Settlers of R’lyeh

This is a hack of the Settlers of Cattan game, using some of the figures from Cthulhu Wars. Although I see dreams of madness have inspired other designers along similar lines, what I offer here is a small island somewhere in the South Pacific, some fever dream ridden settlers, in a desperate race to complete a great temple and then join their Deep One cousins forever before R’lyeh sinks beneath waves again.

Shoggoth by Nottsuo <; CC 3.0 License.

Prepare to play Settlers of Cattan as normal, but grab the Cthulhu figure from your Cthulhu Wars set and replace the Robber pawn with Great Cthulhu. Place Cthulhu beneath the sands that cover the city of R’lyeh (i.e. on the Desert tile). Replace the Knight cards with Cultists from Cthulhu Wars, and grab a High Priest figure if available.

To set the right tone, I suggest playing at night, with candles, while playing A Shoggoth on the Roof.

The Stars are Right

When a player rolls a seven, the stars are right, and Cthulhu wakes. Move Cthulhu to any hex tile on the Cattan map. Do not discard Resource cards. Instead the player who rolled the seven has a number of destruction points equal to the lowest die on their dice roll that turn. For example, if a player rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have two destruction points.

For each destruction point the player must either:

  • remove one road
  • downgrade a city to a village
  • remove one village

All tokens removed or downgraded must be adjacent to the tile that Cthulhu now occupies. All destruction points must be used if possible, even if this means a player must remove or downgrade their own game tokens, or must place Cthulhu to revel and slay in gay abandon in a tile that is not the player’s preferred choice. You cannot move Cthulhu to a tile where it inflicts no destruction, unless there are no player tokens left on the map.

If you downgrade a city and the player controlling the city has no village token that can replace it with, then that player must place a village token from another player of their choice, as the inhabitants join another splinter sect of the cult of Great Cthulhu.

The stars are right effect is also triggered if a player must apply the deluge effect due to inability to acquire resource cards (see The Deluge section below).


When you play a cultist card you dream of Great Cthulhu, and then move the Cthulhu figure and apply all of the stars are right effects with the dice roll you made that turn.

Tip: for maximum impact, wait until a turn where you roll a double 4, 5 or 6 before using your cultists.

The first player to gain three Cultists gains the High Priest figure (if you do not have one, use a Cultist figure of a different colour). This does not count as an extra Cultist and merely serves as a reminder that you have the biggest cult. If another player ever has more Cultists than the player with the High Priest figure, they immediately take the High Priest figure.

High Priest

If you have the High priest when the stars are right, then your destruction points are equal to the higher of the two dice. For example, if a player with the High priest rolled a 5 and a 2 for the stars are right, then they have five destruction points.

Note: unlike the bonus for holding the largest Army card in a regular Settlers of Cattan game, holding the High Priest does not grant two bonus VP.

2017-07-12 15.35.30
Cultist, Cthulhu, and High Priest figures from Cthulhu Wars

The Deluge

If a player has no village or city tokens on the game map when the stars are right, or they no longer have the ability to get any resource cards from their remaining villages or cities when it is their turn, they must apply the deluge effect:

  • after moving Cthulhu and applying destruction effects from the stars are right, invert the tile Cthulhu occupies. This represents R’lyeh slowly sliding back beneath the waves and is a permanent change.
  • remove the circular numbered token from the inverted tile – it no longer generates resources.
  • if any road token now has inverted tiles on both sides, remove it from the board as the local geometry becomes non-Euclidean.
  • if any village or City is now completely surrounded by inverted tiles, remove it from the board. Their inhabitants have gone to join the Deep Ones.
  • road, village and city tokens removed by deluge effects are removed permanently and cannot be rebuilt later in the game.

Winning the Game

It is possible no player will reach 10 victory points before the deluge effect sinks R’lyeh below the waves, in which case dread Cthulhu wins. If a player reaches 10 VP first, they complete the great temple, and join the Deep Ones below the waves forever. All the other players should make “glub blub blub” noises as their settlers drown.

10 Megagame Concepts

Here are ten concept outlines for different megagame scenarios. Some are revamps of games I have run in the past, others are new. I am posting these so I can get a sense of what sounds interesting to potential players, so expressions of “like” and “dislike” would both be useful.

I am also making a decision to “pivot” and “rebrand”. In the past I have called these “Grand Strategy” games, often shortened to “Grand Strat” by the Buckets of Dice crowd. The world wide success of Jim Wallman’s Watch the Skies game leads me to think I should adopt what appears to be the global brand name, in order to boost recognition and hopefully attract a few more players.

1. Warring States

This is a historical scenario, set in the Warring States period of Chinese history, from roughly 320 to 220 BCE. I once ran a play-by-mail game of Diplomacy set in this period of history, so I have done some of the needed research in the past. During this era seven major kingdoms competed to be the first to unify the land that became known as China. It was a time of great development in literature, philosophy, technology, economic and military affairs. At the start of the game, armies would be small and based on chariot borne nobles supported by poor infantry. As the game progresses, cavalry, crossbows, iron weapons, and mass conscript armies would be developed.

EN-WarringStatesAll260BCEKey elements of this game:

  1. Combat resolution will be inspired by Sun Zi’s Art of War, i.e. it will rely strongly on psychological factors and bluffing.
  2. Kingdoms will have to make tradeoffs between trying to expand the territory they control, and trying to develop their Kingdom – the surplus from the rice harvest will only go so far
  3. At the start of the game, changes to the map state can only be done by the King (team leader) but only if one of their advisors (other team members) recommends the move. As the Kingdom develops, new developments will allow more options for map interactions. For example, developing professional generals will allow advisors to move armies on the map.
  4. Diplomacy is crucial to success.

2. Sun and Starship II

This is a revamp of the 2012 Buckets of Dice game, and on a theme I have used several times before. It is a space opera scenario in which noble houses in a great space empire compete for power, wealth and glory, while pirates and warlords gnaw away at the borders of the empire. Most (80%) of the players will be nobles organised in teams and some (20%) will be independent “raiders”. Noble team goal is to gain control of the empire, all players are trying to get the most wealth, and glory (from combat victories).

2000px-Spaceship_and_Sun_emblem.svgKey elements of this game:

  1. universal basic income – every player gets $1 of game currency per minute of game time
  2. to represent the decadence of the Empire, whoever is currently Emperor (and a few of their friends) will have access to a table of food and drink
  3. nobles will alternate between time in committee meetings, team meetings, diplomacy and the map, raiders will spend nearly all their time on the map or diplomacy
  4. rather than one committee, there will be seven committees with the following broad functions: Justice – $ fines for nobles. Trade – creates new movement and trade routes on the map. Colonies – appoints/recalls sector governors. Intelligence – determines which “Black Swan” events occur next. Atomic Power – provides the atomic power that makes Dreadnoughts awesome. Defence – appoints/recalls fleet Admirals. Apparatus – screws around with the other committees.
  5. combat will be based on a “bucket of dice” resolution: Battleships roll 1d6 each. Dreadnoughts roll 1d12 per point of atomic power spent. The side with the highest score wins. Battleships with matching die rolls in your fleet are eliminated as casualties (yes, this hurts the stronger side more). Dreadnoughts are never destroyed – they just go to the repair yard for a length of time based on battle damage.

3. Fall of the Elder

This is a new fantasy scenario with teams of elves, dwarves, humans and individual dragons. The different Kingdoms are competing for magic, gold, and land. It is based on the 1970s boardgame “the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The elves and dwarves start with all the good farming land under their control and control most of the ancient fortresses. Humans start in the miserable wastelands, where the dragons also dwell.


Key elements of gameplay:

  1. 20 minutes of gameplay represents roughly twenty years of gametime
  2. the elves score points for accumulating magic power (and not using it)
  3. the humans score points for gaining land and breeding more humans
  4. the dwarves score points for accumulating gold (and not spending it)
  5. Dragons score points for eating elves, dwarves and humans, stealing their stuff and destroying anything they can’t eat or steal. You can think of them as 100 ton vultures.
  6. heroes are important, Elves train heroes with magic, Dwarves buy heroes with gold, Humans find heroes when they are defeated, and Dragons … well, they are more anti-heroes.

4. Operation Unthinkable

This is a new alternate history scenario based on the actual British plan to attack the USSR in July 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany. Teams are based on the combatant nations at the time (USSR, USA, UK, and France). Most (80%) of the players will be military officers working at the Army level with the other players filling political, naval, or air command roles.

Marcia_nel_fangoKey game elements

  1. this will be a double blind map system, i.e. the teams will have maps in different rooms, and will have limited information on enemy dispositions (fog of war)
  2. the game will last from midsummer 1945 to early winter 1945
  3. army officers will have one of three roles: logistics – making sure the army has enough supplies, intelligence – team communications, command – making attack/defence decisions
  4. air command chooses between battling for air superiority, ground support, or strategic attacks on logistics
  5. yes, the allies will get the nuclear option (at a cost of VP)
  6. the game will focus primarily on the front in north Germany, other theatres of operations (e.g. Italy, Japan, Greece, Iran) will be handled in an abstract manner.

5. The Crescent Stars

This is a new space opera scenario, set in a future where humanity has colonised the stars but is just as disorganised as it was on Earth. The main teams are the Solar Union Colonial Committee, the trading Combines, and the Comitas (the free traders). Independent players are the mercenary captains and the system Dictators. The Solar Union tries to maintain peace and stability while encouraging free trade, while everyone else is trying to make money and gain power over the booming sector trade.

Artist’s_Impression_of_a_Baby_Star_Still_Surrounded_by_a_Protoplanetary_DiscKey game elements:

  1. rather than trading cards, trade deals require the signatures of the players who control the systems the trade route requires. Each trade deal is worth a fixed sum of cash, split between the signatories in an agreed way. Each trade deal has a time limit within which is must be successfully negotiated.
  2. As the game develops new movement and trade routes appear
  3. universal basic income (see above)
  4. the combat system will involve very small numbers of units (not more than a dozen tokens per side) and a conflict between two systems should be resolved in under ten minutes through a card play system
  5. technological research.

6. The Colossus of Atlantis II

This is a bronze age steampunk Cthulhu mythos fantasy game, first run in 2010. At the start of the game the players are all members of an Atlantean noble House, as it starts to use its superior technology to conquer the world. Atlantis being Atlantis, corruption will set in and eventually doom will fall on Atlantis.


Key game elements:

  1. robust Athenian style Greek politics (this time we will make sure the democratic constitution cannot be destroyed by the players at the first assembly meeting)
  2. profiting from trade routes, using the negotiation system outlined in Crescent Stars (see above)
  3. universal basic income (as above)
  4. technological research with the goal of building the best giant bronze colossus to smash your way across the landscape
  5. occult research with the goal of summoning the best eldritch horror to devour your enemies with.

7. Pax Victoria II/Flower Power II

SAMSUNGThese are retro-future grand strategy battles for fantasy worlds with World War I to World War II technology. The main change from earlier games is to greatly reduce the number of units, for each player on your team you should only have 2-5 units to keep track of, and to place more of an emphasis on sea power.

Key game elements:

  1. alliance diplomacy and coalition warfare
  2. making tradeoffs between importing off-world technology or mercenaries, and developing you economy or expanding your own military.

8. Crusades II

Revisiting a scenario last used in the 1990s, its a medieval holy war to liberate/defend the sacred sites of several major religions. Within each broad coalition of coreligionists are smaller teams that have their own goals and hidden agendas.

Key game elements:

  1. diplomacy and arguing about religious doctrine
  2. trading spice and sacred relics
  3. rare and relatively important battles, as big armies are fragile
  4. lots of sieges and raiding
  5. limited information about where the enemy armies are (so lots of opportunity for selling information and double crossing).

9. Revelations

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

A modern day apocalypse with the armies of Heaven and Hell fighting it out over what is left of humanity. Humans can pick a side or go it alone. Did I mention the zombie hordes? Yes, there will be zombie hordes. Learning from the 2011 Apocalypse America game, the economy will not collapse in turn one and leaders should be able to feed their armies for a while.

John_Martin_-_The_Great_Day_of_His_Wrath_-_Google_Art_ProjectKey game elements:

  1. as much gonzo pop culture kitsch as we can cram in
  2. resource scarcity, supplies are unreliable and will be fought over
  3. the map of Earth will be global, but the landscape will have been altered by various disasters and calamities
  4. the number of combat units will be kept at a manageable number (2-5 per player)
  5. to represent the scale of mundane, divine and infernal powers, a polyhedral dice pool “roll and keep best two” combat system will be used, e.g. if ordinary three human armies roll d6s and two Angels roll d12s you might roll a 3, 5, and a 6 for the humans and a 2 and 12 for the Angels, so you keep the rolls of 6 and 12 for a total of 18.

10. The Cold Stars

…the cold stars shone in mockery… – Mary Shelley

This is a bleak post-apocalyptic space opera. Humanity colonised the stars, but then something happened to sweep away most of human civilisation. The survivors hide in deep space or hidden outposts, because they know they are being hunted.

Alcyon_(star)Key game elements:

  1. isolation – this is a limited information game, with different teams being placed in different rooms
  2. exploration – if you make contact with other human survivors, you can start talking with them again, if they don’t kill you first
  3. hidden information, while the broad shape of the map will be clear, small boxes will be used to conceal information
  4. trade – everyone has a clue in the great puzzle, and everyone has something useful for survival, but every trade you make increases the chance that the hunters will find you
  5. the combat system is based on avoiding combat – whatever is hunting humanity has more advanced technology and outnumbers humanity a million to one.

Professionals talk about logistics

Christmas is coming, and with it Big Gaming Week. So its time to start putting together my Christmas games for playing with friends both old and new. Somewhat at random, while focused on studying roleplaying games, my brain clicked into place with a couple of problems I had been having with boardgame design. Namely, how to balance income and costs, with fleet strengths and map positions.

Wordpress examples

First a quick recap on an approach to combining a decline theme with players gaining control of parts of the Imperial bureaucracy.  For the last playtest I built a track on which Dreadnoughts could be purchased, with each purchase bumping the Dreadnoughts not chosen down the track (making them cheaper). This worked pretty well. In the example above, the first choice is made to buy the Dreadnought in the value 8 slot, the value 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 cards all slide down the track one space, and a new card spawns in slot 12.  Then someone buys the 10 slot Dreadnought, and the process repeats.  It puts the onus on the players of figuring out what different cards are worth. As long as a card is worth something, a player should pick it up. If a card did hit zero, that implies the players see it as worthless (and you should probably do something to make it more desirable).

I also linked purchases to decline, by making the value of the purchases trigger events every time 13 points of corruption occurred. This worked, but it tended to trigger off every second purchase, so the granuality of the 1-12 track was not actually having much effect on play.

As usually happens, I spent a fair bt of time thinking about how other games handle this problem. A Republic of Rome approach is just too complex. A Junta approach is too simple (and gives the portfolio allocater too much power IMO). So I scratched my head and tried to figure out a Goldilocks spot of interesting decisions but not too much paperwork.

First evolutionary step from there, was realising that I did not need to restrict the track to Dreadnoughts. I could put pretty much any game resource on the track that I wanted to: Atomic Power, Monuments, Imperial Ninja, it could all go onto the Corruption Track.

Second evolutionary step was decoupling events from the Corruption track, by instead creating a Crisis track.

Wordpress examples crisis

So the card shuffling and refresh is like the Corruption track, but its an increasing value over time. If a crisis goes off the top of the track, then bad things happen to the Galactic Empire. One of the considerations in the game is figuring out how players get the income they are spending on the corruption cards. In most of my playtests this income has come from control of territory on the game map. Which in multiplayer games always leads to players who fall behind in territory getting hit by the feedback loop (the poor stay poor, while the rich get richer).

So, I am going to try making the main source of income, the player choice to exploit a crisis in a specific sector on the galactic map. Exploit a value 7 crisis, and get $7, exploit a value 5 crisis and get $5. The crisis is also how you deploy combat units on to the game map. So territory becomes more a consideration of positioning for the next civil war, and not a matter of life or death for the flow of income. Because there will always be six crises on the crisis track, no player can ever permanently run out of credits. Because you can always exploit a future crisis, no player can ever be permanently pushed off the game map.

So now we get an interesting tension for player decision-making: do you spend your credit reserves on the tempting resources of the Corruption track, or do you go for more credits in the bank, plus some ships on the map.

Risk and Opportunity

Exploiting a crisis that threatens the pax galactica is mainly a player versus the environment (PVE) decision, although this may be influenced by anticipating future player versus player (PVP) conflict in the next civil war. My design goals here are:

  1. There should be some element of risk, that the player will fail to successfully resolve the crisis
  2. The crises should get harder as the game progresses
  3. There should be a reason to want to succeed beyond just getting some credits and ships on the board.

Working backwards:

  • The reason to succeed is to gain the “Strong Admiral” buff that lets you try and usurp the throne (gaining Victory Points).
  • Each crisis has a strength rating, which is adjusted by the stage of the game (easy in early game, hard in end-game)
  • Success/failure is determined by a dice roll.

Placing the logistic restraint into the combat die rolls

Its definitely more elegant if I can get the PVE and PVP cmbat systems in alignment. While I was thinking about this and different ways I could have dice rolled I had a bit of a brainwave. Logistics like fuel, ammunition and troop movement are a major constraint on real world operations. You can’t keep marching forward forever, soldiers need to sleep and machines break down. Keeping track of logistics in games, however, is deathly dull. I am not sure I can make bean counting decisions interesting for players, and counting stuff is time consuming.

One of the things you see in history, is that people often kept their armies in the field at a smaller level of troops than what their maximum potential field force was. This saved you money, and reduced the chance of your army starving mid-campaign.

A definite problem in space games, is that absent the terrain choke points of planets, the naval engagements reward concentration of force. This is what I think of as the “Supreme Annihilation Fleet problem”. The only viable operational deployment, is to concentrate your fleet in one space, and move it around destroying all weaker formations. This can lead to a strategic sitzkrieg of combat avoidance.

So I am thinking of trying this for combat:

  1. Roll 1d6 for each ship token, and 1d12 for each Dreadnought token
  2. Find all the matched dice. Eliminate all but one of the matched dice.
  3. Add the remaining dice together.
  4. The side with the highest score wins (attacker wins ties).
  5. Those matched dice not included in the scoring, are the ships you lose in battle.

For example, two forces, each with three ships fight a battle:

  1. Side A rolls 4, 4, and 2.
  2. Side B rolls 4, 4, and 1.
  3. Side A eliminates one 4 die, and scores 4+2 = 6.
  4. Side B eliminates one 4 die and scores 4+1 = 5.
  5. Side A wins, Side B retreats.
  6. Both sides lose one ship each.

With six ships, your maximum score in battle would be 21. Dreadnoughts with their big d12 extend the range of possible combat scores massively to 78. So bringing a bigger force to battle, definitely increases your chances of winning that battle. But beyond a certain force strength, there are diminishing returns and increasing risk of casualties. I will need to math out the probabilities and look to see if there are any weird breakpoints or outliers.

I would let other game resources, such as Technology cards, adjust the die rolls, scoring and casualties. As a small raider force could be quite potent, a rule allowing a defender to retreat instead of giving battle may be needed for balance.

Sun and Starship Playtest

Managed to get a playtest done for my boardgame design on Friday night. After a last minute cancellation due to health, we had three players, and completed the game in four and a half hours.

Some things worked very well, especially the Dreadnought construction mechanic and the way it interacted with the Decline & Fall of the Galactic Empire. Combat mostly worked, although there was an issue with “pure victory” not giving enough of a benefit to the winner. The game flow was about what I expected, early expansion, combat when the empty space for easy expansion ran out, a pause, then further fighting, a pause for a round of monument building, and then a quick descent into the abyss of the endgame.

Housewar Playtest 002

The Blame/Decadence mechanic did not work well. Partly due to an early Rotten to the Core event that removed Blame from Corruption in the Atomic Power collection phase, and partly due to there not being enough sources of Blame. So next playtest I will add more options for acquiring and manipulating blame.

The players mainly stayed with 10-15 Glory points of each other, which seems to justify a high glory score model, and they reached Glory scores of 50-60 by the time the End Game was triggered.

The players collected 197 Atomic Power during the game, and spent 53 Atomic Power on Dreadnoughts (roughly 27%). Only two of the 14 Dreadnoughts built in the game were destroyed prior to the endgame.

The Fall Track was at 12 after the second turn, 10 after the third turn, 6 after the fourth turn, and the endgame was triggered in the 5th turn.  So it declined at about the expected rate.  Atomic Power inflation did occur, and this makes the later turns slower, so I may think of reasons to have big power sinks to speed play a little. The playtest did show that becoming powerless was a bad move, running out of power before the other players made you quite vulnerable to raids on your territory.

Housewar Playtest 015

The endgame was a three way civil war, largely fought between a coalition of Blue and Yellow versus Orange (which included the Purple Imperial Battleships). Orange fought quite well, but really couldn’t outlast the determined attrition of two players. At the end Blue had two Dreadnoughts left and Yellow had three Pirates. In a four player game, it would have been much riskier for two players to go all out against the Last Emperor, as the fourth player could sit on the sidelines.

On the whole, the design feels very promising. I’ll be making some tweaks and trying to get another playtest done in the next few weeks.

Back to the drawing board


So the last version of Housewar was taking 4+ hours to play.  It was fun, but not as quick as I want (sub-two hours with 5 players), so back to the drawing board we go.

Some changes to the map. Part of the design is to have only 20 areas on the map (and then using a rough rule of thumb from Diplomacy of only having infrastructure tokens for 2/3 of the map areas (13 in this case, which is a flavourful number for a Decline & Fall game).  The other is to see what happens when I surround the central Glory point territory (Core Sector) by exactly ONE sector (the Heartland Sectors on the above map).  In past versions of the map there have been 4+ sectors adjacent to the Core, but it was always liable to end up being controlled by 1-2 players, excluding other players from scoring opportunities.  So I am thinking this version of the map might see players contesting the approaches a little more.

I also got to experiment with the function of the art package that lets me draw text along a curve easily. Once I do a test print to see if I have the dimensions right, I can tidy up this package.

Overall conceptual change is to just the player locus from being powers within the Empire, to being Pirates from outside the Empire. Over the course of the game the Pirates gain recognition (i.e. Glory) within the Empire, and at a certain point the player with the most Glory becomes the Last Strong Emperor. This triggers the endgame, where the Emperor must defeat all of the other players to win the game.

For the initial game flow, I am borrowing the power generation mechanics from Cthulhu Wars.  So the early game is about expanding as fast as possible to capture territory and build Bases to increase power income. All the power is used each turn on game actions.  The mid-game is triggered when people start building Dreadnoughts, expensive units with special powers.  Each Dreadnought is generated randomly, by drawing two random technology counters. Its a bit like the civilisation tiles in Vinci. So one counter might be “Move +1” and another counter is “Repair damage as a free action”.  Each counter will have a cost of 1-6 power, combining for a total Dreadnought cost of 2-12.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, all the existing combinations that were passed over get a cumulative one power discount to purchase.

I have found a pack of ~144 plastic spaceship models, in eight types and six colours, which sells for around $10 on Ebay/Amazon (plus shipping). So I will have lots of cool tokens to represent the Dreadnoughts.  They should hopefully turn up in a couple of weeks.


I also grabbed a couple of packs of old Silent Death fighters (upper picture below) and some space ship tokens from a Buck Rodgers boardgame (which will provide the “popcorn” Pirate and Battleship units).

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In past versions of the game, the Decline was usually based on random event cards, or capture of the Core sector.  This could be too random (too slow/fast) or too easy for the players to stop altogether.  This time around I am going to try linking Decline to Dreadnought construction, i.e. linking it directly to an action the players will all really want to do.  So the Decline marker starts on the zero box of the Decline and Fall track, while the Fall marker starts on the 13 box.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, move the Decline marker up the track by a number of boxes equal to the power spent on the Dreadnought.  If the Decline marker reaches or passes the Fall marker, reset the Decline marker to zero and shift the Fall marker down one space.  When the Fall marker hits zero the endgame is triggered and the player with the most Glory becomes Emperor.

The Empire defends its territory. Borrowing a mechanic from an old 1970s kids game with a WWII Pacific theme, Hit the Beach, each time a player eliminates Imperial units, they get to place those units in a sector of their choice that the Empire still controls. So as the Empire shrinks its gets a little tougher, but you also get to place units to try and slow down the growth of other players.

How to get Glory:

  • Decadence: spend power equal to the Decadence Track value and score Glory equal to the Decadence track value (the track value reduces by 1 each turn, and increases by 1 every time someone is decadent), I plan to start the track at a high value (i.e. costing more Power than the players have in turn 1) so the initial turn order is not advantageous to some players
  • Monuments: you must own a Dreadnought to do this action, score one Glory for each Base, Dreadnought, and Monument you own, build one Monument as part of the action. All players score one Glory for each Monument they own. Costs power equal to the number of times Monument actions have been done, so it can only happen 13-14 times per game.
  • Winning battles (possibly one point per battle and/or one point per Dreadnought destroyed)
  • Reigning in control of Core sector (one point per action)

For the Endgame, your Glory is converted into Power, and this is your only source of power for actions in the final turn of the game. So all players will want as much Glory as they can get.

Blame mechanics: last few versions of the game had Glory resetting to zero, what I want to do this time is to reset it to one point below the lowest player (which could be yourself).  Blame comes mainly from rolling Skulls in combat, or from being Corrupt to try and increase power income.

I have also splashed out and ordered some plastic game markers from LITKO Game Accessories


These ones will be good for representing Bases in the game (I already have some Parthenon style plastic markers for Monuments).  The ones below could be used to represent sectors devastated by combat involving Dreadnoughts (Nuclear hazard marker) or the Power income tokens (atomic power symbol).  These were not cheap, but they should make the game a bit more fun.

TS008_miva__30413_zoom TS060-FGR-250__97994_zoom


Housewar Design Update

One of my plans for the year was more regular playtesting of the Housewar boardgame.  Only managed one game so far, but that is still an improvement from last year.  I also suspect I have a pool of around 10 potential playtesters, so when I get back from the USA I plan to try and do another run through of the game before the end of August.


After a bit of thinking, I reckon I can cut a few sectors off the map, dropping the Spiral Arms down from 5 sectors to 3 sectors.  This leaves 25 sectors to burn.

Using my rough game design rule of leaving 1/3 of the territory empty, I reckon I only need 16-17 Fleets.  I might go with 17, as a prime number it means the Fleets never divide evenly.


I am going to use some custom dice: Glory, Power, and Decline.

Glory Dice

  • One Skull side
  • One Blank side
  • One side with a 1 number
  • One side with a 2 number
  • Two sides with Sun and Starship symbols

Power Dice

  • One Skull side
  • Two sides with a 1 number
  • One side with a 2 number
  • One side with a 3 number
  • One side with Sun and Starship symbols

Decline Dice

  • Two Skull sides
  • One blank side
  • One side with number 1
  • One side with number two
  • One side with Sun and Starship symbols

The Glory die is better at getting Glory, the power die is more powerful, and without a blank side, more reliable, while the Decline die is more likely to result in bad stuff (Skulls) for everyone in the game.  Choosing the right die to roll at the right time will be one of the decisions in the game.

Acceleration of Gameplay

The current design has two ticking clocks.  One is Imperial Confidence, which reduces over time and when it hits zero a civil war starts.  The other is Decline, which is reduced by civil wars and devastation (which is a side-effect of battles during the civil war).  Once decline drops, the ceiling for Confidence drops, making the period of peace between civil wars shorter. So I have been thinking about the levers that push these tracks along.  In my last two games, devastation went up a little too fast, and confidence/decline did not drop quickly enough.

So, inspired by Peruto Rico, I have rejigged the turn sequence into something a bit more dynamic and corrupting.  When a player gets to act, they choose one of the following options:

  • Decadence – all players try to gain Glory/Monuments
  • Elections – all players try to gain Votes
  • Influence – all players try to place Influence markers
  • Power – all players roll try to gain Power
  • Campaigns – active player attacks rebels with a controlled Fleet and may trigger a civil war
  • Corruption – active player takes power from the Corruption card
  • Hegemon – active player takes power from the Hegemon card, chooses who acts next, if another player wants to prevent this, they must place more power on the Hegemon card than was just removed from it
  • Senate – active player draws a Bill, proposes rewards and punishments, all players vote on Bill, then refresh power tokens.

At the start of the game, each of the option cards has one Power token placed on it.  When it is your turn to act, you choose an option from among the options that has power tokens on it.  The Senate option can only be chosen after an Elections option, but when the Senate option is finished, another power token is added to all the options.  This power accumulates, so sooner or later it will be worth it for a player to choose it, even if its not the best option in other considerations.

If a Senate Bill fails, any blame on the Bill is allocated by the active player to the Option cards, so any player choosing that option picks up the blame as well as the power.  Because the Emperor no longer controls the Senate, their chief “beanie” in peacetime is the power to reroll a dice once (refreshing after senate).

After each Civil War, the new Emperor chooses one option, and flips it from “Golden Age” to “Fallen Age”.  Fallen Age options gain +2 power after a Senate action, but immediately reduce Imperial Confidence by one when chosen.  In general, Fallen Age options are inflationary, increasing the rate at which game resources are gained.  It should also contribute to the feeling of “its all our fault why the Empire collapsed” at the end f the game.

The Campaigns card is a “short cut”.  The player activating this card can choose to immediately trigger a Civil War, by spending power equal to the current Imperial Confidence level.  This is likely to appeal to players with a lot of power, and an advantage in Fleet control.  It gets much cheaper to do, once this is a Fallen Age option!

All game resources (Votes, Power, Blame, Glory, Monuments) are capped at 13.

Five of the options involve all the players doing something, and most of the other options should be resolved quickly. So hopefully people won’t get bored!


Setup for Civil Wars can be made faster by having the Fleets deploy in fixed locations.  Fleets will have Golden Age/Fallen Age strength steps, with Golden Age Fleets rolling more Glory/Power dice, and Fallen Age Fleets rolling more Decline dice.

Civil Wars

All players start as contenders for the throne.  Using the option system, player elimination from being a contender is only checked when the Imperial Capital changes hands, or if a player has zero confidence at the end of their action.  Last contender standing wins the war, gains a Monument. Eliminated contenders become raiders and can start building up their power base for the next war…

Contender options are:

  • pass and collect one power
  • Confidence (increase yours, Emperor can reduce others)
  • Intrigue (reveal, remove and place Influence markers)
  • Attacks (move Fleets, fight battles)

All contender options, other than passing, cost power.

Raider options are:

  • pass and collect one power
  • Attack with Fleets
  • Raid (to gain power, but can also burn sectors, increase devastation)
  • Diplomacy (to gain votes)

At the end of the civil war, the Emperor still hands out blame equal to the current Decline value.

Feedback and ideas for Pax Victoria II

I will upload the PDF of the survey results to the website (probably tomorrow as I have been writing this all night) .  Bits of it will get mentioned in passing here.  I will start by going over the survey results and comments.  After that I will highlight some lessons from past Grand Strategy games.  Finally I will outline changes I intend to make to the game for Pax Victoria II at Kapcon 2014.

Most people thought Pax Victoria was okay, with a 3.58 rating our of 5.  Only one person said it was terrible.  Still a lot of room for improvement as only three people said it was great.

Advertising and Communication

In terms of advertising, most of the players heard about Pax Victoria through the SAGA website, and SAGA club meetings.  This is not something I have much influence over, so I appreciate the club officers promoting my game.  Most players signed up to the email list, but there were teething troubles, and only 60 per cent of the players found it helpful.  Again, some room for improvement in how that tool is used to support the game, such as better permission settings for files and archives.  My website was also useful for many people, so I intend to be more proactive about using it in the future.

Some people had issues with Yahoogroups.  I would appreciate suggestions for other electronic email options.

I had about four people proof early copies of the rules for me, but only had feedback from one or two people.  I need to get more advance playtesting done to improve the rules, rather than relying on written feedback.

Strategic Options

Nearly everyone read their team briefings, and three-quarters were able to communicate with team mates about strategic options.  Readership of the rules and guide were also high, so inasmuch as the design was in good shape, players could get a good understanding of the rules. In play, some of the rule sections were insufficient.    However, not everyone had time in the week before Buckets to make strategic choices, and it would have been better to have a proxy/delegation system for busy players to hand their choices over to their team mates.

Most players found the strategic choices interesting, and 70 per cent enjoyed making them.  My main comment when the choices were made was that Guards units were under-represented, and that perhaps I should have called them Marine units, as they were the best amphibious attack units in the game.  In play, Factories producing shells turned out to be useless, as there was an oversupply of shells from trade.  In the survey, two-thirds of players said Factories were underpowered, and half thought shipyards were underpowered (in part  because the low number of turns completed reduced the number of extra ships built).    The three options most considered overpowered were shipyards, artillery, and leader HQ value.  So shipyards may have been a very relative option, based on your geography.

Nearly everyone who was able to take part in pregame choices enjoyed them, so I definitely intend to keep them for future games.  I have done stuff like this before, but only a few players got to participate, and I think its better to involve as many people as possible.

Aggression Rating

This was one of the big experiments of the game.  A slight majority found this a balanced, interesting decision.  Opinion was evenly split between some influence/a lot of influence on the game.  I am uncertain about whether to retain a mechanic like this, which penalises player choices.  The comment made by Hamish that I should incentivise the actions I want to see in the game, rings true.  The mechanic started from trying to balance troop reserves, versus troops on the map, with the idea being that a too aggressive player would eventually run out of reserves and have to stop attacking.

Where the mechanic really failed, was in that there were insufficient VP to be gained from land campaigns, and reserve units were irrelevant to naval campaigns.  I have some ideas for secret objectives, Hamish suggested I give people 1 VP for each attack they make … which will certainly encourage an offensive doctrine!  What do other people think of the idea?

Game Map and Tokens

The map was considered pretty good, so all the money spent on the laser printer and toner (about two grand) was worth it.  Game tokens worked well (they only cost $200), and I enjoyed not having to cut out a thousand cardboard counters!  The tokens will make an appearance in future games.  The naval dice worked okay, but the land dice were confusing, six different letters was just harder to sort out mentally.

Shells did not work too well, too damn fiddly, and we did not clearly explain or mark the different shell values.  Leader and support units also added to the clutter, and for port units, there was just too much stuff piling up in and around the port (which may be realistic, but did not help the game).

I was a bit stunned that pretty much everyone said multiple map tables was a bad idea.  While there is some friction in inter-map communication, having two tables reduces crowding around the table, which will be a problem if I have a game with less teams, with each team having more players.  There are practical limits to how big the map can be made (one axis of the map cannot be greater than two arm lengths, otherwise the middle of the map cannot be reached by GMs and players).  Size also increases the cost (colour toner is not cheap, and commercial printing now costs around $200 a time for a Grand Strategy game set, which is why I’m trying to do it at home for better quality control because sometimes I get a crap job at the commercial printers).

There were too many sea areas, and not enough Fleet units.  I will see if I can order more tokens, although if I reduce the number of sea zones and teams, I should have enough Battleship tokens for one fleet per sea zone.


People felt they best understood the naval rules, with land combat and movement rules being the least understood.  Its clear with the benefit of hindsight, that the land rules were too complex, which combined with too much clutter on the land map (six different unit types, shells, leaders, trying to count hex ranges, etc), made the game much harder to play, and the turns much longer to play.  A side effect of complicated rules, is that it becomes too risky to allow players with a weak understanding of them near the dice, forcing teams to rely on the player with the best rules knowledge to do everything. Which is not what I want in a team game.

The push back, advance/retreat rules were insufficient.  This was bad design on my part.

Some players commented on the GMs grasp of rules being not good enough.  This is what playtesters of my Housewar game refer to as the “Dillon-in-a-box” problem.  As much as I try to write good rules, its very hard to get alignment of understanding between all the GMs, which is why I try and “float” rather than run a specific part of the game.  I try and spend time in the first turns watching the GMs and hoping it all works out with no major problems.


Seemed to work okay. Its definitely useful having options for people to do when away from the map table.  Most people were only busy about half of the time, so there is scope for expanding off-map actions.  Most people found it took a bit of effort to collect cards.  I did not collect data on the size of card sets handed in, so I would appreciate feedback on whether or not people were trying for five of any kind, five of one kind, and any other tactics used to boost trade returns.

There was some clear feedback, that players wanted more control over unit builds in the game, rather than being straitjacketed by the pre-game strategic options.

The Big Push Mechanic – Table Time

This was another experiment/innovation.  Early on, bids were low , then increasing (6, 10, 12, 31 were the winning bids in turns 1-4).  It was successful as an economic sink for shells, but as shells were almost useless, it was not an interesting decision to be making.  With only four turns played, only two teams had extra actions.  I suspect this was just too powerful in an eight team game, but may work better in a five team game.

Player preferences for accessing the map were:

  1. One random action per team per turn (40 per cent)
  2. Determine team actions through other mechanics (30 per cent)
  3. One fixed order action per team per turn (20 per cent)
  4. Purchase all  time at table (10 per cent).

Two-thirds of players were happy with two minutes per turn, with feedback that the two minutes should be strictly enforced, but a quarter of players wanted a minimum time guarantee, with an option to purchase more time.  One player suggested longer turns at the start, explicitly for learning the game, with shorter turns later on.

“There’s a really cruel tension here between being a hardass with the time (which is required if you want to get through the number of turns you need to get through) and helping confused newbies.”

Team Size

Most people liked being in small teams of 2-3 players.  If I reduce the number of teams, however, then either I have to cap the total number of players at a level lower than you get at Buckets, or just have teams with 4-5 players.  People also indicated a preference for having more than five teams, and as the number of teams is one of the most important factors in determining the time each game turn takes, this runs against the wish expressed for more turns to be completed.  While 60 per cent of players preferred resolving actions with their team present, 40 per cent did not, and I suspect if had teams of 8+ people, that team mates would increasingly get in the way of each other.  Its a hard thing to balance.

At a minimum, I should try for a team marker on name tags for future games, so players can identify teams more easily.

Other Player Suggestions

Simultaneous resolution of map actions – this is possible, but only if the rules are no more complex than for the DIPLOMACY boardgame. Otherwise the GMs vanish for half an hour and nothing appears to happen with the game.

Trading turn/initiative cards with other teams – this could be fun, I’ll keep it in mind.

Solo player roles outside the team win/lose framework – quite possible, having journalists whose job it is to produce in-game newsletters has been done before, and I have also had foreign diplomats or mercenaries in games in the past.  One thing to note, however, is that it is common for solo players to be more or less permanently recruited to aid a team, and if a team is aggressive at this recruitment it can gain a considerable advantage.

Project the table into another room – possible, but its another bit of tech to be purchased or borrowed, and more set up time (and the game does take hours to set up for one person). Ideally someone would volunteer to set this up for me…

Announce last turn loud and clear – yes, this could have been done better.

More diplomacy during the game – yes, I have some ideas for this.

More VP rewards for countries – yes, definitely needed more VP on the main land continent.

More off map activities – yes, definite scope for adding some more trade, espionage and diplomacy options.  We are limited, in that all off map stuff needs to be transparent and easily mapped to the hard state of the main game map (otherwise we get close to creating an extra quasi-map table with all its associated friction for keeping the two sets of information in alignment).

Low risk actions for newbies – this is tricky, if its low risk then its also likely to be low-value.  If there is actually more to do at the map tables, then this may reduce the problem as even the newbies need to be doing something in the time allowed.

Brief Overview of Past Grand Strategy Games

First, my record keeping is not the greatest.  I started doing these style of games around 20 years ago, as an evolution from the Freeform/LARP games I had run at games conventions.  So what these comments are, is highlights that have stuck in my memory, cool stuff players did, and spectacular mistakes on my part.

A Medieval Civil War

For this game, almost everyone started as a solo player, and we went through an extended diplomacy phase before the map wargame began. I was surprised that out of 30 odd players we ended up with two teams of 14-15 players, and one solo Necromancer who ran around plague bombing cities.  My lesson, if players can choose teams, they will invariably choose to be on the largest possible team, in order to maximise their chances of survival. Also memorable for Stephen Hoare, noticing the “here be dragons” icon on the map, asking me if there were Dragons.  I did a “can neither confirm nor deny” speil, and Stephen ran around telling everyone he had control of the Dragons.  Players asked me to confirm this, and I repeated the “can neither confirm nor deny” line, so Stephen ended up with some massive bribes.

Peace Treaties

This was a post-great war “treaty of Versaille” style game.  So one subset of players was playing out the Russian civil war, while everyone else was playing a pure diplomacy game.  My big mistake was having a traitor on a team, but only on one team.  In hindsight, high level politicians are unlikely to betray their own country from malice, and the traitor screwed their team beyond recovery.  Design lesson: no traitors, or everyone has traitors.  I don’t think the mix of war and peace worked well, as the two games played out independently of each other.

Empire, Houses, Rebels, and Horde

The map was a bit awkward, in that it was a mixture of fixed nodes connected by lines, and zones that some teams could move through easily, and other teams not at all. The Emperor wanted to remain Emperor, the Houses wanted to be Emperor, and the Rebels wanted to overthrow the Empire, while the alien horde (played by Zane Bruce) wanted to eat everyone.  It worked okay, but it was noticeable that the solo player for the alien horde was much more effective with map actions, as he did not have to consult with anyone.  For that reason I have been wary of giving solo players significant military assets in future games.

Decline & Fall of the Solar Empire

One of my best games, but it ran very late.  It was a mixture of strategic map movement, and tactical combat on mini-maps using a detailed system that required players to design and build warships.  The combat system consisted of probing shots to eliminate decoys, and then hammering the big guns when you found a real target.  Four teams of rebels competed to overthrow the Evil Empire (run by GM NPCs following a script).  In the concluding battle, one sharp eyed player spotted that the hidden counter for the Emperor’s Flagship was 2mm smaller than the other ships, and probed it.  A GM turned to me (the evil Emperor) and said I should retreat, so I wheeled out the “Evacuate in our moment of triumph? I think you oveerstimate their chances!” line from Star Wars, got destroyed, and then forced the GMs to fight a civil war while the few rebel survivors watched…

Decline & Fall of the Galactic Empire

A fairly forgettable game.  It was pretty bland.  I have tried to avoid symmetrical maps since then.  I remember being very annoyed with a player who deliberately trashed the map at the end of the game, preventing useful post-game discussion.

Matrix Games – Dragon Empire

A narrative mechanic system, where players wrote arguments for what happened next.  Theme was succession dispute in a Chinese Empire.  There were riots. GM resolution was a choke point, and because arguments did not succeed (especially if opposed by other players) it was possible to go for a long time with no effect on the game.  It is a good way to generate random events though, so I may use it in the future again.  See for more about Matrix Games.

Flower Power

One of my best games, fondly remembered for the epic last minute thwarting of the Begonian menace.  I had a lot of teams, and a lot of solo player roles, and a few LARP elements involving the RANT drug.  For whatever reason, the chemistry of the game just worked, and there was a strong narrative conclusion that was very satisfying.

Fortress America

A bit of a disaster.  Too many units, too many different types of dice, too complex a rule system. I never want to have a game involving nukes again, because players in a game do not behave like political leaders in real life.  Because people did not understand the rules (my fault, poor design) the invasion forces never got off the beaches, so we never felt like the game was reaching a climax.  Oddly enough, players most enjoyed the bombing raids, because you used an abstract force against a  specific target in an easily identifiable way.

Survivor: Dark Lord

An experiment, with everyone starting on the Dark Lord’s team, and through assassination and execution, becoming rebels.  Player feedback was strong on not liking being assassinated and having to start over, fun, but not a game for investing much in your strategy.  Simeon Lodge’s dark lord costume was epic.  The auction/exploration system for relics was flawed, too easy for player collusion or too rewarding for standing in line for a minute. Combat was based on DUNE and very unforgiving.

Colossus of Atlantis

I tried for a more of research based game, with cooperation and conflict mechanics.  The map was a bit too bland.  Where the game fell down badly was the political system, based on Athenian democracy the players broke it in the first turn.  By changing the rule of the speaker being determined by lot, to elected, the speaker became speaker for life, because whenever a vote was held on the office, people filibustered the vote until the clock ran out.  Realistic, but very frustrating in an actual game.  Lesson learned: don’t let players change the meta rule structure easily, and flagpost the consequences of doing so more strongly.  This may have been the first multi-map table game.

Voting is useful, in games focusing on competition within a state.  Voting systems between sovereign states tend to be consensus based (i.e. everyone has a veto) which tends to create stalemates (which are not fun).

American Apocalypse

Not my worst game, but there was a lot of inter-map table friction, and meta-gaming of the map queues to prevent other players having a fair go.  The economic system collapsed quickly, and everyone was starving to death. It may have been too easy to trade territory, and the end of the game felt a bit flat.  Units were an evolution of the Atlantis game, with each unit having four strength attributes, but as the economic system fell over, so did the combat system, and it became too easy for some players to win cheap victories.

Sun and Starship

I tried to model this game on the Byzantine strategic situation of being a central power playing off external rivals.  I was undone by Gerald’s pirate alliance, and the lack of capital defences to keep the pirates out. So we quickly had pirate emperors.  Learning from Atlantis, the political side was improved, and the Imperial Council was a fun alternative to map/trade actions.  Not enough trade cards, and too many on map counters was the feedback.

Thoughts for Pax Victoria II

Victory Conditions

  • Trade Victory: ship trade goods off-world for VP (an economic sink)
  • Diplomatic Victory: all any four teams to jointly agree to enforce peace, they end the game and allocate 100 VP between them all five teams, minimum one VP per team.
  • Aggression Victory: each player allocates secret VP objectives for their nation (City, Mine, Sea Zone, Railway connecting two cities) with a 1 VP, 3 VP, 6 VP, and 10 VP objective being chosen by each player.  All objectives must be controlled by other nations at the start of the game (except rail, which can be partially in your country).  Objective VP are cumulative (i.e. if a city is worth 3 VP for one team and 6 VP for another team, its worth a total of 9 VP).

Another way of doing the Diplomatic Victory is to have a list of five or six “political issues” (such as native rights, taxation, etc) and for each state to get different VP (which are secret) based on what outcome is agreed at the conference table.  This allows a bit of roleplaying in the game too.


  • Combine Oxbridge-Mercia, Rent-Tyneshire, and Rutland-Redwall into joint teams (reducing the number of teams from eight to five)
  • Allow players to nominate themselves to be a formal team leader

Time and Motion

Option (a) 25 minute turns, if push actions take two minutes, GM phase three minutes, then seven teams get two and a half minutes each.  If only five teams, then four minutes each.

Option (b) 25 minute turns, push action takes two minutes, GM phase three minutes, but the other teams get an amount of time determined by other game mechanics. For five teams:

  • one team gets two minutes
  • one team gets three minutes
  • one team gets four minutes
  • one team gets five minutes
  • one team gets six minutes.


  • Build a one page summary that focuses on turn process (where to be, what to do)
  • Main rules (how to do)
  • Guide Book (why to do)

I am investigating options for videoing a short “how to play the game” clip for YouTube.

Game Map

  • Reduce the number of sea zones.
  • Align sea zones to initial national border boundaries.
  • Add rail lines between all adjacent nations.
  • Start with all mines under player control.

Turn Resolution

Door GM displays the turn initiative order on a wall mounted display board.

  1. Door GM announces start of your team’s turn.
  2. Your team enters the room.
  3. GMs in the map room instruct the previous team that their turn has ended and they must step away from the table now.
  4. Perception Phase – team members may look at map and talk, but not touch tokens. Team leader chooses when Execution phase starts.
  5. Execution Phase – team members can touch tokens and talk with GMs, but not with other players.
  6. Door GM announces start of the next team’s turn.
  7. Collect Build Order sheet on the way out, with economic summary filled out by a GM.

While the last team is filling out its build orders for the next turn, the Big Push action is resolved. One team gets a Naval push, and one  team gets a Land push.  Only one person is sent into the room for the push action from each team.

What I hope here, is that the social dynamic of the next team being in the room, will essentially embarrass the team at the table into moving away as fast as possible.  GMs are soft-hearted creatures and hate telling people to stop having fun at the table…

Leader Units

Removed from game to reduce clutter and allow players free choice as to where they want to act.


Removed from game. Players can ignore supply if it looks like they can connect to a friendly city (no hex counting or bean counting required).

Artillery and Cavalry Units

Removed from the map table, these become an abstract resource any General can call on.  Each time they are used, the total resource available is reduced by one (or, the resource is reduced if you roll a -1 result on the dice).

Guards Units

Rename Marines. Specific role is amphibious operations.

Fortress Units

Remove supply/movement role.  Only remaining role is a bonus die for defence/impede advances post-combat.

Ground Movement

Three hexes plus unlimited rail movement. I don’t expect much movement with the unit changes and reserve unit rules, but players may want to withdraw to rough terrain.

Ground Combat

Cap at six dice (down from nine).  Artillery bonus dice cannot exceed dice from regular units. Cavalry do not contribute dice, only bonus hex capture if you win.

Change die facings to -1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2.  The number is the number of hits generated in battle.  All -1 results hurt the attacker.  As well as numbers, I can make the printed labels different colours (black for -1, red for 2) for faster identification.

Reserve Units

There is only ever one front line.  There is no game benefit from having a double line of units.  All invasions must overcome an assumed coastal defence force (port cities are harder than beaches).  After combats/invasions, GMs automatically fill out the gaps in the front line with fresh units (unless no units are available).  So apart from the front line, and fortress units, there should be almost no other clutter on the game map to worry about.  Dead units are not available for reserve unit use.

Naval Combat

Change die facings to -1, 0, 1, 1, 1, 2.  The number is the number of hits generated in battle.  All -1 results hurt the side rolling the dice (different from land combat).

A Mership is removed by one hit.  A Submarine is removed by two hits. A Battleship is removed by three hits.


Have cards that can be traded for economic, espionage, and/or research benefits.  Economic benefit – increase unit builds and trade cards in future turns.  Espionage benefit – increased time at the game table, bid for Push actions, trying to uncover secret VP objectives, and pay for spies in the map room during other teams action turns.  Research benefit – unlock and build airpower options.  With a smaller number of teams, trade options may be more restricted, and the overall number of cards may be lower.

What I am considering is a move away from absolute trade numbers, to relative trade numbers.  In a relative system, the value of your set hand in is compared to what the other teams cashed in that turn, and based on that rank you get a fixed return.  This allows the economic growth/build to be more predictable, and also gives players something else to worry about (sure, you have an awesome trade set, but is now the right time to cash it in?).  I am open to suggestions for ways of making trade more interesting, but not too overpowered.

Trade is risk free … I would like there to be some opportunity for treachery or disasters, but its very difficult to enforce without GM presence and attention, otherwise players can just agree to hide the bad cards and pretend they never existed.  Any clever suggestions for how I could make nasty stuff happen with trade?

Strategic Options

Options do two things. First, they increase the number of units you have at the start of the game. Second, they reduce the cost of building that type of unit during the game.

So a standard build cost for, Battleships for example, might be 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, where the first build costs one point, and building three units costs (1+2+3) six points.  With a few strategic option points pre-game the build chart (pre-printed for GM/player convenience) might look more like 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, so building three units only costs (1+1+2) four points.


I do not want players to research an “I win” button.  Air power is a logical are for research to focus on for a WWI/Great War themed game.  Air power starts at zero for all nations.  Because of the low manpower and resource cost, it can be quickly developed into a formidable war machine.  But due to the rapid evolution of air technology, if not maintained, it will quickly decay away into obsolesce.

Most airpower research = +5 airpower units (for a five team game)

Least airpower research = +1 airpower units (or zero if zero research)

Airpower template card, place in the ocean alongside the front border between two hostile nations, allocate air power counters as you see fit. Counters can move to any other card template.  Counters cannot move after combat.

Counters have four missions (missions must be unlocked by research, with scouting coming first, then superiority, and finally tactical/strategic airpower roles)

  • Superiority (destroying enemy airpower)
  • Scouting (getting espionage cards)
  • Strategic (strategic bombing of cities)
  • Tactical (tactical ground support of combat operations)

Strategic bombing range is equal to one hex per game turn (so unlikely early on, quite easy after a few turns) or a product of further research.

Air Process for active team:

  1.  Move air counters between different fronts and missions. One mision per counter per turn.
  2. Choose to engage in superiority battle, or not
  3. Choose to scout, or not
  4. Choose to bomb, or not.

Superiority Missions

  • Only units on Superiority missions can ever destroy other air counters
  • Calculate dice as per naval battles
  • Roll for both sides
  • A -1 reduces your airpower counters by one, other hits reduce enemy airpower, players who are defending do not suffer strength loss from -1 rolls, as their aircraft can be salvaged and repaired
  • After battle, stronger side is superior, otherwise neither is superior

NB: Superiority is the decisive air combat mission that enables success at all other air missions.

Scouting Missions

  • As above, but hits generate Espionage cards
  • If enemy is superior, they attack you before you roll dice, if you are superior, they attack you after you roll dice, units destroyed before you roll dice do not roll dice.

Strategic Mission

  • As per Scouting Mission
  • Economic attacks, damage does not accumulate, first “1” hit is -1 Trade card, first “2” hit is -2 Trade cards, additional hits inflict VP damage, which can accumulate

Tactical Mission

  • As per Scouting Mission
  • If not destroyed by enemy, add one die to a ground combat operation (this will require coordination with other players).


Okay, this post clocks in at over 5,000 words, a new record for this blog!

Pax Victoria at Buckets of Dice 2013

Some things worked well, other things did not. Afterwards I remarked that I really needed a co-GM whose sole task was to keep whispering in my ear “Too complex, make it simpler”.` That we only completed four full turns in four hours means I failed to design the time structures of the game – I had wanted to complete eight game turns.  This was largely due to the large number of teams (eight), and the land mechanics being too complex.  The map also ended up being a bit cluttered.


Some things did work well.  The map itself was pretty to look at, although we had some stability issues on the tiny tables.  Marking hex terrain with a thick coloured border around the hex also worked very well.  Next time I should try and get hold of a decent wargaming table to mount the map on. The physical appearance of the game counters was also good.  I spent a few hundred dollars on dice, leader stands, and wooden/plastic tokens from The Game Crafter  and from I also used sticky labels printed out on my laserprinter for the counters, rather than spray adhesive. Overall it was a better looking game, and an easier to assemble game than most of the games I have done in the past. Lots of reuseability in the components, so people will see them again.

I also think the pre-game strategic options and diplomacy worked well.  It also meant I had to have the game 99% finished a week before the Con, rather than the night before the con.  It also motivated me to actually throw some content on my website.  This had room for improvement, as I failed to take into account that some people would be too busy in the week beforehand.  Ideally people should be able to delegate or select proxies.  It was a real buzz for me to walk into the Con at 0900 and find people already plotting for the Grand Strategy game that night.

The picture above shows the state of the game at the end of the night. A few cities and sea zones had changed hands, but because the Orange-Black, White-Green wars had been largely one on one affrays, no truly decisive land action had taken place.  The neutral islands had been occupied, so if the game had lasted longer, the sideline players would have started intervening.  Naval combat did not start until turns 3-4.  What this tells me is that I had too many sea areas for the number of naval forces in the game, and that everyone was more interested in dividing up and grabbing colonies rather than fighting each other.  So one simple fix there is to start teams with island colonies, and to reduce the number of sea areas down a bit.

Naval movement and combat worked well.  Land movement and combat did not. As well as some rules complexity, people found it to hard to see what was happening on the front lines. The leader stands hindered as much as they helped, as people found it hard to calculate hex radius distances, and the support units cluttered up the map.  The off-map reserves really needed better mechanics for voluntary deployment and removal, as it encouraged players to do counter-intuitive meta-game tactics, like deliberately leaving gaps in their line and trusting their neighbour not to exploit.

Amphibious movement and invasions were too complex and time consuming given the brief number of game turns completed. Almost no one chose Guards units as a strategic option, which makes me think that I should have called the units Marines, as they were actually the best units to do an amphibious attack with.

Trade mostly took place away from the map room, I have no idea how well that worked, but at least we didn’t run out of cards this year.

I did get feedback on the night that players wanted to build units.  I am thinking about this.  I tried keeping the game simple by having the builds effectively take place before the game began, but several teams wanted the option of building up their navy mid-game and it just wasn’t possible in the Rules As Written.  This is something I will work on for the next version.

With eight teams, teams were averaging around five to six minutes for a game turn, not the two minutes I had hoped for.  If I had built a second map just for naval actions, then I could have split the moves up a bit and had less overall downtime for the teams.  The bonus action (“The Big Push”) was ignored by some teams early on, then towards the end everyone bet big on it, which told me both that the economy was generating too many resources and everyone had figured out how important a second full action was.  The “shells” on the game map proved too fiddly to keep track of, so I would dump them from the game.

A lot of teams, when they got to the map, tended to give orders by telling each other what to do, not by telling a Gm what they were going to do. It makes me think that going back to the old, old system of the team leader having a free minute at the start of a team’s turn to look at the map and give orders, followed by a set time of the team’s minions moving pieces and not talking except to tell a GM they are attacking, might be a better system for getting things done quickly.

I liked the game enough, that I will run it again at Kapcon 2014. So people in Wellington or further afield, now is your chance to volunteer to help out.  For my 2014 Buckets game, I am pondering about running To Reign in Hell, a game where the players represent legions of Demons trying to take over Hell.  I’m sure I can adapt Dante’s classic map somehow.  I’ll have another blog post on Pax Vicky in a couple of weeks when the survey I am running concludes.

I also ran a simple Dragon Age tabletop game, where the players were Djinn working for the Ottoman Empire in an alternate history 1960s.  A successful investigation of a dodgy hospital exploiting a leper colony in Jerusalem ended with icky alien bug like things being squished.  The stunt system worked well at making the characters look baddass, so Dragon Age may become my convention system of choice.

I enjoyed the Dresden Files LARP on Sunday night of Kapcon. It helped that I was paired up with an extrovert who was my long lost brother, and we had fun roleplaying crazy Russians on Circe’s Island. Which sank. But I freed my brother from being a vampire’s thrall, earned brownie points wit the Catholic Church for retrieving one of the holy swords of the cross for them, did not get hunted down the Warden, did facilitate the defection of a White Council member to the Red Court, and got a free ride to Paris from the Queen of Summer. Not bad for a poor boy from the Ukraine who can talk to the (mostly) dead.

Pax Vicky: Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

Successful game design requires iteration.  Iteration requires you to recognise that your brilliant  idea is not going to work, and then coming up with a new brilliant idea. Which probably won’t work either, but at least it feels like progress!

Pax Victoria is going through an iteration process, as I turn several interlocking sets of mechanics over in my mind.  They key mechanics I need to cover are:

(1) Pre-game grand strategy formulation and its flow through impact onto all choices made in game

(2) An attrition based land combat system (i.e. its a meat grinder system if both sides are evenly matched)

(3) A maneuver based naval combat system (i.e. one which often results in no battle at all, or a decisive victory/defeat)

(4) “Twitter Diplomacy” – all written agreements must be done in 140 characters or less

(5) An economics/logistics system to allow units to be built/replaced and to track economic fatigue and eventual economic collapse.

I’m well into my third  iteration for all except the diplomacy rules.  For the second iteration I made my usual mistake of creating a dice game, and after a couple of happy days of meshing all the synergies together, I remembered what a PITA it is for GMs to spend time sorting dice and figuring out if a roll was good/bad hit/miss critical/boring and then implementing it in game.  So I took the numbers and underlying math and turned them into a card game of sorts.

For a World War One style game I am influenced by various history books and Great War boardgames that I have played, especially Ted Racier’s Paths of Glory.  So there a few key features I want to represent:

  1. Railway networks and supply lines are important. Industrial armies cannot survive by living off the land. If their supply line is cut they collapse quickly.
  2. Cavalry units are largely ineffective, unless a gap is created for them, or their opponents are weak.
  3. Artillery is the Queen of the battlefield – it was responsible for far more lives lost than the machinegun
  4. Fortresses are situationally powerful. Build them in the right place and they work like magic, build them in the wrong place and watch the enemy ignore them.
  5. Mobilisation of reserve forces is important.
  6. Enveloping units on multiple flanks, or pressing on all sides of a salient, is a tactically strong move.
  7. In a battle of resources, it makes strategic sense for an economically powerful country to focus on attrition, while a militarily powerful nation will be striving for the “Short, victorious war” beloved of politicians down through the ages.

So I have roughly six types of units with the following qualities:

  • a movement rate of zero to two hexes
  • a strength rating of zero to six
  • a range rating of zero to two hexes
  • a stamina rating of zero to two.


A Guards unit is an elite infantry unit. These will be limited in number.

Full Strength (5) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (2) Stamina (2)

Guards units are tough, the only unit at reduced strength with a strength greater than one, and the only unit with a stamina of two for a glorious last stand around the regimental colours.


Artillery is a support unit. Like Guards, Artillery will be in short supply.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (0)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: Because there will only be one unit in most hexes, artillery contribute their strength to any battle within two hexes of the hex they occupy.

Special Weakness: Artillery are the strongest land unit in the game, but at full strength they have a stamina of zero, so if involved in combat they must automatically flip to half strength.  This will make it hard to sustain attacks, as sooner or later you will need to resupply your artillery units back to full strength to keep attacking.


The standard army unit, no special abilities or features, other than being the most common unit on the map.  All nations will have a similar number of Regular units.

Full Strength (4) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)


Reserve units do not start the game on the map. They must be built during the game.  Nations will have very different reserve force pools, based on their grand strategy.  Effectively a weaker version of the Regular unit, but cheaper to build, and in quantity they have their own quality.

Full Strength (3) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)


The last of the limited number elite units, Cavalry are good for rapid advances against light opposition or exploiting gaps in weak defensive lines.  Attacking solid defences, not so good.

Full Strength (2) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: If a gap is created in the enemy lines to the green fields beyond, cavalry units can move to the gap, and then onwards one hex into vacant enemy territory.


A Headquarters (HQ) is a supply source. If attacked in combat it collapses as Generals flee for safety. It counts as a Rail hex, so if you form a continuous chain of HQs you can carry supplies deep into the wilderness, or use the HQ line to bring reinforcements into the campaign.

Strength (0) Stamina (0)


A strong defensive unit that is immobile. Good for defending cities, railway junctions, or key border crossings.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (+1)

Half Strength (3) Stamina (+1)

Special Abilities: (1) Acts like an artillery unit for support, but does not flip. (2) Can have a garrison unit stacked with it (3) Increase the Stamina of any garrison unit by +1 (4) Acts as source of supply for its Hex (5) Counts as a rail hex.

So those are the units.  Apart from Forts, I am keen to avoid any kind of stacking on the map, single counters are far faster to count and so will help players make good informed decisions in less time.

As for the crunchy bit of combat, after playing around with die rolls and realising that would be too hard I thought about a system where you pulled one card from a deck per stamina point the defending unit has.  Today I had the brainwave that it would be faster to pre-print cards with multiple entries for Stamina-1, Stamina-2, Stamina-3 etc.  Each Stamina line has a number, which is the total strength the combined attacking units require to defeat the defender and force a retreat.  Each line will be 1-10 strength, average of 6, accumulating over the lines.  So if attacking a Regular unit (Stamina 1), if you draw a card and get six on the Stamina-1 line, then if you are attacking with only a Guards unit (Strength 5) you fail, but if attacking with two Reserve Units (Strength 3 x 2 =6) you succeed.

Units would get a +1 stamina bonus for defending beaches, cities, mountains or rivers.

The defending unit is always reduced in strength by the attack, unless the card has a symbol indicating that the defender does not flip (I’m thinking of having this on about 10% of the cards).

The attacker flips a number of units equal to the defender’s stamina, plus all supporting artillery.  I may have symbols on a few cards (10-30% of the deck perhaps) indicating that elite units have their effective strength increased, perhaps even doubled, for that battle.  So while overall outcomes are predictable, there is enough variation to keep it interesting.

So how do you win a land war in the Southeast Colonies?

1. Attack reduced strength or stamina 0 units, with full strength units.   A destroyed unit costs more to build than a half strength unit costs to reinforce.

2. Envelop or surround a unit so you can attack with 3+ units, increasing your strength to guarantee a forced retreat. If you keep taking a hex a turn, after a few turns you will be in their capital city.

3. Use overwhelming force, Guard units supported by artillery can smash through on a narrow one hex front if the defender does not have stamina boosting terrain, Strength 5 + Strength 6 = Strength 11 total versus a maximum of Strength 10 on the One Stamina line of a Battle card.

4. Bloody Attrition, from a position of economic strength attack with expendable units so that you create a situation where (1) is possible.

5. Counterattack, wait for them to attack you when you are in stamina boosting terrain, then counterattack while they are weak.

Both 1 and 5 are going to depend a on when teams draw their logistic chits (the number of which you have are determined by pre-game grand strategy choices). Its going to be nerve wracking to see if the reinforcements arrive in time for the big push, or whether you signal to home that its been delayed by mud.

Next Steps

I need to ponder the naval combat design for a while longer, but I can probably do a post soon on how I see the pre-game Grand Strategy choices working.  I also need to do some thinking on the economics.  I found some economic analysis of GDP figures in World War One recently, and while the USA and UK had GDP growth during the war, all the other great powers lost a large chunk of GDP, despite massive increases in the government share of GDP.  So while a wartime economy works, more or less, it does not create an infinite supply train of resources, so I suspect peak wartime strength might only be around 20% above fully mobilised pre-war strength.

Gaming recap

Just some short bullet points today, although I hope to finish a longer write up on the Cataclysm expansion for World of Warcraft and what I thought of it all now that Mists of Pandaria is ready to launch.

Guild Wars 2: levelled a Guardian to level 20, world is pretty, weapon skills are fun, craft skills are a tedious grind that sucked all the fun out of the game.

SWTOR: I let my sub expire.

World of Tanks: currently playing mostly tank destroyers (Renault UE 57, Jagdpanther, Hetzer, and SU-85) plus the T-34 and KV1-S medium tanks.  Have about 54k XP saved for when the British Tech Tree is released – I’m keen to play the fast British mediums like the Crusader.

Roleplaying: still running my Dragon Age game, players are getting close to level 10 and have reached the ancient capital of decadent elves and their dark secrets.  One of the players managed to kill next year’s warm weather, so the party has to enter the Phoenix Games (the winner of which will be sacrificed after ruling as king for seven years).  I need to read through RQ VI again and write a proper review.

Boardgames: had some good ideas for “Keep the Galactic Empire Alive as Long as Possible”game  and a “Barbarian Hordes Loot the Empire” game.  Will try and have prototypes ready for Big Gaming Week.

Grand Startegy: Pax Victoria is going to be run at BOD 2013, plan is to have pre-game, a draft map, and combat mechanics ready for Xmas playtesting.