Saturday, 15 July 2017

Waterloo - Quelle Affaire!

WATERLOO - Quelle Affaire! is Published by River Horse and designed by Alessio Cavatore.


Covering 18th June 1815 - The Battle of Waterloo, the French are in their opening positions to  attack the Anglo-Allied forces under Wellington, with both players keeping a nervous eye to the east for the arrival of the Prussian army.






The following post describes some of the game mechanics and the flow of play, with AAR notes rounding out the article.


Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

Produced as a fun playable game to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the battle, the game is presently available from some sources at a marked down price, offering good value when one considers the production values and playability of the set (i.e. It will get onto the table).


Presented in a square 12” x 12” box with vibrant cover artwork, Waterloo - Quelle Affaire! has a 22” x 22” mounted board, large counters, 16 page rulebook (in A5 booklet format) and 41 playing Cards. There are two A4 card displays to guide the set-up and for players to manage their Orders of Battle, but those with limited space could actually dispense with them.


The playing cards do not make solitaire play impossible, rather the cards restrict the formations available for activation at any one moment in time, which in some respects can help the solitaire player, but overall, this is solidly a two player game.


Considering the size of the large counters (about an inch square), the font used for the combat values and Corps designation could really have done with being larger and those with older eyes will see this space as something of a wasted opportunity - though the artwork on the counters is nice.


The rulebook is two column and well illustrated, so rule density is actually lower than the 16 pages suggests.


The gameboard is hexed and the hexes are bigger than the counters, so managing units (no stacking) is easy. The tones used on the map are pleasant. The various buildings and woods that define this battlefield are present, as is the ridge upon which Wellingtons forces begin play. Fortified hexes, built up areas and woods are listed as defensible terrain. The ridge is only defensible if only being attacked by artillery - an interesting touch.







The players each have two small decks of cards. The first being the Command Deck. From here players will draw up to three cards to their hand and this will determine which commanders are available to activate. The second stack contains Stratagem cards, which I suppose are best thought of as event cards. Each turn, one of those Stratagem cards is taken and shuffled into the Command Deck. Once the Stratagem cards are played, they go out of the game, so they provide one-off events that bring in some historical chrome.


Players each have a hand of three cards. they are concealed from the opponent. For the most part, they show the formations that can be activated and they bring both chaos and opportunity to the game. So for example, as the Anglo-Allied player, you might want to be be using your Reserve Cavalry, but at the moment that card is not one of the three cards in. your hand. It remains somewhere in the draw pile, so you will have to manage without them for now!


In addition to the available commanders, the draw pile will have a ‘local attack’ card, a stratagem card and the army commander card. The local attack card allows one enemy unit to be attacked. The army commander can  activate any unit he is with and adjacent to - regardless of what formation they belong to and this can be very useful.


The importance of the local attack card is significant due to the limitations of attack in this game (explained  below). Play is very interactive, a player does one thing and then the other player does one thing and so it goes on until both players have ended the turn. During these Rounds (impulses by any other name) you can play a card or draw to a full hand of three or play the General Attack chit or end your own turn - you cannot just pass!


(Note for solitaire play, I would suggest that when you draw cards, don’t look at them until you are playing that players next impulse. It at least adds some fog of war to play).





The General Attack chit is one of the interesting aspects of the design. Basically as you activate formations you are just moving them, not attacking with them. Once per turn you can do battle by playing your General Attack chit, which is freshly available to you from the start of each turn. At that point you can battle with everything that is adjacent to an enemy and call on artillery for support (as can the defender). One of the skills of the game is calling your battle round at the most advantageous point, trying to get enough force into position without your opponent pre-empting you by playing their own General Attack chit first. 


Against this background, you will see the value of the ‘Local Attack’ card in the Commanders Deck as it provides the only other attack opportunity and it is especially useful for making spoiling attacks or attacking when the rest of your army is not ready to launch the main attack.


Battles are fought by opposed dice rolls. Both sides roll a number of D6 equal to their combat values. 5’ and 6’s hit. Only 6 hits when the target is in defensible terrain and 4’s, 5’s and 6’s will hit if making a combined arms attack.


At the conclusion of rolling, the hits scored are compared. A draw is no result, but the side that loses by 1, 2 or 3 hits suffers ‘Damage OR Retreat’, ‘Damage AND Retreat’ or ‘Destroyed’ results respectively. 


Ganging up is therefore encouraged, especially as there isn’t the sort of rule in this system that says you can’t join another attack if you are already engaged to your own front etc and some gamers may not like that aspect, but it works and plays directly into the importance of the playing of the General Attack chit.


When a named commander card is played, the appropriate commander (which is normally kept off the board) is placed in a hex of the players choice and he can activate any unit with him and adjacent to him that is part of HIS CORPS. At the start of play, this is important because both sides have some scattered formations and the players will need to do a bit of jigging about to get more effective activations in later play - this rule should encourage players keep their corps together - good.


Until the Prussians arrive, the Anglo-Allies have fewer commanders than the French, so will burn through their turn faster. The French need to get a move on and take advantage of this. Errata note, the Prussian potential arrival time on the board turn track showing turn 5, is correct, the rules wrongly have it as turn 4.


Victory - When a unit is destroyed, the other player scores Victory Points equal to the unit’s combat value. For the French to win, they must gain 30 victory points before the Prussians arrive. Once the Prussians arrive, this goes up to 50. So there is a huge incentive for the French to just get on with it. If at the end of any turn the Anglo-Allies / Prussians score 45 points, then they win. There are no draws in the game, if both achieve their conditions in the same turn, the French lose!





The back of the box says that games can be played in 60 minutes plus …… that has never matched my play experiences. This is a 10 turn game with an optional 11th turn. At turn 5 you start rolling for Prussian reinforcements, needing a 5 - 6 to bring them on. By turns 4 - 5 the situation will likely be quite critical for the Anglo-Allies. They will either lose at this point, or if they can get the Prussians on the board, then suddenly the French objectives become much harder and play will continue - what does this mean for playing time. Well, we find that it takes around two and a half hours to the get to the turn 5 - 6 situation and if the Prussians get on the board, the game essentially extends by enough time to justify another game session.


In one of our previous playings, we got to this halfway point, we recorded the positions and got another pleasant game session from continuing the game the following week.


The question of Prussian arrival is a frustrating experience for the Anglo Allied player. They might not arrive in time to save you and if they do arrive, their lead elements may arrive too far away (random arrival points) to help. But the tension that this brings to the game is a better reflection of the real life anxieties of the commanders, than it would be to ensure their arrival and involvement. There is of course a historical arrival time-table that can be used as an alternative rule, but I prefer the tension of the random aspect better.  


Last week we played face-to-face and the French won before the Prussians made it onto the battlefield. The Anglo-Allies could in part lay some blame on their repeated bad dice rolling. In any case, this is a game that has plenty of replayability in it.


This week in the opening couple of turns, the French went for a very dynamic and aggressive strategy, playing Napoleon as their first action. He can activate units of mixed corps, so the lead elements were quickly on top of Wellington’s lines - but of course this did not help the French untangle their formations by more careful preparations and they later had less activation efficiency due to their units still being largely ungrouped.


It was clear looking from Wellington’s position that the French were pinning the centre, while making a strong attack on the Anglo-Allied left towards Papelotte. The Anglo-Allied right had some strong formations around Hougoumont and Wellington was mindful not to hold onto that farm for its own sake while his left got destroyed.


In the below photograph, you can see that as the French use their General Attack counter, they have a combined arms attack against a cavalry unit, which is overwhelmed and removed from play. The counters have been orientated to show their attacks and the technique of ‘ganging up’ is demonstrated as the French cavalry are allowed to ignore other adjacent enemy units, both attackers are from 6th Corps. Had artillery been present, they would been able to get a combat bonus for combined arms.





In the below photograph, we can see that in their aggressive drive, the French have pushed too deeply with a mix of units headed by Guard Cavalry - they have stuck their necks out too far and the Guard Cavalry are removed from play by a successful Anglo-Allied attack, again by using the ganging up process. Whenever the first Guard unit suffers adversity, all French units must individually take a test, those that fail get flipped to their reduced side. The French took 5 such step reductions. Note, the attackers are divisional elements from three different corps and this is one of the elements I am not keen on - there is corps integrity for activation to move, but none for combat, allowing a fairly high level of co-ordination between different corps.




By the end of turn 2, the Anglo-Allies had accumulated 13 VP’s and the French had 12.


At the start of turn 3, the French won the initiative and were in such good positions that they played their General Attack counter as their first action, so they could fight before the Anglo-Allies got a chance to disengage . This was a very successful French turn, which resulted in Wellington being pushed back to a line from Mont St. Jean to Hougoumont.


By the end of turn 4, the Anglo-Allies had 27 VP’s, the French 22 VP’s. Mont St. Jean was surrounded and Wellington was grimly holding on, fortunately he still had three strong formations from I and II Corps on his right that were fresh and perhaps able to interfere with the French attacks.


Turn - 5, the roll for the first Prussian reinforcement failed and the French, who were getting weaker, made an all-out attacks to clinch the game in this turn. In the first attack, the Old Guard removed Brunswick from play (for 4 VP’s), bringing them close to victory. With three attacks remaining to work through, it would have taken some very bad die rolling for the Anglo-Allies to have survived this turn. Three more units fell and the French claimed victory. (Note the Anglo-Allies had achieved 32 VP’s, they needed 45 to win, but 32 is a fair reflection of how battered the French army was and they would have had much to worry about had the Prussians arrived).


Conclusion - This is a light wargame that is heavily themed rather than simulation based. As a game it is very good. It has been well crafted, is very playable and the rules are clean and tight. Because of the ganging up rule without a supplementary rule for ‘soak off’ attacks, players are often looking for situations that will deliver decisive results, perhaps knocking off the smaller units, which over the game leads to an attrition that starts to matter. Because of this and the victory objectives being casualty based, the game is essentially one of unit management. The absence of rules for things like cavalry retreat before combat or the effects of woods for cavalry and artillery are noted by this gamer, but not to the overall detriment of enjoyment of play. 


I like the idea that activations are by formation, it does create a discipline of keeping a corps together, but this principle is somewhat then undermined when combat is called, because it is adjacency rather than unit designation that is used to calculate an attack, so you could end up with one unit being attacked by units from three different corps and being supported by artillery from yet another corps. So despite some aspects of the game covering corps integrity, there is nothing to stop the player nipping and zipping into handy locations with different elements from different corps to make a well co-ordinated attack. So though Corps integrity is present in parts, it’s failure to be more over-arching can result in some gamey footwork.


The idea that activations only allow movement and that once per game turn, a player gets a local attack card and also has the general attack chit is a clever mechanic that brings something new to the table and keeps the game fresh. The opposed die rolls also seem to work rather well … though not if you are an unlucky general :-)


Overall, it's a nice game that is fun to play and quite engaging for both players, though a few gamey aspects can niggle.


Complexity - I would rate this as a low complexity game. The rules are a fairly fast read and we hardly referred to the rules at all or come across any ambiguous points, the rules seem tight.


Size - This game really only needs a 2’ x 2’ space for the board. More space will allow you to use the Order of Battle cards and have extra space for the card stacks. Nice big counters in big hexes makes handling a pleasure, though the font on the counter could have made better use of the available space. If the Prussians arrive, the game will last longer, so your availability of gaming space is a consideration.


Playing time - As per the comments above, this will either become a one or two session game, depending upon whether the Prussians arrive. Even though the set-up is fixed, there is a lot of replayability in the game and we have had wins from both sides. In our game last night, we played from 7.30 pm to 10 pm, which got us to the end of turn 5.


Solitaire value - This is a two player game (as stated on the rear of the box) that plays best as a two player game. This is mainly due to the use of cards. It can be played solitaire, but you have the awkwardness of managing two hands of cards. I know this is something that solitaire players often do, especially for games like Commands and Colors, so it can be done and think some gamers will be happy to do that, but for me, it just seems like more effort than I would want when there are alternatives better suited to solitaire play. If playing solitaire, don’t look at drawn cards until playing that side and that does at least preserve some of the fog of war that design has in mind. Trying to catch your enemy on the back-foot when launching the General Attack chit is also something that diminishes in solitaire play, but again is not of itself a significant obstacle to solo play. Overall, this can be played solitaire but cannot be described as a solitaire friendly game.


RESOURCE SECTION.

This is a link to my sister web site LINK 

http://commanders.simdif.com/


An interesting web site for information on napoleonic unit organisation and tactics.

http://www.napolun.com/mirror/napoleonistyka.atspace.com/


Please note - just a reminder that this blog is NOT a review site. It is simply my wargame space in which I cover games that I have had some enjoyment  with, so in most respects the site usually approaches articles with a bias of a positive view rather than offering true critical analysis. Everything commented upon in this blog has been purchased by me.




9 comments:

  1. Job well done on this review, Norm! Reviewing takes effort to convey the basics of a game and a taste for how to play it. You tackled both very well. What attracted you to this game? Was it the topic, the system, the small play area, or something else? As a "beer and pretzels" type complexity, how would it compare to C&C Napoleonics?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really like this game and we play it through in an evening at our club.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jonathan, I saw it at a wargame show on sale as a special, marked up at £20 down from £35. I do like to know what's inside a box and how something will play as I don't like things too light. However these boxes were sealed, so the game title and the box artwork did it for me ... the marketing people must love me :-)

    I think I probably prefer it to C&C because the cards only really limit you to which formations are available and so there is always something that can be done with those units that you had plans for anyway and units will generally only activate once per turn unless they come under the influence of the army commander and so the command chaos seems to be done in a more intuitive way. I also like the idea of the General attack chit.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Simon, on balance do you find the Prussians actually arrive in many of your games?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Prussians have not arrived in any of our games so far. We have played about five times. It's been balanced between Allied and French victories.
      We must play the alternate Prussian scenario at some point.

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. Mark, not as interesting as your blogged Chippewa tabletop :-)

      Delete
  6. Excellent review of one my favorite buys of the last couple of years!you can't beat this if you just want a simple effective game on waterloo!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks Keith, good to hear that someone who really appreciates the game feels that the blog post is fair comment.

    ReplyDelete