cyborg PHR are slow, heavy bombarders; the vulnerable Shaltari move like a stealthy, weak but dangerous ‘swarm’.

I suppose the designer’s original idea was to make a fastplay tournament game to fill the gap left behind by OOP Epic Armageddon and Battlefleet Gothic. His former employer Spartan Games made the – then successful -Firestorm Armada-BFG clone. Dropzone Commander was a hit indeed and at a certain point the Hawk Studio had 9 staff members.

But wargames need regular updates. Otherwise the clients lose interest and move to other systems. The wargame market is a challenging market. So inevitably and like so many other studio’s Hawk published supplements with extra units, characters, and armies and background. I like the books and the units, but what about the evolution of the game?

In the first Reconquest RCQ-1 supplement Hawk introduced the Resistance: overarmored, undergunned, an irregular rebel force with strong infantry. I read comparisons with the 40K Orks. For a collectible miniatures game this is the way to go: introduce more factions, more units and more special rules to support the new factions and units, and give more opportunities for listbuilding. Ask Games Workshop.

RCQ-1 gave exceptions to the standard game engine. Transition units can change into a different form (think Transformers) and have extra statlines. The rules introduced a new platoon type, a new defensive modifier ‘evasion’ for the Resistance and 6 new cannons.

UCM for example received a swarm weapon, ‘Focus Fire’, with a special procedure with several modifiers to get maximum impact. The rules:

“One or more hits may be discarded, and then the Focus Fire value (e.g. Focus-4) of each discarded hit may be added to the Energy (E) value of another hit (up to a maximum of E-13).”

The rule as such is clear. In-game it means that a player with this weapon must modify the result and consult a special table after rolling as an exception to the core rules. It complicates the original rules.

RCQ-2 introduced weather, random events, animals as non-playing characters to the game and an extra NPC Fauna phase. And again new units – new commanders and heavier units, with more weapons, longer ranges and more damage points. Below the stat sheet of the DZC Apex, a dragon freeroaming the tabletop.

In short: a player has 8 possible modifications, including evasion (extra roll) and regeneration (extra roll) and two alternate weapons. When activated, the players roll first which player will activate this miniature (extra roll).

From Christian Busch blog

The Apex miniature is OOP. Nice to have, lovely sculpt. Probably an experiment, a fun project or a show creature, not an obligatory buy. However for me the DZC Apex is a symbol for the direction the game has taken: needless complexity, choices, extra rolls, extra tables, for extra miniatures.

Besides, the choice to give DZC strong commanders big guns, and units a more diverse range of weapons, might change the nature of the game. Instead of a quick 6-turn rock-paper-scissors game Dropzone becomes more like Battletech or Adeptus Titanicus, fight the big Godzilla’s and take them down. Faction strengths and weaknesses are watered down.

The new PHR giant robot

I can’t judge the BfE 2.0 rules. Didn’t buy it. They add a lot of chrome, 200 pages background/alternate history, integrating FAQs and errata. Well, that’s nice. It also adds rules for Behemoths – these are fearsome giant Godzillas for every race. I expect that this will be the start for a new arms race = new Dropzone miniature range, because bigger monsters need bigger warriors to counter. It might be the way to survival, but it’s also a trap.

So I have sincere doubts about the update. In comparison, the generic Dirtside II rules are free and have been roughly the same since 1993. The generic Quadrant 13 ruleset was published in 2012 and not updated. It’s a SciFi adaptation of the IABSM engine. Future War Commander (2008) is an adaptation or Warmaster and hasn’t seen updates since then. Don’t fix what’s not broken.

10mm grand tactical SF is a niche within the SF wargames hobby which is a niche within the niche tabletop wargames hobby. The DZC models are gorgeous, better than 6mm SF, cheaper than 15mm metal SF and a bargain compared to 240-euro 8mm Adeptus Titanicus. I will continue to buy them.

But the updated rules, for me as a casual player, no tournament visitor? DZC 1.1. is perfect. What’s wrong with small-scale rock-paper-scissors?

Review A Wargame. But How? 10 Do’s & Don’ts

Life is hard. I recently blogged about the Little Wars TV-review methodology, and pointed to apparent mistakes in their rating system. Although I praised the show, I really love their intelligent chat, a few commenters on facebook tore me to pieces. I was writing bullshit. How dare I? Clickbait! Etc. Well – that’s Facebook dynamics.

But I made a promise in my blog: to devise a review system and write one or more reviews that are logical, sharp, honest (objective is not the word) and informative. Here are my first thoughts, after consulting BGG and other sources.

Do’s and don’ts

1) The review should make comparisons. Why is Chain of Command better or worse than Bolt Action? A reviewer must play several games before reviewing – I set the bar at five at least. Too many reviewers just open the box and write how they like their new toys . They are very happy to share their positive opinion of a new system they bought, or give a general impression after just one game.

2) The review should be totally independent. Several bloggers that I follow receive a game for free from the publisher. They are fair and disclose that. However, those reviews still risk being subconsciously too positive (after all, it’s a gift), focusing on first impressions and whats-in-the-box-articles. Often these blogs lack price and system comparisons. I will pay for games myself, with my own hard-earned money. Or borrow the rules and test them thoroughly.

3) The reviewer should play and review the market leader. In SF for example, the market leader is 40K. That’s a truth that I hold self evident. Thus, not all SF games are created equal. 40K is in many aspects the benchmark of the SF-genre. Is any other scifi-game that I want to review in comparison faster to learn than 40K? How is the art compared to GW art? What’s the price of the model? Game mechanics?

Ditto with Flames of War – Flames of War might be good, or bad, but only in comparison with lesser known games like Spearhead, and not “because I read in many blogs about the car park rules and that Germans always win”.

4) Don’t review only the games that you like. Reviews are personal opinions. I might not like game X because it’s simple IGOUGO. I might like game Y because it isn’t. Readers of the review should know my taste, the anchors that I use. The games that I review negatively are such anchors. A good review contains links to similar (own) reviews.

5) A review should be well-researched. Not only my own opinion matters, but also the opinion of others. A quality review links and mentions how blogger X and Y rated the game, and why, and why I think the same or different.

6) Mechanics, in particular dice mechanics, should be discussed in the blog. I don’t mean to say that all reviews should contain a ‘full chapter’ about boring dice statistics. But if a certain mechanic results in a lot of dice rolling without much effect, then that should be mentioned.

For example: the popular Black Powder series has a Command Value test with two dice. Researching dice statistics with two dice, I discovered that the outcomes are not equally spread. So the question rises: is this procedure, played this way, a ‘good’ procedure?

7) The reviewer should bear in mind what the goal of the design/ designer is. The GW games were from the moment of creation a marketing tool to sell more fantasy miniatures to hobbyists. 40K and WHFB/AoS are collectible miniature games: every month more miniatures with more special powers are added that you need to collect to remain competitive in the miniature tournament scene. Same with X-Wing. Same with Warmachine. Same with the Collectible Card Game Magic the Gathering. Every few years the rules need a reboot to counter minmaxing and to clean up the mess with all the special rules and powers created for the earlier miniature waves.

Many reviewers blame companies for this policy, but that’s how capitalism works. So don’t review Age of Sigmar badly solely because it replaced the WHFB universe. Check if it attains it’s desired goal, simple fastplay in a fantasy world where there is only war. Don’t blame Warmaster/Black Powder-influenced rulesets for not being able to move your wing. The designers believe that this mechanic reflects friction and miscommunication in battles. Does this design exaggerates historicial friction? That’s the only relevant question when reviewing. Same with target group: if a game is designed for advanced wargamers, the more snobbish ones, then don’t blame the rules for not being fastplay.

8) The reviewer should abstain from simple rating systems, 1-10, three or five stars etc. Commercial games are often average to good, but maybe not my taste. I think all rating systems simplify the small difference between average, above average and ‘quite good’ too much. The LWTV-vlogs with their ratings clearly suffer that problem. Besides, I believe that thorough rule reviews should be written, not vod- or podcasted, that’s superficial chat – always. Video is about pictures, not about depth.

9) A thorough review should be balanced and based on many aspects of the game, not on a few defining ones. Often a game is rated as ‘good’ by bloggers/vloggers because it’s a boxed set with beautiful figures, or the rules are reviewed positively because reviewer regards them as innovative. I have doubts about that approach.

Try to compare, for example, David Ensteness’ Et Sans Resultat! and Sam Mustafa’s Blücher, both corps level Napoleonic games. I play Blücher and it’s an excellent game, concise, not too expensive. ESR (that I will try at some point) is said to be slower and more expensive, but – author Ensteness is playing in a different league. Mustafa joyfully writes a new ruleset every two years, sold as cheap PDFs. Ensteness is Flames of Warring Napoleonics: one period, and he’s marketing a full package including 10mm figures, battlepacks, relatively expensive but well-researched illustrated supplements, and scenery.

So what is better? Mustafa sells a relatively complete ruleset with rules for pick-up campaigns and pick-up battles. Ensteness sells beautiful books with detailed historical orders of battle, uniform painting guides included.

Same with Ancients. DBA was back in the nineties a very innovative system. What is better: fastplay tournament DBA in formal English with very simple illustrations, or the nicely illustrated and well-written hardcover Hail Caesar book made by and published for beer-and-pretzel-gamers?

10) A thorough reviewer compares games with the help of a topic list and standard situations., like, but not limited to, attacking a hill, defending against superior numbers, crossing difficult terrain while charging, attack from behind, etc. The Heretical Gaming blogger played the same Mons Graupius battle with three different rulesets. That’s what’s I call quality.

I still have to devise the topic list. Clarity of the rules of course, but also the consistency of the dice mechanics.

I know it sounds ambitious. I’m a lawyer IRL, and some of my concepts are derived from my law background – what’s the goal of the law, what do other lawyers think, is it an effective rule? I might be forced to compare a few more rulebooks than my usual range and play many more games than just two if I follow my own review rules. Well, Brutus says I am ambitious – and Brutus is an honourable man.

I just hope that I will live long and prosper!

Earlier thoughts in my ongoing review project: Part I here, part II here, part III here, part IV here.

I Finished A Self Portrait!

I visited Paris during my summer holiday and found a 30mm 9-euro bust that could have been a mirror image of my masculine facial features.

Incredible. Everywhere. How did France know that I would visit Paris? They even had a big tomb for me, already! I hope they will not mistake me for that mediocre Corsican general who lost the sole battle he had to win.

Anyway, couldn’t resist speedpainting the souvenir – they tell me I’m a wargamer. A nice trophy for a club event or tournament.

I was even portrayed with my horse! Which will be a next project.