Bataille Empire: A Short Blog About A (Too?) Slow Game

Yesterday we played for the second day a Napoleonic miniature wargame, this time trying the Bataille Empire rules by Hervé Caille. See the battle report with lots of pictures below, in comic strip format.

In addition to this report, some first thoughts about the rules. We didn’t ‘playtest’ it, we just dipped into the game, had two nice afternoons and tried to get an impression of the rules. For a thorough playtest description, read Chasseur a Cheval.

I played AdlG and I like it. BE seems more complex – although I have to say that we used the standard order sequence and not the simplified order sequence. IMHO, that slows the game. What happens is:

  • you roll PIP-dice for the commander in chief – the CiC is in fact a way to randomize PIP’s
  • you roll PIP-dice for the subcommanders: the CiC can give one or more of his pips to a subcommander, to modify a bad roll
  • the subcommanders give orders to their units, limited by a) their (modified) pip-score and b) the overall order of their brigade: units with attacking orders must advance and attack: units with hold orders can only stay where they are, and react. Attack & defense have several subvariants (hold, retreat, maneuver). So a subcommander that wants to switch from defense to attack must first change the order (which costs extra pips) and then order to advance.
  • that’s the donkey and the bull rule: it’s hard to get a stubborn donkey moving, and it’s just as hard to stop a raging bull.
  • In the standard sequence, movement/shooting/combat is not intuitive IGOUGO, but depends on the orders: attacking brigades go first, may shoot on defenders, defenders react/return fire, then units with inbetween orders may maneuver, use opportunity fire/movement, and finally defending units shoot, and the (former) attacker can return fire. The action switches back and forth. Normally I regard that as an advantage, this time it felt complex.
  • Units have different classes/grades and not only losses but also ‘cohesion’
  • What doesn’t help for a first game is that the different tables are relatively detailed so while discovering what a certain unit with a certain commander could do while an opponent unit was moving in tactical distance we struggled with the modifiers. OK, we can return fire with this unit with skirmish abilities on the hill. But is it +1? +2? Is skirmish ‘a unit with skirmish abilities’ or is this the rule for the specialized ‘detached skirmishers’? If they flee voluntarily from the hill, can they retreat in a building?
  • If you have bad subcommanders, and your brigades have a hold order, it’s hard to get your units moving, so as a player you can’t do very much. Same frustration as you have in Black Powder, and Napoleon in the Waterloo battle. Gamewise this can lead to slow play.

The game is well thought-out and it might work with two experienced players who know the modifiers by heart and like this translation of Napoleonic command-and-control problems. In the meantime, I recognize my experience in online comments like:

I have tried to like BE (do love the set up and lists) but found after several plays that they bogged down too often into too many rules queries and did not really improve on other sets overall.

Sgt Steiner commenting to Chasseur a Cheval

Ultimato Ratio Regnis wrote an in-depth review of the rules. Positive, critical, suggestions for improvement. Verdict:

BUT…they don’t want to change anything to it. And it is too fiddly and slow after all and some features need be modded. Then Solo gaming seems the only way. So be it. General D’Armée with mods for actual divisions (not the  1800 Austrian column of 4-5 brigades!) with very little would do battalion scale battles much better. But no French gamers then. Will see.

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