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14 January 2009

 Products The Guns of Gettysburg Design Diary 60 Years & 4000 Miles: A New World.

60 Years & 4000 Miles: A New World.

It has of course been a while since the last design diary entry. As is an unfortunate habit of mine, I tend to get stuck on some design issue or other and not much happens for an extended period, and so it was here. While I will (eventually) provide some information on this, I really feel the need to finish up some other long planned — but unconsummated — topics first.

My last two games were both on Napoleonic subjects, and in doing a game on an American Civil War battle, I am shifting 60 years forward in time and 4000 miles west to a new continent. In doing so, there are of course differences in what is being simulated; Napoleonic and Civil War battles were different. Before going into how these differences were addressed, I thought it appropriate to first summarize what I thought the important differences were, and the battlefield terrain seemed like a good place to start. Three aspects of the battlefield seemed particularly worthy of investigation: relief, forestation, and settlement patterns.

Battlefield relief is simply a comparison of the variations in elevation between the two battlefields. A straight comparison of my maps for Austerlitz and Gettysburg is complicated somewhat by the fact that I used different contour step sizes and different color schemes for the maps I did of the two battlefields. To make the comparison easier to see, I produced new relief maps of the two battlefields wherein (1) both maps were converted to grayscale, (2) the same shades of gray were used for the same (relative) heights, and (3) the contour step sizes were roughly the same. Here is the result:

Austerlitz Relief
Austerlitz Relief
Gettysburg Relief
Gettysburg Relief

The Austerlitz battlefield actually had more variation than Gettysburg, although as the battles actually developed, much of the variation of the Austerlitz battlefield had no direct effect on the battle. The northern edge of the battlefield was the rugged ground of the Moravian Alps, and was the site of almost no fighting. The steep eastern side of the central high ground was deliberately abandoned by the French in order to lure the Allies forward, and was the site of only limited fighting during the battle. The most important relief feature of Austerlitz was the Pratzenberg, the high ground at the southern end of the battlefield, which although very steeply sloped on its east and southern faces, was more gently sloped on its northern and western faces. Although Gettysburg had less relief variation, it was more undulating than Austerlitz, as the battlefield was crossed by multiple ridge lines. Further, the ridge lines dominated the progress of the battle and the prominent hills of Gettysburg were possibly even more important to how the battle of Gettysburg was fought than the Pratzenberg was to Austerlitz.

Two battles of course do not provide a comprehensive basis for the comparison of Napoleonic and Civil War battlefields. In fact, although Austerlitz had more relief variation than Gettysburg, I would venture to say that in general Civil War battlefields tended to be more rugged than Napoleonic battlefields. While a few major Napoleonic battles took place in mountainous terrain, the Appalachian region was frequently the site of major Civil War battles. On the other hand, many Napoleonic battles took place on the generally flat ground of the Great European Plain, while the flatter areas of North American saw comparatively little fighting during the Civil War. Still, the difference remains a statistical one: if you were to compare randomly chosen Napoleonic and Civil War battlefield pairs, you might generally expect to find the Civil War battlefield to be the more rugged of the two, but would have no reason to be surprised at the occasional case where the reverse was true.

The second point of comparison is in the degree of forestation of the two battlefields, and here the difference is striking:

Austerlitz Woods
Austerlitz Woods
Gettysburg Woods
Gettysburg Woods

Gettysburg is by far the more heavily wooded of the two. Not only does it have a much larger percentage of land area that is tree covered than Austerlitz, the Gettysburg battlefield also has clusters of wooded areas on almost all parts of the battlefield. At Austerlitz, on the other hand, such wooded areas that exist are concentrated: the largest being the Moravian Alps at the northern end of the battlefield; most of the Austerlitz battlefield is wide open with no wooded areas at all. Both battlefields were in areas that were naturally wooded; the difference between them is almost entirely due to human activity. Europe, with its higher population density and longer history of intensive agriculture, had cut down a much larger percentage of its trees, not only for farmland, but for firewood as well — than had the United States.

While a systematic comparison of Napoleonic and Civil War battlefields is outside the scope of this project, I would venture to guess that the difference here is so extreme that there would be hardly any overlap: that if you were to select at random pairs of Napoleonic and Civil War battlefields for comparison, the Civil War battlefield would almost always be the more heavily wooded, and often dramatically so. Napoleonic battlefields were typically cleared areas with occasional patches of woods, but numerous Civil War battlefields were almost solid woods with only occasional clearings of open ground. (Gettysburg was in fact one of the more open Civil War battlefields.)

The third point of comparison is in the human settlement of the two battlefields. The difference is again striking:

Austerlitz Settlement
Austerlitz Settlement
Gettysburg Settlement
Gettysburg Settlement

The Austerlitz battlefield settlement pattern is dominated by villages. There are over two dozen villages of various sizes on the battlefield. The Gettysburg battlefield, on the other hand, has only a single town, Gettysburg itself, with all of the remaining buildings being scattered farms. (As a side note, it is probable that there were some similar buildings on the Austerlitz battlefield belonging to the landowners, but the Austerlitz source maps used for the game were not as detailed as the maps used for Gettysburg and did not show any. I would assume however, that this should not be taken as evidence that none existed.) The difference in settlement is partly, of course, just a reflection of greater population density, but there is, I think, more to it than that. After all, there is no law stating that added population has to be manifested in a greater number of settlements rather than in larger settlements.

I do not pretend to know for sure the reason for the difference, but I suspect it has something to do with land ownership differences. The agricultural labor force around Gettysburg consisted of small farmers who owned and lived on their own land, resulting in a scattering of the population among single-family farms. In Europe, on the other hand, land was generally in the hands of a small number of large landowners, and the labor force either rented the land or were paid to work it, but did not own it and did not live directly on the land, but in villages on its edges. (The villages themselves might or might not also be on land belonging to large landowners.) Of course, these speculations do not affect the design per se — from a game design point of view, what matters is that towns and villages be correctly represented as to their size and location, not the history behind their existence.

If we move on in our analysis from a strict comparison of the terrain differences and speculations as to their causes to consideration of their effects on combat in Napoleonic and Civil War warfare, we can make some useful general observations. The first is that Napoleonic armies tended to avoid woods while Civil War armies did not. As to the cause, it of course has its roots in the fact that the terrain made it easy for Napoleonic armies to avoid woods while it was very difficult for Civil War armies to do so. I suspect that this had an effect on the cultures of the armies. Because Napoleonic armies seldom had to do it, they would have little practice at it, and could neither have been very good at it or very confident about it. Civil War armies, on the other hand, would have had to do it all the time, and if the command and control difficulties of wooded terrain could never be made to go away by practice, at least the officers and men alike would have had a good idea of what the problems were and would have had substantial practice in dealing with those problems.

When it comes to villages and towns, we can see the habits of Napoleonic and Civil War armies reversed from their conduct in woods. Napoleonic armies frequently fought in villages: the battle of Austerlitz, for example, had major fights in the villages of Sokolntiz and Telnitz and smaller fights in several of the other villages on the battlefield. Civil War armies, on the other hand, seldom fought in towns: they moved through towns, fought near towns, and at Gettysburg the Union army retreated through the town, but Civil War armies did not often fight IN towns in house-to-house fighting. As was the case with woods, the relative density of the terrain undoubtably was the primary cause: there were many more villages on Napoleonic battlefields than towns on Civil War battlefields, but other factors may have made a contribution. One might have been the type of construction used. The buildings in European villages tended to be stone or earth, much sturdier than the wood used in most American towns, and may have been more attractive defensive terrain as a result. Also, European villages may have been seen as less valuable than American towns to the officers of the opposing armies. It is worth noting that European armies did not tend to fight in the streets of actual cities: if the cities could not be defended in the farmland outside them, they tended to be given up without a fight, as they were held to be too valuable to be subjected to the destruction of battle and would be declared as open cities.

An interesting question in the design of Guns of Gettysburg is therefore what to do about the town of Gettysburg: what stance should the rules take towards fighting within it? Historically, it didn’t happen; the Union started fighting to the north and west of the city and then retreated through it and resumed their defense to the south and east. From this, one might conclude that the rules could reasonably discourage the Union from fighting in the town itself by imposing some sort of penalties for doing so. On the other hand, Reynolds, the first Union corps commander on the scene, before he was killed, sent a message to Meade saying that his plan if he was driven back from the ridges to the west of the town was to barricade himself within it, suggesting that it the Union should not be penalized for doing what they in fact planned to do. My current inclination here is to start with no penalties and see how game play develops, whether it takes odd and ahistorical turns in the absence of such rules; in general, this stems from my philosophy of not imposing rules and game mechanisms unless their absence demonstrably harms the game enough to justify the playing time and complexity that they would add.

With regard to woods, the design goal is much clearer: Napoleon’s Triumph had very punitive rules regarding woods: apart from some small groves near the southern end of the battlefield, entry was prohibited to all wooded areas without a road, and those with a road had only a capacity of one, on top of which were stiff terrain penalties. The net effect was to take woods allmost completely out of play. This clearly will not do for a Civil War battle; the effects of woods should not be non-existent, but they should allow the armies to operate in them — as they frequently did — but at reduced effectiveness. I have no fixed ideas on the best way to do this, and intend to just play it by ear.