INTRODUCTIONIn the course of preparing my recent posts on SPI’s JENA-AUERSTADT, I found myself rereading the turn-by-turn player comments from several of my old PBeM records of this title. These early exchanges were interesting both because they were pleasant reminders of enjoyable past contests, and also because they reminded me of a set of rules ambiguities that were — as far as I can determine, anyway — never addressed by SPI in any of its post-publication errata on the NAPOLEON AT WAR series of folio games. Because I and my opponents were experienced PBM players, we were pretty careful to work through these issues prior to play; ultimately, we came up with rules interpretations and/or clarifications that we felt were fair to both sides and (I like to hope) historically reasonable. Since these rules interpretations seemed to have worked out satisfactorily in both PBeM and face-to-face play, I have decided to share them with you, my readers, in the hope that you might find them personally useful.
For simplicity’s sake, I have listed the original game rule first, then added the rules interpretation/clarification that I and my opponents, after some back-and-forth discussion, finally settled on.
[16.21] The Effects of Fog (JENA-AUERSTADT Exclusive Rules)
The Movement Allowance of all units is halved (round fractions down); artillery units may not attack unless the artillery unit is adjacent to the unit being attacked.
Recommended Rules Clarification: Although it is certainly possible for different players to hold opposing views when it comes to interpreting this rule, I and my opponents decided that the designer’s intent, in this case, was really to prohibit phasing units from expending MORE than half of their available movement points during any single movement phase of a “fog” game turn. Since fractions can be applied to road movement without requiring any “rounding” down, we decided that both sides should be permitted to expend 1½ movement points when travelling at least partly along roads. Consequently, here is recommended “Home Brew” rules interpretation:
Players are permitted to move “3 point” units along roads (or some combination of road/off-road terrain) expending all 1½ of their available movement points, so long as this value is not exceeded and all other movement rules are observed.
This rules interpretation, needless-to-say, benefits the slower-moving Prussians far more than the French, it nonetheless, seems both historically reasonable and completely logical within the larger confines of the game system. Also, I should add, it makes for a better, more interesting game.
[7.72] Retreating and Advancing as a Result of Combat (NAPOLEON AT WAR Standard Rules) A retreating unit may not retreat into a prohibited hex, cross a prohibited hexside, or enter an Enemy controlled hex. If no hex is open to retreat into, the unit is eliminated.
Recommended Rules Clarification: Interpreting this rule, in one sense, is really not that problematical: assuming that both players accept a rather broad definition of the term “prohibited”, then retreats into what, based on normal movement restrictions, would be considered illegal hexes should not be permitted. The problem, of course, is that this rule really creates a “whose ox is being gored” situation for the opposing sides. This is because a strict interpretation heavily penalizes the Prussian player while leaving the French commander virtually unaffected; on the other hand, a more liberal interpretation tends to disproportionately benefit the Prussian player by negating one of the French army’s most important advantages: that of superior mobility. In the end, I and my opponents decided that, although retreating troops would almost certainly be able to retreat into terrain that would otherwise block a regular advance, they would, as a result, be so disordered as to lose unit cohesion. Since the original designer of the NAPOLEON AT WATERLOO Game System, James F. Dunnigan had previously addressed this very issue, I and my opponents decided to go along with the designer’s stated intent. Which is to say: years earlier, Dunnigan had explained that units eliminated in combat using the NAW grand-tactical game platform were really not to be viewed as having been completely destroyed; instead, he suggested that elimination, because of the one-hour time scale of the game system, should actually be seen as representing a battlefield outcome in which an affected unit had been disorganized to the point of being militarily useless.
For purposes of retreat, any hex which requires more movement points to enter (for whatever reason) than a unit has available, at the instant of its retreat, is to be treated as a “prohibited” hex. Thus, if the only flight hex available for a retreating unit costs more movement points than the unit could otherwise legally expend during ordinary movement then the retreating unit is eliminated instead.
Obviously, in the case of JENA-AUERSTADT, if both Dunnigan’s and the actual game designer’s intentions were taken into account, then it seemed clear that only one rules interpretation was really possible; that is: terrain costs, because of their potentially disordering effect on unit cohesion, should always be considered in determining whether a flight hex was legal or prohibited. This interpretation, although obviously hard on the Prussians, nonetheless seems consistent with the basic game system and, just as importantly, also seems to be completely plausible when considered from a purely historical point of view.
A FEW FINAL THOUGHTS
I am quite certain that more than a few of my readers will decide, upon coming to the end of this post, that this entire discussion has been little more than an extreme example of rules lawyerly “nit picking”. I completely sympathize with this viewpoint; unfortunately, having played many hundreds of PBM, PBeM, and face-to-face matches — usually with knowledgeable, seasoned, and skillful opponents — experience has taught me that legitimate rules disagreements have a tendency to arise where one least expects them. This, by the way, is the reason that the JENA-AUERSTADT rules examples listed above exist in the first place. Even in cases where a classic title has been around for decades and has been a popular mainstay of tournaments and gaming conventions for many, many years, rules disputes can, and occasionally do, unexpectedly crop up. That being said, my usual approach — and the one that I was trying to illustrate in the preceding paragraphs — is to attempt, insofar as possible, to clarify as many of the game’s more ambiguous rules cases as can be identified in advance of actually beginning play. This tactic, it must be admitted, rarely eliminates all potential areas of honest disagreement — particularly on less familiar, rarely played titles — but it does tend to identify the more important (and contentious) rules sections before they actually become a problem in the turn-by-turn progress of the game.
In the end, of course, no set of rules can ever be so detailed and clearly-written that it eliminates every possible source of disagreement between otherwise well-intentioned and fair-minded opponents. Occasional rules problems simply go with the hobby. That being the case, it seems to me that when rules disputes do happen, the only truly reasonable approach is for the opposing players to work through their differences both logically and civilly, with the goal of arriving at a final interpretation that seems both truest to the designer’s original intent — something which, I grant you, is not always easy to determine — and to the historical record. What we are talking about here, after all, is only a game! Inevitably, taking this tack means that both players will, on occasion, have to yield to their opponent’s arguments; however, such an outcome, while sometimes disappointing, is nonetheless far superior to its alternative: an adversarial exchange in which both players allow a disagreement over the meaning of a few sentences in a rules booklet to degenerate into an unpleasant and vituperative squabble.