Gamer’s Corner: “John Hill” Game Designer Story Contest

January 14, 2015–John Hill’s sudden demise should give pause to all of us gamers. There is so much of the story of gaming that is out there but is just an oral tradition because no one’s written it down. Some of you will be aware–but many will not–that I’d already had the idea of starting to do something about this. I’m going to start putting a series of occasional profiles of favorite game designers in my column in the magazine Against the Odds– the first of these is in progress now and will be in their next issue to go to press, #44.

So that these columns wouldn’t just reflect my own memories of various gaming figures, before Christmas I hosted a contest whereby folks sent in their favorite memories of personal encounters with game designers. The winner received a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice (for the record, that person was Brian Train, who chose to receive a copy of Beyond Waterloo). The stories will go in future columns.

Now for Round 2: Though we gathered some good stories I know you all have lots more. In John Hill’s memory–and in his honor–I hereby open a second round of the “Game Designer Story Contest.” Here are the rules–

This time there will be three winners. Each winner will receive, as before, a copy of one of my ATO-published games of her/his choice, subject only to what I have available. If your choice is the forthcoming Victory of Arminius, that must wait on the actual publication of the game. But there are many other possible choices.

To enter the contest, go to the “Comments” section of this website and tell your story. Be sure to leave your name and email address, since otherwise there will be no way to inform you if you’re a winner or to get you your prize.

The Story must pertain to a published game designer (mention one or a few titles, along with the name of the publisher). Stories may relate a personal encounter, tell an inside story of a game, of playtesting, of casual gaming, a seminar, or the activities of the person.

Your “Favorite Game Designer” can be anyone–do not neglect John Hill. I promise that the second column in this series will profile John (it cannot be the first one since that is already being written).

Stories will be used in these ATO “Simulation Corner” columns and in other writings. Some will appear here, on my website, in features under the “Gaming” blog category, to give readers an idea of some of the great stuff that’s accumulating. We’ll all end up knowing more about our hobby.

Your entry of a story will constitute your permission to publish it (to meet copyright law requirements). You warrant the story is not proprietary information and that it is not libelous. You will be identified in telling your story of the game designer, so you’ll have bragging rights on that whether or not you end up as a contest winner.

Please, only one entry per message.

But there is no limit to the number of entries you may submit. All entries must be in by 11:59 PM of February 15, 2015.

I will be the sole judge of the contest. Winners will be determined and announced before the end of February 2015. I’ll inform the winners directly and they and I will determine what prize they carry away. The winners will also be announced in this space.

Enter early and often!

What’s a Jigsaw Puzzle? The BEYOND LEIPZIG Mapboard

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.




December 20, 2013– The game Beyond Leipzig has come to the end of its design testing phase. It went off to Last Stand Games to begin its development process earlier this week, and I learned yesterday it had arrived safely. I’m kind of sorry to see it go. Beyond Leipzig was a sweet game from start to finish. It looks great–and will look even better in a published format with a hard-backed mapboard. It plays nicely. One of my testers, writing on the net, called Beyond Leipzig’s combat system ” ‘da bomb.” From the standpoint of the kinds of things you can make happen in battle, I think that’s right.

This is an historical game of a key Napoleonic campaign. “Leipzig” in the title refers to the climactic Battle of Leipzig, which marked the virtual end of the Campaign of 1813 in Germany, one that the Germans call “the War of Liberation.” The game can be played solitaire with reasonable ease, used by two, or assumes its ultimate form as a multi-player encounter that encompasses both diplomacy and warfare. For gamers who are interested in specifications, Beyond Leipzig is an operational/strategic game. It features three-week turns, an area/terrain mapboard, and the combat system which I innovated for Beyond Waterloo. Unit representation is at the brigade/division level. There will be a single mapboard, three Army Organization Displays, a rules booklet and a study folder, 960 counters (four sheets), plus card decks for Battle Tactics, Diplomacy, and National Policies. Counting the scenarios that can be played both dual- and multi-player separately, Beyond Leipzig will have nine scenarios. It will also have the appurtenances of what we used to call a “monster game.” Altogether Beyond Leipzig presents a comprehensive and sophisticated vision of the Campaign of 1813.

Beyond Leipzig

Fans will be pleased to learn that initial testing of this “mini-monster” design on the 1813 campaign in Germany is nearing its end. After final prototyping Beyond Leipzig will be turned over to Last Stand Games for the actual development work. Once I have sent off the completed prototype I’ll post something with additional detail on what this game will encompass. (October 2013)