Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Napoleon's Waterloo Campaign: An Alternate History

Napoleon's Waterloo Campaign: An Alternate History by Steven Marthinsen is an interesting book - I picked up the first volume back in March of this year whilst browsing Amazon (I'd been buying books on the Spanish  Army and this popped up in the "other customers bought this..." section), and got the second volume soon after. The book imagines what would have happened had Grouchy marched to the sound of the guns, disrupting the Prussian march to aid Wellington and catching the English on the flank.

In some respects it reads like a Victorian military history book (the kind you see reprinted as facsimile copies), and this image is enhanced by the maps, which look are drawn in an old fashioned style. It is a slightly odd merger of quotations from individual soldiers which open each chapter, operational history and novel. Marthinsen clearly has a well developed sense of  how Napoleonic armies worked and uses this knowledge to paint quite a convincing picture of several days of fighting - I say several days, as the book covers the early part of the campaign "as written" - so Quatre Bras and Wavre are handled as they really occurred - but once Grouchy determines to march to the sound of the guns things quickly take a new direction (in the most literal sense).

Now I have a few issues with the books (there are two volumes) - the first is that they are quite expensive (this is a self published book produced by exLibris which I think is the reason), and the second is that they seem to be written by Marthinsen as if they were a fantasy where Napoleon wins - lots of things go well for the French, and not so well for the Allies. I couldn't help feeling as I read the book that Marthinson would be the kind of wargamer happy to have national modifiers in the rules he played. However, I'd emphasise that this isn't too overdone and is more than made up for by Marthinson's handling of the battle scenes (which is the bulk of the book).

I'd say that if you had built armies covering the Waterloo Campaign but had grown bored with trying to take Hougomont for the umpteenth time that there is ample material for a scenario author to work through, whatever the scale of action covered by his favourite rules. There are lots of incidents and actions, both small and large that would work as a subject for a game.

In short I rather recommend the two volumes - whilst I've never been that interested in the 100 Days (although the cobbling together of the French Army in such a short space of time fascinates me) I really rather enjoyed these books.

Apologies for being rather invisible over the last few weeks - as I work in the wine trade the run up to Christmas tends to be rather hard work (no days off this month and several late nights too). On the other hand working at wine tastings is great fun and gives me the opportunity to try new wines and make new friends. This last weekend was the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter which is the highest quality wine tasting in the British calendar (and probably, on the face of it, the most expensive at £50 a ticket) - I was pouring both days which allowed me to sneak off a bit and try wines from producers I'd read about but not drank. My big "find" of the weekend was Alpha Estate from Macedonia (the Greek region, not the country) - I'd read about this producer in the trade press and seeing their table was quiet (it always amazes me that even the supposedly wine-literate attendees of Decanter breeze past the winemakers from the less well known regions and countries in favour of crowding around some jerk from Bordeaux or Napa who isn't making anything near as interesting) I thought I'd take the opportunity.

And I was blown away by them - the Malagouzia was a super cool melony white wine that I just adored - perfect for seafood or meze type meal and the Xinomavro was an absolutely delicious red leathery wine with great structure and body - would be great with lamb. My new best friend, Kostas the Export Manager, took me through half a dozen of the estate wines. I wasn't quite so convinced when they went with straight classic varietals (Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc - although Jancis Robinson scored their S/B at 17 out of 20 so she likes them) but they did some blends (so Sauvignon Blanc & Malagouzia, and Syrah / Xinomavro) that were vary successful. And the RSPs were good too between £13 and £26 if I understood Kostas correctly.

So when the consumers (I work for an importer so "customers" are wine merchants and supermarkets - the people who finally buy and drink the wine are "consumers") asked whom I recommended to try Alpha Estate were the first (Bischofliche Weinguter Trier from the Mosel, and Chateau Ksara from Lebanon were also high on my list). And at the end of the weekend Kostas gave me a bottle of their top of the range red which was a lovely surprise - "enjoy with friends" he said as he headed back to his own table.