Napoleon’s decision to cross into Belgium at the head of a French army on June 15, 1815 was, based on his pessimistic but realistic view of France’s strategic situation, his only viable option. Military action was clearly required; diplomacy was, at least temporarily, out of the question. After Bonaparte’s return from exile on Elba to France on March 1st 1815, the member nations — England, Prussia, Austria, and Russia — of the reactionary Great Coalition that had defeated and deposed him over eleven months earlier had, within a few weeks, held an emergency meeting in Vienna. There they formally declared him to be an “outlaw” and demanded his abdication and the return (yet again) of the Bourbon Monarchy. Backing up their demands of March 13th, the individual member nations of the coalition moved quickly to raise fresh armies for a renewed war against the “Corsican Ogre.” By June, 1815, the Anglo-Allied Army under Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian Army, commanded by Field Marshal Prince Blücher von Wahlstadt, had massed their troops in Belgium near the French border. To the east, the Austrians were assembling another army that, when formed, would equal or exceed the size of Napoleon’s own. To make matters worse, farther to the east, the Tsar was also mustering new troops whose strength, when ready to march, would equal that of the Austrians.
Confronted by an alliance that, when fully assembled, would outnumber his own forces by over four-to-one, Napoleon decided to strike first. Gathering what available troops he could spare from other fronts, some 123,000 men in all, Napoleon force marched his newly-raised Armée du Nord towards the enemy encampments near the French border and, on the 15th of June, crossed the Sambre River into Belgium. Once his army had advanced into Belgium, Bonaparte’s plan of campaign, based on his theory of the “central position,” was simple: he would drive the Armée du Nord between the dispersed bivouacs of Wellington and Blücher, and then defeat each enemy army in turn before they could combine their forces against him.
WATERLOO is an operational (division-level) simulation of the last and perhaps most famous of Napoleon Bonaparte’s many military campaigns. The game begins on the morning of June 16th with the bulk of Napoleon’s troops across the Sambre River and ready to push north towards Brussels. It is the task of Wellington and Blücher to stop them. The French begin the game at full strength: fifty combat units totaling 193 combat factors. There are no French reinforcements. The Prussian, Anglo-Allies (P.A.A.) begin the game with only thirty-five combat units totaling 116 combat factors. As the game progresses, another forty-three units totaling an additional 121 combat factors will enter the map as reinforcements. Given his numerical disadvantage once the P.A.A. forces are finally concentrated, Napoleon’s goal is to push steadily north and to defeat the armies of Wellington and Blücher in detail, before the rising tide of P.A.A. reinforcements can tip the scales against the French.
WATERLOO is 30 game turns (five days) long and follows a simple game turn sequence: the French player moves first and initiates combat; then the P.A.A. player brings in any scheduled reinforcements and then repeats the same move-fight sequence, after which the game turn ends. The French player wins by eliminating all of the P.A.A units on the game map, either through direct combat or through forced P.A.A. defections caused by French units exiting the game map for Brussels.
WATERLOO offers only the historical Standard game. There are no scenarios (although a number have been presented in the pages of the General over the years), and, except for the possible use of leader counters, no optional rules are included with the Standard game. However, WATERLOO rules for most Tournament matches have been slightly modified in the interest of play-balance. In tournament competition, the rules now add one daylight game turn per day, and restrict the game length to 28 game turns (four days). In addition, the French player — prior to the beginning of play — may stipulate the use of a ten-sided die with associated combat results table, instead of the regular six-sided die and standard CRT. Like most of the Avalon Hill “classics,” the rules to WATERLOO can be learned in a few minutes whether playing the Standard or the Tournament version, but mastery of this old “warhorse” only comes with study and a lot of practice.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Players today almost unanimously dismiss WATERLOO as being a poor simulation (which is certainly true) and as being unbalanced (which it is not). I admit that I have played simulations that were much bigger and with far more detail and historical accuracy than WATERLOO, but I have almost never encountered expert play in any of these other games. That is this classic game's greatest appeal: a lot of us have been battling over the simple WATERLOO map of the Belgian countryside for a very long time. In fact, of all the games in my collection, I have probably played this title and AFRIKA KORPS more than any of the others. More importantly, even after all these years and despite its many flaws, it is still one of my all-time favorite games.
- Time Scale: 2 hours per game turn
- Map Scale: 800 meters per hex (estimated)
- Unit Size: division/brigade
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, artillery, and leader units
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average
- Solitaire Suitability: above average
- Average Playing Time: 3-5 + hours
- One 22” x 28” hard-backed hexagonal grid Map Board
- 169 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 8” x 10” Rules Booklet
- One 5½” x 8½” back-printed Situation/Order of Appearance Chart
- One 6” x 9” back-printed Turn Record Chart/Order of Battle Chart
- One 7½” x 10” Combat Results Table
- One six-sided Die
- One 5½” x 8½” Avalon Hill Catalog and Order Form
- One 5½” x 6½” Customer Response Card
- One 11¼” x 14½” x 1¾” flat cardboard Game Box
See my blog post Book Reviews of these titles, which are strongly recommended for those readers interested in further historical background.
For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme: