Tuesday, May 19, 2009

WBC West - Aftermath Pt 3 - Wallace's Waterloo

My group loves Martin Wallace games. At least three or four of us invest in his "suites" of games from Treefrog, and Mike in particular gets a little gleam in his eye when someone suggests a Wallace title. So we were very curious and interested to try out Waterloo, his first attempt at a wargame. Let me be clear - this is a wargame. A light wargame, but a wargame. There is chrome to deal with specific historical realities (such as a detailed map of the battlefield and rules for using the Grand Battery) and historical placement and entry of the combatants. Compared to Axis and Allies, which is really a WW2-themed economic and area control strategy game, Waterloo passes at the very least my own personal test. 

And that was about the only test it passed for me after two plays. Against two different opponents, and with me playing both sides, I found that the Allied forces died within three turns before the Prussians could enter. Worse, because of the way the game is built, the Allies didn't seem like they could do much about it other than take their lumps and hope they roll well. As the Allies, I had exactly 11 actions over two turns (I never got to take an action in the third turn), and one was an assault just so I could use a red token. Worse, both Chuck and myself felt that we made huge mistakes as the French and still blew out the other side with little effort. 

Perhaps there are some set moves that the Allied player must do to have a chance to win. After all, they were outnumbered by quite a bit by the French, and it was only the arrival of the Prussians that saved them. When you can't even *start* to bring on the Prussians, however, I start to wonder if this isn't Wallace's first major stumble. 

There are some cool ideas. The use of random numbers of actions before you have to hand over the baton to your opponent, especially as your opponent knows the number but you don't is a great idea in theory, but in practice you simply do the important stuff first and then do the maintenance after with any orders you have left over (like reserve movement). I suppose there can be situations where you need to do three things but may only have two, but in general this is a mechanism that doesn't quite live up to it's potential. 

There's always buzz on BGG these days about how wargames use "cheap" components, as if paper maps and cardboard counters are poor substitutes for wooden blocks and mounted maps. Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposite arguments are made about whether or not Waterloo qualifies as a wargame given that it's all wooden pieces with minimal differentiation (there are various mods for various units of various nationalities, but in the end they're more or less identical for the most part). Me, the bits don't bother me at all as long as the game is interesting and fun to play. Most wargamers spend a lot of money on counter trays, poster frames, plexi sheets, baggies, even custom tables to hold the games. The fact that this game comes with a mounted board and wooden bits is irrelevant if the Allies can't hold off the French for three turns. 

I suppose that there's some chance for the Allies if they were to reinforce the two lightly held strongpoints in the river valley, something that Chuck pointed out in our game. Still, I don't know that having two or even three units in the smaller strongpoints is going to change things significantly, especially as the French get to move first and can make strong pushes on these locations with as few as two actions. 

Of course, I'll also note that my first experience with Age of Steam was a bit of a disaster as well, although it's a very unforgiving game that requires some basic tenets to play without shooting yourself in the foot. With Waterloo, I get the sense that the game has shot itself in the foot, and perhaps Martin should go back to the clever multi-player strategy games he's good at rather than trying to jump into a genre he isn't as good of a designer for. 

I could well be wrong in my assessment, so I'll refrain from making a specific recommendation. However, I'd approach this one with caution - games that go from "great" to "terrible" in one play usually is the result of me figuring out that there's a design shortcoming.


Peter said...

I'm a little confused by your description of the Allied actions.

You could only have taken a maximum of 14 actions in the first two turns, so 11 means you only came in under by 3. Furthermore, the French must have had great draws to burn through all their green tokens so quickly...

As for the French whipping the Allies so fast, how were they killing them so quickly (especially if they were not using red actions)? The defender shoots first in most phases of assault combat so why were the Allies coming off second best?

Anyway, just a couple questions... and thanks for the write up!

Dug said...

The max of 14 actions means that you're taking four assault actions, which requires good opportunities to do so. I did one assault when Chuck left a couple of arty more or less undefended with (IIRC) two infantry and one cavalry. The infantry got wiped out quickly and the cav was wiped out as well.

The French had the draws they needed - I think it was something like fours or fives most of the time. That seems to be a pretty critical part of the game, which does nothing to improve my thoughts - if the game is going to go pear shaped quickly because of slightly above average draws early, that's not a very robust design.

I rolled terribly on my cavalry vs cavalry rolls, losing eight times in nine rolls, which was responsible for four of my losses.

We were doing the combat right, but Chuck was doing a very good job of coming in with undamaged troops and getting the right rolls. I was able to force quite a few back, but in general I was losing more ground than gaining in terms of attrition.