The Best Napoleonic War Games

By Jack Trumbull 02 Jul 2019 12

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, that you can find all sorts of games portraying his various camp- What? What do you mean, “Not that many digital wargames have been made about the late 18th and early 19th century”?

The wars between the beginning of the French Revolution and Waterloo involve some of the most famous and important battles of the last millennia, surely there’s plenty of digital wargames that cover the subject!

napoleon is surprisingly unpopular with game developers

…I see. Well, dear Wargamers, there are still a choice few among the games of the era that are worth noting! Here are some you should make sure to add to your collection.

Scourge of War: Waterloo

Developer: NorbSoftDev
Tags: RTS, Turn-based, Tactical, Strategic, Brigade/Division/Corps/Army, Napoleonic, Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Available from: Steam

scourge of war waterloo

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.

DLCS/Expansions: Scourge of War: Wavre, Scourge of War: Ligny, Scourge of War: Quatre Bras

Holdfast: Nations at War

Developer: Anvil Game Studios
Tags: FPS, Third-Person Shooter, Multiplayer
Available from: Steam

holdfast

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

napoleon total war

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

Waterloo 1

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.

WHERE’S EVERYTHING ELSE?

A fair question to ask! You would think that the Revolutionary period of France and the Napoleonic era would have more wargames. And you would be right! There are many excellent wargames focusing on the period… in board war games. You really have to go digging to find a digital game covering this period, but there are plenty in the table-top world (including miniatures). My only hypothesis on this would be that Napoleon is to the tabletop wargaming scene for a long-time what World War 2 is to digital wargaming now. That is, that you couldn’t go looking for a game in the genre without tripping over 30 of the “mainstream” wargaming era.

Even though the Napoleonic era has certainly seen much attention from the tabletop, it is baffling that this period has so largely been ignored by digital wargame developers for so long. Sure, everyone enjoys a good World War 2, but this period 150 years prior showed significant advances in technology and doctrine that are absolutely fascinating to dig into. Not only that, but the effects from Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo shaped European (and therefore world) history for the next 100 years! Such a pivotal and dramatic time would be an excellent topic for a wargame to cover, so if you are reading this and are a wargame developer, consider this my personal request on behalf of all wargamers for you to make more games in this period.

We have plenty of ancients games at the moment! World War 2 has 6 trillion games! Bring us the French fighting the Mamluks in Egypt, the Russians facing down Napoleon near Moscow, Wellesley marching his way through Spain and why not even Waterloo itself! Or perhaps a look across the Atlantic, with the monarchies in Europe sending forces to try to suppress the revolutions begun in Haiti and Spanish America! There are so many interesting events and wars going on simultaneously in this period, and I for one would love to have more content of this era to devour.

And you, dear reader, can help this cause by letting us know below what your favorite Napoleonic wargames are that we may have missed here for one reason or another. We take your comments seriously, and will frequently update these lists with games that were recommended in the comments.

Now’s your chance to let us know about your favorite Napoleonic game! We certainly need more to play.

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