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Game: Napoleon: Waterloo Campaign, 1815 (Columbia Games)
Submitted By: Robert Waters
For those of you not familiar with the 1815 Waterloo campaign, here's a quick history.
In 1814, after years of waging war across Europe, French general Napoleon is forced to abdicate, and is sent into exile to the small island of Elba. The little general hangs around there for awhile, but grows restless, and finally escapes. So, with the personal protection of a small portion of his heralded "Imperial Guard," Napoleon moves across France, gathering men as he goes, and finally reaches Paris where he quickly puts himself back into power. Of course, his enemies (who should have killed him or thrown him into jail when they had the chance) are not happy about this sudden change in the political landscape, and so declare war on France to show their sharp defiance. But Napoleon is no less determined to recapture his glory days at the head of one of the most powerful armies in the history of warfare. So, on the morning of June 15, 1815, he begins moving his massive army across the Sambre River and into Belgium, where he hopes to drive a wedge between the combined forces of Britain (under Wellington) and Prussia (under Blucher). The first few days of the campaign go fairly well for the French, as they blow away lightly defended Prussian defenses. But on the morning of June 18, 1815, along the rolling fields near a small town called Waterloo, the British stand firm.
For hours, the two great armies throw everything they have at each other. Charge, counter-charge, rally, retreat, until the fields swell with the dead. It seems as if the French will win. Where are the Prussians, where are the Prussians, Wellington wonders, as he sees his army disintegrate before him. But all is not lost, as word comes from the west late in the afternoon that the Prussians are beginning to arrive. So now Napoleon must shift a portion of his army to counter this new threat. And in one last attempt to break the British line, he orders forward his Imperial Guard, the "Immortals" as they are often called, the cream of the French crop, the terror of the battlefield. But even the Immortals cannot shift the tides of fate. By nightfall, the Grande Armee is defeated.
Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign 1815, by Columbia Games, depicts this military campaign in what I would call "light" wargame fashion. Designed for 2-3 players, Napoleon is your typical Columbia block game: nice wooden blocks (depicting division-level army units), and attractive map covering Northern France and Belgium. One player commands the French army, and one (or two) players command the Allied forces of Britain and Prussia.
The game is divided between alternating turns, first the French and then the Allies, on and on until one side or the other achieves victory, or until the evening of June 20th, 1815 (but it's unlikely that the game will go the distance; in my experience, one side or the other usually wins by June 19). Army movement on the map is from point-to-point (i.e., from one town to the next) across major and minor road systems. The object of play is basically the same for both sides: destroy the enemy army, with the Allied forces winning by default if the French cannot achieve victory by end of regulation. The Allies can also win by eliminating Napoleon at any time during play. This is a game of attrition, and combat is brutal.
Opposing armies coming into contact with each other move their forces to a small "tactical" map, which is divided into center, right and left flanks. Players set up their units opposite one another and then reveal strengths.
And, in typical Columbia Games fashion, as units take damage, strength values are reduced by flipping the top of each block counter-clockwise until the unit is destroyed. A pretty simple and straight forward system, but one that I feel depicts Napoleonic combat pretty well. Musket fire exchanges in Napoleonic warfare were short and savage, and nearly every battle was fought to a clear and concise conclusion, where one s