Jim Owczarski, 23 June 2021
I will not lie. This one feels like a little bit of a cheat. I could not, however, let our review of rulesets that take up the Battle of Quatre Bras pass without at least having a couple runs at Kevin Zucker’s classic Napoleon’s Last Battles. First published by S.P.I. in 1976, it is an acknowledged classic and one of my personal favorite games.
The Ruleset: This scenario is one of four along with Ligny, Wavre, and something or other than happened on 18th June 1815. As with all the S.P.I. “quads”, it comes with general and scenario-specific rules including victory conditions. It also includes a set of campaign rules that add some very light command-and-control as well as supply rules. Probably most significantly, it includes rules to link all four of the battles into a single experience. In this system are the seeds of the now-normative set of brigade-level rules sold by the same author as the “Library of Napoleonic Battles”.
Can I Still Buy a Copy?: Yes. It is widely available on the used market for reasonable prices, though the “designer’s edition” can be a bit pricey.
How Many Players?: Two.
How Long Did It Take?: S.P.I. rules of this generation are not complex. Their length has become a standing joke among our players. Counter density is very low and the mechanisms are simple — some would certainly say simplistic. The first game was finished so quickly that the decision was made to play a mirror match of the same scenario. Total teach-and-play time was just over two hours.
How’d It Play?: It is certainly of its time. The map is clean and clear, if not lovely. The counter art is serviceable. Without the campaign game rules, there is little to distinguish the system from, say, one modeling the American Civil War. Having a much larger map than has been seen using miniatures feels slightly freeing, but, given the turn limits placed on the French, there is not a lot of time to exploit it.
Always notable, though, is the Zucker Combat Results Table that seems remarkably bloodless until one figures out the importance of establishing locking zones of control behind opponents prior to melee. One also learns to live in fear of rolling the “exchange” result which lurks even in the highest odd ratios on the table and can turn a salutary win into a Pyrrhic one very quickly. And the scenario sets up well. The French cannot dally if they hope to achieve their victory conditions prior to the scenario’s end and the Allies must hasten forward if they are not to face the French on terrain not of Wellington’s choosing.
A few images from the game as it was played:
click images to enlarge
Score Now: Allies 1.5, French .5, and one draw…yes, I am doing these AARs out of order… (ed note: AAAAARGH!)
The video of the event is here
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