Souvik's Waterloo

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Waterloo, November 2010

Yesterday, I finally managed to beat Wellington and Bluecher’s combined armies near this little Belgian village called Waterloo. This happened on my third attempt when I finally decided to play on the easy skill level. Yes, I’ve bought Napoleon: Total War after reading all those rave reviews that dub it the best strategy game ever and although I haven’t gone very far with the campaigns, I’ve played all the historical battles that are available in the game. Waterloo, obviously is one of the most signficant. The historical battles begin with you playing as the British at Waterloo and end by putting you in the same battlefield as the French - talk about complex and nonlinear histories. Of that, however, another time. Here, I’m more concerned with strategy and with describing how I led Napoleon’s army to victory.

That's the man!

In the real battle of Waterloo, the British under the Duke of Wellington were facing Napoleon himself near Waterloo, an area that the Duke had visited and remembered from the previous year. The British army was actually a very mixed group of soldiers with many Dutch and Prussian units. They were stationed at a strategically advantageous position behind a ridge with only a fraction of their main strength exposed to Napoleon. Further, below the ridge lay three villages which they occupied: Papellotte on the left, Huguemont on the right and Le Hayes Sainte in the centre. The French forces were on lower ground within striking distance of the villages and with superior artillery. They had lost some vital time in beginning the attack on account of the ground being too muddy for the artillery to move. Wellington and Napoleon had never faced each other. The only way for the French to win was to defeat Wellington before his Prussian allies under Bluecher arrived to reinforce him. The Prussians did arrive in time and Napoleon suffered a devastating defeat after which he was exiled to St. Helena.

In Napoleon, the number of forces on each side are much less than in the actual battle. Nevertheless, the units that participate in the battle are all historical units and their placement on the battlefield is more or less accurate. The events, however, might be quite different because they depend on how you play the game. The battle is hard, very hard indeed. Quite uncannily you end up doing what Napoleon did in the actual battle and suffer the same consequences. I’ve watched Waterloo, the movie, countless times and read the battle plans as many times. Many a time had I thought that if I had a chance, I’d do it all differently. However, this didn’t quite work out in Napoleon and except on the easiest level, my troops were decimated to a man.

Waterloo: Battle Map in
Napoleon Total War

Even though I say so myself, I’m no mean armchair general. I’ve conquered the other Total War games with relative ease, even at the hardest levels. Napoleon, however, is way too hard. The AI is quite good and the game cheats a bit and starts you off with unfair handicaps. The three farmhouses are virtually indestructible and after a constant barrage of 12-pounder fire on them  for over an hour (game time), I was only able to cause 3% damage to Papellotte. Wellington’s troops have incredible high morale whereas even Napoleon’s Guard show their backs much more easily. Finally, Napoleon’s famed artillery is hardly present on the field. In Waterloo, Christopher Plummer (as Wellington) is heard saying that Napoleon moves his cannon as if they were pistols. In the game, Napoleon hardly has any cannon to move and those that he has are under sustained artillery attack seconds after the game starts. God, how I missed my 24-pounder howitzers from Empire: Total War.

The battle, however, was too big a challenge to resist - fighting in Waterloo against the heaviest odds which, as many forums testify, have beaten many good gamers was sheer glory. After the initial battle scene was revealed through a cutscene, the enemy cannon started blowing holes in the ranks of my fusiliers. Haste was required and I found myself frantically moving all my units save two corps of the Old Guard and Napoleon’s bodyguard. All this while, my stationed artillery fired at the British cannon, if only to draw fire away from my infantry units. Then, the siege of Papellotte began. Unlike Napoleon, I did not choose to tease the British at their strongest position and I did not tempt them out of the ridges that provided them with cover. I had attacked the British left, skirting around a hill towards Papellotte with the mass of my units and leaving two units of fusiliers to attack the farmhouse and one to wait as reserve.

The jaegers in Papellotte were overthrown after some initially effective resistance. The farmhouse in French hands,  my reserve fusiliers moved in to provide the extra support against any troops that might emerge from hiding (from previous gameplay, I knew that there was a detachment of Rifles concealed nearby).

Battle Plan for Waterloo in my gameplay of
Napoleon: Total War

As soon as I reached the far side of the hill near Papellotte, the Prussian army began to pour in. Marshal Grouchy who was sent to pursue them had clearly been as unsuccessful in the game as he was in the historical battle. I could almost hear Napoleon sighing, ‘Grouchy, Grouchy! How he tries my patience!’. Anyway, you don’t need to be a Bonaparte to get upset with incompetent colleagues. Seeing the Prussian move closer, I had my cannon unlimber and spray his front ranks with canister fire while my lancer cavalry dug into his rearguard which was already being harried by my grenadiers and fusiliers. The Prussian cavalry had by now come within range of my fusiliers who quickly formed squares to repel cavalry charges. Encouraged , and at the same time, not knowing what else to do I threw in my cuirassiers and Marshal Ney’s cavalry into the melee. My cavalry was, alas, destroyed to a man but by God, they managed to break the Prussians. Bluecher, their general, was dead and their artillery was being cut to pieces by my Chasseurs Cheval horsemen whom I had moved into this sector. The game AI here was quite spectacular in its stupidity. The British troops stood still and watched while I destroyed their allies. The Prussians destroyed, I had over four infantry divisions and the mounted Chasseurs to attack Wellington’s left flank with. Even more importantly, I had my horse artillery up on the mountain with Wellington’s flank at my mercy. Soon the Earl of Uxbridge’s horseman were scattered by volleys from my cannon. The dragoons and the Duke’s cavalry who charged to save their dying comrades were sliced to pieces by my fusiliers in square formation. Soon the British commanders were dead and my troops were proceeding to roll up the British lines like a carpet.

That, however, was not to happen too easily: the Black Watch intervened. Masses of these Scottish soldiers attacked me in waves, their red uniforms soaking up their blood but still their morale held and constant fire from two sides, canister fire from my artillery and two abortive cavalry charges could not break them. I had to throw my fresh division of the Young  Guard against them as my other two divisions routed. The Black Watch was beaten at last but as the last tartan uniforms were edging away to retreat, they created time for waves of British infantry to move into position and harass my Young Guard. An advancing column of Rifles (anyone familiar with Sean Bean from Sharpe’s Rifles ?) was  held back by my fusiliers in the Papellotte farmhouse. Time to send in the Old Guard.

The British finally attacked my left flank. Jaeger and Riflemen (remember Sharpe’s Rifles) attached my only Fusilier Regiment that remained intact  - firing at will, they almost broke my ranks. The Old Guard had just started marching and one Corps was despatched to destroy the British light infantry. The Jaegers and Riflemen dissolved into the forest whence they had emerged. This time, however, they didn’t retreat in order: they routed.  

I don't like St. 'Elena: going home after victory

My reserve was now poised towards attacking the British flank and my artillery kept firing ceaselessly. The Young Guard had held and the Fusiliers from Papellotte had given them some support. It was now the turn of the Old to replace the Young. Two companies of my elite Old Guard broke the British flank. I could now send Napoleon’s bodyguard to mop up the rear of the routing British and Dutch. They offered to surrender and I accepted. My men were exhausted and I couldn’t pursue. Shifting the camera further above the battlefield I actually saw the British soldiers running away - little red squares scattered on the mini-map while the blue squares representing my remaining army in a close formation on Wellington’s chosen hillock.

That’s how the Battle of Waterloo was won by Napoleon … by me.

1 comment :

  1. Very Interesting! Ive just picked up NTW and will be getting into it soon. I also play the old Tiller Nappy games using my miniature collection on a large table as a sort of blown up 3d display.

    You can even play Napoleonics onlineas a virtual soldier, using Warband, a free download, and their napoleonic mod. Anyone who wants to serve as a soldier at Waterloo can contact me and come out with our regiment, the Prussian Garde Schutzen.