The Tuesday Interview – Didier Rouy, Part Deux
Part 2 of 2, as Cyrano starts asking more Napoleonic questions ~
Jim Owczarski, 18 April 2017
When we last visited with Dr. Didier Rouy, he was discussing his Flight of the Eagle operational-level Napoleonic Kriegsspiel. In this second half of the interview, he discusses crazy things wargamers can attempt in the RPG-like Kriegsspiel space; how bear hats and humming can scare grown men; how a tactical, Napoleonic wargame could have been influenced by Magic: The Gathering (shudder); and what might be next on his design table.
continuing the discussion from last week
c. You acknowledge the link between the Kriegsspiel-type games like Flight and role-playing games, something about which I tend to obsess. One of the immense strengths of RPGs is the freedom to create it allows to both the game runner and the player. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen a Flight player try or argue he should be able to do in a game?
Oh Boy, that can be a long response ☺
As an umpire I ran around 25 campaigns, and played a few as player. There have been strange things indeed, but nothing really strange. A few anachronisms (“me and my panzers are coming”), a few wrong sense of the distances (“so I run there and charge”, 15 km away), an almost constant question “Hey, can I write a fake message and send it by a route I am sure to be intercepted ?”, sure you can, but usually the enemy does not take the bait, too easy. I have seen a message sent to the enemy saying “the Emperor of Austria recruits, general you would be welcome in the Austrian army if you would desert”, fake messages saying Caroline Murat was having an affair in Paris while her husband was campaigning. (Author’s note: As if this didn’t happen.)
Maybe the strangest thing was a team spending a lot of briefing time setting up a very complex coding system for the towns to mislead the Prussians in case a message was captured
Maybe the strangest thing was a team spending a lot of briefing time setting up a very complex coding system for the towns to mislead the Prussians in case a message was captured. Iena was to be referred as Weimar, Weimar as Leipzig, Leipzig as Magdebourg, and so on. The problem is that some players forgot about the code and started responding with the correct cities, leading to total confusion in the French camp.
And when I link the Flight to role-playing games, it is not the player in charge of Murat having a lot of feathers and talking with southern France accent, it is the way the players actually involve themselves into the role, or the style they use in their messages with expressions of the time, starting their messages to Napoléon by “Your Majesty” and not by “Hey Buddy”, but here is the best example:
1806, Hohenlohe is gathered facing one single French corps at six p.m. His message to Brunswick: “I got them, will attack tomorrow morning”. When as the umpire I described the situation the next day at six a.m., I said something like “yes, you see one French corps, maybe 2 as there are people behind, and also dragons. Oh, there are also bear caps, a lot”. At this point his face changed as the smile disappeared, and then I added “and then, you hear” and I starting singing La Marche Consulaire Marche de la Garde Consulaire and La Victoire est à Nous . Suddenly his face changed again, absolute terror. In his head, he linked bear caps with the Guard, and the music with the presence of the Emperor. “He”, the monster, he is here… run away. He then wrote to Brunswick “He is here, I retreat”. What happened to the nice confidence at 6 p.m. the day before ? That is role-playing. (Author’s Note: That is evil and wonderful is what that is.)
Marche de la Garde Consulaire and La Victoire est à Nous
d. When you run a game, how do you prevent players from becoming “patrol-happy” and sending picquets all over the map and bogging down your umpiring? Asking for a friend.
Yes this happened, but in fact this is rare. Most players understand that a lot of patrols do not bring much information and that it is a distraction. But the umpire of an online game called me for help as one player was, as you say, patrol-happy and was slowing down things by sending hundreds of them. The umpire and I restricted their use to three per light cavalry division per day, one per line or heavy cavalry division, and this is it. This was in fact enough to get good information without missing anything. Players also understand that patrols don’t have radios and that it takes time to get any information.
e. Is Flight finished (please say no)?
Sorry, but right now, yes it is. There are still a few smaller theaters not covered by the present volumes, for example Finland, Naples, Egypt or the early campaigns in Italy and Germany in 1796-1800, but it would not deserve a volume 4. If anyone wants to work on them I would be happy to add them on the Pratzen website.
And my initial idea of a grand strategic game is almost obsolete, there are excellent games on the topic, you can in fact couple the Flight with the Grand Empire or Napoleon Against Europe as the later uses the same strategic map that I used in the army construction module. I stopped working on a grand strategic game when my old friend Stanislas Thomas, my other half at Pratzen, started working on these two games.
That said, I keep playing. My gaming group here in California are mostly playing miniatures, everything from the Aztecs and Persians to World War Two, the collection of the group is impressive and I run a campaign from time to time, where battles are resolved with the brigade level Age of Eagles system or with my system when this is just skirmishes. We played six campaigns so far (1805 Germany, 1807 Friedland, 1809 Bavaria, 1812 Salamanca, 1813 north theater, and 1815 in Belgium) and generated 18 different battles played over 10 years or so.
The Eagle Fights is a tactical-level, miniatures-style war game, that seems clearly set up to link to Flight.
a. When did you decide to design Fights and what was its relationship to Flight? The legendary Kip Trexel is cited for his role in its development. What was his role?
I met Kip Trexel in 1994 when I was doing a post-doctorate in molecular biology at U.C. Berkeley and was looking for wargamers, he has an encyclopedic knowledge of Napoleonic warfare, both on the tactical level and on the use of cavalry for example and he has a fantastic book collection. We started working on “a new game system for 6 mm figures”, him mostly on the historical accuracy and me mostly on game mechanics. We came up with the idea that unit cohesion is key, as shown by the file closers that are removed (or marked with dice) as the unit takes hits. A loss of cohesion leads to a drop in performance, then disorder, then rout.
So, at first that was a set of rules for miniatures. He is a fantastic painter, I hate painting, but I am good at making counters. We worked on the rules for a long time, playing with his miniatures from time to time, he has painted both complete French and Anglo-Spanish armies in Spain in 1810, and the game got ready under the name Close Ranks, to point out the importance of cohesion, as this is what the file closers were saying after casualties.
In 2003 I created Pratzen Editions with Stanislas Thomas, Chistophe Gentil-Perret and Jean-Claude Besida, four frustrated French game designers as there were almost no active publishers in France at the time. We published the volume one of the Flight in 2005. Then I adapted the rules Kip and I made to a game with counters, half scale as compared to the miniature system. 6 mm figures are already small, I decreased the size of the units by half again and here it is. I made it the companion of the campaign system. This has been in fact in my mind for a very long time, to provide the players with generic systems (as all my games are) and “do it yourself” battles that could be set up regarding of the situation occurring in the campaign. This is how Pratzen published the counter version in 2006 under the name The Eagle Fights.
b. The system has a fair number of mechanics that I regard as unique. Not the least of these is the somewhat complex method of assessing casualties. In retrospect, how did the system “work”? Is there anything that you’d like to re-do?
You are talking about the combat cards and how they “slide” to show the combat results ? We could have used complex tables with the same results, but the idea of the cards came up because that was the time (1994 and after) when Magic the Gathering was invading the planet. Not a game convention without hundreds of kids invading the game rooms with their albums and card collections. Some of the game rooms had a sign “No Magic Here”. The good side is that gave us the idea of using cards for combat resolution, and the idea of sliding naturally came when you draw two cards and compare them.We also made a simpler combat system, that works well but is less fun I think.
For the command and control part and the transmission of orders, we tried several systems, I like the one published as it points out that a commander cannot send an unlimited number of orders. I even tried a version where time is key, it takes 10 minutes to write an order, then the courier can gallop and deliver the order, always counting the time it takes, we even tried to add a little clock in cardboard behind every running message. During that time the commander can write other orders, and so on, but tracking time and who-does-what was a little messy, the use of quarters in the published version works well.
We also work more recently on another version, gather information on the battlefield and transform it into sheets that the commander can use to issue new orders.
c. Somewhat heretically, Fights included cardboard counters to use instead of miniatures and a lot of them. How was that received by the grognard community?
As often with hybrid games, we were expecting to be ignored by both communities, the miniatures folks because “the scale is wrong” and by the boardgame fans because a lot of cutting is needed, no real counters in the box. But in fact we printed 300 copies and they were sold out in a few months. Most were bought by players with the Flight who thought that would be a good tactical module for the campaign game (they are right, that was the idea).
d. What’s the largest battle you’ve managed with the system and do you have any pictures of it?
I played Wagram with an early version, but it is so big that I had to cut it in several sectors, when I was making tons of counters. The only pictures shown on Pratzen’s website are a part of Eckmühl. Wagram looks rudimentary with some terrain features and a little messy, but I will add some on the website. I played Essling also, and Tengen and Abensberg with the published version.
7. What’s your next project? Put another way, what am I saving up for?
The two first will include the complete Prussian and French armies in October 1806, as History shows that many what-ifs are possible on this day and that things are far from easy for the French.
The next game will be called Trois Batailles en Allemagne, and will include a reedition of my first game, Auerstaedt, a new game on its twin battle, Iena, and a game on the siege of Danzig. The two first will include the complete Prussian and French armies in October 1806, as History shows that many what-ifs are possible on this day and that things are far from easy for the French.
The game on Danzig has two parts, a map Vive l’Empereur size of the Danzig area where normal regiments move and must invest the fortress by cutting all its supplies, also where Prussians and Russians can make sorties or try to relieve the city, and a tactical map with part of the fortifications. There the French must build saps and parallels, batteries for the heavy artillery, and slowly move closer to batter the walls and make a breach. The game uses the city morale as the main marker, that slowly decreases with time and events, when it reaches 0 then the city surrenders and the game stops. The trick for this particular game is that the two maps use different time scales : normal 30 minute Vive l’Empereur turns on the strategic map, and five-day turns on the siege map, where everything was taking a lot of time. A typical siege was taking around two months and Danzig had an energetic garrison of 18,000 people, a good governor and more than 300 guns. The interface between both maps is a little tricky but doable.
Then I will reuse this system for another game on Spain, including sieges of Badajoz and Ciudad Rodrigo and more battles of course. I may also republish Hanau with more battles of 1813. The list never stops.
I recently realized that a full siege was the only aspect of Napoleonic warfare I hadn’t simulated (beside naval operations, I am really not a specialist and some good games already exist), so now with this coming volume nine (to be published by Legion Wargames) I feel complete.
Many thanks again to Dr. Rouy for taking the time!