Some things worked well, other things did not. Afterwards I remarked that I really needed a co-GM whose sole task was to keep whispering in my ear “Too complex, make it simpler”.` That we only completed four full turns in four hours means I failed to design the time structures of the game – I had wanted to complete eight game turns. This was largely due to the large number of teams (eight), and the land mechanics being too complex. The map also ended up being a bit cluttered.
Some things did work well. The map itself was pretty to look at, although we had some stability issues on the tiny tables. Marking hex terrain with a thick coloured border around the hex also worked very well. Next time I should try and get hold of a decent wargaming table to mount the map on. The physical appearance of the game counters was also good. I spent a few hundred dollars on dice, leader stands, and wooden/plastic tokens from The Game Crafter and from http://www.blankdice.co.uk/. I also used sticky labels printed out on my laserprinter for the counters, rather than spray adhesive. Overall it was a better looking game, and an easier to assemble game than most of the games I have done in the past. Lots of reuseability in the components, so people will see them again.
I also think the pre-game strategic options and diplomacy worked well. It also meant I had to have the game 99% finished a week before the Con, rather than the night before the con. It also motivated me to actually throw some content on my www.housewar.org website. This had room for improvement, as I failed to take into account that some people would be too busy in the week beforehand. Ideally people should be able to delegate or select proxies. It was a real buzz for me to walk into the Con at 0900 and find people already plotting for the Grand Strategy game that night.
The picture above shows the state of the game at the end of the night. A few cities and sea zones had changed hands, but because the Orange-Black, White-Green wars had been largely one on one affrays, no truly decisive land action had taken place. The neutral islands had been occupied, so if the game had lasted longer, the sideline players would have started intervening. Naval combat did not start until turns 3-4. What this tells me is that I had too many sea areas for the number of naval forces in the game, and that everyone was more interested in dividing up and grabbing colonies rather than fighting each other. So one simple fix there is to start teams with island colonies, and to reduce the number of sea areas down a bit.
Naval movement and combat worked well. Land movement and combat did not. As well as some rules complexity, people found it to hard to see what was happening on the front lines. The leader stands hindered as much as they helped, as people found it hard to calculate hex radius distances, and the support units cluttered up the map. The off-map reserves really needed better mechanics for voluntary deployment and removal, as it encouraged players to do counter-intuitive meta-game tactics, like deliberately leaving gaps in their line and trusting their neighbour not to exploit.
Amphibious movement and invasions were too complex and time consuming given the brief number of game turns completed. Almost no one chose Guards units as a strategic option, which makes me think that I should have called the units Marines, as they were actually the best units to do an amphibious attack with.
Trade mostly took place away from the map room, I have no idea how well that worked, but at least we didn’t run out of cards this year.
I did get feedback on the night that players wanted to build units. I am thinking about this. I tried keeping the game simple by having the builds effectively take place before the game began, but several teams wanted the option of building up their navy mid-game and it just wasn’t possible in the Rules As Written. This is something I will work on for the next version.
With eight teams, teams were averaging around five to six minutes for a game turn, not the two minutes I had hoped for. If I had built a second map just for naval actions, then I could have split the moves up a bit and had less overall downtime for the teams. The bonus action (“The Big Push”) was ignored by some teams early on, then towards the end everyone bet big on it, which told me both that the economy was generating too many resources and everyone had figured out how important a second full action was. The “shells” on the game map proved too fiddly to keep track of, so I would dump them from the game.
A lot of teams, when they got to the map, tended to give orders by telling each other what to do, not by telling a Gm what they were going to do. It makes me think that going back to the old, old system of the team leader having a free minute at the start of a team’s turn to look at the map and give orders, followed by a set time of the team’s minions moving pieces and not talking except to tell a GM they are attacking, might be a better system for getting things done quickly.
I liked the game enough, that I will run it again at Kapcon 2014. So people in Wellington or further afield, now is your chance to volunteer to help out. For my 2014 Buckets game, I am pondering about running To Reign in Hell, a game where the players represent legions of Demons trying to take over Hell. I’m sure I can adapt Dante’s classic map somehow. I’ll have another blog post on Pax Vicky in a couple of weeks when the survey I am running concludes.
I also ran a simple Dragon Age tabletop game, where the players were Djinn working for the Ottoman Empire in an alternate history 1960s. A successful investigation of a dodgy hospital exploiting a leper colony in Jerusalem ended with icky alien bug like things being squished. The stunt system worked well at making the characters look baddass, so Dragon Age may become my convention system of choice.
I enjoyed the Dresden Files LARP on Sunday night of Kapcon. It helped that I was paired up with an extrovert who was my long lost brother, and we had fun roleplaying crazy Russians on Circe’s Island. Which sank. But I freed my brother from being a vampire’s thrall, earned brownie points wit the Catholic Church for retrieving one of the holy swords of the cross for them, did not get hunted down the Warden, did facilitate the defection of a White Council member to the Red Court, and got a free ride to Paris from the Queen of Summer. Not bad for a poor boy from the Ukraine who can talk to the (mostly) dead.