In 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.

The Problem: On its face, this rules case seems unambiguous; however, a problem arises when players apply this restriction to units with a movement allowance of three points that also happen to be expending either all or part of their movement allowance on roads. This is because, unlike the various other types of terrain depicted on the game map, road hexes impose a cost of only ½ movement point on phasing units when they are moving along intersecting road hexes. Thus, if players apply the original rule BEFORE taking the unique movement characteristics of roads into account, then units with three movement points would only be permitted to traverse two intersecting hexes when moving along roads. However, if players assume that the designer’s actual intent was that roads double the movement capabilities of units moving along them, then a “3 point” unit should be permitted to move three hexes along a road, or any combination of road/off-road movement (e.g. a unit might move one hex along a road, expending ½ movement point in the process, and then expend its remaining point to enter an adjacent clear terrain hex). Although this difference seems trivial, it actually does affect Prussian play whichever reinforcement option he selects.

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.

Napoleon at the Battle of Jena.
The Problem: In almost all of the other NAPOLEON AT WAR titles, the situations in which this simple set of retreat restrictions should be applied is abundantly clear and thus, virtually never produces problems during regular play. In the case of JENA-AUERSTADT, however, such is not always the case. In my experience, there are basically three built-in sources for potential disagreements between players: the effect of “fog” game turns on movement allowances; the amount of high movement cost terrain on the Jena portion of the game map (for example, movement from a slope to a forested crest hex requires the expenditure of four movement points); and the smaller movement allowances of Prussian (three movement factors) versus French (four movement factors) infantry units. In all three instances, of course, the critical issue for the players is the definition of the rules term: “prohibited”. Obviously, units may not retreat across unbridged river hexsides, into enemy ZOCs or off the game map; in the case of JENA-AUERSTADT, however, there are a number of situations in which a flight hex might be perfectly legal for one or both sides during regular game turns, but which, under certain circumstances, require more movement points than a unit could otherwise expend. For example, during regular game turns, a Prussian infantry unit may not legally move from a slope to a forested crest hex because it does not possess enough movement points (basic allowance: 3 points) to make the move (cost: 4 points). When it comes to combat resolution, the question naturally arises: does this mean that the same unit could not retreat into such a hex? Along the same lines, this also implies that “fog” game turns have the potential to be particularly punishing to Prussian infantry units because, while such a unit is not prohibited from moving from a crest to a slope hex (cost: one movement point), it could not legally reverse its direction and move (or retreat) from a slope to a crest hex (cost: two movement points). A strict interpretation of this retreat restriction, needless-to-say, would also prevent a Prussian infantry unit from retreating into a forest hex during “fog” game turns. In essence, this issue really comes down to whether involuntary movement into a hex which, under different circumstances would not be prohibited, should be considered to be “illegal” — hence requiring the unit’s elimination — if the affected unit does not have sufficient movement factors to effect the move voluntarily.

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.

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.

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  • Wow. This is a good example of "rules lawyering" that has been the bane of the wargameing hobby since its beginning.

    Neither rule cited requires clarification. It's clear, to me at least, that the proponent of the clarification was simply seeking an in game advantage.

    In the first case, the rule is clear: on fog turns the movement allowance of units is havled, rounded down. There is no need for "clarification". Simply play the rule as written.

    In the second case, attempting to define "prohibited" as "not having enough movement points to enter" is really a stretch. Prohibited terrain is defined in the rules or on the Terrain Effects Chart. Lack of of available movement points does not consistute a prohibition. I can't think of any game where the ability to retreat is based on the movement point allowance of the unit. (Such a game may exist. I am simply unaware of such).

    To even give consideration to these "clarification" simply encourages more rules lawyering. For a rules lawyer, it's not about making the game better. It's about manipulating the rules to gain an advantage. The rules manipulation becoames the game.

    I would not be willing to play with either of these uneccesary clarifications in force. 

    In this instance we will have to "agree to disagree". 

  • Greetings Kimbo:

    Thank you for taking the time to comment; I sincerely appreciate your interest.

    So far as the two "rules clarifications" featured in this post are concerned, I am not personally invested in any specific rule interpretation; my main point is that rules -- in so far as possible -- should be clarified (to the satisfaction of both players) in advance of play.

    Your take on the the effect of "fog" on movement is certainly straightforeward enough; however, in the example cited, the view of both I and my opponent was that, in the case of road movement, no halving was actully necessary. Stated differently: if players assume that road movement doubles the movement capability of affected units (from three to six road hexes, for example) then no halving is necessary.

    The rather draconian effect of the second rules interpretation, I confess, is far more important. Interestingly enough, at the time these interpretaions were agreed to, I had already accepted the role as the Prussian commander so, needless-to-say, I was starkly aware that the harsher retreat rule would create a number of unpleasant problems for me. Nonetheless, my opponent made what I considered to be -- at the time, at least -- a persuasive case for his position, so, after a modest amount of grumbling on my part, I went along with it.

    Interestingly, once our game actually began, we both discovered, much to our mutual surprise, that neither of these rules interpretations really had all that much effect on the overall flow and tempo of the game.

    One aspect of your commentary, however, did take me by surprise: your seeming complete confidence in the clarity of most published game rules; this opinion, I confess, I do find a little mystifying. Perhaps, it's just me, but having been in the hobby for almost fifty years, I can honestly say that I have encountered almost no games, during that entire time, that did not contain at least a few rules cases that were open to honest differences in interpretations. And I am not, by the way, including most of GDW's titles when I make this observation. When it comes to the games published by the boys from Normal (and Conflict Games, now that I think of it), I can remember very few instances when I didn't have to send off at least one page of questions to GDW on rules ambiguities. In fact, now that I think about it, virtually all of the games that I acquired from GDW (and I bought almost all of them) required a substantial amount of work on the part of the players (DNO, for example, required over thirty typewritten pages of questions) before they were even moderately playable.

    It is, of course, possible that I am just dense when it comes to comprehending game rules, but if I am, countless games with hundreds of different opponents persuades me that I am probably not alone in this failing.

    Finally, I should note that one of the main goals of my post was not to share tips on winning a rules dispute with your opponent, but, instead, to offer a reminder that civility and reasonableness in gaming, like everything else in life, are important. And while it is posible that we may disagree on other issues, I sincerely hope that we can, at least, agree on that.

    Best Regards, Joe

  • Joe,

    Believe me, I did not mean to come across as having a "seeming complete confidence in the clarity of most published game rules"! I've been engaged in this hobby for forty years and I've certainly seen my share of badly written rule books. But I've also found that in many cases, some players just "overthink" the rule being discussed. Trying to see into the mind of the designer and figure out the "intent" of the rule rather than simply accepting the rule as written. Not all rules are written well, I'll be the first to admit. On the other hand, every rule should not be seen as candidate for "interpretation". I think common sense can go a long way to dealing with a lot of rules issues.

    Luckily today, thanks to the Internet and game support forums, most rule questions can be answered quickly by official sources. No longer are gamers required to "figure out what the designer/developer" meant. This is a clear improvement over earlier years.

    Civility in games (and in life) is important. We can certainly agree on that. 

  • Greetings Again Kimbo:

    I think that we are certainly in agreement that, in most instances, common sense has to be the "court of last resort" when it comes to rules questions. And, of course, I am sure that we can both think of any number of examples of rules cases that are obviously wrong. Dunnigan's 'DESTRUCTION OF ARMY GROUP CENTER' comes to mind, as just one example, with its requirement that Russian forces trace their supply from the west map edge and German units from the east: a peculiar (to say the least) pair of rules that insured that both armies started the game out of supply.

    Your point about rules support being available from sources such as Consimworld, BGG, or grognards.com is also a good one. Unfortunately, I have found, over the years, that these resources are much more useful when it comes to newer titles; older games, particularly those that are not well-known or popular, typically require players to work things out between themselves -- even if players could track down the original designer, it is probably unlikely that he could remember his thinking at the time, particulary after decades have passed. So to return to your earlier point, a certain amount of amiable common sense, I think, is really the key to solving the problem of murky rules. Most players, I would argue, are almost certain to encounter rules that are ambiguous, poorly-written (think Marc Miller's 'SEALION' or Richard Berg's 'THE CRUSADES'), or just obtuse. It is in those cases that, I believe, a certain amount of humility, logic, and civility really come in handy. As I indicated in my post, we are, after all, only talking about games; so, I like to think that -- given the minimal stakes involved -- even fairly drastic differences of opinion can be worked out with a bit of honesty and fair-mindedness.

    It should also be noted, I suppose, that your point about my "picking nits" is probably not totally off the mark. I confess that it is indeed possible that I might tend to examine game rules with a fairly (okay, very) critical eye; on the other hand, almost everyone in my original (post-college) group of gamers was either an academic or a lawyer, so my habit of tackling rules disputes through the use of carefully-prepared (even meticulous) argument probably took root early on in my gaming career.

    Finally, thanks again for taking the time to comment; I really appreciate thoughtful responses to my eccentric ramblings, whether the respondant agrees with me or not.

    Best Regards, Joe

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