Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Wee Men In Belgium - 'Blucher' Napoleonic Rules & 3mm French Napoleonics

I picked up a copy of Sam Mustafa's 'Blucher' a few months ago, and since our local gaming group has had the opportunity to play the rules a few times this spring and summer I thought I'd pass along our impressions of the game.


In terms of game scale 'Blucher' is aimed at the brigade-level, allowing players to recreate those huge battles so iconic of the period.  Wagram, Borodino, and even Leipzig are all well within reach with this system. In order to do this 'Blucher' requires the players to accept a certain level of abstraction. For example, each unit on the tabletop roughly equates to a brigade of infantry/cavalry, while the artillery is modeled either as a concentration of guns (around 18 or so) or as being attached to individual brigades as dedicated batteries. 

So when you look at one of the 3"x2.5" unit cards you have to imagine a space of several hundred yards on each axis which is populated with 2-4 infantry battalions, or 2 cavalry regiments, or several batteries of guns all potentially arrayed in a variety of formations. While the grand-tactical scale of 'Blucher' won't be to everyone's taste (and really, what rules can claim that?), for myself I find it really appeals to that portion of my lizard brain which has always loved the grand scope and scale of the era. In my mind's eye, when I look at the table, I can see these huge formations moving across the landscape, banners waving, clashing and recoiling in amongst clouds of powder smoke and the thunder of cannon. Great stuff!


The unit cards themselves are pure genius. They contain most of the information players need to keep track of the unit: name, organization, strength, movement rates and any special abilities. Once you slip them into clear plastic sleeves you can easily track hits and make notes with water-soluble markers


I was chatting with the guys about the cards the other night and we all reminisced that, as young sprouts, we spent months (if not years) painting hundreds of napoleonic figures just to get our first game in. Over the intervening years I have seen loads of models at 'bring-and-buy' tables and on the internet from players who have either lost steam, discovered that they didn't like the period, or found that the rules offered did not appeal to them. With 'Blucher's' use of cards (either bought in the 'Hundred Days' package or easily downloaded and printed on coloured paper), players can be playing within hours of reading the rules, allowing them to determine not only if the rules are for them, but if collecting figures is what they want to do. In effect, it makes the rules incredibly accessible and allows players to get a taste of the genre before making the decision to whole-heartedly plunge into buying figures, terrain, etc.

The Battle of Quatre Bras using the cards from the 100 Days expansion.
As for our group, since April we've been playing 'The Hundred Days' campaign which, as I mentioned earlier, is offered as a separate add-on to 'Blucher'. The expansion provides cards for all the combatants who were involved in the Waterloo campaign, even allowing for a few 'what ifs' by including units which were historically on the flanks, guarding rear areas, and so were not present at the actual battle.  Nonetheless, with this system you can choose how you want to organize your forces and modify you deployments to create those fascinating 'what ifs' that are often discussed regarding those famous days in June, 1815.

For our campaign, we have eight players (four French and two each for the Prussians and Anglo-Allied contingents) while I am standing in, with whip and chair, as referee. 


For an added bit of fun I decided to conduct the campaign in double (triple?) blind, that is where the players have very limited knowledge of the movements and intentions of not only the enemy, but of their own allies as well. This limited intelligence (no comments from the wags pleeeaze) is mitigated through aggressive scouting, effective communication and good old-fashioned blundering around the countryside. I ask the teams for their daily orders and then I secretly conduct their movements on my own map (which has the full picture), notifying them of any sightings, reconnaissance, events, etc. In many respects it's much like classic Kriegspiel.

'For the cost of a few boot laces Napoleon has humbugged us.' The Hundred Days campaign map mounted a pin-board in the GM's office.
We're now at the closing chapter of the campaign and it's do-or-die for both the French and Allies. In fact, I think our next  battle will pretty much decide the issue. A real nail-biter to be sure.


The whole experience has really been excellent and I must take my hat off to the players for making it such a success. The guys have really embraced the various personalities of the period. Napoleon is supremely confident and dismissive of the Allies while his wing commander, Ney, is a worn-out maniac with a death wish; Blucher is suitably irascible and seems to suffer from a touch of dementia while his chief of staff, Gneisenau, is highly suspicious of the English;  Wellington is suitably xenophobic and has a constant eye on the Channel ports, just in case he has to make a quick dash to save Britain's only army. So, while the guys get to have fun playing the games and chewing up the scenery with the various characters, I in turn, have had a tremendous thrill watching it all unfold, reading all the correspondence and hearing the backroom planning. All in all, it's a wonderful recipe for a few months of gaming.

Okay, the other part of this post is to show what figures I've been working on these past few weeks. 


These are 3mm Napoleonics from Pico Armor (sourced from Oddzial Osmy out of Poland, I believe). The figures are based on 2" x 1.75" MDF bases. I asked Byron (over at SG2 Creations) to fabricate these bases with a 3mm thickness and with rounded corners. The thickness is to allow players to pick them up easily and the rounded corners is simply because I like the look of them (it seems to give the finished product a wargaming chit look).

The common standard for 'Blucher' is a 3" frontage, but I've decided to go with 2" as it allows for quite large battles to be played on the 8 x 5 surface which I typically use. To provide a bit more perspective, in this scale each inch equates to 150 yards, so one square foot on the tabletop is equal to about a square mile. Utilizing this scale allows us to recreate sprawling actions like Wagram or Vitoria on a single tabletop - in effect, it is like a quasi 3D map exercise.

Examples of various unit types, left to right: Foot Artillery, Infantry and Heavy Cavalry
For my way of thinking, painting these figures demands a VERY minimalist approach. The following list is what I've come up with to balance speed of production with maintaining a basic level of detail to communicate what the figures are supposed to be:

1) I glue the strips of figures to the base in groupings of three or four 'battalions' (3 ranks of 10 figures each) along with a few leader types (mounted officer and some trailing NCOs and junior officers on foot). Since these are French, I usually include a skirmishing screen at the front to reflect their tactical doctrine of using light troops. Every once in a while I'll include an artillery piece or a regimental band to break up the monotony and add a bit of visual interest. When all is said and done this gives a base with approximately 100 - 130 figures on it.



For heavy cavalry (i.e. cuirassiers) I base the figures in four ranks to give the impression of a mass of horsemen, whereas the medium cavalry (dragoons) get three ranks and light cavalry (Hussars, chasseurs, etc.) are setup with two lines.  I do this in order to give players a visual clue to what they're looking at on the tabletop.

For foot artillery I put four guns along with a 'trail' of caissons and support troops behind them. For horse artillery I just increase the amount of horses on the base.

2) Once the figures are glued down I then lay down a very thin skim coat of artists' gel medium. This provides some texture for the groundwork and helps to mask the transition between the figure strips and the surface of the MDF base. I leave a small area clear at the rear corner of the MDF base as I will need the space to affix the printed unit label.

3) I then prime the whole base using a dark brown spray, making sure to get into all the nooks and crannies of the formations. I often touch up with a soft brush to ensure I have complete coverage.


4) Once the primer is dry I liberally drybrush the whole base and figures with a medium grey. This will help to lift the brighter colours later on when painting the base and figures.



5) Okay, before I carry on I should outline a few opinions I have regarding painting in this scale: The way I see it is that these figures should simply convey their primary features, firstmost being their national uniform colour, with only a nod to other physical elements (namely face, hands, trousers, shako and bayonet), otherwise you can easily get drawn into the rabbit-hole of trying to paint fine details which will never be appreciated when they are seen en mass - in fact I find that too much painted detail can make the figure too 'busy', detracting from conveying the main uniform colour: French should primarily be blue, British red, Austrians white, etc. I think of these bases almost like boardgame chits, perhaps more like  three dimensional playing tokens.



6) Now, back to the figures. Next, I drybrush the castings in their national colour, in this case it's blue for the French. I pick a fairly unhistorical, vibrant colour as I find the scale needs bright tones to help make the figures stand out.

 7) Next I touch in their face and hands, trousers, shako and bayonet tips. The final piece is the tricolour flag. And that's it for the figures. Perceptive readers will have noticed that, since I base everything from the start, I don't paint the middle rank or any inward-facing detail. In this scale I only paint the front of the front rank, the rear of the rear rank and the top of their heads. Early on, I discovered that after painting every figure, the interior facing detail is completely lost once the strips of figures are based up. A complete waste of time and effort. So now I just paint the perimeter of the formations and I find that you can't tell the difference between the 'all-figure-detail' bases and those which are more minimalist 

8) The basework is drybrushed two tones of brown with a khaki highlight. I then use a semi-opaque green tinted model railway emulsion to provide a base tone for the light scatter of flock I apply later. I'll then use a brown ink wash to make 'tracks' behind the formations, showing where they have trampled through the terrain. I then paint a mark on the front center which is used in the rules for purposes of line of sight and measurement (it is blue here for the French, but will be red for the British, white for the Austrians, etc.). Finally, I print off a 3.5mm label and affix it to the rear corner of the base (these are so we can use roster sheets for all the unit information).

9) ...And here is the finished product (this base is an earlier effort). Again, as you can see, it's fairly basic and stripped down, but when brought together with their companion bases I think they give a good enough impression of an army.





With each being a brigade this grouping depicts roughly two corps of infantry with artillery and cavalry support.
So, there you have it. A new Napoleonic rule set and a new scale to putter around with. The French army is well on its way to being completed so next up is the British and Spanish for some campaigning in the Peninsula. 

Thanks for dropping by everyone and have a great week!

68 comments:

  1. Fabulous! I didn´t know of these tiny wonders existence :) Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Thanks! They are little marvels to be sure and I highly recommend them if you decide to take the plunge.

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  2. You must be kidding me! Those aren't 3mm figures surely? They look blooming nice to me! I have read a lot of good stuff about "Blücher" and this is a great write up of your experiences; thanks for sharing. That said for now I will stick with Black Powder which suits me fine ;-)

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    1. Yes,' Black Powder' is a fine set for battalion-level games (we use it quite often) but 'Blucher' is a different animal entirely, where players are positioned as Army or Corps commanders as opposed to BP's Brigade and Divisional orientation. Horses for courses, of course!

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    2. Fair enough! I might try it out at a later date.

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  3. Very interesting Curt - this is very tempting indeed. How much did your french cost you in base metal please?

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    1. Thanks for the comment Carlo. As to your query: I am building towards 30 bases of French infantry which will allow us to play pretty much any historical engagement of the period. For this the cost is about $80.00 USD. If you add in the requisite bases for cavalry and artillery I think the total comes in around $110 which I think is very economical in totay's marketplace

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  4. I'm curious about "Blücher" as I've heard good things. The figures look nice or at least I think they do! I think 6mm is very hard to see, but 3mm?? However, it does look like an army.

    Christopher

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    1. Thanks Christopher. Yes, the rules are very solid (I believe there is a PDF version available if you want to try them out). The 3mm are wonderful for conveying the mass of the formations without too much cost, or use of tablespace, BUT they will never replace 28mm for seeing the uniforms in all their splendor. It's just a different approach for a different game scale (brigade vis a vis battalion).

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  5. Those bases look the biz Curt :)



    ps - just checking that the tracking reference for my entry fee figure is correct. It's showing as delivered last Friday. Did it arrive safely?

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    1. Thank you very much m'dear!

      Yes! Your Curtgeld arrived safe and sound - thanks so very much! Sorry for not replying earlier but it was the Canada Day long weekend and we were avoiding technology in favour of the sunshine. :)

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    2. And who can blame you? Certainly not me :)

      Belated happy Canada Day!

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  6. Fascinating - I picked up Blucher and like the cards a lot but they just don't work (well) with 28mm figs from a visual aspect.

    I may try it w/ 6mm or even the 3mm!

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    1. I agree, I feel the game does not translate that well to 28mm figures. The scale of models vs the scale of simulation does not seem to jive. I think it looks best from 15mm down to microscale.

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  7. The cards, as a lead into the rules, is a genius idea and as for those stands - wow! Perhaps not for me, but impressive none the less.

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    1. Thanks very much Michael. Yes, the cards provide a very nice 'entry drug' to the system.

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  8. Absolutely brilliant Curt. Visually you have really nailed it with the grand tactical napoleonic look. I find a lot of basing schemes just do not look like a brigade but yours certainly do.

    John

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    1. Thanks John. It took a lot of dorking around trying to get the right 'look' for the bases and I'm hoping these come close to hitting the sweet spot. I look forward to getting enough British and Spanish done to give them a full run-through with the rules.

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  9. Nice work and a great review of the rules

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  10. Curt
    It has been great fun being in this campaign. I really enjoy the system, which I find is intuitive yet challenging. It reminds me of the old Kevin Zucker SPI board games that I replayed solo endlessly in my youth. I am old school enough to like painting the uniforms and doing smaller scale Table Top Teaser style games, but I appreciate the job you've done with your tiny tiny men.
    Cheers, PD

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    1. Thanks Pete! Yes, it's been a great campaign - which has been largely made by the players such as your good self. These affairs take on a life of their own when the players 'buy into' the scenario/period. So thanks for taking on the role of Wellington and running with it!

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  11. so you can play out the game using just the cards?

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    1. Absolutely! You can either download the cards from the Honor website or purchase the 'Hundred Days' expansion which gives you all the cards from the Waterloo campaign (French, British, Prussian and assorted allies).

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  12. thanks for sharing your technique, really want to try it out. It looks super effective and very nice looking

    How long does it take for a 10 bases from raw material to finish?

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    1. Hmm, at about 2hrs a night I can get three of these bases done every two days (from packaging to final varnish). So, if you were focused (something I rarely can brag about), I think you could get 10 bases done in one week.

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  13. Awesome Curt, well done buddy! 3mm armies and they look the business!!!

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    1. Thank you Paul - that is certainly high praise coming from you with your gorgeous 15mm collection.

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  14. 3mm, my eyes couldn't take the strain, but you've done yourself proud with these babies Curt, well done you madman!!

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    1. Thanks Ray! I have to admit that I had to pop on my spectacles to work on these little blighters - thus the rather impressionistic paintjob!

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  15. Wonderful work on those 3mm French. And on the whole collection of course. Very interesting report as wel.

    Actually a simply excellent post! ;-)

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  16. Great work once again dude - and you've done a fantastic job on the campaign :)

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    1. Hi Greg, speaking from the other side of the ridge it's been great on Anglo-allied end too. You french have given us a good run for our money, but we are not quite dead yet.
      Cheers, PD

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    2. Thanks Greg. Yes, it's been great having you all at the helms of the three armies. The group really made the experience very worthwhile for my part.

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  17. I must resist LOL

    They do look really good and that campaign sounds great fun

    Ian

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    1. Ian, with your vast experience in working in 6mm you would do an absolutely cracking job on these.

      Thanks for stopping by to say hello!

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  18. Very interesting ruleset, perfect, I think to play this campaign.
    Your units look fantastic, perfect too for the period.

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    1. Thanks Juan. I think you would like the ruleset as it's quite innovative.

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  19. Wow, very cool effect with those 3mm figures, and building up "all you ever need" for $110 is pretty good too, since even in 15mm you would not be able to build up much for that money.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, 3mm allows to get into the period very quickly and is quite economical as well (in relative terms). One 32 figure battalion in 28mm metal would come close to the same amount as an entire army in this scale.

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  20. Fascinating stuff! I'm not a fan of Sam Mustafa rules having given Maurice a number of goes and finding it unwieldy and not much fun. I think I just don't "get" the way his rules work. Having said that, they are just a mechanism to get a game and your campaign setup looks superb! The way you're painting your minis looks spot on and the outcome is great. How long to paint a base from start to finish?

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    1. Ah, that's interesting. We quite like 'Maurice' here - maybe it's a Northern Hemisphere thing. :)

      I can get three bases done in two nights sitting (and that is at a pretty leisurely pace).

      Thanks for the comments Millsy!

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  21. We've just been doing 6mm Bucher and really enjoying it... the smaller scale has some real potential for building up the scale further :) Superb post!

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    1. Excellent! Have you been trying the campaign system or playing one-off battles? (Sad thing is that I have Napoleonics in 6mm as well (sigh) - it's pathetic really.)

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  22. Well, the scale isn't really my cup of tea but I have to confess it looks like an army. Judging from your usual painting I'd say 'great painting once again'!
    (Really can't see much of them on my tablet :-))

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    1. Yeah, I figured this wouldn't be your thing Nick but thanks for dropping by to give me the nod nonetheless. :)

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  23. One bit you haven't mentioned, but which has worked for me, is to give the french infantry a blue dot on their shakoes, the Austrians a yellow, the brits a red and the russians a green. Ahistorical, I know, but quite good for making the figures be seen at a distance.

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    1. Good idea! I'll have to give that a try and see how it looks. Right now I have the nationality indicated by the the colour of the central mark on the base.

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  24. Those are some great ideas for basing 3mm for Blücher! That is something I have been struggling with for a while. Thank you for posting, now I'm off to play a Quatre Bras game of Blücher!

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    1. I'm happy some of my observations can be of use.

      Enjoy your game!

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  25. Excellent post. I had one play of Blucher using my 15mm collection, but thought they would look good with 6mm. From your post they look bloody good with 3mm.

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    1. Thanks very much Sun of York! Yes, I think that 15mm would be the largest figure scale that I'd want to use with these rules, with the smaller scales somehow better jiving with the almost map-exercise feel of the game.

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  26. I can see the attraction with this scale and the option of trying out without the huge commitment. Also a great tutorial thanks.

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    1. Thank you Pat and thanks for dropping by!

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  27. Curt, great post! The lure of 3mm is completely understandable when looking at the photos of the troops en masse. I’m finding 10mm hard to paint as there’s simply too much detail on them, and 6mm (especially the lovely Baccus 6mm miniatures) are almost as tricky. So I’m thinking that 3mm may be a very useful and viable way forward for “big battle” games. And, undeniably, your lovely brigades look very much the part. I also liked the $80 USD price for a full French army. Another consideration would be their ease of transport for a club night – I can imagine you can fit any army comfortably into a box file! Very tempting indeed.

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    1. Thanks very much Sid. Yes, the 3mm scale checks off quite a few boxes, especially in cost and conveying mass. As long as one keeps things minimalist you can bring together a very sizable collection, at low cost, in a short amount of time. I even think that these figures could be used for other 19th century periods such as the Crimean War, the Wars of German Unification and the Franco-Prussian War.

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  28. Now that is interesting. I am looking for for a got grand scale Napoleonic solution, a this might just do it...

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    1. The rules work very well for grand tactical actions and if you can stomach the tiny scale the 3mm figures really work the trick for conveying the mass of the formations.

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  29. Very nice write up and display on a game I've been wondering about for awhile. If I ever want to go back to trying grand tactical, this gives me plenty of inspiration.

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    1. Thanks Jason! Do give the rules a whirl if you get a chance. They are very well written and play quite smoothly.

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  30. Great job hitting the right trade-off of work per rewards on the 3mm troops! And even more kudos for having a campaign that actually worked. How many real-life days did the campaign continue or was it all in one big day?

    If you have tried Volley & Bayonet, since it is a similar brigade-per-stand rule system, how does it compare to Blucher?

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    1. Thanks Bill! The campaign ran for a little over three months. We had one 'team meeting' at the beginning to get everyone acquainted with the campaign rules but otherwise the majority of it was conducted via email, with attached maps tracking movement and excel sheets to keep the troops organized. The only time we met was to play big engagements that were larger than a corps per side (I think we had three tabletop battles in total). I ran it in the spirit of kriegspiel where I, as the umpire, was the only one that knew the whole picture. They guys enjoyed this fog of war as it keep them on the edge of their seats right until the end.

      It's been years since I've looked at 'Volley & Bayonet' but my sense is that 'Blucher' is more minimalist in its approach to speed up play. I find that 'Blucher' has much in common with Mustafa's previous brigade-level set 'Grande Armee'. In fact we have borrowed some mechanisms from GA to season Blucher to our particular tastes. I'll post a sheet of our modifications soon which you may find interesting.

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  31. Hi Curt - Great post and I'm actually working with the PicoArmor guys to get(force) them into the 21st century by helping them post some blogs and to be generally more interactive with the community. These painted Napoleonics are an inspiration.

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    1. Hello Nina! Glad you liked the post - I love the stuff from PicoArmor.

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  32. Hey Curt,

    John S from PicoAror here. We'd like to include your blog in some upcoming topics and invite to join a discussion on our blog.

    http://picoarmorblog.blogspot.com/2016/11/18th-century-wargaming-in-3mm.html#comment-form

    ....and beautiful work, brother!

    John

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    1. Hello John! I'd be delighted to help as I love your figures. Thanks for dropping by.

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