This is a translation of a book originally published in French. The standard of translation is generally very good, with only the odd mistake and the occasional stilted phrase. Considering the length and technical detail involved, it is a fine effort. The standard of photos, diagrams and tables, and the general formatting and layout, are all good. Compared to BP, the photos are kept within proper bounds, being attractive but never taking up more than a quarter of a page, and usually much less.
Here I have to be careful. I would refer readers to this previous post, where I explain my view that I find most rule books these days too long and complex. Such is my view of Bataille Empire. I'm afraid the effort of learning them and playing them is going to be too great, and I doubt I would enjoy playing them anyway. But the online reviews by those who have played them are generally positive. It is instructive for me to reflect that a lot of wargamers like a bit of complexity, and are fondly attached to their tables, lists of factors, and their 'ifs, buts and maybes'.
I think, however, that my view of them as a complex set is sustained by the comparison in online reviews of BE to such sets as Field of Glory (Napoleonic), (which I wouldn't play if you paid me). As further comparisons, I would rate BE as a bit more complex than Over The Hills, or roughly comparable to General de Brigade. The jacket blurb does contain the compulsory phrase regarding fast play, but this is a term that is used far too much these days, and should usually be taken with a large pinch of salt. Wargaming is, in any case, not really a 'fast play' hobby. The best to be hoped for (by me, anyway) is for a bit of simplicity whilst retaining period flavour. These rules are not simple and will take a bit of getting used to.
However, the rules do score by their determined incorporation of national characteristics into most aspects of the rules, including command and control. Which leads me to the best thing about this book.
A Wargaming Resource
This is the great appeal of the book to me - the fact that about 150 pages are devoted to army lists and national characteristics for just about every relevant nation. These include most of the information on quality, organisation and tactical doctrine that the wargamer needs. The phrase 'army list' can bring up thoughts of those super-dry and rather off-putting lists one finds in various DBx books. However, here we are talking about a genuine historical resource which distils down the known facts into the required picture - how, and how well, did these nations fight, and what constituted the differences between them? And how can I put together a representative army for a particular period suitable for the wargames table?
Only the most basic appreciation of the rules is needed to interpret the various tables of organisation, but there is also a significant amount of straight text explaining the background, composition and quality of the various units of each nation, and crucially how they changed and developed over the Napoleonic period. The blurb in this case is bang on - "this book is complete and requires no other supplement". This, of course, goes a fair way to justify the considerable expense of purchasing this volume in the first place.
Doubtless there will be quibbles over some interpretations, considering the wealth of detail presented (see below), but as an introductory resource to the period for wargamers this volume could hardly be bettered.
After all those gushing phrases, I should sound a note of caution based on one area of the book where I found myself questioning the content. As I am currently planning a re-fight of The Battle of Maida (1806), I was very pleased to find that battle featuring as one of the four example historical scenarios in the book. Having read Richard Hopton's book on the subject, which appears to be the definitive account, two things surprised me.
First, the description in BE of the River Lamato (or Amato) as 'not passable', whereas just about all other accounts rate it as entirely passable (Hopton describes it as 'easily fordable by infantry', hardly surprising for a small river in the south of Italy during July). This was a significant factor in the battle, as an initial combat between light troops is generally agreed to have taken place on the far side of the river from the main battle, which makes the map in BE incorrect.
BE also makes the point that the French had more artillery than the British, when the real situation appears to have been exactly the opposite. Hopton gives a very complete and detailed description of the composition and quality of the troops on both sides, and is quite clear that whilst four 6pdrs and two howitzers were left behind in the British camp, ten light guns were taken to the battlefield, giving the British a significant advantage over the four light guns of the French.
So it appears BE is not infallible. Hardly surprising given the ground it covers, and I feel a bit like the oft-quoted character standing behind a painter and decorator gleefully pronouncing 'you missed a bit there mate'. But it usually pays not to get all your information from one source.
A Definite Thumbs Up
I started by describing my purchase as 'a moment of madness'. I did indeed feel I was taking a risk in shelling out £30 for a rulebook I was certain I would never use just for the rules. But I'm very glad to have this book on my shelves, and it will be of great use to me. I would recommend it to any Napoleonic wargamer. The official online support is in French, but an English Forum is now available and will doubtless soon grow.
Finally, a recommendation for Firestorm Games if you are considering a purchase. At the time of writing, Firestorm have a worthwhile discount on this book and offer speedy delivery with a sensible price for postage - I had my copy within 48 hours. Nice one.
So there we are - a rulebook containing rules I don't really want to play, which I strongly recommend you buy. For once, the description 'more than a rule book' is entirely justified. Should you end up with a copy, I hope you will agree with me.
'Til next time!