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.

sig05-010_Ti

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.

model_illustration_large

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?

 

 

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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).

Sketch

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).

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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:

rocket

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.

Combat

My plan is to keep combat simple.

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

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

Highest roll wins the battle.

Resources

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


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.

2016-10-31-09-24-17

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.