The Galaxy Will Burn

September 17, 2017

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

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

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

Player Roles

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

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

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

Player Objectives

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

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

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

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

The Map Game

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

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

Map Example

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

The Turn Sequence

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

Budget Phase

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

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

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

The suit on the card also has an effect:

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

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

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

Planning Phase

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


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

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

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


Resolving Actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Pirate class 4 catalog-flat

Ordinary ships will possible look like this:


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

Glory Phase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Back to the drawing board

June 15, 2014


So the last version of Housewar was taking 4+ hours to play.  It was fun, but not as quick as I want (sub-two hours with 5 players), so back to the drawing board we go.

Some changes to the map. Part of the design is to have only 20 areas on the map (and then using a rough rule of thumb from Diplomacy of only having infrastructure tokens for 2/3 of the map areas (13 in this case, which is a flavourful number for a Decline & Fall game).  The other is to see what happens when I surround the central Glory point territory (Core Sector) by exactly ONE sector (the Heartland Sectors on the above map).  In past versions of the map there have been 4+ sectors adjacent to the Core, but it was always liable to end up being controlled by 1-2 players, excluding other players from scoring opportunities.  So I am thinking this version of the map might see players contesting the approaches a little more.

I also got to experiment with the function of the art package that lets me draw text along a curve easily. Once I do a test print to see if I have the dimensions right, I can tidy up this package.

Overall conceptual change is to just the player locus from being powers within the Empire, to being Pirates from outside the Empire. Over the course of the game the Pirates gain recognition (i.e. Glory) within the Empire, and at a certain point the player with the most Glory becomes the Last Strong Emperor. This triggers the endgame, where the Emperor must defeat all of the other players to win the game.

For the initial game flow, I am borrowing the power generation mechanics from Cthulhu Wars.  So the early game is about expanding as fast as possible to capture territory and build Bases to increase power income. All the power is used each turn on game actions.  The mid-game is triggered when people start building Dreadnoughts, expensive units with special powers.  Each Dreadnought is generated randomly, by drawing two random technology counters. Its a bit like the civilisation tiles in Vinci. So one counter might be “Move +1” and another counter is “Repair damage as a free action”.  Each counter will have a cost of 1-6 power, combining for a total Dreadnought cost of 2-12.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, all the existing combinations that were passed over get a cumulative one power discount to purchase.

I have found a pack of ~144 plastic spaceship models, in eight types and six colours, which sells for around $10 on Ebay/Amazon (plus shipping). So I will have lots of cool tokens to represent the Dreadnoughts.  They should hopefully turn up in a couple of weeks.


I also grabbed a couple of packs of old Silent Death fighters (upper picture below) and some space ship tokens from a Buck Rodgers boardgame (which will provide the “popcorn” Pirate and Battleship units).

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In past versions of the game, the Decline was usually based on random event cards, or capture of the Core sector.  This could be too random (too slow/fast) or too easy for the players to stop altogether.  This time around I am going to try linking Decline to Dreadnought construction, i.e. linking it directly to an action the players will all really want to do.  So the Decline marker starts on the zero box of the Decline and Fall track, while the Fall marker starts on the 13 box.  Each time a Dreadnought is built, move the Decline marker up the track by a number of boxes equal to the power spent on the Dreadnought.  If the Decline marker reaches or passes the Fall marker, reset the Decline marker to zero and shift the Fall marker down one space.  When the Fall marker hits zero the endgame is triggered and the player with the most Glory becomes Emperor.

The Empire defends its territory. Borrowing a mechanic from an old 1970s kids game with a WWII Pacific theme, Hit the Beach, each time a player eliminates Imperial units, they get to place those units in a sector of their choice that the Empire still controls. So as the Empire shrinks its gets a little tougher, but you also get to place units to try and slow down the growth of other players.

How to get Glory:

  • Decadence: spend power equal to the Decadence Track value and score Glory equal to the Decadence track value (the track value reduces by 1 each turn, and increases by 1 every time someone is decadent), I plan to start the track at a high value (i.e. costing more Power than the players have in turn 1) so the initial turn order is not advantageous to some players
  • Monuments: you must own a Dreadnought to do this action, score one Glory for each Base, Dreadnought, and Monument you own, build one Monument as part of the action. All players score one Glory for each Monument they own. Costs power equal to the number of times Monument actions have been done, so it can only happen 13-14 times per game.
  • Winning battles (possibly one point per battle and/or one point per Dreadnought destroyed)
  • Reigning in control of Core sector (one point per action)

For the Endgame, your Glory is converted into Power, and this is your only source of power for actions in the final turn of the game. So all players will want as much Glory as they can get.

Blame mechanics: last few versions of the game had Glory resetting to zero, what I want to do this time is to reset it to one point below the lowest player (which could be yourself).  Blame comes mainly from rolling Skulls in combat, or from being Corrupt to try and increase power income.

I have also splashed out and ordered some plastic game markers from LITKO Game Accessories


These ones will be good for representing Bases in the game (I already have some Parthenon style plastic markers for Monuments).  The ones below could be used to represent sectors devastated by combat involving Dreadnoughts (Nuclear hazard marker) or the Power income tokens (atomic power symbol).  These were not cheap, but they should make the game a bit more fun.

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Housewar Design Update

July 7, 2013

One of my plans for the year was more regular playtesting of the Housewar boardgame.  Only managed one game so far, but that is still an improvement from last year.  I also suspect I have a pool of around 10 potential playtesters, so when I get back from the USA I plan to try and do another run through of the game before the end of August.


After a bit of thinking, I reckon I can cut a few sectors off the map, dropping the Spiral Arms down from 5 sectors to 3 sectors.  This leaves 25 sectors to burn.

Using my rough game design rule of leaving 1/3 of the territory empty, I reckon I only need 16-17 Fleets.  I might go with 17, as a prime number it means the Fleets never divide evenly.


I am going to use some custom dice: Glory, Power, and Decline.

Glory Dice

  • One Skull side
  • One Blank side
  • One side with a 1 number
  • One side with a 2 number
  • Two sides with Sun and Starship symbols

Power Dice

  • One Skull side
  • Two sides with a 1 number
  • One side with a 2 number
  • One side with a 3 number
  • One side with Sun and Starship symbols

Decline Dice

  • Two Skull sides
  • One blank side
  • One side with number 1
  • One side with number two
  • One side with Sun and Starship symbols

The Glory die is better at getting Glory, the power die is more powerful, and without a blank side, more reliable, while the Decline die is more likely to result in bad stuff (Skulls) for everyone in the game.  Choosing the right die to roll at the right time will be one of the decisions in the game.

Acceleration of Gameplay

The current design has two ticking clocks.  One is Imperial Confidence, which reduces over time and when it hits zero a civil war starts.  The other is Decline, which is reduced by civil wars and devastation (which is a side-effect of battles during the civil war).  Once decline drops, the ceiling for Confidence drops, making the period of peace between civil wars shorter. So I have been thinking about the levers that push these tracks along.  In my last two games, devastation went up a little too fast, and confidence/decline did not drop quickly enough.

So, inspired by Peruto Rico, I have rejigged the turn sequence into something a bit more dynamic and corrupting.  When a player gets to act, they choose one of the following options:

  • Decadence – all players try to gain Glory/Monuments
  • Elections – all players try to gain Votes
  • Influence – all players try to place Influence markers
  • Power – all players roll try to gain Power
  • Campaigns – active player attacks rebels with a controlled Fleet and may trigger a civil war
  • Corruption – active player takes power from the Corruption card
  • Hegemon – active player takes power from the Hegemon card, chooses who acts next, if another player wants to prevent this, they must place more power on the Hegemon card than was just removed from it
  • Senate – active player draws a Bill, proposes rewards and punishments, all players vote on Bill, then refresh power tokens.

At the start of the game, each of the option cards has one Power token placed on it.  When it is your turn to act, you choose an option from among the options that has power tokens on it.  The Senate option can only be chosen after an Elections option, but when the Senate option is finished, another power token is added to all the options.  This power accumulates, so sooner or later it will be worth it for a player to choose it, even if its not the best option in other considerations.

If a Senate Bill fails, any blame on the Bill is allocated by the active player to the Option cards, so any player choosing that option picks up the blame as well as the power.  Because the Emperor no longer controls the Senate, their chief “beanie” in peacetime is the power to reroll a dice once (refreshing after senate).

After each Civil War, the new Emperor chooses one option, and flips it from “Golden Age” to “Fallen Age”.  Fallen Age options gain +2 power after a Senate action, but immediately reduce Imperial Confidence by one when chosen.  In general, Fallen Age options are inflationary, increasing the rate at which game resources are gained.  It should also contribute to the feeling of “its all our fault why the Empire collapsed” at the end f the game.

The Campaigns card is a “short cut”.  The player activating this card can choose to immediately trigger a Civil War, by spending power equal to the current Imperial Confidence level.  This is likely to appeal to players with a lot of power, and an advantage in Fleet control.  It gets much cheaper to do, once this is a Fallen Age option!

All game resources (Votes, Power, Blame, Glory, Monuments) are capped at 13.

Five of the options involve all the players doing something, and most of the other options should be resolved quickly. So hopefully people won’t get bored!


Setup for Civil Wars can be made faster by having the Fleets deploy in fixed locations.  Fleets will have Golden Age/Fallen Age strength steps, with Golden Age Fleets rolling more Glory/Power dice, and Fallen Age Fleets rolling more Decline dice.

Civil Wars

All players start as contenders for the throne.  Using the option system, player elimination from being a contender is only checked when the Imperial Capital changes hands, or if a player has zero confidence at the end of their action.  Last contender standing wins the war, gains a Monument. Eliminated contenders become raiders and can start building up their power base for the next war…

Contender options are:

  • pass and collect one power
  • Confidence (increase yours, Emperor can reduce others)
  • Intrigue (reveal, remove and place Influence markers)
  • Attacks (move Fleets, fight battles)

All contender options, other than passing, cost power.

Raider options are:

  • pass and collect one power
  • Attack with Fleets
  • Raid (to gain power, but can also burn sectors, increase devastation)
  • Diplomacy (to gain votes)

At the end of the civil war, the Emperor still hands out blame equal to the current Decline value.

Xmas Game – Adapting Republic of Rome

November 6, 2011

I am playing around with adapting the Republic of Rome boardgame for a Sc-fi decline & fall of the Galactic Empire setting.  So this involves:

  1. Eliminating mechanics I did not like in Republic of Rome
  2. Converting mechanics I do like
  3. Changing enough of the game so that its not a poor clone.

Mechanics I thought I could do without included:

  • Bribing leaders to join your faction (especially the obnoxious bit about you keeping both the bribe and the money the leader already has)
  • Events generated each turn by a random die roll – just too random when you already have most events generated by a card deck
  • Provincial governors – just too fiddly
  • Famous individuals sprouting up in senatorial families – too tied to a historical Rome

Some mechanics needed converting, especially in the voting part of the game, where many of the mechanics are tied to Rome’s historical quirks.  Voting is a core part of the game though, because its how the players allocate common resources against common threats.  So the role of Emperor will do much of what the Rome Consul did in game, but there will be other portfolios controlled by other leaders with some degree of influence over the Senate agenda.  With no field consul, any leader can be sent off to quash rebellions as well.

Rather than concessions, the adaptation has sinecures, and these will use the catabolic energy system.  So rather than a flat income each turn, they generate 2-6 income, and on a 1 they are destroyed – possibly to regenerate later in the game.

Probably the biggest core change is what ends the game.  In Republic of Rome, there are a lot of ways ALL the players can lose.  In fact, in over a dozen games I have only seen one player victory, which led to the nickname “Republic of Carthage” among some of my friends for this game.  I have decided to focus on just one end of game condition – if the empire has no Atomic Power left, it falls.  If a player gets to 100 Glory before this happens, they win.

I keep the Unrest mechanic, but I call it Confidence, and split it into Military, Elite, and Popular Confidence.  Some of the things that were in the random events table are now worked into the Confidence table.  Military confidence affects the cost of purchasing military units for the Empire (in +10 increments), trade income die rolls, and the chances of an Usurper successfully persuading military units to support them instead of the Emperor. Popular confidence reduces the amount of Atomic Power collected by taxation (-10 to -40), reduces Viceroy income and increases the number of mortality chits drawn each turn.  Elite confidence affects the cost of purchasing leaders for the Great Houses (in multiples, x2 to x5), reduces Monopoly income, and the chances of Imperial Marines supporting a coup.

Some of the crises event cards will only trigger when a particular confidence level is reached.  At 0 confidence anyone can try and overthrow the Emperor, at 6 confidence Strong Admirals can attempt to overthrow the emperor.  Maximum confidence is 10.

Rather than Land bills I have Welfare bills, but they work in a similar manner – confidence improves short-term, at the long-term cost of having less power to deal with future crises.

While I do not want famous characters, I think I can work in some leader chrome with Weak Emperors and Strong Admirals.  If there are 4+ crises threatening the Galactic Empire, then a Weak Emperor card is drawn.  This is a debuff to the current Emperor (so yet another reason to overthrow them) making it harder to maintain confidence, and possibly changing some rules of play (e.g. an Insane Emperor might not be able to use all of their powers, or might do random things in some game phases).  If a leader successfully leads an armada to victory, on the other hand, they gain a buff from the Strong Admiral card.  This improves the leaders attributes, might grant a special power, and makes the leader eligible to start a Civil War or Palace Coup to overthrow the Emperor.

Combat – I don’t need the complexity of stalemates and disasters, so I can just say a natural 13 on 3d6 is an automatic defeat, otherwise any adjusted roll of 14+ is victory. In Republic of Rome, Legions were more important than Fleets.  I could have reversed that for this game, but I am aiming for more of a balance.  You want Fleets in a Civil War, but Marines in a Palace Coup.  Plus  imagine the second phase of many space campaigns is a messy ground war and/or counter-insurgency operation, for which Marines rather than Fleets are more useful.

I also need to add things that were not really in Republic of Rome at all, including decadence and monuments.  For decadence, I plan to give each leader a decadence rating.  In the mortality phase, leaders can be decadent and score glory for their house.  they risk, however, perishing from overexertion (represented by the draw of additional mortality chits that only affect decadent leaders).  For monuments, if you win victories, you get Monument points. These allow you to try and persuade the Senate to build a monument to the heroic sacrifices made by your soldiers in defence of the Empire, etc, etc.  Each Monument point you have accumulated grants you +1 vote on Monument voting.  If built, you then cash in your monument points and score glory (a bonus in addition to the glory scored when you won the campaign earlier).  The catch … each Monument must be larger in terms of atomic power expenditure than the last Monument built.

Anyhow, should have something for playtesting the week after Christmas.