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.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Rebuttal to My Opinion of the Rules About Bonaparte

I wrote a 'rules read-through' on the rules About Bonaparte (AB) and it achieved exactly the opposite of what I was hoping for. I wanted to give people an idea of what the rules were like without it actually being a review. You know what a review of mine looks like: it has ratings of 1 to 5 for various factors that I consider important.

I was approached by author of another set of rules, soliciting for an analysis and review (unpaid, of course), and after reading them I refused. I told the author I did not like the level of complexity in his rules. Had they hit me up when I was 20, I would have probably loved his rules, but not now. A review by me would have come out negative no matter how hard I tried and so I would not do the review as it would not have been fair to him. The rules were not bad, just not my cup of tea.

Well, intent does not always count. Some saw the AB post as a review, and a negative one at that. To my mind I have only written two negative reviews on rules. One, actually started as a particularly glowing review ... until I played it. After a conversation in email with the author, I knew I was never going to be able to translate what he was saying onto the tabletop. Some rules are just too hard to play without the author being there to help you over the rough spots. The other, well, let's just say that when I am excited about the sound of a product, spend a fair bit of money, wait a long time for that product, and then it breaks my heart, well maybe I am bad at being a spurned wargamer.

I admit, the single factor that irritated me regarding AB was the shoddy printing. That is on the printer for producing the poor quality and the publisher, and the bookseller (who happens to own the publisher) for accepting such poor quality and then turning around and selling a product that they had to have known would fall apart. Trust me, I have not read my copy of AB more than once and it already has sheets falling out.

After having emailed the author of Tin Soldiers in Action – which is another offering from Caliver Books, and published by Partizan Press – several times I have been made aware that the duties I thought were done by the publisher appears to have shifted. In other words, authors are now largely becoming responsible for translations and editing, not the publishers. Wow, have the times changed. So my comments about poor translation and editing was not an indictment solely on the publisher, but upon the author and his team. (I still think the publisher should have a strong role as the product is being put out under their banner.) I still stand by my statement that I could not always determine what the author meant, and could cite some examples, but I have no intention of going through that exercise again. The production quality and the translations are what I termed the "ugly" and the "bad", respectively. I labeled the rest as the "good". However, one reader took exception to my characterization. Massimo Mannari in a comment said:
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 [copied from] other games that also appear very different as a starting point. We speak of a wargame with a free battlefield and of battalion 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 [not] 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 [rules] and, at the same price, they offered [bad] graphics and [are] 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,

So not everyone agrees with my characterization that the rest was shared in a good light. Nonetheless, I offered Massimo the opportunity to write a rebuttal, with the promise that I would publish it on my blog in his words. My guess is that he contacted the author of AB as that was the email I received next.
Hi Dale,

I want to thank you for the review of About Bonaparte. Happy to see someone has taken time to do so. First: sorry if my English isn’t perfect, my native language being Dutch (Flemish) , so if I typed mistakes I’m sorry for that.

Maybe, for better understanding , I’ll start by telling a bit more than in the article how About Bonaparte grew.

My first contact with wargames dates from the end of the 90s. As you know, I am a 54mm collector. My first contact were Fire and Fury and variants from Belgian clubs, and I started to make an Austrian army in 54mm, Patrick going for the French, to use with these rules.

Somewhere in around the year 2000 another 54mm collector invited us to for a new board game he was enthusiastic about. It was Battlecry. And indeed I was immediately a big fan. I immediately tried to recreate it on my table tennis table, with white dots being the centre of a hex. The Austrians had their first battles. (when I made the first dice painting normal dice, I was forgotten there were the crossed sabres on the sixth side. Really. I did buy a Battlecry game afterwards when but by then we were used to wargame with our own version )

Then first thing I changed however was the melee: now in a charge, both sides could throw dice. I did find it logical the defender could also throw dice. In Battlecry, a unit that has suffered losses keeps his number of dice. It was strange too from a wargamer point of view, so we changed that too.

You know, every change I did add was due to logic. In those first battles, we had an hussar unit that charged the French Old Guard unit, and breaking it. Our friend Adrien, was furious. This is one thing that could never happen. Also, the game table, without scenery , after a few games, started to be annoying and it wasn’t that simple to insert scenery pieces with the dots. Also, formations were so important in the Napoleonic period they had to be introduced. The hex system had to go. But that also applied for the use of cards as you do not longer have a clear centre, and wings. Had a bit to think on that but you know what the solution was. I do indeed not make a difference in moral and abilities of the individual command figure (why make things complicated), but that can be adjusted by the number of aides.

So the use of dice for command also is in my eyes a very good solution. Letting an order been given to groups also.

I did read a lot of books and battle reports on the Napoleonic period, and I tried to what was important on the battlefield being reflect in the rule with adjustments. So indeed the doubling of flags. A cavalry charge has it: both for the attacker as the defender. Why: the impact on moral of seeing hundreds of cavalry charging towards you : units will break faster. On the other hand, cavalry is harder to control by its officers, and with a failed charge will also have the possibility to flee faster.

Is that logical? Think so. It also influences you as a player, just in was for historical commands: using your cavalry is a gamble, and certainly against fresh troops at the start of the battle not a good idea. Better use them as a kind of fast reserves . Now skirmishers: +1D to shoot, -2D when you shoot a them. Why? First of all, skirmishers are picked men, the best shooters , better weapons so yes a +1D. So now the -2D , how do they fight: they use cover and fight in an open formation, and when they see a line aiming at the for a volley, well they duck. If you only look at the firing they indeed look supermen. So what makes skirmishers vulnerable : close combat. That’s why they have a minus in close combat and they opponent a +1D. Against cavalry it is even more. They can try to evade. In the rulebook, the test stand by stand, as I had seen in another rule. But it makes the game complicated with the unit sometimes split, so recent games we test the whole unit at once. Chances to evade infantry are greater than against cavalry.

So yes, you must be careful where to use your skirmish troops., as indeed was the case in Napoleonic battles. Concerning support. It was obvious already from the beginning still using the dots on the table, that there is a difference between two units against each other and a unit facing two or three opponents. We did play a lot in those days, and tested many versions, and the simplest one if in the rulebook.

By 2003 the rule was how we play it still now, but was only the modifiers a few sheets of paper. Beginning of 2005 we did our first game at a convention in Ghent, and in November 2005 we did Austerlitz at the Crisis convention in Antwerp. Some club member that are used to more complex games asked to add other changes in the rulebook, but what wasn’t logical and didn’t matter according to historical accounts had no chance.

I have made other games before becoming a wargamer, so I know, less is more. As Our club has grown over the years, I think the rule makes sense.

Ow yes, concerning defensive fire, offensive fire , I have played a few times with a rule that hat, moral before the charge, defensive firing, moral test for the attacker, offensive fire, moral test for the defender, the fight, consulting a complex table, moral test for the looser. It takes hours to finish one turn. In AB all that is concentrated in one dice throw. Can’t be more simple.

I haven’t seen C and C rules yet, but as I understand, it has also changes compared to Battlecry close to what we have done. So it seems Richard Borg had seen the same logical things we did. If you want to make a Napoleonic game with some realism starting from Battlecry , I ‘m sure you will have to add the same changes to reach that result. In the end, most Napoleonic war games on battalion size units must have comparable mechanisms or else they fail.

When I started to think about putting the game we played into a rule back into 2007 , I first called it IIAC, referring to the dice.

Here under the mail I did send to Dave of Caliver Books back into 2009. I took Caliver 3 years to finalise the project. And yes I think I made a mistake in that mail as it seems Battlecry dates from 2000.

This is my first mail of 2009 to Caliver

From: dirk donvil [email address deleted]
Date: 2009/2/15
Subject: IIAC - request for publishing

Hi Dave,

The last decade has seen an incredible growth of Napoleonic and AWI figures in 54mm. Italeri, Armies in Plastic, CTS, Barzso, Conté, A call To Arms, etc. have created a wide variety of figures, and now Hät has also announced even Wurtenbergers and Bavarians.

So what seemed impossible 10 years ago due to lack of figures has now become an opportunity : wargaming in 54mm.

In annexe you'll find the beta version of my 54mm Napoleonic Wargame rule. I started in 1999 creating the rule and after all those years writing, rewriting and playing it has resulted in the IIAC rule.

It is a simple fast play rule, different from other rules by the special dices and game mechanism, yet resulting in historical acceptable outcomes and a lot of fun. I have also foreseen the use of other scales.

I 'm also working at an ancients version (simpler in unit formations yet more complex in warrior types), and planning to make an ECW version. The original is in Dutch and I am planning also to make a French version.

You can find some battle reports at the Hät website with these links.

So you can see publishing this rule is really an opportunity.

Dirk Donvil
[contact information deleted]

Now complexity. Most old school wargamers I know find my rule to simple, to much a childplay game. So my first thought reading your comment on the rule being too complex, was that you were joking, making fun of the rule as some of the old wargames did. So I’m perplex to see you are serious about it, first time that I did receive that reaction. Suppose it is due to you having CCN in mind . All adaptions are in my eyes pure logic.

In 2008; I made an ancients version(About Caesar). It is more complex than AB. Simply because there are so many troop types having their specific way of fighting. Did compensate it by reducing formation possibilities. Did also change the flag system, and yes it’s a bit complex, but it increases the impact of veteran and elite troops, as historical reports show us. Also made a Renaissance version ( and a “Lord of The rings” adaptation , the latter not published, only in Dutch, club only).

Quality of the book: [inaccurate statement about printer deleted] I made the book with Word the illustration in Excel, that’s the software I have. (Should I be ashamed of my work?)

The article in MW. Yes I reused the intro of the book. The article tells the same : how the rule came to be. Should I have written a different story? Is it that chocking, did I did something wrong? I don’t see the problem. The editors both at Caliver and at MW both didn’t remove the mistakes from it, sorry, but I can’t do anything about that. If you want to edit it for me, feel free to do so, I will make the changes.

So, finally I would like to challenge you Dale, after reading all this: can you make abstraction of CCN and test AB with a fresh view, and see why it works for is now for 15 years, and why even someone from Holland is driving two hours to participate with our games. I you need dice, I will send you a set. In annex also the AC and ACr, and the annex from the mail to Dave back in 2009. I think all this is a bit long to put in a blog comment, but seen the reactions are really negative, I think about it.


Postscript: Concerning the printer discussion. It is obvious Partizan/Caliver has/have released some books with poor quality compared to most of their books. I think you should contact Dave about your concerns. For me, in the whole, is not an issue. What triggered me to react on your comments on AB was what was years of work, playing and testing could be interpreted by readers as a simple copy paste job from CCN. That did … hurt.
By the way, only one part of Dirk's email was deleted (other than removing his personal contact information), and that was because of, I believe, a misunderstanding of what I wrote about the printer in my original blog post. The printer is, in fact, in Malta. My copy of the rules were not printed by Partizan Press. (Nor was my copy of Tin Soldiers in Action, so I suspect that Partizan Press is no longer printing, but only publishing, but I could be wrong.)

I could address Dirk's objections point-by-point, but I won't. I don't want there to be any hint that I am being more negative than I apparently already have. Anything I say will likely be taken as being critical of Dirk's design decisions.

Let's face it folks: we don't all love the same things. We don't always agree on what should be modeled in a game or how it should be modeled. One man's logic is another man's error. If you have read me long enough then you know how I think in terms of simplifying games and removing the details that, to me, do not matter. That said, my commentary can hardly be an accusation of copying and pasting someone else's work. AB was too far off the mark from the original, which turned out to be Richard Borg's Battlecry (1999) rather than Richard Borg's Command and Colors: Napoleonics (2010). (I figured it was not based on the latter, by the way, given that it has not been out that long. I had not figured that it was based on Battlecry as it took out a lot of elements from that set.)

You can see my comparison of Richard Borg's various games in this article that I wrote back in 2011. My devotion to his rules has been for some time. My first article was June of 2010 for the second campaign we had run for Memoir '44, but I had been playing Memoir '44 for at least two years prior to that. I just never thought to blog about it. Which is all to say, I can recognize when I see mechanics similar to Richard Borg's.

But does that mean that if I make a combat system that uses opposed die rolls for combat, adds factors for the attacker and defender, and then use the difference in the rolls to determine the outcome, putting those outcomes in a table that I have ripped off Phil Barker and DBA? No. I noted the similar mechanism to Ganesha Games' Song of engine, but did not call it a rip-off. Because, in the end, it is not the concept of rolling dice and comparing results that matter, but the values that you use to modify the roll and the table that interprets the differences to an outcome.

The same applies to the idea of using the die itself to define the odds. I took that same concept in my articles on bringing Battlelore to the tabletop (Part One and Part Two of the game), or when I decided to try and make a company-level WWII game (see the section on Dice as Chart Replacements). I even published the graphics for those custom dice. I don't consider this a rip-off either as, again, the magic is in the odds, not that you burned the odds into the die. (Just going through my old posts is making me want to revive the system!)

I think if you go back and read what I actually wrote about AB it was not that I accused the author of ripping off Richard Borg, simply that I recognized where the ideas sprang from. I then began documenting point after point of where the author had changed from the original, introducing his own ideas. In the end, however, the author did not see my remarks as being that way. Which is unfortunate, because I am not rendering an apology. I did not make such an accusation. The author thought I was incorrect, or failed to see the logic of his design choices. He is entitled to his opinion. I felt that the least I could do is give him a platform to respond to the very readers he was concerned about that I had wrongly convinced not to buy his rules.

All that said, I make this promise to you, the readers: if you think I have done wrong with a review, let me know. Write a decent argument and I promise I will publish it here.


  1. An interesting a very fair approach in allowing others the freedom to represent their counter arguments to your original piece on your blog.

    Wargames rules are such a personal thing, that any consideration of them has to be in the first instance subjective and 10 people will no doubt have 10 different perspective on the same set of rules. Never quite finding the right set of rules, seems to be the main driver behind so many sets being developed and published.

    AS you know, I run my own blog and I do cover rules and rule systems, but I only ever feel like writing about games that I have enjoyed and so I find myself regularly having to remind visitors that I am not a review site as my critique by its nature starts from a position of favour rather than one of a true reviewer ... neutrality - though my independence is underwritten by never accepting free versions of anything.

    I have also designed a couple of games and had them published and so I understand the anxiety of a designer who can be put under the spotlight - however, I always resolved to accept that whatever was written about my stuff should be taken in my stride and accepted in good grace and hope that enough good comments get through for the case to present itself in a balanced way.

    Anyway, an enjoyable piece and perhaps extending the courtesy for a designer to comment on reviews should be more common place - thank you, an interesting start to my day.

    1. Although I don't consider this a "review site", I do tend to do a lot of them. But, it is largely a review of those things I like, so I too consider that I am generally coming from a position of favor rather than neutrality. I do not do this as a profession, and to be honest, I don't want to go through the amount of work that I go through for a full review and play test when I can read through some rules and instantly spot that it is not my cup of tea. (Sort of a "been there, played with those game mechanics" type of thing.) As for accepting free rules, well, it only happened once. All the rest is purchased with my own money, so if a product turns out shoddy I am probably going to grumble about it somewhere. (I think I did a blog post about how Battlefront's "Hell's Highway" was a shoddy piece of printing too, as I had to spiral bind it within two readings.)

      Thanks for your comments Norm. I appreciate your opinion on the matter as it gives me another perspective to consider. More reviews to come!

  2. Dale, perhaps making a distinction between a comprehensive "Review" and "First Impressions" would take a step in resolving this conundrum? Those who read your reviews and value your opinion would enjoy your "First Impressions" as well as a full-on review. I know I do! I understand turning down an opportunity to review a ruleset due to time, effort, or interest constraints. Balking solely due to not wanting to produce a negative review is not a position in which an objective reviewer should place him (or her) self. Knowing the reviewer's tastes (both likes and dislikes) allows a window into the reviewer's identity. With that information set, readers can formulate their own opinions of both reviewer and product. It is valuable to understand what attracts and repels the reviewer. Over time, a reader can say, "if Dale likes this, I probably will too." Tackling only products that are of interest to the reviewer is acceptable knowing product interest may wane as the discovery process progresses. What looked like a good idea going in may not turn out so favorable in the end. That is valuable information for the reader to know and worth an effort even if it turns out to not be the reviewers "cup of tea."

    Back to what I will call your "First Impressions" of AB. I went back and re-read your initial post and my comment on it. From my comment, it seemed a direct comparison between AB and CCN was being made. Your description of the rules was not seen as a negative review to me at all. I wondered (in print) if AB was too derivative. If both the author and I came to a similar conclusion perhaps it was not coincidence?

    To sum up what I initially thought would be a brief response, I enjoy your reviews very much and hope you continue this practice.

    1. Good points, thanks. It appears that this lengthy post is generating lengthy comments, which I like.

      Interesting note on negative reviews. My view was that, because I knew I did not like the type of rules being offered, I knew that negativity would creep into my writing. It is hard to generate enthusiasm for a style of game you are no longer fond of. So I was left with a choice of either leaving a blah review or simply telling the author "not my cup of tea" and moving on. After all, I am not compensated for these reviews and to do them properly it takes some time and effort to do it right.

      I don't deny that I was making a direct comparison. There are three reasons for it: 1) both games clearly sprang from the same rules lineage; 2) they are the same genre (Napoleonics); and 3) it gives people that have the rules I am comparing to a point of reference about the rules I am reviewing. I have done this a LOT, so I don't think it is unfair to do. I have too many examples on my blog where I have done this and never had a complaint, until now. That said, three people coming to the same conclusion about what that comparison implied does speak volumes.

      Thanks Jonathan. I value your input. And no, this will not put me off doing reviews. I enjoy it too much!

  3. An interesting and useful post and exchange.


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. 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").