This interview is the result of a recent exchange of emails between myself and Frank Hunter, concerning his new game. If you are not familiar with it, it is an operational game of the 1806 campaign against Prussia. The rules are posted online at: http://www.adanaccommandstudies.com/Introduction.html
GWM: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and Adanac?
FH: Well, I started playing wargames in 1974 with 1776 and 3rd Reich, I was 12 years old. I continued to play boardgames and later miniatures and started playing computer games in 1983. My first computer game was Napoleon's Campaigns by Paul Murray from SSI. Would have to say its my all-time favourite in terms of how many hours I played it. I picked up a degree in International Studies somehow while spending much of my time wargaming. Wargaming-wise, I pretty much only play miniatures now except for the odd computer game. As far as boardgames go, its just the Columbia games that I still pick up. Family life (two daughters) just doesn't leave a lot of time for wargaming so when I get the chance I prefer games that don't require a hundred pages of rules to be memorized in advance.
GWM: What could you tell us about the game La Grande Armee: 1806?
FH: La Grande Armée : 1806. It's hard to know what to say here without repeating myself; after all, the rules are posted on-line. It's a game that is a test to see if there's a market for further Napoleonic games. The price is low to reflect the fact that it's not trying to compete with Age of Empires or anything like that and also because I didn't want price to be an issue when trying to determine the size of the market. I wanted to write a game like this for myself because I'm interested in the operational level and especially the AI problems that have to be tackled. I'd like to see that there's a market for the game but if there isn't then at least I have the games for my own experimenting with and entertainment.
GWM: You said that you were inspired by the works of Petre and the games of Kevin Zucker to put this game at an operational scale. What are you trying to show about Napoleonic warfare in this game?
FH: That its different.
I used to get disappointed about the boardgames I'd
buy in the 70's and early 80's where a French division could have just as
easily been a 1941 German Panzer division, they had identical combat and
movement ratings and there was little if anything in the rules that would
give you a different experience from a WWII game. LGA really focuses on the
command and supply limitations of the period, they were much different than
a general of 1940 would have faced. If you're going to detach a corps and
send it around the enemy flank you have to be aware of the difficulties that
unit will face in terms of command and supply.
The look of the game will also be different from a division level game of WWII. There will not be any long continuous front. Instead the placement of the centre of operations will determine the axis of advance. The first Napoleonic game I played that felt right was from Kevin Zucker. Napoleon at Bay and Struggle of Nations were great games that I played over and over. Mr Zucker had a big influence on my thinking and I think that shows through in the design.
As for Mr Petre, when you read his books you're aware of the flavour of the period and that's what LGA tries to do, impart to the player the flavour of a Napoleonic campaign. As to whether or not it does so, that's up to the players to decide.
GWM: A key to Napoleonic Warfare is Leadership; how are the various abilities of leaders reflected in the game?
FH: Leaders affect almost everything in the game: How fast troops move, how fast they recover, how well they fight, how fast new orders are adopted, etc.
GWM: How does the combat system work?
FH: When units meet there is usually a skirmish period allowing other forces to enter the battle and giving a chance for cavalry to retreat. After that players choose a tactic, either Withdraw, Hold, Pinning Attack, Pitched Battle or Cavalry Charge. A Cav charge is something you would do when you're not trying to defeat the enemy, just dislodge him from a position so that your forces can carry on. A Pinning attack is what you do when you're expecting the enemy to withdraw before the rest of your forces can arrive. When the battle is actually joined the game figures out the combat potential of all the units involved taking into account fatigue, command, supply, terrain and so on. Then units fire at each other, cav hitting cav, inf hitting inf when possible. Morale is checked, corps are checked to see if they're shattered, retreats are carried out and the game continues.
GWM: The "Full Fog of War" setting is one of the most intriguing aspects of the game to me, would you care to explain it?
FH: The mechanics are the same as the other two fog options but here you don't even know for sure where your own forces are located. Every bit of information that is displayed is based on a report, towns being captured, battles being fought, unit locations and strengths etc. The only reports that have to be read are towns falling and battles. The other information is sent as a report but once it reaches your HQ the game updates the data and this is displayed on the screen. Its possible to receive a battle report saying a corps on the far left flank was defeated two days ago and not know the situation there, is the enemy sweeping around, did they fall back after their victory, you don't know.
GWM: How is the production and testing of the game coming along?
FH: Still in testing, most of the time being spent on the AI with other bugs being fixed as they show up. I don't see any problem getting it out the door in November as I hoped.
GWM: It strikes me that this game system and scale are ideally suited to the 1806 campaign, while say the 1815 might take some adjustment in time scale. What campaigns are you looking at doing with this system?
FH: I'm going to cover all of the major ones if the sales are there. 1805, 1807, 1809, 1812, 1813, 1814 and Spain. As to which campaign will be next, that will be driven solely by what people want.
GWM: How are the differences between the Prussian and French Armies reflected in the game?
FH: The Prussians don't carry 4 days of rations with them so they're tied to their supply depots more. Also, the French have a big advantage by being able to forage towns even if those towns have no supplies. You can't support a whole army that way but a couple of corps can "live off the land" which gives the French a big advantage. The Prussians are also hampered by command problems that are coded as a special rule which delays their starting out in the morning (straight from Petre) which means they either don't march as far in the day or they get less chance to rest from the day's fatigue. I didn't make the Prussian quality worse than the French, so in a stand up battle with everything else being equal the Prussians will give as good as they get, perhaps even moreso. Unfortunately, everything probably won't be equal. The Prussians are saddled with lousy generals for a start although a variant allows that to be changed. Speaking of variants, the Prussians can not only have their generals' command ratings increased, they can also have L'Estocq and his troops show up early, and the big one is the Russians under Bennigsen arriving through Silesia.
GWM: I want to thank you for your patience. I've been excited about your game ever since I first heard about it, personally. I think the operational scale is something that has been long missing in computer gaming on Napoleonics, and looking at the systems I have great hopes for this game.