Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Waterloo 20: Day 1

After spending most of a week in the Grogheads booth at Origins last month, I've found myself playing board games about as much as I've been playing computer games. A couple of weeks ago I discovered an absolutely great operational scale series of Napoleonic games from Victory Point Games called Napoleonic 20.

A couple of years ago GMT Games released a quad pack of these games, with upgraded components called Fading Glory. I ordered Fading Glory, learned the system, and am playing my first game with it; in this case Waterloo. Rather than trying to explain the game mechanics myself, let me point you to an excellent video from GMT Games that covers the basics:

I'm going to play a day and then post some pictures and descriptions of the action. We enter the campaign on the afternoon of June 16th. I am playing this game using all of the optional rules.

Napoleon and the majority of the Armee du Nord are concentrated around Fleurus and Ligny, facing the Prussian army under Blucher. The Prussians have concentrated three corps in a forward position around Ligny. As rain soaks them, the French have massed considerable infantry and cavalry, including the Imperial Guard to attempt to destroy the Prussians.

To the north, Ney, accompanied by Rielle's II Corps and attached cavalry are tasked with seizing the vital crossroads of Quatre Bras. Wellington, however, has hurried from Brussels with the Anglo-Dutch I Corp and awaits the attack in front of the crossroads.

Destroying the Prussians is critical to Napoleon's plan for the campaign. It is no time for half measures, and so the Guard is committed to the attack on Ligny along with the rest of the Armee du Nord. Ney is hesitant though - he had not expected the Allies to be present in such strength - and decides to call D'Erlon's I Corps forward to join his attack.

Blucher believes that Wellington will come south to aid him against Napoleon at Ligny. The two generals met shortly before the French arrived, and the English general told him that he would come to his aid unless he were heavily engaged himself. From the looks of it, most of the French are here, at Ligny. Wellington can not be as heavily engaged as Blucher is about to be.

Through the mist and rain the French III Corps splashes across the stream in front of them and crashes into the Prussian I Corps, defending Bluchers right. The Prussians, surprised by the ferocity of the French attack give way. Meanwhile the attack of the Imperial Guard and IV Corps forces the Prussian II Corps from Ligny. Blucher is carried along helplessly in the rout as II Corps breaks and runs as it is forced back across the Ligny River.

Blucher is unable to stop the panicked flight of the Prussian I Corps and is carried as far in the retreat as Sombreffe. There he encounters the battered survivors of the Prussian Advanced Guard who were roughly handled by the French earlier in the day. Blucher is able to rally these men, who he leads back toward Ligny to the aid of the Prussian II and III Corps. At the same time, Wellington calls forward his Reserve Corps to occupy the strategic crossroads itself. It is only a matter of time before the French attack!

Meanwhile, the soldiers of the Prussian I Corps regain their nerve and stand their ground against the French III Corps. The Prussian counter-attack forces the French back across the stream in turn. In the smoke and drizzle, standing to their waists in rising water, II Corps imagines the entirety of the Prussian army advancing on them. Their courage falters and they run for the rear, broken. The Prussian attack against the Guard in Ligny does not fare as well though, making no progress against Napoleon's elite. Wellington has not arrived to help, but the Prussians are holding.

As the afternoon wears on into dusk, Napoleon orders a cavalry charge supported by artillery against the Prussian right. The doughty Prussians form squares and wreak fearful carnage among the French cavalry but eventually the massed guns take their toll. By the time evening falls the ground to the north of Ligny is quiet as the shattered French and Prussian formations withdraw to safer places to try and reform.

While attempting to march to Ney's aid, D'Erlon's I Corps is called south by Napoleon to assist in the French attack on the Prussian right. D'Erlon is neither in time to support the attack there or present to assist Ney in front of Quatre Bra. Ney's attack fails and he is thrown back in confusion. At Ligny, however, the massed French infantry and cavalry easily overpowers the remaining Prussian troops of the III Corps. Panic sets in among the Prussians and they flee the battlefield. Blucher has no choice but to withdraw, accompanied by the Advanced Guard. Still convinced that he can rally the Prussian army and  link up with Wellington, he leads his remaining men toward Wavre.

Despite heavy losses, the French are in control of the field at Ligny and now it is time to turn against Wellington. The Allies are reeling from the total Prussian defeat at Ligny, but Wellington manages to steady his troops and prevents the less experienced and less dependable from fleeing.

Night is falling but Napoleon hopes to at least maneuver so to trap the Anglo-Allied forces at the crossroads and destroy them in the morning. Unfortunately the rain and combat have taken their toll, and the fearsome Imperial Guard loses their way, becoming confused in the drizzling gloom.

Wellington has made good use of his time around Quatre Bras and carefully positioned his I Corps to make the most of the terrain. Although D'Erlon finally makes an appearance, joining III Corps cavalry for a coordinated attack at Quatre Bras, the French are unable to dislodge the British and Dutch forces from their positions.

Just as darkness falls, Grouchy, given command of 30,000 men, is sent to pursue the retreating Prussians and to keep them from interfering with Napoleon's destruction of Wellington.

Night falls, and with it the incessant rain. The improved weather allows both sides a better chance to rally and reorganize. Officers range the battlefield and surrounding country throughout the night, until nearly all the troops that fled from the days fighting have been reformed into their units.

Wellington elects to hold his position at Quatre Bras. Uxbridge's Cavalry arrives in the area during the night, and can help cover a fighting withdraw in the morning if necessary. The French are concentrating against him but are still in some disarray from their fight with the Prussians - he ought to be able to bleed them before falling back toward the better ground around Mont St. Jean.

As Blucher falls back toward Wavre, the battered Prussians reform in the vicinity of Wavre. Blucher is old but tough, and his men love him. If anyone can rally the beaten Prussian army it is him, and his hatred for the French burns like a fire inside him. He swears he will lead his men to Wellington's aid.

Napoleon intends to make tomorrow the day of decision, destroying the Anglo-Allied army at Quatre Bras. If the weather holds, Napoleon will fix the Allied corps in front of the crossroads town and then crush them with a powerful flank attack, before they can be further reinforced and before the Prussians can reorganize. If the sun sets on a victorious Armee du Nord at the end of the second day of the Battle of Quatre Bras, Napoleon will be in Brussels for dinner on the 18th, and the British and Prussians will be out of the war.

Gaming notes: I realized during the last turn of this day of fighting that I'd been forgetting to place fatigue markers on units. None of them had been engaged enough to really be showing any fatigue effects, but I still need to be tracking it. You can see the markers on the units that fought late in the day at Quatre Bras in the last picture.

The combat results and the random events cards yielded some surprising results during this first day. During the first turn the French III Corps' attack on the Prussian I Corps was really a "soak off" to keep the Prussian Corps out of Ligny - because the French were attacking across a minor river they had to subtract one from their combat strength, meaning they were attacking at a -1 differential. Despite this, they managed to roll a DW result, forcing the Prussians back. The "Rally to Old Forward" card was also an interesting turn of events, giving the Prussians a chance to rally during the fighting at Ligny rather than having to wait for the night turn.

I had expected the French combined cavalry and Reserve Artillery attack on the Prussian I Corps north of Ligny to easily smash them. The French had a combined combat strength of 5 to the Prussian 3, further reduced by the rain to 2. The results on the +3 column of the CRT do not look good for the defender. Despite this, I rolled a one - resulting in an Exchange. So, for the cost of one corps of strength three, the French had an entire cavalry division and all of the Reserve Artillery break!

This is a wonderfully simple system, with a really minimal number of counters on the map, and yet it captures the warfare of the period in an engaging and fun way. The random events and morale system give the game great replayability. Writing about it is almost as much fun as playing, since the turns play out in a way that makes for an engaging story.  I'm very much looking forward to playing the second day of Waterloo 20. In addition to the other three games in this quad game (Borodino 20, Smolensk 20, and Salamanca 20) I've already ordered Danube 20 and Austerlitz 20 from Victory Point.