Waterloo’s dedicated cadre of grognards approached the move to Seven Springs with some trepidation as always accompanies change – even if from the dismal confines of The Lancaster Host. So accolades are in order to Don Greenwood and his cohorts for the stellar job in finding and selecting this Resort which entirely lived up to his predictions last summer. All of the grognards of the former GrognardCon “mini-convention” were treated to a wide open gaming area with ample lighting, sufficient and comfortable chairs, and the enjoyable aspect of always having an empty table ready to set up their favorite game. In the opinion of this GM, the pros of this resort (service, space, tables, chairs, lighting, staff courtesy and overall facilities and upkeep) far outweighed the few cons (higher food costs, distance between different tournament locations). For those who did not attend this year, please reconsider your plans to attend in 2017 as the new venue reinforces all of the best aspects of our hobby and makes the convention every bit as enjoyable as it once was.
Our field was only slightly reduced and well within the overall convention’s attendance decline. This is in no way a concern as several past players were observed in other events at distant locations. What was remarkable was the perfect play balance achieved again this year with the two sides splitting 32 decisions and matching last year’s 50% equilibrium. So, the 10-sided Combat Results Table (CRT) and the Prussian/British stacking prohibition along with enhanced player skill have delivered ideal play balance. Consequently, this will be the last time we will mention these rule changes though the event game prior to next year’s convention will continue to outline the rule changes, clarifications, and variations along with a hard copy summary available at the convention. The rule and questionable terrain hex clarifications along with rule changes are also on the play by email tournament web page administered by Ed Menzel. No new rule modifications are anticipated for next year’s convention. Despite the previously mentioned play balance figures, almost every experienced player preferred to play the PAA as exemplified by increased bidding to secure the PAA highlighted by bids of 9 and 10 in the elimination rounds! While this GM considers PAA bids higher than 5 as excessive, future game results, applicable bid statistics, and player experience will validate the wisdom of such bids.
To continue last year’s theme, this report will attempt to reveal some of the tactical and strategic principles employed by veteran players for the benefit of new and returning gamers. While last year’s report focused on beginning play or the Early game of 16 June, this report will address the Middle game of 17 June. The End game of 18 June and later will conclude this series in next year’s report. The normal somewhat detailed explanations of this year’s semifinal and final games will follow the discussion of the Middle game.
While the terminology of “Early, Middle, and End” games has been associated with 16, 17, and 18 June respectively, these terms are better defined by the geography of the map and where the main line of resistance (MLR) extends. The Early game covers the initial moves up to when the MLR can be traced west to east from the river just south of the Braine le Comte road, along the single hex wide corridors south of Nivelles, through the forest hexes connected to the Quatre Bras heights, bending northeast to the infamous “Corridor of Death” (the primary road east of Quatre Bras), continuing through more forest hexes, and concluding with the open terrain heading northward along the secondary road and east edge toward Wavre. The Middle game’s geography is usually defined by a very long MLR that again begins (west too east) from the river just south of the Braine le Comte Road, along the doubled river and hilltop positions just north of Nivelle, then to the hills in the center of the board between Nivelle and Genappe, following behind the Genappe River, and then curving northeast behind the Dyle River. The End game features a much shorter MLR based on the village of Braine la Leude and its associated river hexes, joining the hilltop hexes between the primary roads leading to Mont St. Jean, through the forest hexes, and concluding with a defense behind the LaLasne River.
From the PAA player’s perspective, the Middle game’s MLR is both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that almost all of the positions of this MLR are doubled in defense. Moreover, if the PAA player employs their large (6-4 or higher) units to man these positions, then the only way the French player can get a 3-1 attack is to gain access to three attacking hexes. The other aspect of the good news is that not all of the MLR has to be defended, but only those sectors where a French threat exists. For example, if a French cavalry force penetrates northward east of the Dyle River toward Wavre, then a numerically smaller PAA cavalry force can screen the French threat across the river. If this threat contains any French infantry units, then the Prussian 4-4 units are ideally suited to assist the PAA cavalry in this delaying action. Delay is the key word concerning this part of the defense of the MLR since the unopposed crossing of the Dyle, especially by one to three French cavalry units, is the tactical objective. If the PAA force contains infantry, then care must be exercised in their withdrawal toward the LaLasne River as the terrain is open between the rivers and major engagements should be avoided. Remember that as long as the French are east of the Dyle, then they are of little value to the main battles in the center of the board and are a distant threat to the defection roads on the North edge of the board.
The bad news for the PAA player focuses on the overall length of the line and the fact that there are several vulnerable locations along the central part stretching from just north of Nivelles (hex T40 to the river junction of the Genappe River (hex Q26). But first there is a single vulnerable hex on the far west edge of the board (hex V47) that even though it is doubled, the presence of French attackers in V46 cuts the retreat route of the defender increasing the odds of killing the unit. Hexes T39, T36, S31 and R27 are all susceptible to attack from three hexes putting all single defenders except the 8-4 at risk. In addition, hexes T32 and Q26 can be surrounded if access can be gained to the four adjacent hexes. Also, hex Q26 is doubly cursed in that a three-hex attack pins the defender against the river with no retreat possible. Complicating the defense of the Genappe River is the fact that it can be outflanked through hexes O29 and P28. Lastly, there is the obvious gap in hex T34 that is undoubled and expands access to the two adjacent hilltops. So how does the PAA player defend this section of the MLR?
It has already been stated that the bulk of the 6-4 and larger units should be positioned in this central part of the MLR in doubled positions. The next critical factor is the availability of sufficient PAA forces to counterattack the initial French attack(s). This critical factor has led to a modification of strategy by experienced PAA players in recent years to reduce the intensity and frequency of PAA attacks and counterattacks in the Early game. This change reduces PAA losses of major units due to exchanges and French counterattacks thereby preserving PAA strength for the counterattack role in the Middle game. The downside of this change is that it requires an increased usage of PAA one factor delay units to prevent rapid French advances. The other crucial element that prolongs the defense of the Middle game’s MLR is the tried and true tactic of the single 6-4 or higher unit defending in a hex that can only be attacked from a single adjacent hex. Even when the 10-sided CRT is used, the 2-1 attack always gives pause to almost all French players, especially at this stage of the game where the dreaded Attacker Eliminated (A elim) or almost as bad ½ A elim could be rolled. Naturally, more one-factor units are consumed using this tactic, but it significantly slows the French tempo of play, their rate of advance toward the North edge, and most importantly increases the frustration level of the French player. All the while the arrival of the Prussian IV Corps and other British reinforcements adds pressure to the exasperated French player.
So before you throw up your hands and proceed to bid exorbitant factors to play the PAA side, can the French player do anything to keep the hope of reestablishing the Empire alive? Well, of course they can and what follows are some tips and strategies to keep the PAA player uncomfortable and always aware that they really don’t have sufficient forces to delay the French enough to win during the middle game. In the opinion of this GM, there is a single viable French strategy to consider during the Middle game and it can be termed the Flanks - Center strategy. In reality this strategy is a continuation of the primary French strategy of threatening a wide frontage, concentrating to attack vulnerable points and units in the PAA defense, and forcing the PAA to battle in open terrain. But both the flanks and center must be worked in combination to break the PAA MLR in a timely manner. This strategy is dependent on the reunification of the French forces threatening Nivelles and Quatre Bras in the very center of the board. The French then have use of the primary road between the two towns with the resultant ability to mass forces at a point of attack of their choosing which the PAA player cannot match. The French seem stronger and more of a threat once united. Based on the identification of the board geography which heralds the Middle game, if the French have not united in the center of the board, then the game is still in the Early game regardless of the time and in most instances, a truly bad sign for the French. The biggest PAA vulnerability is the very long length of the middle game’s MLR and the less than adequate number of units to not only defend the length but more importantly to retain sufficient forces in the right placeto counterattack to maintain that line. The French must take advantage of this weakness which can be summarized by the single word - brittle!
It is no mystery that the Flanks part of the strategy concentrates on the western and eastern sides of the board. In the West, forcing the river just south of the Braine le Comte Road is the first step. A big French advantage is their use of “interior lines”. French units that are on the river in the vicinity of hex Y42 can threaten either the river or the defenses near Nivelle. The vulnerable hex of V47 has already been mentioned and if the PAA player does not defend there, then there may be other opportunities to force the river. If the PAA player uses 7-4 divisions to defend in this sector, then this is good for the French as there are fewer major units in the center and the swing forces can move into the center for attacks there. If the PAA player positions units to counterattack in the far west, this too is good as there will be less units for counterattacking in the middle of the board. There are considerably more options on the eastern flank beginning with a French advance of cavalry toward Wavre. If at least 14 factors of cavalry head north, then this provides sufficient forces to attack a doubled 2-6 which is a usual type of screening unit. Of course, if the PAA player has committed an equal or larger force then this is good too as they will be sorely missed in some other sector and a single French attack may not be needed. Once the Dyle River has been crossed in force usually near the Thil/Dyle river junction, a major French decision looms. Some French units, including the Wavre cavalry force, should continue to drive toward the LaLasne River which forces the PAA player to divert forces from the center to defend this river as the eastern defection road is close by. Others should concentrate to attack the vulnerable eastern flank of the Genappe River defense. The relative strength of the PAA forces in the center will govern the size of each eastern French force with a stronger LaLasne force if the PAA is weak in the center. Likewise, if the PAA defense is formidable in the center, a weaker LaLasne force is warranted.
So next we turn to the center part of the strategy as this is the sector where most games are decided. Doubled river and hilltop hexes dominate the PAA defense. Attacking doubled PAA positions is most disconcerting to the French player as the outcome of an exchange is most damaging. Attacking across a river is even more troublesome since the advancing units are even more vulnerable as they cannot retreat after combat and will likely draw available PAA counterattacks. However, by not advancing at least one unit, the PAA player can counterattack and maintain the doubled position. In the opinion of this GM, The French must take the risk and attack some of these doubled positions in the center of the board in coordination with the French activity on the flanks. If the flanks are making favorable progress, then a more conservative attack posture may be acceptable in the middle. This GM prefers attacking the hilltops since they cannot be retaken very easily and there are retreat routes if forced back by a PAA counterattack. Taking advantage of vulnerable hex T34 is essential as this is one of the few undoubled hexes and it improves access to the nearby hilltops. This series of attacks must capitalize on the brittleness of the PAA defense, maintain pressure along the entire MLR, and force the PAA to retreat to the end game’s MLR which is much more open terrain. The French player’s personal preferences are in the forefront here as they may desire to launch more dispersed 2-1 attacks or initiate fewer 3-1 attacks. Some combination of the two odds attacks may be more desirable. However, there must be enough of them to dilute the strength of PAA counterattacks or so many attacks that the PAA player cannot respond to them all with counterattacks. Ideally, one of these attacks will be a 3-1 across the river as this guarantees a French advance which in reality will usually act as a diversion drawing the PAA’s attention and counterattack units. Since the French player must concentrate to launch these attacks it will be necessary for weaker French units to garrison other portions of the central MLR. Even 2-6’s behind the river are sufficient for this task as the PAA player will have their hands full responding to the other major attacks. Just don’t leave any gaps that would allow PAA cavalry to get in the rear!
The great thing about the game is that there is no “perfect” defense or offensive plan to assure victory. Both players must be knowledgeable of offensive and defensive tactics and techniques and the Middle game is the best example of this intricate “dance” of move and countermove culminating in fierce attacks and determined counterattacks. In the opinion of this GM, this is one of the key factors that keeps this 54-year-old classic wargame popular in the community of gamers. Hopefully, the above commentary will help players of all skill levels in their enjoyment of the game.
The competition to reach the semifinals this year was intense with half of the 20 players investing the time and energy to garner enough victory points to make the final four. Nine of the ten had been semifinalists in the past WBC conventions so it came as somewhat of a surprise when the lone “non” semifinalist made the grade. Newcomer Bill “Dinosaur Dad” Riggs joined the three other perennial contenders, Ed “The Menzelator” Menzel, “Tasmanian” Tim Miller, and the always fearsome (and newly married!) Richard “The Dark Knight” Beyma.
In semifinal #1, newcomer Riggs bid five PAA factors to gain command of the PAA armies against Menzel who has made great progress during the last 18 months in building his WAT rep. Bill’s Prussians assumed a very aggressive and forward defense in the vicinity of Ligny much like Marshall Blucher did in the historic 16 June battle opening the actual Waterloo campaign. Unfortunately for Bill, history repeated itself as Ed’s French launched major attacks along the entire Prussian frontage on the second turn, destroying 16 factors for the cost of seven French. All of Ed’s major attacks were blessed with Defender Eliminated (DE) results! Bill’s PAA “forward” defensive strategy was again evident in the Nivelles sector two turns later and Ed continued his favorable dice rolling with two more DE results destroying 12 British factors at no cost to the French. Bill’s PAA armies were seriously wounded by late in the afternoon of 16 June when, inexplicably, the Prussians sortied off of the Quatre Bras heights to attack an exposed French 2-6. While they crushed this cavalry division, Ed’s counterattack resulted in the exchange of seven badly needed factors. This exchange hurt Bill much more than Ed and compelled Bill to abandon the Quatre Bras heights. In fact, Bill’s losses were so great at this point that he had to withdraw his forces all the way back to the aforementioned Middle game MLR (the river just south of the Braine le Comte Road, along the doubled river and hilltop positions just north of Nivelle, then to the hills in the center of the board between Nivelle and Genappe, following behind the Genappe River). Ed continued his relentless pressure and by 11AM on 17 June had forced Bill’s forces northward to Mont St. Jean. The loss ratio at this point was 49:92. With an overwhelming numerical superiority, Ed’s French attacked at every opportunity where they could get 3-1 or better odds, eliminating more factors than they lost. By 11AM on 18 June only a single British division and a very weak Prussian corps was all that was left to defend both roads leading to Brussels while the Prussian IV Corps was still four turns away. With the situation hopeless, Bill conceded. (GM note: In post battle interview with Bill, he was asked why he had employed such an aggressive defense early in the game. His explanation was that he had hoped to significantly slow the French advance and hoped that he would suffer more Defender back 2 (DB2) and Exchange (EX) results than DE results. Ed’s string of lucky die rolls invalidated Bill’s strategy).
In the other bracket, Richard Beyma convincingly demonstrated his preference for the PAA when he bid nine which left a somewhat startled Tim Miller in command of the French. Richard’s preference for the PAA is well known. Tim’s opening moves with the French were a little unorthodox as he had only a single corps heading toward Nivelles while the bulk of the French Army remained east of Quatre Bras. Richard responded with double stacks of Prussian infantry divisions entrenched on the Quatre Bras heights. French maneuvers and PAA counter maneuvers dominated 16 June with hardly any major engagements and only cavalry skirmishes (losses of nine PAA versus eight French factors). By 7AM on the 17th, about half the French Army was advancing on the eastern edge toward Wavre while the other half was advancing on Nivelles in the West. The French threat to Quatre Bras was essentially non-existent. So at this stage of the game Tim could be commended for preserving the strength of the French Army but castigated for not breaking the early battle’s MLR. In fact, it wasn’t until 5PM on the 17th that Tim had secured the Thil/Dyle River junction with the loss ratio at that time of 41 French versus only 27 PAA. A French force was also now threatening the “Corridor of Death” on the primary road east of Quatre Bras achieving some success. Late on the 17th, Tim re-directed the attack axis of the eastern forces toward the flank of the Genappe River. Simultaneously, after forcing the river just south of the road to Braine le Comte, an entire French corps halted their advance and sat immobile while the battles in the East raged. Richard counterattacked viciously with the Prussians in the “Corridor of Death” gaining equality in losses there while establishing blocking positions east of Genappe with several large British infantry divisions. With losses favoring the PAA and the arrival of the Prussian IV Corps only one turn away, Tim’s chances of victory were rapidly dwindling! In this game the “Corridor of Death” lived up to its name as the Prussian IV Corps entered the game along the primary road, trapped a large part of the French Army there, and destroyed it. Meanwhile in the West, the French forces seemingly awoke from their stupor and pushed the weak British forces back toward Mont St. Jean. These western British forces slowly withdrew northward while the eastern French Army was destroyed in the encirclement deciding the game in Richard’s favor. (GM note: Tim’s opening moves were considerably less aggressive than what he has demonstrated in the past. Also, there were several French marches and counter marches during the battle (reminiscent of the French I Corps on 16 June in the actual battle) that reduced the pressure on Richard’s PAA. Even with the large PAA bid, a player of Richard’s caliber was able to thwart Tim’s French Army. Tim did not live up to his warrior “call sign” of “Tasmanian”.)
The championship game promised to be a titanic struggle between two masters of the game. Menzel, in anticipation of Beyma’s strong desire to play the PAA, bid a 10 (double !!) and set aside a 6-4 and 4-4 to secure command of the PAA armies. Richard started the French in motion with a slightly smaller infantry force (only six infantry divisions) but 24 factors of cavalry driving toward Nivelles. The bulk of the French Army headed toward Wavre with enough forces to threaten an advance down the “Corridor of Death” and residual forces to threaten a low odds attack on the Quatre Bras heights. It was a pretty standard French disposition for 16 June. Late on the 16th, Richard launched a 1-2 attack against the “Corner of Despair” (the westernmost hex of the three Quatre Bras heights hexes where no retreat is possible) resulting in the loss of his attacking seven factors. Nevertheless, Ed abandoned the heights as the crucial battles were concentrated near the eastern flank of the Genappe River from the major French threat emanating from the Thil/Dyle river junction. Richard attempted a 2-1 against a doubled Prussian 6-4 here that could not retreat but again his luck failed him as he rolled the semi-dreaded ½ Attacker Eliminated (½ AE, remaining units retreat 2). Meanwhile, Ed’s British were slowly retiring toward Nivelles by sacrificing delaying cavalry units. By 9AM on 17 June the loss ratio stood at 36 PAA factors versus 32 French factors. At this time Ed was firmly entrenched in the Middle games MLR with the main units in the central sector and a string of cavalry units screening the LaLasne River in the East. By 3PM, Richard had united his Nivelles and Quatre Bras units and commenced major offensive operations after several turns of “rope a dope” moves and feints. (GM note: Ed’s defense of this MLR was masterful and presented Richard with either doubled units or the ubiquitous 6-4 defending from a single attacking hex.) Richard scored kills against two doubled 5-4s near Genappe and the adjacent hilltop. Realizing that time was running out, Richard declared a General Offensive with two 3-1s near Genappe and two risky 1-1s near the central hilltop hexes. The 3-1s both resulted in DEs but the 1-1s were unmitigated disasters with both attacking forces totally destroyed! These defeats obliterated French morale and Richard was last observed being escorted from the field of battle by the remnants of the Imperial Guard. Ed capped what some consider a meteoritic rise to the ranks of distinguished players with his first championship in this game. BRAVO ZULU to Ed!!!
(GM Note: Ed’s style of play for the PAA is marked by his careful but continuous use of delaying units to both impede the French advances and maximize the screened 6-4 single hex defense. He was also very successful in conserving his major infantry units which made his defense of the Middle game MLR that much more effective. A serious discussion with Mr. Menzel will occur over the next year as his warrior “call sign” may more appropriately be “The Delayanator” vice either “The Menzelator” or “The Magnificent”.
This completes the 2016 after action report. This tournament was especially fulfilling and I strongly recommend and urge all players who did not attend to reconsider and return to WBC 2017. The venue is spectacular, well appointed, well maintained, and extremely customer focused and friendly. Just one example was when Tim Miller’s old WATERLOO game sustained some rain damage from a minor roof leak. Not only was the leak repaired by the next day, but Tim was compensated for the damage to his game. Come back in 2017 and try your hand again, or for the first time, at one of the most fun and balanced wargames ever.