An Interview with Corinth Game Designer Drew Wagenhoffer:
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Drew Wagenhoffer, the game designer for HPS' Campaign Corinth, graciously took the time to answer the following questions concerning his game and the effort needed to finish it. There are some very interesting comments from Drew in here. Enjoy!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I am 31 years old and a physician by training, but I suppose you could say that my "passion" is history, specifically the American Civil War. Sports have also been a major part of my life. I played tennis in college and college football season is my favorite time of the year. I live in the Pacific Northwest, which is nice but unfortunately too far away to visit the battlefields on a regular basis. As a hobby, I collect book-length tactical studies of Western and Trans-Mississippi CW battles. I've got hundreds of them from small skirmishes like Whitney's Lane, Ark. on up to all the big battles.
How and when did you get into wargaming? Who were some big influences in your life that led you into the hobby?
I can't recall any defining events or people that sparked my interest but I have always been fascinated by military history. Initially, it was WW2 and the Napoleonic Wars that were the objects of my gaming but now I am pretty much an all Civil War guy. My first wargaming experience was with AH's Panzer Leader. I got that for a present when I was 12. I've been hooked ever since. This was also around the time that computer wargames were becoming prominent and I latched on to those early on as well.
Why did you decide to do Corinth as your first game? Is it your personal favorite?
I wanted to do a game that was interesting and covered a CW campaign that was lesser known. Every other series always starts out with the usual suspects Gettysburg, Antietam, etc and it is nice to do something different. Corinth was also medium-sized which helps when doing a project for the first time. Though not a long-time favorite, my interest in the campaign was renewed by the recent Cozzens book and John and I thought it would be a good fit for the new series.
What, in your opinion, is the hardest part about designing a game such as Corinth? Likewise, was anything easier than expected?
The research is definitely the hardest part. You have to find a point when you have done enough research to actually begin the game. If you start the game with insufficient information you'll end up having to redo scenarios, orders of battle, maps, etc countless numbers of times (I know this from experience!). Conversely, if you delay and delay while you build up a mound of research notes and try and answer every question you have you'll never begin the game. To answer the second question, nothing was easier than expected. Unfortunately, just about every aspect of the game took much more time and effort than anticipated. The fun vs. work balance was threatened many, many times! <g> but it was worth it overall.
Corinth was the first in a proposed series of ACW Campaign games from HPS. Were you nervous when your game debuted the series?
No, it was more a feeling of relief and gratification that it was finally finished and released to the public. I was really happy with the final result.
If there were no detailed regimental strengths for certain brigades, what were some of the methods you used to estimate those strengths?
We are not provided with a research budget of any kind, so any expenses have to come from our own pockets. This makes trips to the National Archives to pore over company rolls impossible, so I had to make do with regimental reports from the OR and some other readily available primary and secondary sources. Fortunately, for the Corinth campaign I was able to find strengths for almost all the regiments from the OR. For the odd ones that I couldn't find it was relatively easy to extrapolate the strength from total brigade strength.
How hard was it to find period maps of the areas you recreated in Corinth?
Quite difficult. Because our maps require so much minute detail it is a real quest to find period maps that include fences, houses, trails, etc for large areas where no major battles were fought. For example, I finally obtained an excellent engineering map for the Memphis area from the librarian at the Univ. of Memphis. Then he gave me a heads up on a map of the Jackson area that was located in a county library in West Tennessee. You just have to get lucky and "depend on the kindness of strangers" as it were. Unfortunately, much of the time you get no response from your cold-call type inquiries. There are some good websites that have CW maps too. The NARA website is great. For instance, I found some rare maps there that helped me flesh out the line of outer fortifications at Corinth northeast of town. I used around 20 different maps to flesh out the big Corinth map in the game.
Which side do you prefer to play? In other words, Yankee or Confederate?
It depends on the situation but overall I would say Confederate.
How long did it take from the time you first started work on the game until it was released in November of last year?
I started sometime in 1998 and worked on and off from there until it was released. There were some unavoidable delays in there and forced some long stretches of inactivity.
Do you have any regrets about having to take certain things you wanted out of the game due to time or playability concerns, or were you pretty well satisfied when it was released?
No, we are given wide latitude within the constraints of the game system to design the campaign any way we'd like (within historical justification of course). I think you will find perhaps wide style differences in the design of each game in the series, as each designer has his own way of doing things. As to playability, I made some minor adjustments in the first patch due to some playability concerns. Personally, I enjoy doing lots of maneuvering before ever seeing an enemy soldier and don't mind 15 turns of movement sans combat. Others dislike this and want to fight right from the start. I decided to compromise on this matter in a few places.
How much work goes into making a game of this size, time wise?
I would say that I personally put at least 1000 hours into the game. Initially, I intended to make a log to keep track of my activity but that idea got quickly lost in the shuffle.
Did you own most of the source material you mention in your game bibliography, or did you end up getting most of it as a result of this game?
Probably 50/50. Doing this kind of thing is a good way to build your personal library.
What was the one single source you relied on most in making Corinth?
I can't really narrow it to a single source. I would say it is a tie between the Official Records and "The Darkest Days of the War" by Peter Cozzens.
What would you recommend to anyone thinking about designing scenarios for any wargame, not just one in this series?
I guess it would be to be detail-oriented. Slip-shod
work is easy to spot since many wargamers are passionate about-and have intimate
prior knowledge of-their subject matter. To me, scenarios should be a teaching
tool as well as a game and I always appreciate it when a designer takes the
time to place a fence or a house or anything like that that doesn't affect gameplay
per se but adds to the player's knowledge of the battlefield.