Designers of Napoleon 1806
From across the Atlantic, Julien & Denis join us for a chat ~
Jim Owczarski, 26 January 2017
It will surprise no one hereabouts that I’ve an interest in the struggle between Prussia and France in the Fall of 1806. I’ve already written two articles about my planned trip to the Jena-Auerstadt battlefields this year and have been gleefully running a kriegsspiel of the campaign since October 2016 over in the Grogheads forum.
So, I would have been hard put to be more pleased when the Kickstarter campaign for Shakos’ Napoleon 1806 crawled across my news feed. Reading the rules on-line and reading up on the backgrounds of the team behind all this, I backed quickly. I wanted, though, to find out more about the this new company, the game’s designers, and what inspired them to take up what is, let’s be honest, not the most conspicuous of Napoleon’s campaigns.
So, for those who don’t know you, please introduce yourselves? What’s your background in gaming?
DS: I’ve played since my teenage years and I started with the unavoidable “Four Last Battles of Napoleon” from SPI designed by Mister Kevin Zucker (He speaks here of “Napoleon’s Last Battles”. And I might use the word essential.) Napoleon 1806 was born from the desire to regain the thrills of my childhood when I first opened this box. I would like young people to be passionate like me for historical boardgames and to marvel at the material spread on the table. My favorite period is the First Empire. I am the author of the series “The Marshals” edited by Vae Victis and Ludifolie that tells the victories and defeats of the French marshals under the Consulate then the Empire.
JB : I have almost the same background as Denis except than the First Empire was far from being my favorite period. I personally prefer WW1, with games like the 1914 series from Michael Reich, or Der Weltkrieg from Dave Schroeder. I met with Denis 10 years ago. As we were lost in the middle of Ardèche in France, and the lone wargamers around, we had no other choices than to play together! (Author’s Note: this) We started thinking really into editing our own game when seeing in the French game festival in Cannes (not the movie one) people stopping in front of our monster games and showing some interest. We then thought about offering games with a strong historical background but with simple mechanisms, like the ones used in Eurogames.
I’m a fan, a huge one, of the Jena-Auerstadt campaign, but it’s not a marquee name – certainly not compared to Borodino, Leipzig, or, of course, Waterloo. What made you want to do a game about this campaign?
DS : I have always be a fan of this campaign and the way Napoleon led his troops to victory. I’m also fascinated by the exploits of Davout and his men at Auerstaedt. The Prussian army of 1806 is always depicted as an easy prey for Napoleon, but it fought with a valor that improves the prowess of the French III Corps.
Related to the above, there’s this idea that English-speakers (including in America, strangely enough) prefer studying and playing games about campaigns in which the British were involved. Were you at all concerned that choosing a campaign a bit further East would limit sales?
DS : Napoleon 1806 is first the culmination of a project with friends more than a commercial affair. I always wanted to simulate this campaign in Saxony and my choice went naturally on those days of October 1806 without thinking about the preferences of our English-speaking friends. I had also several historical references to help me for this design.
Even for those who might have read a bit about it, what’s the one thing you’ve learned about this campaign that you think most folks don’t know?
DS : I think that we should not underestimate the value of the Prussian troops. They were badly led, which resulted in this disaster. With better direction, French casualties could have been far worse, even if Napoleon’s success was unavoidable by the end. We should not forget the soldiers that fell in Saaleld, Jena, and Auerstadt. The Prussian army was wrecked, but the Grande Armée did suffer as well. One goal of Napoleon 1806 is also to rehabilitate the Prussians and Saxon soldiers.
This campaign, not to put too fine a point on it, was a dominant victory for the French. What have you done to make this more “fun” for the Prussians without turning too far from history?
DS : Like I explained before, one of the goals of the game is to improve the image of the Prussian army. It’s difficult to do as well as Napoleon by being as fast, and by taking into account the impossibility to see the victory slip from the French player as the Grande Armée’s superiority in number and quality is so important. This problem was at the heart as the play tests: How to make both roles interesting? The idea was to push the French player to make mistakes, by linking timing and on-map objectives. The French player must win quickly as he must avoid the junction of the Prussians with the Russian army. The Prussian player starts with an edge in victory points, and he wins some more as time passes. The French have to take some risks in order to achieve their war goals and harm their enemy. Opportunities will appear for the Prussian player to surprise a lone French corps, and he must give up space for time but not too quickly. The two sides are asymmetric, but as the game is fast. it’s possible to take both roles in an evening. Tests gave 55% Prussian victories, often won at the very end, which reinforces the tension of the games.
JB : Determining victory conditions was one of the main obstacles in game design. Fun is also based on the fact that the game must be tense, and each player must be able to win, otherwise why play? That’s why we paid particular attention in the victory conditions and changed our mind often before we found the good equilibrium.
For those with short attention spans, what’s the “elevator pitch” for you game, i.e., how would you describe it in a paragraph or less?
DS : Napoleon 1806 is a simple, fast and fluid game where maneuver is important. Management of troops’ fatigue is the key to success. Achieving convergence of forces while maintaining a high level of cohesion for the decisive battle are the leading ideas behind the design. I centered my work on the playing fun, games must be interactive and have a fast pace.
JB: And as said previously by Denis, we also want the players to say “Whaoooo” when they open the box and deploy their troops on the game board. So we also focused on the look of Napoleon 1806.
Looking over your rules and game components, there seem to be a lot of different influences: Euro-game pieces, blind setups, point-to-point movement, &c. Which games – wargames or otherwise – inspired you?
DS : The range of Columbia Games, with the theme of fog of war, did inspire me. However, the originality of the system lies in the fatigue rule I wanted to model. This aspect is rarely simulated in games. Then to take inspiration from boardgames to attract a broader public for newcomers to discover historical gaming and strategy.
DS : Good question. The Prussian command was really confused, historical accounts reports stormy war councils where, by the end, indecision was the key word. No commander in chief did emerge specifically. I chose Frederick III to represent the Prussian center of operations rather than the army leader. His bonus, which allows his troops to reduce fatigue, simulates Prussian logistics.
The game map is lovely. Is it original, i.e., did you have it designed from source maps? Or is a cleaned up period map?
DS : I used the original map coming from the Atlas de l’Histoire du Consulat et de l’Empire written by Thiers. Then it is the talent of Nicolas Treil, the illustrator, who did the rest. The idea is to merge modern computer graphics and drawings in Indian ink in order to preserve the spirit of the works of the time. These graphic choices are found in all elements of the game.
JB : To speak a bit more of Nicolas, he joined the adventure lately, but he brought with him its enthusiasm and talent. He gave Napoleon 1806 a unique touch, and we are really happy to work with him on this project.
I’m very fond of your rule requiring the routes of advance to a battle to be marked for retreat purposes. What inspired that? Was it something you perceived to be missing in other rules at this scale?
DS : The rule come from the “Marshals” series, where it is simulated in even greater detail. In Napoleon 1806 we did simplify it. The idea is to prevent enemies from meeting without fighting and continue behind en\emy lines to go for victory points linked to strategic objectives.
I know you want to get this game out the door, but, when it succeeds, would you like to do other campaigns? Any hints as to which?
DS : If Napoleon 1806 is a success, the idea is to pursue the series with the 1807 campaign in Poland where we can simulate three campaigns on the same battlefield : Pultusk, Eylau and Friedland (Author’s Note: Oh…heck…yes!). It could be also Bonaparte in 1796 with the fighting for Mantua in Italy. There again many scenarios are possible : Bassano, Rivoli, Arcole. Howerver, Shakos doesn’t want to limit its scope to First Empire, as Julien, who developped Napoleon 1806, has its own project, a simulation of the first months of WW1 on the Western Front, with the same idea than the one behind Napoleon 1806 : accessibility and historicity.
JB : Yep, Empire is not the only historical field we want to explore. However we want to stick to our main ideas, and the game on WW1 will also be based on the exhaustion of the troops and fog of war.
Anything else you’d like us to know about your company or this campaign?
DS : More than the KS campaign itself this is the goal of the project I always come back to: Our will, with Julien, is to have fun, I think than Napoleon 1806 transcribes this : historical simulation and playing fun.
JB : Yes we want to have fun, but we also want the campaign to succeed ! So you still have a few days to support us and make this project become a reality!
Many thanks to both Julien and Denis for taking time out of what must be a crazy period to answer these questions. If you’re inclined to join the Kickstarter as a backer – and all the cool kids with square buttons are – it’s right here