David G. Cox Esq.
Do what you can, with what you've got, where you are.
The Lost Opportunity
Two-player Tactical Napoleonic Wargame
Simulation of the Battle of Wavre - June 18, 1815
Designed by Jay Nelson & Kevin Zucker
Published by S.P.I. (1976)
During the 1970’s, S.P.I. was famous for its ‘quadrigame’ concept – four separate games on the same topic that could be sold individually or as a set. A couple of these quadrigames, Napoleon’s Last Battles (NLB) and Battles for the Ardennes, had the added bonus that the four games and maps could be combined to create a fifth campaign situation.
I have played NLB in its four folio formats as well as the campaign game. I think that the campaign game is truly superb and significantly better than the individual folio games - as the folio games are games in their own right I felt it potentially more useful to review this scenario separately from the others. The Wavre scenario simulates a battle of manoeuvre where the Prussians are trying to leave the map so as to reinforce Wellington and the French are trying to pin the Prussians to prevent their departure from the field of battle. It has a substantially different feel to the other scenarios.
The Battle of Waterloo was fought on Sunday June 18th, 1815. On the same day the battle Wavre was fought, just a little to the east of Waterloo. Marshal Grouchy had been given orders by Napoleon to pursue the Prussian army as it retreated following the Battle of Ligny. Despite hearing the sound of cannons coming from Waterloo, Grouchy decided to follow his orders to the letter, rather than to ‘march to the sound of the guns.’ The previous day Napoleon had reprimanded Grouchy for not following orders on June 16th and it is believed by many historians that Grouchy followed his instructions ‘to the letter’ as a result of this.
Historically Wavre was a disaster for the French – they did not destroy the Prussians, they did not persue the Prussians and they certainly did not stop the Prussians from reinforcing their allies at Waterloo.
Wavre shares the same basic rules as the rest of the game and has some unique optional rules.
The are large number of units involved at Wavre – all units start on the board. The French start with 22 counters (strength of 79). The Prussians start with 41 units on the map (strength of 108) and receive no reinforcements. The counters are double sided with the reverse side showing the same unit at a lower strength – some of the units start the game at their reduced strength, showing losses from combat at Ligny, two days previously. French counters are light blue while the Prussian counters are a light lime green.
The game is played on a 17” x 22” map with a soft cream background and greens, browns, greys and blues to represent woods, crests, villages and streams respectively. The combat results table is printed on the map. The terrain effects chart is printed on the back of the rules.
The game lasts for 8 turns, each one representing an hour of real time. The game has a very standard French movement, French combat, Allied movement and Allied combat sequence of play.
Stacking is two units per hex. Roads give movement advantages. Streams, woods, crests and villages give the defender a combat bonus.
Zones of Control are rigid and once you enter an enemy ZOC the only way to leave it is through combat – advance, retreat or elimination. Once in an enemy ZOC combat is mandatory.
Artillery can fire at 2 hexes range (providing the line of sight is not blocked) and can either bombard independently of other troops or make a combined attack with other friendly units.
There are rules for Demoralization and an armies Demoralization level is measured by the number of its units that have been destroyed – the Demoralization level varies from scenario to scenario. Once Demoralized the French will automatically lose the game. The Allied armies only lose the ability to advance after combat. The Allies have a second level called Disintegration. If the Allies reach their Disintegration level then the French will automatically win the game. In this game the French Demoralization Level is 30 – the Prussian level is 40. The Prussian Disintegration level is 50.
There are optional rules for Combined Arms Attacks and the Imperial Guard.
The French player scores 5 points for each strength point exited from the eastern map edge. The Prussian player scores 1 point for each strength point exited on or before game turn four. Both players score points for eliminating enemy units. The French player also receives points for Prussian units on the map at the end of the game.
Playing the Game
I have played this game several times. I don’t know why I have played it more than once. I don’t actually enjoy the game and it doesn’t matter which side I play. I may have played it more than once, each time expecting that it would improve and never finding this to be the case. The game’s victory conditions make this feel that it is an intellectual problem rather than a battle. I think that the problem is the way points are scored. The Prussians want to withdraw as many units as possible by the end of the fourth turn, while at the same time leaving enough units to stop the French from exiting the map. The game just doesn’t feel right – it feels almost like a game of chasings.
To be fair, it is probably a difficult situation to simulate. It is definitely, in my humble opinion, an underwhelming gaming experience. While in the campaign game this situation may serve a useful purpose relating to what is happening on other parts of the map, in this stand-alone scenario the situation feels contrived and the victory conditions just don't work and feel foolish in the game situation.
There have been times people have asked me to play Wavre against them - to date I have been successful in talking them out it.
“The Game is Afoot”
We will meet at the Hour of Scampering.
The game just doesn’t feel right – it feels almost like a game of chasings.
Delaying actions are some of the most difficult to properly convey - not simulate, perhaps, but to convey to the players. In this case, you have both forces trying to delay the exit of the other, to varying degrees. In order to give that a proper feel for both players is probably something outside the conventions one found in SPI simulations (or anyone's simulations) of the seventies or eighties.
Thanks for the review.
My 1976 edition of NLB, in the rules on the Wavre folio, says the French get 5 victory points for each French strength point exited off the east edge of the map, but it gives road hex numbers of on the west edge of the map as the site of the prospective French exit. This makes no sense so I assume it's errata.
"Wavre" should start earlier and use the Campaign Game rules about rally of destroyed units. The purpose of Grouchy's cavalry pursuit was to prevent a Prussian rally. The folio should begin on June 17th (the second day of the campaign), and feature a smaller Prussian army with beaten corps badly in need of rally. The Prussian would then need to fight a delaying action against Grouchy with one or two corps while sending his other corps back to Wavre to rally. That would be dramatic!
Another challenge for the Prussian should be keeping his east map edge communications line open all the way to the end of day 3, June 18, sending forces west to Wellington at Waterloo, and preventing Grouchy from getting to Waterloo. As the Prussian army is much larger than Grouchy's command, this should be possible.
The French objectives would be the opposite, viz., preventing Prussian rally, cutting Prussian communications, and well as getting their own pieces off the west map edge.
More victory points should be awarded for earlier exit of the west map edge, something like:
By 11 am, June 18: 3 per point.
By Noon: 2.5 per point.
1 pm: 2 per point.
2 pm: 1.5 per point.
3 pm: 1 per point.
4 pm: 0.5 per point.
More details on this later . . .