by Mark G. McLaughlin
Wargaming changed my life, and War and Peace was not only one of the “game-changers” (pun intended) but has continued to be so for more than 40 years – and will be so for a few years more!
War and Peace was published by the storied Avalon Hill Game Company of Baltimore, Maryland. I got an advance copy in December 1979. I brought it with me on a visit to my inlaws in Connecticut, and had set it up, punched it out, and was going to play a quick solo game when I got a phone call from my editor. The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan the night before. As I was on the “slow, quiet” and very lightly staffed South Asian beat, I had to pack up and head back to DC that night (without so much as rolling a die or moving a stack!)
The game did so well in 1980 that it sold out and they decided on a second edition – which was really just a second printing but with extra scenarios and optional rules (which I wrote in articles for The General, AH’s all-AH all-the-time magazine). It sold so well that even with my measly 2% royalties it paid for most of the downpayment on our first house. (Yes, royalties were a third of what they are now, and games sold for about a fifth of what they sell now….or in the case of the newest edition of War and Peace, one-ninth; but houses were a lot cheaper too – under $85K).
Right up through 1985 War and Peace was THE game I took to and ran tournaments for at conventions. By then, however, I had designed and published No Trumpets, No Drums (a Vietnam game), Holy Roman Empire (Thirty Years War), and East Wind Rain (WW2 in the Pacific), and was working on Viceroys! (age of exploration). And I was a dad (my daughter, Ryan, arrived in 1983). So I set aside War and Peace and, basically, it just sat on my shelf like a trophy.
Twenty-five years passed – seriously – until a friend who played games on something called Vassal (which I only started playing on during Covid, seriously) showed me that my game was there – and that there were several websites with scores of articles – and two unofficial new “editions” (3rd and 4th) of which I had no prior knowledge of and nothing to do with. Soon after, I was contacted by one of these web fans, John Gant, who had reworked my original game and called it The War Between France and England. He showed it to me, and I introduced him to GMT. They liked it, assigned my regular editor, Fred Schachter, to the project and forward they went – until they didn’t. Creative differences between John and Fred, and between John and GMT, ended the return of War and Peace much like Napoleon’s return from Elba collapsed on the field of Waterloo.
John and I kept in touch. In the meantime, Jon Compton of One Small Step Games asked if he could update and upgrade my No Trumpets No Drums and Holy Roman Empire (both of which had appeared in The Wargamer, of which I was managing editor for three years). After they came out, we sat in his study in Virginia and, a nice single malt in hand, and he said what he really wanted to redo was War and Peace. “Too bad Hasbro (which had bought AH) has the rights.”
I smiled. “No, I have the rights. Hasbro kindly gave them back to me.” (Hasbro had also tried to give me a nice royalty check for AH sales of War and Peace in stock, but I sent it back, as my agreement with AH had been 2% for five years, and vice 1% for life. They were touched by my honesty and offered me the rights back. Which they had done long before I met John Gant even).
He was excited. He was even more excited when I told him “I know a guy.” That guy is John Gant. Using the design he was originally going to do for GMT as a starting point, he and I (mostly he) went to work.
Out came the 5th edition of War and Peace. (As I mentioned, the first two editions were AH products, while 3rd and 4th were rules redos by assorted fans).
And we did it bigger, Bolder, BROADER and BRIGHTER! than the original!
The original map is there, but was broadened to include the British Isles, Scandanavia, Italy, and more – including a naval strategic game mini-map and an insert map for the Egyptian Campaign. John Gant added three scenarios (Italian, Marengo, Egyptian campaign) plus the naval mini-game AND a brand new Campaign game based on HIS designs.
This last bit was really critical, as when I originally did the game it was only supposed to be for scenarios. Six months before it went to the printer Frank Davis at AH (my developer) said they wanted a campaign game. Frankly, we had to rush – and it showed. It was “ok” but not great, which is what most of the 3rd, 4th and Gant’s works addressed. John’s campaign game is not only what I would have done if I had had more time in 1978 – but also is better than what I could of done, as he built upon 40 years of tradition and industry advancement. And John is also one very smart, savvy CEO (he has made of a career of running businesses).
The map had many changes, most notably rivers along hexsides (not through them – a definite improvement in terms of shortening rules and ease of play), and bridges, plus well-defined ports for the naval parts of the game.
Then there was the pure beauty of the new art work – and not just in the gorgeous map but also in the brilliant work on the counters – no more mere silhouettes – full color, CORRECTLY uniformed figures, faces, and flags….Antonio Pinar and I went over every single one of them; he is a stickler for detail and me, well, I paint miniatures. That should tell you everything you need to know.
Perhaps the best thing about it, was that if you played either first or second edition, you could pick up this game, lay out the pieces and without having to read the rule book play any and all of the scenarios. The basic rules from the original are almost exactly the same as those in the new editions.
One Small Step did this as a Kickstarter campaign, and when it sold out (within a couple of weeks) decided to do another edition. Kickstarter does not like mere reprints, however, so we had to do something different to make it a ‘new’ edition. That meant backprinting two counters (French transports) adding a sticker to put on the map for a production center that had been overlooked, and fixing some minor typos.
The sixth edition sold out even faster than the fifth.
And then the French arrived.
A delightful Frenchman named Philippe contacted me. He said War and Peace was one of his favorite games and wondered if I had any interest in seeing it made into a computer version.
I said I would love it, but did not know any computer company that was interested in it.
Then Philippe told me there was one: his. Philippe has a very well-respected computer game design studio and company.
Avalon. Avalon Digital.
How is that for Karma? Add to it that this is a French company doing a game on Napoleon and, well, vive l’empereur!
We are currently alpha-testing and it is going extremely well. Most of the scenarios are up and being played by us both hot-seat solo and multiplayer, and the mechanics of the game are almost all done, but we keep fine-tuning. After we agree that everything is working properly, we have to move on to beta-testing, creating and testing an AI, and then, of course, there will be the campaign game to put to the test. The advertisement for the game for players to watch and follow just went up on Steam, and our goal is to have the game out by August 2023.
A list of Mark McLaughlin’s games form BGG:
The Games of Mark McLaughlin | BoardGameGeek (Geeklist)