March 4, 2024

We Have Too Damn Many Rulesets

Jim Owczarski, 27 December 2021

In the Fall of this year, I turned 55. I have had a lot of thoughts about this, not all of them related to my eligibility for the Denny’s Senior Menu, but it certainly qualifies me as older. In the miniatures wargaming hobby, mind, it qualifies me as something like middle-aged. For all the fine talk about the next generation — may it come — we are a grey bunch and I am happy to find myself in the, let us say, 35th percentile.

It still leaves me older.

Which is why it was no small wonder when a simple response to a Facebook post took me by surprise.  A fellow had asked in a Napoleonics group whether Black Powder 2 was suitable for the recreation of historical battles.  The surprise was not the answer to his question.  For reasons I can share elsewhere if needed, no, Black Powder 2 is not suitable for the recreation of battles.  There was also no surprise in the responses a great many offered to the question, all of which took a shape similar to, “no, Black Powder 2 is not suited to this purpose, but definitely try rule set ‘X’!” This is a folkway of our tribe as certain to follow a question of that sort as the dawn conquering the darkness of night.

This is why I don’t play Napoleonics.  There are too many rule sets.

No, it was a one sentence response to one of the responses that got me.  To paraphrase: “This is why I don’t play Napoleonics.  There are too many rule sets.”

How did I never see that?  It is true, you know.  I tried compiling a list of all the rule sets that I both own and have played.  It is probably not exhaustive and ignores a number of homebrew sets, but here it is:

  • Absolute Emperor
  • Age of Eagles
  • Black Powder (I&II)
  • Bloody Big Battles
  • Blucher
  • Bruce Quarrie’s rules
  • Carnage and Glory (I&II)
  • Column, Line, and Square
  • Commands and Colors: Napoleonic
  • The Complete Brigadier
  • De Bellis Antiquitatis — Humberside Extensions
  • De Bellis Napoleonicis
  • Empire II-V
  • Et Sans Resultat!
  • Field of Glory: Napoleon
  • From Valmy to Waterloo (I may have thrown this one out in rage.)
  • General de Brigade
  • Grand Armee
  • Grand Tactics (local set)
  • Horse, Foot, and Guns
  • In the Grand Manner
    Lasalle (I & II)
  • Le Petite Empereur
  • Look Sarge, No Charts
  • Napoleon’s Battles, 1e
  • Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun (two of Dr. Griffith’s included sets)
  • Napoleonique
  • Piquet
  • Polemos
  • Revolution to Empire
  • Shako (I & II)
  • Snappy Nappy
  • Song of Drums and Shakos — Large Battles
  • System 7 Napoleonics (It counts.)
  • Volley and Bayonet (I&II)
  • Wargames Research Group, 1685-1845

(ed note: not War Games by Featherstone?)

Now, mind you, I did not paint and base figures for all the above.  Rather, it is one of the great joys of going to gaming conventions that you can read up on a rule set in advance and then go play it with a group of people who are passionate about “their” system.  If you go to an Historicon, it is often enough the author of the rules or a group of playtesters.

Why I never saw the problem in all this is beyond me.

Yes, we, along with World War 2 are the biggest, oldest kids in this teeny-tiny corner of the hobby world.  We have been around so long that it is probably inevitable that a thousand mushrooms would sprout — knowing us as I do, I recoil from calling us flowers.  How, though, is anyone, ever to be drawn into the analog side of this hobby?

I admit it.  I cheat.  I gave up painting, basing, terraining (it should be a word), &c., a couple years ago and have never looked back.  I can build battle sets in Tabletop Simulator — for that is what I prefer to do — for any system I like and at any scale that I like until Hell won’t have it.  Heavens, if you have been over to my YouTube channel you have seen us making our way through near a dozen rule sets just for one battle.  In the analog world, though, how do you ever build a community around this level of diversification?  Looking back at it, it is remarkable that anyone plays anything with anyone else.

Looking back at it, it is remarkable that anyone plays anything with anyone else.

Consider the work that is involved here.  Let us imagine that you have picked your armies (you know you have to paint both sides, right?), your scale (good damn luck), and your period of the Napoleonic Wars.  Now you have to organize, paint, and base your figures to the the specifications of your rules.  Each step down that path leads you farther and farther away from other gamers.  Some games do allow a measure of cross-pollination and some rules writers finally seem to have figured out that accepting a standard basing convention across sets is a good idea.  Still, and I know I am making a self-evident point here, if you want to play Blucher, your Shako 2 bases are not getting it done without some sabots and a fair bit if kludge.

We gamers, of course, aggravate matters because we know just how stuck we are in the cul-de-sac of our choosing and have a tendency to lose our minds when someone suggests starting a project using some other set.  It is the grimmest kind of zero-sum math.  Make it a fun holiday activity if you are really, really bored.  Go to any — and I do mean any — Napoleonic forum that does not specialize in one rule set and ask which set of rules is best.  Be specific.  Tell them you want a rule set to manage division-plus engagements, that does not require re-basing, and can bring a corps-level engagement to a satisfactory conclusion in an evening.  Oh, the lies that will be told.  Oh, the stories you will hear.

Semper Idem.

I write all this as contractual daylight.  I have no answer, nor do I think one is to be expected.  We like the rules we do for our own reasons and are ill-given to letting them go.  If nothing else, though, perhaps this is an argument for trying out other systems when we can.  This is a rant for another time, but I do not like solo gaming.  Seems to me nearly an oxymoron.  I particularly dislike solo miniatures gaming.  There are far too many out there that I see on social media and elsewhere that have painted utterly lovely sets and built fine terrain never to be able to share them with others.  Of course some of this is proximity, life circumstance, and the like, but some, I fear, is an unwillingness to try “that” rule set.  And that is a great pity.  One of my real happy places is wandering the halls of an Historicon, Little Wars, or Adepticon and just seeing what is on the tables.  Often enough, I will not even sign up to play, but will admire the setups and watch to see just how badly I have been mangling the rules as the author demonstrates them.

So a simple Facebook post has lead me to hammer out a rant on the merits of playing with each other’s toys.  So be it.  I have urged far worse.


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3 thoughts on “We Have Too Damn Many Rulesets

  1. You missed out ‘Shadow of the Eagles’! But no, we don’t have too many rule sets. Having a lot of rule sets is part of our hobby, which is grass roots and ground up. It’s not that difficult to choose which one you prefer – in fact, choosing is part of the fun. “There are almost as many sets of rules as there are wargamers” – that was Don Featherstone, nearly 70 years ago. Nothing new here!

    You’re right that entry into miniature wargaming can be demanding – painting, terrain, a room big enough for the table etc. But that’s the hobby I joined – it’s all part of the pastime. But I’m afraid video gaming isn’t part of my hobby.

    Good luck with all you do!

    Best wishes, Keith Flint

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I think you’re wrong about how easy it is to choose a ruleset. Perhaps it was/is for you, but it is not for many others. In fact, the post that prompted this rant said precisely the opposite and I’ve seen others since re: WWII as well as Napoleonics. Lucky folks find their way to welcoming groups that have accepted a single set. Many do not and walk away.

  2. As a newbie to historical wargaming the variety of rules is a blessing and curse. It’s good because I come from the Warhammer world where it’s one to rule them all and having a choice is good, but it’s bad because everyone plays something different, for different reasons, so it’s overwhelming as a newb trying to find a set of rules without spending hundreds on a dozen different sets of rules.

    I have no local group so there is no “play what everyone else plays” and even then the people in my state elsewhere I’ve asked have all given different answers too. What makes it worse is without any standardized basing I’m left trying to find a compromise that works for as many games as possible since if I pick something up today, I may find people tomorrow who play with a different set of rules.

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