A few months ago, we were contacted by Shakos, which is a smaller but growing French publisher. They wanted us to take a look at one of their recent Kickstarter projects for Saladin and Border States and we posted interviews and a preview video. Through the experience, we also played Napoléon 1807 and we liked the system so much that it found its way onto our Top 10 Wargames of 2020 lists. Since that time, they have announced their plans to run a Kickstarter for the next game in the series called Napoléon 1815. We reached out to the designer Denis Sauvage and he was more than willing to give us the inside details about the design.

If you are interested in Napoléon 1815 you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shakos/napoleon-1815-when-the-game-meets-history

Grant: Welcome back for another interview with us. This is now your third game in a series covering the conquests of Napoleon. What was the reason you wanted this subject to be the focus of this game?

Denis: Thanks for having me back. We appreciate the opportunity you are giving us to talk about this interesting series. I think that a series focused on the epic tale of Napoleon cannot be considered complete without addressing the year 1815 and the Battle of Waterloo. I was very quickly made aware of this campaign because the first wargame I bought was Napoleon’s Last Battles Quad from SPI. I also was born on June 18th which was the date of Waterloo. How could I not approach Waterloo in this case!

Grant: The first two games in the series focused on 1806 and 1807. Why now have you skipped ahead to 1815?

Denis: I have always been passionate about the campaigns of 1815. I also have always really wanted to make a game about Waterloo. So this game seemed to me to be the next natural step. We also didn’t wasn’t the game to simply be the same as the previous two games but we wanted to innovate and try to bring something new to the series. And to that end there is the possibility of playing with 3 players in 1815 and not just 2 like in 1806 and 1807.

Grant: The center piece of 1815 is the Battle of Waterloo. How much of this design focuses on that battle? Or are there scenarios including other battles leading up to the climatic clash?

Denis: The Napoleon series focus on campaigns. There is indeed a scenario on the battle of June 18th but also other scenarios retrace the beginning of the invasion of Belgium with the battles of Quatre Bras and Ligny. However, the masterpiece will be the campaign itself.

Grant: What unique challenges does the Battle of Waterloo present for the system and how did you overcome them?

Denis: I think that the biggest change needed was to address the scale of the game as compared to the previous entries. The main reason for the need to change was due to the fact that the campaign of 1815 was very short, only really lasting 3 days from June 16-18th. 1806 and 1807 were played with 2-days turn. For 1815, there are 2 turns for a single day. This matters in the way that exhaustion effects your troops through Fatigue and needed to be adjusted for this shorter duration.

Grant: What new rules or concepts have you included to model the Battle of Waterloo?

Denis: Nothing really special was needed as the fighting was the same type and style and the combatants didn’t really change. The area around Waterloo does benefit from a Reinforced Position marker in order to simulate the English preparation to fight there. This changes things a bit and will make combat a bit more difficult for the French.

Grant: I also see that the game is designed for 2-3 players. How does this work? What different commanders are available to each player?

Denis: With 3 players, the coalition side is split in two with one player taking on Wellington and one Blücher. During the game, the two players have neither the right to communicate nor to exchange their cards unless they are in the same or adjacent zones. There is also an event, Aide-de-camp, which allows it. Each activation, one of the coalition players will be the “leader”, and they will decide who will play from the two. When you take on the role of Napoleon it’s very fun to watch them play.

Grant: What elements from the history did you want to make sure to include and model in the design?

Denis: I really wanted the players to be able to follow in the footsteps of the generals of the time by experiencing the issues and challenges that they faced, while also trying to offer alternative situations for a new experience and take on the history of this campaign. There are lots of games on Waterloo and I wanted this one to have some familiar concepts but also forge some new ground. The fog of war is a determining element of the game. It allows players to replay and have a new and different experience for a very a well-known campaign.

Grant: What strategies are key for the French player?

Denis: The French player must strike fast and hard while he has the advantage and initiative. The French only have 10 game turns to win and there is a lot to complete. If they fail to lower the victory points to zero, they lose, like in Napoléon 1806. A draw is not possible in this game.

Grant: What strategies are key for the Coalitions player?

Denis: The Wellington player must gain time to slow down the French advance towards Brussels. If the French gain Brussels, the game is all but lost. They will also have to react if Napoleon focuses on and attacks the Prussians and not wait to allow their superior forces to whittle them down before deciding to attack them. They will have to support Blücher to take advantage of a favorable balance of power. Remember, that the Coalition has two forces against just one larger force and should coordinate their attacks, without breaking the rules of communication.

Denis: How should Blücher go about supporting Wellington?

Denis: The objective of the Prussian player is not necessarily to support Wellington. They must anticipate French moves to either save their own skin, or join up with Wellington’s army or simply to stay back and threaten the French rear. This simple act of threatening the rear will provide the support that Wellington needs to do their work.

Grant: The game uses cards to drive the action. How are the cards used?

Denis: The cards are at the heart of the game and are multi-use that provide many different options for the players. They are used to determine the movement points of a moving stack, to resolve combats and to provide the necessary supplies to remove fatigue from the army corps. You can also play cards for the associated event. They really make the game as they create so many choices for the players.

Grant: What new type of cards have been added to this entry in the series?

Denis: The new cards are linked to events specific to the campaign. For example, a Grouchy card appears. But we also have The Red Line on the English side or To Brussels, which allows the Prussian player to accelerate their withdrawal.

Something new also are the inclusion of Invasion Cards. This set of cards will allow the French player to impact the timing of the Invasion. The campaign will really start when the French crosses the border of Belgium. When and where that is done can decide the outcome of the game.

Grant: What is the anatomy of the cards?

Denis: Rather than describing it, you should know that cards in this system are multi-use. A card can be revealed to give movement points for a move, resolve a combat or determine the initiative of the turn. It can also be drawn and kept by the player to be used later for its event or to recover from fatigue.

Grant: Can you please show us a few cards and tell us how they work for those unfamiliar with the system?

Denis: The texts of the events are still in French. As of the date of this interview, translation is in progress. At the top right of a card, you have the value used for movement points or initiative. In the center, the description of the event. Bottom left the results of the combat: loss of strength points and fatigue suffered by the opponent. Bottom right, the fatigue you recover when playing the card for this.

Concerning the events of the shown cards, to the left is the well-known Forced March card. With it you can add 1 MP to a moving stack. Then comes the Charge event, thanks to it the Coalition stack reveals 1 more card during a combat, which can be the difference in the battle as there are more opportunities to cause hits or fatigue on your enemy. The third one is the Quick Deployment, which allows the stack to fight a moving attack without incurring the normal penalty of -1 cards being revealed during combat. Then last, but not least, the Grouchy card. By playing it you draw another card to determine the MP of a stack with the Grouchy’s Corps, and maybe, this time, save the day!

Grant: How does the system model the concepts of fatigue and losses?

Denis: As you can see from the Wellington Army Order of Battle card, for each corps, there is one line to display their strength points and a second one for their accumulated fatigue. The strength points will be lost while fatigue cylinders will be added. Following battles or extended marches you will accumulate fatigue up to the skull. If you get till there, then the army corps no longer has combative value. All strength points left are lost. This is one of the main elements of this game, and the player who will manage well the fatigue of their corps will get an advantage over their opponent.

Grant: What is the general Sequence of Play?

Denis: Players usually draw 3 cards they add to their hand at the beginning of the turn. Certain cards have mandatory events. They must be played when drawn, like the Rain card for example. The players then determine the initiative and will alternate operations until all of their corps have been activated. Then the turn ends with the recovery phase where the accumulated fatigue can be removed.

Grant: How does combat work?

Denis: Each army corps will reveal 1 or 2 cards according to its strength points left. You can easily see this on the Wellington Order of Battle. If a corps has too much fatigue (more than 4), it will lose a card. Bonuses and penalties are obtained depending on the corps engaged – the French Imperial Guard for example -, a leader, Wellington gets 1 more card in defense for example, and from events of the cards. By consulting the bottom left of the cards drawn, the players inflict losses and fatigue on their opponent. The side that inflicts the most casualties wins and can pursue.

Grant: Where did your idea for the combat resolution using cards come from?

Denis: When I designed the first game in the series 1806, resolution was done using dice. Economically speaking, it was difficult for Shakos to cast special dice. It was our humble beginnings and we needed to find ways to keep the production costs low. So I looked for another solution. Hence the idea of ​​using cards. An addition that I really do not regret because it is part of the originality of the series. However, we also offer dice in the game. So by the end the players can choose how they want to play, with or without the dice.

Grant: What advantage does this give the design?

Denis: With experience it becomes very important to watch the cards that are discarded and played. Are the good combat cards in the discard deck? Wouldn’t it be better to wait to attack so that the cards get shuffled again? For some players though, this type of card counting is not preferred and that is why we include the dice.

Grant: I see that the art in this game is all new. Why did you feel you needed to change?

Denis: For the series to continue to evolve, it is also necessary to bring new things to each opus. New to the system is the 3-player game. Another change are the original illustrations of each of the cards made by Ulric Stahl. I find them dynamic. They perfectly complement the much appreciated work of Nicolas Treil on 1806 and 1807.

Grant: How does their work set the appropriate mood for the game?

Denis: I really wanted illustrations that were easy to read and in total adequacy with the event on the cards. They bring something new that you don’t often see in the wargaming world. I hope you’ll like it. For the rest of the game elements, the series’ basics are kept. It has its own identity which is now well-known from the players. In the gaming world today, look of components and art are key to players and their decision to purchase a game. We have tried out best to oblige that desire with fantastic original art and great components, while also not forgetting the playabilty and design of the game.

Grant: What area does the map cover?

Denis: The region covered by the map goes from Brussels to the French border from “north to south” and from Ninove to Namur “from west to east”.

Grant: What new research has been done to the terrain on the battlefield?

Denis: The topography of the Waterloo – Wavre – Ligny – Quatre Bras quadrilateral is well known. I did not do any new research. On the other hand, as the game offers alternative strategies to Napoleon’s initial plan, I did research on the other axis of approach to Brussels, in particular the one passing through Halle.

Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?

Denis: During the tests I loved playing with 3 players. I am really satisfied with this mode which brings new sensations to the system. I found it to be a lot of fun.

Grant: What has been the experience of your playtesters?

Denis: The team of playtesters, supervised by Renaud Estienne, provided considerable work. This is the first time that the team has been so strong and so well supervised. They are “grognards” of the series and they know all the ins and outs of it. They helped me enormously in balancing the game even if the task of the French player remains difficult.

Grant: What other games do you anticipate coming to The Conquerors Series?

Denis: We are planning to develop a single player mode for Napoléon 1806 made by a great fan of the series, Michel Guerin. But Shakos has also started a new En Ordre de Bataille Series (In Order of Battle Series) devoted to great medieval leaders. Each box will contain two battles. The first game is dedicated to Saladin with the battles of Arsuf and Hattin. The Kickstarter campaign is over and the game should arrive by the end of 2021. It will be possible to pre-order it on our website at the following link: https://www.shakos.fr/

Grant: What type of stretch goals will be available in the Kickstarter campaign?

Denis: Our philosophy with Kickstarter is to keep the crowdfunding campaign under control and simple. Too many choices or options are not always a good thing. So our stretch goals will mainly be upgraded components, or extra goodies, and as well a few surprises. However we won’t propose something not ready, or still under development as that goes against our main goal of delivering a highly playable and well made game.

Grant: When is the game expected to be fulfilled?

Denis: We except to fulfill the game by March 2022 at the latest.

Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions on the game Denis and your design decisions. We have played the system in Napoléon 1807 and found it to be most engaging and most importantly a good time. We look forward to taking the system to Waterloo and seeing if the French can change history.

If you are interested in Napoléon 1815 you can order a copy from the Kickstarter page at the following link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shakos/napoleon-1815-when-the-game-meets-history