HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDOn the southern side of the field, the regiments of the Armée du Nord marched past their recently-returned emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Astride his Arabian stallion Marengo, the aging and now ailing Napoleon reviewed and acknowledged the cheering ranks of marching French troops as if they were passing by on parade. Across the still muddy field that stretched between the two hosts, Wellington rode onto a low ridge and, having already personally seen to the initial disposition of his men, dismounted from his horse and reclined in the shade of a tree. Once both armies had formed for battle, relative quiet again settled over the mud and beaten-down grass that would soon be the stage for the coming martial drama.
Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, inspires his troops at Waterloo.
Initially, despite the flurry of preparation on both sides, nothing much happened. The morning sun climbed higher in the sky, and the soldiers of the two armies: 67,000 men under the Duke of Wellington; and 72,000 commanded by Napoleon; all stood in bright, multi-colored ranks facing each other across a shallow valley matted with rain-soaked grass. Movement and even time, itself, seemed to come to a stop; in spite of all of the early morning’s bustle and hurried activity: no one on either side of the valley, except for quartermasters and dispatch riders, stirred from their serried ranks. Hours passed. Both splendidly uniformed hosts stood silently, fixed in place, like insects in amber. Then, abruptly and without warning, the stillness was broken. The soldiers in the ranks of both armies were suddenly startled by the first sounds of canon fire coming from somewhere on the French left. The Battle of Waterloo had begun at last with a French bombardment of the Anglo-Allied outpost that occupied the château of Hougoumont. No one then, or now, can be sure of the exact time of these first canon shots, but the cannonade probably began around 11:30 am. Whenever it was, the French artillery had sounded the overture for the bloody drama to come. The unnatural quiet of the morning had finally ended for the men warily watching each other across a sodden expanse of ryegrass. This tiny corner of Belgium had become a battlefield, and the morning’s unexpected quiet would now — on a patch of muddy ground no more than two miles wide and two-thirds of a mile across — give way to the noisy, cruel, and violent business of war.
NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO is, as the title implies, a two-player simulation of, quite probably, the most famous single military engagement in history. At Waterloo, the two greatest generals of their age, Napoleon and Wellington, faced each other across a battlefield in Belgium for the first and only time in their long military careers. On the fateful morning of June 18th, 1815, the out-numbered Wellington had decided to offer battle to the French army confident that, unbeknownst to Napoleon, the Prussian army, under Marshal Blucher, planned to march to the Iron Duke’s aid. Thus, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO is a race to see if Napoleon’s troops can break the poly-glot Anglo-Allied army before the Prussians arrive to turn the tide of the battle against the French. The game is played in game turns, each of which is composed of a French followed by Prussian Anglo-Allied (P.A.A.) player turn. Each player turn follows the same sequence, and is divided into two simple phases: the Movement Phase; and the Combat Phase.
NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO presents beginning players with game mechanics that are both simple and intuitively logical. To keep things uncomplicated, stacking is prohibited and terrain effects are minimal. In addition, because of the limited time-scale of the game, there are no supply rules. Zones of Control (ZOCs) are both 'rigid' and 'sticky'. This means that units must stop upone entering an enemy ZOC and may not exit such a ZOC except as a result of combat. In addition, combat between adjacent units is mandatory and is resolved using a traditional 'Odds Differential' Combat Results Table (CRT). Interestingly, although it is an introductory game, NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO does expose players to a number of useful game concepts; these basic concepts include: “locking” Zones of Control, Ranged Artillery, and the importance of Morale. And, while the consensus among experienced players is that the French have a marked advantage, it is still a surprisingly enjoyable game to play for both the French and the P.A.A. players. Player victory depends on the elimination of enemy units. The goal of each side is to inflict sufficient casualties on the other to cause the Demoralization of the enemy army. Each game turn represents one hour of real time, and a complete game is ten turns long.
NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO offers players only the Historical Scenario, and there are no optional rules. However, based on this introductory title’s wide-spread, if unexpected popularity, Dunnigan decided to revisit and upgrade his original design. The result of this second look, by the game’s original designer, was the Advanced NAW EXPANSION KIT. This expansion, which included new, more-detailed rules (stacking was permitted and artillery attacks were resolved separately) and an expanded number of new (brigade-strength) replacement counters, was intended to meet the demands of those players who already owned the basic game, but who wanted to add increased tactical complexity and realism to the original simulation.
A PERSONAL OBSERVATION
Every once in awhile, I still dig out and set-up my old, much-worn, brown on tan copy of NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO, and whenever I do, I still feel a momentary rush of nostalgia for the early days of wargaming. This was not my first wargame, but it was the first of Dunnigan’s designs that I actually liked. I suspect that in this regard, I am probably not alone. It is also one of the best 'introductory' conflict simulations ever published, and it still holds up as an enjoyable “beer and pretzels” game, even today. But over and above all that, this simple little game also turned out, quite unexpectedly, to be a ground-breaking design. Ironically, the basic game system first introduced in NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO has proven, over time, to be one of the most popular and durable game platforms ever devised. Clean, simple, and eminently playable, the NAW Game System became the standard design architecture for most of SPI’s subsequent Napoleonic games, many of its Civil War games, and even a few titles that dealt with more modern combat situations. Thus, this game system appears in a broad array of later SPI titles such as BORODINO, AUSTERLITZ, the NAPOLEON AT WAR Quadrigame, the NAPOLEON’S LAST BATTLES Quadrigame, the BLUE & GRAY I and II Quadrigames, ROAD TO RICHMOND, 6th FLEET, and BATTLE FOR GERMANY, just to name a few.
- Time Scale: one hour per game turn
- Map Scale: unstated
- Unit Size: brigade/division
- Unit Types: infantry, cavalry, and artillery
- Number of Players: two
- Complexity: below average
- Solitaire Suitability: high
- Average Playing Time: 1-2 hours
- One 17” x 23” hexagonal grid Map Sheet (with Turn Record/Reinforcement Track, Terrain Effects Chart, Combat Results Table, Demoralization Track, and Starting Set Up Locations incorporated)
- 80 ½” cardboard Counters
- One 6” x 11½” map-fold Rules Booklet
- One 8½” x 11” back-printed SPI Introductory Letter with examples of play
Recommended ReadingSee my blog post Book Reviews of Waterloo, Day of Battle, and The Campaigns of Napoleon and Face of Battle; books that I recommend as highly-readable sources for those visitors who are interested in further historical background.
For decorating the game room with a Napoleonic theme: