Adapting boardgames

An old book I have on designing PBM games referred to “shell” designs.  These were designs that could be easily recoloured for a new theme without requiring a major redesign/new coding of software.  So Unit A and B might be Knights and Peasants in Shell Z, but Battleships and Submarines in Shell Y.

For a Grand Strategy game, the largest difficulty in adapting an existing boardgame, is that mechanics often don’t scale well when upscaled from 5 to 35 players.  This can be due to the iterative nature of the mechanics.  If everyone needs to make five decisions to resolve a coup in Junta, that’s 25 decisions in a 5 player game and 175 in a 35 player game.  We’d probably end spending half the night resolving one civil war.  It can also be due to the nature of the game components, and in this respect I am leaning away from using cards as a resource in the game (I still think they can be useful for objectives or currency).

I’m not happy with how special power cards have worked in some of my grand strategy games.  One reason for this is that I have often gotten the balance wrong, too many/too few cards or too weak/too powerful.  Another reason is that most of the players don’t get to see most of the cards, so they never learn which cards are good or bad, so the decisions they make in the game are not informed ones.  In Colossus of Atlantis and Dark Lord players spent a lot of time getting large numbers of cards, and then only used a few of them.

So in considering how I could adapt the look and feel of Junta into a Big Damn Galactic Empire game I start with the following thoughts:

– the variety of Influence cards is too complex

– the combat is too indecisive

– the Coup phase has too many steps to it

– the various Ministries need to start balanced.

What I am thinking about at the moment is a game with several levels of play:

1) the Rebels are fighting a wargame against the Imperial Governors of the Great Houses

2) the Great Houses are fighting other Houses for influence, and need the favour of the Dynasty to ward off the Rebels

3) The Dynastic Princes are fighting each other for the Throne/control of the Imperial Government, and need the support of the Great Houses.

So we have at least two map displays.  One is focused on the “Core” game, and has the key points needed to control the Galactic Empire and the movement links between those.  The other is the “Periphery” game, representing the border zones menaced by the rebellion.  The Rebel game is probably the simplest of the three – fight the big bad Empire – and that’s not a bad thing, as it could be pitched as “suitable for inexperienced players”.  The other two games will involve a lot more player diplomacy and trading, with the occasional outburst of civil war.  What I see as the main points of interaction are:

1) the Great Houses acquire Influence (a currency) from control of map sectors, which they can trade to Princes

2) the Princes acquire Warrants (a resource) from control of Government Ministries, which they can trade to the Houses

3) Princes spend Influence in voting on the Imperial Budget

4) Houses spend Warrants (a one use document that grants a “free” map action) on the game map.

Part of what I am thinking here, is that the Imperial Fleets used by the Princes are an order of magnitude more powerful than the Great House Fleets.  This explains why the Princes stay in charge of the Empire, and the Great Houses keep their heads down during the internecine warfare between the Princes (or Princesses).

One of my reasons for building game tokens as currency notes rather than cards, is currency is just a bit less fiddly to build and/or keep track of in game.  A few notes of 1, 2, 5 and 10 are much easier to deal with than 55 unique power cards.

So, time to look at how we might adapt the Junta turn sequence:

Budget

1. The Emperor receives a budget of currency (possibly based on how well the Houses are doing against the Rebels)

2. The Emperor proposes a budget.

3. The Princes vote on the budget, possibly spending Influence.  I’ll probably need a fixed order for the voting, as players will likely be standing around a table for this.

4.  If the budget passes, it is distributed, and all Princes gain a Warrant from their Ministry.

5. If the budget fails, the Emperor keeps the budget, and there is a Casus Bellum for a Civil War.

Locations

1. Each prince secretly chooses one of the following five locations:

  • Flagship (grants a Casus Bellum)
  • Office (can spend Influence to gain an extra Warrant)
  • Pleasure World (gain a Decadence resource)
  • Senate (double Influence spending in next vote if there is no Civil War)
  • Court (trade places with the Prince above you in the Order-of-Succession)

Assassins

1. In a set order, each player announces who they wish to assassinate and where.

2. Reveal locations

3. If an assassin is directed against the right location, they have a chance of killing the target (I think most should be around 50/50 chance, with ten players a close to 100% chance would allow a couple of players to be constantly murdered which feels a bit rough to me).

4. If a Prince is killed, their replacement clone goes to the bottom of the Order-of-Succession, and everyone else shuffles up the list. (I imagine the OoS will be tracked on a prominently displayed whiteboard or similar device).

5.  If the Emperor is assassinated, there is a Casus Bellum.  If a Civil War does not start, then the player who is next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor.

Civil Wars

If a Prince has a Casus Bellum they can trigger a Civil War by declaring their intent to usurp the Imperial Throne.  Everyone else is then free to say “me too”.

Only Usurpers can move in the first phase.

Usurpers that control less key victory locations than the number of civil war phases, are murdered by their unhappy followers.  The Civil War ends if a) only one Usurper is alive (they become Emperor) or b) all Usurpers are dead (the non-Usurper Prince next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor).  If there are five victory locations, then the Civil War can last a maximum of three phases.

During the Civil War, rebels gain a bonus to recruitment – this is a hurry the fuck up incentive for the princes.

New Emperor or Emperor wins Civil War

1. The Emperor can execute one Prince of their choice.

2. All Princes score Victory Points based on their rank (from 1-10, with the Emperor gaining 10).

3. The Emperor allocates the nine Ministries among the different princes.

Ministries

With ten players I will need a few more arms of Government than Junta has.  My initial thoughts here include a few Fleet Admirals, Colonial Marines, Naval Intelligence, Imperial Intelligence, Transport, Communications, Pensions, Monopolies … feel free to suggest some in the comments section.

I’m not sure how many rounds of Budget allocation you should get through in one game bound (twenty minutes or so).  One plus a civil war should be possible, two-three without.

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2 Responses to Adapting boardgames

  1. John Morton says:

    Good mechanics for assassination, assuming it doesn’t stop the player participating in the budget or anything else. If they lose their location bonus, that would change the target selection from semi-random, blockading the bonus you don’t want your rival to get, which could be interesting.

    However, assassination and budget requires all the royalty players to be in one place doing one thing, which is a game bottleneck with a certain amount of cat herding time cost.

    Also, what are the great house and rebel players doing during the budget and assassination parts?

  2. texarkana23 says:

    This is a first pass adaptation, bound to be ways to modify it for standing around a table. Hamish felt that allowing concealed assassination attempts was “passive play”, and I think I agree that the game is more interesting when you see people commit to the attack.

    The House & Rebel players are essentially on a different map playing their own little wargame of House versus House and Rebels versus the Evil Empire. So the budget/assassin thing is something they watch at a remove.

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