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18 December, 2005

 Products Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary The Rough and the Smooth

Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary: The Rough and the Smooth

Map Board
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Rules
Click on the image above for the latest rules draft

The last couple of design diary entries were really just rules drafts. While those are well and good (even essential insofar as the development of the game is concerned), they don’t really explain themselves; it is left as an exercise for the reader to determine why a particular rule exists (not to mention in some cases, why an expected rule doesn’t exist).

And so, this entry will be devoted to explaining what the rules are about. Rather than take a problem-to-solution approach that has characterized most of the entries in the diary, I thought that this time I’d use the structure of the rules themselves as a framework for describing them.

Before doing so, however, I’d like to call your attention to the latest drafts of some old friends: the game board and the rules. You can click on the mapboard (top) to see the map at higher resolution in its own window, and you can click on the rules (bottom) to download and read them. Neither is in a way a radical departure from what has gone before, rather they are the intermediate products of an ongoing effort to smooth out the rough spots in the game. Still, as they both represent the current state of the game, they are well worth examining for those interested.

I have had quite a bit of help with the rules from volunteer proofreaders, and I thank you again even where I have not given individual responses (in general, I try to make the rules themselves the response to the feedback I’ve gotten). I’ve recently however also gotten some useful proofreading on the mapboard itself. If any readers would like to help with it, please feel free. Spelling and place name corrections are welcome but it is also useful if people can spot any graphics flaws: examples of these would be roads that pass between approaches rather than through them, and intersections that fall on the approaches rather than inside locales.

Anyway, here’s to beginning the review of the rules, section by section.

Parts List. This section actually has a new name: it used to be “Game Equipment”, but “Parts List” says the same thing and uses smaller words. Although readers of what I write know how often I honor this rule in the breach, I do agree that all things being equal, smaller and more familiar words are preferable in rules to longer and less familiar words. The parts list does have a significant change from the original version of the rules: the three plastic markers (for tracking time and French and Allied morale) have been changed to wood and there are now additional markers for tracking commands. Quite a number of people have found the presence of plastic in Bonaparte at Marengo to be objectionable, and have voiced the hope that there would be no plastic in Napoleon’s Triumph. Although I’ve occasionally explained why I used plastic in the former game, I thought I would do so again here. Originally in Marengo, I was going to use translucent plastic so you could read the text under the marker (couldn’t do that with wood). Sadly, however, this was not available as a stock part as I had hoped, and I was forced to substitute opaque plastic. Cost was a constraint as well, but Richard Stubenvoll, the designer of Friedrich, suggested that I might be able to obtain stock wooden parts at a low price as well if I looked for them. And so, all of these things taken together, I’ve decided to at least attempt to supply the game with wooden markers.

Introduction. This is the most basic summary of the game, which I am not comfortable omitting entirely, but which I have shortened considerably from the longer version in Bonaparte at Marengo (the introduction to those rules was four times as long, and even had a longer title: “Introduction to Play” rather than just “Introduction”). If you compare the versions in different drafts of the rules to Napoleon’s Triumph, you can see that I keep tinkering with the text, to no great evident purpose. I suppose that I do so because when I do a new draft of the rules, this is the first text I read (apart from the Parts List, which is barely text at all) before the grind of reviewing has worn me down and so like a second marriage, hope triumphs over experience and I edit it in the odd belief that so short and unimportant a text is capable of being revised in some way that will add significantly to the game’s overall ease of play.

Playing Pieces. The section on playing pieces introduces one of the most critical differences between Bonaparte at Marengo and Napoleon’s Triumph: commanders. Their presence has led to a subtle terminology shift between the two games: Bonaparte at Marengo had “pieces” whereas Napoleon’s Triumph has “pieces” (commanders and units), “units” (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), and “commanders”. A lot of the rules really depend on people understanding the difference between pieces and units, and I hope that it will not confuse them. I do introduce the difference very early on, and where the distinction is most important to understand (as in locale capacity) I emphasize that commanders are not units. I am optimistic that people will at least grasp it subliminally if not consciously (most of the rules that refer explicitly to “units” would make no sense if they could be understood as potential references to commanders) but it does concern me. As a side note, there is actually a dirty little secret in the Bonaparte at Marengo version of this section: that game does not have enough reduced-strength pieces to replace all the full-strength infantry pieces, so in theory you could run out, but the rules gave you no hint about what to do if you did. In no playtest did I ever come anywhere near running out, and so I deleted the rule explaining what to do if you did on the grounds that it was alarmist and that it got the rules off on the wrong foot. The rule has snuck back into Napoleon’s Triumph, but it may sneak back out again if playtesting suggests that it is unnecessary.

The Game Board. This is a section that I’ve worked hard to tighten up and shorten. A major help has been the graphical redesign of the approaches. The whole “opposing pair” of approaches has been replaced with the concept of a single approach with two sides. This has saved the presence of a long and nasty paragraph required to explain about opposing pairs of approaches. Another help has been a change in the basic philosophy of the section: to eliminate explanations that essentially foreshadowed longer and more complete rules in other sections. For example, in Bonaparte at Marengo, there was some attempt at explaining in this section what “obstructed” meant, whereas in Napoleon’s Triumph it is left for a later rules section to deal with. I found that in practice the foreshadowing idea caused problems for some readers: they would read the foreshadowing reference, which would then leave them confused when they got to the longer explanation in the relevant section. They would see the former rule as a contradiction of the latter rule rather than seeing the former rule as a summary of the latter rule. Omitting these summaries altogether seems to me the best approach to resolving this problem, and it is one that has the added benefit of generally shortening the rules.

Time Track

Scenarios. This is a section that Bonaparte at Marengo lacked altogether. Its presence also partly explains why there is a section that Bonaparte at Marengo has that Napoleon’s Triumph lacks: the “Quick Start” section. The idea of a quick start was a pretty natural one for Bonaparte at Marengo since the game largely sets up itself, and the first turns are the easiest in the game: the Austrians have almost no pieces in play and the French can move almost none of theirs. This was one of the major attractions of Marengo as a game subject, but it is a quality that Austerlitz utterly lacks: Austerlitz is a pitched battle which will have major troop movements from the very first turn. (Very) unfortunately, this means that it will simply not be as inviting a game for new players as Bonaparte at Marengo is. However, Napoleon’s Triumph will have charms of its own that Bonaparte at Marengo does not, and that is just the way it is. On another note, the newest draft of the scenarios section does have a substantial change: the November 30 scenario has been dropped. I hinted that it was probably going to go before, but now it is official. It is too long and the limits of the map precludes Napoleon’s historical plan for that eventuality: to fall back and fight the battle further to the west. The more I thought about it the more forced the scenario felt, and really I don’t think the game needs it to work, so out it goes.

Santon

Setting up the Game. The existence of scenarios complicated the design of this section. Different scenarios would, almost by definition, not have the same set-up rules. To an extent, I fudged this by slightly simplifying the historical set-up. The Allies did have some small forces, belonging to Kienmayer, on the Pratzen early on December 1, which I have had enter along with the rest of the Allied army in the December 1 scenarios. I don’t think in practice this will make any real difference: those forces were far too small to oppose the French army if it had decided to move forward, and were also far too small to do anything but wait if the French army decided to hang back. Another set-up problem I’ve pondered is the artillery the French historically deployed on top of the Santon (a hill in the northern part of the map). My choices were: I could omit it entirely, force it to deploy on the Santon, or let it be deployed (more or less) anywhere. The rules currently allow it to be placed anywhere, which seems to me to be the most interesting choice from a game play perspective. One other thing I’ve tried to do is tame the rather large number of steps in the set-up process that the early drafts called for. That number has been reduced from 12 to 10 down to 8. Another important point in the set-up process is to try to speed set-up. There is currently a recommendation in the set-up rules that the French at least start organizing their army while the Allies set up. This has five practical advantages: it keeps the French player from getting bored while the Allied player sets up, it keeps the French player too busy to peek at the Allies and try to figure out their “secret” assignments by watching how units are moved from the forces display to the commanders, it makes the total end-to-end set-up time faster by keeping both pairs of hands usefully employed at all times, it keeps the Allied player from getting bored because the French set-up time is made much shorter, and it makes it hard for the Allied player to guess the French “secret” assignments because he will have been too busy with his own units to worry about the French while the French player is making those assignments.

Rounds and Turns. Bonaparte at Marengo’s version of this section was “Sequence of Play”. There are two problems with the Marengo name: first, it doesn’t really make any sense when applied to Napoleon’s Triumph given that its turns are phaseless, and second, it has always had an intimidating “wargame” character that I dislike. As a title, “Rounds and Turns” has its own issues, and that may not make it to the final draft. One interesting note is that this section is the current home of one of the game’s wandering rules: the shuffle-to-hide-your pieces rule. In Bonaparte at Marengo, it was in the “Game Pieces” section. In early drafts of Napoleon’s Triumph it moved to the movement section (this was because it now had a reference to corps, and corps aren’t introduced yet in the “Game Pieces” section, rendering the rule unintelligible in that location). The corps definition has now been moved into the “Set-up” section, allowing the shuffle rule to move forward into the “Rounds and Turns” section. Will the rule make this section its final home? I have no idea.

Santon

Corps. The main problem I’ve had with this section is establishing the proper structure for explaining attaching and detaching. Attaching requires a command, and so it cannot be explained until the rules covering commands. Detaching, on the other hand, does not require a command and so does not really belong in the section covering commands. At the same time, it is hard to put the rules in entirely different sections when they are conceptually such closely related operations. A second problem I’ve had is clearly communicating when units can be detached. The phrase I use, that a player can detach units “whenever he likes” is as close as I’ve found so far to what I mean to say, but it has been subject to some unfortunate readings that have to be snuffed elsewhere in the rules. There is a side note worth mentioning about this section: earlier drafts had a nasty little exception to the locale capacity rules about locales with a capacity of 3 or less. This was originally aimed at one particular terrain feature: the Fasangarten (pheasant garden), a walled wooded park north of Solkonitz castle. Historically, this park was very strong defensive ground and was occupied by very small forces during the battle. During the game, however, it was hard to keep it fully the side show that it was historically (this is in fact a problem with almost the entire southern end of the battlefield: the French forces engaged were often at the very bottom end of what could be represented in the game’s unit scale, and no game system is at its best at its extreme limits). Apart from being a very ugly rule, the three-capacity exception had another problem: it didn’t really do what it was supposed to do: the Fasangarten still ends up too much in play during the game. And so, after some thought, I decided to see how the game worked with the Fasangarten declared impassable (at least to units of the size included in the game) and the three-capacity exception removed.

Command Track
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Command. This section started off very rough, but has gotten a lot smoother in revision. Early drafts were confusing readers on two very important points: First, the “Detach and Move” command was being misread as the only way that units could be detached, which is very, very far from my intention. Second, that the concept of pieces moving “together” was being used without being defined. The first problem was solved by basically hammering the point home in (I think) about three different places. The second problem was solved in a less reactive way, by defining the term in the movement rules. This section has also been given its own play aid: the Command Track. A problem that came up in playtesting was that it wasn’t always easy (especially for the Allies, who have to worry about a Command Limit) to keep track of how many commands have been expended. This play aid was designed to address that problem: as one player carries out his commands, his opponent tracks them by putting markers on this display. I had to make the spaces large (generally I go with .75" square spaces on tracks; these are 1.5" x .75") to accommodate the commanders’ names in a font large enough to be read. The result was a track that rated extremely high in blanditude, and so I added little pseudo-regimental standards as decoration. Corps flags obviously would have been nice, but insofar as I’ve been able to determine, there was no such thing in this period (if anybody knows otherwise, drop me a line). Another design element (repeated on the commander pieces) is the use of a Chancery italic font for commander names. I had already been doing this on the map set-up locales, to subtly distinguish between the map proper and the unit annotations, but I do like the look and so I’ve extended the use of the font more generally where commanders’ names and printed and space is sufficient. Those of you who’ve long since figured out that I have a weakness for interesting fonts will not be surprised by this. To return to the play aid, I think it does its job quite well and I’ve dropped rules references in the last draft to the option of putting the markers on the map. Obviously I can’t stop anyone who is determined to put them on the map, but the play aid is quite a bit faster-playing (it doesn’t require the opposing player to stick his hand in right where the active player is trying to move, and it doesn’t require that the markers be fished out of where they’ve landed among the units at the end of each turn) and it does the job well enough to solve the problem.

Hyaenas

Movement. One of the many unpleasant facts about hyaenas is that when there are two cubs in a litter, the stronger will usually kill the weaker. Well, a similar thing has happened in the Napoleon’s Triumph movement rules. As I mentioned in a previous diary entry, the road movement rules for the game were essentially an uneasy combination of two entirely different ideas as to how to represent road movement. Well, the stronger has now killed the weaker: the traffic flow rules have passed on (they are actually still pretty good road movement rules and may one day show up again in some other game). It was actually Richard Stubenvoll who suggested the deletion: he pointed out that columns of units moving by Unit Move commands were unlikely to occur in the game (which is very true) and that a rule regulating them was therefore likely to be an unnecessary complication. Nothing brightens my day like being able to delete a redundant sub-system from a game.

Attack Procedure Attacks. This is the most complicated system in the game, but it has been highly resistant to simplification. Hopefully I will be able to find something to delete here at some point, but so far progress has been near zero. To help players, one thing I’ve done is put copies of the attack resolution steps on the mapboard (one copy on each side of the board) to help players learn it without forcing them to crack open the rules just to find the next step. With regard to why the system is what it is, it basically is carrying the burden of needing to be interesting in its own right (the assault system in Bonaparte at Marengo had no such burden: maneuver really did all the heavy lifting to keep that game exciting). In Austerlitz, one of the main things I wanted was a little more of a poker-like feel (“less Chess, more Poker” was one of my design mantras for the game) for attacks. Bonaparte at Marengo is almost exclusively a cerebral game, but I wanted to test players’ nerves as well as their intellects in Napoleon’s Triumph. A second quality I wanted was to make the Allies strong when defending a fixed position, but weaker when maneuvering. The Allied defensive strength comes from their artillery (three pieces vs. only two mobile pieces for the French) but their weakness comes from the fact that tie-breakers are decided against them when fighting in reserve. A third quality I wanted was to make high ground more valuable for artillery. This is done through the bombardment rules, which require that artillery be on high ground to use them, but which allow well-placed artillery to really shred enemy units in front of them.

Retreats. Retreats are very like those in Bonaparte at Marengo, except for the extraordinary penalty of forcing corps that retreat to detach all but one of their units. Another less dramatic difference between these rules and those of Bonaparte at Marengo is the doubling of the penalty for infantry retreating from reserve when attacked across a wide approach. The more I think about it, the more I wish I had done this for Bonaparte at Marengo as well. I think without it, units get off too lightly when retreating in such a situation.

Morale. The process of getting to demoralization is almost identical to that of Bonaparte at Marengo (the morale levels being different of course). The real difference between the two games is that demoralization in Napoleon’s Triumph ends the game immediately, whereas in Bonaparte at Marengo the game continues. In retrospect, I’ve come to feel that continuing the game after demoralization was simply a mistake. Personally, I thought it was fun to kick around a demoralized army a little, but the fact is that people were confused by the game’s continuation and often didn’t really understand that the game was effectively over. The result was that people tried to continue but found the game anti-climactic. And so, I’ve decided that in Austerlitz, demoralization ends the matter. This eliminates that confusion and also saves about a half a column of rules.

Night. At one time, I toyed with some pretty complicated night rules that forced the opposing sides to break off and retire, but when I started to write them up, I found that they were ballooning in length on me. What’s worse, I wasn’t convinced that they were all that realistic either. And so I decided to strip the night rules to their bare minimum: no attacks and a modest morale recovery.

Elite Units. The presence of these units is a pretty big deal. Heavy cavalry is a powerful weapon of a type unknown in Bonaparte at Marengo, and can really deliver a quite shattering blow. The Guard can hit even harder, but the rules restricting its employment and the stiff morale penalties for losses to the guard will make players hesitate before employing it. The Guard also has the interesting destabilizing effect of being stronger on attack than on defense (the only units in the game for which this is true). The combination of these attributes makes successful employment of the Guard units a challenge. The details of the rules mechanics regarding the guard corps, although simple in concept (keep the guard together) has proven something of a pain to write up, largely due to the effects of limited intelligence. The current draft actually has some minor enforcement issues, but I think that they are probably acceptable. Still, if I ever come up with a better idea on how to write those up, it will certainly be welcome.

Winning the Game. I’ve written so much on this subject that I just don’t think I have anything more to add, which is as good a reason to stop writing as I am likely to find.

Anyway, that about wraps up this entry. Volunteer proofreaders are of course welcome to chew on both the rules and mapboard both. Your feedback is always welcome, even if individual responses are scarce.