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 News February, 2017

Designer’s Blog: February, 2017

17 February, 2017

So, I’ve been continuing on a couple tracks.

One has been playtesting of the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo, both by Cyberboard and by local (to me) face-to-face play. The testers who’ve been using Cyberboard have of course been doing this for quite a long time now (since November) but those who’ve been doing the face-to-face games have only been doing it for the last couple weeks. Both methods have proven valuable to me and are contributing to getting the game ready for release.

I’ve also been continuing with the revitalization of the research section of the web site. You know, years ago, before I even started Simmons Games, I got the idea to produce an HTML version of the 128 volume Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. (Universally known among anybody who does American Civil War research as the OR. Needless to say, this was a really big job, and it was the beginning of what I expected to be an even bigger job, but it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. I actually did complete some of it, and the results have been and continue to be available on the research section of the website. What stopped the project was Google Books. They were providing an awful lot (though not all) of the value to people that I was hoping to provide, and it just didn’t seem like a good use of my time to continue with my project. And so, I didn’t.

Anyway, having recently discovered that there was indeed value that I could add to Google Books with the Eylau sources discussed in previous entries, I thought I would check out the situation with Google Books and the OR. What I found was that while they have pretty much everything up there, locating a volume of interest was a mess, and some of the volumes had issues in the quality of their scans. So, I went through, located all the volumes, downloaded PDF copies, cleaned them up some where there was a need and ready means to do so, and posted the PDF's on this site, with a proper table of contents for locating particular volumes. There was a certain satisfaction in this work, a sense that I was (in at least some sense) completing a project that at one time I had put a lot into, and giving some better closure to it.

Links and descriptor are shown below:

Campaign of the Army of the Reserve in 1800 Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies by the US War Dept. This massive 128 volume work is a collection of official military documents from the American Civil War, from both the Union and Confederate armies. Although the full title is “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”, it is known to anyone who’s ever done research in the ACW as simply the OR. The compilation was authorized by act of Congress in 1874, but is completion was the work of many years. Although this collection deals only with the armies, there was a second collection made for the navies, called the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (known as the ORN). Praise for the OR is superfluous: it is THE essential source for research on the war. PDF (complete) or HTML (partial).

8 February, 2017

Too late to make yesterday’s blog entry, I finally acquired a print copy of a pamphlet that Napoleon had produced as a post-Eylau propaganda piece to support his claim of a French victory in the battle. I had a digital copy of it already, but the maps that were included in the digital copy were too low-resolution to be of much use and I waited until I could make new, high-resolution scans from print before putting it up on the site. Sample areas of the online version and the new scans are shown below, to show you what I mean:

Online Version New High Resolution Scan

The pamphlet with the improved maps is now available as a PDF in the research section, with the descriptor as shown below:

The War of 1806 and 1807 Bataille de Preussisch-Eylau (The Battle of Preussisch-Eylau) by Napoleon I. This work was published in 1807. Although no author is given on the work itself, authorship is usually credited to Napoleon. Its basic function was propaganda. A Prussian pamphlet about the battle had been published including a rather abstracted map of the battle, showing how the French army had been defeated by arriving Prussian forces. To counter this, and to establish a French (and personal) claim to victory, Napoleon ordered the publication of a pamphlet of his own, centered on battle maps using on a survey of the battlefield Napoleon had ordered, along with some bulletins and an account ostensibly by a German eye-witness to the battle, which is actually thought to have been written by Napoleon himself. PDF.

Anyway, the inclusion of this material sets the stage for me to tell a story, one I learned from James Arnold’s book on the Eylau Campaign, Crisis in the Snows. As mentioned above, Napoleon was motivated to do a survey of the battlefield to support his narrative of the battle, presenting it as a clear French victory. In parallel to this, there was another battlefield survey underway for the Prussian king, by a Prussian officer named Knakfuss. Knakfuss was working without a rush deadline, and so was able to proceed more slowly and carefully than Napoleon’s surveyor was able to do, and as a result produced a much better map. I’ve included some samples of the Napoleon and Knakfuss surveys, along with the later topographic maps I included in yesterday’s blog entry, to give you an idea of what I mean:

1807 Napoleon Survey Map 1807 Knakfuss Survey Map
1860 1:25000 Prussian Map 1940 1:25000 German Map

In spite of the deficiencies of the 1807 Napoleon survey map, and the ready availability of a superior alternative, the Napoleon map has been used in a lot of different places, in military history and in wargames as well. For example, it was the clear basis of the Eylau map in the West Point Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars:

1807 Napoleon Survey Map West Point Atlas Map

And, before I wrap up today, I wanted to share with you full, high-resolution versions of both maps, extracted from the books I included in the research section of the website. The troop positions in the Napoleon map are from Napoleon’s Bataille de Preussisch-Eylau pamphlet, and the troop positions in the Knakfuss map are from Lettow-Vorbeck in his Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807, although I actually used the scan of what looks like the same map from Goltz's Von Jena bis Eylau because that scan came out a little better.)

1807 Napoleon Survey Map 1807 Knakfuss Survey Map

(Click on either image to open it in its own window.)

7 February, 2017

I originally started the research section over ten years ago, and the decade since has made a striking difference in the way this sort of research can be conducted. Back then, I was still very library-bound in my research. While library catalogs mostly were on-line, not much else was, and even the catalogs were quite incomplete.

For map research, my main resource was to physically visit the map room at the Library of Congress. I would go, and use their copiers to copy maps (which had to be done in sections as the maps were pretty much always larger than the copiers), and then take the copies home, scan them into my computer, and re-assemble the sections using Photoshop to make usable digital maps. It was time-consuming, introduced small but noticeable amounts of distortion, and resulted in a loss of detail from the original.

But today, things have changed, substantially for the better. In some cases, maps that were formerly available only in libraries are now available for direct download online of clean, hi-resolution scans. You can see below the difference that can make. On the left is a section of the Eylau battlefield from a 1:25000 WWII-era map that I copied, scanned, and composited back in 2004, and on the right is the same area from a near-identical map that I downloaded in 2016:

2004: Photocopied, scanned, composited 2016: Direct download

(In case you were wondering why I would use a WWII map as a source for a Napoleonic game, the WWII map has accurate topographic information, which period maps do not, and is more accurate as to location: if you overlay a period map on a modern map, the same terrain features are frequently present on both, and the modern map allows for more accurate placement of the terrain features than the period map does.)

Trips to the library haven’t been eliminated, but there are process improvements there as well. Now I have a lightweight scanner that I can take with me, and rather than having to photocopy at the library, take home, and then scan, I can now scan at the library itself, which is faster, simpler, and produces a higher quality result. (Compositing still usually required.) Even my old haunt of the Library of Congress Map Room has been upgraded. They now have a large format scanner: I can take an entire oversize map sheet, and feed it into their scanner, and get a high-resolution digital file directly: replacing the entire photocopy-scan-composite process.

Maps aren’t always available for direct download, but sometimes there is another change for the better: you can simply find out more about what resources are available. For example, in 2004, I was entirely unaware of the fact that the 1:25000 German WWII-era maps I was scanning were of a series that began in the 19th century. Now, I have read that this goes back to Prussia in the 1830’s, but I admit I have not been able to find 1:25000 Prussian maps that are that old. I have, however, been able to find maps from 1860, and license high resolution scans of those maps. While license restrictions (very regrettably) prevent me from posting the actual maps in their entirety, I can show you a section of one so you can see what it looks like compared with the WWII-era map of the same scale and the same area:

1860 1:25000 Prussian Map 1940 1:25000 German Map

Improvements in the online availability of research materials is by no means limited to maps. For older sources, Google Books is an incredible resource. What once required a trip to a major research library is now instantly available to anyone anywhere. When I started this site, one of the things I wanted to do was to make scans of hard-to-find books I was using in my research and make them available through this website. Doing so was a lot of work, but it was something I wanted to do. Google Books, as well as similar digital book collections have made this as a personal task unnecessary. What’s more, Google Books has done on a mass scale what I was able to do for a small selection of books: scan the text so as to make the books accessible not just as page images, but as searchable text.

Given this, it was at first unclear to me whether there my research section really had anything to more to do. And frankly, the answer is, not a great deal. And that is a good thing. But there are still a few things I can do, and so I am trying to do them. First, Google Books is not actually complete. There are volumes that it should have but doesn’t. The same applies to other digital libraries as well, but the gaps in one are not necessarily the gaps in another, so with some digging, gaps can often be filled in. Second, it is imperfectly indexed. Titles and author names are not consistent. And third, their automated book scanning system could not handled folded inserts and in some cases images were simply dropped.

And so, I have taken the time and trouble for sources I am using to correct these deficiencies. Below you can see sources newly added to the site’s resource section, based on what is available in Google Books. I’ve restored missing volumes from multi-volume sets as well as missing maps and images. (That there are two works called “Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807” is not an accidental duplication on my part. They are entirely separate works.) The newly added sources are listed below:

From Jena to Pr. Eylau Von Jena bis Pr. Eylau (From Jena to Pr. Eylau) by Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz This work was published in 1907. It's author was a Prussian General of Infantry. Early in his career, the author was attached to the historical section of the Prussian general of Staff, where he wrote several books on Prussian military operations. The current work was a sequel to his book Von Rossbach bis Jena und Auerstadt. The earlier book traced the Prussian army from what Goltz took to be its high point, the Battle of Rossbach, to its humiliation at Jena-Austerstadt. The current volume was intended to take that story forward, to the Battle of Pr. Eylau, which Goltz took to be the moment when it merited (even if it did not at the time receive) the recovery of its honor. Thus, the book's subtitle, Des alten Preußischen Heeres Schmach und Ehrenrettung, which roughly translates to The Disgrace and Redemption of the Old Prussian Army. PDF.
The War of 1806 and 1807 Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (The War of 1806 and 1807) by Eduard von Höpfner This work was published in 1850. Its author was a Prussian Major General (then a Colonel). One of the oddities of the 1806-1807 campaign was that it produced two different four-volume Prussian staff histories of the war, both with the same title. Staff histories were notable for their use of archival sources (by no means the rule in historical writing prior to this) and high degree of operational detail. This is the earlier of the two staff histories of 1806-1807, and is largely (though not entirely) subsumed by the later work by Lettow-Vorbek. Still, it is still not wholly without interest and is routinely cited in modern histories of the conflict. Volumes.
The War of 1806 and 1807 Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (The War of 1806 and 1807) by Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck This work was published in 1891. Its author was Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck, then a Colonel in the Prussian army. This is the later of the two four-volume Prussian staff histories of the war, and for modern research purposes, much the more important of the two. The level of operational detail is very high, and it is well-supplied with orders of battle and maps. Unsurprisingly, it is more focused on Prussian operations than either of the other two armies, but it hardly neglects either. It remains a invaluable research source over 100 years after it was written. Volumes.

6 February, 2017

So, one of the problems of putting a business on hiatus for years, as I did with Simmons Games, is that routine maintenance type things that should be done, don’t get done. While over the last few months I’ve breathed life back into this blog, other parts of the site have still been neglected. Over the last couple of weeks, in parallel with other activities, I’ve been started fixing the site up a little.

One of the more embarrassing areas of neglect was just to remove the references to Guns of Gettysburg as being “in development”. Another was the broken search feature for the site. (I moved the site to a different hosting service late last year, and lost search at that time, as the implementation of it was tied to the old hosting service.) Anyway, the search feature is now working again and uses Google’s site search option. Another small change was to switch to a higher-resolution version of the Simmons Games logo, although how much of an improvement you’ll see depends on the resolution of your own computer’s display. I can say that on mine it looks marvy.

Looking ahead, the main area of the site that is in need of extensive renovation is the ecommerce section. It was originally developed around an shopping cart system specific to the site that doesn’t really make sense anymore. It never was ideal: it required customers to create accounts, enter shipping and credit card information, and so forth. For the customers and myself alike, it was tedious at best, and introduced trust issues at worst. One of the nicer consequences of the sale of the remaining inventory of Napoleon’s Triumph is that it gave me a low-risk way to work with alternative sales models. Looking forward, I would like to keep the means of selling through BGG, eBay, and Amazon. In addition, I plan to add direct PayPal sales as well. (So if you have a PayPal account, you will be able to place a direct order using that account, without the need for another account at eBay, Amazon, or anywhere else.) One thing I won’t do again, however, is accept credit cards directly. Too many negatives for the customer and myself alike. Never. Ever. Again. (I could tell you about my dealings with the Wells Fargo vampire on this, but I would rather not descend into a state of apoplexy.)

Anyway, as we get closer to publishing the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo, you can be sure you’ll hear more about progress on the renovation of the site’s eCommerce facilities and the new business model.