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Subject: Finally facing my Waterloo rss

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James To My Friends
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You know what I love. A game that just works. A game that is elegant. A game that doesn't struggle with its own theme to stay balanced or interesting. So how can I ever refuse?

It's a Martin Wallace Game
Martin Wallace says in the designer notes on the rule book that the game doesn't represent an accurate recreation of the battle of Waterloo. But when the game is initially set up with all the coloured pieces, it looks pretty impressive, and quite imposing.

Ultimately, being a Martin Wallace game, it concentrates on being a solid game, with solid intuitive mechanics. The standout mechanism being that for each round the non-active player draws a tile randomly from a bag. On that tile is a number, this number is how many actions the active player can perform. However, the active player doesn't see the tile so doesn't know how many actions are available.

This mechanic is outstanding on it's own, but when combined with the standard Wallace fare that is the action disc it goes to another level. The great unknown and shift in initiative that can happen within each turn adds a tactical edge. You have to make the best possible move each time, you have to plan ahead, but also have to try not to leave yourself exposed. Do you have that one turn left to put your units into defensive mode?

The Genius Continues
The rest of the game is equally slick, yet fiendishly challenging. As a war game it uses area control rather than hexes. Therefore movement is unaffected by terrain, but attacks on enemy units are. Area by area the attacks are resolved. Initially performing each battle seems complicated. Different types of unit against different types. There are seven phases in all, each with their own die modification table and rolls for morale check. It's quite a mine field (wrong era for that pun). First couple of times through it seems long-winded and somewhat confusion, but soon you have modifiers memorized and your tactical awareness makes it onto the board. Your moves become more considered, more calculating.

Not once did I feel let down by the battle mechanic. It never once seemed illogical. Heavily damaged units struggle to stay alive,and dug-in defensive units are difficult to dislodge. A couple of times a cavalry charge didn't do anything and we were left underwhelmed. Then we found out a couple of things. Firstly, don't charge a unit in defensive mode, it just doesn't work, you need to be very very lucky indeed. Seems sensible to me. Second, we spotted on the modification table a special condition for cavalry hidden at the bottom. All retreat results become eliminated results. All of a sudden those underpowered cavalry charges were really quite nasty.

That leads into unit deaths and damage allocation. How could I forget that. Another stroke of genius. As each part of the battle is resolved the damage is added to the area. Damage is represented by cubes. All units can survive six damage cubes. The genius comes as battle progresses the damage can be re-assigned amongst your 'units' within that area. It seems kind of counter-intuitive at first. One moment a unit is heavily hurt, and then it's mildly hurt as the damage is transferred. The trick is to realize that the pieces don't represent any defined measurement. It's not necessarily one man or one division. So what you are doing is performing tactical changes in the heat of the battle, you're re-arranging your men. Are you committing stronger units, but leaving weaker ones exposed. Or are you move evenly spreading your injured men.

Once the battle is over and units retreat, or later when performing a move action, then the damage cubes stay with them, but again you can re-assign as you need. That of course takes up a valuable action. The more I think about it, the more clever it becomes.

So What's It All Like
It all adds together to make an action-packed and easy to understand game. The three hours of playtime fly-by. The complexity is realitively high, the rule book is 18 pages of small font, but it's so straight-forward to understand. The densly-packed player-aid cards really help with keeping things moving.

Despite the great mechanics, the fast-paced action, the game falls because there is only one map, with one starting position. Having played the game once I can't say much for the replayability, but I can imagine it getting pretty stale pretty quick. Then again the game I've described could be so good, that one map is all it needs. Unlikely though, so maybe there's a chance for Treefrog to release some other maps, or maybe the fans producing some of their own.

Another problem we encountered is a familiar one. As the end of the game nears it all becomes very 'gamie'. It's all down the victory conditions. A player wins if they have killed enough 'units' or reach a location on the map that is at the back of the enemy lines. So as a player nears the magic number of kills their strategy changes from gaining a strategic and tactical advantage to picking off whatever units they can, no matter how suicidal the move would be in a normal situation. It's a problem easily solved though. Don't play with number of kills as a win condition.

As a wargame or euro-style head scratcher this one deserves to get a few more outings.
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Łukasz
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Thanks for great review. I really enjoyed reading this and I really appreciate you spearing us summary of rules or detailed description of what the pieces are alike.

voynitsky wrote:
Another problem we encountered is a familiar one. As the end of the game nears it all becomes very 'gamie'. It's all down the victory conditions. A player wins if they have killed enough 'units' or reach a location on the map that is at the back of the enemy lines. So as a player nears the magic number of kills their strategy changes from gaining a strategic and tactical advantage to picking off whatever units they can, no matter how suicidal the move would be in a normal situation. It's a problem easily solved though. Don't play with number of kills as a win condition.


Good point. I've played it once solo and found out by myself that once you're close to the required number of kills, you really don't bother with playing cautiously and put long-term planning aside. But then again, as it is part of mechanics, players should be cautious with they limited resources and there's noone else to blame but you for letting opponent to kill as many pieces.

Good review, I say again. Thanks for sharing!
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Michael B. Hansen
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Super review !

Valuable details without being bogged down in rules descriptions. ( I really appreciate the special cavalry condition you pointed out )
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Kevin Duke
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Yes, cavalry catching units not in defensive mode and not with any cavalry of their own can be crushing.

I wouldn't worry too much about replayability after just one game. People can try different strategies, and the fact that you're never sure how much you can do in any given turn makes things less predictable.

But I too noted the units available and started asking about Ligny, Quatra Bras and maybe Wavre and was told they were working on things like this (and maybe other battles too.)

I hope so. I would think an expansion kit or even a downloadable something would go a long way toward keeping this on people's minds.

(But then, I made the same suggestion to Phalanx for their Waterloo game and they weren't interested. Too bad.)
 
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Ted Kim
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Wow, the mechanics sound very original, but the replay-ability/end-game seems to be lacking. Has anyone worked on a variant to save this from being a flawed gem?

Thanks for the review.


 
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tedhkim wrote:
Wow, the mechanics sound very original, but the replay-ability/end-game seems to be lacking. Has anyone worked on a variant to save this from being a flawed gem?


You come up with it just from reading the review? It sounds as you haven't even played the game. Randomly drawn blocks with number of commands and die both introduce required level of replayability, don't they?
 
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