I wrote this review 4 years ago. My affection for the game has not diminished - indeed, I think my opinion of it has grown over the years. I have played it with enjoyment a number of times since writing the review. In fact, the (relatively) recent publication of Charles Esdaile's (heavily slanted) "The Eagle Rejected" will almost certainly see it back on the table once more.
More than the sum of its parts - ATO's Beyond Waterloo
A welcome change of pace
It is one of wargaming's ironies that the vast majority of games on The Hundred Days focus only on the final four. As its name suggests, ATO’s 2011 Annual game - Beyond Waterloo, by John Prados - sets out to change that, pushing beyond the narrow confines of Belgium on June 18th, 1815, to take in "the full scope of the politico-military conditions inherent in the 1815 situation...Beyond Waterloo is a full strategic simulation, encompassing military, economic and diplomatic developments." Huzzah, I say - at long last! 50 years after the first wargame on this topic, finally we have one which puts the Emperor's strategic dilemmas in context.
One example should show what I mean. One of the commonest optional rules in the history of Wargaming allows the French to make use of the talents of Marshal Davout at Waterloo. Davout, of course, was acting as War Minister in Paris while the Emperor campaigned in Belgium with men of lesser ability. Given the ultimately fatal mistakes attributed to Soult, Ney and Grouchy, Napoleon's failure to appoint the Iron Marshal to a battlefield position looks like an inexplicable failure of foresight. It may well have been such a failure, of course, but it is entirely explicable - Napoleon needed a strong hand on the tiller in Paris, both to bring vigour to the mobilisation of troops, and to cow those who may have otherwise objected actively to the return of the Imperial yoke. In fact, this was just one of a series of very difficult choices Napoleon was forced to make, having to find just the right man for a succession of vital roles from a pool of talent which was already stretched thin. BW puts these trade offs squarely on the player's agenda - if Davout (the highest rated commander in the game) marches with the troops, there will be fewer troops marching with him, as his administrative talents will be missed in Paris. And if he marches into Belgium against Wellington and Blucher, then hundreds of thousands of Austrians and Russians will have a much easier task driving to Paris further to the South.
That on its own would be cause to extend BW a warm welcome, but there is more to it than that. The game treats the problems of mobilisation for both sides with a level of detail greater than that in any previous game on the topic, at least any of which I am aware. Indeed, if you play the advanced scenario, starting on Napoleon's re-entry of Paris in March, then pretty well the entire focus of the first half of the game will be on mobilisation, and the strategic implications which follow. National and international politics receive an equally nuanced treatment, and even though this is a two-player game, diplomacy is also addressed, through a very flavourful random events process.
Indeed, there is so much packed into BW that even if it were to fail completely both as a game and as a product, then it would still be worth a pass mark in my view, due to its ambitions and its focus. It does not fail in either, I am glad to say. So without more ado, let's have a look at how it works.
Squeezing a quart into a pint pot
I like the ATO Annual concept, which affords for a more expansive treatment than that allowed by the time and space constraints of a typical subscription issue. Devoting much of a substantial magazine - 42 pages excluding game materials - to the lead game's subject allows in theory at least for an in-depth exploration of the key issues of a topic, and how they are reflected in the game. John Prados has penned nine(!) related articles in this issue, and they do a fine job telling the story of the campaign. I have only two small criticisms. The articles are largely descriptive rather than analytic - a real missed opportunity from an author who has written some excellent analytical military history before. And they focus on the build up, and the Belgian campaign - they are largely silent on the manoeuvres elsewhere in France – the study of which is one of the game's key objectives!
BW's map was the subject of some criticism before publication; I am one of those who felt that its choice of colours and textures was uninspired. In the flesh, as it were, it is still muddy to my eye, but once decorated with the plain but colourful counters, it is perfectly functional.
Regardless of its aesthetic and functional merits, the map is too small – it contains the formation and other tracks for only the French side. Those for the allies are printed on two pages which must be removed from the magazine. The game’s combat system involves choosing tactical option cards, and these must be ripped from two quite thin perforated sheets. The components are rounded out by 8 pages of charts, also bound into the magazine. I found that I was constantly referring to these – they could really do with being printed on separate, heavy-duty charts. In truth, there is so much to BW that it struggles to be contained by its magazine format. If ever a game was crying out for a full-scale box release, with two maps, sumptuous charts for both players, and professional-quality cards, this is it.
As for the game system - well, it's dense. Black hole dense at first glance. In places the 28 page rulebook seems incredibly over-written - half a column of imprecise verbiage on how to use the sequence of play track, for example. Ominously, some of the design choices seem out of sync with the design focus - for instance, in an avowedly strategic game with monthly turns, there is a quite granular battle board sub-system, complete with operational, grand tactical and even tactical layers, yet the whole political and diplomatic system is optional. You reach the halfway point in the rules before you read about much beyond fire and movement. The victory conditions reinforce the impression that combat is at the heart of the game - apart from lucky rolls on the diplomacy chart, they are all derived from military actions. Based on the balance of the rulebook, this is clearly a military game with a military focus, by a designer of war games, for an audience of war gamers. Here, too, the game may suffer a little as a result of the format. In his very informative designer notes, Prados explains that the game was originally more focused towards politics and diplomacy, but because of player load some of this was culled, and the rest made optional. I should stress that none of this is meant as a criticism of ATO – it is a consequence of the magazine format. Had the game been published in this very magazine, or Strategy and Tactics, I imagine it would have faced many of the same issues. Indeed, I think that ATO is to be commended for running with such an ambitious project – I am certainly glad that they did.
I have tried to summarise the rules a couple of times now, and torn up the results – my summaries were denser than the original rulebook! So here is the latest version, and I hope that what it lacks in completeness it makes up for in clarity. And that will be a good thing, as I want to focus in this article on what the game does rather than how it does it. The rules have just (at the time of writing) been posted on the ATO site, if you want to immerse yourself in the detail. In any event, here are the essentials.
Units are rated for strength and morale. Both are handled in interesting and novel ways, morale in particular – formations have an overall morale level, which can be reduced by adverse combat results. When that level is less than the morale of a unit brigaded to that formation, the unit goes from good order to broken, and switches boxes on the display. This is mechanically easier to track and easier to see than using markers on the individual units – so, a good thing in my view. Combat strengths vary by step, based on the quality of the unit, and tend to average around 1.1 per step. A step is roughly 3,000 men, by the way, and perhaps double that for French National Guard units. So, the game presents up to three ways of differentiating unit quality. I’m not sure we need three, especially in a game whose focus is elsewhere, but it is handled with such little overhead that you scarcely notice in play, and it does add a little spice to players’ mobilisation decisions.
Leaders are rated for administration, battle and reaction ability, and formations are represented on the map by a single counter, leading to a pleasingly uncluttered playing area. Areas cost from 1 to 4 MPs to enter, and movement allowances are determined by a formation’s deployment mode – about which, much more later. For now, it suffices to say that the deployment mode with the highest MA is March Mode, which confers 3 MPs – one less than that needed for the most costly move. Fortunately, formations can force march to gain an extra MP, at a cost to their combat efficiency, and at a risk of some step losses to attrition. The net effect is that formations plod rather than sprint, though with three movement phases per monthly turn once war is declared, things are often moving more quickly than they appear. And terrain costs do channel movement in historic ways; the mountains in the south make for very slow going, the Rhine is a barrier, but with green fields beyond, and the fastest route to Paris is by way of Belgium.
One more aspect of the movement system stands out: not only are there are no zones of control, there is nothing to stop a unit moving out of an enemy-occupied area at the start of its move. As the player with the initiative moves first, he cannot therefore force his opponent to stand for battle – the enemy can move away at will. However, the same stricture does not apply to the second player, as combat immediately follows his move. This for me is a good microcosm of the system. On the face of it, this process is broken – I can think of no plausible historical reason why the player with the initiative should labour under such a disadvantage. But in play, I found that it made little difference. It is typically the attacker who wants to force battle, and the way he does this when moving first is to threaten an important point on the map. The details of the process may seem ridiculous, but they do not play out that way. Is this an example of that hoary old chestnut, Design for Effect? I don’t think so, based on an exchange with the designer – this was not an effect he intentionally sought. But somehow, it is fine in practice – perhaps the result of a skilled and experienced designer knowing when to tinker, and when something will work as is?
Deployment mode affects more than just movement, as you would expect. It also plays a significant part in the resolution of combat. There is a lot to take in here. First up, combat is resolved on a battle display. Both sides nominate one of their formations to be the lead, and any others present are deemed to be in support, and so fight at half strength. Any screening cavalry units are also designated. At this point both sides secretly select a Grand Tactics chit, which will be in effect for the first battle round. There are six choices, ranging from sweeping concentric attacks, to simple holding actions, and in a nice wrinkle, in some cases the choice of tactics, or the impact of the choice, may be determined or influenced by the deployment mode. For instance, a unit in march mode may not choose the (usually effective) flank attack tactic, whereas a formation in echelon mode doubles its combat strength with the flanking tactic. Before the battle begins, both sides reveal and compare their grand tactics on a matrix, which will generate column shifts for combat resolution, though if both sides hold or retreat, no battle takes place. Further, a side’s grand tactic is compared to its opponent’s deployment mode, and can result in favourable or unfavourable DRMs.
Still with me? Good, because there is plenty more to come. Battle is resolved in two rounds. At the start of the first, the commanders select four battle tactics cards, again secretly. As with the Grand Tactic chits, a number of the choices are situational. For instance, the “Guards Assault” battle tactic is only available if a side has a guard unit participating in the battle. Grand tactics are not to be taken lightly – they can be enormously powerful. The bayonet charge will double the step losses you inflict, AND will negate an enemy’s General Advance DRMs. And they are interactive – the Infantry Squares tactic negates the casualty doubling which would otherwise result from an opponent’s cavalry charge tactic – which can itself only be chosen if a side has cavalry superiority. There may be one or two geniuses or BW experts out there who can keep track of all of this in their heads, but it is well beyond me – these are matrices beyond my ability to game, which was the designer’s explicit intent. And even now, we are far from finished with combat.
There are a plethora of more familiar DRMs to be calculated – leaders’ combat value, terrain, supply effects, morale effects, troop quality effects, cavalry superiority and more – it’s not quite the kitchen sink, but not far off it. Finally, the moment of truth arrives and both players roll on the FERT – the Fire Exchange Results Table. The FERT is a device we have seen before - all the way back to John’s Campaigns of Napoleon – and is based on a simple comparison of combat strength to casualties caused to the enemy. I have grave reservations about the FERT; the results it gives just do not seem to map at all well to history. This is especially true at the lower columns of the FERT.
Using data from Digby Smith’s Napoleonic Wars Data Book, there were 75 “skirmishes” which took place during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. The average force size in these skirmishes was 10,000 - roughly 2 steps for the larger force, and one step for the smaller. According to the FERT – all other things being equal - a 2 step (2 CF) unit will cause on average .94 of a casualty - that is, it will have an effectiveness rate of 47%
This brings us to just what the FERT means by a "casualty." Here the historic record is much less reliable. There is some tenuous evidence that for each injury incurred by a side, at least one more individual absented himself from the fighting, for whatever reason. However, at the operational level, we have to allow for those who, say, helped their wounded comrades to the rear, but returned to the colours within a day or two of the battle. To put a marker down, I will assume that 50% of "absconders" returned, so three FERT "casualties" equate to two "real casualties" - that is, those killed or wounded. This implies that we can adjust the FERT effectiveness rate for our 2 CF unit down from 47% to 31%, which allows us to compare the lethality of the FERT with that contained in the Digby Smith data - i.e., the historical record. In skirmishes, two step forces inflicted an average of 6% casualties on the enemy. In other words, the FERT seems to be too "hot" on this column by a factor of five - and this is assuming only a single round of combat per skirmish - if there are two rounds, of course, then the game is proportionately MORE lethal.
Using the same data set for 1CF forces, the FERT gives an adjusted lethality score of roughly 36%; the "historical record" shows 12%.
Simple inspection suggests that the opposite is true for larger battles - that the FERT is too cold. For instance, a 26CF formation, over 2 combat rounds, will inflict roughly 10% casualties per the FERT - 7% adjusted, whereas the average casualty rate in 142 battles studied by Smith is 16%. For these battles however, it is likely that the wide range of column shifts and DRMs will change the FERT result in ways difficult to estimate from first principles. John Prados thinks that a better test would be to compare the results of a number of actual game battles with history, and he’s probably correct. Developer Lembit Tohver kindly supplied data on 46 combats which he recorded during play tests. In the table below I have compared these with the historical record as derived by Smith, calculated from the 29 engagements actually fought in 1815.
Size of engagement in total participating steps
Casualty rates - playtest Casualty rates - history
4 or fewer steps 2.0 steps 0.2 steps
5 to 10 steps 4.0 steps 0.6 steps
11 to 17 steps 5.0 steps 1.5 steps
18 to 24 steps 8.0 steps 1.7 steps
25 to 31 steps 11.0 steps None in 1815
32 steps or more 14.0 steps 18.0 Steps
Two issues leap out. As I postulated above, the game does seem to cause too many casualties in small engagements, and too few in large. However, the problem is much worse at the lower ends of the spectrum. In the larger battles, the playtest results are much closer to the historical loss rates than I would have predicted. And of course the two historic large battles in this campaign were extraordinarily bloody - we can probably forgive the FERT for underplaying this. The problem at the low end of the spectrum is mitigated by the fact that the playtest data shows significantly fewer engagements in the 1-10 range than actually happened – just 25% of all the playtest combats, compared to 75% in history. All in all, assuming Lembit’s playtest data is a reasonable proxy for how all players are approaching the game, then the FERT still looks suspect. John Prados and I have discussed this at length; John takes the view that the Digby Smith data is often unreliable, particularly for smaller engagements, for a host of reasons mostly to do with those instances where Smith extrapolates to fill gaps. I think that’s setting the bar for evidence standards too high, and that the sheer volume of real data included by Smith means that general conclusions can be drawn. No matter where the truth lies, it has been a fascinating exchange!
And once more, I found this to have little to no effect on play, as there were very few small engagements in my games too. Forces tended to concentrate, and smaller formations on the frontier would avoid battle, trading space for time, and falling back on newly mobilised reinforcements. I am sure you can see a trend developing; apparent issues from the rulebook, which do not materialise in play. This is somewhat unusual in my experience; things tend to go in the opposite direction, with the rulebook appearing fine, but problems emerge during play.
Back to combat for a moment; after the first reference to the FERT, both sides remove casualties – each point of which costs a Victory Point – and the player who lost the greater number reduces the morale level of all his participating formations. This is followed by reaction, when friendly formations within their leader’s reaction range can move into or towards the battle, though this is not automatic – reinforcing formations may be blocked by enemy cavalry screens. And before the second and final battle round, both sides make another series of preparatory adjustments, and can change lead formation, deployment mode, formation composition and grand tactic. Then one more reference to the FERT each, and the winner is the side with the fewer casualties over both rounds.
Whew! It is intense, intricate, multi-faceted, time-consuming and, yes, difficult. There are relatively few battles, and so, despite multiple playings, I have not yet really managed to internalise the process to the point where it becomes routine. And this is a game whose focus is expressly on things other than combat – strategy, politics, economics etc. I confess I do not really understand why the game needs this level of detail for combat. But I must also confess that I like it. There are relatively few battles, and they have such a huge impact on victory conditions, that it is not overwhelming. I think I would have enjoyed the game every bit as much with a less detailed combat mechanism, but once more, this is a case where I disagree with the detail, but enjoy the result. The designer’s intention was to make a battle a story, which unfolds in stages, and which the players can influence as it happens. In that, he has clearly succeeded.
The Diplomats’ War
I am sure I would be less well inclined towards BW if the rulebook stopped at combat. A large part of my fascination with the Hundred Days is not merely what happened, but what might have happened. Was Napoleon doomed, come what may? It seemed a complex question at the time, and even more so since. Fouché, as astute an observer as it is possible to imagine, thought the return of Napoleon was inevitable – “Springtime will bring us Napoleon along with swallows and violets.” But Fouché thought his defeat was inevitable too. Reflecting on the internal divisions within France, Wellington agreed – “even without the aid of the allies, Bonaparte’s power will not be of long duration.” And even if Napoleon prevailed against the enemy within, in Wellington’s view he was doomed militarily too – assuming that the overwhelming force deployed against France was used “with common prudence and arrangement.” Alexander’s clear-sighted ambassador Count Pozzo understood well how precarious was Napoleon’s position, as he explained to his chief: “Only touch Paris with your finger and the colossus will be overthrown.” Stephen Englund sums up the modern version in a typically elegant phrase: “The liberal empire came to life under a death sentence that was never lifted or even reprieved, just implacably carried out.” So, internal revolt, a vulnerable capital, overwhelming odds, relentless opposition – was the Emperor’s return nothing more than a pre-ordained failure? Where is the game for Napoleon – and for us?
For me the answer lies in the weakness of all alliances – frictions between members and factions, which Napoleon might exploit - after all, the Congress of Vienna had laid bare the extent of these differences. A few examples will suffice. Alexander had reputedly threatened the Austrian ambassador Metternich to a duel over the future of Galicia; mere days before Napoleon’s return, on the topic of Poland, he stressed that “we will keep what we occupy, even to war.” And this before the Tsar became aware of the secret anti-Russian treaty signed by Britain, Austria and France earlier in the year – as Talleyrand exulted at the time, “Now, Sire, the Coalition is broken.” Little wonder that one Austrian Archduke, contemplating plans that would place 200,000 Russians in the rear at Wurzburg, acidly remarked that “However great may be the danger facing us from Paris, it is not as great as that menacing us from Warsaw.” Meanwhile, Prussia and Britain were at loggerheads over a number of German states. Against an alliance such as this, who can blame Napoleon for gambling on its fragility? Especially as the experience of the previous year had taught that, with a sufficient force, he could defeat these allies within the borders of France time and time again. And with the right man directing the war effort, a more than sufficient force might be raised. Not only that, but the coalition was almost bankrupt – reliant on British subsidies to maintain even those forces currently mobilised. But the British cupboard itself was almost bare, with Castlereagh worrying privately that “unless France pays, we shall be bankrupt and driven out of the field in three months.” Diplomacy, politics, economics, genius – this is where the hopes of Napoleon surely lay.
The game considers each of these issues, but obliquely in some cases. Here too the system appears dense, and is quite difficult to summarise. However, unlike the combat processes, the diplomatic and economic sub-systems play remarkably quickly, and are easy to internalise – the charts drive the actions, and players’ choices are obvious – though difficult. When the game starts in March 1815, all parties are at peace, and are greatly constrained in their actions. The allied player drives the pace of the drift to war. Twice per turn he can advance a nation on the diplomatic track – each step gives more freedom of action – though his best laid schemes are often interrupted by the fickle finger of the twice-per-turn reference to a diplomatic developments random events chart. This apparently simple process is responsible for a large part of the game’s charm. The reason is that a nation’s ability to mobilise troops is keyed to its progress on the diplomatic chart. If the allies wish to wait until all its partners are fully mobilised before commencing hostilities – a plan, by the way, with much to commend it – it will take many monthly turns to achieve, and risks running out of time, and perhaps money. And even then, diplomatic events may take a turn for the worse, forcing a nation to war before all is ready, and handing the military initiative straight to the Corsican Ogre. It is great stuff!
As I mentioned earlier, mobilisation is handled in a more granular fashion than I have seen in other games on the topic. In effect, each side has an at-start treasury, and monthly income. It spends these to mobilise forces, and maintain them in the field. Units vary greatly in cost to recruit – from a single resource point for a humble half strength unit of the French National Guard, to 15 RPs for a Cavalry Corps or Supply Train. Both sides have many tough choices here too. As with combat, I have a number of issues with the details of this process. In particular, the RP costs are hard to square with the admittedly scarce historical evidence. I estimate that an RP is (very roughly) equivalent to 2 million francs, which makes sense for the opening treasuries and maintenance costs; but it makes the mobilisation costs seem rather expensive. On the other hand, the likely monthly income generated by the allies in particular also seems very optimistic. The net effect, so far as I can tell, is that the allies are less likely to run out of money in the game than in history, and that both sides, with a little forethought, are able to sustain the combat through the end of the year. It is my impression that the design misses a trick here, and that sharpening the economic problems faced by both sides would be good for the game and good for its history. But this is a question of degree, and perfectly suitable for post-publication tinkering, if there’s an appetite for it in the player community.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the game also challenges the French player to find the right man for a number of jobs, from a limited player pool. This centres on the role of War Minister, who contributes his administrative value as a much-needed DRM to the recruitment process. There is no doubt that confronting the French player with challenge of filling the various command roles is a great addition in BW; however, I think that the game falls just short, in two ways. First, it excludes one of the key roles - Chief of Staff. Second, it encourages the French player to make non-historic decisions for non-historic reasons. That is, in the game, Davout (admin value 6, battle rating 5) will probably always get a field command, because the War Minister decision only takes account of administrative skill, and so Soult (admin value 6, battle rating 3) is always a better choice than Davout. In reality of course, the much-despised Soult would have been an impossible choice for this position, given his recent experience in the same role for the Bourbons.
Whether the highly-suspect Preval (admin value 5, battle rating 2) is a better choice than both, of course, is for the player to decide, but by omitting the non-administrative dimensions of the role, the game omits a big element of the dilemma which confronted the Emperor. Once more, this is an explicit design choice, to limit player workload. I might have preferred a different choice, but I am nevertheless delighted to have a game which even begins to model these issues.
Re-reading all of the above, I am struck, not just by how much substance there is in the system, but by how much I have glossed over. For example – and in common with all the game’s procedures – the players are not just passive recipients of the Diplomatic Development Table’s dangers and bounties. They can, and absolutely should, influence the roll by the expenditure of vital Victory Points; in this game, player choice infuses every aspect of the system. Mobilised units do not instantly appear on the mapboard; in most cases, they have to be trained (a multi turn process but the French player can also mobilise cheaper but less efficient National Guard units which appear immediately – player choice again. And there are many other important facets to BW. For instance, leaders’ administrative abilities, which determine how much their formations can do; supply and logistics; attrition; the role of cavalry; minor allies; fortresses; Allied spy networks: revolts in the Vendee; Murat’s doomed campaign in Italy, and much, much more. This is a box of delights for those with an interest in the topic; moreover, the box is filled to overflowing.
The play’s the thing
There are three scenarios in BW, each showcasing an increasingly complete version of the system. The Combat Game scenario involves the resolution of a single battle – Waterloo, unsurprisingly - and introduces all of the battle processes described above. It will take first time players 45 minutes to an hour to play, excluding a reasonably lengthy set up time, and if I’d never played the game before, this would have me running screaming for the hills. It is certainly true that learning the combat system is a lengthy process, with much rulebook flicking and attendant puzzlement; but I’d much rather do this in a context where it means something, rather than the artificial setting of a stand-alone scenario.
There is considerably more meat on the bones of the Basic Game scenario – it starts in June 1815, when the initial mobilisation is complete, and excludes all the system’s political and diplomatic aspects. I have never played this, as I think that the missing pieces are the game’s best bits, though I can see why John included it. But the fact that it works WITHOUT diplomacy and politics points up what I see as the game’s single biggest weakness – that diplomacy ends when the fighting begins. I raised this with the designer soon after the game was published, in the context of the resulting inability of the French to knock out individual coalition members. He was adamant in his view that the Allies were so determined to rid themselves of Napoleon this time that none of them would make a separate peace. While this is surely arguable, in the final analysis it is John’s game to design as he sees fit. Given the excellence of the rest of the design framework, I am prepared here to shrug my shoulders and get on with the game as designed. And once more, any potential negative impact is mitigated in play, at least to some extent. In this case it comes through the victory conditions, and the emphasis they place on winning battles; if the French do well enough in an early encounter to have crippled the Prussians say, to the extent that they might have left the coalition, then there is every chance that Napoleon will have an unassailable victory point lead in any event.
The Advanced Game presents us with the main event – the whole system, in all its glory. Play begins in March, and runs for 10 monthly turns until the end of the year. Now both sides have plenty of options. Napoleon can try to replicate the Campaign of 1814 but with more and better forces, or he can menace the borders, and pounce on the weakest enemy when war erupts. He can concentrate his force under his command, or build medium sized forces under capable marshals and delay the allied advance until they run out of blood, money, time or patience. The allies on the other hand can fight a come-as-you-are war, striking for Paris as quickly as they can with the Prussians helped by Wellington - Blucher in Patton's britches - or they can build up slowly all across the front, and put Schwarzenberg's version of the anaconda plan into effect.
The diplomacy, politics and mobilisation processes play a lot more easily than they read, though as you will have gathered already, there are quite a lot of variables to balance in your head. First time through you will notice the absence of a single, fully articulated summary of the sequence of play, but I found that things settled down after a turn or two. The Allies probably have most of the fun in the build up phase - they certainly seem to have more choices to make, and those facing the French seem more obvious – to build as many good units as fast as possible, and to distribute them mainly to Napoleon, and elsewhere in response to status of individual enemy nations of the war progress chart.
In one early play, hostilities erupted in the middle of June. Prussia was the first power to go to war with the Corsican Ogre, but Britain was not far behind. I decided on the path of least resistance for the Allies - head for the Paris VPs by the most direct route, using the Prussians and the British forces. Both sides built powerful armies, but considering the FERT discussion above, it may be that this is not always the smart approach for the outnumbered French. The unmodified FERT sweet spot for efficiency is 2 CFs - dealing 80% of the damage done by a 14 CF force - so maybe a speed bump strategy is smarter?
June did not go well for the French; Blucher drove his Prussian farm boys across the Rhine, and dealt a heavy blow to the French Army of the Rhine under Davout. Elsewhere, the Anglo-Allies under Wellington marched on Paris from Brussels, and the Austrians commanded by Schwarzenberg marched on France just north of Switzerland. The Russian Bear was still hibernating.
Brune and the Army of the Var moved to block the mountain passes from Italy, and the soon to be renamed Army of the Alps under Massena edged northwards to contest the soil of France with the troops of the Emperor's father-in-law. At this point the Allies seemed to hold all the aces - ahead in VPs 16 to 9, ahead in RPs by 60, ahead in mobilisation and holding the initiative. How would Napoleon hold on to his throne? The answer was that he couldn’t; in a brutal battle at Reims against the united Prussians, supported by Wellington , Napoleon lost another 12 VPs, at which point the French wisely gave up the ghost.
In a later playing, the allies were more cautious, and built up the Austrians and the Russians as well as their northern forces before declaring war. The borders of France were intact until well into August, though large Russian and Austrian armies were poised to invade at that point. But as soon as they did, Napoleon struck for Wellington, Brussels and Antwerp. Meanwhile, Blucher was positioned just too far to the East to support their British allies. Wellington managed to evade the French juggernaut for two operations phases, but by the end of September he was forced to stand, or be cut off from his supply lines. The resulting battle was a disaster for Perfidious Albion, and the English were to all intents and purposes out of the war. Even worse, the French had amassed a VP lead which now stretched almost to 20 points.
To the south, the scattered French forces retreated before the massed Russian and Austrian ranks, though as the side with the initiative, their sacrificial rear-guards were occasionally caught and slaughtered by their advancing foe. But the French VP lead was large enough to cope. The game came down to a climactic Battle of Nations around Paris, where the united French forces under Napoleon, Davout and Soult were too strong, and the Emperor emerged the clear victor.
I have now played five times, enough to be certain certain that I have barely scratched the surface of BW’s complexities. I reckon that it would need dozens of plays to taste all of the combinations of the respective strategic options for both sides, and multiples of this to master them. Play rips along too – no more than 15 minutes total for the early turns, perhaps double that when the war heats up. Actually, I might be gilding the lily here - the combat routine is pretty intricate, and a big battle can take 20 minutes or more to resolve - but you won't have many of these, and anyway, isn't a seismic geopolitical event like Waterloo worth a few minutes of your time?
The Final Analysis
Sometimes writing these articles is a struggle, and sometimes playing the games enough to understand them is a real chore. Neither has been the case with Beyond Waterloo. This is already a long piece – almost 7,000 words – yet I have drafted and deleted at least that much again. There is plenty to say about this game. But if you had told me that on my first read of the rulebook, I’d have said you were crazy. Indeed, my experience of BW has been full of highs and lows. Great enthusiasm on its announcement, crashing disappointment on reading the rules, pleasant surprise first time through, resignation when I looked into the FERT. Actually, I put the game aside at this point, convinced it was a valiant failure. But I was wrong. Somehow it had crawled inside my skull, and it demanded to be played once more. This play was so much fun that it led to another, and another, and other. Not only that, but I played them all solitaire – an almost unprecedented thing for me. And BW did not just demand more table time, it demanded study too.
This article is the result of that study. As you have seen, it is far from a hymn of praise. And in a hobby which often prefers positivity, there is a risk that my criticisms may be seen to damn a game which absolutely does not deserve it. So let me repeat what I suggested in the title. Beyond Waterloo is more than the sum of its parts. It works. If this had been published in the 80s, say, then the hobby press would have raved about its contribution to the state of the art. It hits its design objectives out of the park, which is the best measure of a game’s success, I think. I would have preferred a different game – more diplomacy, more economics, simpler combat – but I can’t design. John Prados can, and Beyond Waterloo shows it.
Fine effort here, thanks for writing this. Note that ATO has published a bit of an expansion/update kit for Beyond Waterloo including nicer cards and some new rules and pieces. You can see more at their website here:
A superb overview. The one thing I wish this game had was a map that named the non-French regions. Well, that and 9/16 or 5/8 counters. But those are nits, and this is a good 'un straight out of the box.
I know you have been reading Hussey's book. How has that influenced your thinking about BW? I just downloaded it - I'm on a 24 hour flight later in the week, I'll give it a red hot go.
And have you read Esdaile's book - it's even more squarely in the BW space than Hussey.
Neither author bothers to hide their anti-Napoleon agenda, but that doesn't (necessarily) mean they are wrong...
Actually, I think there is probably an article on how BW stands up in the light of this new scholarship (if that's what it is.)
I've returned my copy of Hussey just a little of the way through -- I know how it ends. (Actually, because the last two signatures were glued in upside-down.)
So I'll need to finish that up first. That said, my quick two cents say that Esdaile's points on how loose the grip of the (briefly) restored Empire was should have an impact on how we think about recruiting and the potential force pool.
And Preval's presence in the leader pool isn't just a "wouldn't it be cool to have Davout in the field" gimmick, it's a wee reminder in cardboard that the French shortage of cavalry horses left a lot of regiments in their depots, and not in Belgium.