Background image is Les Dernières Cartouches (The Last Cartridges) by Alphonse de Neuville

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Waterloo's 200th: Two Battles and a Retreat

The games that started it all: SPI's NLB Quad,
After the initial skirmishes along the frontier and inland, Napoloen's army surged (in some cases in a rather confused way, feeling the loss of Berthier, Napoleon's long-time chief of staff) into Belgium. Meanwhile, the Prussian army continued to concentrate on the position that its forward elements had fallen back to, and hte Ango-Allied forces started to move, belatedly, towards the enemy's point of attack.

I'd continue to summarize the historic action, but I don't think I could improve on the excellent posts at JJ's Wargames (here are his posts on the initial contacts of the campaign, the first battles, and the Allied retreat).

Instead I'll continue my catalog of the treatments this campaign has received in the wargaming realm. In my last post, I mentioned The Emperor Returns, Kevin Zucker's game on the campaign published by Clash of Arms Games. Of course, the name Kevin Zucker translates into the common tongue as "obsessed with the Napoleonic Wars", so it's no surprise that this was neither his first nor his last game about the Hundred Days.

Zucker's mini-game of 1815.
In 1976, SPI published the now legendary Napoleon's Last Battles. A collection of four small games (or "quadrigame" as SPI liked to call these), it could also be played, linked-up, as a game of the whole 1815 campaign. It was among the first games I ever bought (and among, though not the first, I ever played), and I have it still. Zucker has, in a sense, been redesigning this game ever since--its systems serve as the core of many of his later Napoleonic games.

A few years later, Zucker and two other authors created Hundred Days Battles. This 1979 game The Emperor Returns in 1986. I used to have a copy of Hundred Days Battles, though I forget if I played it other than solitaire.
(republished in 1983) was a smaller treatment of the same subject, beginning the use of some of his systems seen in larger form in

In 1998, Zucker came back to Belgium with The Last Days of the Grand Armée. While TER and HDB are both in the 1x (or each turn = one day) family of Zucker's Napoleonic titles, LDGA is in the "Days" series, in which turns are six hours. I've played LDGA only once so far, a learning game with a friend in which the French were ruthlessly pounded. But, playing the Allies, I had the advantage of having played the system before (The Seven Days of 1809), so I don't think this was a representative run-through. Luckily, my friends are intrigued by the series, so I think we'll be playing these and other games in the series again before too long.

SPI's prequel to WV.
And now the maestro is at it again! Napoleon's Last Gamble has been announced, a quintet of tactical games at a scale where one turn is one hour. This should be a nail-biting experience. The traditional four battles of 1815 have been boosted by the addition of La Souffel, a rearguard action by French forces defending the eastern frontier against the Austrians.

Zucker is not alone in addressing the battles of the campaign, of course. Of the two great battles of June 16th, Quatre Bras has received more attention, at least in the boardgame world. I count at least eight other Quatre Bras games in addition to that in SPI's quadrigame. Of these I have three: Battles of Waterloo by the prolific and irascible Richard Berg, which includes a Quatre Bras engagement; Ney vs. Wellington, Joseph Balkoski's chip off Frank Davis's Wellington's Victory system, making the smaller battle a good taster for the WV system; and the visually unbeatable La Bataille des Quatre Bras by Ed Wimble.

A detail of the gorgeous LBdQB.
NvW I played many times in my salad days, both solitaire and (as I recall) in college against some of my gaming friends there. LBdQB I have set up, and I think I've played a few turns, but the game system, though intensely appealing to the would-be Napoleonic tactician, is just too complex for me to manage more than a few turns before collapsing in exhaustion. I keep all the La Bataille games, and get new ones when I can, hoping that some day I will have the space, the time, and the fortitude to play them. They are some of the most lovely games around. BoW I've set up a time or two but not gotten into the game, as the rules are well night impenetrable. They're not complex, just poorly organized, dull, and wearisome. I trust there's a good game in there somewhere, as Berg rarely disappoints, but if LB takes stamina, BoW takes patience I don't currently have,

But what of the other battle of the day, widely billed as Napoleon's last triumph? Ligny seems to get short shrift compared with Quatre Bras, perhaps reflecting the fascination of English-speakers (long the dominant segment of the wargame design community) with "the English battle" at the crossroads. Though an Anglophile, I've grown fond of the Prussians in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, and I find it sad that while QB gets nearly a dozen titles, Ligny subsists on only four.

Would Ligny get more games if Wellington had spoken German?
One is the entry in NLB, and one is the entry in BoW. Ed Wimble's La Bataille system, of course, includes a massive and spectacular La Bataille de Ligny, which I own but have yet to give myself the visual treat of setting up, let alone playing. The fourth is (to me) a dark horse, billed as a three-turn minigame and called simply Ligny, it calims descent from a system, March Into Battle, with which I am unfamiliar. Three turns, however detailed they may be, seems to me like too little to reflect the complexity of this huge engagement; time will tell whether the game becomes a hit or not.

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