On the table, Quatre Bras 1815, one of the Eagles series games designed by Walter Vejdovsky and published by Hexasim. Turns are 1 hour, hexes are about 200m, and units are regiment sized with each strength point representing 100 combatants. This is the famous encounter between Ney and Wellington on the road to Waterloo, when the no show by the French forces of D’Erlon materially contributed to the French not winning the battle.
Of the available games, this is the smallest and most accessible. Hardcore gamers, however, will forego the game on its own and instead join it to Ligny (same designer, publisher, and system) to give a truly meaty gaming challenge. That’s beyond me for now, but I would like to try it one day.
Meantime, this battle is a nice entertainment on its own. The French forces only win a decisive victory by killing Wellington or wiping out 40 Allied units – a big stretch. They can win a tactical victory – and probably should do – by capturing key objectives and massing forces on the eastern flank of Quatre Bras. Of course, actually capturing Quatre Bras would be a major blow to the Allies. The battle is a bit of a race against time for the French because the game has a random game turn system that can mean troops do not always get to do what you want them to do when you want them to do it.
David Hughes did a review of the system as used for Waterloo in Battles magazine and wrote a later article (on Ligny, I think) where he expressed some concern that the combat system was too hot – in other words, too many dead bodies. While I have not given the system the same in depth analysis that David did, my gut instinct is that this is correct. In particular, infantry and artillery fire can be deadly – too much I fear. Therefore, I’ve been playing with a simple house rule that seems – emphasis is on seems – to generate more credible casualty figures overall. The house rule limits infantry fire to two cases: (a) defensive fire by a unit or stack being attacked in close combat; and (b) opportunity fire as provided for in the rules. In essence, if you want to take a position, you must take it in close combat and not by marathon firefights (which did not happen). No more offensive fire by infantry. Artillery is still lethal, but on balance based on some crude experimentation, I felt that weakening it would be too much.
One of the really attractive parts of the system is that it has a command and control orders part which is easy to use and adds real depth to the play. But there is one effect I don’t like and the other house rule tries to fix that. Artillery firing on an infantry unit in the clear receives a favorable die roll modifier if the infantry unit has a Defend order. I assume this is intended to reflect the greater vulnerability of infantry in squares as a protection against enemy cavalry. But what if there are no cavalry about? Therefore, my house rule disallows the favorable DRM unless the target infantry unit can see enemy cavalry within four hexes. That has two advantages: first it does more to create the scissors-rock-paper effect of actual Napoleonic combined arms attacks, and second, it makes the Defend order less of a liability.
It’s been fun going back to Quatre Bras and the experience has whetted my appetite for one of the bigger games using the system.