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2 November, 2005

 Products Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary The Road not Taken

Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary: The Road not Taken

8 May 2005
11 June 2005
2 November 2005

Click on any of the images above to open in its own window

The images above show the evolution of the mapboard for Napoleon’s Triumph. The left (8 May) image is the first completed version of the game, and was previously posted on the web site on the date shown. The middle (11 June) image was never previously posted to the web site – in fact, it was never even printed for a playtest. The right image (2 November) is the mapboard as it currently stands.

The terrain has undergone minimal changes over this progression. The changes have almost all been in the play aids and in the annotations showing the objectives and the starting positions for the two sides. I'm actually not going to discuss the current map in this design entry (although if you study it while bearing the 29 October 2005 design diary entry in mind, the purpose of many of the changes can be inferred). I will save discussion of the 2 November map for future design diary entries.

It is actually the 11 June 2005 design that will be the topic of this design entry; discussion will focus on the changes introduced in that version from the previous (8 May) version of the design.

To understand the 11 June map, you can read the design diary entry I wrote for it back in June – but ended up not publishing – by clicking here. (You should probably read it before going on, assuming you are interested in this subject.)

That a diary entry existed for that design direction but wasn’t published is perfectly in keeping with my having drawn a new version of the map and never printed it. In fact, my confidence was collapsing while I was writing the design diary entry. I decided to sit on it for a little while to see how I felt later. Well, the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. And so, I decided to wait until I knew what I was “really” going to do (at the time having no idea just how long the wait was going to be).

So what was wrong with the design? Why didn’t I like it? The core problem is that I was making Lysimachus’s error. That reference is obscure enough that I can be pretty confident that absolutely nobody would understand it, so I’ll explain: Plato, in his philosphical dialogue “Laches”, wrote of a man named Lysimachus, who was investing considerable time and effort trying to decide whether he should have his son taught a kind of gladitorial-style fighting called “man in armor” fighting. As part of this process, he consulted with two friends, distinguished Athenian generals Laches and Nicias. Laches and Nicias both respond at length, but with opposite answers: Laches opposed and Nicias in favor of the idea, each basing his answer on whether the exercise would be healthful and whether the practice would be useful in war. Confounded by this, Lysimachus put the question to Socrates, who asked why he was considering such training at all: what benefit did he hope his son to receive from it? After some discussion, Socrates helped Lysimachus realize that what he was really interested in is the development of his son’s character. After that realization, the conversation then focused on Lysimachus’s real concern, and the question of man-in-armor training never came up again.

The 11 June design failed because I had not formulated well enough what was wrong with the previous version: I had not set myself the right problems to solve, and consequently was spending time and energy on tasks that were of no relevance, while the real underlying problems were not even being addressed, much less fixed. In that design, I was investing a great deal of design effort in increasing the amount of uncertaintly in the game without having made any real attempt to determine whether insufficent uncertainty had anything to do with the failure of the previous design.

It is reasonable to ask, of course, whether this newest direction will be any different than the previous one, and more specifically whether it will ultimately be successful. The ultimate fate is a question that can’t be answered yet, but one difference is worth noting: the 2 November map is now being printed for playtest.