Avalon Hill: Waterloo

Tuesday , 4, July 2017 4 Comments

Waterloo is a good example of an early Avalon Hill game. By reading the rules one notices the adaption of terminology to suit new gamers. For example, the rules describe the map board:  “A hexagonal grid has been printed on the board and is used to determine movement. Hereafter, these hexagons will be called squares.”  Also, a paragraph concerning the counters: “These counters will be your chessmen….”. Ironically, it was the Avalon Hill’s success that made terms such as squares and chessmen anathema to later gamers.

The rules are only three pages long!  I’d say the most complicated (if it can be called that) part to grasp is defensive factors for terrain due to ambiguities on the game board but the game designers had the foresight to provide a reference folder with 2 1/2 pages of diagrams covering the mostly likely questions.

The game uses the classic AH combat results table (CRT). Some loved it for the simplicity, while others hated it but there’s a good chance its very simplicity helped grow the hobby in those early days. The results can produce frustration. Even at 3-1 odds (i.e. traditional rule of thumb of advantage required by attacker needed to assure a successful assault) there is a 33% chance of an exchange result which can get pretty bloody as the player with the fewest combat factors removes all his units while the other player must remove a number of units whose combined factors total at least that of the units removed by his opponent. Even at 4-1 odds there is a 1 in 6 chance of an exchange result. If I was attacking with a division worth 6 combat factors against a brigade of cavalry with 2 combat factors there’s a 33% chance of an exchange result.  A frustrating outcome but put this down to the Gods of War, bad luck, etc.. Sometimes the outcome is not preordained.

As for the game itself I mostly agree with Jim Owczarski’s assessment though I think he’s too harsh and any “realistic” game release at that period was probably doomed to failure.  An argument can be made that the only difference between Waterloo and AH’s 1958 release of Gettysburg was the theme, map and color of the unit counters. Reminds me on how someone described Euro games in an interview . Despite that, I give the game the benefit of the doubt and give it credit for helping to grow the hobby. Besides his review of AH’s Waterloo, Jim’s post touches on some other Waterloo games.

No, Dad wasn’t a heavy smoker. He was a heavy gamer.

Here is another good post that describes what I consider one of the game’s greatest weaknesses and that is the difficulty in setting it up. Fortunately, my Dad had taken the painstaking effort to mark each counter on the back with an identification mark and then stored the various counters comprising different corps in their own match boxes.  That’s some double old school for you, unit counters and match boxes. Can’t remember the last time I saw a match box.

I went ahead and set up the game following the “Situation – 7 am June 16, 1815” card. The unit set up only requires the players to place the counters in the general historical starting positions. For the French the 1st and 2nd Corps are restricted to their historical starts but the rest of the army can be placed “anywhere on the road between Charleroi and Feleurus”. The Anglo-Allied forces are restricted to historical starting positions but the Prussians can be placed “anywhere north of Ligny and east of Quatre Bras”. This leniency allows the players to pursue different options while at the same time allowing for some sort of initial contest in the area of Ligny.

The set up is below. I wanted to place the other French corps and the Prussians in their proper order, or at least something more than “anywhere along the road”.  I used the map to the left from the excellent The Waterloo Companion to get an idea on where the various corps were in relationship to each other. I’m going to try and get someone interested in a game and if I’m successful there will be a follow on post but if I play the French I’m not going to move forward towards Ligny and allow the defenders a river bonus. I’m not very familiar with the battle but don’t think the river here played a role. That is not the only issue I have with the map board. My Dad had pencilled in a slope along the front of the eventual British positions in front of Mont St. Jean, i.e. the very same feature that Wellington used to protect his forces on the “reverse slope”.  Despite all the issues with the game’s simplicity I’m looking forward to a game.




  • Terry says:

    “An argument can be made that the only difference between Waterloo and AH’s 1958 release of Gettysburg was the theme, map and color of the unit counters.”
    Granted I am an old man now, but I distinctly remember Gettysburg had different size counters depending on the unit.
    Also, AH Waterloo was the first war game I ever played, so I will always have fond memories of it. But once I played the original La Bataille de la Moscowa by Marshal Enterprises, Napoleonic war games changed forever for me.

  • Scott Cole says:

    Terry – thanks for the comment. I’ve never played La Bataille de la Moscowa but it does look like a great game (https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2292214/la-bataille-de-la-moscowa-third-edition).

    As for Gettysburg do you mean physical size of the counters or the unit’s different combat and movement factors? I also have a 1961 copy of Gettysburg and besides the CRT chart in a slide rule format (exact same odds and results)the format is basically the same as Waterloo.

    • Terry says:

      The physical size of the counters. If you go to BGG and look at the 1958 version, you will see, the arty and HQ counters are much smaller, and the cav a little smaller,mthank the inf counters.

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