Warhammer Waterloo Playtest at F’ de Onoro

Warhammer Historical's WaterlooI recently purchased a copy of Waterloo from Warhammer Historicals – partly because it was on 50% discount, but also partly because initial feedback was quite positive about it’s production quality and content. I’ve had it for a few days but to date have only managed to skim read through it so as yet haven’t looked into the actual game mechanics in detail – but I can say production quality is superb – and on a par with Kampfgruppe Normandy (although Waterloo is not such a ‘heavy’ book.

However John Michael up in Canada has played through a quick introduction to the rules on his Fuentes de Onoro (Wargaming in 28 mm and sometimes smaller) blog – it’s an interesting read and there’s some interesting points illustrated. I have yet to get through the rulebook in detail (and will post my thoughts here once I do) – meanwhile based on John’s feedback in his post above the unit rosters look a bit busy and complex, actually I didn’t pay too much attention to these when I first browsed the book, but it looks like a bit of info to track (including specifics about battalion officers I overlooked previously), so you may not want to be managing more than half-a-dozen units normally.

Everyone’s familiar with the ‘range guessing’ concept, you either love it or hate it, but the artillery firing process all looks rather tedious on first glance – John described it as fun, but I can imagine it getting pretty annoying after multiple times in a game and/or multiple games frequently with all the dice rolling, range guessing, scatter dice, and so on. The TAC concept for activation points looks interesting and certainly a nice clean mechanic to manage activity and command control, however the random initiative each turn (meaning one side may activate and move/shoot twice before the other can do anything) may not be suited to this type and scale of game, the concept itself is not an issue but combined with some of the other mechanisms it seems a bit counter-productive and likely to result in players being ultra cautious one minute then making dramatic desperate moves or charges the next. The other weird effect with the TAC points is in John’s sample playtest artillery appear to fire volleys then move unlimbered quite rapidly across the table in the same turn – which doesn’t seem right (I’ll have to look into that in the rulebook).

One historical fact they’ve clearly got completely wrong is the effect of cuirasses on musketry, Cuirassiers being harder to harm with musketry in the game (i.e. only get hit 50% of the time other people do), when in fact the opposite was true in reality (the cuirass offered no special protection from musketry and was only a limited advantage in mêlées with other cavalry, to protect against sword & sabre blows) – so players will probably want to drop that rule straight away. The actual Musketry mechanic is a little innovative, but the practical application is the dreaded buckets of dice effect – requiring multiple rolls with a lot of dice (e.g. one fire fight example John provides requires 4 separate rolls totalling 28 Dice to resolve one volley of shooting between a pair of infantry units). Mêlée  is the usual fairly straight forward ‘buckets of dice’ you’d expect from a Warhammer game (in the example a Cavalry unit against an Infantry unit in line rolled 28 Dice for combat) so will either not bother you or perhaps drive you mad?!

It also looks like a typical game may only last a handful of turns, with results being extremely bloody and quick (possibly a bit a historical if too bloody – but all rules face this issue finding the balance between casualties and morale – real Napoleonic Battles were however generally very light on casualties and units often became combat ineffective with only 5%-10% casualties as the morale effect far outweighed the actual physical damage) – and dare I say it a bit too line up and shoot then charge in nature. However much of this doesn’t come as surprise and looks fairly in keeping with the mechanics of most Warhammer series games, although on the surface some of it doesn’t look or feel overly Napoleonic (but I may yet be proved wrong), and I suspect this is gonna be more of a horse & musket ‘fun game‘ for a Friday Night with 4-5 units a side for those just wanting to push some toy soldiers around and may not have quite as much period ‘feel’ or ‘historical simulation’ that rule sets like Lasalle, Might & Reason, or Shako provide. But is bound to appeal to many people who want that type of game, or are looking to play a historical variant of Warhammer style rules, and as mentioned does include a couple of interesting mechanics.

Production quality is great of course, and the book is worth considering getting regardless for the inspiring photos, uniform and historical information, and the campaign scenarios (especially at just £18 in the sale – heck that’s why I got it as it was a no lose option) – hopefully I’ll get time to read in more detail soon and post more detailed thoughts,  and maybe even try a game ourselves. Obviously some of my initial observations above are based on John’s account on his blog and the balance are just preliminary impressions based on a first read of the rulebook, so I look forward to John playing a large action and reporting results on his blog, and will hope to post back more of my impressions here soon.

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  • I’ve probably read them about as much as yourself John, but I quite like the feel of them.  Having said that, I am a WAB and LotOW/HS player, so this set was always going to be right up my alley.  I’m holding off judgement on their historicity until I have played them, but I do get the feeling that they are almost perfect for playing ‘Old School’ games with bigger and fewer battalions.  I’d imagine that anyone with an imagi-nation itch might find them quite what they are looking for.  Certainly I’m looking at restarting a Napoleonic project on the strength of being able to field units in games as I paint them.  And as I start Wargames Factory WSS armies as well, I will look into modifying them a little for the earlier conflicts.

    • Hi Mate – I’d totally agree with your “but I do get the feeling that they are almost perfect for playing ‘Old School’ games with bigger and fewer battalions” comment – John in Canada’s write up very much had that feel about it… For WSS perhaps you should wait and see how Maurice turns out – as it sounds a nice blend on period flavour, flexibility, touch of old-school character, and is “Imagi-Nation” friendly: http://wargaming.info/2011/maurice-18th-century-rules-from-sam-mustafa/

    • P.S. And Nathan I think “I’d imagine that anyone with an imagi-nation itch might find them quite what they are looking for” is spot on – that seems to go hand in hand with the touch of Old School feel and for Imagi-Nations set in the Napoleonic Era they look to be very in keeping with the traditions of Charles Grant, Don Featherstone, and company…

  • Great analysis John, I look forward to you checking to see if I got it right! As I have never played a Warhammer game before, I am a little worried the I have mis-interpreted the rules. I agree that the rules appear quite bloody, I was shocked at how much happened in just 2 turns. I believe this is what I found to be fun! 

    I was not too upset by the back to back turns by the French (my introduction to Napoleonic wargaming was using Le Feu Sacre and Field of Battle), although the Coldstreamers might have been. For some reason I did not find the mechanic related to shooting or melee that complicated, rather intuitive almost, certainly quicker to play out for me anyway then BP. I was also a little disturbed that I could move the cannon after firing them and I am not sure if I got it right about expending all the TAC in one turn to make 3 moves. Anyway I will look forward to hearing more from you.


    • Thanks John – it’s very much just a first impressions overview thanks to your post – I did expect the rules to be fairly bloody (after all that’s a bit of a Warhammer trademark) but not quite as bloody as that! I must say I don’t find that fun – what’s the point in having beautifully painted figures if you have to remove half of them from the table after only a couple of turns? Combined with the fiddly figure casualty tracking it’s not overly enticing – hence I much prefer the Lasalle & Shako style where units take damage to ‘Morale’ or ‘Staying Power’ that eventually forces them to collapse, rather than actual casualties – it’s a vastly more elegant model and has far more historical accuracy and period feel, at least IMO anyway…

      …but horses for courses – I like my figures all finished with dullcote matt lacquer and looking as real world like as possible, my main Napoleonic opponent Cam likes to coat his in hordes of gloss varnish to give them a shiny ‘toy soldier’ look! Just depends on what floats your boat… 🙂

      Regarding the turn sequencing I don’t see that as a flaw – but it creates a certain type of game – it’s a bit like the Piquet rules were in their original version – with the fog of war effect so emphasized as to just be down right random what units moved when (and if ever) in a game – I think it may be a case of too many gimmicks for the sake of them; Waterloo has the TAC point system, variable movement, and random first move each turn, you don’t need all 3 for a good game design – in fact I’d argue the third is counter productive with the first two – but any two of those would be more than enough. Likewise the Artillery – you have to guess the range correctly, but then still roll to actually hit with only a 33% chance, and then still actually manage to roll successfully for inflicting casualties, etc – you don’t need all those mechanics together – if I do play Waterloo the guessing artillery range almost certainly won’t be used, as I’ve said in response to Nathan’s comments above it’s like having a 20th level Wizard character in a RPG and then having the Dungeon Master tell the player he has to be able to cast the spells in real life to cast them in the game

      It sounds like your Artillery movement was slightly incorrect – so that may be a relief! 🙂 Regarding Shooting it’s not so much complexity but rather the unnecessary (IMO) need to roll multiple times – the actual concept of the mechanic is a great idea – but I don’t think it works that well in this case on reflection (as it generates hugely random fire-power effects with the first roll) – and buckets of dice is fine as long as you throw them once and the event is resolved, rather than then throwing them again, and possibly even a third time if saves or such are present to resolve a single action (at least with Waterloo it looks like there are no saves – maybe a first for Warhammer?). But again YMMV of course… 🙂

  • George Blue

    “One historical fact they’ve clearly got completely wrong is the effect of cuirasses on musketry, … when in fact the opposite was true in reality (the cuirass offered no special protection from musketry and was only a limited advantage in mêlées with other cavalry, to protect against sword & sabre blows) .” Please cite references for this, thanks.

    • Hi George – it’s well documented in many sources that the Cuirass offered little or no protection from musketry – this is why they had steadily fallen from fashion as early as the English Civil War and similar conflicts (mid-C17th), with the War of the Spanish Succession and similar (early-C18th) being the last use of them by large numbers of cavalry (e.g. Germans/Austrians). I don’t have the reference handy but it’s documented in some Napoleonic accounts that they were also only partially successful as ‘body armour’ in close combat as well. In Napoleonic France the Cuirass was revived more as a status symbol than as a ‘super weapon’ – it was the large men & horses in the Cuirassier & Carabinier units that gave them their combat power, not the Cuirass itself.

      • George Blue

        Thank for the reply.

        Interesting hypothesis based upon often repeated opinions and assumptions of what others like to think say, and think someone said about something it would seem. You must forgive my curiosity, so please cite period accounts of this rather than “it’s well documented”, as I am sure others than myself would like to know – as well as reference – these sources.

        Thanks in advance!