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Subject: Wellington meets his Waterloo rss

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J. R. Tracy
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New York
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Dutch and I got the Wallace Warfrog Waterloo on the table last night, and had a lot of fun with it. Dutch had a few games under his belt already but I'd read the rules and observed a couple games myself. The dice gave me the French and away we went.

Dutch, the Prince of Orange

I decided to open things up by stressing the system a bit with an all-out assault on Hougoumont. One of the central mechanics of Wallaceloo is the uncertainty of the length of a player's impulse; the inactive player draws a tile with a value from two to five (evenly distributed) and the active player performs actions until the limit is reached. Assembling a big attack is a gamble because you generally overstack for advantage at the point of attack, and should the impulse end unexpectedly you may find yourself paying a requisite penalty. I threw caution to the wind and assembled a mighty force of eight infantry pieces to crash into the two defenders of the chateau.

What did I achieve? Not much. Strongpoint defenders absorb casualties rather than retreat, and if an attacker doesn't clear out the area after two rounds of fighting he is repulsed. As a result, my boys streamed back to their starting areas in disarray. While I just managed to sort out my stacking before my impulse ended, I was in no shape to withstand Dutch's counterattack, which gutted me for heavy losses. Okay, that didn't work out so well, so we hit the reset button.

The second time around, I was a little more conventional, bouncing cannonballs off the three Anglo-Allied strongpoints (Hougoumont, La Haye Sainte, and Papellote) before moving forward with my infantry columns. I took the farmhouse but it was soon clear the chateau would not fall. I decided to work around it, sacrificing the integrity of my line (and associated morale benefits) in exchange for a chance to get stuck into the main A-A line.

Dutch responded with furious cavalry counterattacks on either side of Hougoumont. My own cav responded in kind and after several actions expended by both sides the French cavalry ruled the western third of the board - six A-A units were dead in exchange for five French units 'tired' (still on-map but with what amounts to a step loss).

My cavalry advantage allowed me to set up a series of combined arms attacks on the Allied line - first the cav would hit to force the defenders to form square, then my infantry columns would assault. Infantry in square is very tough against horse, as you'd expect, but shoots poorly and makes a juicy target. I steadily drove the British and German infantry back, killing some and making others retreat with loss. In addition, I killed one of the two A-A leaders (we decided it was the Iron Duke) which really cramped the Allied activity level. Dutch used up the last of his cavalry in another dramatic charge but the dice failed him. I was pushing toward Mont St. Jean, the French objective, and two-thirds of the way toward the A-A casualty cap, when the Prussians showed up.

Lights out for Big Nose

The Prussians are arrayed off-board and enter 1d6 at a time, with a minimum of two. Dutch rolled consecutive fives so I had a real problem on my hands. All my activity to the west came at the expense of dressing the lines on my right flank, so I allowed the Prussians a nice jumping off point in the Bois de Paris. I repulsed an initial Prussian infantry assault but the Prussian cavalry swept through my gun line, wreaking havoc. I was still a ways from hitting my own casualty limit but the pressure was on.

Marschall Vorwärts emerges from the Bois de Paris

I had excellent board position but all my infantry was banged up; the Guard was in position to face the Prussians but with nothing behind them. It was now or never, so once more I gambled on the tile draw. Fortunately, I was able to squeeze out four actions in my next impulse, enough to ride down some Nassau foot just in front of Mount St. Jean. That triggered the A-A casualty cap for a French victory.

The local response to this game has been very mixed, from not liking it at all, to liking the system but not the situation, to loving the whole package. I'm toward the latter end of the spectrum. This might look like a Euro but it is definitely a wargame, with a lot of history in the package. Swap the warmeeples for counters and there would be no debate. However, it is easy to see that whenever Wallace was forced to compromise between history and playability, gameplay won out. This is a game first, a history lesson a distant second.

I have a couple concerns - casualty rate and game length. Our game ended on turn five due to casualties and I've read of several others ending even earlier. I'm hoping this is a function of (lack of) familiarity with the system. With my own abortive first game as an example, it's easy to leave yourself open to a devastating counterpunch, particularly when hot-headed British cavalry is involved. With experience, I expect the casualty pace to slacken. As for length, this looks like it will settle into the three-plus hour range, even though the presentation and mechanics imply something half that. There is nothing particularly complex, but the assault mechanism is process-heavy and the need to manage unit interactions requires a lot of forethought each impulse. That's not a knock, but despite appearances, this is not a light game.

Overall, I'm pleased, and looking forward to another session - this should be good for a few playings.

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