In the next day or so Scourge of War’s (SOW) Napoleonic quadriga will be complete as the fourth and final horse of the Napoleonic chariot is hitched – the battle for Wavre, 18 thru 19 June 1815. It was here that newly appointed French Marshal Emmanuel Marquis de Grouchy and 33,000 men faced off against 17,000 Prussians under the able command of General der Kavallerie Johann Freiherr von Thielmann. Grouchy’s mission from the Emperor was simple. He was to be the knife in the Prussian army’s back to insure they did not rejoin Lord Wellington’s Anglo-Allied Army of the Low Country. Thielmann’s job was equally simple, to delay Grouchy long enough to allow the 72,000 men of the main Prussian army to do exactly that. While Grouchy won the actual battle, he ultimately failed in his mission and thus allowed Thielmann to succeed in his. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.
Over the weekend I’ve had a chance to play the final beta of SOW Wavre, a DLC package (you do need SOW Waterloo to play it) that completes the Waterloo campaign or at least close to it. I won’t mention any software bugs and the like, as this is a beta, but overall I had a great time and have to label the product a very worthy edition to the SOW line. Here is what I found.
Digital Supply and Transport
Although a beta, the game installed without a hitch and worked pretty smoothly overall. Nevertheless, please note the hardware requirements needed to carry the game. While they may not be of the same intensity as requirements for, say, Titan Fall, they are a bit more than if you are running a John Tiller inspired game such as his Panzer Battles series. Right now my rig runs an AMD Quad 3.5 Mhz Turbo (if not used, two of four cores shut down and speed is bumped to 4.2 Mhz) with 32 gigs of RAM, 4 TB hard drive, a BenQ gaming monitor, Radeon HD8750D video card, supported by a Logitech G910 gaming keyboard and Madcatz MMO gaming mouse. This is way overkill even if old, but if you’ve got anything in this arena, you should be fine. Also, while game specs mandate against a mother board integrated video card, an APU (Advanced Processing Unit) where the CPU and GPU reside on the same die, works without a hitch. Finally, if you are not a speed bump to progress and run Windows 10, check to make sure if you need to run the software in Compatibility Mode.
Avancez les Tambours, a la Bayonette – En Avant!
So far as I can determine, the biggest change to game play is that there are no changes to game play. Outside any updates to the main software package installed previously, the game works about the same. This, in many respects is a good thing. It means that folks who’ve been tackling the other three battles of Waterloo have nothing new to learn when trying to storm the bridges at Wavre.
And the series is deceptively easy to play to begin with, with most of the complexity being the generalship related mental gymnastics players have to deal with to achieve victory. Pretty much all one needs to do is click on the flag of a unit (or of a commander, which activates all the units under his command), then click on a piece of terrain where you want said unit(s) to move to, and then launch. Whether standing, moving, fighting or checking the status of a commander, you can right click on the flag to bring up a mini, square shaped tool bar that allows you to make a variety of adjustments such as change formation, speed up to double time and a whole bunch more. You can also click several of these options at once, then hit execute and the unit(s) will perform all the actions in order. Moving through an enemy unit will result in a charge or if halting and the enemy is in range, friendly forces will auto fire at the most appropriate target.
This, of course, is a simplified retelling of the process, so don’t think there isn’t a bit of detail or chrome here because there most certainly is. One of my favorites is the HITS (Headquarters in the Saddle) switch. Use this option and you will find you can’t really use a 19th Century prop driven drone to micro scan the entire five mile by five mile battlefield the game provides. Instead you can only see what the real commander could have seen from atop his horse standing exactly on that piece of real estate at 0800 hours, 19 June 1815. Good stuff and indicative of the realism first perspective that graces all SOW products.
III Korps Fashion Statement (or why too historical is not always a good thing)
SOW Wavre continues to use graphics based on 3D terrain and 2D military sprites for the armies. For the former the result is probably the most accurate presentation of the Wavre battlefield outside a German General Staff map, and a damned site more attractive. The ground, shrubbery, trees, bridges, roads and structures are properly sized and placed to look distinctly 19th Century European with soft, muted tones for the actual landscape and sharp, detailed buildings otherwise. I can’t swear to it, but the building images seem to have a better, higher resolution than previous, particularly up close. I’ve actually been to the site and from what I see; it’s likely the designers modelled their graphics after the actual buildings standing in the town, or other actual buildings somewhere else. Suffice it to say I actually use this game as templates for painting my own tabletop buildings, so color me impressed.
The 2D infantry, cavalry, artillery and command sprites are not going to be as detailed or move as smoothly as something out of Total War Whatever, though like the buildings, there does seem to be some sort of improvement, with greater depth and a bit of animation in the ranks as well. However, looking at these forces from a bit away is where this game really shines. Accurate formations that maneuver, turn, march and change from line to column historically is all here. How do I know this – reenactors, perhaps the most detailed historians on the planet. I’ve spent many a day on a hilltop watching a recreation of Gettysburg – its near where I live – and I swear those ranks of serried bayonets moving, bobbing and fighting is a dead ringer for SOW. And like history, and unlike Total War, someone quickly breaks and retreats, rather than fights to the last man. If the reenactment crowd has it right, then so does SOW.
Flags and uniforms have always been a big deal for me, and with Wavre the SOW gang really had a grand opportunity to turn up the graphics and glitter. Fortunately they declined to do so. SOW continues its tradition of getting both attire and standards correct down to the individual unit level, or even individual sprite level. Flags are accurate for the most part, for example. Sure many Prussian units did not carry flags as they were dispersed light formations (flag capture too risky) or Landwehr (militia). In the latter case all flags were taken from the Landwehr as they had been locally produced and not approved or officially presented by the king. Personally, if someone wants to risk continued breathing to keep me on my throne, he can fly a bath towel for all I care, but not back then. Regardless, the game does award such units flags (as do all tabletoppers) as a convenience for gameplay using one of the few surviving locally produced designs as a generic.
And speaking of Landwehr, the game shows them smartly and uniformly dressed, something confirmed by several historians such as Philip Haythornthwaite, whereas the French show up in a mixture of regulation tunics and shakos in addition to greatcoats and oilskin headgear covers of various colors. No lie, the Landwehr were better equipped and dressed than French regulars so SOW got it right.
Then we have Thielmann’s III Korps, an organization I refer to as the “ash and trash” of the realm, because a lot of its formations were not Prussian. Kinda. In 1815 many Prussian formations were units cobbled together from former Freikorps (volunteer, privately funded units) and depot units, not to mention former units of independent states annexed by Prussia in 1814. Thielmann’s gaggle seemed to have an inordinate share of these lads and this means multiple uniforms in the same battalion. Thus the Prussian 7th Uhlans (lancers) included members from the old red uniformed Saxon Prinz Clemens Chevauleger and Hellwig’s irregular Freikorps cavalry. The 5th included depot units and the former Berg Hussars still in their old garb, while the 8th Uhlans (and the 30th and 31st Infantry plus two artillery batteries) wore their previous dark green, tsarist Russo-Prussian Legion uniforms and did NOT carry lances to boot.
On the French side we do have the single battalions of Swiss, which actually showed up in their traditional red uniforms, and I really wish the game had displayed them as such. Nevertheless, there does come a point where good, accurate history translates into confusion for typical gamers, so IMHO, the SOW designers made the right call by not accurately dressing out “das dritte Korps.”
Future Campaigns and Conclusion
SOW Wavre comes with five scenarios (plus one user generated offering) to include French army command, Prussian army command, Prussian division command, French brigade command and for the second day of the battle on the 19th, French corps command. There is also one sandbox scenario for the Prussians. Personally I found the brigade scenario to be a far better tutorial that the single battalion example the base game contains, as it allows for dealing with multiple units and their interactions. Regardless, Wavre was a small engagement and short in terms of time as well. This means an entire battle can be played and every single battalion, squadron and battery micromanaged without too much trouble. Yes, you can have the AI perform some tasks for you, but most gamers like to do it themselves and with Wavre you can. Indeed, there are only 17,000 Prussians and the battle didn’t actually commence until after 1800 hours late in the day. I was able to knock out several complete games over the weekend, so in this regard I judge Wavre somewhat superior to the primary game covering Waterloo.
Yet there is room for expansion. I would have loved an option for Wavre not to happen at all, but allow Grouchy to swing west to ambush the strung out Prussian army as it marched to Waterloo, or even Grouchy’s masterful fighting retreat towards Namur after he realized Napoleon’s collapse. And there is my ultimate dream of linking all four games together as a single, oversized tactical slugfest (a good cognac recommended, though not required).
No matter. When you consider the series’ continued high quality as regards accuracy and playability, the familiarity of its rules, then combine all that with the actual subject matter of this latest installment, I think you are looking at the best of the four individual games. Very well done and highly recommended.