After eight installments, TalonSoft's Battleground games have become the dinner guest that just won't leave. The system was cumbersome and flawed at the outset (Battleground: Ardennes). After two years of tweaking and minor improvements, this is a more precise, bug-free game... that is still cumbersome and flawed. With titles like Gettysburg, Panzer General II, Ardennes Offensive, and Interactive Magic's Great Battles series showing the way, with a refined Close Combat (based on a system older than the Battleground titles!), Battleground has outstayed its welcome.
The problems with the system have been enumerated before (see Battleground: Napoleon in Russia). Clumsy phasing inherited from board game design techniques. Long play times without any substantial increase in detail or realism. A Win 3.1 engine programmed for maximum unintelligibility and clunkiness. Massive hard drive requirements for only marginal payoffs. (Gettysburg and Close Combat both look and play better and take up less space.) Now, you can add to that map graphics that no longer toe the line. This system was outdated upon release. Like John Brown, it should be a-molderin' in the grave.
OK, that's the bad stuff. What is good about it? Well, the depth of research and accuracy of the orders of battle are something all wargames could emulate. Units are represented and modeled in detail, battles are meticulously recreated, and hypothetical scenarios (though more academic than gripping) are all diligently re-created. In a system where it did not take a half hour to cross a wheat field, I would be slobbering over this much depth. No one is doing Napoleonic warfare with this much alacrity (which remains a mystery). It's why I have this love-hate thing with the system: love the material and the attention to detail, hate the way it is all brought together.
Prelude to Waterloo is the third Napoleonic game in the series, following Waterloo and Napoleon in Russia. This time, TalonSoft turns its attention to Quatre-Bras and Ligny: two battles of the Hundred Days that set the stage for Waterloo. Napoleon had interposed himself between Wellington and Blucher, personally leading a brutal, and successful, assault on Blucher's Prussian army at Ligny that cost the defenders 28,000 men. Two days later, Marshall Ney tried something similar at Quatre-Bras and had almost succeeded in dislodging the Anglo-Dutch forces under William of Orange when Wellington arrived. The battles are full of what-ifs (Ney uses I Corps, Wellington supports Blucher) and pocket engagements that make for interesting gaming. Prelude to Waterloo offers 23 different scenarios, three of them under the new "extreme fog-of-war" feature that hides all information on opposing units. Both battles and the whole campaign are offered for play in their totality.
Modem, e-mail, and Internet play are all fully supported, and the Napoleonic buff will find a wealth of detail to entice him. Too bad playing through it all feels more like work than play.