Saturday, 8 February 2020

Waterloo Campaign 1815

Hot on the heels of the Gettysburg design by Mark Herman in a previous C3i magazine, comes Mark’s similar treatment of Waterloo in the latest issue of C3i (issue 33).

I really like this system and a full look at the mechanics to appreciate the subtle nature of what appears a simple game, that punches above its weight, can be found in my Gettysburg post (link below in the Resource Section).

For Waterloo we are treated to a full size map and just 43 game counters, looking at the final 3 - 4 days of what is commonly referred to as the 100 days campaign. Will the final showdown be fought at Waterloo?

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for a closer look at this new release. 

I suppose one of the things that a long time wargamer may ask at the outset, is whether they need another Waterloo game. I can’t be subtle about this, buy it now before it goes out of print :-).

My enthusiasm for this game equals the Gettysburg game and my understanding is that there are other ACW titles using the system in the pipe (Rebel Fury by GMT). Also Waterloo is described as the second game in the C3i series, so the hint of a new series emerging of very playable games in our age of ‘not enough time to play’ is most welcome.

The presentation is top notch. The map is simply beautiful (artist - Charlie Kibler ). The rules come in their own booklet which has only around 5 pages of actual rules, the rest is support material which is gloriously illustrated. C3i have really pushed the boat out on this.
The French are fighting up the map.
Mark Herman described the system in the Gettysburg game as being being quite simple, harking back to the complexity of something like SPI’s Napoleon at Waterloo, though I think this distracts from the fact that we are seeing something on a different level of sophistication with new ideas, so the rules need to be properly read as there are important concepts throughout. If we accept the term simple, we should temper that with clever and not simplistic. The gamer’s first game will mostly likely be one of exploring the system to appreciate the nuances of play.

The scale of the game is that units are generally representing Corps and the map scale is 1 mile to the hex. Turns represent half days (2 turns per day) but the back and forth impulse nature of play, makes time feel very fluid.

There are some small changes to the system since Gettysburg, some of these seem to be an evolution in design and others to simply meet the different subject matter and ground scale. Working at a higher map scale, ZoC’s and Zones of Influence (ZoI) work slightly differently than in Gettysburg, with a Zone of Influence now simply stopping an infantry unit, rather than also forcing it into battle formation. The ZoC still both stops the unit and forces it into battle formation.

I covered the system in some detail in the Gettysburg article, so I am not inclined to repeat all of that here, rather, the reader is encouraged to go to the link below and read the earlier Gettysburg blog post to get a flavour of basic design intent and the nuance of play.

This article will instead look at some of the things that influence this particular game. Those familiar with the historical subject with know that a sequence of events brought the three armies (French, Anglo-Allied and Prussian) to converge on the Waterloo battlefield. In this game there is a top down view of the campaign area from Charleroi and the River Sambre to Waterloo, with either a three or four day scenario, offering the opportunity for the campaign to develop in its own direction and tempo.
The traditional 'big' battle was fought here, on the
road to Waterloo

A full sized game map immediately gives us a different feel than Gettysburg does and Corps now have the ability to detach a sub-formation (called detachments) that allow them to manage the control of the landscape, it’s numerous roads and settlements by blocking road hubs, key routes and protecting flanks.

Also nice touches are that Napoleon, when on his battle side, can deploy two special detachments. One is the Old Guard with its combat bonus and the other is the French Grand Battery that can be used in attack to yield a bonus.

The notion of a Headquarters having a Battle Formation side and an Advanced Formation side is a new idea. A leader when on their Advanced Formation side has a large command radius that will help the army manoeuvre. When flipped to its Battle Formation side, that command radius significantly drops, but the headquarters can add in their combat bonus to local battles and in the case of Napoleon as mentioned above, he can deliver the Old Guard or the Grand Battery into the action.

The French army has quite a flexible command, with three leader (HQ) counters that can work with the whole army, allowing it a more dynamic nature. The Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies each have a single leader and the leader of one army may not assist the units of the other army.

Those knowing the Gettysburg game will immediately notice the absence of artillery here as a separate and visible combat consideration. The only reference is an off-the-cuff remark describing it as ‘organic’. The Grand Battery probably shows an ‘on balance’ French advantage in this arm. The fact that cavalry can support an infantry corps by simply being next to the attacking / defending infantry corps and not necessarily next to the enemy being fought, is reflective of combined arms going on between infantry, cavalry and artillery at that location - anyway it works!

Cavalry being an important arm in napoleonic warfare are given some special rules here. Firstly when fresh, they have better movement and may have a combat bonus (reflecting charge capacity), once used they go exhausted (flipped) and will recover when outside an enemy ZoC / ZoI during the cavalry recovery phase. They are still usable whilst exhausted.

They also lend their support to attack / defence, to reflect combined arms, simply, as mentioned, by being adjacent to the unit involved in the combat. As they don’t have to stop or go into battle order when moving into the ZoI of an enemy, they have greater manoeuvre capability as the armies gets closer, a small advantage, but a nice touch.
The Ligny battlefield, held by the Prussians

One of the nice ideas about detachments is that they can’t be initially deployed in a  ZoC or ZoI regardless of whether that is friend or foe, so the detachment can’t be thrown out as a skirmisher to block, it is more about putting them at road hubs to protect flanks as the larger army manoeuvres. Once placed, they cannot be moved, but at the start of each turn, there are a number of admin phases that essentially deal with things like placement and recall of detachments and the placement of headquarters etc and these sub-phases set the scene for the following movement / attack phases of that turn.

The three day scenario has the Allied forces in positions that respect their historical areas of influence and reliance on protecting their lines of communication / supply. So the Anglo-Allies have a detachment at Quatre Bras, with their other Corps en route and the Prussians are in the vicinity of the Ligny part of the battlefield with two of their Corps plus cavalry. The French start off with a Charleroi based centre of gravity, with the decision as to how to deploy their army to deal with both the Anglo-Allied and Prussian threat.

Victory is based primarily upon the destruction of the enemy army. There is a small VP bonus if the French manage to claim access to any one of three (historically significant) geographical locations in the Coalition's rear area - giving the Allied lines of communication some relevance, but this, as well as the potential for rain on the 17th June, with its debilitating effects and the need for the French to keep the coalition apart, while each are destroyed in detail, seem to be the only bit of scripting in the design. It is quite possible that the final battles of destruction will happen in another part of the map that is not Waterloo.

Rain - on the 17th there is a chance of rain. If it does rain, armies become largely tied to road movement and off road movement becomes very expensive in terms of ‘moves’. Artillery is also penalised as the rain dampens down the effect of cannon ball bounce. 

In my first test playing of the scenario to get a feel for the system, I sent quite a bit of the French strength to Quatre Bras, including Napoleon himself. I didn’t at the time appreciate the detachment rule for the Old Guard and the Grand Battery and managed to wreck the French at Quatre Bras, while the action with the Prussians was indecisive and in truth probably favouring the Prussians. It was a very useful exercise to play the first few turns as it is a lesson in tempo and the direction that one should push their armies.

Of some Importance for the French on turn 1, is the decision of when to pass in the movement phase. Passing allows the other player to carry on moving a number of movements to the value of 1 x D6 + the number of Anglo-Allied / Prussian units that are not yet in a ZoC / ZoI. The French want to make sure they have a superiority in local attack, without allowing the enemy so much movement that they can assemble most of their forces - tough one to work out ...... I managed to roll a 6 for the Allies, which gave them 11 moves after the French passed. So come the battle phase, the Allies were ready for the French! 

My next game flowed like this;

June 16th AM.
The French attack at Quatre Bras recoiled all the way back to just below Frasnes! Guyot’s Guard cavalry was smashed and Wellington counter-attacked. At Ligny, Ziethen aided by his cavalry, held out at Fleurus causing Vandamme to become ‘Blown’ (a Blown Corps is removed from play and re-enters two turns later). The only French success was at Lambursart, where Gerard destroyed the Lutzow detachment. The way was open for the Coalition armies to potentially unite.
The Anglo-Allied counter - attack pushes 
past Quatre Bras
Vandamme (removed) fails against Ziethen and 
Gerard takes Lambursart

June 16th PM.
Gerard attacked Ziethen I Corps at Fleurus, forcing them out. The Prussian counter-attack failed and Gerard pushed on taking St. Amand. Bulow counter-attacked from Wagnee but became Blown. These successes against the Prussians were in stark contrast to the continued significant pressure the French left was suffering at the hands of Wellington, with Orange advancing as far as Villers Peruin.
Gerard fights off the counter-attack against Fleurus and
makes his own counter-attack against the cavalry corps. 

June 17th AM.
The test for rain brought rain to the battlefield. The French set up an attack against the Prussians, they did not want to engage the Anglo-Allies, so passed, hoping that the Coalition would roll low and not get enough movement to be effective due to the rain - however, Wellington just about managed to stay in contact. Gerard, together with the Grand Battery attacked Pirch at Wagnee and destroy them. D’erlon with cavalry support destroyed Ziethen. By the end of the morning, the Prussian army was pretty smashed up. On the French left, Wellington continued to score heavy casualties, destroying Reille and the cavalry detachment Pire. By the end of the morning, he was pushing on Heppignies, 7 miles south of Quatre Bras.
Wellington manages to maintain contact with
the French left!

June 17th PM.
Still raining. With the success on his right and the crisis on his left, Napoleon ordered Vandamme (now returned to play from Blown status) to screen the remaining Prussians, while the rest of the French army engaged the Anglo-Allies, enveloping them with those formations moving from the Prussian sector. The attack opened with the Old Guard going in hard against Orange, a big fight that saw the Guard blown! The attacks continued, but the dice were not favouring the French and essentially, during the afternoon, French losses were horrendous. It was immediately clear that they could no longer prosecute an offensive and that the game would turn to the French trying to retreat to the crossings over the  River Sambre to save themselves. 

I decided to halt the game there. Coalition victory had happened on the fields between Mellet and Wagnee (hex 1821) - so not at Waterloo this time! :-)

Last night we got a face-to-face game going. Mike played the French and attacked the way I did in my first game and got the French army seriously snarled up on the Anglo - Allies, as I had! ....... so we reset the game and with that learning experience under his belt, Mike screened the Anglo - Allies with his two cavalry corps and concentrated attacks against the Prussians. His plan was good, but his dice rolls were not favourable and not enough damage was done to the Prussians before Wellington went on the offensive, using his cavalry to pin the French cavalry and managing to unite his army with the Prussians and form a combined coalition army on the Ligny - Frasnes axis.

At Wagnee, Bulow attacked D’erlon, causing the defenders to be Blown and eliminating the French Grand Battery in the process (ouch!). During the 17th AM turn, the French took a lot of casualties and despite two previously Blown French Corps due to return to play on 17th PM, Mike felt the situation hopeless and called the game. He was a bit dispirited with the game and commented ‘how can the French win’?

I think if he had got lucky against the Prussians, his combined army then turning against Wellington would have kept him in the game.

For a long time gamer, there is something new and fresh to discover here. Anybody wanting to build up a small collection of games that would be suitable for that illusive midweek game would be well served with this title. 

I love the system, it is a clever application of process and very interactive, so there is no downtime for either player and the opportunity to exploit or needing to counter the enemy is ever present, drawing the player(s) in to an intrigue of situational importance at the local level. Someone has described it as chess-like and I get that.

I am still bedding in with my play of the game. I am only 3 plays into the game, so it is early days, but in each game, the Anglo-Allies have gone onto the offensive early and the French feel intimidated by them. I know the history of the actual flow of the battle, but not the potential of what each army could do if the Waterloo campaign is treated as a blank canvas i.e if we allow ourselves the luxury of not applying hindsight and instead think what could happen? and of course this game is exactly about that potential. So did Wellington have that capacity? I don't know.

Those 'two star' (bonus values) Anglo-Allied units together with a two star HQ (Wellington) are quite formidable. Historically the French plan was to divide the coalition by screening the Anglo-Allies (and I think we are seeing scripting in this game that encourages this), historically, Wellington was obliged to fall back because the Prussians were falling back after the first day of fighting.

And so we have a learning curve on how best to use the armies. Although the Anglo-Allies feel strong, the army is small and the French do get D’erlon without any restriction (important in a historical context) and they have the Old Guard and Grand battery to deploy when things hot up. Napoleon is supposed to have favoured a ‘lucky general’ and he might as well have talking about this game. It’s not so much that the French need to be lucky, but rather, they need to avoid too much bad luck!

If they get lucky with the Prussians on day one, then perhaps it is 'Anglo-Allies beware'!

It is all rather deliciously intriguing.

This is a clever system that has captivated my attention and I want to play it a lot more (and will play this again tomorrow - Sunday afternoon). Even if it ultimately turns out to be a bit unbalanced (which I am hesitant to say at the moment, as I believe there is a way to get good at this and that starts with initially screening the Anglo-Allies) I would be happy to return to it often, just to play it for its own sake.

As a final note - Mark Herman is a prolific game designer and despite the many titles that he has done and future projects that he is working on, which must pull him in all directions, his response to questions at BoardGameGeek for this game has been superb, both prompt and patient.

Collection Status - A game playable in a single session. Potential for a series game.

Complexity - The blurb on the jacket scores it 3 (low) and I think this is essentially right, but there are new mechanics here and if the gamer has not already experienced Gettysburg, then the short rules do need a careful read and I made some notes to make sure I caught everything. Once you get the game rhythm, you will hardly have the rule book in your hands. It comes with a very good attack summary play aid.

Size - A full map and a player aid card to sit next to the map gives us a typical kitchen table boardgame. For storage, this is a ziplock magazine game.

Solitaire - On the back of the package, this game scores just 3 (low), while Gettysburg scored 5 (mid range). I can’t explain why there is such a change, either way, it is a 2 player game that plays fine solitaire, playing both sides to their best advantage in the way that most of us understand that. The very interactive nature of both movement and combat is solitaire friendly as the game unfolds on an impulse style unit by unit, move by move, combat by combat basis.

Time - These are described as 90 minute games. With the low counter density (43 pieces), set-up is fast and I would put play at around that time or a little above 90 minutes if play extends into a third day, while the Gettysburg game sat below 90 minutes.

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.

The Gettysburg game article LINK


  1. Great review, Norm. I enjoyed your play-by-play overviews of the game mechanisms. Sounds like an interesting system. Allowing combined arms with supporting cavalry not in EZOC seems odd, though. But as you say, “it works!”

  2. Thanks Jonathan, the individual mechanics meld well, into a cohesive whole. You really get drawn in to what is happening positionally down amongst the hexes.

  3. Sounds like another good game, I guess the French have to eliminate the allies individually, not an easy proposition!
    Best Iain

    1. Iain, in one sense it is a puzzle to explore and solve. Napoleon was fighting against the odds (combined coalition army) and the game is at least giving us that uphill struggle.

  4. A very interesting game and nice to be able to play the whole campaign, rather than just Waterloo. I am tempted by this and Gettysburg, but sadly funds don't permit me to indulge at present. The map is lovely and the Gettysburg one is good too.

  5. Steve, I think both games are ideal for the figure gamer who does not do much boardgaming, but who would like a few accessible titles tucked away.

  6. Played again this afternoon and got my first French victory. This photo shows the start of the final day.

    As the day played out, the Prussians had been smashed and were falling back on the Wavre road. The Anglo-Allies had pushed forward and now found themselves vulnerable to being pocketed and they spent the final day trying to disengage.

    Each time I have played this, it seems to need the Prussians ‘out of the way’ to be able to contain and take on the Anglo-Allies ... much like the historical plan!

    A good session that came in at 2 hours long

  7. Great review and it seems you enjoy this system a lot.
    I’m unfamiliar with the history of Waterloo but I can dig the blank canvas approach that allows you to play the whole campaign to allow for some variety. 😀

  8. Thanks Stew. The sister game Gettysburg and the soon to be published Chancellorsville and Chickamauga battles in Rebel Fury (by GMT) may be something that would interest you, should you ever decide to tread the boardgame route.

    1. I do like board games very much but as we all know, only have so much time. I got a board game based on Antietam a few months back and besides reading the rules and perusing the map and counters it just sits on the self...😀

    2. Sometimes just looking at a lovely map is enough :-)

    3. "Sometimes just looking at a lovely map is enough :-)"

      Indeed, it is! How many times have you read the rules, punched the counters, set up a scenario, admired it for awhile, and then packed it all up without playing? For me? More than a few times...

    4. Too many times and sometimes that is simply because despite reading the rules and taking notes, I just look at the map and think 'what now', as though I mentally can't connect the rules to the game.

      Sometimes I will spend a short time slot either at the table or on the sofa, just plonked down with two or three games and just look through them for the simple pleasure of doing that.

  9. I wish I could get into board games Norm because you make them sound a very inviting proposition and your narrative captures the challenges of play very well. Really like the graphics, the map is a thing of beauty. But I can't even seem to get C&C on the table these days, which is a shame because I used to get a lot of pleasure from it, I'm probably in the wrong place mentally at the moment. Excellent review.

  10. Hi Lee, in truth, we only have so many hours to indulge and between your fine 40mm and the ‘from scratch’ 6mm project, your cup is likely full anyway :-). Some of this pulls me in too many directions.

  11. Great looking maps and system, reminds me my boardgmaes, in my youth!

  12. Thanks Phil, it has stayed on the gaming table for another few games.

  13. That is what I felt was missing from other Waterloo titles. The French attacked at 1-2 odds with an advantage in artillery. The French can and do win as my most recent Allied defeat can attest to.

  14. Hi Mark, thanks for commenting. 'The French attacked at 1-2 odds with an advantage in artillery' shines a light on exactly what your design sets out to do. Looking forwards to more of the same.

  15. Great review Norm. I have half a mind of getting a copy myself after reading it. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Thanks Mike, I think every collection needs a few games that games that are fast set-up, play and take down.



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