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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

Battleground: Waterloo

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by Talonsoft
Boy, was I waiting for this one. Waterloo has been one of my favorite battles since I first played Avalon Hill's classic Waterloo game as a kid, and since then I've gamed the battle in paper and lead (or pewter) more times than I'd care to count. The battle has everything a gamer wants, including famous commanders like Napoleon, Ney, Wellington, and Blucher and famous units like the Old Guard, Polish Lancers, Scots Greys, and 95th Rifles. It's also one of the great "what if" battles.What if it hadn't rained the day before, allowing Napoleon to launch his attack and defeat the British before the Prussians arrived to save the day? What if Hougomount had been taken? What if Ney's misbegotten though glorious cavalry charges had been properly supported with infantry? What if the final last-ditch attack by the Old Guard had not been sent into precisely the wrong place? So when I heard that Talonsoft (whose Battleground: Gettysburg knocked my socks off) was releasing a Waterloo game of their own, I couldn't wait to try it out. Unfortunately, the game - though beautiful, well-researched and a magnificent technical achievement - just isn't much fun.

Again, I have no qualms with Talonsoft's development. The game was a snap to install, never crashed or hung up, and played smoothly. These guys take their time and release quality stuff.

The Look: I loved the look of Battleground: Gettysburg, and was wondering if the Waterloo game would be as striking. It's better. The Battleview scales down even closer, so you really get the feel of playing a miniatures game - you can even see the kilts on the Highlanders and horsehair plumes on the Empress Dragoon's helmets. That's right, unlike Gettysburg, where all the Battleview units were generic Union blue or Confederate butternut, the units in Waterloo appear in their distinct uniforms. A large part of the allure of Napoleonic gaming is the period's color, and Battleground: Waterloo is nothing if not that. The Unit list boxes give great illustrations of the uniforms as well and if you're a miniatures gamer, they make a great painting guide.

Gameplay: The game does a good job of modeling the complexities of Napoleonic warfare, and you'll quickly learn to square up infantry when cavalry is about, that artillery will obliterate your columns, and that it is exceedingly difficult to move about the field in line formation. Be very careful to monitor your unit's fatigue and morale levels; if you don't your units will rout. This is contagious, and a few routing units can ruin your well-planned attack. The fortified chateaus that dot the field are very tough to take - which is as it should be - but the game manual could be clearer about the difficulties involved in attacking them.

So what's my beef with the game? Actually, I've got two. First, scaling your view in and out is still too awkward. Too often I found myself waiting while I shifted between views - a necessity if you want enjoy the gorgeous Battleview but also be aware of the larger picture. Frankly, I think Talonsoft should dump one of the 2D views they offer and implement the kind of smooth scaling mechanism used in games like Steel Panthers. My second objection is a philosophical one; one that other gamers may disagree with. Talonsoft decided to make this a battalion-level game. You'll find that this gives you a lot of units and a lot to do as overall commander; I think too much. Turns take a long time, and I found myself spending more of it fussing with sending out skirmishers and recovering routed battalions than with launching grand attacks. Some gamers enjoy this kind of detail, and they'll love it in this game. But I agree with wargame designers who feel that, in a grand tactical game such as this, the overall commander's job is not to attend to such details. Napoleon did not have to give his commanders orders to send out skirmishers - that was tactical doctrine.  This problem could have been overcome by modeling the game on a larger brigade and regiment level, or by allowing the computer to do these chores for the player. As the game stands, these chores are just cumbersome and make what should have been a dynamic and exciting game - well, boring.

Overall: I really wanted to like this game, and it does have a lot going for it. It's a landmark in wargame graphic design, it's a good simulation, and the gang at Talonsoft deserves much credit for research and development. If you enjoy games that require a lot of attention to detail and if you enjoy micro-managing your army, you'll love this game. However, if you just want an exciting and tense playing experience, you'll have to pick up Battleground: Gettysburg.

--Rick Fehrenbacher