Battle of Waterloo - Hougoumont (1815 AD)
Fast Play Rules for Students

< Home >

By Matt Fritz

Historical Background: Waterloo (1815 AD)

Napoleon's stunning comeback from exile faced its great test when his French army fought the British near Waterloo in Belgium. The British line was anchored on the right at the walled farm known as Hougoumont. The French started the battle with an attack on the farm designed to draw British reserves away from the center, where the main French attack was planned. The farm was defended by a small contingent of Hanoverians, Nassauers, and British Guards. The French plan backfired. It was the French that committed too many men to the attack, and still they could not capture the position. The unexpected arrival of the Prussian army, and the failure of the attack on the British center would doom Napoleon for a second and final time. Wellington, the British commander, credited the defense of Hougoumont with being the key to the victory.

Battle 1: The British deployed the Hanoverians and Nassauers in front of Hougoumont. The Guards companies were positioned to defend the flanks of the farm and garrison the buildings and walls. The French First and Second Line were sent to attack the south wall head on, while the First and Second Legere attacked from the southwest. As the attack began to move the Jagers withdrew to the garden where their rifles could be put to good use sniping at the French from the protection of the south wall. The Nassauers tried to slow the French attack but were mauled. The Luneburg Battalion retreated to the farmhouse under cover from the Coldstream Guards. By the end of turn three all the defenders were inside the walled compound, leaving the French in control of the rest of the battlefield. The French line infantry approached the south wall where they were met by intense rifle and musket fire, suffering heavy losses. The French attack crashed like a wave against the wall, failing to breach the defenses but lapping around to the east and west.

A small group of French infantry managed to scramble over the garden wall in the southeast but the First Guards wiped them out with a bayonet charge. The legere were busy trying to bash in the West Door while taking fire from the Coldstream Guards. They endured the punishment as long as they could before finally retreating, leaving many dead and wounded around the still intact door. The line infantry had moved all the way around the farm to the north wall where they faced a counterattack by the British reserves. After repulsing the British the French suddenly noticed that the harried British garrison had left portions of the north wall undefended. Over went the French! The British watched with growing alarm as the French tumbled into the garden, lowered their bayonets, and charged. Brutal close combat raged in the garden, but the British didn't have enough men left to drive out the French. This battle was judged to be a narrow French victory.

Battle 2: The initial deployments were the same as in battle one. The defenders were determined to make a stand out in front of the farm. The French attack hit the Nassauers and Hanoverians head on and crushed them. The few survivors turned around and ran for the safety of the walled farm, with the French in hot pursuit. The French attacked the South Gate and wall. Heavy fire from the British peppered the attackers, driving them back.

The French quickly recovered and renewed their attacks on the South Gate and wall, and also reached the West Door. The French were driven back again from the gate and door, but along the south wall it was the British that buckled this time. The French began crossing the wall into the garden amid cheers of "Vive l'Empereur!" A British drummer boy climbed onto the roof of the chicken coop to sound the alarm, and British reserves streamed into the garden to confront the French and defend the chickens. One French officer was cornered and called on to surrender. His defiant answer was "your blood will run cold through my hands!" This didn't intimidate the British, but it heartened the French.

The French were also on the move along the east wall, and a few units were moving around the corner to the north to completely encircle the British. The British reserves were finally sent into the battle and they raced the French to the open North Gate. The British won the race, barely, and slammed the gate closed in the face of the onrushing French. The French immediately went to work trying to force the gate open. Meanwhile the French had gained a foothold in the guard where the battle was being fought with the cold steel of the bayonet. Suddenly the French succeeded in breaching the West door and North gate, and more French charged into Hougoumont. While the French were charging into the farm the Coldstream Guards were charging out through the South Gate in an ill-timed and reckless counterattack. They were cut off, surrounded, and attacked from all sides.
Time was running out for the battle, and it was still unclear whether the French had enough men left to overwhelm the defenders. The battle shifted into "fast forward sudden death overtime" rules. In the end the judge determined that the British would be able to hold the farm, by the narrowest possible margin of victory.


The Miniatures: The figures used were 1/72-scale plastics mounted two per base. The bases were 3/4" x 1 1/2". There are many companies producing 1/72 Napoleonic figures. I used five boxes of Italeri #6002 French Infantry and three boxes Revell #2571 British Infantry. I used the British infantry figures for the Dutch and Hanoverian soldiers but painted their coats green and their pants grey. Hat Industries makes Dutch infantry (#8025) . Here are some paper soldiers you can print and use.

British & Allies

British Guards (light companies)
1st Guards (6 bases)
3rd Guards (6 bases)
Coldstream Guards (8 bases)

British Allies :
2nd Nassau - 2 units (6 bases each)
Hanoverian Field Jaegers (6 bases)
Hanoverian Luneburg Bttn (6 bases)

British Reserves:
Coldstream Guards - 2 units (6 bases each)


1st Legere:
5 units (6 bases each)

2nd Legere:
4 units (6 bases each)

1st Line:
6 units (6 bases each)

2nd Line:
6 units (6 bases each)

The Board: A 7.5 X 5 foot table was used. The terrain was flat and open except for the walled compound of the Hougoumont farmhouse. In reality there was an orchard to the east of the farm, and woods and hedges to the south. Airfix makes a model kit called "Battle of Waterloo Farmhouse." The model isn't exactly laid out correctly, but it has a nice gate that looks like the famous North Gate. I cut the buildings and gate apart and built the farmhouse the way I wanted it, and added brick wall sections that I printed on my computer.  Here are some paper accessories you can use to build the farm.

Deployment: The French line units deploy in column formation at the southern edge of the board, the French legere deploy in column southwest of the farmhouse. The British Guards deploy in and next to the farmhouse, the British allies should be in line south of the farmhouse.

Formations: Units must be in line or column formation. Line formation is a double rank line (3 in front, 3 in the second rank). Column formation is single file. Units inside the farm do not move in formation - each base moves and shoots independently.


Sequence of Play:
1. French Move
2. British Move
3. British Shoot
4. French Shoot
5. Charges
6. Melee

Movement: Units in line formation move 6", units in column formation move 12". Units inside the farm move 6". A French base that starts its move next to a wall may climb over the wall if there are no enemy units facing it on the other side. This is the only movement the base can make during the turn, except for charges. Only the base meeting this requirement can cross the wall, not the entire unit. Units may turn around (about face) or change formation at a cost of half their movement. During movement units may not move closer than an 1" to enemy units.

British movement into and out of the farm: At the start of the battle the British and their allies may move into the farm by using any door or gate, or climbing the wall at their normal movement rate. Once the first French unit reaches the walls of the farm this freedom of movement ends. Thereafter the British may move in or out of the gates and doors, or climb the wall at half their normal movement.

Shooting: Units may fire 12". Roll 1D6 for each base. Units outside the farm hit on a 6, units inside the farm shooting at targets on the outside hit on a 5 or 6. Fire within the farm hits on a 6. The Jaegers are armed with rifles which improves their chances of hitting. They hit on a 5-6 when outside the farm or shooting within the farm, and hit on 4-6 when inside the farm and shooting at targets on the outside. The farm and walls provide a lot of protection from shooting. When the French are outside the farm and shooting at targets on the inside they roll only 1D6 for each TWO stands (round down). Units may fire two ranks, so a unit in line can fire all it's bases, a unit in column only fires two bases. One base is removed for each hit. If a French unit outside the farm is reduced to one base this last base is immediately removed. This rule does not apply to the British and their allies, or to French bases inside the farm.

Morale checks: The French must check morale if they lose bases to enemy fire. Roll 1D6 for each unit that lost a base this turn. The unit passes its check if the roll is less than or equal to the number of surviving bases in the unit. If the unit fails it loses one stand and retreats 12". The British and their allies do not check morale. French units inside the farm do not check morale.

Charges: A unit may charge up to 6" if there is an enemy within charge range. If it makes a difference the French units charge first. If a door or gate has been forced open the French may charge two units through it each turn. Units may not use a charge move to climb over the wall.

Melee: Outside the farm the melee is fought unit against unit. Each unit rolls 1D6, high roll wins (British & their allies win ties). Add one to the roll if the unit outnumbers their enemy, also add one if the unit is attacking from the side or rear. The losing unit retreats 12" and loses one base. Inside the farm the melee is fought base against base. Two bases can gang up on one base if the numbers allow it. Each side rolls 1D6, high roll wins (British & their allies win ties). Add one to the roll if there are two bases attacking one. The losing side removes one base.

Breaking down doors and gates: If a unit starts the movement phase in contact with a gate or door they can try and force it open. Roll 1D6, if the roll is a 6 they have succeeded. The roll improves by one each turn (5-6 on the second turn, etc.). If the unit is forced to retreat and later returns, or another unit replaces it the process must start over again with a 6 needed for success.

British reserves: The British reserves enter the North edge of the board in column formation. They should be placed on the edge of the board on the turn when they will enter. When they enter depends on how the battle progresses. The reserves should enter the turn after any French get into the farm, when a French unit is about to move around to the northern wall of the farmhouse, or on turn 8, whichever comes first. The North Gate must remain open until the reserves have entered the board.

< Home >

 Resources: A search of the library and Magweb, turned up some useful resources for wargaming Hougoumont