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Subject: Waterloo – First Impressions from some Non-Wargamers rss

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Green Knight Games
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Cheltenham
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We’re not wargame fans, but we like Martin Wallace games and jumped at the chance to try out his latest offering – Waterloo – which was a bit of a change for us, and a jump up the scale. Wargames have always conveyed the impression to us that they are either world-domination dice-fests or painstakingly accurate recreations of the period – so much so that the original limitations are built-in to the game. We were interested in how these prejudices had been tackled in Waterloo.

Overview
Warterloo is a representation of the famous battle of 18th June 1815 which led to the end of the Napoleonic era. One player controls the French while the other has the combined Allied forces (British, Dutch, German and, later in the game, the Prussians). The game is played in 9 turns, representing the hours of battle from 12 noon until 8pm. Initial positions are fixed and the victory objectives are to either eliminate a set number of opposing units, or capture a town deep in enemy territory. If neither side has achieved victory after 9 turns, the Allied player is declared the winner.

Components
Waterloo has all the hallmarks of a Warfrog product. The box design is eye-catching and leaps off the shelf, asking to be played. The contents are of excellent quality. The map board is clear and easy on the eye. The wooden pieces are a delight and when setup, the game board is a picture. The rule book runs to 20 pages; the actual rules fill about 15 pages. The rules are extremely well laid out; clearly a lot of thought has gone into this, and the topics are presented in logical order with highlighted boxes for significant points. Each section is accompanied by illustrated examples. At the end there is an interesting page of Designer’s Notes by Martin. The box also includes some zip-lock bags for storing the bits.

Rules
This is just a quick overview of the rules (you can download them from the Warfrog website).

The board map is divided into areas with the initial troop deployment marked on each area. The players receive a fixed number of wooden pieces representing units of infantry, cavalry, artillery and leaders. The pieces are coloured to represent their country of origin, and, in some cases, elite units and leaders. All units start on the board, except the Prussians who are lined up ready to arrive later.

Each of the 9 game turns begins with some light skirmish fire; after which, the players get a fixed number of actions, played in alternating rounds. The precise number of actions each player gets in a round is determined randomly by their opponent, who will tell the active player when they have run out of actions. This novel mechanism adds an element of suspense to the game – it takes a gamble to start a manoeuvre, not knowing if you will be able to finish it. The turn ends when one player has expended his fixed limit of actions.

Actions are available for movement, artillery fire and, most significantly, assault. During assault, units from one area are moved into an opponents’ area and battle begins. Assault is divided into seven phases as the different types of units resolve their interactions. If only one or two types of unit are present, the assault action is simplified, as phases can be omitted. Combat is resolved with a couple of d6 dice and some lookup tables. Infantry damage is marked by placing cubes on the board, which can be re-distributed amongst the units involved. After taking damage, infantry units must make a morale check. It is the morale check that tends to cause the most casualties, particularly when infantry are faced with a cavalry charge. After an assault, cavalry units must make a Control Check to see if they continue charging into the next area. This is an entertaining part of the game, particularly with the British units, who have the lowest chance of coming under control. Whether this is out of bravery or foolishness is not answered. An infantry with six damage cubes is eliminated; an artillery unit with one damage cube and no accompanying infantry is unable to fire (the crew has been eliminated); cavalry units can only sustain two points of damage before being eliminated. As a separate action, damage cubes can be moved back to other areas – effectively a reinforcement action.

The rules are of medium-hard complexity, with quite a few subtle points to keep in mind. Once the rules are familiar, only the handy two-sided reference sheet is needed (one sheet is provided for each player).

Game Play
With our lack of wargaming experience, it took a while for the game to get going, as we got used to the abilities of the different units and the tactical possibilities offered by each. Once we got the hang of things, play proceeded more smoothly.

We spent most of the game with our forces hunkered down either side of the ‘sunken road’ (the initial dividing line) and the French player occupying the woods that are marked as the Prussian entry point, thus forcing an assault on their part. Later in the game we got a better idea of how to use the cavalry and things became quite exciting as a narrow outcome loomed. We found the clearly-written rules resolved almost all our questions.

It took us about 6 hours to play our first game, but we were going very slowly – the first round of actions (less than one turn) took an hour. Things should speed up now we are more comfortable with the rules and we look forward to our next game.

Historical Simulation
While reading the rules, we became quite interested in the historical context and started looking up some information on the original battle. What became apparent was that much of the history had been incorporated into the game, making it a historical simulation as well as a tactical game. For us, this fitted well with our enjoyment of simulation games like Origins and American Megafauna.

Balance
According to Wellington, the battle was "the nearest-run thing you ever saw in your life.", and the game is very balanced. Opposing units are evenly matched, with some table adjustments for elite troops (the French Imperial Guard) and poor units (the British artillery). The French artillery are also allowed a limited number of firings of the Grande Batterie. The French forces outnumber the Allied forces until the arrival of the Prussian support.

Summary
Waterloo is a good game, made so by the quality of rules and components, the incorporation of the historical context and the balance of game play. It’s a little long (2-3 hours) for our usual playing time, but when time allows we will certainly get it out again.
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Pete Belli
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Nice review.

Interesting to see the impact of the design on non-wargamers.

By the way, you are now officially wargame players.
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Fredrik Borg
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Lund
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sbilbey wrote:

Historical Simulation
While reading the rules, we became quite interested in the historical context and started looking up some information on the original battle.


Ah, the pleasure of historical wargaming. That is a large part of what makes me love such games.

Have fun!

Fredrik.
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Sean Chick (Formerly Paul O'Sullivan)
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New Orleans
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Fag an bealac! Riam nar druid ar sbarin lann! Cuimhnigidh ar Luimnech agus feall na Sassonach! Erin go Bragh! Remember Limerick! Remember Ireland and Fontenoy!
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Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
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This review has made me interested. I'll definitely see about playing it in the future.

Columbia Games's take on the battle is worth looking at if you want to take the next step.
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Derek Carver
United Kingdom
Cobham
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Thanks for a great and informative review.

I imagine a lot of folk will be in the same category as you (I certainly am) in that we do not regard ourselves as wargamers but are admirers of Martin's games. This is what made your review so interesting. And being Martin (who might or might not regard himself as a wargamer) one assumed there would be some novel twists incorporated.

It was available at the Birmingham Games Expo and I now kick myself for not paying attention to it. I guess I just hadn't through about it so had a sort of blind spot. But your review has certainly put it on my list. (It will make it my first wargame purchase since Avalon Hill published CAESAR'S LEGIONS!)
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