The Best Napoleonic War Games22 Oct 2019 15
Ah, Napoleon. That man among the finest of generals, Frenchest of French, and mediumest of a height lineup. A man with such a storied military career, he makes excellent fodder for wargames across digital, table-top and miniature properties. One could argue he's starting to fall out of favour, however - there's not really been much that's 'new' in computer games on this topic the past few years, and if you talk to Bill the Corsican devil is finding less table space in miniature lands than he used to.
Muskets are so last century, how about some tanks and machine-guns instead? Check out our favourite WW2 war games.
Still, this is a subject that's offered up some excellent titles in the digital realm over the years, so let's take a look at some of the best of the best. Don't forget to check out the great list of community suggestions at the bottom as well - our reader's memories are better than ours!
Scourge of War: Waterloo
Tags: RTS, Turn-based, Tactical, Strategic, Brigade/Division/Corps/Army, Napoleonic, Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Available from: Steam
Scourge of War: Waterloo is one of the most authentic experiences of generalship for the period. Centered around the campaign leading up to and including the big battle itself, Waterloo puts you in charge of a commander at any level between Divisional and the whole Army itself, with a very interesting command system. You control a certain number of units yourself, but you can send orders via in-game letters to subordinates, and receive them from your superiors as well.
Battles in Waterloo are a longer affair, with realistic casualty rates and troops that might be understandably hesitant about charging those cannon straight on. Fights are decided by positioning and moves thought 10 minutes ahead, because that’s how long your orders may take to arrive. You will have plenty of options in deciding the movement and stance of your forces, so there is a lot to toy around with as you prepare for that future contact. If you want to experience Waterloo as a commander, Waterloo is the game for you. There’s also a great mod you should check out as well.
Holdfast: Nations at War
Developer: Anvil Game Studios
Tags: FPS, Third-Person Shooter, Multiplayer
Available from: Steam
Holdfast holds a place near and dear to my heart. As a long time Mount and Blade fan, this spiritual successor modernizes the multiplayer aspect of the Napoleonic Wars DLC, and has turned it into a full-fledged game. Players can choose regiments from multiple different classes for the belligerents (currently France, GB, and Prussia), and can play in team deathmatches, point capture game modes, or naval battles.
The classes are largely indistinguishable other than uniform, but notably you have sappers, officers, and musicians to break up the rhythm of running around with a musket or rifle. These are frequently chaotic affairs, with players using the proximity voice feature to great effect, spamming music or shouting in bad accents the whole time. It can be a lot of fun, if somewhat difficult if you’re looking to have a coordinated attack, but you know what you’re getting into if you’ve ever played a multiplayer game before. It should also be noted that Holdfast is still in Early Access, so it is still a work in progress, but a good one at that.
Napoleon: Total War (Now called Total War: Napoleon)
Developer: Creative Assembly
Tags: Turn-based, Tactical, Strategic, RTS, Brigade/Division/Corps, Napoleonic, Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Available from: Steam
You knew this was coming. Part-wargame, part-strategy, the mutt that is Total War brings players to the campaigns of Napoleon pre-First Consulship, as well the Grand Campaign, featuring Europe in 1805. There are several campaigns focused squarely on Napoleon, a precursor to the more story based mini campaigns Total War has created since. These act as both tutorials and smaller, more focused experiences that can be an easier place for newcomers to start, rather than beginning to play with Austria and getting steamrolled by the French.
Napoleon: Total War puts the player in the shoes of omnipresent Head of State/ Commander-in-Chief of all the armed forces of their chosen state. They can add buildings to the cities under their control, as well as recruit new forces to add to their armies. These armies can be marched around the map in turns until they run into an enemy city or army, when the game goes real time, for a showdown between the forces. Napoleon: Total War does an excellent job of making the engagements feel authentic, with thousands of men rushing around the battlefield to do all sorts of violent acts to each other. This game also has the distinction of being the last Total War to have a really good naval combat system. Playing naval battles here will make you want to go watch Master and Commander, and finishing that movie will make you want to go have more naval battles.
DLCS/Expansions: A fair few.
JTS Napoleonic Battles Series
Developer: John Tiller Software
Tags: Turn-based, Tactical, Regiment/Division/Corps, Napoleonic, Singleplayer
Available from: John Tiller Software
John Tiller and his Software have produced a solid series of Napoleonic wargames, focusing on some of the largest engagements of the period, and boy are there a lot of them. There are 13 games up for the purchasing from Mr. Software’s store, including scenarios covering some battles other than Waterloo or Austerlitz! Republican Bayonets on the Rhine is particularly notable, as it is one of the very few PC wargames that covers the highly interesting period of Revolutionary France duking it out with the entire rest of Europe at once.
The games are not really lookers, with the graphics being comprised of pretty plain hex tiles, but the beauty of the JTS games is the historical accuracy and depth. There are a lot of options menus in the games, meaning you can go very deep into the details of the scenario. And the scale is something to not be ignored, with huge areas that cover 10s of kilometers. They are a very groggy wargame, and if you like groggy wargames, you will like these.
While the above represent some of our favourites across different gameplay experiences, they are by no means the 'be-all/end-all' when it comes to classic and iconic games set during the Napoleonic wars. Our research has shown that, lately, there are far more interesting Napoleonic game experiences in the world of board and miniature wargames (just ask the Colonel), but our community has still come up with a list of additional titles you should consider checking out:
- Waterloo: Napoleon's Last Battle
- Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory
- March of the Eagles
- Victory and Glory Napoleon
- Campaigns on The Danube
- Wars of Napoleon
We might migrate some of these into the main list - we've got to take them for a spin first to see if they hold up on modern machines (is a game a good game if you can't play it?) and we'll of course add to this article as and when we can.
What's your favourite Napoleonic-era war game? Let us know in the comments!