Quatre Bras: The Maps Use in Battleground Prelude to Waterloo Computer Wargame
By Hans Boersma
Talonsoft's Battleground 8: Prelude to Waterloo, designed by John Tiller and published in 1997, is at present the only computer wargame dealing with the battle of Les Quatre Bras (16 June 1815). The Battleground series offers a turn-based computerized combination of the classical tabletop and board wargames on battalion level. Although the series is outdated in terms of computer gaming, they are still being played quite intensively, largely because of the play by e-mail option it features. This has generated a number of online gaming clubs that are still very much alive today. Recently John Tiller, now working for HPS Simulations, has brought out a new Napoleonic title: Campaign Eckmuhl, based on the same game principles as the Battleground series. For more information about these games and the clubs devoted to them, see the links section at the end of this article.
Talonsoft, The Ferraris & Capitaine Maps and Hamilton-Williams 'The Maps used in the production of this game, were The Ferrais & Captaine [sic] Maps of Belgium 1797, used by all three Commanders in 1815. Comprising sheets 11-18. Kindly loaned by David C. Hamilton-Williams. Details of which, are reproduced in his book: Waterloo: New Perspectives, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1994, 1995, 1996.'
Between 1770 and 1777 Comte Joseph de Ferraris, General and Commander of the Artillery in the Austrian Netherlands,  produced a chorographical map of these regions, which was put in print in 1780. After revolutionary France had occupied the Austrian Netherlands in 1794, Louis Capitaine, First Engineer of the map of the French Republic, issued a new engraving of Ferraris' work. The division of the map over the various sheets was rearranged in such a way that it formed a unity with the already existing map of France by Cassini, as to portray the southern Netherlands as an integral part of that country. Capitaine's map shows only a few minor revisions when compared to Ferraris'; these do not concern the area of Les Quatre Bras. The most notable difference is that Capitaine, naturally, omitted the feudal borders.
The fact that these two maps (or maps directly based on it) were used by Napoleon, Wellington, and Blücher tells us little about their quality as such. The years of their original production however show that in 1815 these maps were outdated by at least 25 years; and their scale (1:86,400) is hardly that of an ordnance map. As we will see further on, there are maps in existence that would have been more suitable for the production of the game map, both by scale and year of production.
First we must note that, at least as far as the battlefield of Les Quatre Bras is concerned, the designers reference to the Ferraris & Capitaine maps' becomes quite peculiar when we compare the game map (Plate 2) with De Ferraris' map (Plate 1). Given the apparent differences between the two, notably the presence of details on the game map which cannot be found on De Ferraris' (or Capitaine's) map, it becomes evident that the game designers must have used one or more other sources in addition. The shape of the Bois de Bossu does not seem to be based on De Ferrari's map at all.
In their map reference the game designers refer to David Hamilton-Williams and his book Waterloo New Perspectives. Comparison between the game map and a non-contemporary, rather schematic map displayed in that book (Plate 3) leads to suggest that the latter served as one of their additional sources. The resemblance is striking: the shape of the Bois de Bossu and the elevation contour lines produce a perfect match. However, this map does not show details displayed on the game map either, which means that at least one other map must have been used.
Two Military Maps
In W.E.A. Wüpperman's book on the formation of the Netherlands Army and its role in the Waterloo campaign are included three maps of the battlefield of Les Quatre Bras. These maps, made for the occasion, are based on a
'Map of the battlefields of Waterloo and Quatre Bras. Recorded by order of Generaal-majoor Baron Van der Wijck, commanding the Brigade of Field Engineers dd. 1 October 1815 No. 17, under the direction of Kapitein Ingenieur Schuller by the 1ste Luitenant Ingenieurs Brade and Backer Seest.'
So there we have ordnance maps, based on maps which are the result of military survey executed four months after the battle; the most detailed of these three maps is 1:10,000 to scale. De Bas' and De Wommersom's study of the 1815 campaign includes another fine military map of the area, scale 1:20,000. Its source reference is less precise; it appears to be a Belgian military map made in 1906, on which objects such as the Bois de Bossu, which had been cut down shortly after the campaign, have been filled in, probably after referring to the same contemporary source used for Wüpperman's map.
Below, in Plate 4 to 9, follows a close visual comparison between the Talonsoft game map and the two maps mentioned above. It will become apparent that the game map is inaccurate on several features. It is a pity that the designers apparently did not consult any Dutch or Belgian sources; which is peculiar, as it was their country in which the campaign took place. These maps are included in works that are by no means obscure and can be found, for instance, in the libraries of the Legermuseum [Army Museum] in Delft, of the Sectie Militaire Geschiedenis [Historical Section of the Netherlands Army Staff] in Den Haag, in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek [Royal Library] in the same city, and in the library of the Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis [Royal Museum of the Army and Military History] in Bruxelles.
Especially in its first stages, the battle of Les Quatre Bras was one dominated by the terrain it was fought on. On the present game map it is not possible to place a number of the units involved in their historical outset and environment, notably so regarding those that operated in the early stages of the battle, in the areas that we have looked at more closely. This means that players will often make tactical decisions that have less or even little relevance to the actual circumstances, although a game feature like the road movement bonus also plays a part in this. Especially in combination with the unsubstantiated road link between Pireaumont and the Nivelles-Namur road the simulation suffers a major disturbance, enabling a French player to conduct a swift and massive outflanking movement in 20th century style.
Hence, Prelude to War's Quatre Bras game map could do with a revision. By improving the accuracy of the game map's depiction of the battlefield, the players would have to make choices more resembling those the historical commanders were facing. Thereby it would, in my opinion, generate an even more enjoyable game.
Given its contemporary source Wüpperman's map would be the first reference for a revision. De Bas/De Wommersom's map offers a valuable and detailed view regarding elevations, but the game map appears to be fairly accurate in this.
Looking at both military maps the question arises whether the entire area should be covered with tall fields. It should be noted however that, given their date of production, both maps apparently depict the terrain in autumn; the tall crops that are mentioned in several sources would not have been present then. On the other hand, as large parts of the tall crops were trampled by the troops during the affair, providing for some clear areas might be a good compromise.
de Bas, F. and J. de T'Serclaes de Wommersom. La Campagne
de 1815 aux Pays Bas; d'après les rapports officiels néerlandais
Vol. I and Supplément: cartes et plans Bruxelles 1908
Siborne, H.T. Waterloo Letters London; 1891.
Talonsoft Inc. Battleground Prelude to Waterloo, Notes [helpfile], Chapter 3.0 Map Notes White Marsh 1997
Wüpperman, W.E.A. De vorming van het Nederlandsche leger na de omwenteling van 1813 en het aandeel van dat leger aan den veldtocht van 1815 Breda 1900
 Battleground Prelude to Waterloo Notes (Helpfile) Chapter 3.0
 1715-1794; roughly comprising the current national territory of Belgium.
 This information about De Ferraris' and Capitaine's maps was kindly provided by geographer-librarian H. Lardinois of the Nationaal Geografisch Instituut, Bruxelles.
 The Plan of Quatre Bras' reproduced in H.T. Siborne's Waterloo Letters comes to mind.
 See Sources
 Wüpperman, p. 6. We find Generaal-majoor van der Wijck in the General Staff of the Prince or Orange's I Corps as Adjudant-generaal to the Chief-of-Staff (Generaal-majoor de Constant-Rebecque) and Commander of the Genie te Velde (Field Engineers); De Bas, Vol. IV, p 1328.
 De Bas /De Wommersom, Plan VII: 'Institut cartographique militaire, novembre 1906' and Vol. I, p. XX: 'Archief der Genie (cartes, plans etc.)'.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: October 2001
© Copyright 1995-2004, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.