Fiddling while Atlantis burns

October 27, 2017

Today my design thoughts have focused a fair bit on how I might improve Colossus of Atlantis through simple changes to the sequence of play, and how the last turn of the game could be handled.

The Classic Turn Sequence20171027_Turn-Sequence


This is the sequence of play that I used for the two games of Colossus of Atlantis this year. It starts with the Map Phase, and then players take information and resources from the Map game to their team, where they can exchange resources and make future plans. This is then followed by the Council Phase, then some free time for diplomacy, snacks, and bathroom breaks. The intent was for a game turn to take 50-60 minutes of play.

Adding a DOOM Phase


This extends the turn sequence, but it creates an explicit phase for feedback from Control to the players about the DOOM score, plus any other important game announcements, and could also be an opportunity for player speeches and roleplaying. I think this makes a game turn definitely around 60 minutes long.

Rearranging the Turn Sequence


So this puts the team planning phase at the start of the game turn. Because the Council Phase follows the Team Phase, I expect player discussions to focus on potential Council options and decisions. So team options should focus a fair bit on allocating resources between members for effectiveness in their role Councils.

The Council Phase is now between the Team and Map Phases. Because players now move from the Council table to their Map table, it should be intuitive for the players to be responsible for conveying Council decisions to their map tables. So a lot of the Council option choices should be reworked to be relevant to the map game.

Adding an Assembly Phase


Seattle Megagames added an Assembly Phase every third turn of the game, with half an hour or so of speeches, roleplaying and voting. I would like to try having an Assembly Phase every game turn. Because such a phase often involves one player or Control on broadcast mode to all the players, it can overlap with free time to some extent (as can the DOOM phase that follows).

I imagine the Assembly Phase as being where proposals from the Councils are debated and voted on. This is where the non-map Historian/Poets have a vital role during the Map Phase – they need to find the time to get everyone on their team up to date on voting plans. There are a lot of different ways that voting could be conducted, and I am still mulling over the following:

  • always have an Ostracism (which prevents a player from attending the next Council and Assembly meetings) which is a write in ballot (most votes is ostracised)
  • the fastest way to do votes (by voice, by rising up from seats, by show of hands, by division, using ballot boxes, etc)
  • or using the most authentic form of voting by placing coloured stones in an urn.

There are two important forms of privilege to consider here – who is allowed to vote on a motion, and who is allowed to speak on a motion. Is this privilege gained at the individual, team, role, faction, or office level? Lots of different ways for it to be done. There is also an opportunity in here to work in the traditional forms of government that warred for control of Ancient Greek city-states: Democracy, Oligarchy, Monarchy, and Tyranny. If we follow Plato, then Atlantis starts with a Monarchy where only the Kings and Queens vote on matters. But then we can give all the teams goals to change that status quo to other forms of government.

Another option for Last Turn Madness

I had a bit of a crazy idea for approaching the Last Turn of a Colossus of Atlantis game – why not completely change the rule set for the final turn?

This reworks some of the options earlier in the game – do you take an option that improves your next game turn, or do you improve your team’s position for the last turn of the game? It also means that for the lucky players who “have it all” in terms of meeting initial objectives and power build up, still have a goal to work towards.

So what could we do in that last game turn?


First, how about a battle in the streets of Atlantis? Something like the Coup phase in a game of Junta, with the different factions fighting to control the various Palaces and Temples in old Atlantis, or to pilot the titular Colossus of Atlantis itself? A variant on this could be to still run the regular map game, but to add the option of sending some of your units to join the battle for Atlantis.

Second, have another mini-game for the various Megaweapons and Megaspells. This would involve offensive and defensive options, with the potential for exploding cities and sinking continents.

Third, we could have the struggle to get one of the last seats on the Great Ark, for the players who are certain the first two mini-games are likely to result in the Doom of Atlantis and the great deluge striking.

I am happy to entertain other suggestions.

Mapping the Galaxy

September 29, 2017

The design problem I have been wrestling with this week, is just how much stuff to include in the map game, and how much detail will be required on the game map.

I am still thinking about whether the map game takes place at the same time as the other potential mini-games (imperial politics, trade, technology, and possibly intelligence), or whether the mini-games follow the map game, with the players having the freedom to choose which mini-game they want to engage in.

The latter option requires more time for a full round of player actions and decisions, but probably does not put as much stress on the players. This is because you can pause between the major game phase transitions and give the players time to distribute information. It also gives Control time to tidy up the game while the players are busy elsewhere.

The former option puts more stress on the players (who have to make time during the game to share information with their faction members, and to do diplomacy with other factions), but allows each player role to be more specialised (and in theory means each player has to master a shorter set of rules). This is I think closer to the way that most other Megagames have been run in the past.

In terms of map design, if only a subset of the players are playing full-time at the maps, then they can afford to be a little smaller in physical size, but could also be a bit more rich in information. I’ll come back to this idea towards the end of this post. There is a third option as well, which is to run the map game full-time, but to only occasionally run the mini-games, rather than having the mini-games occur every turn.

I am not sure if there is a right answer here.

Map Progress

First, I have spent some time getting to grips with Profantasy’s Cosmographer expansion for their Campaign Cartographer mapping software. One of the things I did was to grab their example of a galactic map, and strip off its political borders and labels.

Galaxy Map Sans Lines

While this looks nice, the physical nature of the map tables means that building a game map for 40 odd players off something like this is hard. A big circle is simply too difficult for players to reach across. Plus the most recent thoughts on what the Milky Way looks like are a bit more complicated. The presence of a big black hole in the centre of the galaxy (Sagittarius A) means that its a bit implausible as a location for an Imperial capital.


The Milky Way Galaxy Map website, as the name suggests, has been able to provide me with a lot of information about the observable portion of the Milky Way galaxy. On the whole it supports the four spiral arm take on the Galaxy, but also provides a bit more discussion in talking about the spurs off the main arms and some bridges that connect them. So this atomic hydrogen model map was very helpful in taking my ideas to the next level. The far side of the galaxy probably has a similar level of interesting detail, but we simply can’t observe it accurately through the plane of the galaxy.


So what I have done here is outline five sections of the map to focus on. Each of the red rectangles will be developed into its own map. So unlike The Colossus of Atlantis, each table will have a different geography and character. To simplify gameplay, the off-map parts of the galaxy will be sparsely populated backwaters that play no major part in the game.

Galaxy Map Realistic

The most common term for mapping large sections of the galaxy is quadrant (typically either centered on Earth, or the centre of the Galaxy). The English language is sufficiently flexible to allow more than four quadrants (the word has the same sense as a city quarter). For a smaller region of space, I think “sector” is the term most often used in fiction. So the levels of gameplay are:

  1. Galaxy
  2. Quadrant
  3. Sectors and Hyperlanes
  4. System

Map Complexity

First, lets repeat this image from a previous post, covering what the sector/hyperlane/system part of a quadrant map might look like. I think in future versions I will try using some of the sheet effects in Cosmographer to make the sectors more circular in shape.

Map Example

So what a player could see on the game map is:

  1. Name labels for the different areas on the map
  2. Borders between different areas on the map
  3. An indication of the value of the area (for gaining resources for use in trade and other mini-games)
  4. Sector Bases
  5. Fleet units controlled by one or more players
  6. Imperial fleet units loyal to the Galactic Empire
  7. Megaships (with a 50mm base, they take up a chunk of real estate)
  8. An indication of who controls the region
  9. How loyal an area is to the Galactic Empire (I am thinking of using heart shaped tokens for this)
  10. How integrated the area is with the Galactic Empire (direct rule, local rule, or collapse).
  11. Stress markers (for determining where crises occur)
  12. Indications of important changes in the game state (tokens, cards, marker pen on laminated sheets, etc)

Which is getting to be a bit much I think. Especially if you have to scan 20 odd areas on the game map. Its a lot of rich, complex information, which makes the game fun to play if you have a fair degree of system mastery, but could be overwhelming in a one-off megagame. The COIN system that influenced my design thoughts is optimised for around four players, rather than forty players. I am just a bit worried that its one token too many, and my design goal is that I want players to be able to resolve three rounds of action at the map table every 20 minutes (a lot like Aquila Rift).

Here is what I think I can do to keep most of what I want in the game system, while making it easier for the players:

  • Only allow one faction base per sector – so control determination becomes “Who controls the base in the area?”.
  • Allow the non-player faction Pirate/Warlord Bases to be placed in sectors – thus keeping a feeling of “Space is really big”.
  • Colour code the sector borders so that each Governor’s initial areas of control are clearly marked (and I can match the colour to the faction colour of the player). Things will change in play, but I think players can stay on top of that.
  • Tying the condition of integration with the Galactic Empire to the player rather than the map (which also fits well with how I intend player resource budgets work).
  • Making the value of a controlled sector or system be one, and the value of a controlled section of hyperlane be two. Because the values are fixed, I may not need them printed on the map, but I might need a “Burn” token if the area is destroyed in economic terms.
  • I will see how loyalty markers work in playtesting (as some factions will be working to preserve the empire, or to secede from it, I want to keep this in).

So, if you have read this far, what would be the first thing you would cut to make the game simpler?



The Galaxy Will Burn

September 17, 2017

This weekend I have been working through my initial ideas for The Galaxy Will Burn. I have made some good progress, but I do have a question for readers about a key element of the gameplay.

The core theme for the game is that the galactic empire will probably collapse, in contrast to The Colossus of Atlantis, where the players can generally work together to avoid the deluge. So in TGWB, a key decision for each player and/or faction, is at what point do they stop working to support the imperial system, and instead start working to subvert the system and establish a successor state.

As an aside, I spent some time looking at a forthcoming release from GMT games, Pendragon, which reminds me a lot of the old Britannia game, but using Volko Ruhn’s COIN system and focusing mainly on the 5th century. While it had some great interplay between the four positions and a neat way of modelling the decline of Roman influence in Britain, I cannot just adapt it wholesale into a Megagame. Too much of the game relies on it only being a four player experience, and I want to provide a good experience for 40 players.

Player Roles

Everyone starts as a sector Governor for the Galactic Empire. Each player has a public faction, which everyone knows about, and a secret faction (which only other members of the faction know about). I might also have some players as Admirals, responsible for patrolling the hyperlanes, and perhaps some industrialists who are focused on controlling key worlds that make unique resources and advanced technologies.

I will be looking to have a media team in the game if we get enough players, or possible a media rep on each team. They will not have a map based role (which also makes them good for diplomacy and espionage). They will have the ability to trigger crises by reporting on stress and corruption in the game system, as well as having a lot of influence to shape the overall game narrative.

I want to give players some freedom to choose which of the optional minigames they will focus on. If you want to be a pirate, you will be able to spend a good part of the game as a pirate.

Player Objectives

In moment to moment game play, a player will be trying to gain resources from the map game that can be used in the other minigames (trade, technology, and imperial politics).

One way of doing well in the game is for all members of a faction to gain control of the key positions in the Imperial Government. This should be difficult to achieve, and is worth a round of applause and a good boost in the game itself.

There will be opportunities for players to become a Strong Emperor during the game. When this happens, you get 60 seconds of time in which to give orders to Control to carry out (e.g. “Remove House Balu influence pawns from the Imperial Treasury” or “Remove Pirate ships from Orion’s arm”). One of the perks of this job is influencing the end of game victory objectives, by choosing what will be scored at the end of the game.

As the end game approaches, players will have to choose between loyalty to the remnant Empire, or trying to create the most powerful successor state out of the power vacuum created by the collapse of the empire.

The Map Game

Depending on the number of players, I plan to have five map tables. One for each of the Spiral Arms, and one for the centre of the Galaxy. Each map consists of approximately five “areas” per player assigned to the map. An area can be one of the following three:

  • a sector (thousands of star systems)
  • a key world
  • a hyperlane.

Map Example

This style of map is common in the GMT COIN games. The fast movement/line of communication route (the Hyperlane) is also a sector boundary. Placing Bases on the Hyperlane, and keeping it clear of Pirates lets you collect its trade value and move quickly from one side of the map to the other. Just one sector is shown in full here. All sectors will have space for two bases, but the sector value will vary from one to three. The key world only has room for one base and an economic value of one, but each key world will have some kind of in-game bonus from controlling it (such as building an extra Ship token each turn). Normal movement off the hyperlanes is just from sector to adjacent sector.

The Turn Sequence

  1. Budget Phase
  2. Planning Phase
  3. Resolve First Actions
  4. Resolve Second Actions
  5. Resolve Third Actions
  6. Glory Phase

Budget Phase

As Imperial officials, players have a fixed budget of six atomic power tokens per game turn. A player can choose to appropriate more atomic power to boost the effectiveness of their actions, but this has risks. If you do this draw a playing card:

  • if the card value is equal to your current budget, double your budget for this game turn
  • if your draw a Joker, increase your budget permanently by +1 (to a maximum of six). If you are already at six, gain one Megapower token!
  • if the card value is less than your current budget, gain that many atomic power tokens AND your normal budget allocation
  • if the card value is greater than your current budget, gain that many atomic power tokens
  • if the card is a royal card, treat it as having a value of 10.

It will pretty much always be worth pushing to increase your budget. If you don’t, you get immunity from some central government actions (no prosecutions for corruption), but you will fall behind the other players.

The suit on the card also has an effect:

  • Rag Hearts: place a stress token in one area on the map.
  • Royal Hearts: place one stress token in two areas on the map (stress markers are used by Control to help determine where crisis events will strike).
  • Rag Diamonds: reduce your budget permanently by one.
  • Royal Diamonds: reduce your budget permanently by two.
  • Rag Clubs: Spawn Warlord tokens equal to card value in one area (Warlords stay where they are placed).
  • Royal Clubs: Spawn ten Warlord tokens and a base in one area (the base means these Warlord tokens will get stronger over time)
  • Rag Spades: Spawn Pirate tokens equal to card value over three areas (not more than half in one area). Unlike Warlords, Pirates will move towards plunder.
  • Royal Spades: Spawn ten Pirate tokens over three areas (not more than half in one area) and place a Pirate Base in the area with the most pirate tokens.
  • Joker: shift one set of stress tokens out of an area you control, and place them in another area of your choice.

If the area you govern transitions from central rule to local rule, your budget is reset to six atomic power. If Imperial government collapses entirely in your region, your budget is reset back to six again.

Atomic Power not used in a game turn is lost. The only way to save power from turn to turn is to purchase Megapower tokens (which costs four atomic power at the start of the game). You can trade atomic power tokens with other players at your map table, but only Megapower tokens can be taken between tables.

Planning Phase

Below is a first draft of what a player’s planning mat might look like. I will add other information displays later (like a budget track).


You always get two actions, and can choose to do a third power action – which is to either buy a Megapower token, or to spend a Megapower token to do a third action of your choice.

If you are doing a “secret” action you get to put the action card face down on the mat during planning. Obviously this makes it harder for other players to second guess what you are doing. Secret actions also allow you to do things like build units loyal to your faction, rather than loyal to the empire.

Part of your planning is to choose and place a card. Then you also choose (for the first two actions), how much atomic power you are allocating to it. For secret actions, put the tokens underneath the action card (confusion to your enemies). The token below can be found on the Gamecrafter website (alternately, I will get a lot of yellow tokens, some spray paint, and make a stencil), and its what I might be using in this Megagame. For Megapower tokens, I am looking into getting some clay poker chips made up (because they feel really nice).


Resolving Actions

I am still fleshing out the menu of actions. Every player will have access to a core set of standard actions, including:

  • Build base
  • Build ships
  • Move ships
  • Patrol (finds enemy ships)
  • Initiate battle

The rationale in making movement, patrolling, and battle different actions, is that this rewards players who cooperate with each other. The more atomic power you commit to an action, the more you get to do with it.

Special actions will also exist. These require privilege cards from other minigames, and may require a Megapower token to play.

Resolution of builds, moves, and patrols is simultaneous and there will be a timer going. Battles are resolved after all other actions are completed.

I am still working on the combat system, but leaning towards the chance element being the draw of a card rather than rolling a bucket of dice. There are two kinds of combat units: ships, and Megaships. I will use the Pirate miniatures from Hydra Miniatures for Megaships. Actions with Megaships require both a privilege card and a Megapower token. Megaships automatically defeat and eliminate all opposing ships (the best they can do is to damage the Megaship).

Space Pirate class 4 catalog-flat

Ordinary ships will possible look like this:


Most of the other game tokens are likely to be wooden cubes or discs, but I may get some MDF “movement trays” to help figure out who controls which tokens (remember, at the start of the game, every unit on the map is an imperial token), and to move them quickly in play.

Glory Phase

The Glory Phase will happen about once every 20 minutes (during which time a map table should get through the other phases about three times).

Players at a table compare relative “glory” scores for elimination of pirates and warlords, and control of areas. The highest scoring player(s) get privilege cards allowing them to play a round of the imperial capital, trade, and technology minigames. These minigames can generate crises, but can also reward players with privilege cards that let them do special actions in the main map game.

If I have governor and admiral player roles, admirals will focus on pirate hunting, while governors will want to eliminate warlords.

The imperial capital game will involve a maze of government agencies and is a game of trying to control as much of the government as possible, while shifting blame tokens to the government agencies controlled by other players/factions. Some possible outcomes from the imperial capital game include:

  • granting command of a megaship to a player
  • reassigning a player from one game map to another game map
  • decentralising the power to grant privilege cards from the imperial capital to a player at a map table (or centralising such devolved powers back to the capital)
  • recognising local rule for some sectors on a game map
  • precedence – allowing you to move/fight with units controlled by another player.

There will always be a crisis somewhere in the game. Solving one just spawns a new one. Ignore a crisis for too long, and it will have a negative effect on the empire.

The trade minigame will involve trading cards (more like Civilisation than Settlers of Cattan), but the bubble market will be represented by a Jenga tower. Each time a trade is done, both the players must draw a tile from the Jenga tower. The higher the tower, the greater the bonus reward for trading. If the Jenga tower falls, there is a major financial crisis and trading stops, not to resume until after the imperial government intervenes.

The technology minigame will produce one use advantage cards, but the disruption of new technology can create crises. I still have a lot of design work to do here.

Question: what would be an appropriate in game penalty for anyone who deliberately knocks the Jenga tower over?

Players who do not get privileged access can either spend a round focusing on diplomacy, or they can go to any map table and play a round with the pirates or warlords there.

Here is my key question: does it actually sound like a fun thing to do, to go and play pirates/warlords for a bit, while most of the other players are engaged in a different minigame?

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.


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.


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.

The DOOM Economy

December 3, 2016

I think they key thing about the DOOM economy in Colossus of Atlantis, is that I have absolutely no idea what will happen when the game is actually played. This is equal parts exciting and terrifying.


Made in China as a flower pot holder. Can you spot the Alien influence?

Player actions in the game will increase the DOOM score. If the total DOOM score from all player actions hits a secret and predetermined point, the game ends with Atlantis sinking beneath the waves. The team with the lowest DOOM score wins a moral victory. Up to five players can assure personal survival through the cataclysm if “The Ark” Great Wonder has been built. A couple of the other wonders can influence the Atlantis DOOM score, halting its increase for a turn, a one off reduction in score, or allowing House scores to be reduced through sacrifice (which does not change whether Atlantis sinks, but can boost your chance of a Moral victory).

House and Atlantis DOOM scores are public information.

DOOM is a collective action problem inspired by the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Actions that increase DOOM have the potential to benefit the player whose action has triggered the DOOM increase. If your House nobly eschews the use of actions that increase DOOM, you may well save Atlantis, but your rivals who do increase DOOM may outperform you in the game.

DOOM tokens are also a negative feedback loop. They are a way of giving a boost to a player who has not done well earlier in the game, by giving them an option to catch up in effective game actions. Negative feedback acts to stabilize and prolong the game (See chapter 18 games as Cybernetic Systems in Rules of Play by Salen and Zimmerman MIT Press 2004).

Getting into the gritty detail, DOOM is increased:

  • by the number rolled on a DOOM die (a d13)
  • by the cost of each Sorcery card purchased by a player
  • by the value of any Governance cards that DOOM is used to power up for City options
  • by the value of any Governance cards used to activate Sorcery cards
  • for roleplaying reasons (if Atlantis falls into anarchy, or the players are misbehaving)

Each map table will probably have at least one DOOM die rolled on it each game turn. So if we have five map tables and ten game turns, then that will make the Atlantis DOOM score increase by roughly 380. But a player with a DOOM die involved in multiple conflicts might roll the DOOM die four times in one turn. The DOOM ray technology upgrade also allows more DOOM dice to be rolled. So perhaps the upper range of DOOM from normal combat activities is closer to 1,000.

There are 18 sorcery cards. The cost to buy a complete set is 171 DOOM tokens. So if we have seven factions and all the cards are purchased, that is 1,197 DOOM. That is a large investment of DOOM tokens, when most teams will get perhaps 5-10 tokens a turn between all their players.

The cost of Governance cards used to power up cities and fuel sorcery card use is hard predict. The cards have a value range of 1-10, with an average of around 6.5. Higher value cards have usually (but not always) stronger effects. The limit here is going to be the number of DOOM tokens that can be used as fuel.

You get one DOOM token per conflict you lose, and each time you leave a Council meeting without any rewards. Player choice can see rewards distributed evenly, or hoarded by a few. So social inequality increases the chances of Atlantis sinking – I am okay with that as a design feature. The number of conflicts each turn is variable. Again player choice can lead to conflict free map tables. Or there could be a lot of eris on a table, and a player could get anywhere from 1-4 DOOM tokens.

Finger in air time, I expect most players to use DOOM tokens at least some of the time. The temptation to use DOOM will always be there. Maybe it will be 1,000 points of DOOM over the course of the game.

So, if I pick a secret DOOM threshold of 3,000, then its quite likely that Atlantis will sink. If the threshold is 2,000 it will probably sink quite early. If the DOOM threshold is 4,000 or more, then the chance of Atlantis sinking goes down.

So Sorcery cards are equivalent to nuclear weapons. You want some to act as a deterrent force against other players, but you may not actually want to use them in play. Given human emotions, once one House starts using Sorcery, the other factions may respond in kind. Another possibility is the kind of player who likes smashing sandcastles other players build, deliberately maximizing their DOOM generation (social mechanisms in the game might be able to deal with that – its up to the players to spot it happening and do something about it). A House that feels they are losing badly after a series of betrayals may also feel justified in dragging Atlantis down with them.

In my next post on The Colossus of Atlantis I will address aspects of emergent play in the game.

First Colossus of Atlantis Playtest

October 9, 2016

Yesterday I had four people who kindly devoted four hours of their Saturday afternoon to the “half-baked” playtest of Colossus of Atlantis. In that time we got through five game turns, which is not too bad for a planned six hour game, but definitely has room for improvement. Part of this can come from making the game simpler, part can come from more rigorous time control by Map GMs – every table should have some one/five minute Sandtimers.

The test focused on the map game. As there were only four players, I kept the map to seven regions. Each region is identical at the start of the game, but changes quickly as it is colonized by the players. The number of regions means that from turn three onwards, there are no easy gains for players.


Region Map

On the picture below the Yellow Circle token indicates Eris (“Strife”) in that region. The Red Shoggoth is a monster. The domino tiles are hoplite units, while the Chess Knights represent Leaders. The Tarot cards are unique colony upgrades, while the normal playing cards are turn based governance choices. The red hexagons are orichalcum mines. The green castles are fortresses. At the bottom you can see the grey plastic colossi.


Mid-game situation

Between game turns we glossed over most of the Council phase, but allowed players to pick some research advances, as this allowed me to see how they interacted with the map game. We also got to see how Colossi changed the game in turn 5. The scary monster became easy to drive off.


End of Game Scores and Research

The tally in the DOOM column is actually the sum of the turn by turn Victory Point scores. As you can see there is quite a spread in the VP scores. Gold had a few poor card draws and was subject to card loss from Tribute to other players more often. We did not focus on DOOM in the game, so I will need to make that a focus of the next playtest.

I asked for Keep, Stop, Start feedback. I was told to keep the laminated region maps (good for writing on), the monster threat, the colossi (a clear signal of reaching the midgame), and the permanent region upgrades from the Tarot cards (which made the regions distinctive). I was told to stop exploration (the Major Arcana event cards were too wide ranging, and the process of looking up what each meant took too long) and stop the process of comparing “high suit” scores in the normal playing cards (it was tricky with four players and seven regions, scaling up to 13 regions and seven or more players was going to be time consuming). I was told to start putting more quick reference information on the region maps, prepare role reference cards for the players, to schedule a mid-game lunch break, to rethink how population growth would work, put something to track the game turn number onto the map tables, make city size relevant to city functions other than tribute and trade, and to have collateral damage from combat. There needs to be a simple way to track and reference technology unlocked by research.

There was a lot of minor feedback on the rules – areas for clarification and consistency.

Income was not a major constraint on player actions. Trade deals were usually in the $35-$45 range, but as the card values went up and down, new trade deals were more rare than I thought they would be. If you already had a good trade deal, moving your governance cards into other options was better choice.

We had a couple of PVE and PVP combats. The monster was usually driven off, and regions did change hands. The dice pool combat system worked, but the process of assembling the pool is a bit fiddly. So I will think about how that could be improved.

The turn sequence needs some work – especially around the timing of combats and the order of resolving the governance options for regions.

When it came to Orichalcum, my gut feeling is the current game mechanics do not work well. Players should want Orichlacum and Vril, it should be awesome to get and use. So I need to rethink how it fountains into the game, and what players can use it for.

So quite a bit to keep me busy until the next playtest in Christchurch in two weeks, but the concept and core mechanics seem viable, so the first playtest was a success.



Building a better tech tree

June 28, 2016

I have had a stimulating couple of weeks working on some ideas for Colossus of Atlantis II. One goal for the redesign is to have a better tech tree. Last time the research game was “go fish” in the card deck, followed by “collect a set” trading, and for some of the teams, eventually building a colossi or two. I think I can do better next time. Ideally I want every team to have the chance to put Colossi on the table in time for them to make a difference. I am also keen to move away from people holding large piles of cards for trading – I want trade negotiations to focus on a contract like piece of paper where people haggle over the split of profits.

Tech trees have always been a staple of RTS games, but they go back further, to the old Civilization boardgame (1980), if not earlier.

Some of the design questions you need to consider in building a tech tree include:

  1. Is the research order set? How much choice do you want to give the players – this can be crucial if there is a system mastery challenge where some options are better than others.
  2. Is the research order known to the players? If its known it can be a spoiler, if it is not known the uncertainty will change player strategies.
  3. Can steps on the tech tree be skipped? If players do screw up, is there a catch up mechanic?
  4. How much control do the players have over the research effort?

Technology developments can be great rewards and motivators. Its a way of adding complexity to the game as the players master the core rules of the game, by adding new capabilities to the game mix.

Time is a constraint in megagames. You will only be able to process a finite number of game turns. If you make the tech tree too big, teams will never complete the end of the tree, and this may disappoint the players. This suggests you need to calculate the resource fountain or flow dedicated to research, against the cost of the options. You definitely want a playtest of the system. After several turns what does it look like for teams that focused on research, ignored research, or did a bit of research?

Because technology can be used to change the game rules, you also need to consider how this change is reflected in game state information. All the other players and GMs need to be able to verify and understand the research outcomes. Keeping things simple is always a good idea.

In real life, tech change tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. One thing I would not want to do, is to have one option in the tech tree that is a dominant strategy. Some teams will spot it, others may well miss it until it is too late.

Putting this all together in a new package

I usually have about four hours available for a megagame, and get through about eight 20 minute turns, after briefings and delays are taken care of. So I want less tiers of research than I expect game turns. I think the tech tree should be open knowledge to the players, especially as I want to run the game more than once.

Because each team should have five players, that sets the upper bound of research effort each turn – five attempts to generate research points and buy technology cards. That means no more than five branches on the research tree. With the mechanics I have in mind, at the start of the game a player should be generating 1-12 research points a turn. By the end of the game, a player should be generating 2-24 research points a turn.


This is a table I put together quickly, so the numbers might be fine tuned later. It has four tiers of research, although I might extend it to a fifth tier as well. There are two concepts represented in the cost/reward structure – diffusion of knowledge and diminishing returns.

The first team to research a breakthrough pays the highest cost, but reaps the greatest reward in Victory Points. The costs diminish as the knowledge is spread throughout society, but the Victory Points drop more quickly to zero. This can be done by building a card deck, set in a prearranged order, so the cost of the top card is the highest cost, and so on down to the cheapest and last card.

If a team focuses on maximising research, they should unlock most of the tech tree within five turns, granting them three or more turns to enjoy the fruits of their labours. A team focusing its efforts elsewhere, can catch up with a bit of effort.

I do have some problems to work on. First, I need a way to make it clear who gets the privilege of choosing cards first (it could just be random).

Second, because I need to keep the research card decks in one place, but my initial map design has multiple maps where research can be generated, I need to find a way to accurately transmit information about research (do I give the players cards or token chips, or rely on Map GMs to coordinate the information).

I also have not decided exactly what the research will do, but it is likely to be a mixture of:

  1. Adding more units to a team’s force pool.
  2. Improving the capabilities of controlled units (e.g. rolling a d8 rather than a d6).
  3. Changing game rules.
  4. Unlocking new types of units, such as the Colossi.
  5. Allowing the build of ancient wonders of the world.

One option I am considering, is allowing a narrow thrust up the tree to unlock the Colossi at Tier IV or V. But all the branches of the tech tree lead to Colossi (each gives the Colossi a different capability). After all, making a game about giant steam bronze robots, and not letting the players use and enjoy such leviathans, would not be good design.


Rebellion Bingo

June 13, 2016

A_cavalry_patrol_sabring_the_rioters_in_the_streets_of_ComanestiThis is an idea for a taxation-rebellion mini-game mechanic, useful for megagames set in agrarian economies where the peasants do not really care who is in charge, so long as they do not “tax” too much of the harvest.

Each tax region in the game gets its own “bingo card” with a grid of boxes. If control of the region changes, the player who lost control gives the province card to the player gaining control.

When a player desires tax income, they queue for the appropriate map GM’s attention and present the Tax Card. The player indicates which boxes on the Tax card they wish to strike out, and these are filled in with a permanent marker. The map GM then consults a master reference to check if any of the boxes struck out triggers a rebellion. This look up step is likely to be the most time consuming step in the process, so I am continuing to think of ways in which this process could be refined. Keeping the number of boxes to a small number, say a dozen, would be one way of managing the information. Another might be to draw the boxes in a pattern shape, making it a bit easier to visually identify.

As an additional modifier, some boxes do not trigger rebellion, but just increase the future strength of the rebellion. If a player strikes these, the GM can give them some feedback on grumblings of discontent among the peasants.

This might interplay with military actions, in that raiding a province is represented by harvesting tax in a just conquered province, and then leaving as the peasants erupt in rebellion. Some experimentation is required to determine a hard cap on how much tax a player can collect in one action, otherwise someone is sure to say “I’ll tax all 20 boxes right now thank you”.

Tax regions that are likely to be more rebellious could have more than one trigger box to start a rebellion. Some trigger boxes could be made conditional, such as “trigger rebellion only if tax collector’s capital region is more than X distance away”. Another twist could be a “insurrection” modifier, where if there are rebellions in adjacent tax regions when a player collects tax, then they must strike out an extra box without collecting revenue.

Conversely there may be options a player can implement to reduce the chance and strength of rebellions. Keeping a garrison in the province is an obvious one. Another is allow structures or organisations to be built (e.g. Palaces and Bureaucracies) that reduce the number of boxes struck out when you tax.

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.


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.

Feedback and ideas for Pax Victoria II

June 30, 2013

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!