Updated: Jul 7
Heston & Ealing club members Juan and Theo recently attended a multiplayer Waterloo refight at ValkyRX Birmingham. This is an Intelligent Wargames Table enabling huge battles with miniatures, all resolved by computer in real time - dispensing with cumbersome rules and dice. As Juan relates in his post...
On 18 June (to coincide roughly with the anniversary of the battle) we all gathered at ValkyRX in Edgbaston, Birmingham to refight Waterloo – without doubt the most analysed battle of all time. This wargame was in support of the “Help for Heroes” charity.
I should explain first that ValkyRX has a game table like no other. Each unit/command has an NFC tag glued to its base and each “terrain box” has a tag reader. All wired into a central computer. The computer detects which base is in which terrain box as well as its “state” – casualties, ammunition, formation and (if required) its disorder level. For batteries, also its range – and even, the temperature of the barrel. Units can enter buildings/villages/woods by reaching an “entry box” – at which point the computer distribute the troops around the perimeter of the BUA/Woods.
At combat time, the table selects targets, computes morale, “rolls dice” and computes the results. Even performing some “compulsory moves” for you.
All this means that players can focus on strategy!
The Waterloo battlefield. Frischermont/Papelotte at the near end and Hougoumont at the far end. French (south-side) are on the left. Note the hexagonal “terrain boxes”.
To add to the realism, the game is played “on the clock” in near real time. Each side has two minutes to manoeuvre, which, upon expiration, locks the units where they are found.
After both sides have moved, the computer works out if there is (can be) any fire or combat. It flashes the units in green/red and at the end of combat flashes the winner in green and the loser in red. Any “weakened” units are highlighted and left to commanders to retreat them or continue the combat. The combat phase takes around a minute and then, without rest, the cycle starts again.
The French side was led by three men well known to H&E club members: Dave Burden, Theo Dennison and Juan Amador – expertly aided by Martin Taylor, who made it all the way from North Yorkshire specially for this game.
Waterloo is always more fun if you play the French (okay, in MY opinion). Allies often play a defensive game, waiting for the Prussians to arrive and disrupt the French line. Last minute victory does not quite make up for a full day (or two) of defensive, boring play!
On this occasion, the overall (French) plan was simple: to attack where the Allied line is weakest early on with the biggest possible punch to attempt breakthrough before the pesky Prussians arrive. The attack was to be led by a combined “Supercorps” consisting of the I Corps (D'Erlon) and Kellermann's Cavalry Corps. II Corps (Reille) was to take on the allied right flank to ensure that as many enemy troops as possible were pinned on that side. The Imperial Guard was to take the centre (it could have reinforced either side, or attempted a direct breakthrough if the Allies had been as foolish enough as weaken the centre beyond help) and VI Corps (Lobau) was to be in reserve/cover the French right flank.
Importantly, the French were under orders not to assault any buildings, but could place suppression fire on them. Artillery was to be used to create no-go areas and hinder Allied movement – as all Allied troops were behind the “reverse slope” and thus hard to hit to any effective degree. The French did not occupy any buildings (e.g. Belle Alliance or Plancenoit) to preserve their strength.
This is the original disposition. The thick lines indicate the respective areas of deployment.
Supercorps advances. Lobau gets in position to protect the right flank. Reserve Artillery (12 pounders, 3 batteries) moved to the centre to create a no-go area for the Allies.
Supercorps “shifts right” allowing the Guard to take the centre. French flank units create distractions.
Defending exposed flanks proved hard under these rules. Allies attempted sorties from occupied buildings in Frischermont but with little success.
Sensing danger, Wellington sends Lambert and Uxbridge to reinforce its left – alas it proves too late, as the Allied left starts to be turned.
At this point in the game, the Prince of Orange sent several cavalry units to try to halt the Guard advance. He did not succeed.
The Allied I Corps launches somewhat desperate single-handed attacks onto Reille which are repelled.
D’Erlon achieves the breakthrough, detaching what's left of the Cavalry Corps (Kellermann) to deal with Prussians.
The Guard is also pushing back elements of Allied I Corps and Picton (albeit slowly due to some computer-driven rule unknown to the players!). The entire line from La Haye Sainte to Papelotte and back to Plancenoit is flashing red with combat.
A Prussian cavalry detachment makes it through Lobau's lines and threatens the French rear but cavalry and artillery units are detached to deal with this threat.
The Imperial Eagle prevailed on this occasion.
General D’Erlon advancing the I Corps! In this picture the terrain boxes are lit up.
French lines advancing. At the top right corner, D’Erlon and Reille are questioning each other: ”are you sure about this?”. Napoleon engaged elsewhere taking pictures. Note the heavily defensive allied line on the left of the picture. Prince of Orange's forces are at the near end.
I Corps' “shift to the right” finally taking place and confusing the enemy. I Corps and Kellermann's cavalry concentrate in the gap between the Imperial Artillery reserve (the “three daughters”) and Frischermont. Behind the batteries on the far left, the Imperial Guard commences its advance in the hope of pinning the Allied centre.
Dave (Reille) orchestrating his diversionary right flank attack. In the centre, Hougoumont, which (this time) was bypassed by the French.
We have contact. French I Corps + Kellermann (the “Supercorps”) attack the thin Allied left flank. Belle Alliance in the background. You could feel the fear in the Allied lines.
Allied line is engaged on the left and centre. At this time the table starts flashing red everywhere as fire and combat occurs across the entire line.
So - is ValkyRX the future of wargaming? Halfway between a computer game and board-game? Or a threat to all we figure-painting, rules-writing, dice-rolling traditional gamers stand for?!
Write me a blog giving your opinion! - Ed.