Thursday, May 29, 2008

Eagles: Waterloo Review

Eagles: Waterloo was the last in Columbia Games' short-lived foray into collectible card games.

Like Dixie, it plays rather more like a boardgame than a card game, with most of the cards being used as unit and leader counters or terrain markers. Only the few "special" cards are played, card-like, to influence the action.

This isn't surprising, as the game system is an elaboration of the tactical battle subsystem used in Columbia campaign games like Bobby Lee and Napoleon.

Compared to the Dixie series, Eagles: Waterloo is more intricate, as befits the style of Napoleonic warfare, which involved richer interactions than the Civil War battlefield. Combined arms effects and differentiation between units is more important in Eagles. The Civil War battlefield was an infantry fight, with artillery and cavalry playing subordinate roles. Most of the infantry was armed and trained the same as well, so Dixie could treat all of them as similar, with the only differences being size and (at Gettysburg) morale.

In Eagles there are significant differences between types of cavalry and infantry, with the effects of lancers, Guards and other elites, British firepower and horse artillery being among the factors considered.

Units have a "Combat Values" based on their size, which controls how many dice they roll in combat. A CV 4 unit rolls 4 dice, for example. The effect of those dice depends on its "F" (firepower) value or "S" (shock) value. Eagles rules have never been revised, so they missed out on the recent rationalization of Columbia rules which universally switched from high being good to low being good, so an F3 still means 4-6 succeeds instead of the more intuitive 1-3 of newer games. Firepower is used for most fighting, while shock is reserved for certain special cases such as cavalry charges or infantry column assaults.

Rules factor in the effects of formations such as columns and squares and the more open nature of Waterloo compared to the American battlefields. In Eagles terrain cards can only hold one or two units and don't count for stacking, which creates a very different environment from the section-wide effect of Dixie terrain.

The battles in Eagles tend to be short, brutal affairs because of a major change in victory conditions. In Eagles a side wins the instant it controls one enemy sector, instead of the two required in Dixie. This also allows Eagles to dispense with the flanking rules of Dixie because the game ends as soon as the flanking condition is achieved.

Units also tend to be a little more fragile than Dixie units because there are a lot more low morale units, especially among the Prussians and Dutch-Belgians. Some of these are large CV4 or CV5 units that have morale levels of C or D, meaning they fail morale on a 2 or a 1, respectively. The "rally" special card has also been weakened. Instead of an automatic success, playing the rally card just gives you another chance to pass morale, not much of a benefit for a D unit. (It's best saved to mitigate a bad roll by one of your elite units.)

Eagles: Waterloo includes all four battles of the Waterloo campaign as well as a campaign version, so it actually covers about as much gaming ground as the Dixie series.

It plays enough like Dixie to be easy to learn while being different enough that you don't feel like you're just playing Dixie with prettier uniforms.

The collectible aspect of the game is very secondary, merely consisting of different colored borders to reflect rarity: Gold is rare, silver uncommon and bronze is common. This has absolutely no effect on play and, frankly, little effect on collectibility. I was quite satisfied collecting a complete set of uniforms/units without worrying about the color of the borders.

If, however, you do want all the borders to match, complete sets are still available from Columbia.

Eagles: Waterloo is a good light wargame providing the flavor of Napoleonic battles with an attractive presentation of uniform and OB details usually seen only in miniatures games. It plays brutally fast.

I think the game plays best without using the point system, as the point values don't match the game-effect value very well on many cards. Segregating the cards by the historical battle and then drawing randomly from that group provides a good mix of cards that's usually balanced enough. And if not, you can play again shortly.

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