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Wargaming Waterloo

Charles J. Esdaile, PhD

DOI: 10.56686/9798986259444



Wargaming—the simulation of complex war situations—is becoming increasingly more relevant to political and military discourse as U.S. armed forces lean more heavily on it as a training tool to hone warfighters’ decision-making skills and to shape defense plans and policies. And while wargaming can be useful for informing predictions of future military conflicts, it is also an excellent tool for understanding past conflicts.

Wargaming Waterloo explores three key aspects of wargaming as a practice by focusing on the iconic battle that led to Napoléon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1815. A longtime subject of both fascination and controversy, the Battle of Waterloo presents particular problems as a board, map, or tabletop wargame and also poses a serious research question: just how good a chance did Napoléon have at victory when he confronted the duke of Wellington at Mont Saint-Jean and how would the strategic situation have to be different to enable Napoléon to prevail?



Charles J. Esdaile was born in Epsom, Surrey. He was a student at the University of Lancaster, where he obtained a first-class honors degree in history and then a PhD, the subject of his thesis being the Spanish Army in the period 1788–1814. He has occupied a series of academic posts and currently holds an emeritus chair in the Department of History of the University of Liverpool. Professor Esdaile has written extensively on the Napoleonic period, his major works including The Wars of the French Revolution, 1792–1801 (2018); The Wars of Napoleon (1995); Napoleon’s Wars: An International History, 1803–1815 (2007); The Peninsular War: A New History (2002); Peninsular Eyewitnesses: The Experience of War in Spain and Portugal, 1808–1813 (2008); The Spanish Army in the Peninsular War (1988); The Duke of Wellington and the Command of the Spanish Army, 1812–1814 (1990); Women in the Peninsular War (2014); Fighting Napoleon: Guerrillas, Bandits and Adventurers in Spain, 1808–1814 (2004); Outpost of Empire: The Napoleonic Occupation of Andalucía, 1810–1812 (2012); Burgos in the Peninsular War, 1808–1814: Occupation, Siege, Aftermath (2014); Napoleon, France and Waterloo: The Eagle Rejected (2016); and Walking Waterloo: A Guide (2019), this last being unquestionably the most detailed guide to the battlefield that has ever been published. For a free digital version of Walking Waterloo, please download the app available for both Apple and Android mobile devices under “Waterloo education.” From 2008 to 2015, Esdaile was academic vice president of Peninsular War 200, the official commission established by the Ministry of Defence to coordinate Britain’s part in the commemoration of the bicentenary of the Peninsular War. Finally, in the context of the current work, it is worth noting that he has approximately 50 years of wargaming experience in the spheres of miniatures and board games alike.




Chronology of Events, February–July 1815

Chapter One: The History and Development of Wargames

Chapter Two: The Waterloo Campaign and the Battle

Chapter Three: The March of the Miniatures: The March of the Miniatures:

Chapter Four: How Many Hexes to Hougoumont? Waterloo by Board Game

Chapter Five: Historical Hexagons (1): Grand Tactics

Chapter Six: Historical Hexagons (2): Operations

Chapter Seven: Historical Hexagons (3): Strategy

Chapter Eight: Historical Hexagons (4): Fantasy

Conclusion: Some Thoughts on the Wargame as a Research Tool

Appendix A: Suggested Amendments for Napoleon at Waterloo

Appendix B: A Ludography of Waterloo



About the Author

6 x 9 paperback
336 pages
PDF download


“Waterloo has attracted many with its colour, clash of arms, and clash of personalities. To many (especially Americans) the cause of Napoléon is tempting. But what really did happen, could it have been different, and can we game the battle and those possibilities with miniatures, board games, or computers?
      Professor Esdaile puts all these issues to the test in a wide-ranging and exhaustive study. The actual events are reviewed as well as the inaccuracies and biases (both conscious and unconscious) of games and rules. I shall be dipping into the book to steal ideas for my Waterloo design.”

~ Charles Vasey, wargames designer


“In this novel and fascinating book, Professor Esdaile shows how simple tweaks allow the many little-known wargame simulations [of Waterloo] to deliver further insights into the oft-debated what-ifs of Napoléon’s defeat. His book is a masterly and compelling, focused application of techniques I have espoused myself, and it is a must-read for gamers and nongamers alike.”

~ Professor Philip Sabin, author of Simulating War

Marine Corps University