December 26, 2013– A fellow game designer commented in one of the online chat rooms on gaming that the mapboard for by Beyond Leipzig looked like a project for a jigsaw puzzle. Seems a bit snarky to me, but his bleat opens up something worth comment, and that is representation on a mapboard. Let me put in my two bits on that.
To start with a general description, Beyond Leipzig features an area map representation of Central Europe from the French border of 1813 to the Oder River. That map includes terrain, for purposes of representing movement and combat; plus delineates certain political boundaries of that era, because this game has a diplomatic aspect and players may dicker over the control of minor states. There are at least eleven different kinds of terrain (clear, highlands, swamps, forests, major and minor rivers, river crossings, cities, fortresses, mountains and passes). The territory of roughly fourteen states (three Major Powers and a host of minor kingdoms, principalities and so on) lies within its scope. Their boundaries have to be specified. Lots of information needs to be on that map.
Several avenues to this are possible. For a long time the standard technique was to take terrain and overlay a grid of hexagons upon it. Another method was to craft a map which divides the space into areas. The third is to produce a network map, dividing the space into “stops” connected by a route-path of movement lines, much like the map of a transit system.
For Beyond Leipzig the choice was an area map. I wanted to get away from the hex grid because that impedes a naturalistic view of the land. But the hex grid does offer one important advantage: it facilitates the representation of terrain. So I made it a goal to make “areas” behave more like “hexes.” Thus, rather than have vanilla, undifferentiated areas on the map, here we get areas which have terrain intrinsic to them, as well as terrain features along the boundaries. This conforms precisely to design practices using hexagons. Areas in Beyond Leipzig terminate at significant boundary features (like rivers or mountains).
Some of the gamer’s impression of a jigsaw can be attributed to another attribute of the area map–areas were drawn so as to inhibit “gamey” actions such as jumping across corners so as to avoid transiting boundary terrain features. No legitimate objection can be made to this approach.
As for a network map approach I rejected that for two reasons. First, a network map would be even more artificial than a hexagon one. Appreciation of land and space becomes so vague that verisimilitude virtually disappears. Second–and equally important– route-path networks are inherently limited by the route connections permitted on the board. In real terrain a force could head in any direction to reach its goal. Within a network, however, directions of movement are restricted. The device of correcting this by connecting all stopping points to all adjacent ones robs the network of its purpose of constricting play. It also produces a more complex visual presentation in which the landscape becomes less visible.
Beyond Leipzig offers a sophisticated terrain analysis in a very simple fashion while opening up all possibilities to the players and affording them the opportunity to see the land as it was, and conduct their campaigns within that framework. This is not a jigsaw puzzle, it is a considered mapboard representation.