I designed the original board game version which was published by the Avalon Hill Company in 1980 (although I had my pre-release copy in December 1979, and was playing it solo when I was called back to man the Afghan desk at the Foreign Broadcast Information Service as the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan that morning).
I was and still am lead playtester on the Avalon Digital version. It is based on the 6th edition of the game as published by One Small Step two years ago (which was in turn a reprint with one minor addition to the 5th). It has all of the original scenarios plus those that were written (by me) in The General (see also this article) PLUS those that John Gant (my co-designer for the later versions) created. The core rules of play have not changed in over 40 years – as they are solid and work very well. Anyone who has played ANY version of the board game will be able to pick this up and play any of the Scenarios, and play them with surety and confidence. Solo, multiplayer, or vs. the AI, it is the same game it has always been, and it still holds up very well to this day (allow me a moment of pride in that accomplishment).
The AI is very good and I have lost (and in two occasions lost embarrassingly so). We intentionally concentrated our AI efforts and testing on the scenarios… for three reasons:
- The game was initially designed ONLY with scenarios in mind; it was not until mid-1979 that I was asked to do up a campaign game. That is why it was weak. And that is why the extensive fan community came up with several unofficial (yet in my opinion better) versions. John Gant took all that, blended it with his own ideas, and came up with an EXCELLENT CAMPAIGN GAME – and one that is as ahead of mine as a Grenadier of the Old Guard is to a Marie Louise.
- The AI needed to learn how to play and play smartly; lessons learned in the scenarios are lessons banked for the campaign game. What good would the AI be in a campaign if it could not first learn to manage a half a dozen or ten turns with a specific goal in mind?
- Getting the AI up to speed for scenarios meant we could get the game out sooner — and again, my original design was focused entirely on scenarios (and scenarios are what I still play when I do play).
The campaign game is far more complicated for an AI as the parameters are not only exponentially greater, but they also are in constant flux. To teach an AI how to plan for one year based on the previous year and the one to come, and to take into account the situation militarily and politically as well as economically requires a far higher level of AI than the scenarios. Rather than release a game with a weak AI, we have agreed to get the scenario game out for players while working on the AI for the ‘big picture.’
Players (solo and multiplayer) can play the campaign. All the tools are there, and the computer handles 90% of the work for you..so you can move faster than LaSalle’s chasseurs through the game. And the AI will be coming down the road once it is properly trained (wouldn’t you rather face a computer who made decisions at least like a 1-point Leader in the game rather than a 0 one?)
In addition, we are working on more content. The DLCs will include new scenarios from the wars of the Revolution – including a bonus one on the Polish Rebellion. Other DLCs will add optional rules and materials, notably a deck of event cards.
And, in addition, we are still working toward getting enough pledges and pre-orders to produce another edition of the board game – or at least physical add-on packs with scenario lists and counters unique to those scenarios, as well as a physical deck of event cards…and more.
Napoleon did not rise to power in a day, nor was he taken down in a day. This particular march has been going on for over 40 years, and will this digital version represents the high point of that march, the campaign itself is far from over. I will keep working on this game to make it better and better for my fans and friends and fellow gamers right up until my very last breath. Like General Cambronne, the Old Guard dies but never surrenders! Vive L’empereur
-Mark G. McLaughlin
Designer, Lead Playtester, and honorary Marshal of the Empire