Operational Studies Group (OSG) is a leader in the design and production of Napoleonic Wargames. OSG's Board Wargames are played on historically-accurate heavy-stock paper maps. The armies and leaders that move across the maps are represented by 1/2" square die-cut cardboard playing pieces.
You can see these games being played here:
Check out Kevin Zucker explaining the differences in the versions of Napoleon at Leipzig.
Kevin talking about the rules and plans for the series.
Napoleonic Operations Our focus is on the Operational Level, which is midway between Strategy (the overall war aims of a nation) and tactics (action on the battlefield). "Operations" was everything the leaders on both sides did to achieve their nation's strategic goals. The goal of operations in the Napoleonic era was to achieve a preponderance of force on the chosen battlefield and to insure the battle occurred most advantageously. Napoleon was predominantly the master of the operational art, and it was at this level that most of his victories were ensured. His "Military Maxims" reveal part of the secret of his success.
Historical Simulation Games of Napoleonic Battles We have embarked on an ambitious project to simulate 70 important battles of the Napoleonic Era, at the same scale, grouped in individual volumes by campaign and year. A valuable tool to study and compare all the major battles with a game system that has a proven track record of playability and unparalleled historicity. Each volume includes 3 to 5 games, with 3 to 5 maps, 280 or 560 counters, two separate rules folders, 100 cards, and player aids. The series is described in detail on our Game Library page.
Historical Simulation Games of Napoleonic Campaigns The Campaigns of Napoleon Series (CNS): 2 or 10 miles per hex and The Days Series (DAYS): 1 mile per hex cover ALL the Campaigns from 1796 to 1815:
1796: THE CAMPAIGN IN NORTHERN ITALY- Bonaparte in Italy, 2nd Edition /CNS/ 2000, Operational Studies Group
1814: CAMPAIGN IN FRANCE- Napoleon at Bay, 3rd Edition /CNS/ 1997, Operational Studies Group Six Days of Glory /DAYS/ 1995, Clash of Arms Games
1815: THE WATERLOO CAMPAIGN The Emperor Returns /CNS/ 1986, Clash of Arms Games Last Days of the Grande Armée /DAYS/ 1999, Operational Studies Group
These campaigns included the battles of Castiglione, Lonato, and Rivoli (1796); Austerlitz (1805); Jena and Auerstadt (1806); Abensberg (1809); Borodino (1812); Montmirail (1814) and Waterloo (1815); among many others.
Interview with Kevin Zucker by Antoine Thevenon
Where did you get your interest in these games of history and strategy?
I love the smell of printer's ink, and I love publishing. I've always been fascinated by magazine publishing and I used to read the statement of circulation in the October issue of American periodicals when I was a little kid.
I had an interest in the idea of historical games before I'd ever seen one. When I first saw the Milton Bradley series —Broadside, Battle Cry, Dogfight—when I saw these games I knew this was what I was looking for. At about the same age of 11, I was visiting my grandmother's apartment. Glancing at the bookcase I saw a small book that might be the right size for a kid, not many pages. I still remember the red leatherette cover. The book was "The Maxims of Napoleon." And I was completely fascinated from the first page. I didn't discover the Avalon Hill games until a friend of mine brought out the game Bismarck. That was the first wargame I saw and that was o.k. But the game that got my attention was a game called Afrika Korps, published in 1964. This game belonged to a friend of that same friend, and he didn't want to play with me, so I didn't really get a chance to see it. Shortly after that I moved away. I think the Avalon Hill games were selling for $5 at that time. I was 14 years old, with no money, but somehow I found $5 to buy a copy of Afrika Korps. I spent that summer in a new town, where I had no friends at all, trying to figure that game out. I almost gave up; it spent some months at the bottom of my closet. There was something about that game I just couldn't figure out. Something that we take for granted that was not explained anywhere in the rules. I was always interested in geography. I had an affinity for geography, one of the few classes that I was any good at. And maps are, of course, a very key element in any wargame.
Why have you specialized in games on the Napoleonic Period? That was not a pre-conceived plan. I was working for SPI as the Managing Editor. I worked on both of the magazines and edited all the games. I made sure that the rules agreed with the counters and other components. I happened to write a feedback question for a game proposal on the Waterloo campaign which later became Napoleon's Last Battles. There hadn't been a wargame on a Napoleonic subject for a while, so this proposal did very well. Then I was informed that since I wrote the question I had to design the game. The game was a great success. I ended up leaving SPI and started my own company. Since that game had such a great success I thought I ought to do another Napoleonic game and Napoleon at Bay was my first for the new company. And over the years found that I learned more and more about the subject and was able to delve deeper into the issues of the Napoleonic era than a designer normally would. So my knowledge base about issues of the Napoleonic wars deepened as each new game project was completed.
Does it seem easier to create games on this period over the other periods? It's not at all easier to create games on the Napoleonic era. There are problems that other eras do not present. The standard WWII wargame—where you have a continuous front line from Leningrad to Odessa— this model doesn't work in the Napoleonic era. One of the reasons why the Napoleon at Bay series of games is all alone in the portrayal of Napoleonic operational warfare is that these games are able to successfully model a war that didn't have continuous front lines. The model I have in my mind is more of a naval operation, where you have task forces moving independently across the sea. This is more appropriate to Napoleonic operations. Another issue of critical importance is the attrition. The numbers of men who were lost to non-combat causes is much higher than those lost in combat. And the idea of attrition is generally ignored in wargames but you can't do that if you want to deal with the Napoleonic era. These things make the Napoleonic era more difficult to game successfully. By virtue of the fact that I worked so long in this area I came to understand some hidden factors—for instance in Highway to the Kremlin, dealing with depots in a simple way that still mirrors their use—and it's something that really is a pretty obscure matter. Very difficult to get information on in a historical sense. It's been a part of my task to figure out how armies were supplied and I used the games to create a model for how they might have been. I remember well scribbling in the margins on the page in "The Campaigns of Napoleon" where Chandler provided the answer to my question: he called it 'strategic consumption,' and explained that as an army marched away from its base, it had to leave detachments to guard bridges and cross-roads. Soldiers, out-pacing their slow-moving supply wagons, began marauding in search of food. Without food, the warrior's body is less able to fend-off disease. Rolled altogether, these causes are called 'attrition' in the design. I was lucky to be forced to address this concept at the outset, because the impact of attrition on Napoleonic warfare was critical. In fact, a major theme of strategy in the Napoleonic era was the objective of maneuvering against the enemy's Line of Communications. Napoleon is quite insistent on this point, as his 'maxims' show. If you want to experience the problem of commanding a Napoleonic Army, you cannot ignore a consideration that absorbed so much of the Army Commanders' own time; particularly because a principle objective of all operations was to threaten the Line of Communication of the enemy army, either to induce him to give battle on unfavorable ground, or to abandon his ground and retreat. The goals of Napoleonic Strategy are firmly linked together with issues of Supply. Any simulation of the campaigns of Napoleon must address these linked issues. Where do you begin during the creation of a game? What schedule do you follow? I start with reading. Get books. I tend to start in the index. I study the index, and look at all the topics listed in the index, and use it as an in-depth outline of the book, to understand what the issues are. And I use the index to read selectively. I usually make a map very soon after I start reading. Critical issues in making a map are setting a scale, but you can't set the map scale unless you know the time scale, and you can't set the time scale unless you know the unit scale. So all of those scales are interrelated. In the Napoleonic era you can't just arbitrarily say that this is going to be a battalion or a demi-brigade level game at this arbitrary scale. There is a certain scale that is appropriate to each HQ echelon. I start to do research on Orders of Battle while I'm reading, and after I have done that I begin to design the game. The ideas for the design come from the reading. I tend to take notes in a separate notebook I use for each design. From my reading I select the critical factors that should be in the game. After design comes development—though all of these stages are overlapping. Design starts while you're researching, development starts while you're designing, etc. After development comes graphic production and editorial... but playtesting is the most important. Playtesting continues throughout the entire process, and really research does too, because you usually don't understand what the Victory Conditions are going to be until near the end of the project.
How long does it take for you to realize a game? To design and publish a game really takes at least a year. Games that I have designed have taken up to 7 or 8 years between conception and publication. Typically we generate about 40 different drafts of the rules to a game prior to publication.
Which is the most important stage in your view? Graphics are very important. You cannot over-emphasize the importance of editing; also historical accuracy is very important to me, so research is very important. I don't know how to say which one of those is more important. All the stages are important.
Which aspects have you emphasized in your games: historic realism or pleasurable play? Every designer probably faces the dilemma of historical accuracy vs. playability. You need to really have a blend. Every designer has a level of historical accuracy, and you have to trade-off the accuracy in order to make the game playable. The people who like my games tend to really enjoy the accuracy and I know that a lot of them don't play the games. Personally that is a disappointment because I do design the games to be played and I am careful to make them as playable as possible, but I don't like to make sacrifices or arbitrary design choices, and as a result my designs are always somewhat open-ended. I continue to work with the players who want more historical accuracy and I never turn away from that path. Each player has his own specific blend of accuracy vs. playability that he likes. I encourage people to add more complexity if that is what they are looking for as long as they enjoy the play of the game; but if they just want to add rules to a game that they don't play that doesn't make any sense to me. It's very important that people play the games—they are playtested and designed to be played. The best form of advertising is word of mouth. In our business, word of mouth advertising = play. I'd rather design a game like 1806 that people will play, with only 14 pages of rules, than to put out a game like Highway to the Kremlin, that has over 40 pages of rules, that so few people play as far as I can tell. Both of those games it is true achieve different goals. I've been pleased to know people that wore out their copy of Napoleon's Last Battles—where their maps were in tatters—and had to replace them, and to me a game that you can play 100 times is a success.
In your games, 1 force point is worth 1000 people regardless of the quality of the troops (militias, line, nurses …): why this prejudice? Why do I say that 1,000 men always only equal a thousand men? This was in fact to avoid prejudice. It's very easy to make a game turn out the way you want it to if you can assign an arbitrary combat strength to units. That will make it more or less likely for one side to win. As soon as you begin making judgments about whether 600 of these troops are worth 800 or 1,000 of those, it's very arbitrary. A thousand is 1,000. That is also arbitrary but it comes out in the wash. Many people have seen that the troops in the Imperial Guard were better than the National Guard troops. But I decided I would bring out in other ways the reasons why those troops were better. For instance I made the Imperial Guard impervious to attrition—you see this makes them quite more valuable in the long term, because they don't melt way like other troops.
You are also publishing: which are the difficulties that appear for the realization of a game? The greatest difficulty is the small print runs that result in very high retail prices for our products. Our print runs are as small as you can make. We print only 1500 copies of a game.
How much importance do you place on the graphic side of a game? The importance of graphics—especially of the map—is very very high and that is because of the taste of the audience. If they play the game they will spend a lot of time looking at it so the map has to provide not only information but it has to be clear. It has to show—even at a distance—the important features in the game: rivers, highways, objective cities, those things should stand out. You shouldn't have a lot of conflicting data levels. There are gorgeous maps that I know of that actually don't have a hierarchy of information and where irrelevant or trivial information is fighting with important information to reach the eye of the player; for instance, hex numbers that can't be read, and the like.
And last question: some advice for a person who would like to realize their first game? This has to be a passion. Because if it's not you'll never get the job done. Designing a game takes all the mental capacity that you have and then some. It's a very big project—bigger than writing a book. Each time you write a rule your have to mentally consider all the ramifications that rule may have in colliding with all the other rules in the game. Pick a subject that you are passionate about—don't select a topic merely because you think that others are interested. Also select a primary source book to base your game design on. Base it on the work of others. Don't try to make your game into a historical document; if you do the design will lose its shape. A game design has to have a shape, just as a painting has important and unimportant parts.
Kevin Zucker was with SPI back in the 1970s. Like many who went on to "greatness" as designers under the tutelage of JFD, KZ initially served SPI in the capacity of Managing Editor, half-way between Dunnigan's R&D and Simonsen's Art Departments.
OSG was initially named Tactical Studies Group, and the name was changed relatively quickly, to avoid any clash with TSR. He left the company in September of 1979; the company remained active for a few more months.
KZ has remained active in wargaming during the entire period. He did work for AH for one year: 1980. It is interesting to hear him speak about the reasons he had for revitalizing the OSG brand name at this, seemingly unpropitious, point in time. "My grandfather, who farmed 80 acres in Iowa, had an old red & black 1948 Dodge pick-up. As a kid, I asked him why he didn't get a new one: 'Because everybody knows this is me.'" And it is interesting to consider the list of all the original OSG games. There were a dozen or so: Napoleon at Bay, Panzerkrieg, Rommel & Tunisia, Napoleon at Leipzig, Dark December, Bonaparte in Italy, Devil's Den and Air Cobra prominent among them.
The Napoleonic titles such as Napoleon at Bay and Bonaparte in Italy were pathfinding designs that for over two decades have been hugely influential on many members of the wargaming community. OSG did some WWII games too including the J. A. Nelson design, Rommel & Tunisia. By the standards of today, the 28 page rulebook is, I suppose, a mere bagatelle. But for 1978, the whole presentation gives the impression of somebody going for Big Ideas and Very Serious Stuff.