Sunday, August 21, 2016

Scourge of War Waterloo - Sandbox Play

Marching my division across the Belgian countryside toward our objective, a small town

After playing The Last Success  much of yesterday, I finished the evening with a session of Scourge of War: Waterloo to have a slightly different Napoleonic experience.



Part of a brigade deployed in a divisional l'ordre mixte.

I was not a huge fan of SOW:WL when first released. It played a lot like "American Civil War dressed up in Napoleonic uniforms." I set the game aside for a good while, but it seems like with the release of the Quatre Bras DLC, patches, and a few well-chosen mods, the game is a decent Napoleonic command simulator now.

Our objective is the village ahead. It appears to be defended by Prussian lancers
 So far I have focused mostly on divisional command play in the sandbox. The historical scenarios in the game are okay - but just okay - and too many of them focus on brigade command. In my opinion, this game (and its ACW predecessors) really shine at the divisional and corps level, particularly when playing what's known as HITS, or "Headquarters In The Saddle."

Disciplined French musketry and square formations take a toll on the Prussian cavalry
When playing in HITS mode, your viewpoint is locked to your general, and all orders are issued to your subordinate commanders via courier. This can be done by bringing up a command map and clicking on a location to dispatch orders to a subordinate, and by bringing up a written dispatch interface, that allows you to string phrases together to create detailed written orders.

Things did not go entirely in favor of the French, though. Here the Prussians are in pursuit of a fleeing French infantry regiment that failed to form square in time.
Courier messages can go astray, and even be intercepted by the enemy, giving them insight into your plans. Plans are critical, as well; trying to improvise will find you always lagging as your orders take time to transmit and for your subordinates to implement them. Not every subordinate commander will implement your orders the same way, either. Each has their own personality and will perform more or less aggressively based on that.

Slowly advancing infantry supported by the division's artillery have pushed the Prussian cavalry out of the village and crossroads.
Things can get chaotic quickly. Formations bombarded with a constant stream of orders seem to get confused and do little. Fatigued troops will refuse to execute orders and rest instead. Regiments with low morale will break. It's important to move around the battlefield, not just to get a better view of the action, but to bolster the morale of your troops with your presence.  Your subordinates will do this do, which can put them in harm's way. An entire attack can go off the rails when a commanding officer is killed and a brigade stops and waits for a replacement.

French troops advancing beyond the village in pursuit of the Prussians. This despite orders for the brigade to hold in place in the village. Prussian cavalry charges eventually killed the brigade commander. In all, I lost both original brigade commanders and one replacement commander in this skirmish.
All the above make for a very interesting game in my opinion, demonstrating the challenges facing the 19th century general. It can also be terribly frustrating to someone used to the "god's eye" view of the typical wargame, with complete control over one's forces. Even when not playing in HITS mode the Scourge of War titles do not really allow that measure of control, or are at least not designed to be played that way.

I honestly pity the players who can't seem to get past what seems to me to be a very simplistic view of what a simulation like this can be, and insist on trying to maximize control of their units in an ahistorical manner.  They are really missing a phenomenal experience of an 19th century command simulator, something that's very difficult to get in a solo experience.

Roughly equal casualties, but my force carried the position and held it. Accomplishing the mission is the most important thing!
The Scourge of War games are the closest thing available right now to solo computer Kriegspiel. I suspect that's going to change in the near (?) future with the release of General Staff, but right now they're about the only game in town. The sandbox campaign game included with SOW:WL makes this even more the case, enabling a more operational layer to the game that then plays out at the tactical level. While the Napoleonic game isn't perfect yet, it's a lot better than it was at release, and a worthwhile activity for anyone interested in looking deeper into the period.