Time Out at Waterloo: a W1815 session report

W1815 – the components (plus dice shaker and tray!)

As a way of relaxing from game design, I decided to play my newly acquired W1815, using Jim McNaughton’s solo rules, 7th Coalition Bot for Solo Games. In this version, the solo player is Napoleon and all the allied turns are handled by the bot.

  • For the events in the game I’ll use this notation: Action followed by dice roll with any mods followed by effects.

The set-up

Napoleon (me!) believes there’s only a few thousand weak Anglo-allied troops in front of us, so we shall sweep them away with no trouble!

I decide on the conventional artillery bombardment to soften up the enemy line. It’s how the master started the battle, so who am I to argue? With no French infantry or cavalry attacking, Wellington’s lads will just have to take it – the allies actions are to put Prussians on the field.

  • Grand Battery 3 1AM
  • Blücher 3 1PD
  • Grand Battery 4 1AM
  • Blücher 1+1 1NE
  • Grand Battery 4 1AM
  • Blücher 3+1 1PD
  • Grand Battery 5 1AC
  • Blücher 3+2 1PD

It seems the ground has dried out pretty well, as the Grand Battery does better than average. Over 4 turns allied morale is down from 10 to 7, and Orange’s Corps has taken a loss. I guess Perponcher’s Dutch-Belgians took a bit of a pasting at Quatre Bras and couldn’t take any more. The Prussians have marched 3 divisions onto the battlefield over this time, so there is a threat to Plancenoit, but we should see off this ragtag army before they can interfere. Besides, Grouchy will surely be along shortly.

I figure it is now time to force Hill’s corps into square and then exploit Kellerman’s cuirassier counter-attack (+1 to the roll) when Hill inevitably re-deploys into line…

  • Kellerman 6 Ney

…but Ney has misinterpreted the order and launched all the cavalry! This is a tad premature even for le brave des braves! C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre.

I didn’t mean ALL the cavalry!

  • Blücher 4+3 1FM 1PD

The Prussians are getting pesky, but I cannot react while the French cavalry are doing their stuff.

  • KL-NEY 4 1AM 1FC
  • Blücher 6+4 plancenoit captured

That fellow Blücher is a thorn in the side. Plancenoit has fallen, and still the cuirassier ride at the British squares.

Plancenoit has fallen!

  • KL-NEY 4-1 1AM 1FM 1FC 1FM (Kellerman’s Corps gone)

Kellerman’s cavalry corps lost

  • Blücher 5+4 1FC 1FM

Kellerman’s corps is used up and French morale is down to 6. The only plus is that our casualties are relatively low.

  • KL-NEY 4-2 1AM rally

Mon Dieu, the cavalry has rallied and there’s still some left! Also, the allied line looks shaken. Hill has to reform his line, but we have none of Kellerman’s cavalry to exploit. Time for d’Erlon to redeem himself from his abject failure to engage at Ligny!

The cavalry rallies!

  • Hill forms line
  • D’Erlon 5 2AC 1FC

A very rash cavalry charge!

  • Uxbridge 1 2AC 1FC
  • Rout test FR 1 BR 1 All OK

C’est bon! 1st Corps has delivered a splendid attack, and together with our artillery we have crushed the impetuous British Guard cavalry. Both armies look fragile, but as we go into the afternoon, the French have more esprit.


The major problem is the Prussians in Plancenoit. Should I deal with that threat first? I think not. It is time to risk all and trust my veteran Guards! I shall lead them myself! We’ll hit the Prince of Orange’s Corps, right where the artillery and d’Erlon’s attack fell earlier. It’s about 3 o’clock, and it could all be over by 4.

  • Napoleon: Guard v Orange 2 or 4; take the 4; 1AC 1AM 1FM

Les Grognards!

  • Rout test BR 3+1=4 > allied morale 3 so FR win.

The Old Guard went through the left of Orange’s Corps like a knife through butter. Despite the enemy’s unexpected remaining numbers, their morale collapsed, and we are victorious. On to Brussels!

Pursuit: 41 for the French. 9 for the Allies.

What can we learn from this?

The model portrays the fine balance of the battle. Either side could have collapsed during the British cavalry charge. And the final rout test could have gone either way reflecting the actual and potential performance of the French Guard. I would have preferred a 2AC result there, because that would have portrayed more clearly a collapse of the Anglo-allied I Corps by removing its last division.

The broad plan of this play of the battle follows what I see as Napoleon’s tactics against an army whose size and quality he underestimated. Reille’s Corps was to pin the allied right and attempt to take Hougoumont. Meanwhile, the massed artillery were to demoralise the allied centre and then d’Erlon’s I Corps (best in size and quality except for the Guard) supported with cavalry would attack and rout the remainder, forcing them from the field and enabling a strong pursuit to Brussels and beyond. Lobau and the Guard stay in reserve for the unexpected.

When the Prussians start to appear, the plan cannot fundamentally change, because Napoleon needs a victory. Therefore, I threw in the Guard, but noticeably earlier than the historical battle, which worked for 3 reasons: (i) the French cavalry had caused more loss of allied morale than historically, and (ii) didn’t spend all the cavalry, and (iii) d’Erlon’s attack was much more effective than the real one.

The solo mode makes it easier than a human opponent. Wellington is not so flexible! No reserves were used. These are critical parts of the allied battle management.

I like the “Ney’s cavalry charge” mechanism. It means you cannot calculate everything, and reflects the command and communications problem of the real thing. Knowing the historical outcome, no player would choose to do it, but here you may have to.

The cards show the potential variability of outcome in specific tactical options. I think they can form a good starting point for discussions about the reality of tactical options and their results. For example, Uxbridge’s counter-attack automatically doubles the adverse effects on d’Erlon, but can vary between destruction of the British cavalry or destruction of the whole Grand Battery.

I think the game can help to address the question: did Napoleon underestimate the size of the Anglo-allied army? His deployment and plan give the French a very good chance of a major victory against a significantly smaller army, even with a Prussian threat. The plan, which includes a long wait for the ground to dry out, and quite a long time for the artillery to pound away, is very risky against a large army and a skilled opponent. Especially when it becomes clear early in the battle that Grouchy is in the wrong place.

Back to game design tomorrow!

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