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PEVANS PLAYS COMMAND AND COLORS: NAPOLEONICS

WINNING AT WATERLOO – A BATTLE OF TWO HALVES

 

The fifteenth and final scenario in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics is the battle of Waterloo. Or at least the early part of it (11 am – 3 pm), well before the arrival of the Prussians. In this scenario, the brown blocks represent Dutch-Belgian troops rather than Portuguese. A lot of the different types of unit are used, including the French Old Guard and Young Guard infantry and Cuirassier cavalry and the British rifles and Grenadier Guards.

The battlefield has the Allied troops set up on and behind a line of hills across the board a third of the way in. A few units are in advance of this line, halfway across the board, holding the buildings of Hougoumont on the British right flank, La Haye Sainte, just right of centre, and Papelotte on the left edge. There is a gap in the hills just to the right of La Haye Sainte. The three building hexes are objectives for the French (worth a victory banner when held by a French unit).

The French forces are almost all in the two rows of hexes along their edge of the board behind the hills in their centre. A few advanced units sit on the hills. The French flanks are on more open ground, broken up with a few woods between them and the Allies. In particular, there’s a column of woods in front of Hougoumont, channelling any advance down the (French) left edge of the board. The valley between the two lines of hills is too wide for musket fire, but narrow enough for artillery duels.

Both players have six Command cards, which is a large hand, and need eight banners for victory. I took the British initially, determined to play defensively and let the French come to me. My regular opponent, John Mitchell, played the French and began by manoeuvring his forces on the flanks, gradually moving forward. I responded by using my foot artillery on the hills to pound the one French line infantry unit exposed on the other hills. This proved far more successful than I expected, destroying the infantry and killing the leader (d’Erlon) with them.

I haven’t mentioned leaders much in my review, as I don’t think they have much effect. They do allow an attached unit to ignore a flag (retreat) when attacked, but this is pretty marginal. However, losing a leader is painful. Any time the unit they’re with takes casualties, you also roll dice to kill the leader. It’s a 1/36 chance – or 1/6 when a unit is destroyed. The odds are low that a leader will be killed, but the opposition gets a victory banner if this happens – essentially pure chance. In this case, the difference was between getting one banner out of the 8 required, which is neither here nor there, and 2 out of 8, which is significant.

The first French attack was down their left flank towards Hougoumont. Light infantry worked their way through the woods with support from horse artillery. The outnumbered light infantry in Hougoumont was quickly forced out and the French light infantry took it (and gained a banner). However, this put them right under the British guns on the hills behind and in range of the Dutch-Belgian line infantry alongside the artillery. It didn’t take long to push them back out of Hougoumont.

On the opposite flank, there was some skirmishing between the Dutch-Belgian light infantry in Papelotte and advancing French line infantry. The French were halted when Dutch-Belgian line infantry and light cavalry moved up in support.

Meanwhile, the French infantry was massing for an attack in the left-centre, aiming for the gap in the hills between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. Line infantry advanced, supported by the Old Guard and covered by the artillery on the end of the hills. Allied line infantry met them, backed up by the Grenadier Guards. The British tried to use their superior musketry, but the French charged home to take advantage of their better melee strength. (This picture above shows the end of the first game [I’m British]. Note some Dutch-Belgians confronting French artillery top left; the remains of the Allied cavalry centre right where there’s no French cavalry left; the infantry with the marker on is in square.)

The Old Guard punched a hole through the British line only to meet the Grenadier Guards. But then the Grenadier Guards weren’t there any more! (The effect of a lucky dice roll.) However, this was about the only French success as damaged Allied infantry units retired, leaving room for the British heavy and guard cavalry to charge through and trounce the French cavalry lurking behind. This sealed victory for the Allied forces by a surprisingly big margin, 8:2.

Swapping sides, it’s always surprising how different the battlefield looks from the opposite perspective. It’s clear that the French need several turns and the right cards to get their troops into a decent position to attack. As I started with several right flank cards, I pushed two line infantry units towards Papelotte with some light cavalry following them. Musket fire drove out the defending light infantry and the cavalry chased them back across the hills and finished them off (with some lucky dice rolls) while the French infantry occupied the buildings (to gain a banner).

Defending the British left flank, the Dutch-Belgian light cavalry took on its French counterpart and was defeated. But I’d left the French cavalry in front of the artillery again and they’re gone too. By now my hand had a couple of decent centre cards and some tactics cards that let me order several units. So I used these to mount a proper attack in the centre, marching line infantry over the hills and slanting left towards La Haye Sainte. The Old Guard followed to drive the attack home.

The French infantry attacked quickly (the very useful “Bayonet charge” card) to negate the British advantage with musketry. This worked well, with the line infantry taking La Haye Sainte and pushing back the dangerous British rifles without the Old Guard getting involved. It did leave them a bit exposed to the British guns, though.

I now had several left flank cards and used these to shift the French attack further left, into the gap between La Haye Sainte and Hougoumont, and bring up the cavalry. The British counter-attacked with infantry, including the Grenadier Guards, who were again eliminated in short order. Both sides moved up cavalry units to try to blunt their opponent’s infantry by putting them into square. The cavalry fight that ensued was a Pyrrhic victory for the French horsemen over the opposing light cavalry. What was left retired rather than fall to the muskets. (The picture above shows the end of the second game with me playing the French. From the left: Dutch-Belgian infantry occupies Hougoumont but has French infantry behind; what’s left of the French cavalry hides in a wood (foreground) while infantry holds La Haye Sainte (mid); there’s a large hole in the French centre; on the right, French and Dutch-Belgian infantry face off with Papelotte in between.)

On the French right, the British attacked towards Papelotte (John had left flank cards, but had run out of right flank ones), only to be beaten off by the French infantry. Continuing to attack on their left, the French infantry pushed the British guns off the hills behind Hougoumont. This gave them freedom to manoeuvre and mop up what was left of the British right flank before attacking Hougoumont from the rear. Though Hougoumont was still in British hands as the game ended with a French victory, 8:6. (The final picture shows a close-up of the left end of the larger photo above. From the left: Dutch-Belgian infantry occupies Hougoumont with French infantry behind and horse artillery [plus leader] the other side of the woods; what’s left of the French cavalry hides in a wood (foreground) while infantry [plus leader] holds La Haye Sainte [mid]; and damaged British units are at the back, along with the artillery [leftmost unit] that was forced off the hills.)

An uncharacteristic double victory for me, but evidence that this scenario can certainly be won by either side. Now try it for yourself! – – – Pevans


 

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