This weekend I have been working through my initial ideas for The Galaxy Will Burn. I have made some good progress, but I do have a question for readers about a key element of the gameplay.
The core theme for the game is that the galactic empire will probably collapse, in contrast to The Colossus of Atlantis, where the players can generally work together to avoid the deluge. So in TGWB, a key decision for each player and/or faction, is at what point do they stop working to support the imperial system, and instead start working to subvert the system and establish a successor state.
As an aside, I spent some time looking at a forthcoming release from GMT games, Pendragon, which reminds me a lot of the old Britannia game, but using Volko Ruhn’s COIN system and focusing mainly on the 5th century. While it had some great interplay between the four positions and a neat way of modelling the decline of Roman influence in Britain, I cannot just adapt it wholesale into a Megagame. Too much of the game relies on it only being a four player experience, and I want to provide a good experience for 40 players.
Everyone starts as a sector Governor for the Galactic Empire. Each player has a public faction, which everyone knows about, and a secret faction (which only other members of the faction know about). I might also have some players as Admirals, responsible for patrolling the hyperlanes, and perhaps some industrialists who are focused on controlling key worlds that make unique resources and advanced technologies.
I will be looking to have a media team in the game if we get enough players, or possible a media rep on each team. They will not have a map based role (which also makes them good for diplomacy and espionage). They will have the ability to trigger crises by reporting on stress and corruption in the game system, as well as having a lot of influence to shape the overall game narrative.
I want to give players some freedom to choose which of the optional minigames they will focus on. If you want to be a pirate, you will be able to spend a good part of the game as a pirate.
In moment to moment game play, a player will be trying to gain resources from the map game that can be used in the other minigames (trade, technology, and imperial politics).
One way of doing well in the game is for all members of a faction to gain control of the key positions in the Imperial Government. This should be difficult to achieve, and is worth a round of applause and a good boost in the game itself.
There will be opportunities for players to become a Strong Emperor during the game. When this happens, you get 60 seconds of time in which to give orders to Control to carry out (e.g. “Remove House Balu influence pawns from the Imperial Treasury” or “Remove Pirate ships from Orion’s arm”). One of the perks of this job is influencing the end of game victory objectives, by choosing what will be scored at the end of the game.
As the end game approaches, players will have to choose between loyalty to the remnant Empire, or trying to create the most powerful successor state out of the power vacuum created by the collapse of the empire.
The Map Game
Depending on the number of players, I plan to have five map tables. One for each of the Spiral Arms, and one for the centre of the Galaxy. Each map consists of approximately five “areas” per player assigned to the map. An area can be one of the following three:
- a sector (thousands of star systems)
- a key world
- a hyperlane.
This style of map is common in the GMT COIN games. The fast movement/line of communication route (the Hyperlane) is also a sector boundary. Placing Bases on the Hyperlane, and keeping it clear of Pirates lets you collect its trade value and move quickly from one side of the map to the other. Just one sector is shown in full here. All sectors will have space for two bases, but the sector value will vary from one to three. The key world only has room for one base and an economic value of one, but each key world will have some kind of in-game bonus from controlling it (such as building an extra Ship token each turn). Normal movement off the hyperlanes is just from sector to adjacent sector.
The Turn Sequence
- Budget Phase
- Planning Phase
- Resolve First Actions
- Resolve Second Actions
- Resolve Third Actions
- Glory Phase
As Imperial officials, players have a fixed budget of six atomic power tokens per game turn. A player can choose to appropriate more atomic power to boost the effectiveness of their actions, but this has risks. If you do this draw a playing card:
- if the card value is equal to your current budget, double your budget for this game turn
- if your draw a Joker, increase your budget permanently by +1 (to a maximum of six). If you are already at six, gain one Megapower token!
- if the card value is less than your current budget, gain that many atomic power tokens AND your normal budget allocation
- if the card value is greater than your current budget, gain that many atomic power tokens
- if the card is a royal card, treat it as having a value of 10.
It will pretty much always be worth pushing to increase your budget. If you don’t, you get immunity from some central government actions (no prosecutions for corruption), but you will fall behind the other players.
The suit on the card also has an effect:
- Rag Hearts: place a stress token in one area on the map.
- Royal Hearts: place one stress token in two areas on the map (stress markers are used by Control to help determine where crisis events will strike).
- Rag Diamonds: reduce your budget permanently by one.
- Royal Diamonds: reduce your budget permanently by two.
- Rag Clubs: Spawn Warlord tokens equal to card value in one area (Warlords stay where they are placed).
- Royal Clubs: Spawn ten Warlord tokens and a base in one area (the base means these Warlord tokens will get stronger over time)
- Rag Spades: Spawn Pirate tokens equal to card value over three areas (not more than half in one area). Unlike Warlords, Pirates will move towards plunder.
- Royal Spades: Spawn ten Pirate tokens over three areas (not more than half in one area) and place a Pirate Base in the area with the most pirate tokens.
- Joker: shift one set of stress tokens out of an area you control, and place them in another area of your choice.
If the area you govern transitions from central rule to local rule, your budget is reset to six atomic power. If Imperial government collapses entirely in your region, your budget is reset back to six again.
Atomic Power not used in a game turn is lost. The only way to save power from turn to turn is to purchase Megapower tokens (which costs four atomic power at the start of the game). You can trade atomic power tokens with other players at your map table, but only Megapower tokens can be taken between tables.
Below is a first draft of what a player’s planning mat might look like. I will add other information displays later (like a budget track).
You always get two actions, and can choose to do a third power action – which is to either buy a Megapower token, or to spend a Megapower token to do a third action of your choice.
If you are doing a “secret” action you get to put the action card face down on the mat during planning. Obviously this makes it harder for other players to second guess what you are doing. Secret actions also allow you to do things like build units loyal to your faction, rather than loyal to the empire.
Part of your planning is to choose and place a card. Then you also choose (for the first two actions), how much atomic power you are allocating to it. For secret actions, put the tokens underneath the action card (confusion to your enemies). The token below can be found on the Gamecrafter website (alternately, I will get a lot of yellow tokens, some spray paint, and make a stencil), and its what I might be using in this Megagame. For Megapower tokens, I am looking into getting some clay poker chips made up (because they feel really nice).
I am still fleshing out the menu of actions. Every player will have access to a core set of standard actions, including:
- Build base
- Build ships
- Move ships
- Patrol (finds enemy ships)
- Initiate battle
The rationale in making movement, patrolling, and battle different actions, is that this rewards players who cooperate with each other. The more atomic power you commit to an action, the more you get to do with it.
Special actions will also exist. These require privilege cards from other minigames, and may require a Megapower token to play.
Resolution of builds, moves, and patrols is simultaneous and there will be a timer going. Battles are resolved after all other actions are completed.
I am still working on the combat system, but leaning towards the chance element being the draw of a card rather than rolling a bucket of dice. There are two kinds of combat units: ships, and Megaships. I will use the Pirate miniatures from Hydra Miniatures for Megaships. Actions with Megaships require both a privilege card and a Megapower token. Megaships automatically defeat and eliminate all opposing ships (the best they can do is to damage the Megaship).
Ordinary ships will possible look like this:
Most of the other game tokens are likely to be wooden cubes or discs, but I may get some MDF “movement trays” to help figure out who controls which tokens (remember, at the start of the game, every unit on the map is an imperial token), and to move them quickly in play.
The Glory Phase will happen about once every 20 minutes (during which time a map table should get through the other phases about three times).
Players at a table compare relative “glory” scores for elimination of pirates and warlords, and control of areas. The highest scoring player(s) get privilege cards allowing them to play a round of the imperial capital, trade, and technology minigames. These minigames can generate crises, but can also reward players with privilege cards that let them do special actions in the main map game.
If I have governor and admiral player roles, admirals will focus on pirate hunting, while governors will want to eliminate warlords.
The imperial capital game will involve a maze of government agencies and is a game of trying to control as much of the government as possible, while shifting blame tokens to the government agencies controlled by other players/factions. Some possible outcomes from the imperial capital game include:
- granting command of a megaship to a player
- reassigning a player from one game map to another game map
- decentralising the power to grant privilege cards from the imperial capital to a player at a map table (or centralising such devolved powers back to the capital)
- recognising local rule for some sectors on a game map
- precedence – allowing you to move/fight with units controlled by another player.
There will always be a crisis somewhere in the game. Solving one just spawns a new one. Ignore a crisis for too long, and it will have a negative effect on the empire.
The trade minigame will involve trading cards (more like Civilisation than Settlers of Cattan), but the bubble market will be represented by a Jenga tower. Each time a trade is done, both the players must draw a tile from the Jenga tower. The higher the tower, the greater the bonus reward for trading. If the Jenga tower falls, there is a major financial crisis and trading stops, not to resume until after the imperial government intervenes.
The technology minigame will produce one use advantage cards, but the disruption of new technology can create crises. I still have a lot of design work to do here.
Question: what would be an appropriate in game penalty for anyone who deliberately knocks the Jenga tower over?
Players who do not get privileged access can either spend a round focusing on diplomacy, or they can go to any map table and play a round with the pirates or warlords there.
Here is my key question: does it actually sound like a fun thing to do, to go and play pirates/warlords for a bit, while most of the other players are engaged in a different minigame?
Personally,I think it could be fun, it might depend on the amount of narrative context switching people will have to do.
As for the penalty for knocking over the tower, if someone deliberately destroyed the economy they would have terrible pr, perhaps allow people to openly attach the trouble maker? Or perhaps allow the leader to impose a fine?
I think if its optional, the player still has some agency. For a narrative continuity, its a bit like hiring some independent mercenaries to attack a rival, and the player is an “advisor” directing the action.
For knocking over the Jenga tower, one way I could handle it is to have it trigger an opportunity for rivals to attempt to penalise the action in the political minigame. An introductory “please don’t deliberately knock the tower over” message from Control can also make the social contract explicit.