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Outsmarting Napoleon

War games enthusiasts use miniature soldiers and multiple-terrain boards to simulate real battles

How do you write rules that cover such stranger-than-fiction scenarios — the infamous fog of war?

"Well, there's hundreds of sets of rules," says Mudd. "They're divided up into periods: the ancient period goes up to the edge of gunpowder warfare, about 1450, covering 3,000 years of history: swords, pikes, armor, spears, shields, et cetera. Then there's the pike and shot period, to 1600, and the horse and musket period, from 1600 to 1785. And so on."

There are rules for large-scale battles, rules that balance different types of troops, so that if one player has, say, soldiers of the Trojan War totaling 300 points and another has 300 points' worth of soldiers from the Persian Wars, much later, it will be an even matchup.

"There are a dozen very focused rules for the Frederick the Great era, accounting for the special characteristics of each army." For instance, Napoleonic armies had light infantry or skirmishers, who move at a certain pace, and more heavily armed grenadiers, who move slower and act differently in a given situation. "Infantry might move six inches per turn on open terrain, but only three inches if crossing a river or going through woods."

Other factors cover fighting ability — the difference between feared Guards troops and militia — or the impact of morale. And dice are used to add that element of luck that can thwart even the best general.

The rules for a game in which you are following historical fact would be different from those for a battle you are making up. Sometimes you can move troops and have them fire in the same turn; the dice decide how many you kill. Sometimes the rule proclaims that communications failed, so your men move but are too confused to fire.

Try imagining a chess game in which one of your knights goes lame. Or a pawn refuses to advance.

"I do have some World War II troops," Mudd informs me, "but basically I stick to pre-19th century. I don't do Napoleonic wars anymore. I just don't have the time to paint those large armies. You need 120 to 150 figures for a battle [the usual scale is one figure for 60 men], but if you want a large army you need some 300 figures."

Mudd's speciality is the wars of Frederick the Great, from about 1760 to 1780, "although recently I have been involved in the Italian wars, so I have an army of Charles V of Hapsburg, and I've also got Spanish, German and Italian troops of the 1550s." Mudd has built a considerable collection of books on battles and uniforms. It's amazing, he says, how a skilled painter can give character and identity to even a flea-size soldier two millimeters high.

Uniforms greatly aided morale. The tremendous shakos and busbies worn by grenadiers made them look ten feet tall, and with their trademark piratical mustaches they looked as fierce as Gauls. In the age of gunpowder, uniforms were a vital means of keeping a unit together, for as soon as the first volley was fired at a range of 50 yards the entire field would be obscured in dense smoke "and you couldn't see men five yards down the row," explains Mudd. Thus, each company often had two flags, six feet square, designed to be seen.


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