Originally, I wanted to publish this review last year, what with the anniversary and everything. Everyone seemed to be busy painting hundreds of Imperial Guard miniatures and Waterloo games were all over the place. Even I succumb to the buzz and managed to read two books: The first being the excellent The Battle: A New History of Waterloo by Alessandro Barbero, the second the rather disappointing The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. I never, however, even thought about gaming Waterloo – the model count is too off-putting and I’m not really interested in big battle games anyway.
But then I stumbled over a review of a boardgame that promises to let you replay the Battle of Waterloo in 15 minutes. I was hooked. Generally, I’m not much interested in board wargames (although I like other kinds of boardgames). I’m turned off by the hex-and-counter aesthetics and the complicated rules with their paragraphs.
W1815 is an attractive little game published by the Finnish company U&P Games. It comes in a plastic bag, which contains wooden blocks, a cardboard map, cards and two dice. The game places the player at the highest level of command: Basically, you are Napoleon or Wellington, you have already positioned your troops and the battle is about to begin. There is no room for manoeuvring – in fact, there is no movement at all. This may come as a surprise to wargamers, but thinking of some miniature wargames of big battles I’ve seen, there is no real manoeuvring either, as there is no space for it.
Instead, the game is all about timing. Each player has a selection of action cards and is allowed to conduct one action on his or her turn. Some actions can be countered by the other player, and some can trigger further events. The aim of the game is to force the enemy to make and fail a morale test. If the army is broken, the game is over.
The game is easy to learn and quick to play. It nevertheless gives very exciting and dramatic games. We’ve played several times now and each game had a unique narrative. I fondly remember winning with the French by committing the Guard at just the right moment!
W1815 is a very abstract model of the Battle of Waterloo. For me, it nevertheless – or perhaps for exactly this reason – captures what such a battle was all about on the highest level of command. It’s not about manoeuvring regiments, forming squares and trying to get the right angle for a flank attack, but about getting a grip on the flow of events and finding the right moment to commit your troops.
I can highly recommend W1815 – it’s an innovative game with interesting mechanisms that deliver a fun and exciting game. I think it would also be an excellent instrument for teaching or explaining the Battle of Waterloo and napoleonic tactics.