Tryout: 2×2 Napoleonics. Big Battle On A Third Of A Dinner Table

With my friend Marty McFly I tested the 2×2 Napoleonics rules. We often play Blücher, but this DBA-ish ruleset was promoted by my favorite ‘Megalomaniac Wargamer & Amateur Historian’ Steven Thomas aka Steven’s Balagan so I decided to give it a try. Fastplay game, finished when 5 units are destroyed, no markers, no special units, on a very small table: the rules are designed for 2mm miniatures and a 2 ft table. We used a third of Marty’s dinner table and my 60x40mm 2mm bigbases. Afterwards I wrote this short rule impression (not as lengthy as a full review).

The battle

I laid out a random forked road, a river, woods, and a few towns/cities. My defending forces defended the east to west road while he entered from the east and the north and threatened my center. My reinforcements arrived faster than his and a frantic battle in the center started. I killed his commander and expected to win because he couldn’t rally, but he made a last stand, counterattacked and killed my fifth unit. End of the show.

Rules Overview

  • Command/Unit Scale: the game can represent either part of a larger battle or a smaller battle in its entirety. Each unit represents a regiment or in some cases a brigade or ‘corps’, the rules say. IMHO the miniature size defines the ‘organizational scale’. With my 2mm and a table with a river and several cities I had a corps commander feeling. You can play the same battle with 15mm miniatures, a stream and several villages and the same battle feels more like a brigade. Anyway, you command a combined arms group with infantry, heavy and light cavalry and artillery. Typical tactical commands like forming line, column or square play no role.
  • Figure scale/basing: the rules are recommended for small (1 inch basewidth) bases with small (2mm) miniatures. However, IMHO the basing and scale is more or less neutral, IMHO this system works with 2-6-10-15mm on a small table and 40mm-60mm bases. I had the impression that the original authors downscaled the DBA/DBN-basewidths for 2mm purposes, but if you upscale it again, no real problem.

  • Ground/time scale: “There is no ground or time scale beyond it “feeling” right.” A standard game reflects a battle day and a 1-inch base width is about 100 yards
  • The 3-page short rules are free and simple. I reformatted them for a clearer and crisper layout.
  • Steve Balagan’s blog pointed out that the (short) rules cover the game, but lack a few specific details, for example about interpenetration and flank attacks.
  • Mechanics: the core of the ruleset is a DBA-ish combat results table. Shooting (d6 with modifier) will halt the shooting (infantry) unit and the target. A hit can pin and sometimes destroy a unit. Melee is simultaneous die roll + circumstantial modifier. Depending on the difference the players reroll, or withdraw the losing unit, or the unit is destroyed.
  • Simulation: the authors try to simulate what they call ‘the glue of war‘. “This is the trait of Napoleonic infantry to refuse to budge once it had started firing at an enemy. This made the commitment of units an important decision, as the general was unlikely to regain control over them again for some time.
  • Friction: the authors try to evoke the ‘evolving battlefield‘: “Napoleonic battles were rarely “set piece” battles. Units would arrive in clumps and make their way towards the front, often arriving from the flanks. This gives a very different feel than a battle where the units are all lined up facing each other at the start.” Units enter the table one by one after a successful die roll. Besides, a general has to reactivate (‘rally’ a pinned unit before it can move again.
  • Simplicity: the game can be played without markers, labels etc. Some wool is all you need. Any wargamer with previous experience with DBA will understand it within 10 minutes, absolute newbies maybe in 20 minutes
  • Pickup games: with the pre-made army lists and 15-20 units per side you can quickly play a pickup game without much preparation. A first game might last about 90 minutes (first side to lose 5 units has lost)

How the game played

2×2 Napoleonics is simple, DBA with a twist. I play DBA (not DBN) and here are my observations:

  • 2x2N has fewer unit types than DBA, and logically fewer modifiers in the combat results table
  • The attacker can attack from different sides and flanks. This gives instant action.
  • You start with 25% of your force on the table. The rest is reinforcements, but the the tempo of reinforcements depends on repeated dice rolls per turn and is randomized (33-50% chance of failure). This gives a constant ebb and flow of the battle.
  • In DBA moves are stopped by an enemy ‘zone of control’. In 2×2 a unit is halted by shooting and hard to set in motion again (66% chance of failure).
  • In DBA armies are moving groups that try to surround or break through a moving enemy line. 2×2 appeared more static and more dynamic. Units moved to a position and got stuck there. But the constant supply of unexpected new units gave it a lot of dynamism.
  • I had the feeling that sometimes the units ‘queued’ on the table, my bigbases (250% larger than recommended) blocking movement of units from behind. The short and simple movement rules (about wheeling, interpenetration etc) are not as sophisticated as DBA so that didn’t help. Sometimes I was in doubt and had to use my best judgement. Maybe I’d better use a slightly wider (4ft) table.
  • The game was not finished when I killed his HQ.
  • After a few cautious turns, the game evolved and became pretty quick. And enjoyable.

My impression

Simple fastplay rules for a nice 90-minutes game. Balagan’s called the mechanic of the firing and pinning of infantry that fires ‘super elegant’ but that blog was less convinced by the reinforcement rules. I think the reinforcement rules are a strongpoint of this game that would otherwise be quite static.

I think I’ll keep it in reserve for fat&furious shorter games: I rate Blücher higher and I can play that with the same 12-20 units, but Blücher is 3hrs play.

What others say

  • Wargamingeverything called it ‘a blast’, a hidden gem. “There is no direct command and control friction, only rally rolls tied to your HQ. Rallying didn’t have that much impact on my games but what strategic decision making did matter. More so than in many other games. Where it might be costly to order a concentrated attack in Black Powder, Blücher or Bloody Big Battles, it can outright cost you the game in 2×2 Napoleonics because your infantry will get pinned and cannot retreat at will for a long time.”
  • Balagan was moderately positive, but a playtest left him with many detailed questions about interpenetration, moving/ shooting through a gap and routing.
  • The collected comments on The Miniatures Page are positive.

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