Saturday, December 19, 2015

Forward, MARCH!

I Corps of Jean-Baptiste Drouet, Comte d'Erlon Deploys Forward of Napoléon's main line.
Most of you probably know that I have a great interest in the Napoleonic Wars, especially the Battle of Waterloo, of which I have written a number of times. This year marked the 200th anniversary of that event. A game company (one I have only in the past few weeks became aware of) happened to release a computer simulation of that momentous event in history.

Of course, I had to have a copy.

So, naturellement, I acquired one. Now it's learning the nuances and techniques to not only manipulate the units within the simulation, but to actually learn how to fight a Napoleonic battle. It's not easy. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The farm of La Haye Sainte, the right of Wellington's position lies along that ridge in the background. The Brussels chaussee runs in front of the farm, north is to your right.

You can set various things within the game, including the aggressiveness of the AI (that would be Artificial Intelligence) and how many men are represented by each "sprite."
sprite (noun)
1. an elf or fairy.
2. a computer graphic that may be moved on-screen and otherwise manipulated as a single entity.
Yes, definition 2 applies. Though I haven't had the chance to play the game extensively, I have yet to notice any elves (or fairies) upon the field, lurking in the woods, or hiding amongst the troops.

Looking south from the position of Bijlandt's Brigade. Why yes General Bijlandt, that is the entire French I Corps coming at you.

Each figure on the screen is a sprite (ahem, definition 2 people!). One can set the number of humans represented by each sprite. Now being the sort of fellow I am (I like things as realistic as possible) I set that value to "1." That way the units take up more space on the field and look closer to the real thing. The unit in the preceding picture represents two battalions of French infanterie légère, light infantry, distinguishable by their dark blue trousers, which match their dark blue tunics. (In the first picture those are regular, or line, infantry, infanterie de ligne, note the gray trousers. Also many are wearing overcoats and covers on their shakos, the name for their head gear.)

Light infantry were considered elite units, they were trained to fight in the mass units of their regular infantry cousins or dispersed for skirmishing. The entire battalion could deploy as skirmishers or just a company or two. When skirmishing, one part of a company would stay formed as a support, the rest of the men would fight in pairs. One firing, one holding his fire until the other man was reloaded. They would move from cover to cover and essentially "annoy" the enemy. The support would occupy an intermediate position between the skirmishers out front and the remainder of the battalion (or brigade) to the rear. The deployed fellows could fall back on the formed part of the company if needed. (If cavalry was around, that was important. Cavalry could cut skirmishers to pieces if the skirmishers weren't careful.)

Now you can fight this simulation in a multitude of ways. Their are scenarios where you command a single brigade, four to six battalions under your control. This is not as taxing as trying to command larger units. Here you can (and must) order the individual units to move hither and yon and also what formations to adopt.

You can command larger units with some difficulty. The best way to do that is to order the individual unit commanders (brigade and division) to do things. Such as "move there" (by clicking on the map and commanding a formation), "hold here" and things of that nature. I discovered that you really need to rely on your subordinates. For computer generals they are competent and will not throw themselves into stupid attacks.

Also, if things get a little rough you may notice that some of your troops have decided that they have a pressing engagement elsewhere. That elsewhere being to the rear, where no one is shooting at them.

A quick word about formations, essentially there are four. March column, think four abreast one rank behind another. Just like we learned in Basic Training. Just like some of us still remembered years later and were still pretty damned good at. (As an aside, I found nothing quite as satisfying as drilling a unit of forty or so troops until they moved as one. They moved, changed direction, and halted at the sound of my voice. Pretty cool if you knew what you were doing. Which I did.) March column is used to get from Point A to Point B quickly with some semblance of order.

Line formation spread the troops over a broad front, three men deep (two for the British). A large unit could occupy a hundred yards or more in line. Great for bringing all of your weapons to bear, great for not taking a lot of casualties under artillery fire, terrible for moving, and not so great when facing cavalry. Unless your troops were very well trained and very steady. (Think the Thin Red Line at Balaclava.)

The Thin Red Line, by Robert Gibb, 1881

The ideal formation to use against cavalry was the square.

The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras, by Lady Butler

The troops face outward, their backs protected. The beauty of this formation was that horses won't go charging into all those bayonets, no matter how much their riders want them to. Problem is, this formation is very slow moving (contrary to some historians, squares could and did move) and a beautiful target for those mean artillerymen with their big cannon.

One last formation available is best described as a combat column. It's nearly as maneuverable as a march column and presents a wider front, more muskets can be brought to bear, hence more firepower to hit the enemy with. (In the game, and in reality, the combat column in the game is called a column of divisions. Not the big 3,000 to 10,000 man units known as divisions. A division was also a name given to a unit comprised of two companies, a company being 50 to 120 men or so. Column of divisions was two companies abreast with the other divisions of the battalions lined up behind them. The military back then, as now, liked to use terminology confusing to civilians.)

The drill we learn in modern times is derived from what they actually used in combat in olden times. So why did they bunch up like that? Isn't that foolhardy when someone is shooting at you? Sure it is, but the old weapons were mostly smoothbore, think no rifling to impart spin to the projectile. These black powder weapons were very inaccurate and relatively slow to load. They were one shot, then you got to reload. Again and again and again. While someone is shooting at you.

They were also muzzle loaders, meaning you poured your powder down the barrel then rammed the musket ball and the cartridge's paper wrapping down on top of the powder, using the ramrod slung under your musket. Oh yeah, don't forget to take that ramrod out when you're done. Otherwise it will fly off (hopefully to skewer an enemy) and now you have no means of reloading.

Bottom line, the weapons were so inaccurate that you had to fire a bunch of them, grouped together, all at once if you hoped to inflict damage upon your enemy.

Also, in order to control the troops, the commander had to be nearby, in shouting range, literally. Drums and bugles were good for simple commands (like move forward, stop, fall back, etc.) but not enough if you wanted to do something a little more complicated.

Which was also the reason commanders were on horseback, having a flag for each unit helped as well. If you could stay with your flag, odds are you wouldn't get in trouble. In some armies they had sergeants and junior officers trailing the formation. Turn around and they would literally beat you back into formation.

King's German Legion light infantry scrambling to fall in as Quiot's division of I Corps advances down the ridge and along the Brussels chaussee in front of La Haye Sainte.

So far the game is engaging and very, very colorful. The units move nicely and the AI seems good. I haven't played enough to gauge it's overall accuracy but so far, it's awesome.

The only thing is, there isn't enough smoke. There's some, enough to give it a nice "feel" but not nearly as much as you'd find on an actual Napoleonic battlefield. Which is probably a good thing because after 30 minutes or so, you wouldn't be able to see anything. Obviously that would detract from the overall "ooh ahh" experience, but it might be cool.

I also need to try commanding from horseback. In the game you can do that, which means no zooming the camera around, no God-view of the battlefield. You can only see what is near you. In order to command your units you have to send couriers to them or be right next to them. That could be interesting.

I will report more at a later date. Right now, there's a battle to be won!

En avant mes enfants, à la victoire!


Juvat has pointed out in the comments that I neglected to mention the game's name and the publisher. When I awoke this morning I had the same realization and hoped that I could mend it before anyone noticed.

Can't get anything past a fighter pilot...

The game is Scourge of War: Waterloo and is available from the publisher Matrix Games (who has lots of other cool games) or from Steam (where I do most of my game shopping).

There ya go Juvat, fixed it for ya.

Except for the two paintings noted, the rest of the pictures are in game screenshots. Press F12 and bingo, screenshot. I have cut them down to save space. Some have been edited to remove game markers and the like. There were no floating symbols above unit objectives in real life. The game has them as an aid to game play. As in "What the Hell was I supposed to attack? Oh, there it is."


  1. So....What's the game's name? Just in case there needed to be a second opinion type of review

    1. Details, details.

      [Face palm]

      How did I forget that? Kind of important neh?

  2. Can you command the 95th Regiment of Foot, " The Rifle Brigade "? The chaps with the Baker Rifle.

    1. You don't command individual regiments, the lowest level of command is the brigade. But there are scenarios where they are in your command. In the picture of La Haye Sainte, just to the right you could see the 95th in their sandpit. I cropped that out, sorry.

  3. Looks like fun!

    Do you get to eavesdrop on what the troops are saying about their commanders?

    1. They're pretty quiet when I ride by. They look nervous.


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