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11 June, 2005

 Products Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary Secrets and Lies

Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary: Secrets and Lies

The map board shown above differs in a number of respects from the previous version. The terrain has not changed at all, but the play aids have been changed extensively. These changes are the first fruits of what is really the second generation of the game design, the first generation design having died a rather ugly death a few weeks ago, as noted in the previous design entry. This essay will address the thinking behind the second generation design, using the map design as the springboard. (It is of course true that there may be a third generation, and a fourth and so on: any or all of what is described below may change prior to publication; that said, let’s proceed).

Time and Morale Tracks The elaborate morale track from the previous version has been jettisoned in favor of a simpler and more traditional count-down track that will be instantly familiar to players of Bonaparte at Marengo. There is, however, a significant improvement in the layout of the time and morale tracks compared with the earlier game: in Napoleon’s Triumph, all of the markers (Time, Allied Morale and French Morale) all advance from the top to the bottom in a graphical race to the finish, making it easy for players to perform a three-way comparison of the three (in Bonaparte at Marengo, it was easy to compare French and Austrian morale to each other, but comparing either against the clock was more difficult).

The changes in the Time Track from the first version of Napoleon’s Triumph, are not, however, simply graphical. The time scale has been changed from 45 minutes in the previous version to 1 hour in this version. This has reduced the turn count to 10 turns (Bonaparte at Marengo was 16 turns long). In Bonaparte at Marengo a loss rate of about one strength point per turn resulted in demoralization, but here demoralization will require a loss rate of about four strength points per turn. Even allowing for the fact that the armies are twice as large as in the earlier game, the loss rate to demoralization in Napoleon’s Triumph will still be twice as high. Assaults definitely took a back-seat to maneuver in Bonaparte at Marengo, but in Napoleon’s Triumph they will be a much more important tactic.

Assaults are in fact one of the major areas of change in Napoleon‘s Triumph compared to Bonaparte at Marengo. In the initial versions of the earlier game, assaults worked quite differently: it was (much) easier to succeed in the initial assault, but the defender’s pieces in reserve were allowed to counter-attack rather than being forced to retreat. In the course of the Bonaparte at Marengo design, assaults were radically simplified: counter-attacks from reserve were eliminated and the first-line defense of the approach was made much stronger (the defender got to win ties and the leading piece in the defense could be selected from among multiple pieces after the attacking leading piece was revealed). This simplified assault system worked saved quite a bit of complexity, and worked well enough for the needs of that game.

This Marengo assault system, however, just didn’t work well enough for Napoleon’s Triumph. It had simulation deficiencies in that it made a position with strong reserves simply too hard to break, and it had play deficiencies in that is was just didn’t provide players with enough interesting decisions. To address these problems, the counter-attack from reserve idea that was dropped in Bonaparte at Marengo has been restored to Napoleon’s Triumph. So far the testing is going well, but there are numerous details that are still being worked out (the system was never fully developed in Bonaparte at Marengo – it was removed in toto before it got to that point). Once the rules have jelled more, assault will be worth a design diary entry all by itself, but for now other topics can be addressed more profitably.

Hidden Unit Groups The Hidden Unit graphics are completely new in this version of the game. One of the interesting features of the battle of Austerlitz was the uncertainty on both sides regarding the positions of major formations of the other side. The Allied uncertainty was largely the result of a deliberate French policy of concealment and deception, and the French uncertainty was an accidental result of the terrain. The decision to try hidden units in the game, however well justified from a simulation point of view, was made with some trepidation from a game point of view: the chief concern being the complications involved in managing the movement of hidden units. On consideration, however, it seemed that hidden reserves that were revealed when they moved was largely sufficient from a simulation point of view, and imposed only a modest cost in terms of game play. One particular point worth noting is that the French reinforcements (historically Davout’s III Corps) has been made into a hidden unit ‘area’: the French can decide at deployment time what, if any, units will be arriving as reinforcements.

Hidden Locations Also new are Location ID's. One use for these ID’s is for hidden unit deployment. If a location was unobservable by the enemy at the start of the battle, it is indicated by the italicizing and underlining the ID (in the illustration to the left, “T” is hidden while ”I” is not). To deploy hidden units, each player puts his pieces in the box for the desired hidden unit group, and then writes down locale assignments for them (for example, the Allied player might write down “2-T” to indicate that hidden unit group 2 is deployed in locale T. Players can distribute the groups among their hidden locales as they see fit; they can even assign multiple groups to the same locale if they choose to do so. Hidden units are put on the map when the player wants to move them or when an enemy unit moves into an adjacent locale.

A second use for Location ID’s is to indicate objectives. The possible objectives for both sides are the locales marked A to K in the opposing side’s color. The current design calls for each side to have their objectives chosen randomly from this list, and would be kept secret from the other side. The procedure for each player is as follows:

  1. Write down a number from 1 to 8 for your own objectives. Do not reveal it to the enemy player.
  2. Write down a number from 1 to 8 for the enemy objectives. Reveal it to the other player.
  3. To determine his objectives, each player should cross-index the number he wrote down for himself (the friendly number) and the number the enemy player wrote down for him (the enemy number) in the table below to find his objectives:
    Enemy Number
    Example: if the Allied player chose 6 as his number and the French player chose 3 as the Allied number, the Allied player’s would look up his objectives in row 6 / column 3 and would see that they are locales J, K, A, and B.

The winner of the game is determined first by demoralization: if one player demoralizes the enemy at any point without demoralizing themselves, the game is over immediately and they win (the plan is to include optional rules to allow play to continue after that point to satisfy players’s curiosity but it will not affect the outcome). If both sides demoralize at the same time, the game ends in a draw. If after the last turn neither side is demoralized, then the side that has taken the larger number of its objectives wins (if this is a tie, the side farther from demoralization wins; if that is also a tie, the game ends in a draw).

Adding to the importance of objectives is that they are linked to morale: at the end of each side’s turn, its morale is adjusted based on how it has done with its objectives:

(It is the case that in order to avoid the morale penalty a player must reveal an objective he has taken; he does not however have to reveal any others: for example if a player has taken locale B and is using it to avoid the penalty, he must identify locale B as an objective but does not have to reveal which other objectives he has other than B.)

Amidst all of the rules details described above, there is one important question that has not been asked, let alone answered, and that is what all of the above rules are intended to achieve? Why do they exist? What is their purpose? The general answer that might be offered is that they exist to make the game better, but this merely begs the question: better how?

While there are multiple answers to this question, the first answer goes to the heart of the game: what kind of game is Napoleon’s Triumph trying to be? Bonaparte at Marengo is often described as being “Chess-like”, but for Napoleon’s Triumph the goal is a little less Chess and a little more Poker. Compared with the earlier game, the information available to the players of Napoleon‘s Triumph is reduced (hidden objectives, dummy units, and hidden set-up), increasing the opportunities for deception and decreasing the confidence with which players can make decisions.

The second answer to the question is closely connected to the first: Napoleon’s Triumph aims to be more poker-like than Bonaparte at Marengo because it seems better from a simulation perspective. Austerlitz historically was a battle dominated by limited information and deception. Deception, however, can be extraordinarily hard to model because the players know what happened historically. Because of this, the more closely a game models historical events, the less well it models historical uncertainty. Take for example the arrival of Davout’s III Corps during the battle: the Allies did not know that the French would get reinforcements on their right at all, much less the strength, arrival time and march route of those reinforcements. The very act of modeling the historical composition, arrival time and route of the reinforcements creates an ahistorical level of knowledge of them on the part of the Allies and in doing so makes it impossible to simulate how Napoleon used those forces. In terms of game design, there is no universally correct solution to the problem posed by historical hindsight. The general approach here is to try to model uncertainty and to create the possibility of deception.

The third answer to the question of how these changes are to make the game better concerns replay value. The deployment is made a good deal freer, enabling more lines of play than were possible with the largely fixed deployment of the earlier version of the game. Also, the increase in the variety of possible objectives and the fact that they are chosen for the player rather than allowing him to choose them is a way to generate multiple scenarios from the same battle (with the interesting twist that the players don’t know what scenario they are playing. The importance of the objectives are strengthened by tying morale levels to them, making it harder for players to ignore the objectives and just settle into some comfortable line of play that they don‘t vary from game to game. Additionally, aggression is rewarded by allowing the players to get morale increases if they not only take their objectives but keep going, driving the enemy back and away from them.

It will take some testing to determine whether these changes will do what they are supposed to. While I am confident that they move the game in the direction I want it to go, I am also sure that more changes will be made in these areas prior to publication, even if as of now I don’t know what those changes would be (after all, if I knew now I would make them now).