Quatre Bras was one of Napoleon’s two incomplete victories two days before Waterloo. The other, Ligny, saw the French holding the field but allowing a significant portion of the Prussian army to retreat in good order. Had Grouchy understood the context of his mission to follow the Prussians, the consequences for Waterloo might not been as bad as they were. Quatre Bra was an even bigger mix-up. Ney was ordered to move west to find the Anglo-Allied army. Contact was made at the cross-road town of Quatre Bras but Ney seemed confused about his mission. Was he to seize the area or to pin Wellington? The muddle was further exacerbated because the reinforcements he expected, D’Erlon’s I Corps, spent the day marching and counter-marching between Ligny and Quatre Bras. This ill-directed action is portrayed in NorbSoftDev’s Waterloo add-on, Scourge of War: Quatre Bras.
Through Many Eyes
NorbSoftDev’s Scourge of War series of 19th century real-time tactical battles are renowned for their graphics and versatility; Quatre Bras is no exception. Terrain includes forests, fences, buildings showing bricks, shingles and shutters, roads, cobble-stone streets, even blades of grass are shown vibrantly. Two mini-maps can be toggled for a quick overview and moving to selected points. These views can be enhanced by the many camera controls. Player can see things from a bird’s eye or as a field mouse. Zooming in shows individual belt buckles and stirrups while zooming out provides a panorama of most of the area. Rotating the screen allows a view of an attack from the foe’s perspective. The ultimate view is the “Headquarters in the Saddle” option that puts players in the skin of the highest ranking officer, limiting view to what he could see. Stars indicate leaders while objectives can be seen with symbols in the sky over the target. Bulls-eyes mark possible targets and a small box in the upper left details units’ conditions. The dead litter the field as a pocket watch ticks off the battle’s pace. Info bars at the bottom of the screen show unit and army status as well as providing command and view shortcuts.
The graphics of units are history lessons in themselves. Who knew what the uniforms of the Brunswick army or its flag looked like? The detail for each soldier is depicted down to the last button. Given that the Anglo-Allied army had a different uniform for each regiment, the variety of color immense. Artillery and cavalry horses look alive and cannon details get down to elevation screws. Animation provides a fine feel of veracity. Men march steadily, fall into formation, kneel or lie down as their flags wave. Cavalry and leaders scamper over the field. Smoke from musket and artillery fire obscure views. Sound effects are appropriate with the screaming and clash of charges particularly impressive. Bugle calls blare out for advances and retreats. Sound also provides clues to how far the battle is from the current camera position, getting louder as the view nears the clash.
The system can be intimidating at first with so many formations, units, orders and views. Fortunately, an in-depth tutorial walking through an actual battle and the 108-page manual do a fairly good job, lessening an otherwise steep learning curve.
“An Infamous Army”
The keys to victory in Napoleonic battles are formations and timing. The game’s mechanics combines both. Selecting a unit’s or leader’s flag selects it and a right click sets its destination and brings up the march context menu. Here, infantry can be ordered to move in column, column by divisions or line with further orders to run. Artillery batteries and cavalry are handled the same way. Large formations function together when a leader is selected, given a destination and a formation is clicked in the menu. Engaged units have a combat menu allowing them to wheel, lie down, split up to form skirmishers, form square, charge or fall back. The default command mode gives the AI control after the player gives it broad direction. The AI can do things like deploy units from column to line when an enemy comes into range but it lacks imagination. Players can take charge and send units off to flank the bad guys or overrun objectives. Orders in larger battles and higher levels of difficulty can be given by sending a message to a subordinate via courier.
Quatre Bras eases players into the system by having different phases of the battle represented by smaller formations. The easiest is a Brunswick brigade delaying the French vanguard. The next step has a French division try to control the Namur road. The entire battle is played at the corps level for both sides. Flavor is given through the eight difficulty levels. At higher levels, the game tosses variants at the player such as D’Erlon getting his act together and reinforcing Ney. Victory is judged by gaining objectives and inflicting casualties within a time frame.
Battles play out pretty much as they did in history with artillery softening up the enemy, infantry delivering fire and a bayonet charge and cavalry pursuing fleeing foes. Defending units tend to fall back in order when outnumbered or outgunned. Routs only occur pursuant to melees with surviving leaders attempting to rally disorganized units. The death of a leader can end a scenario on the spot. In large battles, players will be kept very busy handling many subordinates and units. The arrivals of couriers with messages from headquarters add another level of headache. If players ever get bored with the pre-set scenarios, battles can be customized. Sandbox battles and sandbox campaigns yield even more replay possibilities. PBEM and on-line play are available and easy to access.
The only possible criticism of the Quatre Bras add-on is its complexity but, since players would already have the base game at this point, they should have already accepted this level of difficulty. The game captures the to-and-fro of the battle perfectly and playing either side is a fair challenge. An excellent addition the Scourge of War: Waterloo series.