My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rules Read-Through: About Bonaparte

If you have perused my Wooden Warriors blog then you know that I have been working on 42mm Napoleonic wooden soldiers for some time now. (There are a lot of other projects there too. I get distracted all of the time.)

What I have not really found, however, is a set of Napoleonic rules that work well with figures of this size. (Given the girth of the figures, they are closer to 54mm in feel.) I can only do so many Napoleonic skirmish games before I end up recycling the scenarios. My plan was to use The Sword and the Flame for them, but with 24 figures for each French ligne infantry unit, that is going to take time.

So when I saw a battle report of a group in the Netherlands using 54mm Napoleonics figures I perked up. Especially when I started counting figures in the pictures and it looked  like they were using infantry units of eight figures and cavalry units of four figures. The report said they were using the rules About Bonaparte by Partizan Press and so I set about finding the rules. It turns out that I could only find them available for sale at Caliver Books in the UK (On Military Matters in the US did not have them), so I put them on my wish list and waited until I found a more compelling reason to make a larger purchase before getting them.
I have had a few frustrating bouts with the UK postal system, so I am always hesitant from ordering anything there. Now that Baccus 6mm miniatures are no longer sold in the US (Scale Creep Miniatures is no longer carrying them), if I need to expand any 6mm armies or fill out a unit, I will probably have to bite the bullet and deal with it again.
As it turned out, Cigar Box Battle Store came out with a new mat using a 6" square grid and they promoted it at the same time as promoting a new book called Tin Soldiers in Action (which I will review in a future article) by Partizan Press. This too was only sold at Caliver Books, so I decided to finally place my order and get the two rule books.

About Bonaparte

So here I am, reading the rules, and thinking "why do these rules feel familiar?" About Bonaparte (AB) uses some special dice and I looked at that again. Two faces have an 'I' for infantry, one face has a 'C' for cavalry, one face has an 'A' for artillery, one face has a Flag ... wait a minute! These are Command & Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) dice! The only difference is that the last face on the AB die is blank whereas on the CCN die it is Sabers. Let's see: infantry fire one die for each stand and it has four stands. Sounds like CCN. In fact, as I read through the rules I see Richard Borg's thumbprint all over. Combat is very much like CCN except that it is a bit more complex and has to deal with the vagaries of free movement rather than the regulated movement imposed by a hex grid.

Now AB did not include a set of Command Cards, so it can't all be the same, right? Looking through the rules I see that you collect a certain number of dice for each General, Aide de Camp, and Officer figure you have and then roll them. For each 'I' you roll you can order an infantry unit, for each 'C' you can order a cavalry unit ... wait a minute! This is how Fantasy Flight Games took Richard Borg's Battlelore rules that they bought the rights to and converted them to a cardless command and control system for their rules Battlelore: Battles of Westeros! In those rules you roll the battle dice and it comes up red, blue, green, etc. and this indicates how many red, blue, and green units (the "color" of the original Command & Colors system) are ordered! Okay, so now I am sitting there giggling because this is what I have been trying to do with WW II and Space Fantasy in the past and here they basically converted and merged two sets of rules I already have and made them into a new Napoleonics variant.

Production Quality of the Book

I have a few other Partizan Press books – Tin Soldiers in Action, the one I just bought, being a prime example – and they are all good quality in terms of printing and binding, and seem to be well edited. Not so with AB. As soon as I opened my copy of AB I could see the binding coming apart at the bottom of the book. I already have pages falling out after one reading because the glue in the binding is so cheap. No, this was not printed in China like the Battlefront Flames of War books (Hell's Highway for example) that instantly fell apart; it was printed in Malta by a small printing company.

Editing has also suffered, as you can tell that English is not the first language of the author and the editors did not always catch his grammatical or spelling errors. Nothing too serious, but once or twice I wondered what exactly he meant. That could just as easily be the English tradition of being loose with their rules, but given that the author was pretty detailed in other areas, I don't think it was that.

There are a few layout issues, where section headers start on the bottom of one page and the body is on the next. It looks and feels like the whole book was laid out in Microsoft Word. Organization of the rules is sometimes strange too as the rules of combat are split into two sections, with a section on preparing for a game stuck in the middle.

The graphics are simplistic and often comical looking. When one unit fires at another, it almost looks as if the muskets are flamethrowers in the diagrams. Worse still, many graphics use thin red text in a small font size over a green background. It is often illegible without a magnifying glass or strong lighting.

Okay, that is the "bad" and the "ugly" part out of the way. Let's get to the "good".

Basing and Unit Sizes

Most of the measurements in the rules give both centimeters and inches as options, but in basing it is in millimeters only. There are basing standards for 54mm, 40mm, 25–30mm, and 15–20mm. For 54mm troops infantry is based two figures on a 55mm square stand, cavalry a single figure on a 55mm by 110mm stand, and artillery on a 110mm square stand. Infantry can also be based singly (called half-stands) to represent skirmishers and to remove single figure losses. There is no specification for basing Generals, Officers, and Aides.

There is a provision for using figures already based using another scheme, but it basically says you need to work out how it impacts the rules. Losses are taken to figures, but when two infantry or one cavalry figures are lost, a stand is expected to be removed. Combat in the game is by stand, not by figure, except for artillery.

There is some flexibility in unit sizes in that if you need to represent especially large or small units, they can be anywhere from 2 to 5 stands in size. (Hungarian infantry during the Napoleonic period is specified as having 5 stands, for example.) Artillery always consists of a single stand, but varies the number of figures based on the weight of the artillery.

Troop Types

As indicated above, artillery is classified by weight , having light, medium, and heavy designations. Light artillery can either be foot or horse, while all other weights are foot.

Infantry is has line (standard), skirmish, and irregular troop types.

Cavalry has heavy, medium, light, lancer, and irregular troop types. Heavy cavalry can be further designated as being Armored or not.

For each of those troop types you can further classify them by morale: green or untrained, trained, veteran, and elite or guard.

Commanders are rating only by type and not by morale. They are the CIC, Generals (commanders of corps, wings, or divisions), Officers (commanders of brigades or regiments), and Staff Officers (aides and staff of CICs and Generals).

The rules recommend that you label only the central stand of a unit (which contains the standard bearer) denoting it troop type, morale, initial unit size, and where it fits in the hierarchical structure (i.e. who commands it).

Formations, Groups, and Movement

Unlike CCN, AB uses formations for the units. Infantry can form line, march column, attack column, skirmish order (may be some or all of the unit), and square. Cavalry can form line, march column, and supported line. Artillery is either limbered or deployed.In addition, there are other period-specific and nation-specific formations defined in the rules too.

Groups are essentially a means of controlling your troops better so that fewer commands are required to maneuver. The basics of command and control are that you get one or two dice for each commander in which to give orders each turn. You roll these dice to determine which unit type – infantry, artillery, or cavalry – can be ordered. It takes one order of the appropriate unit type to move each unit or group, so you can see why forming a group is important. You will have very few orders available to you each turn and you still have to roll the appropriate unit type, so you want to reduce your command down to as few groups as possible.
This reminds me of both DBA and Dux Bellorum. In DBA if you break up your formations you will quickly become "PIP starved" and you roll low and cannot move all of your units. In Dux Bellorum groups can only be formed of like types (shieldwall infantry with shieldwall infantry, warriors with warriors, etc.), limiting the number of units that can maneuver together.
Groups in AB have to be of the same unit type (i.e. infantry, cavalry or artillery), within the same command, under the direct command of an Officer, deployed in the same formation, have the same facing, and be within a certain distance of each other. As you can see, once such a group hits combat, it is likely to quickly to quickly lose its group status. But that is okay because there are actions that units can take that don't require orders. Unlike CCN, for example, units do not require orders to fire.

Note that there is a Command Radius for commanders, so units far from their commanders require additional orders to compensate for the extra distance.

All of the traditional rules for movement – formation and facing changes, unit interpenetration, wheeling, oblique, about face, withdrawing, sidestepping, deploying skirmishers, joining groups – are all in there. Be aware that formation changes take a full turn unless Veteran or Guard.

As you might expect from a set of rules designed for 54mm figures, the table sizes are probably expected to be a little deeper than normal. Deployment zones are 16" in from the baselines, infantry in line formation moves 8" per turn, and   musket range is 16". So if you are using a 6' by 4' board, troops on the deployment lines will be in musket range from the beginning and cavalry will be in charge range on Turn 1. No, no 6' x 4' tables for you with these rules!
By my rule of thumb, a "typical" Napoleonic battalion should have a shooting range of approximately the same distance as the frontage of that unit. Given that the units are roughly 8" in frontage, the ranges seem a bit long. It also does not, in my opinion, have the proper ratio of volleys until contact, or two volleys by a unit in line standing and firing at a column charging in. There is no defensive fire available against a charge coming in, same as with CCN. I guess I am too influenced by my days playing Column, Line, and Square.

Support, Firing and Melee

Another Command & Colors concept is that units not in combat can provide support to friendly units that are in combat. Support in AB provides two basic benefits: it increases the number of Flags you can ignore when fired upon, and it increases the number of dice you throw in melee. The downside of support is that if the supported unit still ends up retreating, the support can often go with it.

There are a slew of rules that help you define whether a unit is supported or not, but there is one complexity to all of this: each unit can provide support to only one unit, for one die roll each turn. I am not sure I like this as it does not provide for the strength of mutually supporting units (as was common to use in Battlelore) and makes for a bit of a guessing game ("will I use my support for the fire coming from the line unit or from the guard unit") that seems to add little value for the complexity it adds.

Firing is basically 1 die per stand, but long range fire and moving can both halve the number of dice rolled. There are also modifiers for shooting into the target's flank or rear, their formation, and the terrain they are in, and modifiers for the shooter's morale.

Melee is also basically 1 die per stand with a number of modifiers for the attacker and defender. Unlike firing, both sides roll dice in a melee. One interesting note: the defender has to conform in a melee where the attacker made contact on a corner. I can see this as a way of throwing units out of a group by changing their alignment, even if only by a few degrees (fiddly geometry).

Even if units do not run into impassable terrain, enemy units, or off of the board when retreating from rolling Flags; three flags unignored will destroy a unit and four flags will destroy your supports as well. There are a number of rules in there that double flags so we are not necessarily talking about four dice rolling flags. A cavalry unit attacking an enemy unit in the flank or rear, for example, inflicts four flags per Flag die rolled!

Regarding skirmishers: they are overpowered, no doubt about it. They are +1 die when shooting and -2 dice when being shot at. Are you kidding me?

Army Lists and Periods

AB gives you rules for all of the major powers, including the Ottomans. Each nationality has special rules, including formations that their infantry can use. Russian line fires with one less dice, British with one more, but only at point-blank range; that sort of thing. There is a point system to cost out the troops in all of their variations. There appears to be no army lists, per se, and you are expected to research out who had what troop types and so on.

AB covers more than just the Napoleonics period. There are period rules for the Age of Marlborough, the Seven Years War, the French and Indian War, the American War of Independence, the American Civil War, and the colonial wars. Given that the last encompasses breechloading rifles and gatling guns, I am surprised that they did not include the Franco-Prussian War too, as that is still a very colorful period.


Do I like the idea behind these rules? Of course! I love Richard Borg rules, as anyone reading this blog for a while would know. I think the only Richard Borg design I don't have is Samurai Battles (and that includes owning Abaddon). I think including a variation of the command and control mechanism from Battlelore: Battle of Westeros was also clever, and a great way of getting rid of the card mechanism. After all, I did that back in 2011, so it is natural I would like it.

All that said, I think the rules are a bit over complicated. The reason for that is simple. The author added in the following elements, any of which are sure to drive up complexity compared to CCN:
  • Tracking formation by unit,
  • Free-form movement rather than controlled by a grid,
  • Gave Commanders a meaningful purpose in the command & control mechanic,
  • Expanded the number of modifiers to firing and melee,
  • Rather than increasing the distance retreated by a thrown Flag it created a whole new system for ignoring, adding and doubling flags, and then creating new combat results based on how many flags remain,
  • Expanded the system of providing support, but turned it from a rule to a resource.
The list goes on. These rules could use a little Neil Thomas-style simplification.

As a set of rules, I think they are interesting. But to me, they are a start of where I think they need to be. First would be to cut down the rules and possibly move it back to a grid. Also, Partizan Press needs to take a hard look at their printer and their editor, because they failed them.


  1. First, "Samurai Battles" is an EXCELLENT game! Turns the tension and game play of the C&C game system up a notch. Great fun!
    Second, regarding "About Bonaparte" what are your thoughts on a set of rules that clearly appear to be a direct derivative of C&C? Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but really does this work go too far? Sounds like it to me.

    1. I played SB in an online tournament using Vassal. You are right, it is fun. That is not why I don't own it. I did not want the fiddly miniatures; I would have preferred wooden blocks. Everyone else stopped playing (everything). I have never just gotten around to completing the collection.

      I think the concept of adding more miniatures to a C&C game is not a bad idea. I have done that very thing and blogged about it here. But Borg has clean rules that only adds details where necessary. The Combined Arms and Square rules I think were necessary for CCN, for example, because they are so key to understanding the period. I love the concept of 'battle back' and often add it to Borg's rules that don't have it. They have taken that concept and made it overly complex.

      These rules could have been so much better, just by adding a point system, army lists, scenario and terrain generation rules, converting a grid to free movement, and developing a command system that did not require a special card deck. Yes, they went too far.

  2. Hi Dale,
    I am the the translator for Italy of About Bonaparte and I have some doubts about your review. The truth is that even your "good" looks "bad" in your words and that, with all the references to other wargames, you accuse AB of being swaged on other games that also appear very different as a starting point. We speak of a wargame with a free battlefield and of battallion of Toy soldiers in 54mm. A scale not so simple to use in wargame. Again, you find the complicated game system, when this system allows the best use of the units, the movement, the shot, the morale and the choice of those who move simply rolling the dice. You don't remember like rolling dice are non so simple, the Flag seems, from your description, incredibly easy to obtain, as well as obtain two or more. It is not so. For the Caliver edition, for many things I could say that you are right, but I have seen many regulations and, at the same price, they offered a scary graphics and a simple black and white. So to end, I think you're just discouraged those who could be interested in the game, finding similarities with products with other features and different starting points, a result that transcends your same considerations.
    Thanks for your space,

    1. If you read through my blog you will see a lot of miniature rules reviews. If you read those reviews you will find very few negative reviews (I can only think of two, off of the top of my head, over the course of 10 years). I have had authors send me rules to review and if they are not my cup of tea, I will not review them. I don't think it is 'fair' to review rules negatively because I do not like the style of the game. That said, the rules that do get the negative reviews are ones where I have paid for the product, eagerly anticipated using them, and then they broke my heart. AB is definitely one of those sets. What irritated me the most if the lousy printing. Since this review pages are falling out at an increasing rate.

      As for discouraging people to purchase the rules, you are correct. That is the point of a negative review. I wanted to warn why I thought this product was not worthy of purchase. That said, I tried to describe what the rules were about so that those that have different tastes than I do can make an informed decision for themselves. My tastes are clearly not universal. From your comments it does not appear that I got anything wrong, you just don't like that my positives sound negative. Point taken.

      As for Flags, you have a 16% chance to roll one and with doubling rules, it is much easier to obtain two Flags than if you have to roll them on two dice. It is impossible to get two Flags on a single die in Richard Borg's rules, but not with AB.

      Perhaps you should write a rebuttal review. If you want to send it to me, I would be happy to post it. Yet I have to give you fair warning: I cannot understand all of what you wrote in your comment. I do not understand what you meant to say by "being swaged on other games", so I fear many of your points might be lost. Nonetheless, I would post your rebuttal unedited.

  3. Seems that I am entered into the lion's den Dale,but I am very happy you give me a lot of attention.
    I have met these rules because I was looking for a regulation born and studied for the 54mm and for play with the new lines of toy soldiers made in these last years. In this scale I have find only a handful of regulations (one of the best is ATKM of Ken Cliffe) and some of them are limited to skirmishes between groups and not for big battle. Each of my motivation does not seem to be present in your research of motivation list to purchase it, you use other figures, other scales and other playing fields. In fact this does not explain to me why you made a purchase that expensive (because it is expensive,it's true...), there are any some members of Littlewars in Yahoo who, seeking rules for the 54mm, and especially playing with AB, have expressed very positive opinion. They have lived the experience directly with miniatures in scale and on prepared battleground like in traditional Wargames.
    Sorry for my difficulties in the use of English, traslate the others is more simple, I use "swaged" like "copied", however not a concept to be expressed so freely without damaging the work of those behind the ideas and concepts developed in years (also in a game).
    I would say to conclude that you have bought a Regulation
    that in 80% of cases you do not needed at all, and, as I do often, instead of archive and forget it, you have rejected it on the whole line.
    In any case, I found your blog very interesting and I hope that this controversy that ends here for me, do not stop my stay in it. I have seen pictures and games that could interest me much.

    1. Don't feel you have entered the "lion's den". I am not taking this personally at all. My opinions are worth every penny you paid to receive it! :)

      I am sincere when I offer you a chance to make a rebuttal, on this blog. Just because I did not like the rules does not mean I am not fair. I have no skin in this game, other than the fact that I bought the rules. As a rules junkie, I spend a lot of money of purchasing and shelving rules. Let me tell you, AB was not as expensive as Tin Soldiers in Action. The price of rules, to me, if rarely an issue. But when my hopes are raised and subsequently dashed, I tend to pout.

      I will check out that Yahoo group though, despite thinking I have probably found my "go to" rules.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").