Home Store Products Research Design Strategy Support News

RSS Feed


Designer’s Blog

3 December, 2017

So, in the previous entry I mentioned that I was including play aids as one of the things I’m doing to try to help people learn the game more easily. But it isn’t the only thing. One player comment about the first edition of Bonaparte at Marengo that stuck with me through the years was by someone who had bought the game, read the rules, set it up, and then, utterly baffled, thought, “Now what?”

As much as I think figuring things out should be part of the fun of a new game (and I do think that), I didn’t mean for players to be quite as perplexed as that. And so, in this edition, I decided to hit that particular nail right on the head, and include a two page analysis of the first Austrian turn in the printed rule book. And here it is.*

(Click on the image to open it in its own window.)

* Quite a while ago, I showed an earlier draft of this, but rules changes invalidated it. So, I thought I would post this new, updated edition.

2 December, 2017

You know, I don’t actually want people to feel frustrated trying to learn my games, which I think would be news to many of the people who’ve tried to do so down through the years. And so, I’m trying to make that process a little easier. One of the ways is by providing play aids. I did get this idea that perhaps the form factor of putting it on the back of the rule book, though, wasn’t ideal. Maybe, I thought, it would work better if it was something that could be laid flat so that it was always there and always readable, rather than something players would have to reach for in order to read.

Which is what led me to this: play aids that were long, thin strips, which could be laid in front of each player between them and the board. If they wanted to check something, they could just look down and do it, without having to use their hands to pick it up.

And here is what it looks like:

(By the way, you can’t zoom in and read the play aids in this illustration. This blog entry was just about form factor. I am saving a content discussion for another day.)

1 December, 2017

So, in the last entry I talked about the slow process of grinding through alternatives to create the assault rules for the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo. In that, I mentioned that a lot of my process isn’t about big flashes of inspiration. And so a lot of it isn’t.

But some of it is.

What I want to talk about this entry is the “forward retreat problem”. This is the problem of pieces taking advantage of a requirement to retreat to instead advance. Now, in situations with a high piece density, this doesn’t happen because the retreating piece is prevented from retreating forward by the presence of enemy pieces blocking the way. However, sometimes in BaM the piece density gets very low; particularly in the afternoon, when the French are often withdrawing and the Austrians pursuing. In such cases, French attacks to push back the Austrian pursuit are, if the French player isn’t very careful about it, prone to producing Austrian forward retreats.

You can see the problem in the illustration below:

This sort of thing has been known to make playtesters (and no doubt players who are not playtesters) berserk. I’ve had testers rage quit over it. Not every tester every time it happens gets quite so incensed as that, but I think it is fair to say that nobody likes it, and it has been an acknowledged design flaw for a very long time.

But knowing something is a flaw, and knowing what to do about are not the same thing.

One problem is that in an area map, it is very tricky to define what “forward” means. The area polygons have all sorts of shapes and the faces of those polygons come at all sorts of angles. It just isn’t visually clear whether which compass direction a given face represents. If we say that for the Austrians, “forward” means “east“, it is frequently unclear for two given polygons whether one is “east” of the other or not.

Similar issues occur if we ignore compass direction and instead focus on saying that the retreating piece has to retreat “away” from the attacking piece, it isn’t clear what “away” means. Again, the problem is that the polygons aren’t regular, and that our intuition of “away” doesn’t necessarily map clearly onto the locale polygons. In the above example, just by polygon geometry, an Austrian retreat to the east is just as much “away” as a retreat to the west, yet our intuition says that the retreat to the west is fine while the retreat to the east is not.

In The Guns of Gettysburg, I had serious retreat problem, because of the need to define retreats in terms of fields of fire, and ended up with quite a complex set of rules governing retreats, yet in spite of that complexity, GoG can still produce odd retreats from time to time. For BaM, I wasn’t remotely interested in dumping a lot of complexity into the game to fix this very intermittent problem. Especially since I was concerned that I could easily end up with a system that was a lot more complex and still not solve the problem.

And so, for a very long time, I did nothing about this problem, except tell players to not attack in situations where they could get a retreat result that they wouldn’t like. It might surprise you to learn that this advice did not endear me to them. (“Doctor, it hurts when I do this!” “Well, don’t do that!”)

Then, one day, out of nowhere, I suddenly thought I knew the answer. I thought I could see how to achieve a 95% reduction in “forward” retreats at almost no complexity and with almost no negative side effects. And you know what? That is exactly what it did. It worked exactly as I hoped from its very first playtest. And here it is:

See that little arrow in the middle of the red circle? It shows when an approach is an east-west approach and which direction is east. The only rule required is this: Unless they have no legal alternative, the French can’t retreat west and the Austrians can’t retreat east. All of the complex judgment about direction is baked into the map itself; the players never need to figure it out at all; they just look at the map and there it is.

Now, what makes it interesting is that although I call it east-west, it doesn’t always literally align east-west. It actually just points in the direction that the Austrian army generally has to advance, which is mostly to the east, but in some cases is northeast or southeast. The arrows aren’t really stupidly reflecting the compass, what they are really doing is intelligently pointing in the way the Austrian army would need to advance to get closer to their objective. And it is that exercise of design judgment, as opposed to literal compass directions, that makes it work in situations where literal east-west would break down and give odd results. For example, right here:

In this area, any Austrian advance is going to be forced by terrain to swing northeast, and the arrows follow that direction. The reason the arrows do that is because that’s what the game needs them to do. Having them do that makes retreats intuitive and easy to understand even where the actual terrain gets a little weird. And that is always what game design, for me, is ultimately about. Trying to answer one question, over and over again:

What does the game need to make it work?

And whatever I think the answer to that is, that’s what I try to do.

Anyway, that’s it for this blog entry! Not entirely sure what the next entry will be about. Lots of candidates: I’ll get to them all eventually, but right now I couldn’t say which one is next.

27 November, 2017

I did a lot of things in the first edition of Bonaparte at Marengo that worked really well, but the assault balance between attack and defense was shifted too far towards the defense. I had initially been over-focused on the fighting on the Fontanone as my model, terrain that had strongly favored the defender, and had baked too much of its strength into the assault model rather than the terrain model.

So, one of the goals for the new version of BaM was a set of assault rules that were less punitive to the attacker. The implementation details changed early and often during playtesting, but this as a goal never wavered. Shown below are the steps of the assault example from the rules, with annotations describing how each step changed from its equivalent in the first edition of the game.

Assault declaration in the new edition is extremely minimalist. It just identifies the attack and defense approaches and says nothing about which pieces will be making the attack. Napoleon’s Triumph veterans should see something familiar here in its resemblance to the “Attack Threat” step in its attack procedure. This change, by forcing the defender to respond while knowing so little about what is coming, is one element of how the balance between attack and defense is shifted in the new edition.

The first consequence of the change in the attack sequence is apparent here in that the defender has to name the defense leading piece without knowing what piece will lead the attack. This pressures the defender make his choice on a worst-case scenario basis. Naming a 1-strength leading piece, as the defender does in this example, is generally quite dangerous, as in most of the terrain on the board that piece will lose if the attacker has a 3-strength infantry or 2-strength cavalry available to lead the attack.

And in fact, in this example, the attacker does have a 3-strength infantry to lead the attack. The attacker also names a second piece as participating in the attack. In the first edition, naming additional attacking pieces in an assault was often of crucial importance, as there was a restriction that only the pieces participating in the assault could enter the defense locale after a winning assault. Without enough advancing pieces, a victorious attacker risked being driven right back out by the defender in their turn, forcing the attacker to start the process all over again. The new edition is more forgiving in that it relaxes that restriction. In this example, the attacker could choose to name just the leading piece as the attack piece, and, if successful, use additional commands to move additional pieces into the defense locale later that same turn.

One step of the assault procedure that didn’t much change between the two editions was artillery defense. The only change I made was to prevent artillery defense if there was an artillery penalty in the attack approach. (This restriction really should have been in the first edition as well; its omission was just an error on my part.) As an additional note, in the game, artillery defense is an odd thing: you rarely see it (the French artillery piece tends to arrive late, and the Austrians tend to use their artillery offensively) but when it does occur it can be dramatic in its consequences.

The defense counter-attack is new to this edition of Bonaparte at Marengo, and was borrowed in large part from the combat sequence of Napoleon's Triumph. What the first edition had was a cavalry pursuit step, which this edition does not. The simulation function of the old cavalry pursuit rule is carried into the counter-attack rule, but the counter-attack rule has broader use and functionality. Because counter-attacking pieces take immediate reductions, they are expensive for the defender and are more a desperate measure than a solid basis for a defense. If this assault had occurred in a real game, the defender would probably not have counter-attacked here; in most cases, preserving the strength of the cavalry for later use would have been the preferred defense tactic.

The only change to this step was a consequence of adding counter-attacks to the assault sequence. It is otherwise the same as the first edition. For a long time in playtesting, however, there was a change that allowed the attacker to win if all the defense pieces in the approach were eliminated, regardless of the differential. There were two reasons that was tried: first, it was frankly counter-intuitive to have the defender eliminated and yet win, and second, the change shifted the balance towards the attacker, which was a result I wanted. In practice, however, that change had a serious negative side effect in flattening the differentiation between the different types of pieces, making the game less interesting and less historical at the same time. And so, somewhat reluctantly, I backed the change out and went back to allowing an eliminated defender to win.

The calculation of reductions substantially changed. In the first edition, it was one for each enemy leading piece plus (for the loser only) one for each point of the result. The new edition uses a different formula that about in most cases produces fewer reductions for the loser. The motivation of the change was to make it less costly for the attacker to make attritional assaults to weaken a defensive position, preparatory to a final assault to break it.

There was no change to the rules governing reduction assessment. Reductions still apply first to the leading pieces, divided as evenly as possible, with the excess distributing to non-leading pieces participating in the assault.

There were two changes here: both simplifying and both shifting the balance towards the attacker. First, the attacker withdrawal rule for when the attacker lost an assault was simply dropped. Second, the exception preventing retreat reductions from applying to pieces in the defense approach was likewise dropped. Of these, the first was the more important because it is a pretty routine event in the game. The second is less important because the defender has to be pretty weak to lose an assault and so the defense pieces in the defense approach are often eliminated before the retreat anyway.

In reading this entry, it might strike you that this is a lot of down and dirty detail stuff. And so it is. But if you’re interested in my design process, dealing with these sorts of issues is a lot of what I do. In fact, this entry only hits on the major points of the evolution of the assault rules in the game. For every assault rules change mentioned about, there were about ten more which were tried and discarded during the playtest process. And that's only the changes that actually made it into the actual rules and reached the playtesters. For every one of those, there were probably ten more that were considered, but discarded based on comparison with alternatives and thought experiments, and which even the playtesters never saw.

And so, for me, a lot of my process isn’t about big flashes of inspiration, it is about just slowly grinding through different alternatives, often on pretty minor points of detail, trying to find the best combination of them that makes for the best game. And that was very much the process governing the development of the assault rules for this edition.

26 November, 2017

In late 2016, I had resumed work on a new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo (continuing a new edition effort I had started and stopped back in 2011). One of the changes I was making was to replace the morale track with morale tokens. I didn‘t think much about it at the time. It made managing morale increases over time easier for the players to keep track of, saved space on the map, and looked nice, but I had no great plans for them otherwise.

But as playtesting proceeded, and especially after it started running into problems in early 2017, I began to feel somewhat dissatisfied with the morale tokens I had added. It wasn’t that they were bad, but it felt like they were under-used, that if I was including them in the game, I really should do more with them when I was doing. But, by March, when I stopped playtesting and put the design on hold, I hadn’t come up with anything more in particular for them to do. It just felt like there ought to be something worthwhile there.

Of course, after March, I was pretty fried, which made it hard to work on that or any other game design problem. But, still, the idea kept coming up as the weeks went by. I would periodically play with ideas for an hour or two, then move on to something else. My initial thoughts were that maybe I could use them as a sort of assault modifier: expend a morale token, get a +1, that sort of thing. I also got the idea of putting them in locales, where they could function like a pot in poker: players could ante in with them, call, and raise, that sort of thing, and at the end, whoever had more tokens in the pot would have an advantage in the attack, and after the attack the loser would lose any tokens they put into the pot for the locale.

I thought of a lot of variants of this sort of thing, but while they seemed kind of interesting in a theortical-game-play sort of sense, none of them seemed like the sort of thing that would make BaM, as a specific game, better, or address the problems that had caused me to abandon work on it.

This process of playing with design ideas continued through the summer. I would think of something, critically examine it, then drop it. And some days later I might do it again with another idea. By August, I was mentally recharged enough that I could actually think about the problem in a sustained and systematic way: What specific problems did I need to solve? What could I come up with to address them? This focus on problem solving gave my creative process the focus it needed to really make it productive.

By September, I was actually working through the details of a specific method for using morale tokens, rather than just trying to think of new ideas to try. My main problem, I decided, was the endgame, which typically kind of petered out as an exercise in time management rather than combat. The midgame, I felt, contributed to the endgame problems in that it just took too long for the Austrians to drive across the map, leaving the Austrians with very little time to do much of anything. The opening game was the only phase of the game that was actually working pretty well. The endgame and midgame, in their own ways, suffered from basically the same problem: the game made it too easy for the French to set up defensive positions, force the Austrians to deploy to attack them, and then just pull back to avoid an actual battle.

And so, I made my focus on the use of morale tokens on the map to increase the cost of abandoning a defensive position. The act of blocking or having pieces lead a defense against an assault would cause morale tokens to be put in the defense locale: if that locale was subsequently lost, the tokens were lost as well. This system also tended (as a good thing) to simulate the historical tendency of armies of the period to fixate on certain pieces of terrain. In the game, successive attacks on a position caused every-increasing numbers of tokens to accumulate there, making that position into a piece of critical terrain where the battle would be either won or lost, so that both armies would tend to rush reserves there.

This basic system was what prompted me to restart playtesting in September. That the morale token commitment idea was a winner was clear even before the first September playtest game was complete. More testing and adjustments were needed to get the game ready for print, but the idea worked. The change made the game more interesting and historically accurate at the same time, at only a very modest increase in complexity.

And for some eye candy, here is a game photo with some committed morale tokens.

Anyway, this carries the narrative to September. Discussing how the design evolved from September to the present I will leave for later blog entries.

25 November, 2017

In my last post, I promised a discussion about the problems I had in the design of the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo. In this post, I’m going to talk about what led to the abandonment of the design back in March.

Sometimes, pictures can tell the tale. If you look at the series of map illustration below, the areas in red are the different Austrian objective areas I had through different versions leading up to March. What this series shows is an uncontrolled design process that simply can’t make up its mind where it’s going. Map 1 shows the objective area when I started. I then progressed to map 2, where I made the objective area larger. Next came map 3, where I made the objective area larger (slightly) again. Then in map 4, I reversed direction and made the objectvies smaller (close to, but not the same, as they were in map 1). Then in map 5, I made them smaller still. Then in map 6, I reversed direction (again) made them larger again (close to, but not the same, as they were in map 2). Then in map 7, I made them much larger. And then, in map 8, I reversed direction again and made them smaller. There was no map 9, not because map 8 worked, but because the design effort was exhausted and had nowhere else really to go.

As a process, the above sequence doesn't converge on anything. It lacks direction. It is aimless wandering, trying to find something that worked. What's more, there is additional variability that the above doesn't show: some versions had different colored stars for objectives, other versions required different numbers of Austrian pieces in the objective area, others different numbers of occupied locales, and others awarded ”points“ based on a combination of pieces and locales. I went through 42 different versions of rules in this time, and it was a quiet version that didn’t change how the objectives worked in some way. While adjusting the objectives, I also was constantly tinkering with morale levels, raising and lowering first one army’s morale, then the other’s. (If I were to graph morale levels, you would see a similar aimless wandering as you see with the objectives.)

So why was I doing this? Well, what I was trying to do was produce a version that was balanced and with an endgame that represented the climax of a Napoleonic battle. What I kept getting were versions where the French avoided battle altogether by withdrawing at the end, or versions where the French got overwhelmed at the end and couldn't offer battle. Occasionally I would get an interesting game, and thought maybe I was on to something, only to have subsequent games fall back into one or the other negative pattern. And it was here that, out of ideas, I abandoned the project. I had gotten stuck on design problems before, but I don’t remember ever feeling so exhausted and beaten before.

But, sometimes, a design is a phoenix, and arises anew from the ashes of its own self-destruction. And so it was in this case. The story of how the design returned to life six months after its demise I will take up in my next post.

24 November, 2017

Wow. It's been a while, and there is much to say.

But rather than bury the lede, I have good news: the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo has completed playtesting and is being readied for production. (These tasks include proofing, packaging, production specifications, etc.) It is a fine game, and very much what I hoped it would be. I think people will really enjoy it.

Here's a look at the post-playtest mapboard:

(Click on the image to open it in its own window.)

So, what's been going on? Why haven't I updated this blog for so many months?

Well, back in March, the redesign effort for BaM crashed and burned. I had exhausted all of my ideas, and although I had gone through many (too many, actually) variations on the design, the version-to-version changes simply hadn‘t ever converged on what I had wanted the game to be. I had reached the point where I was creatively blocked and emotionally spent. It was a major bummer, but I shut down playtesting. And, on top of that, I had family stuff going on that was a major emotional distraction.

I just didn’t do anything materially game related at all until September. While I had a new concept for use in BaM that I had begun to play with, every time I tried to come up with the details of how it would work, I came up empty, and so committed nothing to writing. I just couldn’t keep up the focus I needed in order to really solve a design problem.

So, what happend was that in September, I had recovered enough that I was able to really work through how it could work. I printed up a copy of the mapboard and began to push some pieces around. It seemed good, but honestly my confidence wasn’t high after the design fiasco of earlier this year. I did see if the core playtest team was up for another go, and total champs that they are, they were willing. And so, the band was back together and we got back to work.

Pretty much immediately, we could all see that this version was different than the others: It actually seemed to work. It was rough, and needed polish, but there was clearly a good game in there waiting to be brought out. And so, we cycled playtests and adjustments from September to the present. It was a pretty smooth process this time. Each new version made progress towards fixing some problem or other in the previous version, moving the design by a pretty straight-line path towards its final form. (We had very few cases of corrections that failed so badly that they had to be backed out rather than refined.)

Of course, I haven’t at this point said much (at all) about what the problems were and how they were addressed. My plan is, over the next few weeks, to review that in some detail in subsequent entries. For now, however, I’m going to just tie it off here.

17 February, 2017

So, I’ve been continuing on a couple tracks.

One has been playtesting of the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo, both by Cyberboard and by local (to me) face-to-face play. The testers who’ve been using Cyberboard have of course been doing this for quite a long time now (since November) but those who’ve been doing the face-to-face games have only been doing it for the last couple weeks. Both methods have proven valuable to me and are contributing to getting the game ready for release.

I’ve also been continuing with the revitalization of the research section of the web site. You know, years ago, before I even started Simmons Games, I got the idea to produce an HTML version of the 128 volume Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. (Universally known among anybody who does American Civil War research as the OR. Needless to say, this was a really big job, and it was the beginning of what I expected to be an even bigger job, but it seemed like a worthwhile thing to do. I actually did complete some of it, and the results have been and continue to be available on the research section of the website. What stopped the project was Google Books. They were providing an awful lot (though not all) of the value to people that I was hoping to provide, and it just didn’t seem like a good use of my time to continue with my project. And so, I didn’t.

Anyway, having recently discovered that there was indeed value that I could add to Google Books with the Eylau sources discussed in previous entries, I thought I would check out the situation with Google Books and the OR. What I found was that while they have pretty much everything up there, locating a volume of interest was a mess, and some of the volumes had issues in the quality of their scans. So, I went through, located all the volumes, downloaded PDF copies, cleaned them up some where there was a need and ready means to do so, and posted the PDF's on this site, with a proper table of contents for locating particular volumes. There was a certain satisfaction in this work, a sense that I was (in at least some sense) completing a project that at one time I had put a lot into, and giving some better closure to it.

Links and descriptor are shown below:

Campaign of the Army of the Reserve in 1800 Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies by the US War Dept. This massive 128 volume work is a collection of official military documents from the American Civil War, from both the Union and Confederate armies. Although the full title is “The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”, it is known to anyone who’s ever done research in the ACW as simply the OR. The compilation was authorized by act of Congress in 1874, but is completion was the work of many years. Although this collection deals only with the armies, there was a second collection made for the navies, called the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion (known as the ORN). Praise for the OR is superfluous: it is THE essential source for research on the war. PDF (complete) or HTML (partial).

8 February, 2017

Too late to make yesterday’s blog entry, I finally acquired a print copy of a pamphlet that Napoleon had produced as a post-Eylau propaganda piece to support his claim of a French victory in the battle. I had a digital copy of it already, but the maps that were included in the digital copy were too low-resolution to be of much use and I waited until I could make new, high-resolution scans from print before putting it up on the site. Sample areas of the online version and the new scans are shown below, to show you what I mean:

Online Version New High Resolution Scan

The pamphlet with the improved maps is now available as a PDF in the research section, with the descriptor as shown below:

The War of 1806 and 1807 Bataille de Preussisch-Eylau (The Battle of Preussisch-Eylau) by Napoleon I. This work was published in 1807. Although no author is given on the work itself, authorship is usually credited to Napoleon. Its basic function was propaganda. A Prussian pamphlet about the battle had been published including a rather abstracted map of the battle, showing how the French army had been defeated by arriving Prussian forces. To counter this, and to establish a French (and personal) claim to victory, Napoleon ordered the publication of a pamphlet of his own, centered on battle maps using on a survey of the battlefield Napoleon had ordered, along with some bulletins and an account ostensibly by a German eye-witness to the battle, which is actually thought to have been written by Napoleon himself. PDF.

Anyway, the inclusion of this material sets the stage for me to tell a story, one I learned from James Arnold’s book on the Eylau Campaign, Crisis in the Snows. As mentioned above, Napoleon was motivated to do a survey of the battlefield to support his narrative of the battle, presenting it as a clear French victory. In parallel to this, there was another battlefield survey underway for the Prussian king, by a Prussian officer named Knakfuss. Knakfuss was working without a rush deadline, and so was able to proceed more slowly and carefully than Napoleon’s surveyor was able to do, and as a result produced a much better map. I’ve included some samples of the Napoleon and Knakfuss surveys, along with the later topographic maps I included in yesterday’s blog entry, to give you an idea of what I mean:

1807 Napoleon Survey Map 1807 Knakfuss Survey Map
1860 1:25000 Prussian Map 1940 1:25000 German Map

In spite of the deficiencies of the 1807 Napoleon survey map, and the ready availability of a superior alternative, the Napoleon map has been used in a lot of different places, in military history and in wargames as well. For example, it was the clear basis of the Eylau map in the West Point Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars:

1807 Napoleon Survey Map West Point Atlas Map

And, before I wrap up today, I wanted to share with you full, high-resolution versions of both maps, extracted from the books I included in the research section of the website. The troop positions in the Napoleon map are from Napoleon’s Bataille de Preussisch-Eylau pamphlet, and the troop positions in the Knakfuss map are from Lettow-Vorbeck in his Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807, although I actually used the scan of what looks like the same map from Goltz's Von Jena bis Eylau because that scan came out a little better.)

1807 Napoleon Survey Map 1807 Knakfuss Survey Map

(Click on either image to open it in its own window.)

7 February, 2017

I originally started the research section over ten years ago, and the decade since has made a striking difference in the way this sort of research can be conducted. Back then, I was still very library-bound in my research. While library catalogs mostly were on-line, not much else was, and even the catalogs were quite incomplete.

For map research, my main resource was to physically visit the map room at the Library of Congress. I would go, and use their copiers to copy maps (which had to be done in sections as the maps were pretty much always larger than the copiers), and then take the copies home, scan them into my computer, and re-assemble the sections using Photoshop to make usable digital maps. It was time-consuming, introduced small but noticeable amounts of distortion, and resulted in a loss of detail from the original.

But today, things have changed, substantially for the better. In some cases, maps that were formerly available only in libraries are now available for direct download online of clean, hi-resolution scans. You can see below the difference that can make. On the left is a section of the Eylau battlefield from a 1:25000 WWII-era map that I copied, scanned, and composited back in 2004, and on the right is the same area from a near-identical map that I downloaded in 2016:

2004: Photocopied, scanned, composited 2016: Direct download

(In case you were wondering why I would use a WWII map as a source for a Napoleonic game, the WWII map has accurate topographic information, which period maps do not, and is more accurate as to location: if you overlay a period map on a modern map, the same terrain features are frequently present on both, and the modern map allows for more accurate placement of the terrain features than the period map does.)

Trips to the library haven’t been eliminated, but there are process improvements there as well. Now I have a lightweight scanner that I can take with me, and rather than having to photocopy at the library, take home, and then scan, I can now scan at the library itself, which is faster, simpler, and produces a higher quality result. (Compositing still usually required.) Even my old haunt of the Library of Congress Map Room has been upgraded. They now have a large format scanner: I can take an entire oversize map sheet, and feed it into their scanner, and get a high-resolution digital file directly: replacing the entire photocopy-scan-composite process.

Maps aren’t always available for direct download, but sometimes there is another change for the better: you can simply find out more about what resources are available. For example, in 2004, I was entirely unaware of the fact that the 1:25000 German WWII-era maps I was scanning were of a series that began in the 19th century. Now, I have read that this goes back to Prussia in the 1830’s, but I admit I have not been able to find 1:25000 Prussian maps that are that old. I have, however, been able to find maps from 1860, and license high resolution scans of those maps. While license restrictions (very regrettably) prevent me from posting the actual maps in their entirety, I can show you a section of one so you can see what it looks like compared with the WWII-era map of the same scale and the same area:

1860 1:25000 Prussian Map 1940 1:25000 German Map

Improvements in the online availability of research materials is by no means limited to maps. For older sources, Google Books is an incredible resource. What once required a trip to a major research library is now instantly available to anyone anywhere. When I started this site, one of the things I wanted to do was to make scans of hard-to-find books I was using in my research and make them available through this website. Doing so was a lot of work, but it was something I wanted to do. Google Books, as well as similar digital book collections have made this as a personal task unnecessary. What’s more, Google Books has done on a mass scale what I was able to do for a small selection of books: scan the text so as to make the books accessible not just as page images, but as searchable text.

Given this, it was at first unclear to me whether there my research section really had anything to more to do. And frankly, the answer is, not a great deal. And that is a good thing. But there are still a few things I can do, and so I am trying to do them. First, Google Books is not actually complete. There are volumes that it should have but doesn’t. The same applies to other digital libraries as well, but the gaps in one are not necessarily the gaps in another, so with some digging, gaps can often be filled in. Second, it is imperfectly indexed. Titles and author names are not consistent. And third, their automated book scanning system could not handled folded inserts and in some cases images were simply dropped.

And so, I have taken the time and trouble for sources I am using to correct these deficiencies. Below you can see sources newly added to the site’s resource section, based on what is available in Google Books. I’ve restored missing volumes from multi-volume sets as well as missing maps and images. (That there are two works called “Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807” is not an accidental duplication on my part. They are entirely separate works.) Anyway, here they are:

From Jena to Pr. Eylau Von Jena bis Pr. Eylau (From Jena to Pr. Eylau) by Colmar Freiherr von der Goltz This work was published in 1907. It's author was a Prussian General of Infantry. Early in his career, the author was attached to the historical section of the Prussian general of Staff, where he wrote several books on Prussian military operations. The current work was a sequel to his book Von Rossbach bis Jena und Auerstadt. The earlier book traced the Prussian army from what Goltz took to be its high point, the Battle of Rossbach, to its humiliation at Jena-Austerstadt. The current volume was intended to take that story forward, to the Battle of Pr. Eylau, which Goltz took to be the moment when it merited (even if it did not at the time receive) the recovery of its honor. Thus, the book's subtitle, Des alten Preußischen Heeres Schmach und Ehrenrettung, which roughly translates to The Disgrace and Redemption of the Old Prussian Army. PDF.
The War of 1806 and 1807 Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (The War of 1806 and 1807) by Eduard von Höpfner This work was published in 1850. Its author was a Prussian Major General (then a Colonel). One of the oddities of the 1806-1807 campaign was that it produced two different four-volume Prussian staff histories of the war, both with the same title. Staff histories were notable for their use of archival sources (by no means the rule in historical writing prior to this) and high degree of operational detail. This is the earlier of the two staff histories of 1806-1807, and is largely (though not entirely) subsumed by the later work by Lettow-Vorbek. Still, it is still not wholly without interest and is routinely cited in modern histories of the conflict. Volumes.
The War of 1806 and 1807 Der Krieg von 1806 und 1807 (The War of 1806 and 1807) by Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck This work was published in 1891. Its author was Oscar von Lettow-Vorbeck, then a Colonel in the Prussian army. This is the later of the two four-volume Prussian staff histories of the war, and for modern research purposes, much the more important of the two. The level of operational detail is very high, and it is well-supplied with orders of battle and maps. Unsurprisingly, it is more focused on Prussian operations than either of the other two armies, but it hardly neglects either. It remains a invaluable research source over 100 years after it was written. Volumes.

6 February, 2017

So, one of the problems of putting a business on hiatus for years, as I did with Simmons Games, is that routine maintenance type things that should be done, don’t get done. While over the last few months I’ve breathed life back into this blog, other parts of the site have still been neglected. Over the last couple of weeks, in parallel with other activities, I’ve been started fixing the site up a little.

One of the more embarrassing areas of neglect was just to remove the references to Guns of Gettysburg as being “in development”. Another was the broken search feature for the site. (I moved the site to a different hosting service late last year, and lost search at that time, as the implementation of it was tied to the old hosting service.) Anyway, the search feature is now working again and uses Google’s site search option. Another small change was to switch to a higher-resolution version of the Simmons Games logo, although how much of an improvement you’ll see depends on the resolution of your own computer’s display. I can say that on mine it looks marvy.

Looking ahead, the main area of the site that is in need of extensive renovation is the ecommerce section. It was originally developed around an shopping cart system specific to the site that doesn’t really make sense anymore. It never was ideal: it required customers to create accounts, enter shipping and credit card information, and so forth. For the customers and myself alike, it was tedious at best, and introduced trust issues at worst. One of the nicer consequences of the sale of the remaining inventory of Napoleon’s Triumph is that it gave me a low-risk way to work with alternative sales models. Looking forward, I would like to keep the means of selling through BGG, eBay, and Amazon. In addition, I plan to add direct PayPal sales as well. (So if you have a PayPal account, you will be able to place a direct order using that account, without the need for another account at eBay, Amazon, or anywhere else.) One thing I won’t do again, however, is accept credit cards directly. Too many negatives for the customer and myself alike. Never. Ever. Again. (I could tell you about my dealings with the Wells Fargo vampire on this, but I would rather not descend into a state of apoplexy.)

Anyway, as we get closer to publishing the new edition of Bonaparte at Marengo, you can be sure you’ll hear more about progress on the renovation of the site’s eCommerce facilities and the new business model.


January, 2017

December, 2016

November, 2016

August, 2014

April, 2014

March, 2014

February, 2013

November, 2011

May, 2011

March, 2011

February, 2011

January, 2011

December, 2010

November, 2010