Wednesday 7 September 2022

The Helder 1799. Another 'Soldiers without Napoleon game'

It’s a long time since we had a game using my French Revolutionary Wars British and Russian armies for the Helder campaign in 1799. Ill conceived, poorly resourced, badly executed. What’s not to like? I’ve been to the area and explored the sites of the battles, a long time ago now, well before lockdown, and researched the campaign enough to realise that for all its shortcomings as a military enterprise there are some great battles to fight over some unique terrain, such as the polders, canals, hundreds of feet high sand dunes (I’ve seen them and even today they are big and dwarf the houses next to them).

The Grand Old Duke of York on his hill.

So, a change this week, with our game on a Friday. My old friend Chris Gregg of Not Just Old School Wargaming was in the NE on holiday and had negotiated a visit to the Burrow, so it was only good manners to put a game on. Conrad, Shaun, Richard and Nigel were able to come along as well.

The scenario was a kind of hybrid representation of a ‘typical’ battle from the campaign, e.g Alkmar,  Bergen, with the allies (Britain and Russia) trying to force their way south towards Amsterdam through a determined French and Batavian defender. 

The allied right lay on the coast, with swathes of open ground and some very high sand dunes. Their left was anchored on a wide impassable canal/dyke. The roads and settlements were all raised up above the level of the polders, which blocked line of sight unless you were right up against the embankment. Allied objective? Capture the town and the signal towers and the three roads exiting the southern (French/Batavian) table edge. 

Conrad was General Brune, Shaun was Daendels while Richard was the Duke of York, Nigel was von Essen and Chris was General Herman, who would not arrive until lunch and Chris’ expected ETA. We were giving Soldier of Napoleon another run out. My own opinion, such as its worth, is that the rules are ok, I like the card driven order and everything else system, BUT they really are not suited to multi-player (three a side) games on a big 14' x 6' table. 

On to battle, in time honoured fashion with lots of photographs in more or less the correct order which I hope will give an indication of how the game went.

The battle field from the west at the start of the game.
......and from the other end.
The French left wing.
.....and their right wing, complete with telegraph tower.
The French centre, with a little encouragement thrown in!
Possession of the central town was the key to victory.
The British on the left wing.
The Allied right, lots of Russians. General Fudgikov provided  Nigel with some sage advice, and then ate the instructions and buried the scraps in the garden.
The French reserves were slow to appear but this brigade of dragoons finally arrived, and they would have been followed by more cavalry and infantry if we'd had the time.
The Allied centre.
Russian grenadiers taking a pasting from French artillery and skirmishers. No surprise that they broke.
The Guards will advance!
The Guards still advancing into the teeth of the French fire.
Chris in command of the allied reserves as they arrived on the extreme right.
British infantry advancing on the left.
The Guards are steadily advancing, cutting through the enemy like a knife through butter.
Russian hussars took a chance and charged a French battalion still in  line. They made it into contact but bounced thanks to some rubbish/excellent dice rolling depending on  which side you were on.

Cossacks of the reserve. One unit was badly hit by a volley when trying to drive off French skirmishers, but the other captured the coastal telegraph tower.

The Royal Navy offshore. Had it not been for the very high (300’ and more) sand dunes they might have even been able to support the attack, and the Cossacks beat them to the telegraph tower!

The last of the Allied reserves who never made it into the game.

I enjoyed the game. The Allies had in reality made little progress and most of the French arm was pretty intact while some of the Russians were floundering. I suspect the Guards would have seen off some more French before having to retreat due to losses sustained in the attack. A brave showing however!

In the end I called it a small French victory (they had also collected more victory points as per the rules) which was thought to be a fair outcome.

Hopefully everyone had a good time and it was good to see Chris for the first time since before the pandemic. I am still of the view that SoN are not really going to be made go to set of rules but they do make for a challenging game. Now, where is m copy of General d'Armée?


  1. Nice to see the collection out and in play again, brought back happy memories of our Bic-Ash bash for WI. Bit unfair though to criticize SofN when it's pitched at 6'x4' games. General d'Armée, dear me, stick with Black Powder for a big game every time.

  2. Nice to see you back in my favourite period. Tend to agree with you I find card driven rules for larger games dont seem to work too well

  3. Sorry I'm so late getting to this . Thanks for the post and the context to the enjoyable time I spent with you and the other chaps. Your photos are very good but mine are not really usable due to some unaccountable but evidently temporary fog in them - camera overawed by by the atmosphere of "The Burrow" I imagine!! Thanks again for hosting me Colin.