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8 November, 2005

 Products Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary Secrets and Lies Redux

Napoleon’s Triumph Design Diary: Secrets and Lies Redux

One new feature originally intended for Napoleon’s Triumph which was not present in Bonaparte at Marengo was to further limit the information each player had about the other’s army. The original plan was that this would be accomplished through dummy units. The dummies would over time be removed from play, eventually leaving only the real units present. The timing of removal was originally intended to correspond to the (literal) fog of war at Austerlitz, when the fog lifted from the battlefield. On some additional testing, however, I felt that the dummies might be better left in the game longer, to frustrate player’s ability to precisely calculate where their pieces could best be positioned.

In the abortive 11 June version, limited intelligence was extended further, by adding entire hidden groups to the game. Hidden groups were corps which could not be seen by the enemy due to high ground on the battlefield, and whose location would be unknown to the enemy as long as they didn’t move and no enemy pieces moved adjacent to them. As discussed previously in the design diary, The hidden groups were discarded as an unnecessary complication that didn’t really address any problem with the game serious enough to merit the complications attendant to their inclusion, but there are two unexplained questions about the current design that are to be addressed here: (1) What happened to the dummies, and (2) what are the “French Hidden” and “Allied Hidden” displays on the current map?

A reader could easily be forgiven for supposing that the new hidden pieces and the 11 June hidden groups were related, but this is actually not the case. The new hidden pieces are actually replacements for the dummy pieces, but are their negative images: dummies represent units that seem to exist, but really don’t, while the hidden pieces represent units that seem not be exist, but really do. If however, they are their negatives, and could be seen as therefore equivalent, what drove the decision to change?

Dummies were troublesome in a variety of ways. First, as a new class of pieces in the game, their impact on complexity was significant: quite a few rules would be required to govern their presence, and every rule would raise in the reader’s mind the question of whether it did or did not apply to dummies, concerns that the rules would have to address. Second, there was the “dummy corps” problem, where an entire corps of dummies could be assembled and given some mission. While there may have been battles in which such phantom units really did influence the course of the battle, this was not the case at Austerlitz, nor at most other battles of the period. Third, dummies could perform some missions (deterring an enemy attack) just as well as real pieces, since the only way to probe a position in the game was by attacking it, an expensive thing to do if it turned out that there was a real unit there. Fourth and most important, they didn’t really achieve the effect I wanted all that well, which was for players to be surprised by enemy pieces turning up where they hadn’t expected them, rather than enemy pieces not turning up where they had expected them.

Hidden pieces, as implemented in the current design, have none of these drawbacks. They work as follows: prior to the start of play, the players can place pieces face-down on the hidden unit displays, and then write down assignments for them to individual leaders; up to a maximum of four per leader. The hidden pieces are then defined as always accompanying that leader around the board, until their presence is revealed and they are brought into play (pieces are never re-hidden in the game). Hidden pieces can be brought into play at pretty much any arbitrary time by the owning player, even in the middle of combat. Because hidden pieces are associated with leaders, the pieces do not require any bookkeeping after the initial assignment: they just move where the leaders do. Nor do they require any special bookkeeping after they are brought into play, because from that point on they are just normal pieces. As a result, their rules burden is pretty low, substantially lower than dummies, and they do more closely what I wanted done with far fewer side effects than dummies did.

Interestingly, hidden pieces are another solution that fell out as a consequence of introducing leader pieces into the game. Leaders provide a logical and low-cost way for the locations of these invisible pieces to be indicated in play. While it is perfectly true that adding leaders involves adding a new class of pieces into the game that partly cancels out the benefit of removing dummies, leaders are a vastly more fruitful design element. For their cost, I get solutions to multiple hard design problems, not all of which have yet been discussed in the design diary. Dummies, on the other hand, may have caused as many problems as they solved, even without considering the cost of their complexity. I remember well the first moment it seriously occurred to me that maybe I should just drop dummies from the game: it was as if the clouds were parting and the sun began to shine. Even if I had not had hidden pieces to replace them, I do think that dummies would not have stayed in the game. They were a nuisance, and I am very glad to be rid of them.