Review – Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 from Columbia Games


Review – Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign , 1815 from Columbia Games

Design and Map art – Tom Dalgliesh

Box Art – Howard David Johnson

The latest publication from Columbia Games, Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815 simulates the  Waterloo Campaign of 1815. One player commands the French army; the other commands the Allied (Anglo-Dutch & Prussian) armies. The main objective of the game is to defeat the enemy by
eliminating at least half of their army.

This is the 4th edition of this classic block war game which was featured in an earlier Kickstarter campaign, the goal of which was to raise the funds requires to print a top class edition. Its really interesting to look at the photos on Boardgamegeek and to compare how each edition looks. This new 4th edition is really a work of board game art for sure.

Fyi – Key Differences in the various editions:

  • 1st and 2nd edition had 48 blocks–shorter (60+ min.) play time vs. 3rd edition has 84 blocks–more accurate division level
  • 3rd edition had Blücher, Napoleon, and Wellington leader blocks that give slight combat and movement bonuses
  • Although units have increased nearly two fold, the 3rd edition map remains same size, leading to overcrowding.
  • 4th edition has 56 blocks and a larger map – play time is usually 90 minutes or less.


• Mapboard
• Battle Maps (2)
• Wood Blocks (58 + 12 Terrain)
• Order of Battle Cards (2)
• Dice (4)
• Rules


The game board map is gorgeous I must say. When my friend and I were playing at a recent game day, a few gamers game over an remarked just how striking the map looks with the blocks. My only wish would be that the map was larger actually as the blocks do get crowded even on this enlarged map.  The key geographic features of the area of the campaign really stand out, particularly the water barriers which play a big part in the decision making for both players.


Looking at the above Orders of Battle gives you a pretty good idea just how gorgeous the stickers for the units are in this edition of Napoleon. The unit designations and combat values are clear and easy to say when playing. The quality of the components are of the same high standard that I’ve come to expect from Columbia Games and in fact, this look of this game is up there with the best that I’ve seen.

The Battle boards add a nice touch for the major battles that will take place and the blocks are nice and chunky. It all looks great!


The game turn flow is very similar to other games from Columbia games. The game turn track is interesting and a little puzzling as the Night turns are allocated to a different player for each night turn. I’m just not sure how logical this is but I suspect that there was a design reason for this.

The game is played in alternate Player Turns, beginning with a French Turn, then an Allied turn. Black turns are night turns. The player taking a turn is called the Active player; the opponent that turn is the Enemy player.

Each Player Turn has three phases:
The Active player conducts a quota of Group Moves. The French player can move 2 groups, the Allies can move 1 group for the Wellington’s troops and 1 for Blucher’s Prussians. Each road type limits how many units can move from town to own as does the water obstacles.  Force-marches are resolved after all movement. Something I’ve learned here is that the French player needs to Force march a lot in the earlier turns to stand any chance at all to win. This is risky as force marching means that there is a good chance that you will loses stragglers, thereby weakening your forces.
When battles do occur, as they will at some point, they are created when the Active player moves units into the same town as enemy units. They are resolved on tactical boards. An interesting aspect here is that if one player has 3 or less units or less a skirmish, rather than a battle occurs which is much more limited than the battle process below. Another lesson for me is that the French may not have too many chances to force a battle but must certainly attempt to do so. The allied player will do their best to ensure that the pesky skirmishes get in the way delaying the pitched battle that the French must have to stand a chance of winning.

Battles are fought over an unlimited series of alternating Battle Turns, Active Player first:

• MORALE: Determine morale for engaged units at strength 1. These weakened troops may decide that they’ve had enough and leave the field.
• COMBAT: Units are deployed in the right, center or left of the line or placed as reserves. The blocks are deployed with the unit strengths facing the owning player until battle commences so there is a good gog of war aspect.  Each unit may Move, Fire, or Retreat as desired on the Battle Boards. So their is a tactical feel which involves terrain placement, movement to engage troop formations including squares. You Combat is rolling the requisite dice to achieve hits against the strongest enemy unit each round. Hits cause units to weaken and lose effectiveness.
• REINFORCE: add new units to the Reserve from adjacent towns. You need to consider placement and having units available to reinforce your pitched battle.
The enemy player then takes a Battle Turn. Alternating Battle Turns are repeated until one side retreats or is routed. Battles don’t last to long as the troops have a limited capability of absorbing losses so at some point, the commander taking more losses is bound to try and leave the field with some semblance of forces.

After all battles have been resolved, players resolve Allied supply (French turns only), then check to see if any of the armies have been defeated. Determine victory if relevant.

The game turns play quite fast due to the limited movement of groups and the lack of many pitched battles. This is certainly a game of manoeuvre as a campaign game should be. The rules are easy enough and you will get into the game fast.

Each commander has a different problem to solve. The French have to be the “firstest with the mostest” right from the start. The French forces are much more consolidated and this needs to be brought to bear quickly through forced marches. The movement limits are very restricting and mean that the French player is in a great position to bring battle quickly. Having said that, the water features effect what the French can bring to battle so its not a walk over by any means.

The Allies on the other hand are dispersed and limited to one group movement per army so a double whammy of sorts faces them. They need to consolidate as soon as possible but it will take a while.The big advantage here is that there is a benefit of keeping screening skirmishers out in front while the main body comes together. This can probably prevent the French from delivering an early knock out blow.

The game plays pretty fast and the game process works very well.

Did I enjoy Napoleon: The Waterloo Campaign, 1815?

I really enjoy Napoleon thats because I really want to crack it as the French.

I’ve played Napoleon both face to face and solitaire and so far I have a sense that the French have the tougher task. Even if you break through to reach the Allied supply cities, it is a desperate thing and I think that you will be lucky to hang onto any one of them for long. Having said that, the French player must look for the opportunity to do so. The rules allowing for skirmishes is clever, and really puts the damper on French plans if the Allies use their skirmishing forces well.

This is a stressful game for both players because of the differing problems faced by each and I suspect that over many plays, it it become more and more a classic. One could argue that the game is unbalanced in favour of the Allies. I’m not sure yet as I suspect that there are just thinner margins for error for the French. The Allies problem is a bit more forgiving I think. Time and more plays will tell.

The bottom line for me is, Naploeon keeps calling me to have another go because I want to be tested by it. Its a simple game as war games go. Not entry level, as I think that it requires a degree of war game experience, but the simplicity belies the challenge for 2 evenly matched opponents. It plays fast and this means that time is a real pressure on the players. Before you know it, you are 2/3rds through the game and probably have a sense if you can win by then.

So would I recommend Napoleon? Absolutely. Its gorgeous and plays very well and quickly. But be warned, I think that early in, the French player will have a tough time cracking the best approach and will need real luck to keep a strong enough force through force marching and position it very well to stand any chance. If not, you will suffer defeat after defeat as I have. But I don’t care because I am determined to rise to the challenge again and have another go until my lovely Grognards can beat Boney and the Redcoated Ros Bif.

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