The Galaxy Will Burn

February 9, 2017

The Galaxy Will Burn is the working title of my new Megagame design for Kapcon 2018. A whole bunch of ideas fell in place for this today, but first, progress report on my other games.

Colossus of Atlantis

I am part way working through working out an example of the revised Council mechanics. I decided to start with the Council of War, as that involves a lot of changes to all the systems for interacting with the enemy empires. The options are still a bit too raw for public exposure, but I think the process for the meeting as outlined below should be an improvement.

The Council of War

The Council of War meets in the Diplomacy Phase, after House meetings have finished. The Council of War meets for a maximum of five minutes. All actions at the Council of War are resolved in the following order:

  1. Quorum
  2. President of the Council.
  3. Council Actions.
  4. Research
  5. News
  6. Control administration.

1. Quorum

The Quorum for a meeting of the Council of War is 2/3 (round up) of the Strategos players. If the meeting starts late, the time allowed for the meeting is reduced.

2. President of the Council

The Strategos present at the start of the meeting with the highest Arête score is appointed as President. In the event of a tie in Arête, the older player is appointed. Strategos who are late to the meeting cannot be appointed as President.

3. Council Actions

Starting with the President, each player chooses one Council Action to resolve. After each player has made their choice, the President chooses which player makes the next choice. Each Council Action can only be chosen once per meeting. Players who are not present when it is their turn to act, forfeit their choice of Council Action for that meeting.

If the DOOM Action is chosen, the player must choose a second Council Action. If that action is an Arête Action, it becomes Corrupted.

Control can penalise any player taking too long to make a choice by taking one or more of their Arête cards away from them. Control will give a player a five second warning before doing this.

See below for detail on the different Council Actions available for the Council of War.

4. Research

Each player draws a random research advance. Player(s) that chose a research Council Action draw a second advance. Each player can then purchase one Strategoi research card – these act to upgrade Hero units.

5. News

It is the responsibility of the President of the Council to inform Control of any changes to the game that have resulted from Council Actions.

6. Control Administration

Each Council Action not chosen by a player now has its rewards increased, as indicated on its card.

My goal is to finish the game revisions before the GENCON website opens for game bookings on May 28.

Aquila Rift

This is my space pirates themed Megagame for Wellycon X. I have started a Facebook event for this game, and as usual that will be my recruitment ground for playtests and first comments on changes to the rules.

The current goal for Aquila Riftis to have a playtest set of rules by the end of February. At the moment the two key mechanics I want to nail are the movement and search rules. For movement I intend to have “star systems” connected by “wormholes”. Wormholes will be colour coded: Green (safe), Yellow (chance of delays), Red (chance of damage). I might have some wormholes restricted to a subset of the players, e.g. a route connecting two patrol bases might be coloured blue (no pirates allowed). For movement: all merchants, then all space patrol, then all pirates. When space patrol moves, they can spend fuel to deploy search tokens. If a pirate moves through a search token there is a chance they trigger a fight with a patrol vessel. If a pirate enters a system with a merchant, they then dice to intercept (ship quality counts, spend fuel to boost odds). A pirate that intercepts a merchant, captures the merchant (KISS). Combat only occurs between patrol and pirate ships. If you run out of fuel, take damage and jump to a base.

This is deliberately intended to be a simpler game than The Colossus of Atlantis. The three main player roles will be Governors, Space Patrol, and Pirates. There will not be a complicated trade system – a major reason for people being pirates is that its easier than working for a living. Any trade mechanic which allows players to get wealthy through legitimate trade therefore undermines the rationale for having a game about piracy.

First playtest will be in March sometime.

The Galaxy Will Burn

This Megagame will be a return to my favourite theme, the decline and fall of complex political organisations due to their own internal processes.

The main player role in this game, is that of sector governor, responsible for the administration and defence of several star systems. Every player in the game belongs to a public faction and a secret faction. Memberships do not overlap between the two factions. Your faction wins if at any point all members of the faction have been declared Emperor at least once. Game play is resolved through five minute turns, with a one minute gap between each turn. I may test some of the submechanics for this game (such as movement and combat) at the Aquila Rift game.

After each five minute turn, you must change the game table you are playing at. If you spent the last turn being a Governor at your home map table, this means either:

  1. Going to the Imperial Capital and trying to gain a seat at the cabinet table for the next committee meeting.
  2. Going to another map table, and spending the next turn there as a Raider.
  3. Taking a five minute break to do other things.

After a five minute turn at the Imperial Capital, you must change the game table you are playing at by either:

  1. Taking a five minute break to do other things.
  2. Going back to your home map and spending the turn as Governor.
  3. Going to any other game map table, and spending the next turn there as a Raider.

After a five minute turn as a Raider, you must change your game map table by either:

  1. Going back to your home map and spending the turn as Governor.
  2. Going to any other map table and spending the next turn there as a Raider.
  3. Taking a five minute break to do other things.

After a five minute break, you can return to play as a Raider or a Governor. It is deliberate that the only way you can move to the Imperial Capital is after a turn spent as a Governor. There is nothing to stop you from a life as a pirate (or having it forced on you lose control of your worlds as a result of imperial politics). While there will be some chaos, I am hoping this will lead to some interesting emergent play.

Rising Tensions

Each game turn, the number of recruits available to a player choosing to raid increases by one. If the political decision at the Imperial Capital supports a reign by a Strong Emperor, all the existing Raiders are removed, and the recruitment rate is reset to one plus the number of Strong Emperors in the game so far.

For example, during the first game turn Raiders recruit one ship. By the fifth game turn they will be recruiting five ships. If there is a Strong Emperor at the end of turn five, then in turn six the recruitment rate will be two ships, and in turn seven the recruitment rate will be three ships. If there is a second Strong Emperor at the end of turn seven, the recruitment rate in game turn eight will be three ships.

Each time a Strong Emperor is declared, the number of chairs around the Imperial Capital table is permanently reduced by one. This represents the trend in political systems to become closed to outsiders.

The Imperial Capital

At the start of the game there are 13 seats around the Imperial Cabinet table. These seats are given to the players willing to commit the most money. This is a one round auction – everyone writes and reveals their bid at the same time. The money spent is also your voting power while on the Committee (and you spend some on every vote you take part in). The chair of the committee is the player spending the most money on getting a seat at the table.
Each Cabinet session can address a range of topics, most of which channel perks and kickbacks to the players, but the crucial one is choosing a Strong Emperor. If this option passes, the Cabinet meeting immediately ends.

The Strong Emperor

The appointment of a Strong Emperor immediately ends the actions of all Raider players for the rest of the game turn, and removes all Raider ships from play.

The Emperor then has one minute to make any changes they deem necessary for the continued security of the Empire. Each change must be clearly enunciated and each change must be specific.

  • “mumble taxes mumble rhubarb atomic power mumble” – nothing happens because no one knows what the heck the Emperor meant
  • “The Dagobah system is now controlled by Governor Tarkin” – control of the named system changes to that of the named player
  • “All systems in the Coriolis Cluster are now controlled by Governor Cook” – change is too broad, each of the systems needs to be individually named.
  • “The Sixth Fleet moves to the Hoth system” – the move happens
  • “The Moth ball Fleet moves to the second map table” – change is not specific enough, a system name is needed.

After their minute of glory, each Emperor secretly chooses one of the possible endgame victory conditions and places it in a ballot box. When there is 30 minutes of game time remaining, one of these ballots is picked at random and announced to all players. The Emperor can tell people what option they chose, but is not required to tell the truth!

Victory Conditions

The game could end in any of the following ways:

  1. A civil war – players split into factions, and fight until only one candidate to the throne survives.
  2. Successor states – the faction controlling the most territory at the end of the game wins.
  3. Dark age – the faction with the most atomic power wins.
  4. Hedonistic twilight – the faction with the most money wins.
  5. Republic – the faction with the most status wins.

Combat

My plan is to keep combat simple.

  • Raiders and Battleships roll 1d6 per ship
  • Imperial Dreadnoughts roll 2+d12 per ship

For each matching die roll you have, you lose one ship. Yes, the more ships you have in a battle, the more ships you will lose. The rationale is that the battle is the result of the logistics cost of multiple small encounters.

Highest roll wins the battle.

Resources

Raiding gets you cash, and reduces the resource base of other players. Being Governor gets you a mixture of cash, atomic power, some status, and the chance to gain influence with the Imperial Fleet through successful combat operations against Raiders. Imperial politics can get you any of the above.


10 Megagame Concepts

June 12, 2016

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.

Roberts_Siege_and_Destruction_of_Jerusalem

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.

Atlantis_map_1882_crop

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

October 2, 2015

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.


Second Sun and Starship Playtest

January 4, 2015

SAMSUNG

Over the Christmas break four of my friends at Big Gaming Week agreed to give the prototype a quick go, as we only had two hours available the goal was to see who could accumulate the most glory.  We managed to complete four game turns.

Turn one everyone started with nine Atomic Power. In turn 2 Alan and Dennis remained on nine Atomic Power, while Tim and Tony had 12. In turn 3 the Atomic Power spread was 10-14, after Tony attacked Tim’s territory. For turn 4 the range was tighter, 12-14 Atomic Power. Turn 4 saw an effort to unseat Dennis from the Imperial Throne,  which saw his Atomic Power income for a hypothetical fifth turn drop to 11, with the rest of the players on 15-21 Atomic Power.

In terms of what Atomic Power could be spent on, I had changed the rules from one Atomic Power per unit moved, to one Atomic Power per type of unit moved. This allows a lot more movement, at the cost of each game turn taking a little longer.

The variable cost of Dreadnoughts, however, was found to have too great a chance of rendering someone powerless and unable to act. The design also greatly limited what you could do in another player’s turn (very little unless actually attacked). So being powerless could trigger a karmic death spiral. While the Atomic Power mechanic is based on Cthulhu Wars, it is being used to purchase the equivalent of six Great Old Ones over the course of the game, rather than just one stompy beast of destruction and horror.

The final glory scores were:

  • Alan – 15
  • Tim – 25
  • Tony – 32
  • Dennis – 63

Dennis’ score came mainly from passive Infinite Actions of reigning while in control of the Imperial Capital for almost the entire game. While only +1 point per action, the other players found themselves in a weak position to attack the Imperial Capital, and reluctant to commit to an action that helped all of the other players, but would place them in a position of weakness.

We hit a final Fall value of 3-4, and only had a few Dreadnoughts per player on the map. So in a time sense it still feels like it is taking too long.

The feedback on what was fun:

  • choosing Dreadnoughts
  • dice mechanic in combat

Based on feedback from the last playtest I capped the number of dice that could be rolled in combat (weaker side rolls two dice, stronger side rolls three dice) and gave the winner a clear bonus (choose loser retreat destination, or double Glory, or use a Power die number to increase damage).

The feedback on what was NOT fun:

  • Emperor control was too important
  • downtime between player turns was too long
  • movement is “sticky” (if a Dreadnought was in the wrong place it took several actions to rectify)
  • inability to defend territory/fight defensively when attacked
  • falling behind on power.

I was asked why I didn’t allocate all Bases in the set up. The answer to that is that years ago I had an extensive set up process for Housewar, on a map that had four distinct spiral arms and playtest groups of five players. You tended to win the game in the set up, by dominating one spiral arm and forcing other groups of players to fight in their respective spiral arms. This lead to intense meta-gaming in the initial set up (one playtester used to growl at other players if they dared look at “his” spiral arm, and some playtesters would form set up alliances that lasted the rest of the game).

Tech cards were okay, but there were way too many of them. The number of bonus combinations should be reduced.

Ideas for the next playtest

In order for the Dreadnought purchase mechanic to work, I think I should design the rest of the game economy around the fact that players need to spend either big lumps of power, or little lumps of power, depending on the situation.  So what I am thinking of having is:

  • representing Atomic Power as a six sided die placed on the map (using something like the Dice Dock from Corsec Engineering)
  • the rules would refer to the die as a “Base”
  • when a player spends Atomic Power, they remove dice pips until the cost is met
  • as an action a player can increase Atomic Power at one controlled Base
  • My current idea for exactly how much power that increase should be is that the target Base is increased to six, and roll a die (Skull = reduce another player’s Atomic Power by one, Starburst = +1 Glory, number = increase Atomic Power at a second base by that number), so the Atomic Power gain is likely to be 6-9 points.

Rolling just one die keeps things simple. As a bonus the granularity of the 1-6 range of the Base compared to the binary 0/1 of a Base counter is that it is easier to develop Decline/Fall or Pirate stuff in the game to adjust Atomic Power by +/- 1 than it is to place/remove Base counters.

King of Tokyo

The next big idea is to borrow from the King of Tokyo game, where the Monster in Tokyo scores more points, but is vulnerable to all the other players in the game.  I will do this by making it so that the Emperor cannot use the Increase Atomic Power action while Emperor. There will still be useful bonuses from being Emperor, but it should be a case of play the role until kicked out or reduced in power and forced to flee into exile.

I can also make the Imperial Capital more vulnerable by making it have Wormhole Gateways to every sector on the map.  This makes it so that all players will nearly always be able to attack the Imperial Capital (a major problem in this game has always been players being locked out of geographical proximity to the Imperial Capital, which I have mitigated by increasing the number of Glory sources and the flow of points from those sources). Then there is the idea of Plot tokens (see below).

Pacing of the Game

While the Dreadnought build increasing Decline and eventually causing the Fall is a good mechanic, it is still on the long side.  So my new idea is to keep that mechanic but add the following:

  • when the Emperor takes a turn, they MUST increase either Decline by +1 or Fall by +1
  • each time Decline is increased, draw a “minor” Decline event card (only one card, regardless of how many points Decline increases by) that has a one-off effect on the game
  • each time Fall is increased, draw one to three “major” Fall event cards that have persistent rule changing effects on the game.

I expect an Emperor with a substantial lead advantage to start pushing the Fall counter up the track to try and trigger the End Game in an advantageous position.

The Decline events should do things like:

  • all players place a Pirate token
  • all players remove a Battleship
  • all players lose one Atomic Power
  • change the Monument Track value (needed as the play sequence no longer needs an end of turn phase)
  • trigger Fall (could have one such event for each player in the game, as more players always extend the game playing time)
  • all players gain a Plot token (see below)

Reducing Downtime between Turns

My idea here is to allow each player one simple Reaction move each time another player takes a Turn. These reaction moves are intended to be quick … if you have not done it by the time the active player finishes their move, then you don’t get the reaction move (with perhaps a five second count down for anyone still dithering).  My current ideas for reaction moves are:

  • move one Battleship one sector
  • build one Battleship in one sector (this reinforces the idea of Battleships as “popcorn”)
  • take a Plot token (these can be used to boost your effective combat strength for attacks against the Emperor only, but are discarded when the Emperor changes or when used)
  • use Pirate to steal one Atomic Power.

Movement and Combat

I still lean towards a player’s turn being either Movement or Combat, not a combination of the two.  If this is the case, then I am happy to expand movement so Dreadnought positions are less “sticky”, allowing players to move as many units as they are willing to spend Atomic Power on moving.

Map-wise, I am thinking about building hex tiles, and having the number of tiles based on the number of players in the game. This makes the map scale to the number of players. The other option (which requires a lot more hard thinking) is a double sided map cut in two large sections, flipping the sections to get a map for 2, 3, 4, or 5 players (the approach taken in Cthulhu Wars).

Combat – I am pretty happy with the way this is working out.

Endgame

With the Base die idea, the current method of determining End Game power (Glory score at start of the End Game) will not work.  So what I can do instead is:

  • the player with the most Glory when the End Game is triggered is the Last Emperor
  • only the Last Emperor can gain Glory (+1 each time they take a turn only), and the last Emperor still wins automatically at 100 Glory
  • only the Last Emperor can build Dreadnoughts (but no new Dreadnoughts are placed in the Shipyards)
  • Starbursts now reduce enemy Glory in combat rather than increasing your own Glory (and if you roll more Starbursts you can double the enemy’s loss of Glory)
  • Strength lost in combat also reduces Glory
  • any player reduced to zero Glory or zero Dreadnoughts is eliminated
  • once any player is eliminated, the Final Countdown begins (there are 13 remaining player turns in the game) and the player with the most Glory at the end of that is the winner of the game.

Back to the drawing board

June 15, 2014

2014-0~1

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.

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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

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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.

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Housewar Design Update

July 7, 2013

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.

Map

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.

Dice

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!

Fleets

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.


Barbarians at the Gates

February 27, 2012

First, a couple of links.

http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/memphis-mangler-iv-report.html?m=1 (A nice write up a large scale Vietnam game).  And the mega game people in the UK are doing a Zombie game: http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/megagame-urban.htm

Recently I read Edward Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, which gave me a few new ideas about how to do a Decline & Fall game.  The Byzantine’s had a strategic problem, of having infinite enemies.  If they wiped out a group of barbarians, they risked losing the entire army  in battle, were down coin and soldiers if they won, captured nothing of value, and got to watch more barbarians migrate into the space where the old barbarians used to be a few years later.  This led to an operational strategy of avoiding combat, and using diplomacy to play the barbarians off against each other.  Not a bad strategy, as it worked for the best part of a thousand years.

So for this “At The Gates” game, the players are the barbarians invading the Empire.  Some possible objectives for the players:

  • conquer or build seven monuments
  • destroy more stuff than anyone else
  • capture some specific regional capitals (that are not in close geographical proximity)
  • capture the Imperial capital and any other three capitals.

So part of the game is trying to figure out what objectives the other players have, and trying to interfere with that where possible.

Players start on the frontier, with their horde.  Some specific Imperial defences/monuments are placed on the map, then each player places an Imperial defence unit and a monument.  As Imperial defences are destroyed, the player that destroyed them can reset the defence unit in front of one of the other barbarian hordes (a mechanic used in an old WWII Pacific game called Hit the Beach).

As players advance, they gain loot from capturing Imperial territory.  Each turn they can gain some recruits from frontier zones they control, and continue the invasion into fresh Imeprial territory where more loot awaits.  Or they can stop movement for a turn, and spend loot to recruit forces, including special capability units.  When they stop to build like this, they also get to repair damaged Imperial defences (the ones in front of other players of course).

Potentially the Imperial defences could get quite hard to penetrate towards the end game, so doing some building should be a good chocie at some point during the mid-game, although I think the early game will be all about grabbing as much as possible.

As a twist, their are two (or more) piles of Imperial loot, which increases by one token of loot a turn.  A player can choose to take the Emperor’s coin for a turn, and take one of these loot piles.  During that turn they are a Warlord recognised by the Empire, so they cannot attack the Empire and score extra points for attacking other barbarians.

… tomorrow night, I should find time to post about the next set of ideas for the Bucjets Grand Strategy (in summary, no dice, and change agents into barbarians).