Jim Owczarski, 29 March 2021
Let us begin with a bit of full disclosure, if I may? First, I am a fan of Et Sans Resultat! (exclamation mark not optional), a forward-looking, different-thinking rule set from the mind of Mr. David Ensteness. I have hosted a “How to Play” session for him and his rules and regard him as a friend to the Dragoons. Also, he was kind enough to provide me a review copy of the book in question.
With that out of the way, would you indulge me in a story?
Travel back in your mind to the Summer of 1983. Scarface is a new thing, Monty Python had released its Meaning of Life and, yes, the first of the merely-OK Star Wars movies hit theaters in the form of Return of the Jedi. Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” was unavoidable and a whole lot of us were wondering what exactly Men at Work meant when it sang of a head full of zombie.
I tried to wrap my limited time and even more limited budget around all of these things, but my heart was in playing Napoleonic miniatures games. I sense a lack of surprise. The venue was the greatest wargame store ever created — I am prepared to defend this — Napoleon’s. Originally located on Milwaukee’s east side, it eventually migrated to one of the north suburbs where it entertained a great many for several decades before falling victim to changing taste in games, Games Workshop, and, eventually, the internet. In its prime, it was a regional center of historical wargaming, particularly Napoleonics. The owner, now tragically passed, wrote his own set that were the official “house rules”. Built for 25mm figures (28mm was not yet a thing) and scaled to a remarkable 60:1 man-to-figure ratio, it was not built for historical battles, instead producing many hundreds of “imagination” battles that always ran to thousands of figures per side. The minimum buy-in was an army of some 2,000 figures and, as the world had not yet gone soft, every last one of the buggers had to be painted and based. The truly crazy part was that there were at least two dozen guys — and, yes, they were all men — willing to make that commitment just to play.
I wanted in.
My budget was always likely to limit how much I could get done at once, but I figured if I painted a few soldiers at a time I could get there eventually. Because it was one of only armies available, I selected the Dutch-Belgians. I saved and built up a reasonable collection of Minifigs blister packs. I even purchased a fine red sable hair brush or two. As to the Dutch-Belgians, though, while I had heard of them and read about them, I had not the first clue how their troops were uniformed. Please recall that this well pre-dates the internet. There were no forums, bulletin boards, blogs, &c., to turn to for help. Sure, there was the ever-present Osprey books but the truth was that of most of those books, while they gave you many useful color plates, were far from comprehensive, omitting entire regiments or even troop types. I was lost and adrift.
This is why I resent all of you.
Unlike 16-year-old me, you are allowed to live at a time when improved production technology and reduced printing costs permit the creation of books like The Wargaming Company’s recent To Assure My Dynasty, 1808 in Iberia. The advertisements tell me this is the first in the company’s revised campaign series. I own the earlier edition of The First Battle Lost, an 1809 supplement, so any comparison will be to that volume.
The most notable change is surely the hard binding. The Wargaming Company’s books were previously coil-bound, a format I have never favored. I know many like that they can lay them flat on their gaming tables, but if I need to flip through your book that much while playing rather than consulting a QRS or similar, you have written your rules poorly. But I digress.
The binding seems sturdy enough and lends an air of class to the operation. I note that the center-binding is a bit tight and, at least with my book, will have to be flexed just a bit to get it loose enough for use. As with other ESR! titles, the paper quality is excellent and the illustrations are of good quality and in color throughout.
click images to enlarge
The book opens with a brief history of the early portion of Napoleon’s debacle in the Iberian Peninsula (1808 like it says) before turning to battles, army lists, and, yes, illustrations that are the heart of the volume.
The supplements put out by The Wargaming Company have always preferred depth to breadth and this one is no exception. To Assure My Dynasty includes 13 battles that, if desired, can be broken into and played as two campaigns. These campaigns use the ever-serviceable branching tree approach where the winner of a battle is assigned a certain number of victory points and whichever side won determines what the next battle will be. It is not elaborate, but, having played many of them, they produce credible, enjoyable results. The list of battles ranges from the familiar like the French debacle at Bailen and Sir John Moore’s stand at Corunna, to lesser-known affairs like Tudela and Molins de Rei. Because ESR! has a highly-flexible basing and therefore ground scale, information is provided as to how much space is needed depending on the scale chosen — very useful information to have.
Maps and how they relate to our tabletops are ever a matter of taste. Some prefer, perhaps out of necessity, fairly featureless plains with only the occasional hill, town, and forest, leaving the rills, dips, and small rises of the real world to the imagination. Others, particularly those who have read too many issues of railroad magazines, will build with topographical accuracy foremost in mind. I have had a chance or two to talk to Mr. Ensteness about his map-making philosophy and even watched him work it out at first-hand as part of Project: Quatre Bras. He draws his inspiration primarily from period atlases and similar maps and it shows in the printed results. Only noting the delightful rhyme in passing, the terrain in Spain is never, ever plain and these battles will require some building, particularly as it pertains to hills of which there are a great many. Even if you do not have closets full of Geo-hex boxes, however, and need to pull back on the level of detail that appears on your own table, the maps provided give an excellent starting point.
I will here insert the observation that ESR! thinks a bit differently as to how troops should be deployed on a battle map. Yes, formations will frequently be placed into “zones”, a feature common enough in other rule sets. In other cases, they will be depicted marching onto the table from off-map. Given how, properly, long the columns marching are, figuring out how far they should be marched on, if at all, and the spatial relationship between the two armies at battle start can be challenging; at least I have found it so. Every time I have struggled with this, though, I found Mr. Ensteness one of the most available designers in the business, willing to discuss the philosophy of his design of a scenario and, most often, presenting options for how to fulfill his intentions. These discussion provided me a greater understanding of the challenges facing the commanders at the battle and were rewarding in themselves.
Zooming in a bit, each of the battles has a detailed OOB with statistics provided for ESR! If you use that system, it also provides useful guidance as to which troops make up “forces” and “formations”, which I have found one of the more challenging pieces of setting up a battle. As ESR! is a battalion-level system and, unlike other systems I will not here name, makes its ground scales explicit, conversion of these OOBs to other rules should be relatively simple.
And then there are the army painting guides. The ad copy on the company’s website represents that there are nearly 2,000 illustrations and I have no reason to doubt them. The illustrations are clean, detailed, and cover an impressive range of units. The word “definitive” is provocative, and I certainly invite contradiction in using it, but I think it applies here, at least as far as the early phases of the Peninsular War are concerned.
The Wargaming Company has yet to create a guide to the Hundred Days’ campaign, but, when it does, I will have to figure out a way to ship a copy of it back to my younger self. A guidebook like this would have saved me a whole lot of heartache. The volume weighs in at $60, but I would happily defend the argument that it is a terrific value at that price. Recommended.
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