Sunday, January 24, 2021

Revisiting a Hex and Counter Classic: Napoleon's Last Battles

Back in 1976, in the heyday of disco, detente, high inflation, and my vain attempts to get Madeleine Bennett to notice me in Grade 6, Simulations Publications Inc.  published Napoleon’s Last Battles, one of the classic war-games systems.  It was designed by Kevin Zucker, one of the galaxy of talent that SPI’s Jim Dunnigan gathered around him like Napoleon and his marshals.    Kevin went on to found his own company, OSG, and is widely considered one of the authorities on Napoleonic board gaming today.

There is a great review of NLB, including photos of the original counter set, and a thoughtful appreciation of its impact on many subsequent titles, on the sadly inactive Map and Counters blog . on I bought the re-edition of NAB published by Decision Games, which picked up most of the old SPI titles after TSR acquired them.   NLB now comes in a shiny box with new artwork, and the original counters have been updated.  


The scale of NLB is operational, with individual counters representing brigades with combat and movement factors.   Optional rules allow for basic command and control; for example, Napoleon can only give orders to three divisional commanders in a turn if they are within his command range of five hexes, and the divisional commanders can only fully employ their units if they are within three hexes.  Combat is hex to hex, though artillery can add their combat factors if two hexes away.  Combat is a simple ratio worked out on a Results Table that only gets bloody if the odds are 4-1 or above, or 1-3 or below.   Otherwise units will safely retreat unless all possible retreat hexes are within the Zone of Control of an enemy unit.  Hex and counter gamers of a certain age will remember what being ZOCed is and why it is fatal.

NLB comes with four games (it was the original SPI Quadrigame) of the Hundred Days: Ligny, Quatre Bras, Wavre and La Belle Alliance.  There are of course rules to play all four games as a campaign game.  

As time only permitted me to play one game, I chose Ligny. 

As in the battle, the French player only has six hours of daylight to inflict serious harm on Blucher’s three scattered corps.   The Prussian must hold with Zeiten’s and Pirch’s corps while bringing von Thielmann’s III corps to the rescue.

Alas for France, my first run-through did not go so well, as it took me too long to remember how to use ZOCs to my advantage.  At game’s end, Gerard’s Fourth Corps had suffered a mauling at the hands of Von Thielmann’s troops, while the Guard and Vandamme’s III Corps had taken Fleurus easily but were being forced out of Ligny proper.

Hero of the game:  Zieten, who held off Napoleon’s last big attack before twilight and who sent the Imperial Guard packing.  Prussian victory!

NLB is one of those simple game systems that remains fresh and interesting after fifty years, despite it’s new coat of paint in the Decision Games re-issue.  While it might seem dull because its woefully lacking in the chrome that we have since become accustomed to (although SPI’s monster Waterloo Game, Wellington’s Victory, also published in 1976, has all the complexity one could wish for), NAB does the job.  It presents an operational problem in sufficient detail to challenge the player, and delivers a clean result in a few hours, and works well enough as a solo game.  I would be delighted to play it against you on Vassal, if you care to.

 I’m very pleased to have it in my library and look forward to revisiting it again.

Blessings to your die rolls!


Saturday, January 16, 2021

Lovely Lysander

Good day!  Since this is my first post of 2021, I wish you a happy new year - may it be happier for all of us.  Over the Christmas holidays I started the traditional plastic model kit build - a 1/48 scale Lysander for my Weird War 2/ Pulp project.  I had opened the box back in the summer of 2020 and the myriad of small parts therein seemed more complicated than the time I had on hand would allow for.

The kit is by an eastern European company, Eduard, which I gather is a gold standard for WW2 games, though I found the instructions somewhat less helpful than I would have liked.

This time I kept my nerve and forged on, going as slowly as was necessary, as it required some nerve doing things like gluing the brass-etched parts like the foot pedals onto the cockpit assembly - totally unnecessary for gaming, but if you’re going to do a thing, do it well as my dad said when he vainly tried to teach me how to make the balsa wood airplanes he had made as a kid.

Brass-etched seatbelts, cockpit instrument panel, and pilot’s compass.


Wireless set.

The interior fuselage assembly complete.  I had a discouraging moment when I broke off the wing roots at the top of the frame with some  misapplied press from my clumsy fingers and had to re-glue them.

The Lysander has a huge canopy and the Eduard kit came with precut masking tape, which I had to carefully apply with my wife’s best tweezers.  That was fun.

The masking tape certainly helped the final product.

And finished!  Because of the gaming it might support, I chose the all-black paint scheme used by RAF 141 Squadron, which supported SOE operations in Occupied Europe.

 Those huge struts supporting the wings give the kit a lot of stability.   There is also an underslung fuel tank for greater range, and a ladder to help passengers enter and exit the aircraft.


Somewhere in occupied France.  Yvette of Cafe Renee and Michelle of the Resistance keep watch as the RAF delivers something vital to the war effort.   

Thanks for reading.  Again, may 2021 bring happier lives and gaming to all of us.   Stay safe, and blessings to you brushes.


Blog Archive