Wednesday, 29 July 2009


On 26 Jul 2009 Han came over for a 2-player wargame session. Not that it was what we had intentionally planned. The few potential players all couldn't make it, so it was just the two of us. Coincidentally he had two new 2-player-only wargames, so the timing was perfect. We played Waterloo and Warriors of God, both wargames involving the French and the English, from different eras.

Waterloo is a new game from Martin Wallace, designer of Automobile which I had just played the previous weekend, but this is a completely different animal. It is, of course, about the famous battle where Napoleon suffered a defeat. One player plays the French, and the other plays the Allied forces (English, Dutch, Germans, and a separate army of Prussians). The game plays over 9 turns, each representing an hour, from 12noon to 8pm. The French wins by conquering a town on the Allied side of the board, or by killing 13 Allied units (excluding cavalry and Prussians). The Allies win by conquering a town on the French side of the board, or by killing 16 French units (excluding cavalry), or by simply surviving until the end of the 9 turns.

You have 4 types of units in the game - infantry, cavalry, artillery and leaders. They all behave very differently, and there are many different rules that make them very unique. The game flow is quite unique and interesting. Every turn, each player has some discs in 3 colours, that are used to execute different types of actions. You don't take turns to use these discs, instead you get to use 2 to 5 discs, before passing the initiative to your opponent. The tricky thing is you don't know how many discs you get to spend at any one stretch, but your opponent does. He will tell you only when you have used up your discs allowed for that stretch. Consecutive actions are important for setting up positions and then executing a big assault, but you can't be sure how many consecutive actions you'll get. So do you gamble that you will have enough actions to execute a master stroke, or should you be conservative and plan for a surer but less spectacular move?

Another interesting thing that you can do is deliberate time wasting. You probably want to do this only if you are the Allied player though (who wins by surviving until game end). A turn ends if initiative passes to a player who no longer has green action discs. So you can deliberately use up your green discs quickly, to force an earlier end of turn. I did this on turn 1.

The actions allowed in the game are what you would expect - different types of movement, artillery fire, formation changes, assaults etc. Assaults are a key part of the game. This is when infantry and cavalry rush in to an enemy occupied space to fight, and this is where most people get killed. There is a very specific combat resolution procedure you need to follow to resolve an assault. Formations are mostly applicable to infantry. Normal formation allows movement. Defensive formation prevents movement but allows your infantry to switch to square formation if attacked by cavalry, which is important. However square formation is bad when you are being shot at, because you are standing very close to your fellow countrymen like bowling pins.

The game feels quite realistic. You do feel like you are in the shoes of the commanders of that famous battle. The game is also a bit complex, especially in the different behaviours of the different troop types and the procedures for combat resolution. There are so many reference tables to look up, and so many modifiers for die roll results. It is daunting. All these modifiers are realistic, no doubt about it, but there is a lot to remember. So it will take some time to get used to and to remember. The reference sheets provided are handy. You will keep needing to refer to them.

The game starts with the French outnumbering the Allies, and the Allied infantry all in defensive positions. The French has better artillery, and also has more leaders, who improve the effectiveness of their army. Leaders allow troops in the same area to be activated twice, or allow troops from two adjacent areas to be activated at the same time. On Turn 4 (i.e. 3pm), Prussians start appearing at one side of the board. They would be a much needed reinforcement. They bring two more leaders onto the board, so that both sides will have the same number of leaders (if none are killed yet). The Allies get fewer action discs for the first 4 turns, and only get the same number of action discs after the Prussians arrive.

The starting setup. The French (various shades of blue) initially outnumber the Allies (red, orange, green). The three strong points between the two armies were held by the Allies, and all Allied infantry were in defensive positions (represented by being lying down). The Prussians (black and grey) line up at one edge of the board. They don't come on board until Turn 4.

The Allies. The pink horseman is a leader.

The French army. The light blue horsemen are the leaders. Dark blue units are the elite French Imperial Guards.

The Prussians.

The indisposable reference sheet (two-sided).

Our game started with Han (as the French) aggressively attacking the strong points at the centre of the board which started off being held by the Allies. The initial assaults were not very effective though. I brought my troops from the back up to the front, to hold up the front and to counter-attack. The battle quickly turned rather bloody. Unfortunately it was mostly the blood of my soldiers. It didn't help that I drew quite a number of "5" tiles during Han's initiatives, which meant he could spend 5 consecutive actions to mobilise and attack. I think it was only the end of Turn 3 when I conceded defeat. Han was already positioned to destroy one more of my artillery units at the start of the next turn, which was the 13th and last kill that he needed to win. So my Prussian units never had the chance to turn up for the party!

In hindsight, as the Allies I probably should have played defensively or even retreated, giving up the three strong points. I should be employing every delay tactic to wait for the Prussians to turn up. I win automatically after Turn 9, so there no urgency at all. If I keep moving injured soldiers from front to back, and sending fresh ones from back to front, I could probably last much longer. I suspect this is the "right" way to play. Otherwise 13 kills (or 16 kills) would be rather easy. I think Han and I have been playing Waterloo with an Axis & Allies mentality, where units often fight to the death.

We also seldom did artillery bombardment. We mostly went straight into deadly assaults, like bloodthirsty barbarians. Napoleon probably would be turning in his grave watching us play. But at least Han changed history and the French army won the day decisively.

I made one very expensive mistake in the game. I made one assault with overwhelming force, but underestimated how devastating cavalry could be to infantry. Halfway through that particular assault, I had 5 infantry remaining, and Han had 1 cavalry remaining. However, because my infantry couldn't hit that lone cavalry, they suffered tremendous losses, due to morale checks. It was a painful lesson on how different cavalry is and on how they can and should be used. Martin Wallace was successful in capturing the different characteristics of the different troop types. I think Waterloo captures the feel of Napoleonic warfare quite well, although the designer himself stated that he took liberty with some details of that battle.

At this stage two of the three strong points have been conquered by the French. The fighting on my right flank inflicted much injury to the French (represented by blue cubes), but I also lost units, and lost ground.

Some of the dead soldiers idling and chatting about old times.

The end of the game. My right flank had collapsed.

My main gripe with the game is the many look-ups I need to do, and the rather complex turn sequence and combat resolution procedures. Seasoned wargamers may find this simple though. Other than this, I find the game to be very thematic. I'd gladly play this again, and I'd want to play the Allies again, at least to see whether I can survive longer. I'll definitely be employing a different (and hopefully better) strategy next time!

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