|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 -
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.