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 By Paul Comben

It is far from unusual within the broad church of board wargaming to find designs based upon the use of wooden blocks. Columbia has dedicated itself to this approach for decades; and recently, alongside the occasional contribution from the likes of GMT, we have had the stunning visual effects of the VentoNuovo “Blocks” series – though, for my taste, the colour has run a little too extravagantly in the case of those designs. And then there are all those C&C offerings; but while there is an awful lot of timber included, they are not really part of this family in any real sense – they may walk the walk just a bit, but when they talk, it is another entirely separate language they go battling off into.

Whatever their subject matter, games that do belong to what we usually associate with the wooden block approach tend to share a range of common mechanisms – each block’s informational sticker gets rotated to show losses; there is often a measure of quality (usually a letter) to show who gets to fight first; and there is a number to indicate how many dice are tossed into the maelstrom of combat. Of course, some games are markedly more complex than others, but there has certainly been a carry-over of mechanical approach, and why not, when it has worked so well for a markedly long time.

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But where does the work of Rachel (formerly Bowen) Simmons fit into the scheme of things? In her three games, Bonaparte at Marengo, Napoleon’s Triumph and The Guns of Gettysburg, yes, there are indeed blocks, and there are representative values of strength on one side of these blocks only; and like not a few other members of the family, the maps are divided into areas – but in this case it all adds up to a very different way of working, predicated on an entirely different ethos. For a start, whereas the vast majority of other block games will have you rolling multiples of dice at every turn, there are no dice in any of Simmons’ designs. Random chance, in terms of rolling your way to victory or defeat, does not exist in these three battle worlds – chance comes solely in the form of what the players do and what they think their opponents are doing…essentially, in the worst cases, being fooled, being foolish, or fooling yourself. What these games are not is an intense look at tactical evolutions on early to mid-Nineteenth Century battlefields. You are not forming square or sending the skirmishers out; those things may be considered within the system as “assumed.” What you are doing is deploying force, threatening the use of force, hoping to bluff your opponent into committing to the wrong deployment, and then folding up his/her disjointed position like a wet piece of cardboard.

And, for the most part, it is utterly brilliant.

 

By Paul Comben

This is a simply a light look at all the Waterloo campaign games I have owned and played over the years. I have tried to include just about anything with at least some campaign element to it, but pure recreations of the climatic battle are not present – so no Wellington’s Victory or The Thin Red Line etc.

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Furthermore, I am not going into any deep detail as to how the qualifying games are played. What I am looking at (chattily) is how these games reflected (or failed to reflect) the issues in my Waterloo as an Utter Waste of Time article – that is, operational manoeuvre room, the issue of time, the weather, and command and control.

by Paul Comben

 

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According to Helmuth von Moltke, no military plan ever survived first contact with the enemy. According to the Duke of Wellington, his plans were to be best thought of as tatty old bits of harness which could be knotted and pieced back together whenever anything snapped or fell off. For Napoleon, perhaps the single most important factor in a campaign’s success was to be found in one of his favourite maxims: “activité, activité, vitesse, vitesse.” This is best translated by recalling Stonewall’s words about surprising and mystifying your enemy – or in other words, acting quicker than they did and generally getting a move on.

by Harvey Mossman

Flight of the Eagle boxThe Flight of the Eagle is a set of rules that harkens back to early days of war gaming when Kreigspiel was done with generals positioned around large maps, pushing little flags or wooden blocks representing the maneuver elements of their army.  Umpires would oversee the progress of the campaign and use complex procedures to adjudicate the results of battles.  The commanders’ performances would thus be evaluated and a debriefing would follow to determine what went right and what went wrong in the campaign.  Designer Didier Rouy and Pratzen Editions have taken this concept and applied it to the Napoleonic era.  Using paper, pen, six sided dice and copies of 19th century maps, they have constructed a rule set whereby teams of players can fight almost any of the Napoleonic campaigns from 1805 to 1815 in an umpired setting.