Review: Campaign Cartographer 3 (+)10 Aug 2016 1
Channeling my inner Gump (of the Forest variety), maps is to historical miniature (or tabletop) wargaming as are peas to carrots. But unlike their digital or boardgame cousins, they do not come ready made for immediate use. In reality this is a good thing, because as we all know tabletop games and those who play them are just a bit . . . well . . . different. One of those differences is that there is a mandatory research requirement for the hobby, although it's usually quite enjoyable. Research is needed for uniforms, flags, Orders of Battle and the like and also scenario development. This of course, means maps. Yes, some tabletop rules do come with a couple of ready-made scenarios and there are some scenario books published as well. But most do not and it is impossible to cover all the battles and skirmishes from something like the American Civil War, much less obscure conflicts such as the Balkan War of 1912-13 (yet, there are at least two firms that produce figures for it; seriously, not kidding).
What’s a person to do? Well perhaps it’s better to point out what one cannot do. Handmade drawings don’t work because they are inaccurate, require some degree of talent and are pretty hard on the hands and wrists, particularly for “veteran” (ahem) gamers as arthritis increases with age. There are also straight historical maps, and with the Internet data explosion these are pretty accessible. A good example of such a resource would be Alison’s Atlas for the History of Europe which covers 120 Napoleonic battles. Here the issue is over detail as there are far too many slopes, roads and streams for the tabletop, and given the ability to occupy a town is often given in figures per building model, someone has to translate a Dresden into that format. Only then can the Game Master have a proper guide on how to set and place his table and provide players with cartography in advance to position units and plan tactics for the combat ahead.
There is also the matter of a pewter pusher’s psyche. In the modern world, no one writes anymore, thus the howling for schools to teach writing in cursive. Instead there is the keyboard. But beyond that there is the innate, back of your head perspective that if a person paints a bazillion beautiful toy soldiers and builds museum quality terrain, having a rubbish looking map as part of play is a bit tacky. Besides, many clubs publish their home grown scenarios to stroke the ego just a bit, provide a service and to attract new members. Obviously, poor 'graphics' do not help the cause.
One Man's Photoshop Is Another Man's Really Overpriced Program
The solution is one of the many fine graphics design software products on the market, of which the traditional favourite was Adobe Photoshop. There are a couple of problems with this kind of software. First, Photoshop and its ilk were made for professionals and not the amateur. As such it has far more application bells and whistles than we common folk would ever use, matched only by a learning curve steeper than the white cliffs of Dover. The second issue is price, which in my opinion is nothing short of astronomical. Right now Adobe has moved to a business model that uses solely month to month subscriptions for payment. It’s sorta like the Microsoft Office 365 Home plan which gives you all seven Office apps, licenses for 15 devices (five of each of PCs, phones and tablets) and one terabyte of storage each for five users, all for $ 9.99 a month. With the Adobe plan you get one app, one license and 20 gigs of storage for $ 19.99 a month. That’s about $240.00 a year forever, no I’m not kidding, and pretty well prices the product out of the market for yours truly.
Fortunately, there is a solution, one that is admittedly not new, but only recently seems to have taken off in the tabletop gaming world. In 1993, Profantasy Software out of England introduced Campaign Cartographer, a CAD like software package built to specifically support fantasy role-playing games. The last iteration, Campaign Cartographer 3 (+), or CC3, was introduced on 30 June 2006 and has received nine free upgrades since. Including the nine add on modules, such as City Designer 3 (CD3), the software has gained quite a reputation, good enough to illustrate a host of books such as Shades of Grey by Lisanne Norman and TSR’s Forgotten Realm's Interactive Atlas.
And the price? This software, specifically designed for all sorts of adventure gaming, will set you back a whopping $ 44.95 US. A module like CD3, with not less than 2000 high definition illustrations, goes for a bank breaking $ 39.95 US. If you didn’t detect at least a micro-trace of sarcasm there, you might want to turn your volume up from zero.
This will be a brief overview because it probably wiser to let the accompanying illustrations do most of the talking, as befits a software program of this type. I will instead encourage those interested to pick up a copy and explore CC3 themselves. The learning curve for CC3 is not super easy, but because it is specifically made for adventure and wargaming, it’s a lot easier than the Photoshops of the world, easy enough to learn by simply playing around and clicking buttons. As we go on, please note I will be talking about CC3 plus the CD3 add-on, the two packages I currently use.
When cranking up CC3, the first thing that happens is an invitation to set up the basic parameters of your design through a Wizard. Here you can decide on the graphics type, vector for example, as well as map size, borders, whether to place a title and copyright notice and the chance to overlay the map with squares or hexagons (ding, ding, I can hear a lot of board gamers waking up). The background color is also chosen which can be solid or one of a multitude of fills such as grasslands or prairie.
The CC3 interface looks about the same as most other graphics design software, with function icons left, right and top along with a normal word based menu. The map design is in the center and can be moved left, right, up, down, zoom in, zoom out and so on. This image is divided into notional sheets and layers. Think of the sheets as simply images stacked on top of one another such as a water sheet, urban sheet or vegetation sheet. Within each sheet are layers which define attributes of the sheet, such as buildings or bridges on a city sheet. This is handy because if you want to add, say, shadows to all buildings which just happen to be on the city sheet, you can do so for the entire sheet vice one structure at a time. If you can visualize this concept – and let’s face it, if simple me can do it, trust me, you can as well – you will have no problem with this software.
From there you simply use the mouse to do things like draw and deploy rivers and roads, or define specific areas on the map as different terrain for which you simply change the fill. If you want to change the attributes of such objects, such as width or color, you can click on the Edit menu, Change Properties, and then right click on the object you need to change. When spinning your mouse from menu to object, a semi-transparent box will pop up to briefly tell you what you are about to do. The right click will bring up another box for which the top entry is “Do It.” It’s sort of a double, double check to make sure there are no mistakes and gnashing of teeth if you have to start all over.
Objects such as forests and trees are basically drag and drop. Using the mouse plus the Control, Shift and no key at all with the mouse allows an individual to alter the size, position and facing of things like buildings, bridges and walls.
And there are a LOT of buildings, bridges, walls, trees and the proverbial partridge in a pear to choose from, in a variety of different styles and colors, with the latter attribute changeable as a bonus. Each type of object, say a stable, comes with a multitude of variations, and there are an abundance of categories above that level of design. For example, CD3 lists Classic, Default, Cyberpunk, Elven, Mediterranean, Mid East, Nomadic, Halfling and many, many more. The Classic and Default sprites look like typical European architecture, and this does make sense. This is what you see in a lot of fantasy games, and given nothing has changed much in 400 years (in Germany there are still fully functioning Gasthausen that have a completion date of 1529 or whenever on the entryway), it works for the Thirty Years War until today. There are also generic symbols such as compass roses as well, all with drag and drop as the primary way to get from menu to map. Like all such products, CC3 allows the user to label his masterpiece with a variety of fonts and modifications to fonts, spinning in whatever direction desired.
From there it is an easy process to save the finished product as a high resolution jpg or other image file and then import said map into a Microsoft Word document. If desired the image can be touched up by sharpening, contrasting or color changes using Word’s own internal picture editing tool. Labels can be then added if not already done using CC3. Oddly enough, Word is what I use to add military units to the maps. I just grab a typical shape, maybe stretch a diagonal line across it to indicate cavalry, combine the two into a single sprite, and drop the symbology on the map wherever I need it. Changing the size thereof will indicate the size and formation of miniature stands on the map, while changing background and edge color can delineate one army from another.
Now this is not to say the software is absolutely perfect. There are a couple of quirks that continue to just drive me nuts, at least more than usual. The one that continues to raise my temperature is outlining rivers or roads. Doing it is very simple, but CC3 treats the river/road and the outline as two separate and distinct objects. This means if you decide to move and change the shape of your river, the black outline stays right where it was in the same direction and shape it was.
It’s frustrating, but given the quality of the program overall, I can live with it.
Highly recommended. Rich Hasenauer, retired US Army master graphics designer, Photoshop Sensei and Fire & Fury author is not leaving the hobby by any stretch of the imagination. But even he is now balking at the exorbitant pricing model for Adobe products. The money is an issue of course, but also is the fact that there are just too many other good products on the market these days that will do the same job. From my conversations with him at the last HMGS convention (Historicon), at the top of his list for consideration is Campaign Cartographer 3 (+). If this individual is comfortable with CC3, then you know the software exudes quality.
So why not surf on over to www.profantasy.com and take a look. You will be in fine shape to execute when once again Stonewall Jackson looks at his cartographer Jedidiah Hotchkiss and demands, “Make me a map of the Valley!”