Review: Scourge of War: Ligny

By Bill Gray 19 Oct 2016 0

Review: Scourge of War: Ligny

Released 13 Oct 2016

Developer: Matrix Games
Available from:
Steam
Direct
Reviewed on: PC

Expansion modules for computer games (or DLC, Downloadable Content, to be politically correct) are not normally known for revolutionary game changes other than whatever updates the original package receives. Instead, most DLCs garner their reputation because of the subject matter covered, and this is certainly the case for Scourge of War Ligny (SOWL), the third of the four battles from the Waterloo campaign to be published. Following behind the original product which covered Waterloo and then its follow-up Quatre Bras, Ligny leaves Lord Wellington and his Anglo-Allied forces to concentrate on the initial contest between Napoleon and Prussia’s Marshal Blucher and his Army of the Lower Rhine.

Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, Fürst von Wahlstatt was admittedly not the brightest of Napoleon’s opponents, but certainly the most dogged and stubborn. Known as Marschal Vorwarts, das Heilige Donnerwetter (conversationally, something like Marshal Forward, the Avenging Thunderbolt); this is the guy from the Waterloo movie who roared, “Forward my children! Show no pity! I will shoot the first man I see with pity in him!” He also challenged artillery (the guns, not the crew) to sabre duels and claimed to be pregnant with a baby elephant by one of Napoleon’s Guard Grenadiers. Seriously, this chap was two Pommes Frites short of a schnitzel, but to me that alone is worth the $ 19.95 price of admission.

1024px Battle of Ligny

Yet there is much more. Of the four battles during the 100 Days Campaign, arguably this was the most important, even more so than Waterloo itself. This was the battle where Napoleon came within a cat’s whisker – and a very undernourished whisker at that – of winning the whole campaign. True, then the French Armee du Nord would need to spin right and face the other allied powers invading France, but all was not well in the Coalition. The Russians were reliable, but the other small states who previously supported Napoleon, not so much. Bavarians, Saxons and Wurttemburgers were pretty well sick of fighting for anyone anywhere, and Prussian heavy handedness wasn’t improving morale. Indeed, the Saxon army mutinied and almost skewered Blucher in his own tent. The Austrians were also suspect. After all, Napoleon was married to the Kaiser’s daughter, Maria Louise, very loyal to her husband and a damn good billiards player besides. Also, Vienna had been at war the longest, so was down to its last viable army. It could not afford another defeat. When added to the fact that a Coalition win would increase Prussian power at her expense, defeat of Wellington and Blucher might be enough to persuade Austria to call it a war.    

How did Napoleon come so close? The Emperor employed one of his two favorite operational “strategies,” the so-called Strategy of the Central Position. He humbugged both Wellington and Blucher into not thinking he had concentrated his army and ready to march. Thus he crossed the border at a place and time while the British were enjoying the punch bowl at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball, effectively placing the French army between the Anglo-Allied and Prussian armies, neither of which had concentrated their forces for combat. The idea was to leave a corps (Ney at Quatre Bras) to delay one of the Coalition armies while the rest of the French army (Napoleon at Ligny) destroyed the other. Then the French would reverse course and attack whatever was left over. It worked so well that at 7:00 pm overlooking Ligny, Napoleon was just about to shock the world once more. Though what foiled him can only be described as army level Australian “walkabout,” this in a nut shell is why Ligny was so important, and thus the primary reason why this DLC is a must buy.

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Yet there are some other reasons as well. The big one for me was that now you get to play with units and forces that turned up at neither Waterloo nor Quatre Bras. For the Prussians you have Johann Adolf, Freiherr von Thielmann’s III Korps. This corps was unique because several of its units – infantry, artillery and cavalry – were formerly the Russo-German Legion raised from German prisoners by the Tsar after the 1812 campaign. They showed up to party in their Russian uniforms, with Russian cannon to boot. Likewise the 27th Infantry Regiment was actually formed from Hellwig's Freikorps (privately funded volunteers) infantry, Reiche's Jaegers, the reserve battalion of Elbe Regiment and 7th Replacement Battalion. The corps was quite colorful, and quite brittle. Outside the units noted above, the corps had only a single regular infantry regiment, the 8th (Leib) but six Landwehr (militia) regiments vice the normal three. The corps artillery park included only six artillery batteries vice 11, and one of those was manned by Berg troops recently loyal to Napoleon. It’s really the command you assign the most obnoxious gamer during multi-play.

Not to be outdone the French weigh in with . . . well actually, quite a lot. Of particular note is General de Division Dominique Vandamme’s III Corps. Vandamme was a rascally and profane character, so much so that Napoleon declared had he two of him; he would force one to hang the other. His 10th Division, 2d Brigade included the 2e Régiment d'Infanterie Etranger, a Swiss unit all decked out in red.

Otherwise, what remains is a host of updates to the original game, and you can take a look at the list via the www.wargamer.com’s initial look at the previously published Quatre Bras expansion DLC, things like improved Hanoverian flags and the like. I also won’t go into the actual specifics of gameplay or interface as I have previously covered that in my (over) extensive review of SOW Waterloo which you can visit and reread for all the details.

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I will reemphasize this, however. If you are looking for Total War “Hollywood History” with slick, smooth animation and pristine graphics, this is not the game you’re looking for. Yet, the game is spectacular graphically in another way - its historical accuracy. Up close, the visuals are blurred, but from a little distance out the 2D images are sharp, vivid with colors, formations and flags looking the way they are supposed to, with movement the July 1815 way. Backpacks and other battle accoutrements are placed where they need to be, the type they are supposed to be and this gives the impression of a game well thought out in all its parameters. If you need proof then check Theodore Yung’s period engraving with this article and compare a screenshot, or a video of how cavalry really charged back then compared to gameplay. The game wins graphically, in a different way than Total War, but it wins nonetheless.

Oh yes, so what about 7:00 pm?

If you look at the description of the French or Prussian army scenario for SOWL, you see a notation for a scenario variant that includes French Comte Jean-Baptiste Drouet d'Erlon’s I Corps and Prussian General der Infanterie Friedrich Wilhelm Freiherr von Bülow’s IV Korps in their entirety as part of the battle. Whoa! Now that’s different. Norbsoft Development has confirmed that these two formations may just show up at random whenever you play the Ligny army scenario, specifically a one in six chance. So if you’re Prussian, for example, you could see at about 7:00 pm (starting to make sense now, right?) Monsieur d’Erlon and 20,000 really angry Frenchmen show up on your right flank. I don’t think I’ve seen a similar option in games elsewhere, but if correct, I do think it elevates SOWL to heights above that of a regular DLC. Imagine the extra challenge and how gameplay might change not knowing an extra enemy corps might show up at the most inopportune time, or then again, maybe not. What about the possibility that an extra friendly corps might be made available? Should you base your game plans on this eventuality, and what happens if it doesn’t happen? Now that is some hefty command realism.

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Historically it’s pretty much a stretch for a Prussian arrival. On the 14th of June Blucher sent orders to Bulow to prepare to move his corps to Hannut, and then sent another set of orders at midnight, same day, directing he now march to Hannut immediately. Bulow executed the first set of orders but only received the second at noon on the 15th. At this point given his current deployment and the fact that some formations would not be ready to march until sundown, Bulow delayed his movement until the next day. As a result, he was still about 60 miles from Ligny when the shooting started.

The French I Corps is something else altogether. The entire formation entered the battle area near Ligny at 7:00 pm (here we go), scaring Vandamme witless until he found out it was d’Erlon and the lads. What happened next has got to be worthy of a head slap, Keystone Cops movie and “you gotta be kidding me” all wrapped into one. I Corps had already received instructions from Marshal Michel Ney to move on Quatre Bras and collapse Wellington’s flank, but Napoleon thought otherwise and dispatched a courier ordering d’Erlon to swing east and fall on the Prussian right flank. General d’Erlon obeyed and changed the direction of his corps towards Ligny, informing Ney of the change. Ney went 19th Century postal and sent another courier to d’Erlon countermanding the Emperor’s orders and sent the corps back to Quatre Bras. Obviously Napoleon had precedence, but then again Ney was the volatile type who often reinforced his demands with a brace of loaded pistols. Thus d’Erlon changed course again and marched to . . . absolutely nowhere. All this marching back and forth meant that I Corps never arrived in time to influence either battle. Had it done so, the campaign would likely have ended right then and there with the Emperor strolling into Brussels soon after

We’ll keep you updated, but I really hope this is true. The Prussians are simply outmatched by the French no matter what, so d’Erlon’s unimpeded arrival means the Prussian army has only one tactic left – die in place. But boy, I would certainly like to give it a try as old Marshal Forward . . . with IV Korps as backup. 

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I don’t have many quibbles, pretty much what I said in my pervious Waterloo review. The game works very well and the updates seem appropriate and well thought out. From a visual standpoint, I do think that foliage along streams a bit sparse and I also recommend some of the villages and houses have low lying stone walls sectioning them off. I’m not sure exactly why, but I was stationed in Germany and it seemed to me that that Europeans generally build walls around anything. I also wish there was a third switch for the flag icons. Right now you have on or off, but I wish there was one called Historical. Many units simply did not carry flags. Prussian Landwehr was forced to turn theirs in prior to the battle as they had no royal sanction, while light cavalry and infantry often had none issued as their dispersed formations made them too easy to capture. Finally and unlike many other Matrix games, this one is going to require a bit of advanced PC horsepower, and if you are a Windows 8.1 or 10 user, remember you must run the executable (folder Steam/steamapps/common/Scourge of War Waterloo/SOWWL.exe) in Windows 7 compatibility mode as an Administrator to make the game work. I have a 3.5 (4.2 turbo) gig AMD APU quad processor, 32 gigs RAM and a Radeon HD8750D HD card and I had no issues at all.

In closing I would like to draw your attention to the tabs on the left side of the scenario screen and note that one is labeled Wavre. This is the fourth and final battle in the Waterloo campaign, and indicates at least one more DLC to come. When this happens I hope alongside it is a campaign type option that will combine all four tactical maps into a single 10+ by 10+ mile sheet where the entire resulting real estate can be fought as a single, huge engagement. So for example, what happens at Ligny will influence if Waterloo is even fought, not fought, near la Belle Alliance or somewhere else. If you have ever played Kevein Zucker’s classic Napoleon’s Last Battles quad game, you will understand. If not you are in for a real treat.

This article covers a game published and/or developed by members of the Slitherine Group. For more information, please see our Reviews Policy.

Review: Scourge of War: Ligny

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