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Month: September 2023

Game #111 : Waterloo (1983)

[Color Computer, Ark Royal Games]

– What was the secret of Napoleon’s successes ? His tactics ? His mobility ? Logistics maybe ?
– Well, I reckon that the role of the Old Vampire Guard is often glossed over.

The battlefield. I start at the bottom

Ark Royal Games’ Waterloo starts on the 16th of June 1815 at 7AM, two days before the eponymous battle. Once again, I am Napoleon and I must reverse history by winning the whole campaign of Waterloo by occupying a series of towns before overrunning the Waterloo itself in fewer than 3 days (42 turns). Each city taken reduces the otherwise infinite reinforcements of the Allies, so speed is critical. I am not going to keep my Guard in reserve.

The first objective is the city of Ligny at the right of the battlefield. The British forces (in checkered purple) are randomly deployed every game. While they never deploy the bulk of their force in front of Ligny, I am particularly lucky in this game :

Full disclosure : My first “final game” actually had a significant British deployment in front of Ligny and I lost all my units in a frontal assault. It would have made a pretty boring AAR, so I started again.

On my side, I have, in addition to Napoleon [N] :

  • Artillery [A] which of course can shoot at targets from afar, though with so many constraints that I won’t mention it again,
  • Guard units [G] the strongest unit (strength 11-13) but also the slowest (2 squares/turn),
  • [Regular] Infantry units [I], weaker than the Guard (strength 6-8), but faster (3 squares/turn)
  • Cavalry units [C], marginally weaker than Infantry (strength 6-7), but much faster (7 squares / turn)
  • Skirmishers [S], the weakest unit (strength 4-5), not faster than infantry (3 squares / turn) but uniquely they totally ignore difficult terrain. All the other units must stop when entering a tile that is not open (either the arrows up which represent trees or the yellow and red coloured tiles which represent slopes or fortified locations).

Napoleon, the only unit who can “stack” with other units, can use his power to boost his men, healing them somehow and giving them a bonus of one in speed. I use that to march as fast as possible North and drive a wedge between the bulk of the British force and Ligny :

While difficult terrain stops all units except skirmishers, a unit occupying a difficult terrain neutralizes it, allowing another unit to pass through it unimpeded

I can’t afford to move carefully, the Prussian reinforcements are on their way and will soon deploy around Ligny. At 10 AM, I occupy the town. I need to hold it for 4 hours to confirm the occupation and move to the next step of the campaign.

Surrounding Ligny tightly while repositioning my artillery.

While I have only met a handful of defenders thus far and was able to concentrate my attacks, my losses are as high as the British losses. This is due to the fact that marching “up” can cost you men even without combat, and that in combat units “above” the others on the screen have a combat bonus, which stacks with any defensive terrain bonus. It costs a lot of blood to dislodge even one British unit.

The Allies counter-attack towards Ligny, using all the means at their disposal, including cheating. I consider it justifiable to reload once when they teleport (or spawn) a unit directly in the middle of my lines, removing the cavalry weakly holding Ligny (I thought it could not be reached). I consider it even more justifiable to reload a second time after I plugged the hole when the same unit attacks Ligny from several squares away as if it was in contact with Ligny. I make my peace with the fact this British unit is hardcoded to be able to attack Ligny no matter what obstacles I put on its way, and for the third iteration, I swap the cavalry with one of my guard units. The cheat attack fails, and Ligny soon falls.

The British unit just as it appears directly in the middle of my lines

Once Ligny is captured, the arrival of Prussian reinforcements (in checkered red) is stopped forever. In addition, Napoleon’s healing power is increased – this is going to be important. Finally, the next objective appears on the map : Nivelles (“E” on the left).

I start moving West, but the English units fall back, and I must fight them. My depleted units are destroyed one after the other…

… but 5 units survive, and instead of slowly depleting they are getting better with every combat and soon they destroy the British units in one or two attacks at worst.

Here is for instance the 6th Guard unit with 18 in Strength…

… and now the same with 22, two hours (=turns) later :

… and again the same unit when it finally reaches Nivelles, it has 25 (the maximum) in strength !

It is not a bug, it is a feature. In Waterloo, units can only be healed by Napoleon once every time they are involved in a combat, by one strength point before the fall of Ligny but by two strength points after. “Strength” represents both health and combat power, and I am now above the British units on the screen so I am the one with the combat bonus, thus it is not uncommon for my surviving units to win combats without any loss – and still be eligible for more heal !

I feel I also need to disclose that I had to reload once more when I found that even when Napoleon is stacked with his Old Guard of Vampires, the British can single him out in their attacks and kill him because of course he has only one strength point.

The “losing” screen – still a draw because I captured Ligny

After taking Nivelles, Napoleon’s healing power increases even more, and the British stop receiving almost all their reinforcements. Next objective : Mont Saint-Jean (J), historically where Wellington had established his HQ :

My 5 units of vampires walk up to the objective and casually occupy it. Actually, only 4 units are required, the fifth one is detached to support Ney’s reinforcements which appeared in the bottom-left corner :

With the fall of Mont Saint-Jean, the Allies stop receiving any reinforcement, and it is mopping time. Also, my final reinforcements arrived, but I won’t need them.

Once I eliminated all the enemies on the map, Waterloo is easily overrun – there is no one to defend it.

Total victory, though with some reloads and a massive exploit :

I don’t know if the Guard surrenders, but it certainly does not die.

After the battle, Napoleon used his free time to bestow his healing powers to random commoners

Ratings & Review

Waterloo by Phil Keller, published by Ark Royal Games, US
First release : December 1983, according to an ad in Rainbow
Average duration of a campaign
: 2 hours
Total time played : 3 hours
Easy (1/5)
Final Rating: Totally obsolete
Ranking at the time of review : 84/108

Waterloo marks Ark Royal Games’ return to the traditional wargame with one of the very few titles available on TRS-80 Color Computer (and exclusively so) in 1983. Alas, while it proposes an original approach to the battle of Waterloo, it is clunky and horribly balanced, “breaking” by mid-game.

Ark Royal Games had positioned itself as the Color Computer wargame specialist with its first title Across the Rubicon in 1982. After a second mediocre wargame, Kamikaze, Ark Royal Games had pivoted to the anything-that-sticks approach, with action games, a Star Trek clone, various rip-offs, and a couple of professional software programs. It did not seem to have worked very well, and in late 1983 the company went back to its first success with Waterloo, a game using an engine very similar to the one of Rubicon.

Ark Royal Games’ diverse line-up in November 1983, shortly before Waterloo.
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There is very little information on this game, so I can move directly to the review.

Immersion Terrible

UI, Clarify of rules and outcomes Very poor. The game is clunky, with terrain or objectives hidden from view if a unit is on it, weird technical limitations of all kinds (you can only scroll up but never down, you are advised not to scroll up when the reinforcements are called, etc). The game also provides almost no information on why you won or lost a battle (“Was I unlucky or was the enemy unit strong ?”).

Systems Very poor. I like the fact that the game requires you to occupy 3 objectives in turn, each of them giving a bonus for the rest of the campaign. I did not like the rest of the game, even though it uses the same engine as Rubicon. It has too few options and misuses “innovations”:

  • In Waterloo, artillery is almost useless except in the first few turns because it can only shoot straight above by a random number of tiles. You can move the target on both axes a bit, but each tile by which you move the target reduces the effectiveness of artillery by 1. Artillery effectiveness starts at 5 (same as strength), but it goes down as you advance, which you have to if you want to scroll the map. After the first few turns, you will have so few opportunities to actually shoot at a target that you will use artillery as a normal combat unit,
  • Combat is automatic when two units are in contact, but in Rubicon you had a lot of alternative options to reduce an enemy strongpoint (air support, artillery, mortars, paratroopers), whereas in Waterloo given the weird behaviour of artillery usually your only option is frontal assault,
  • The game has a complex system to call reinforcements early, but it is so costly (Napoleon will lose movement and “healing” actions forever every time he tries to call them, with only 25% chance of success initially) that it is not worth it,
  • You could merge units in Rubicon, but you cannot in Waterloo so you quickly end up with several 1-2 strength units adding noise and clutter to the map. Of course, you can heal units in Waterloo, but it comes with the exploit I described in the AAR.

Long story short, Waterloo looks like Rubicon, but has none of its depth.

Scenario design & balancingTerrible. The game has 5 difficulty levels, but the real difficulty level comes from the distribution of the British army at the beginning of the battle. If it starts like this below, you are going to have a rough time even at the easiest difficulty level.

In this situation, all your troops will be attacking a fortified position from the bottom, so at an incredible disadvantage (your weaker units may be immediately destroyed without even denting their opponent), and while you try to go through the British units the Prussians will start to arrive next to Ligny in increasing numbers, eventually creating a mass you won’t be able to pierce through with whatever is left of your army.

Did I make interesting decisions ? Only to optimize my opening, after that what I had to do was obvious.

Final rating : Totally obsolete.

I could not find contemporary reviews, but it was probably successful enough that Ark Royal Games doubled down on strategy games in 1984 and remained in that genre until the end of the Color Computer. I am still hopeful that their future wargames turn out great? As I am almost finished with 1983 I will be able to verify this soon enough.

30/09/2023 addition : There was one review found by LanHawk in the March 1984 issue of Rainbow. The review complains about the slowness of the game, but concludes : “This game is a challenge. It is quite good on the history end. It is fun to play”