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12 May, 2008

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary Can’t See the Forest

The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary: Can’t See the Forest

The scariest feature to have to reconstruct in the absence of good-quality contemporary maps of a battlefield is vegetation. For wargames, this generally means trees, and tree cover is frequently omitted from maps. In the case of Gettysburg, for example, there is a large 1858 Adams County wall map that shows towns, roads, streams, and even the names of land owners for the county but which omits forests entirely. The otherwise detailed and useful 1908 topographic map series prepared by the U. S. Army also omits forests.

No Trees Here, 1858
No Trees Here, 1908

Fortunately, in the case of Gettysburg, we have the remarkably high quality 1:12,000 1868 map prepared by the war department, which in addition to its many other virtues, includes ample detail on what areas of the battlefield were tree-covered. The only bad news about it is that doesn’t cover the entire battlefield area that I wanted to cover on the game board. Specifically, the southern end of the game board is not covered by the 1868 map. (Incidentally, the 1908 map is used as the background here, and as such calls out one huge advantage that later map series like that one have over earlier maps: enormous coverage; the 1908 map series covers the entire United States at 1:50,000 whereas the 1868 1:12,000 map is narrowly focused on the battlefield of Gettysburg.):

U. S. War Dept., 1:12,000 (1868)
Limits of Coverage (red=1868 map; blue=game board)

The narrow strip of land at the south end of the game board has been a nagging irritant all through the map development process, and never more so than when considering what to do about mapping forests. For quite a while, the oldest map I had showing forest cover from this area was from 1946, and eighty years is a long time when it comes to woods: people clear land and people abandon land and allow trees to re-grow. One early test I ran was to compare the 1946 map with the 1868 map where I had coverage for both just to see how much of a problem I had. A sample comparison is shown below:

1868 Tree Cover
1946 Tree Cover

In comparing the 1868 and 1946 maps, we can see a general continuity; for the area shown above, the large wooded areas on the right and in the bottom-left quadrant are recognizably the same; there is a loss of detail in the 1946 map (which is at 1:50,000 vs. 1:12,000 for the 1868 map) but that is all. Moreover, there is an orchard about about a third of the way from the bottom in the center of both images that is still there (the 1946 map, by the way, uses a pattern of yellow dots to indicate orchards; depending on your monitor, it may or may not be easy to see here). However, we can also see some discontinuities: for example, there are some wooded areas near the top-center of the 1868 map that are shown as cleared on the 1946 map, and the 1946 map shows suggests that there has been some tree re-growth along the stream near the top-left corner. Overall, it could be better, but it isn’t dreadful and I decided to go ahead and try to use the 1946 map as a source for tree cover for the bottom edge of the game board.

It might, of course, be asked why I bothered; after all, I could avoid the problem entirely if I just trimmed off the southern edge of the map. I didn’t regard this as a very attractive option, however, because it allowed the Union in their historical position to anchor their left flank on the edge of the board, and I do really try to keep the edges of the game board from becoming a part of game strategy. Longstreet’s proposal for July 3 to keep working around the Union left, for example, would be made impracticable if the southern edge of board is not extended at least as far as I extended it. It is, in general, a trap to let your sources dictate your game; historians are concerned with what did happen, but game designers are concerned with what might have happened, and that means that game designers will care about things that historians won’t.

I don’t want to go off on too much of a tangent here. The problem of settling the scope of a game is an interesting one, but it isn’t the topic under consideration here. Suffice it to say, that the decision was made to include areas that the 1868 map did not cover, and that the research problem was one of getting information on those areas.

After some additional searching, I did find one more map resource. A 1:18,000 map included with the two-volume book Pennsylvania at Gettysburg, this map, made in 1904, covered most of the area south of the 1868 map, and after finding it, I revised the forest lines that I had drawn based on the 1946 map. Here, by the way, is another comparison of the same area depicted above, this time with the 1904 map, and (just for interest) a 1999 map as well:

1868 Tree Cover
1904 Tree Cover
1946 Tree Cover
1999 Tree Cover

A couple of things are worth mentioning about the 1904 map. First, it has somewhat less east-west coverage then the 1868 map. This, however is of less interest than the fact that it seems to simply not be as carefully made (at least towards the western edge) as the other maps. The large wooded area in the bottom-right quadrant of the 1868 and 1946 maps (and which is still there in the 1999 map) is omitted in the 1904 map. It is of course highly unlikely that it was cleared between 1868 and 1904 and then allowed to re-grow in almost exctly the same spot by 1946, so the highly probably conclusion is just that the makers of the 1904 map just left it out. This is a disconcerting thing to see in a source map, but an examination of the other wooded areas and a comparison with the older and newer map certainly demonstrates that while the 1904 map may be flawed, it is not a work of cartographic fiction either.

The first version of the woods for the southern end of the game board I did was based solely on the 1946 map. When I obtained the 1904 map, I made a number of revisions and at this point the game board for that area is a composite of the two sources (the 1904 map actually stops short of the south-most point of the map, so the very south-most part of the map can only draw on the 1946 map as a source). Currently, I have one more map reference on the way, a four map battlefield series ordered through the Friends of Gettysburg Foundation. I suspect it may give some coverage to this area, and if so I may do another revision prior to publication. As of right now, however, you can see the sources and the board version of the southern end of the map below:

1904 1:18,000 Map

1946 1:25,000 Map

Gameboard Map

The artwork style for rendering wooded areas in The Guns of Gettysburg is derived from that used earlier in Bonaparte at Marengo and Napoleon’s Triumph. The two earlier games were almost identical to each other in how woods were rendered. For both, a set of small tree symbols were drawn, and woods were created by dragging and dropping the tree symbols to form groups. Because the woods were so much more extensive on the battlefield of Gettysburg than they were on either Marengo or Austerlitz, I felt the need to upgrade the appearance of the woods. To do this, I began by adding more types of tree symbols (in particular larger and smaller trees so as to give them a more heterogenous look). Second, I increased the density. Increasing the density is actually kind of a pain, because it meant spending more time on placement to make sure that the trees were packed close together but not actually touching anywhere, and since the trees were different sizes and shapes, it took on rather a puzzle quality: (“Let’s see – this space is too small for tree symbol #3, but #2 might fit, oh, not quite, well how about if I replace this tree symbol #6 next to it with a #8, yeah, that works...”). Anyway, in doing this, I discovered that the reulting woods looked good but obscured the relief too much, and so I thinned the lines used to render them and also made them somewhat transluscent.

Anyway, a sample close-up of woods from Napoleon’s Triumph and The Guns of Gettysburg should show the difference nicely (and you can play the game of seeing how many different tree symbols you see in each and try and figure out which tree symbols in GoG are derived from symbols used in NT and which are new):

Woods in Napoleon’s Triumph
Austerlitz Tree Art
Woods in The Guns of Gettysburg
Gettysburg Tree Art

In addition to wooded areas, there are also a lot of orchards in the Gettysburg area. Graphically, I wanted to show the artificiality of the orchards as opposed to woods, and here I followed the convention used in the 1868 map of using uniformly sized tree symbols arranged in an open, regular grid. My slavish imitation of the 1868 map is plain if you compare the same section in both (note: you can also see the difference in style between the orchards and the woods at the bottom-left of the illustrations):

Orchards in 1868 Map
Orchards in the Game Map
Orchards Game Map

At long last, here is the Guns of Gettysburg map with the woods and orchard layers turned on. As before, click to view a detailed map in its own window:

The Guns of Gettysburg Vegetation Map

Gettysburg Vegetation

Click on the image above to open in its own window