Waterloo at the 2018 World Boardgaming Convention (WBC) experienced another excellent year at western Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs Resort. The GROGNARD venue changed from the Foggy Googles room of the Ski Lodge to the Festival Hall of the main Convention Center. The classic Grognard games, of which Waterloo is one, shared this large venue with the monster game participants. The hall was equipped with an array of large rectangular tables ideal for the face to face play characteristic of the two player classic wargames. Also present in the hall was the well-attended and excellently run Battles of the American Revolution (BOAR) tournament and its superb Game Master (GM), Mark Miklos. The lighting in the Festival Hall was a big improvement over the Foggy Googles room and there was always sufficient room and tables to accommodate play with no delay. This GM’s favorable opinion of the Seven Springs Resort has not changed, and its remarkably efficient and friendly staff were on display again this year. Once again, I strongly recommend that those who have not attended since Lancaster’s WBC to reconsider attending in the summer of 2019 as your gaming experience will be noteworthy in atmosphere, enjoyment, comradery, and execution.
This year’s tournament opened enthusiastically with eight players registered on the first Saturday and Sunday of the convention. However, by Tuesday night the list had only grown to nine which compelled this GM and other dedicated Waterloo players to advocate for the game. By Wednesday evening we had reached the “mandatory/magical” number of sixteen to ensure Waterloo’s presence next year. Also encouraging were several inquiries from former Waterloo players who had played the game in their youth and were surprised to see the game still being played competitively. Hopefully, these “lost souls” will see the light and return to next year’s convention where they can re-live some past glories and revisit the oldest classic wargame still in competitive play.
A final total of eighteen dedicated Grognards vied for the Waterloo Wood this year and unlike last year which saw a 55% to 45% victory percentage in favor of the French, the victory percentage this year was 56% to 44% with 13 Prussian & Anglo-Allied (PAA) victories versus 10 French victories. Of special note was the fact that the PAA player prevailed in both semi-final games and the championship game. Despite the above-mentioned results, no additional rule changes effecting play balance are under consideration for next year. While most of the very top Waterloo players continue to prefer the PAA side especially in the play-off rounds, more information and statistics regarding the bids need to be gathered before any other rule changes are considered. This year, the order of appearance chart was changed to reflect moving the appearance of Wissel’s brigade from 9AM, 16 June to 7AM, 18 June with the rest of Hanoverian Reserve Corps. This very minor change was discussed in last year’s event report and will be continued for future conventions. To summarize, the four Hanoverian infantry brigades commanded by Wissel, Bennigsen, Beaulieu, and Bodecken are part of the PAA order of battle with Wissel’s brigade arriving with the very first PAA reinforcements and the others arriving with the very last PAA reinforcements at 7AM, 18 June (GM note: History recounts that Brevet Colonel Friedrich von Wissel, who commanded the 3rd Line Battalion, 1st Brigade King’s German Legion during the battle of Waterloo, did assume command of one of the Hanoverian Reserve Corps brigades after the battle but was not the commander of the brigade during the battle). Historically, none of these brigades participated in the actual battle as they made up the Hanoverian Reserve Corps deployed in reserve between Waterloo and Brussels. While the arrival of this corps in the actual battle is ahistorical, this change will at least have them arriving together.
There was another noteworthy event worth reporting from this convention. Waterloo is not a short game to play. Most games between knowledgeable players will take between four and six hours. The “free form” play methodology (play as many games as desired/possible with the top four advancing to the semi-finals) used by the Grognards at WBC favors players who play as many games as possible. In the opening days of the convention, simultaneous play of the classics in not unusual. This situation drives play times of Waterloo to beyond six hours in many cases. An excellent Waterloo player, Tim Miller, suggested before the convention to play shorter scenarios using the Waterloo games’ rules, board, and pieces covering a single day’s action. Through his initiative, he provided a scenario of the Battle of Ligny (16 June) that could be completed in under 90 minutes. This mini-game was play-tested several times with encouraging results and Tim promised to continue his research and rules refinement as well as considering scenarios for Quatre Bras (16 June), Marshall Grouchy’s pursuit of the Prussians on 17 June, and/or the Battle of Wavre on 18 June. If and how these shorter scenarios could be incorporated into the convention has yet to be determined and the subject of further discussion within the Waterloo community.
The four semi-finalists that emerged after a week of intense gaming were Gary “The Devastator” Dickson, Bert “The Renegade” Schoose, Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma, and Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel. The Dark Knight and The Menzelator are perennial contenders at this convention and highly ranked in on-line Waterloo competitions. The Devastator and The Renegade are veteran classics players who have clawed their way up the Waterloo rankings becoming formidable opponents worthy of the Waterloo crown. It should be noted that it only took two Waterloo victories in the first six days of the convention to get into contention for a semi-finalist spot and had “Tasmanian” Tim Miller, fifth place finisher, achieved one more victory, he would have had a shot for the championship.
Semifinal #1 featured Bert “The Renegade” Schoose pitted against Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel. While the importance of bidding has gained prominence over the last few years as most players strive to secure command of the PAA armies, The Menzelator managed to “steal” the PAA side with a bid of only 5 factors (5 factors removed from the PAA At-Start forces). This was possibly due to The Renegade’s relative inexperience at this level of competition. (GM note: Even if a player desires to play the French, every effort must be made to force a higher bid on the player desiring the PAA side. There is a “tipping point” on the number of PAA factors that will compromise the early PAA defense, but what that number is, remains an uncertainty though this year’s championship game did reveal some interesting information as related later is this report). Bert’s French deployed across the width of the board in the opening turns with a corps (+ = reinforced) with supporting cavalry marching toward Nivelles on the western flank and a strong force, including the Imperial Guard artillery (41 factors), pushing northward on the road to Wavre in the east. Ed’s Prussians responded with a corps (-) helping to defend Nivelles while the British divisions protected the river south of the Braine le Comte road. By early afternoon of 16 June, combat had been joined on the road to Wavre and Ed’s Prussians reinforced the easterly Dyle/Thil river defenses. This gave indications that the Prussian Army would commence an early withdraw from the “Corridor of Death” (primary eastern road leading to Quatre Bras) and the heights south of Quatre Bras. Meanwhile, the French continued the slow process of clearing the delaying cavalry brigades in front of the Quatre Bras and Nivelles defense lines.
Suddenly at 5PM and maybe noticing a slight weakness in French dispositions, The Menzelator’s Prussian Army launched a major multi-corps assault against the French divisions in the Corridor of Death and achieved stunning victories by decimating two Imperial Guard infantry divisions (6-4’s) with Defender Eliminated (DE) results. With the loss ration markedly in Ed’s favor, Bert realized that Ed’s mastery of the PAA defensive strategy could only be overcome with a bold and decisive, though risky, counter strike. Consequently, late in the evening of 16 June, all available French forces east of Quatre Bras, now reinforced with units from the drive on Wavre, crossed the line of departure to deliver three desperate 1-1 assaults against the massed Prussian corps. Had these attacks been successful, Ed’s overall defense would have been severely compromised, and Bert would have achieved a strongly advantageous, even commanding position. But alas, Bert was denied even a single victory as two of the attacks suffered the catastrophic Attacker Eliminated result while the third assault gave their all and took the Prussian stack with them to eternity in a bloody Exchange! With almost 25% of the French Army lost in one turn, Bert reluctantly offered his sword to Ed’s Prussians who immediately dispatched couriers to alert Wellington’s headquarters of the Prussian’s monumental victory in the Battle of Quatre Bras -forever changing history and the places of Blucher and Wellington. Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel began his planning for the Waterloo final.
Semifinal #2 heralded the rising contender Gary “The Devastator” Dickson versus the proven veteran Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma. Not unexpectantly, The Dark Knight blasted out a bid of eight to grab the command reigns of the PAA! Richard’s preference to play the PAA is well known and his high bids usually dissuade his opponent from higher bids. Moreover, Richard stands ready to exploit a weakened PAA player with excellent French play – a superb Waterloo player in every respect. Gary “The Devastator” Dickson’s French Army spread out their advance across the width of the board with a corps (+) and supporting cavalry heading toward Nivelles while a large portion of the French Army headed northward toward Wavre. Richard’s Prussians heavily defended the heights south of Quatre Bras with double stacks of large infantry divisions and less than a corps defending the road to Wavre. Uncharacteristically, the Prussian defending units on the road to Wavre consisted of only two cavalry brigades (2-6’s), Pirch II (7-4), and a 6-4 infantry division. (GM note: the Prussian 7-4 in most games can be found defending in the vicinity of the Quatre Bras heights). By 1PM, Gary’s French had closed on the Corridor of Death and launched major attacks westward on the road. This invoked an immediate counterattack by the Prussians with the result being two French 5-4 infantry divisions lost at the cost of a single Prussian 5-4. In the western sector south of Nivelles, the main French axis of attack was northward thru the single clear hex “corridor” east of the primary road to Nivelles. There was a minimal threat toward the far western Braine le Comte road. The French push in the Corridor of Death required the concentration of the bulk of the Prussian Army to defend and this left only Pirch II and the 2 cavalry brigades to defend the entire eastern edge of the board. Meanwhile by 5 PM, the waltz of mayhem in the Corridor of Death continued with repeated French assaults. Gary faced a potentially disastrous situation here when he miscounted his attacking factors and was one factor short. So, instead of two 3-1 attacks, he had a 3-1 attack and a 2-1 attack instead. This disaster was averted when he rolled an Exchange in the 2-1 attack and his morale rose when he got a DE result in the 3-1 attack. South of Nivelles, Gary’s French launched pinning attacks against the British battle line and destroyed a 1-6 Dutch artillery battery for a French 2-6 cavalry division. The main attack of a French 4-4 artillery battalion against Picton’s infantry division (7-4) in hopes of either an Exchange or Defender Back 2 (DB2) was repulsed preserving the British positions. The slug fest in the Corridor of Death continued into the evening of 16 June with a Prussian spoiling attack to maintain their positions which cost them two 1-6 soak-off units. This attack was very successful though as they destroyed 6 factors of French cavalry. Not to be deterred, Gary’s French renewed their assault down the bloody road and massed for a 3-1 attack against a large Prussian infantry division. But, the division survived and reformed for battle two hexes behind the Prussian forward edge of the battle area. Meanwhile in the east the two lonely Prussian cavalry divisions continued their retrograde toward Wavre leaving a huge gap in the PAA defense between Wavre and Quatre Bras. The route to the LaLasne River was wide open with a relatively small French force of 20 factors poised for an unopposed advance northward! Other elements of this eastern French force had been sucked into the battles in the Corridor of Death.
As the 16th closed and combat operations ceased, the French cleared a single delaying Dutch cavalry brigade in front of Nivelles. Preparations were now underway for renewed clashes on 17 June with the loss ratio exactly equal at 40 factors per side which is slightly advantageous for the French at this stage of the game. Before dawn on the 17th, Richard issued orders for a Prussian corps (-) to begin a redeployment from Quatre Bras northward to establish a defensive line behind the LaLasne River. He still maintained his staunch defense of both Quatre Bras and Nivelles. Gary then made the decision to re-direct the axis of attack of the force heading toward the LaLasne River to turn the Prussian flank at Quatre Bras. Throughout the morning battles raged but the dwindling strength of the French forced them to resort to a series of lower odds attacks in the hope of closing the gap in losses which currently stood at 108 French factors lost against only 82 PAA factors out of action. Uncharacteristically, everyone of these attacks resulted in inconclusive defender or attacker back two retreats. Late in the morning, French morale received a boost when they achieved a 1-1 DE result near Quatre Bras and an exchange result near Nivelles which cleared the last PAA defenders in this sector. With the different parts of the French Army now ready to reunify, Richard countermarched the Prussians back toward Genappe and gathered approaching British reinforcements to defend north of Nivelles still keeping the French wings separated. By 3PM on 17 June, Gary’s deteriorating position compelled a continuation of a series of low odds French attacks attempting to redress the situation. This part of the game was characterized by constant PAA maneuvers to counter French units advancing westward toward Genappe, and northward from Quatre Bras as well as Nivelles. Unfortunately for Gary, almost all these low odds attacks ended up being “back two” results which signaled further deterioration to his bleak situation. With fresh British forces arriving and no decisive battle results, Gary asked for and received an armistice which brought an end to hostilities as night fell on 17 June. Richard had succeeded again in gaining a shot for the championship in the Waterloo final.
Saturday dawned with the prospects of a monumental struggle involving two of the very best Waterloo players in the world! What was especially intriguing was the upcoming bidding process since both finalists are renowned for their desire to play, and expertise in commanding, the PAA armies. When this GM showed up, uncharacteristically, fifteen minutes late for the game start, he was confronted by both players who were at an impasse. Both players had started the bidding process with very high bids of ten! They then went through six additional rounds of bidding each offering ten PAA factors every time. Neither player was willing to increase their bid nor reduce it to resolve the issue. This GM then recommended that a random die roll be made with the winner getting the PAA side but still having to pay the ten-factor cost. The players accepted this, and Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma won the roll. (GM Note: While Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel seemed disappointed, this GM felt that he had the initial advantage since Richard’s PAA forces would be stretched maybe to the breaking point. Possibly this would show that the “tipping point” in the Waterloo process was ten factors. Both these very experienced players obviously thought so.)
Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel executed a typical French opening with two reinforced corps (74 factors) moving northwestward toward Nivelles, a corps reinforced with additional cavalry support (52 factors) pushing toward Wavre, and the rest of the French Army massed in the Corridor of Death as well as south of the Quatre Bras heights. Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma sacrificed several of his delay units early in the first three turns seemingly oblivious to his high initial bid though this tactic did slow the French advance. He assumed his main line of resistance on the Quatre Bras heights, in the Corridor of Death, and in the “corridors” south of Nivelles. He employed his usual tactic of massing the bulk of the Prussian Army near the hill mass in the center of the board, on the primary road between Quatre Bras and Nivelles. Using this interior line of communication, Richard can reinforce/counterattack in either threatened sector as he did in the previous semi-final game. Of course, this left a somewhat “meager” force of only a single infantry division (again Pirch II, 7-4), three horse artillery battalions, and a single Dutch cavalry brigade (14 factors total) to defend the Dyle/Thil Rivers in the east. In the west, only Cooke’s infantry division (4-4), garrisoned the river directly south of the Braine le Comte road.
By 3PM, 16 June, Ed’s French had massed in front of Nivelles in preparation for a major assault and cleared the last delay unit in the east with the way open to the Dyle/Thil river junction. But, the main action currently was a massive French assault on a doubled 6-4 Prussian infantry division on the Quatre Bras heights. Though this division was destroyed, and the hilltop hex taken, it exacted a heavy toll on the French by taking twice as many troops with them in a bloody Exchange. The Prussians, in a reflection of future German tactics of immediately counterattacking to re-take a lost position, retaliated with a 3-1 attack against the defending French Imperial Guard infantry divisions. Upholding their reputation, the French Guard Grenadiers fought to the last man and destroyed an equal number of Prussian soldiers in another very costly Exchange result. The French attacks and Prussian counterattacks near Quatre Bras in the late afternoon of 16 June, drew all the Prussian units defending in the east and most of the French troops marching toward Wavre leaving only French cavalry near the Dyle/Thil river junction. This cavalry force modified its axis of attack toward the open Prussian flank near Genappe. Meanwhile in the Nivelles sector, the French drove into the British battle line but were halted by a British counterattack with Prussian assistance. A small French cavalry force did manage to cross the far western river and interdict the Braine le Comte road but newly arriving British cavalry brigades forced them to assume a defensive stance. By 7PM, Ed’s French counterattacked near Quatre Bras and consolidated the heights compelling the Prussians to retire north of the town covering his withdraw by a gallant British cavalry brigade. As night fell on 16 June, losses were almost equal, with 59 French out of action versus 57 for the PAA.
Seventeen June dawned with renewed French attacks north and east toward Genappe. However, in the west, the French had ceased offensive operations. This allowed British units to assist in countering the French further east. At 9AM, 17 June, Richard’s British still held their defensive positions south of Nivelles and had re-opened the Braine le Comte road. In the eastern portion of the battlefield, they had established defensive positions north of Quatre Bras and established a continuous battle line facing east minimizing French penetrations and denying the link-up of the French Army. Over the next two hours, Ed’s French cleared the few delay units and slowly worked their way northward through Nivelles and approached the bristling river defenses of Genappe. So far, these 17 June battles had not been kind to Ed’s French as their losses had been greater than those suffered by Richard’s PAA armies. With the game slipping away, Ed flung caution to the wind and went for a 1-1 assault against a doubled position at Genappe hoping to break Richard’s river defense and compel a PAA withdraw toward Mont St. Jean. A Defender Eliminated or Defender Back 2 result possibly would have achieved this but the Exchange he rolled was almost as bad as an Attacker Eliminated considering the weakened state of the French Army. Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel immediately resigned and congratulated Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma on his masterful play. Richard happily added another Waterloo plaque to his long list of WBC accolades! Well Done Richard!!!
Playing the French against such formidable players as these semifinalists is a daunting task for any player. Even considering the high initial bids, the PAA player was successful in limiting the French advance to the center of the board and forcing a decision before 18 June. Also, all three play-off games were very short timewise in comparison to previous years. However, careful review shows that French play contributed to these PAA victories in the opinion of this GM. In all three games the French did not maximize their superiority in units/factors to spread the PAA defenses across the width of the board. None of the French players posed a significant or prolonged threat to the far western side of the board. Moreover, in all the games, the French initiated strong advances with sizeable forces in the east toward Wavre; and in two of the games, were presented with unopposed routes of advance toward the LaLasne River. Likewise, in each game, the eastern French force was weakened to reinforce the battles in the center.
Spreading out the PAA armies accomplishes two goals: First it requires the PAA to distribute his outnumbered forces across the game map as the action develops in the late afternoon of the 16th and the morning of the 17th to contest every French advance. Second, and more importantly, as the French widen the front, there are reduced opportunities for the PAA player to mass for counterattacks. All three games showed that with sufficient forces, the PAA player can almost completely stymie French efforts to bully their way through Quatre Bras and Nivelles barring some very good die rolls by the French and very bad counterattack rolls by the PAA player. All three games demonstrated this fact convincingly as multiple PAA counterattacks characterized play late on 16 June and for most of 17 June. In the one instance where French cavalry did move toward the LaLasne River, the PAA player immediately reacted with forces moving toward the river to set up a defense. While this 20 factor French force had little chance to cross the defended river, its presence requires PAA units to stop their advance and weakens other sectors of the PAA defense. The French player must understand and capitalize on the fact that even a weak threat must be countered since the PAA player must protect against French defections or units infiltrating behind the PAA lines. This GM’s comments are not critical of the play of any of the semi-finalists as all of them displayed superior play and overcame highly competent opponents to reach a shot at the championship. An early advertising line of these classic wargames was, “Maybe YOU can take command and change the course of history”. In every one of the above described games, had there been a few different die rolls more favorable to the French, then this challenge would have come true and history would have been re-written. This GM salutes each of you and all the other Waterloo players!
My thanks as always goes out to Bruno Sinigaglio and Bill Morse for their unending support to this game and the other classic games that we Grognards play. Being a GM and preparing the required paperwork would not be possible without their assistance. They are great opponents and outstanding friends! Also, I extend my gratitude to all the players who take the time to play my favorite game, WATERLOO, as their friendship and comradery keeps me coming back to this convention. See you next year.