Quatre Bras next version ready for more play testing

I’ve been working for some time now on the Quatre Bras game based on Martin Wallace’s Waterloo system.  This is the first step in making the Waterloo system into a generic Napoleonic one with the object of making more battles available without having to design separate systems and components for every game.

There have been several challenges with this mini-project.  The main one has been that Quatre Bras was an encounter battle, not a large-scale set piece like Waterloo. Both armies were coming off line of march straight into the fight, and on the Allied side were to an extent thrown into the action wherever the worst threat appeared to be.  So, many of the troops arrive as reinforcements and relatively few are set up on the board initially.

The ratio of forces between the sides was subject to change as reinforcements appeared.  This is modelled by limiting the action discs and damage cubes appropriately, while not permitting one side to run down the clock so fast that the enemy is prevented from taking actions.  Removing both the ‘5’ action discs helps to sort out this problem, and it’s justified by the small size of the forces compared to the Waterloo game – only about a third of each army took part.

The second potential problem was one of ‘figure scale’, a term I hesitate to use, as this is not a miniatures or figure game.  Martin was careful in the Waterloo game not to state a number of men or a type of military unit represented by each piece.  The units in the game are merely a representational feel for the strength of the armies.  The advantage of this approach is that, within limits, the game system can be scaled to suit different battles.  So Quatre Bras can use less actual pieces but proportionately more pieces than Waterloo.  For example it uses 11 French infantry, compared to 17 in the larger game.

Quatre Bras was a see-saw affair that only stabilised once the Allies had received several doses of reinforcements.  So there is a danger that the French might overrun the Allies, resulting in a relatively short game. On the other hand the French suffered from some handicaps, primarily undue caution on the part of several generals who had fought against Wellington in the Peninsula, and the often overlooked fact that Marshal Ney had only joined the army the night before, so was unfamiliar with its contents, its staff, some of its commanders and more importantly, exactly where all its components actually were.  For this game, I’ve introduced a special rule for the first turn to reflect the French wariness, such that French morale suffers a handicap in the first two assaults.  This feature is designed to limit in a realistic fashion the possibilities that the French had to overrun the Allied forces quickly.  For French players, such a tactic is still possible, but does not guarantee victory.

Most of the other rules are the same as in the original game.  However, the extensive fighting in the wood of Bossu during the battle causes a further difficulty.  The French pushed the Dutch very hard in the woods, but were unable to clear it, despite committing veteran light infantry to the fight.  The battle of Waterloo was not much influenced by woods, so the original game system doesn’t make woods particularly hard to take – both sides suffer a one right column shift for morale and there’s no firing benefit to the defender.  I’ve changed this so that infantry suffer a -1 modifier when firing at infantry in defensive formation in woods.  This type of woods represents open woodland, which often has paths and clearings, but also lots of useful cover for a defender, so this defensive bonus seems appropriate.

Finally, victory conditions in an encounter battle are usually rather different from a set-piece, being dependent both on taking positions and often more pertinently on the relationship between this battle and a decisive set-piece later in the campaign.  For Quatre Bras each side has two levels of victory, tactical or strategic, dependent on places they take, and for the French, exiting pieces from the board.  A French strategic victory represents aid from Ney’s force to Napoleon’s main army fighting the Prussians at Ligny, giving an opportunity for a decisive victory against the Prussians.

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