Start Collecting: Napoleonics Part 1

So you’ve seen the movie and now you know with absolute certainty where Napoleon went wrong. You can, and will, do better. It’s time to get into real wargaming. Welcome to Napoleonics.

This article is part of our Getting Started: Napoleonics guide.

Collecting, building and painting Napoleonic armies is easier than ever before, with a plethora of manufacturers producing plastic, metal and resin kits to cover every nation, unit and uniform of the European theatre of the Napoleonic wars. With all that possibility and variety though, it can be a tricky place to start. In this article we’ll give you a guide to starting a 28mm Napoleonics army that’s fun, effective, and relatively accurate as well as giving you armies-on-a-budget for the major nations.

Victrix and Perry, Together at last! Hastily mustered dragoons

What am I collecting for?

We’re going to stick to three main games for recommended collecting guides – Sharp Practice, Valour and Fortitude and Black Powder.

Sharp Practice lists usually end up around 30-50 models strong. You’ll want some generic infantry, some lighter troops and some cavalry. At most you’ll be using one gun.
Valour and Fortitude and Black Powder are both battalion-level games, using large blocks of infantry. You’ll want somewhere around 50-60 infantry for a smaller game, one or two units of cavalry and one or two guns. Both games scale very well, so the sky is the limit, but a satisfying game can (and will!) be had with 60-80 models.

Sharp Practice units are made up of groups of 6-8 soldiers. For Black Powder and Valour and Fortitude you’ll want units of somewhere between 20 and 30 soldiers.

We’re going to suggest Army collections up to £100/$125, which will more than equip you with a Napoleonic force able to play anything from the smallest skirmish to massive, multi-person battles.

What do I need in a Napoleonics Army?

Every combatant in the Napoleonic wars, no matter where they fought or who they were fighting, had four key “types” of unit in their armies, and these are universally reflected in games designed for 28mm wargaming. A good place to start with Napoleonics is getting a little of each, though in game (as in real life!) Line Infantry are the majority of most forces.

The Gang’s all here!

Line Infantry – the poor bloody infantry of the period, Line Infantry are your stock, standard and absolute integral part of any Napoleonics army. They’ll usually be armed with a smoothbore musket and bayonet, be in the “standard” national uniform colour and may carry some very flashy flags with them. A Line infantryman was trained to fire en masse at around 80 yards, somewhere between 2 and 3 times a minute, using weight of fire, manoeverability and sheer intimidating presence/elan to drive the enemy from the field.

In game, everyone needs Line Infantry – they’re both hammer and anvil, and many a far flashier unit of Rifles or tassel-bedecked cavalry has ended their games on the bayonets and musket balls of the humble line battalion. Depending on the game, Line Infantry may include sub types like Grenadier, Highlander or Guards, usually denoting tougher, taller or veteran troops.

Light Infantry –  These are your screening, skirmishing and sniping troops. In real life each nation used lighter troops differently, with the British Rifles (you know the ones) tying with Prussian Jaegers for the best of the best. They might be armed with a rifle, or a modified type of smoothbore musket, and trained in screening line infantry, harrassment and officer-sniping. Riflemen, Skirmishers, Voltiguers, Cazadores – everyone had a different name for more or less the same basic idea.

In game, these are usually faster, more manoeverable and flexible than line infantry. They’re often better shots too, and good use of light troops and their specialities opens up a wide range of possibilities on the tabletop.

Cavalry – Horse-mounted troops, by this point in History nearly entirely fighting on horseback. Cavalry were the hammer of Napoleonic forces, able to move fast and break things and – most importantly – do it with style. Every nation had multiple distinct types of cavalry and they’re often the place when the uniforms go absolutely wild with colour and style, making for a great painting project. Hussars, Dragoons, Cossacks, Cuirassiers, Chevaulegeres, Uhlans, Lancers – cavalry names are as varied as their uniforms.

It’s a rare Napoleonic game that leaves cavalry behind – their movement, momentum and combat threat is such that they are an absolutely integral part of the gaming experience. Games usually divide cavalry into Light, Medium and Heavy, which describes both their role and the size of cavalryman!

Artillery – Guns. Artillery went from being a tactically useful element of an army to a weapon of mass destruction during the Napoleonic age, with most nations moving towards standardised, highly effective cannon and howitzers as the Napoleonic wars wore on. Napoleon himself was an artilleryman, and was among the first to truly understand what a mass battery of cannon could do on the battlefield.

Artillery works in Napoleonics much like it does in every other game – a terrifying destructive threat your opponent just has to deal with. With most games giving you both cannon shot for long ranges and grapeshot for short, artillery can be a game winning piece in your arsenal. Artillery is usually divided into Horse Artillery, able to relocate around the battlefield, and Foot Artillery, which is usually larger and more destructive.

Start Collecting Guides

The first step is to pick your nation – luckily we have a handy guide here! Once you’ve picked your nation, it’s worth thinking about which era of the Napoleonic wars you’d like to play in. Uniforms and styles changed a lot between the 1790s and 1815 and a unified force looks great on the battlefield. There’s a caveat there though where you can go far too deep into making sure everyone has exactly the right uniform, when in real life uniforms varied hugely, with a massive difference between what a soldier “should” be wearing and what they actually were.

The big periods for model manufacturers are the Mid War (Fourth-Fifth Coalition 1807-1809), The Peninsular War 1807-1814  and The 100 Days/Waterloo 1815.

Once you know your nation and period, check out our straightforward starting-from-nothing guides below. These guides will sort you out for a battalion sized game like Black Powder or Valour and Fortitude. For smaller games like Sharp Practice, pick up the Infantry box recommend – and you’re sorted with enough models for a (admittedly quite simple) army. We’ve recommended nearly all plastic, leaving the wide world of metal Napoleonics for you to explore once you’ve got your feet under you.

Start Collecting French - Mid War and Peninsular

Mid War French are the most supported nation and time period, with every manufacturer making something for them. You can quickly make everything in good, modern plastic and they’ll work for everything from Austerlitz to Waterloo (at a pinch), though these kits use the pre-1812 uniform.

Victrix French Napoleonic Infantry – £27
Perry French Dragoons – £22
Victrix Foot Artillery – £30
Mounted Perry Commanders (Example) – £9.50
Total: £89

The three plastic kits will give you everything you need for Sharp Practice and Black Powder, with 60 line infantry to break down into 3 battalions of 20, 13 easy to build Cavalry in the Dragoons which also come with 8 dismounted Dragoons you could use for light infantry and three Mounted Commanders in metal. 3 guns (far too many for a small game!) completes a nicely self-contained army list that gives you plenty of avenues for expansion.

Victrix French Artillery

Further additions would probably focus on more infantry and cavalry – if you liked building your Infantry, pick up the Perry Napoleonic Battalion to bulk up the 3 20-man units, and add a fourth. This also has a nice set of skirmishing bodies/arms for light units. If you enjoyed the cavalry, look to Victrix – the Lancers, Dragoons and Chasseurs a Cheval are the nicest cavalry on the market.

Start Collecting French: The 100 Days/Waterloo

Late War French use slightly different uniforms – less fancy and a little more ragged. The kits are much the same, with the major change is in the infantry with greatcoats becoming much more common. They’re a little simpler to paint as a result, and work well for anything between 1812 and 1815.

Perry Plastic French Napoleonic Infantry – £22
Victrix French Artillery 1812-1815 – £30
Perry Cuirassiers – £22
2 x Perry Voltigeurs Pack (Example) – £16
Warlord Late French Sprue – £9
Total: £99

Another solid base to build on, with 48 line infantry and 12 metal light infantry which could either deploy as 2 large battalions or 2 battalions and a unit of skirmishers. Three guns are more than enough – too many, but who can resist a lovely plastic gun? – while the Cuirassiers provide a solid block of cavalry that’s as heavy as you can get.

Expand from here with some Imperial Guard Grenadiers from Victrix to give you the last stand of the Old Guard, even more extremely heavy Cavalry in the Perry Cuirassiers – this time built and painted as Carabiniers, and perhaps some of the stand-out characters of the Waterloo battlefield – Marshal Ney is a must.

Start Collecting British - Peninsula

It’s Sharpe, Wellington and a whole lot of Rifles with a British Peninsular force, wearing the absolute best hat the British will have in the entire period – the Stovepipe shako. British forces in the Peninsula can be divided fairly into “kind of accurate” and “Sean Bean” armies, with the proportion of Rifles to Infantry being incredibly high in the latter.

Victrix British Peninsular Centre Companies – £27 (52 infantry)
Victrix Heavy Dragoons Peninsular – £30
Victrix Foot Artillery – £27
Perry 95th Riflemen – Command and Skirmish Packs £16
Total: £100

It’s the Victrix Trifecta here – excellent high quality kits for Infantry, Artillery and Cavalry makes it a must recommend range. You’ll have 52 Line Infantry, 12 heavy cavalry and 3 guns to give you 2 Infantry Battalions and one Cavalry Squadron, with the added Rifles providing a long-range, fast-firing threat. You’ve got more than enough here for Sharp Practice and Black Powder, though if you wanted to squeeze just over budget I’d replace the Perry Rifles with the Wargames Atlantic box – 32 rifles would let you play the more Sharpe-inspired lists out there.

British Rifles and Line by @eccentricbear

From here, you probably want more infantry and cavalry – Victrix Highlanders will give you some visual variety, and a wide range of Perry Cavalry are available.

Start Collecting British - Waterloo

The Objectively Worse Shako – the Belgic – marks out the slightly dour-er Waterloo Uniform. Outside of Spain, the British didn’t do very much on the continent, but when they did it ended up very very important. Waterloo is popular because it’s the end, but it’s also popular because Anglophiles love to chat about it.

Victrix British Waterloo Centre Companies – £27
Household Cavalry – £30
Victrix Dragoons – £30
Perry Wellington, Uxbridge and Picton – £9.50
Total: £96.50

I’m going to lean right into cavalry here, for no reason other than I’ve recommended guns and infantry and cavalry each time. This is a solid block of Waterloo era infantry backed up by the Heaviest Cavalry you can possibly field, and Wellington himself to oversee all of it.

Victrix Waterloo British Centr Companies. Credit: Victrix

Expand this with some Prussian allies – Perry Prussian Infantry are a good shout – or pick up Waterloo Flank Companies for a true horde of British infantry.

Start Collecting - Russia (Mid-Late War)

Russia played a vital role as the persistent – and effective – continental antagonist of the First French Empire. Tough infantry, wild and highly effective light cavalry and the most incredible shako plumes of all time make for a really interesting modelling project and one well worth digging into.

Russian Uhlans, Perry Miniatures. Lovely, lovely kit. Credit: Perry Miniatures

Russia isn’t particularly well served for plastics as yet, with Perry and Warlord line infantry being the major kits, and Perry’s Allied box and Uhlans giving you a fantastic cavalry base.

Perry Russian Infantry – £22 40 infantry
Perry Russian Artillery – £10 one gun
Perry Allied Cavalry £22 – 14 cav, russian dragoon
Perry Russian Uhlans – £22
Warlord Russian Commanders – £8.50 3 commanders

You’ve got enough for two batallions of line infantry there, backed by a divisional artillery piece. While they hold the enemy in place, you’re smashing at their flanks with two fierce cavalry units, and your Generals look on, impassive…

Start Collecting - Austria

In one interpretation of Napoleonics, the Austrians were Napoleon’s hapless punch bags, reeling from successive crushing defeats which lost them their empire, prestige and international standing, before lucking out in one or two battles and happening to be on the winning side. In another, the Austrians were the implacable enemy of the French, endlessly coming back, reforming, restructuring, retraining – until eventual victory. Either way, if you like painting white, they’re the nation for you.

Austria is well supported by a range of excellent plastic kits – enough to cover both early war and mid/late war armies.

Victrix Austrian Infantry – either Early or Late – £27
Victrix Austrian Grenadiers – £27
Perry Austrian Cavalry – £22
Perry Austrian Hussars – £22

Victrix Austrian Infantry (1806-1815). Credit: Victrix

An astonishing 104 Infantry broken into four big blocks – two line and two grenadier – give you an incredible wall of muskets for Valor and Fortitude or Black Powder (one box will sort you for sharp practice!). Accompanying them come the very flexible Austrian Cavalry box from Perry which you can make as medium or heavy cavalry, and the Hussars giving you the light cav option. Both Cavalry boxes have just enough models to let you use some of the spare officer components from the infantry to make mounted officers alongside your infantry blocks.

Start Collecting - Prussia

The Prussian Empire had its ups and downs during the Napoleonic wars. Utterly crushed in the War of the Fourth Coalition, it suffered incredibly harsh terms at the Treaty of Tilsit, reducing it from one of Europe’s great powers into a minor state with a huge grudge. Nevertheless, Prussia played an important role in the early and later wars of the Napoleonic period, eventually playing a key role in Napoleon’s final downfall.

Wargames Atlantic Prussian Reserve Infantry – £25
Wargames Foundry Reservist Command – £12
Warlord Games Prussian Jaegers – £8.50
Perry Prussian Line and Jaegers – £22
Perry Allied Cavalry £22
Perry Prussian 6lb Artillery – £10

A solid, infantry heavy force for the Prussians. Use the Wargames Foundry Command pack to give you two mass battalions of Reservists – much more effective in most games than you’d think! – and combine the Jaegers from the Perry box with the Warlord pack. Then you’ll have four highly trained and highly effective infantry batallions backed up by some of the Napoleonic periods best snipers. A Cavalry squadron and single gun give you some options on top of unrelenting infantry firepower.

Wargames Atlantic Prussian Reserve. Credit: Wargames Atlantic

A key thing to note with buying Prussians – it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself getting kits for the Franco Prussian War (1870) so check your box before buying. No bother though, may as well start a force for that conflict too!

Of course the big recommend if you’d like to bypass all of that, and one that the Goonhammer Historicals team wouldn’t let me write this article without including, is that you can skip all this and the painting by going straight to Wofun Games. High quality, beautifully illustrated, robust standees in clear plastic, collecting an army of Wofun Games Napoleonics is as easy as buying what you’d like – and then you’re ready to go. You can check out our review here.

You can return to our Napoleonics getting started guide here, and look out for Start Collecting: Napoleonics Part 2: smaller nations and different scales.

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