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8 May, 2005

 Products Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary The Map Board

Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary: The Map Board

Click on the image above to open in its own window

The Map Board. This is the first public preview of the map board for Napoleon’s Triumph. There is a great deal that can be said about it (and will be said about it in future diary entries), but this entry will be focused on the theoretical foundations of what a design for a game board should achieve, which will provide the framework for later discussions of particular aspects of the design. One thing you will want to do, however, is to click on the image above to see a 150 dpi image of the map board in its own window.

There are three functions that the map board for a wargame fulfills. These are regulatory, cartographic, and artistic. Each of these functions will be taken up in turn in the paragraphs that follow.

In its regulatory function the game board is the handmaiden of the rules of the game. The rules specify what the players can and can't do, and as a regulatory device the game board provides a means for the players to unambiguously apply those rules. For example, the locales and approaches in Napoleon’s Triumph determine the legal positions of playing pieces on the board, how far they can move, and where they can attack.

In its cartographic function the game board functions as a map of the battlefield at the time of the historical engagement. This function is a basic difference between the boards of wargames and abstract games: in abstract games, the board does not function as a representation of something outside of the game, whereas in a wargame it does.

In its artistic function the game board operates on the eye and the mood of the player. Its most fundamental artistic role is actually a negative: to do no harm. Players stare at game boards for long periods of time – hours at a stretch. The game board should not strain the eye or disrupt the mood. A game board is, however, an important visual tool and should not settle for merely doing no harm; it should be designed to actively engage the player’s eye (examining it should be a rewarding experience), and actively set the mood (it should assist the player in mentally leaving the time and place in which he lives and transporting himself to the time and place in which the battle was fought).

Sometimes these three functions reinforce each other towards a common end. At other times they are independent of each other, and at other times they are in conflict. Examples of all of these might be found in how cities are represented on a game board: for cities large enough to be significant in terms of the game rules, their inclusion might be desirable for all three reasons: regulatory (the rules require them to be marked), cartographic (the map is more accurate for their presence) and artistic (the map looks better with them there). Medium-sized cities, however, might be neutral from a regulatory perspective (they are not large enough to be significant in the game rules), but they might still be positive on cartographic grounds (they make the map more accurate), and/or artistic (they might the map look better). Small cities, however, might cause a conflict in the board design: they might be neutral from a regulatory perspective, and positive from a cartographic perspective, but they might be a negative from an artistic perspective because they cause the board to be too crowded and visually busy.

Map board design can in general be seen as a process of trying to advance each of these three functions without sacrificing the others. Sometimes all three are in agreement and the process is easy. At other times, there are apparent conflicts for which creative solutions can be found and the general quality of the design is advanced. At still other times, one function may have to be sacrificed in order that another be advanced, or a compromise can be found in which neither function totally takes precedence over the other. All of these general cases occurred during the course of the design of the map board for Napoleon’s Triumph. A simple visual examination of the board may reveal some of them to the viewer, although others may require more examination before they become apparent. Future design diary entries will go into some of the more interesting choices that came up and how and why certain decisions were made.