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).

058c86b6b4e0340b3851bce847bba4f89a6c9c89

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?


Information Rich Combat Mechanics

June 13, 2017

The Modiphius 2d20 system is one I have used a couple of times to run convention games based around the Conan roleplaying game. I am thinking of adapting it for use in a Megagame.

First, a Quick summary of the 2d20 system:

  • You always roll at least 2d20.
  • You can roll up to three more d20s for situational modifiers, such as other players assisting you, to a cap of 5d20.
  • The roll is compared against an Attribute (usually in the 8-15 range) and a Skill (usually in the 1-5 range), potentially generating 0, 1 or 2 successes for each d20 roll
  • For example if you have an Attribute of 12 and a Skill of 3, and you roll 2d20 and get a 12 and a 2, you have three successes
  • If the number of successes equals the task difficulty, you succeed, and for each extra success you gain a point of Momentum
  • You can then spend Momentum to cool stuff in the game
  • Weapon damage is handled by rolling d6s
  • A damage roll of 1 or 2 inflicts damage equal to the roll, a roll of 3 or 4 does nothing, but rolls of 5 and 6 trigger special effects based on the weapon type (e.g. bypassing armour, or extra damage).

It recently occurred to me that I could adapt this as a mechanic for handling Army/Front level combat in Megagames. Traditional wargame mechanics often involve a lot of counting of various factors, followed by some maths as you try and make sure you reach the golden 3:1 ratio considered the minimum to ensure success in land warfare. In a Megagame there is no time for all this counting, you need to be able to take in the situation at a glance and get on with resolution. At the same time I want rich information from the combat result – if we are only doing a few combats each turn, then they need to actually move stuff around on the map and add to the game narrative.

ostfront-6-december-1941

The situation in Army Group Center’s sector of the Eastern Front on 6 December 1941. This is a German map, the Soviet reinforcements that are about to launch a counteroffensive are not on the map. Sourced from the Dupuy Institute blog.

Generally speaking, formations of Army/Front size are rarely destroyed in combat – the exceptions being encirclement (e.g. destruction of Army Group Center in 1944) and/or running out of space to retreat (e.g. British at the Fall of Singapore in 1942). What is important is how ready is the unit for further combat operations, and what is the momentum on the front.

So I am thinking of a mechanic where we are rolling d10s, and the important factors about a combat formation are readiness, on a 1-10 range, and quality, on a 1-5 range. A rested unit at full strength with brand new equipment would have a readiness of 10 (so most units would be rated nine or less). Quality is something that can be worked out based on historic performance (for World War Two, based on effectiveness scores from post-war quantitative analysis, I would put German units at 5-6, the  UK at 3-5, the USA units at 4-5, and the Russians at 2-3). Units roll a base 2d10, then +1d10 for each supporting unit flanking the enemy. Units then roll 2d6 for damage, but can spend supply points (or play special capability cards) to boost that up to 5d6 (I will have to playtest that cap, or perhaps allow it to be exceeded by special limited use cards).

The force being attacked also rolls for its defence, and the force with more successes is the force that gets Momentum points to spend. Units that are defending get bonus Momentum for defending river lines, urban terrain, mountains and prepared/fortified positions.

So we also rolled some d6 for damage, and while we throw away the 3-4 rolls as in 2d20, in this 2d10 system, the rolls of 1-2 are used for Attrition Effects and the rolls of 5-6 are used for Maneuver Effects.

Attrition Effects

Spend your Momentum points to reduce the targeted unit’s Readiness score by 1-2 points. The defender can also spend Momentum to hold the ground the occupy (the default assumption is that the attack does move the defender backwards) at a cost in Readiness.

In theory with 5d6, if you roll enough 2s you can take a unit from Readiness 10 to Readiness 0 in one attack, in practice its likely to take a while to grind forces down. At a glance in the European Theatre in World War Two, it was pretty hard for any force to sustain continuous operations with land forces for longer than a couple of months (the US/UK tended to run out of supplies first, the USSR to run out of tanks).

Maneuver Effects

This is where it gets more interesting and you can spend Momentum to:

  • reduce your own Readiness losses
  • reduce enemy Political Will (i.e. capture a large number of prisoners, or a city or other vital objective)
  • gain initiative for your side next turn
  • exploit the breakthrough (deep penetration and/or forcing flanking formations to retire)
  • capture enemy supplies that you overrun.

Using the two sets of dice, lets the game create a rich tapestry of potential game information. The downside is getting the players to make those decisions around spending Momentum quickly. This would be the key thing to stress test in playtesting the design.

Doctrine

One way of representing historic doctrine is to programme the first choice a side makes (or perhaps even the first two choices). For example, UK forces could be required to spend their first Momentum effect on reducing their own Readiness losses, Soviet forces on getting a breakthrough, and US forces on maintaining the initiative.

Initiative

I used to own a copy of a game called Renegade Legion: Prefect, which focused on hover tank battles on a planetary scale. The side that had initiative did nearly all of the movement and combat, while the side without basically sat there and hoped for a counterattack to give them the initiative. That concept bubbled to my head while thinking about this hack.

So my plan for this 2d10 system is that the side which starts the game on the attack holds the initiative. The initiative allows you to attack as many times as you like (up to one per Army formation). The side without the initiative gets a limited number of counterattacks. Both sides can spend Momentum on initiative, with a cumulative penalty for any side holding on to the initiative for consecutive turns. Another way of doing that might be to have an escalating supply cost, so you could hit a point where one side runs out of puff, no matter how well they are doing on the map. Frustrating, but a representation of Clausewitz’s theory of the culminating point.

A zero score for initiative could be taken as both sides are temporarily exhausted and spend a couple of weeks (or longer) resting or maneuvering before one side resumes offensive operations. Maybe both sides would be limited to a small number of attacks, like counterattacks.

Recovering Readiness

Units should recover Readiness quickly. Fifty percent of lost Readiness per two week turn seems okay as a starting position for playtesting. In this system I would just about never remove a unit from play, but at Readiness One I would not allow it to initiate attacks. Front lines would also be continuous – if you run out of actual Army formations, you would just deploy a Readiness One Battlegroup counter.

While Readiness should bounce up and down, quality would change only rarely – perhaps reflecting a unit gaining an elite reputation, or being issued with state of the art equipment in sufficient numbers to have an impact on operations (one Super Pershing does not a +1 Quality increase make).

…and now I really need to get back to revising The Colossus of Atlantis. GENCON is only 63 days away.

 


Aquila Rift Feedback

June 7, 2017

Last Saturday at Wellycon X, I ran the Aquila Rift Megagame, with the assistance of five control players and the enthusiasm of 26 players. A lot of the game files are available online, if you are interested in taking a look. Aquila Rift was intended to be more of a casual Megagame, and none of the players had played one before, and only a few had heard of them before Wellycon – although one player had watched the Shut Up & Sit Down Watch the Skies video several times.

IMG_0354

Each map table had roughly 14 systems that players could move between. Blue routes were pirate only, red routes inflicted damage. White markers indicate routes onto other map tables. The Control table has everything needed to run the map game, and one of the committees.

Setup started around 1100 and took a bit over two hours with one other person helping. Travis was also heaven sent when another member of the Control team texted to tell me he had rolled his ankle that morning while tramping. Travis volunteered to drive out and do a pick up so we would not be shorthanded.

IMG_0356

We set up six tables, but only used five.

We had around 19 signups before Wellycon started, so we picked up several people on the day, and also had four last minute cancellations – they felt that they could not commit to a four hour game.

A live action game of Codenames ran over time, so we started late (~4.30pm) and played through to 8.30pm. All up we got through 18 map turns and six committee phases. I was pretty happy with how the interaction between the map game and the committee game worked. There were problems, but in general I think the concept works for the kind of low player number Megagame I can run in Wellington. Every player gets to wear at least two hats. If I could get 60+ players I would focus more on one role per player.

IMG_0393

Richard managed to be both Pirate King and Public Enemy Number One at the same time

One new thing I did this time was to get some video. We did not have a spare person to run the camera, so I just left it in place with a Tripod. I will be teaching myself how to edit video this weekend and then I will try and put the highlights of game play and end of game speeches up on YouTube.

IMG_0370

This ship was almost destroyed in battle, just two more hexes of damage would have finished it off.

While law and order was maintained in some sectors, in others it collapsed, and pirates were able to “put the sector on farm”. The Viceroy gave good speeches, but teams were more united in the search for lost relics than in cooperating for the development of the sector. Some player feedback though t there were too many pirates. There were twice as many pirates as other roles, but only about one more Pirate than there were Patrol and Governor players.

The top five end of game plunder scores in the bank were:

  1. $1,163 – Alya
  2. $986 – Zachary
  3. $708 – Richard
  4. $698 – Jack
  5. $557 – Hannah.

On the whole I was happy with how the game system worked. Combat was the complicated bit, but it seems to have worked out okay – but one person did give feedback that it was too complicated. Where I was surprised, was just how much plunder appeared in the game – it was quite a bit more than in the playtests. This distorted the committee a bit, so if I run Aquila Rift again I would look at the plunder economy first, rejigging the committees second, and making combat simpler as the third priority. The search for the lost ships also seems to have been a good unifying element for teamwork in the game.

IMG_0387

Players were inventive with the dry erase markers.

Number Crunching from the Feedback Forms

I got 20 responses to the feedback survey form. Not to future self, have a few biro pens lying around for this – dry erase pens are not good for writing feedback. People were asked to rate things from 1-5, and high numbers were usually good.

  • Enjoyment 4.55 (high)
  • Briefing 3.6 (room for improvement)
  • Difficulty 3.2 (easy for some, hard for others)
  • Rate of Play 3.45 (not too fast for most)
  • Control 4.125 (good job guys!)
  • Involvement 4.45 (good but several suggestions for more)
  • Value 4.35 (good value).

I am very happy with the 4.55 rating for enjoyment! In terms of support for future games, 85% said they would like to play a Megagame again, and were willing to pay an the average of $27.65 for a whole day game and $18.50 for an evening game. Fourteen people also said they would like to help Control in the future. I think about 75% of the player and control team had read at least part of the game rules before the game.

IMG_0378

In the middle of a map turn.

I intend to recycle a lot of the game structure from Aquila Rift in The Galaxy Will Burn. Some players gave feedback on Aquila Rift that they wanted more politics, intrigue and an expanded faction game. TGWB will definitely have that.

My thanks go out to Wellycon for giving us the space to play in, to my control team of Alan, Dutton, Travis, John and Alistair, and to all of the players for an enjoyable game.


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.


Conflict in Colossus of Atlantis

November 10, 2016

Let us start with two video clips. The first is the Talos scene from Jason and the Argonauts. It neatly demonstrates a Colossus versus Trireme battle. The second is from Oliver Stone’s Alexander movie, the main battle scene (not the best quality sadly). Which I think is a much better take on Hoplite warfare than in the movies Troy or 300.

Design goals

My design goals for conflict between the forces that players control in The Colossus of Atlantis are for conflict to be:

  • Simple
  • Fun
  • have scope for mastery
  • fit with the theme
  • Quick

I have tried to keep conflict relatively simple by:

  • making conflict automatic if two or more players send units to the same region
    • the only exception to this is if a player declares they are a coward (by saying “Phobos!”), and withdraws their forces back to their home city
    • cowardice has a potential cost – you can be fined by the courts, and if you don’t pay, your home city can be attacked (see below for an image of what that looks like)
  • keeping the maths to simple addition (no subtraction, multiplication or long division)
  • restricting the types of forces and the number of possible attacks to four

The maths is simple – add your strength ratings together for all your controlled units. Roll your dice, and add the two together. Highest player wins, both players lose in a tie.

I have two main ways in which conflict is fun. First, you get to roll dice, and you have a chance that each roll will explode (allowing you to keep rolling until the die stops exploding, and adding all the numbers together). Every now and then the Chaos dice will allow a player to pull off a lucky win against the odds. So there will always be some tension in a dice throw. Secondly, when you win you always get rewarded. You get some money, some victory points (VP), and some other useful game resources.

cole_thomas_the_course_of_empire_destruction_1836

Course of Empire by Thomas Cole [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I believe there is scope for mastery of the game to be demonstrated. This arises from observation of the emergent play – if you can see the choices other players are making in how they allocate forces to regions, and react to them with skill, then you should win more conflicts (and earn more rewards). A cautious player may concentrate their forces on one or two areas. A bold player may split them between four areas, hoping to get lucky and find a region no one else is contesting for a cheap victory. Understanding how the dice can work out will also probably help with system mastery.

Exploding Dice

Because the Chaos die generates numbers from 1-4, and explodes on a four, its actually impossible to get a roll of four on the dice. Four +1-4 gets 5-8, and of a course a second four explodes again. You will roll from 1-3 75% of the time, and then 25% of the time you will roll 5+:

  • 75% of the time you will roll from 1-3
  • 18.75% of the time you will roll from 5-7
  • ~4.5% of the time you will roll 9-11
  • ~2% of the time you will roll 13+

One implication here, is that if you have a one bonus die advantage over your enemy, but they have four more combat strength, then you will have roughly a 25% chance of winning.

The DOOM die generates numbers from 1-13, but only explodes on a 13. So it exploding is a rare event – you might not see it happen in the game.

  • 92.3% of the time you will see a roll from 1-12
  • 7% of the time you will see a roll from 14-25
  • less than 1% of the time you will see a roll of 27+

Intuitively you would think that the d13 has a better chance of giving a victory against long odds, but its good to see it confirmed in the math.

Theme

I believe that a megagame conflict system trying to model Ancient Greek hoplite combat for a megagame should keep it simple, following a cultural style of combat where both parties agreed to fight at a particular place, the battle was fought quickly, and the defeated party conceded defeat. I thought about incorporating rules for skirmishers, cavalry, chariots and fortifications, but playtesting showed that this made it too complicated.

I added Triremes after the second playtest, as I redrew the maps, splitting them into one set of six land regions, and a second set of coastal regions, plus one gateway to the hollow earth. This reflects the importance of naval warfare in ancient Greece, and also fit with a change to how trading worked in the game – opening up possibilities for blockades and smuggling.

Quick

This relates to simple. A few things have been done to keep play fast. First, all players in a region are in conflict with each other. Diplomacy over forming temporary coalitions just takes up too much time in the fifteen minute game turn. With 13 potential conflicts to resolve, battles need to be done in under a minute. Second, players can resolve more than one conflict at a time. If two players are resolving a conflict in region one, three different players with a conflict in region 5 can be working through that. That is another reason why there will be lot of dice for each game table.

I also removed an early playtest option for spending DOOM tokens to adjust combat outcomes. This created an auction bidding mechanic, which just took too much time. Now you need the right Colossus upgrade (the DOOM Ray) and you spend the token before you roll the dice (a DOOM die).

Part of being quick is in constraining the choices the players can make. Most humans can only effectively evaluate three to five options. More than that and they start taking mental short cuts. So while I have 13 colony regions for players to squabble over, and they each offer slightly different rewards, there are only three types: land, coastal, and hollow earth. The fourth option, attack on home cities is constrained by law and politics. I also only allow four attacks maximum – and no splitting up of unit types. All your hoplites go to one region, and all your triremes go to one region (and it could be the same region).

Right, back to editing the game document!