I recently played a game of Napoleon at Waterloo with “waringgibbon” via the online gaming service Hexwar. This was my third or fourth game on Hexwar, and I have really come to respect their system and how it operates. Hexwar is a program not unlike Cyberboard that allows play via email, but it completely streamlines the entire process by automatically enforcing the rules and executing all combat (i.e. rolling the dice and enforcing the results). For example, when you wish to move a unit, you click on it with the mouse and Hexwar highlights all the hexes to which this unit can move given its movement rate and the terrain as well as the presence of ZOCs and friendly units. I suspect that it would be a great way to learn the basics of hex-and-cardboard wargames. Anyway, on to the game.
Gibbon took the Wellington’s army and I took on the task of smashing the Allies with Napoleon’s crack Army du Nord. The game begins at 1:00 in the afternoon with both armies lined up for battle and the early French attack on Hougomont already in full swing (which pins down much of Napoleon’s left wing. Having just lost my last game as the French, I was a bit more wary than usual and decided to maneuver a bit before deciding when to attack. However, one must keep in mind that the French player is under great pressure to attack and attack hard since he must both eliminate 40 Allied strength points AND exit 7 French units off the north edge of the map in only 10 turns, so I was basically wasting a turn. Nevertheless, I shifted the main weight of my army to my left, throwing the cavalry on my far flank while moving the Guards and other divisions both around to the left of Hougomont and to between Hougomont and La Haye Sainte. My right moved forward into the towns that would form an anchor. I then transmitted my finished turn (after wiping out the small British unit in the Hougomont).
Gibbon responded with a maneuver I’d never seen before. He pulled his right wing around until it was 90 degrees off of his main front while pulling the left in a bit as well. The overall effect was that of a horseshoe shape. This opened th road north but of course would also keep me from outflanking any part of his line! Examining his deployment I couldn’t find ANY weak spots at all to attack. But I thought it might make his deployment of the Prussians (who arrive on the Allied turn 2) a bit difficult – the horseshoe gave me room to move and put more space between me and the Prussians. So, I shifted the entire army to the left and northward toward Merbe-Braine with the intent of getting all the way around his flank at Mont St. Jean. My right would be limited to a delaying action against the guys in gray. I launched a couple fo indecisive attacks, but this had the effect of forcing Gibbon to curl up even more, and when the Prussians arrived, they didn’t really have anyone to fight since the battle had moved so far westward.
The battle started in earnest on turn three when I finally at a chance to attack his line with some sort of advantage. Most of this type of SPI game is dependent upon attacks that eliminate or retreat one unit to allow the attack to advance a unit into the vacated hex. A second attack is then made upon an adjacent unit which is now cut off from retreat. What one wants is to get the magic 3-1 ratio; unfortunately, Gibbon’s excellent movement choices left most of my attacks at 2-1 and they did not go well at all. Indeed, I ended up with a couple of exposed units and accomplish little or nothing. Gibbon took advantage of my bad position at counterattacked. But his attacks went just as badly and now left a few 6-4 and a 7-4 in a precarious position.
Finally, I was able to do some real damage to the Allies. The battle line was now vertical in front of Merbe-Braine which was very strange, but I was able to eliminate about 8 Allied points for only 4 French points and capture La Haye Sainte as well as advancing some of my units into spots that would force old Welly into some no-so-good attacks. Gibbon attacked, but the combination of bad position and some nasty virtual die rolls left him down a few more points and exposed. Finally, on turn 6 (6pm) I had my chance to push the number of lost Allied units over 40; not only does this satisfy one of the French victory requirements, it also demoralizes the Allies and shifts the combat one column in favor of the French (e.g. a 2-1 French attack becomes a 3-1 and a 1-1 Allied attack becomes 1-2). Basically, there was a British 6-4 that had become completely cut off and a couple of small cavalry pieces that were in exposed positions. I gobbled them up and Gibbon’s army was now demoralized. But could I get my 7 units off the map in time?
Gibbon’s left wing including all those Prussians, was still strong and he tried to attack the remainder of my right, but the CRT was against him and the attacks were repulsed with losses to the Allies. He did launch an attack at the northern edge of the mapboard that seriously scared me. He manage to push some units partially in the way of my advance as well as lock down a few others in his ZOCs. But my cavalry made it off followed by enough infantry to make it to 7 and complete the French victory.
Gibbon’s strategy was innovative and his deployment thoughtful and strong, but I think the horseshoe shape gave the French a little too much wiggle room. That combined with what seemed to be two turns of bad CRT rolls gave me the chance to chew up a few English pieces and ultimately win the game. All in all, it was well played and fun.
If you have any interest at all in trying hex-and-cardboard wargames or if you’re an old SPI’er from way back, I cannot recommend Hexwar highly enough. There are plenty of opponents and the software works very well, guiding the players through the process of the game. It is certainly worth the free download and a trial run.