Kapcon 2017 AAR – The Colossus of Atlantis

January 23, 2017

img_0259The Colossus of Atlantis Megagame was a success. We had a few last minute registrations that allowed us to run four map tables, with four five player teams and a wandering hero or two in each round. Close to 30 people involved over the entire game. The feedback on the day felt positive, and secondary feedback from other people on Sunday lined up with everyone having a good time and raving about it to their friends.

With the late registrations we started a little late, and halfway through we changed the 30 minute turns to 40 minute turns. We still got through eight of the planned ten turns and were packed up before the LARP needed the space.

The overall outcome was that Atlantis did not sink, and the Atlantean Generals combined their forces and defeated all four of the enemy empires of Leng, Mu, Argartha and Lemuria. The most fun plot element that I observed was the squabbling and plots over who would get one of the five seats on the Ark if Atlantis did sink.

The map game worked well. There is some room for refinement, but I will award myself a B+ for that part of the game. The council game worked okay, but has definite room for significant improvement, so I will only give myself a C+ there. While I had good rules and help sheets for the map game, its clear the Council games needs more support structure to enable the players to make interesting choices, and for Control to be able to stay on top of what is happening. I also need to make the admin more efficient for Control – they had almost no time for breaks.

Now that I have written the above, I will look at the actual feedback sheets the players filled out. I adapted the Megagame Makers feedback sheet, which can be found here.

Enjoyment – did you have fun?

An average of 4.7 (to one decimal place) on a 1-5 scale where 5 is good and 1 is poor. This is an excellent result, and no one rated the game below a 3.

Briefing – how well did the briefing enable you to play the game?

An average of 3.3. Not a great result, so I went and dug a little deeper into the numbers. Seven people did not read the rules before the game – not an unexpected proportion as we had 4-5 people join at the last minute. The average of the six people who did not read the rules for this question and have it a rating was 2.8. The average among the 15 players who did read the rules was 3.5.

Difficulty – how hard did you find the game to play (1 = easy)?

An average of 3, right in the Goldilocks spot. Two people rated the game at 1 (too easy), but no one rated it a 5 (too hard).

Rate of Play – how much pressure (1 = too much 5 = too little)?

Once again a 3, right in the Goldilocks spot. Most people rated it a 3, with five each for 2 and 4, and no one rating it at 1 or 5. we did increase the time for each turn by ten minutes after the lunch break, and there was a bit more pressure on Control than players.

Control – how good a job did they do?

An average of 4.6 is an excellent result. No ratings below 3.

Involvement – how was your involvement with other players?

An average of 4.1. I did not see or hear of any major problems between players and/or control. No one rated this below a 3.

Value – did you get value for money?

4.7. Almost everyone (20 of 23 responses) rated this a 5. At NZ$20 for the weekend convention and no extra fee for the Megagame, its about one-third to one-quarter of the international benchmarks for pricing.

Did you read the rules before playing the game?

15 said YES and six said NO.

Would you be interested in playing Megagames in the future?

22 players said yes and one said no. Looking deeper at the no response, they gave Colossus a 3 for fun and a 5 for value for money. Their specific comment on the game was “Explain how invasions work.” As they were a Philosophos, I was relying on their team Strategos to tell them how invasions worked, as that information was in the Strategos briefing.

Would you be interested in being CONTROL in a future Megagame?

15 people said yes. Which is awesome. Always need more Control players.

How much would you be willing to pay for a Megagame?

I broke this down into two subcategories: day-long and evening length games. For day-long games the range was $15-70, with an average of $32.22. For evening length games the range was $10-50, with an average of $23.83. This is about half the going rate for Megagames in Canada, USA and UK.

This question is of interest to me as hiring a basic conference venue in Wellington starts at around $450 a day. If I have 35 players willing to pay $30 then my budget for running a future Megagame is a little over $1,000. But if I lose about half my players if I charge more than $20 (I had some feedback that the standard LARP charge in NZ is $20), then my budget is only $700. That is enough for one large room in a basic conference venue – which could see a bit of noise pollution in the game. $250 will pay for some printing and game components, but its not going to let you buy premium components or even full colour maps (the last time I got A3 colour printing done a complex map covering a standard gaming table was costing me $150 due to the set up fees for multiple images).

For the immediate future, the safe bet is to attach the game to other conventions, and pass the hat around for donations at the end of the game. I would like to see the community of interested players grow to the point where I can hire my own venue and choose my own dates for running the game. The main disadvantage with Kapcon is that it clashes with Canterbury Faire, the biggest SCA event in New Zealand, and I probably had at least five potential players away at that week long event.

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I also asked people to give me feedback on one thing to keep in future games, one thing to stop, and one thing to start doing to make the game better. Original feedback in plain text, my follow up in italics.

Keep

More team time for general strategy.

Combat upgrades works well.Council interactions were fun.

Almost all of it.

Timing. Role changing, within reason. Changing roles could break the power balance in councils if a team could have multiple positions in the same game role, and the design intention is that each role is essential to a team, and each role is engaging and fun to play (even if it was not your first choice).

Diplomatic wrangling. More reason to do it. Skulduggery – wandering heroes as empire emissaries (or) incentive cards for treachery. I do intend to add more options for players to choose between altruism and corruption.

Complexity level about right.

Confusion from lack of team communication about NPC enemies, multiple rooms and time pressure.

35 people. At 35 players all the game components fit in one suitcase. The game is designed to be scalable, but once you have more than seven players on a Council they will require more time, or the creation of more Councils.

Simultaneous actions.

Alien armada. I think they meant “enemy empire”.

Having a team to assist victory. Keep being strict on times but maybe expand the length of the rounds a little. Council had some great emergent stuff. Control resetting map was excellent. Yes, Control were tasked with helping players by rubbing all the marks off the players laminated sheets each turn.

Alliances short of joining a house for heroes.

Oversight in each room. Being nice. No swearing.

Empires and monsters. I do wonder if having an ambassador for each of the enemy empires would have been an interesting addition to the game.

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Stop

Make sure Control on same page.

So many rule changes. One role per region, i.e. not 2 Strategos in one region. Because we had four map tables, not five, each team had a table with two players on it. I left it with the teams, however, as to where they allocated their leaders, and they could change players between map tables if they wanted to (I am not sure any did so).

Additional rules. modify instead of add.

Maybe limit the number of new rules added in a turn.

Need for clearer rules around council meetings.

Team (a) scoring at the end of the game was horrible! By tables? (b) Wonder scoring is BROKEN. VP for BUILDER + VP Contributors (people who supported construction). Some kind of worksheet. Yes, I needed better worksheets for the end of game scoring (the turn by turn sheets for each map table seemed to have worked okay). Wonder scoring was deliberately broken (a feature, not a bug), but at least one team had an Arkitekton who failed to realise they needed to spend money on Wonder construction, so they lost out on the VP race.

Game was too soft/too easy to win? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe we just played well. Yes, you played well.

Rampant player collusion. Although … 5 x str 89 smash 18 monsters … [comment from a Control player].

Time pressure.

Rule change.

Rule changing.

Overspending on wonders.

Dividing the last minute players onto one team was a bit tricky ~one experienced player would have helped. Its hard to find an experienced player when its the first public run of the game – and the one player who had been given a run through the game was promoted to Control when the extras turned up. The problem with rejigging the teams was that many players had already been plotting for a couple of days, and I was loathe to break up their team.

Missing some info that could be on cards i.e. voting cards not clear (I think) that turn values add to VOTE total (and if 1 person [knows?] can get out of hand).

Wonder building as dominant VP. Wonders were intended as a money sink, but I will admit to being surprised at just how altruistic all the players were about giving nearly all their cash to their Arkitekton.

img_0243Start

General meetings between rounds for announcements. I had originally wanted to do this, but on the day I was just too busy. With another Control person to help with admin this would be possible.

Show magikos Orichalcum is sum of compared to the number allocated to Hop/Tri/Col. This calculation was too complex/not clear enough on the reference sheet. I will be changing it.

More time to plan unit deployment. I’m not convinced more time is needed for this.

Maybe add extra time to say what rules are changed each round. If a create a lot of the optional changes before the game starts, then I can have prewritten material to be distributed to update people on changes. Another option is to restrict each Council to one rule change per turn.

Permanent Control over card trading. One way of doing this will be to place the cards by the table where the Council meeting for the players allowed to purchase those cards is.

Come to Canberrra! I’m happy to travel and run the game as long as my travel, accommodation and incidental costs are met. I will also work on a licensed version of the game that anyone can download and run for a small fee.

More motivation for skulduggery, [therefore] rules need to be in there. I think the best place for more skulduggery is in the Council meetings, as the map game is already very busy. It is a goal of my design that Colossus  includes some “prisoner’s dilemma” choices and personal goals that can undermine team goals.

More visible timers. Yes, one of the Control team working on an app for more synchronised timekeeping.

A briefing sheet for wandering heroes similar to other roles, but focused on hero. My bad, these did exist, but I failed to put one in your hands when you turned up halfway through the game.

Maps.

Keep better control of time. And also involve less luck in the win. Time pressure is something Control can always be improving. I don’t think the final win relied much on luck. The wining team had scored well consistently throughout the game.

Refining the voting rules. I think if each Council is given its own rule book with a clear process and flowchart of actions, then a lot of the problems with voting will go away. The player vote cards can definitely be improved with better instructions on the one use vote cards and a clearer display of how many votes each player has.

Online video with rules. I would like to do this, but I would need to get/borrow a decent video camera first.

A DOOM track. Yes, good idea. Need a visual reference for all players/control of what current Atlantis DOOM is. This would also be something that could be tweeted.

More focus on how the council works/voting works – having a GM be able to say do A B C.

Trying to dominate one council completely. I’m pretty sure players were trying to do this, with reasonable success in the game. Allowing a player to permanently dominate a council, makes that part of the game play broken for everyone else.

What next?

I will think about the feedback for a bit longer, and then pen a second post on some possible changes to the rules later this week. I am still committed to running this game at GENCON this year. In the mean time I am keen to hear further comments and suggestions from the players and Control who helped make it all work on the day!


Pax Victoria at Buckets of Dice 2013

June 4, 2013

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.

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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.


Pax Vicky: Iteration, Iteration, Iteration

January 24, 2013

Successful game design requires iteration.  Iteration requires you to recognise that your brilliant  idea is not going to work, and then coming up with a new brilliant idea. Which probably won’t work either, but at least it feels like progress!

Pax Victoria is going through an iteration process, as I turn several interlocking sets of mechanics over in my mind.  They key mechanics I need to cover are:

(1) Pre-game grand strategy formulation and its flow through impact onto all choices made in game

(2) An attrition based land combat system (i.e. its a meat grinder system if both sides are evenly matched)

(3) A maneuver based naval combat system (i.e. one which often results in no battle at all, or a decisive victory/defeat)

(4) “Twitter Diplomacy” – all written agreements must be done in 140 characters or less

(5) An economics/logistics system to allow units to be built/replaced and to track economic fatigue and eventual economic collapse.

I’m well into my third  iteration for all except the diplomacy rules.  For the second iteration I made my usual mistake of creating a dice game, and after a couple of happy days of meshing all the synergies together, I remembered what a PITA it is for GMs to spend time sorting dice and figuring out if a roll was good/bad hit/miss critical/boring and then implementing it in game.  So I took the numbers and underlying math and turned them into a card game of sorts.

For a World War One style game I am influenced by various history books and Great War boardgames that I have played, especially Ted Racier’s Paths of Glory.  So there a few key features I want to represent:

  1. Railway networks and supply lines are important. Industrial armies cannot survive by living off the land. If their supply line is cut they collapse quickly.
  2. Cavalry units are largely ineffective, unless a gap is created for them, or their opponents are weak.
  3. Artillery is the Queen of the battlefield – it was responsible for far more lives lost than the machinegun
  4. Fortresses are situationally powerful. Build them in the right place and they work like magic, build them in the wrong place and watch the enemy ignore them.
  5. Mobilisation of reserve forces is important.
  6. Enveloping units on multiple flanks, or pressing on all sides of a salient, is a tactically strong move.
  7. In a battle of resources, it makes strategic sense for an economically powerful country to focus on attrition, while a militarily powerful nation will be striving for the “Short, victorious war” beloved of politicians down through the ages.

So I have roughly six types of units with the following qualities:

  • a movement rate of zero to two hexes
  • a strength rating of zero to six
  • a range rating of zero to two hexes
  • a stamina rating of zero to two.

Guards

A Guards unit is an elite infantry unit. These will be limited in number.

Full Strength (5) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (2) Stamina (2)

Guards units are tough, the only unit at reduced strength with a strength greater than one, and the only unit with a stamina of two for a glorious last stand around the regimental colours.

Artillery

Artillery is a support unit. Like Guards, Artillery will be in short supply.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (0)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: Because there will only be one unit in most hexes, artillery contribute their strength to any battle within two hexes of the hex they occupy.

Special Weakness: Artillery are the strongest land unit in the game, but at full strength they have a stamina of zero, so if involved in combat they must automatically flip to half strength.  This will make it hard to sustain attacks, as sooner or later you will need to resupply your artillery units back to full strength to keep attacking.

Regular

The standard army unit, no special abilities or features, other than being the most common unit on the map.  All nations will have a similar number of Regular units.

Full Strength (4) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Reserve

Reserve units do not start the game on the map. They must be built during the game.  Nations will have very different reserve force pools, based on their grand strategy.  Effectively a weaker version of the Regular unit, but cheaper to build, and in quantity they have their own quality.

Full Strength (3) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Cavalry

The last of the limited number elite units, Cavalry are good for rapid advances against light opposition or exploiting gaps in weak defensive lines.  Attacking solid defences, not so good.

Full Strength (2) Stamina (1)

Half Strength (1) Stamina (1)

Special Ability: If a gap is created in the enemy lines to the green fields beyond, cavalry units can move to the gap, and then onwards one hex into vacant enemy territory.

Headquarters

A Headquarters (HQ) is a supply source. If attacked in combat it collapses as Generals flee for safety. It counts as a Rail hex, so if you form a continuous chain of HQs you can carry supplies deep into the wilderness, or use the HQ line to bring reinforcements into the campaign.

Strength (0) Stamina (0)

Fortress

A strong defensive unit that is immobile. Good for defending cities, railway junctions, or key border crossings.

Full Strength (6) Stamina (+1)

Half Strength (3) Stamina (+1)

Special Abilities: (1) Acts like an artillery unit for support, but does not flip. (2) Can have a garrison unit stacked with it (3) Increase the Stamina of any garrison unit by +1 (4) Acts as source of supply for its Hex (5) Counts as a rail hex.

So those are the units.  Apart from Forts, I am keen to avoid any kind of stacking on the map, single counters are far faster to count and so will help players make good informed decisions in less time.

As for the crunchy bit of combat, after playing around with die rolls and realising that would be too hard I thought about a system where you pulled one card from a deck per stamina point the defending unit has.  Today I had the brainwave that it would be faster to pre-print cards with multiple entries for Stamina-1, Stamina-2, Stamina-3 etc.  Each Stamina line has a number, which is the total strength the combined attacking units require to defeat the defender and force a retreat.  Each line will be 1-10 strength, average of 6, accumulating over the lines.  So if attacking a Regular unit (Stamina 1), if you draw a card and get six on the Stamina-1 line, then if you are attacking with only a Guards unit (Strength 5) you fail, but if attacking with two Reserve Units (Strength 3 x 2 =6) you succeed.

Units would get a +1 stamina bonus for defending beaches, cities, mountains or rivers.

The defending unit is always reduced in strength by the attack, unless the card has a symbol indicating that the defender does not flip (I’m thinking of having this on about 10% of the cards).

The attacker flips a number of units equal to the defender’s stamina, plus all supporting artillery.  I may have symbols on a few cards (10-30% of the deck perhaps) indicating that elite units have their effective strength increased, perhaps even doubled, for that battle.  So while overall outcomes are predictable, there is enough variation to keep it interesting.

So how do you win a land war in the Southeast Colonies?

1. Attack reduced strength or stamina 0 units, with full strength units.   A destroyed unit costs more to build than a half strength unit costs to reinforce.

2. Envelop or surround a unit so you can attack with 3+ units, increasing your strength to guarantee a forced retreat. If you keep taking a hex a turn, after a few turns you will be in their capital city.

3. Use overwhelming force, Guard units supported by artillery can smash through on a narrow one hex front if the defender does not have stamina boosting terrain, Strength 5 + Strength 6 = Strength 11 total versus a maximum of Strength 10 on the One Stamina line of a Battle card.

4. Bloody Attrition, from a position of economic strength attack with expendable units so that you create a situation where (1) is possible.

5. Counterattack, wait for them to attack you when you are in stamina boosting terrain, then counterattack while they are weak.

Both 1 and 5 are going to depend a on when teams draw their logistic chits (the number of which you have are determined by pre-game grand strategy choices). Its going to be nerve wracking to see if the reinforcements arrive in time for the big push, or whether you signal to home that its been delayed by mud.

Next Steps

I need to ponder the naval combat design for a while longer, but I can probably do a post soon on how I see the pre-game Grand Strategy choices working.  I also need to do some thinking on the economics.  I found some economic analysis of GDP figures in World War One recently, and while the USA and UK had GDP growth during the war, all the other great powers lost a large chunk of GDP, despite massive increases in the government share of GDP.  So while a wartime economy works, more or less, it does not create an infinite supply train of resources, so I suspect peak wartime strength might only be around 20% above fully mobilised pre-war strength.


Pax Victoria

June 7, 2012

A bit of 2000AD influence here, but the concept for Pax Victoria is an isolated colony world, where a trillionaire businesswoman has established herself as Queen-Emperor Victoria II for a couple of centuries.  Funded by a monopoly on sales of Blood Diamonds harvested from fearsome leviathans of the ocean deeps, Victoria II has established a romanticised neo-Victorian colony world.  The upper tier of aristocracy have access to galactic technology, imported from off-world and maintained by the “Butler” class.  The other colonists are restricted to pre-1900 technology, except for a few educational and medicinal facilities.  So the colony is mainly steam-powered, save for the shuttle port (which galactic regulations require to have modern facilities for dealing with lost and damaged starships, so it has a small atomic power plant).

Victoria II has had a long reign, and through life extension technology she has celebrated a 200 year jubilee.  From time to time she has taken lovers as Prince Consorts, before plunging into decade long bouts of mourning following the consorts tragic early demise.  Her children, the darling princelings, have grown into administrative duties as they have matured.  The local natives are convinced of the divine origins of the off-worlders, and have signed a number of unfavourable 999 year leases, but nothing so bad as to trigger the anti-slavery clauses in the Galactic Constitution.  So while some rebels do strike from the jungles, the Sepoy units of the Imperial Army are usually sufficient to defeat them, and if not, the Imperial Guard has the Maxim Machine Gun 3000, and they do not.

Sadly, the beloved Victoria II has died after a decade long coma.  Tragically, she has neglected to name any of her children as her heir.  The Parliament she established so she could preside over ceremonial openings and closings has little power, although it is seen as a means for the common voter to express their will, all attempts at reform have been crushed by the conservative Lords.  So as the Queen lay dying, her children began plotting their own path to power…

Sequence of Events

Two weeks before the game night, I want teams to be determined and players mailed the background information and first set of options for team decision-making.  I want the teams to be making decisions in three areas:

  1. Their victory objectives for the game.
  2. Their stance on political issues relating to the status quo or societal change.
  3. Their preferred options for force build up.

Victory Objectives

The minimum goal players can select is an inherently defensive one – preservation of their sovereign independence and the territory they control at the start of the game.  Ambitious players can select stretch goals, which could include:

  • build a navy, army, or air force that is stronger than adjacent states/any state/any other two states combined
  • gain control of one/many/all the Blood Diamond harvest zones
  • gain the submission of one/many/all other states
  • capture capitals, forts and other key locations (individual hexes)
  • gain control of all ports in the inner/outer/all seas
  • gain control of the full length of the continental rail networks
  • gain control of disputed territory.

For each stretch goal, you gain an extra option point, but also acquire a victory point penalty (i.e. if you go for Napoleonic world conquest and fail, then you will lose the game of grand strategy, while someone choosing a Switzerland approach may find their goals easier to obtain).  I will describe these in qualitative terms, I will keep the maths hidden until the end of the game.  I would probably have some threshold effects, such as gain +1 action token per additional state you conquer so that world conquest is possible (if not exactly probable) so that players choosing that gamble should at least have a fun time executing it.

Political Issues

The players are Lords.  They run their states like petty fiefdoms.  This does not make them popular, but the players can choose between political stances that will increase or reduce the stability of their states.  Stability will change the chance of either the natives rebelling against the humans, or the common humans attempting a revolution to take power of their own.  Some stances may also change the number of option points available.  The final set of political stances will also determine how many victory points it costs to ally with other players (the greater the difference in stances, the higher the victory point cost).

Some of the stances could involve tradeoffs between:

  • secret police or free newspapers
  • votes for natives
  • independent centres of education
  • maintaining horse cavalry or building an airforce
  • conscription or volunteer armies
  • free trade or protective tariffs
  • allowing free industrial development or maintaining central economic planning
  • supporting the World Empire or balkanisation of the colony.

A stable state may not be as powerful, but it will not be home to the first rebellion/revolution (which is how I can respawn into the game any players whose states are conquered by other teams early in the game).

Options

Options represent an investment of energy, leadership and labour in preparing for the end of the Pax Victoria.  Most of the options are things players will want to do, but it will be impossible to do all of them.  The teams will each pick an option every day in the lead up to the game night (hopefully by consensus, if they disagree I would pick one randomly and reduce state stability).  The earlier a team picks an option, the more powerful it will be for them in the game.  For example, setting up a spy agency early on gives you a lot of spies in the game.  Setting up a spy agency as your last option gives you a small, pitifully underfunded agency.

Options could include:

  • building up the size of the army, navy or airforce
  • artillery or tanks
  • fighters or bombers
  • building up the quality of the army, navy, or airforce
  • spies
  • building various elite units (Guards, Marines, Airborne)
  • expanding Blood Diamond harvesting operations
  • completing railway/canal engineering mega-projects
  • fortresses and other static defences
  • naval bases
  • improving logistics, HQ staff

The goal would be to minimise the chance of one option being a clear game winner.  Ideally at the start of the game the different teams will have a mix of forces and abilities that avoid them being carbon copies of each other.

Geography

The design intent is to make Naval power much more important than it was in Flower Power.  The idea is to borrow and adjust the Circle Sea setting from Andrew Vallance’s epic play-by-mail game of yesteryear.  So imagine an ocean on a water world.  Now imagine a comet smacking into the world.  The crater that is left behind leaves a dimple island in the middle, with an outer circle of the crater wall.  Have a couple of straits eroded in the walls and you have two long crescents of land.  Each of the two continents have five teams of players on it.  Each team has at least one land neighbour, and usually 2-3, and has naval ports bordering on two oceans.

So players have some big choices to make.  It will be impossible for any team to have both a superior inner sea navy and an outer sea navy, and an army/air force superior to all of their neighbours.  Each state will be weak somewhere.  This should encourage diplomacy, alliances … and betrayal.

Combat

Ground combat will be attrition based in outcomes, resulting in small amounts of positional movement and army losses.  As long as a state has selected options that allow them to train and equip replacements faster than they take losses, their army will remain solidly on the field (unless backed into a corner and forced to retreat, or if being attacked by more than one player at a time).  Ground combat is at the Army level, with elite corps sized units.  Each Army has around ten tokens, which are placed in hexes to represent “front lines”.

The airforce will play a role in supporting army/navy combat, unless a state decides to spend a stupendous number of option points developing a strategic bomber force.

Naval combat is based on having superiority in a sea zone, and is much more likely to result in a decisive battle than ground combat.  Outnumbered naval forces will tend to hide in fortified naval bases, only poking their heads out to do raids.  Naval combat is at the squadron/fleet level.

Turns and Actions

We probably have two map tables for land operations, and a third map table for naval operations.  Assuming a 20 minute turn and 30 players, so 10 players per table, if turns can be executed in 30 seconds, players can be allowed four actions per turn.  If they take a minute to complete, then two actions per turn.  To help focus players, we probably make it hard for states to have more than three combat units per player.

Using a HAT system, each state gets a number of tokens equal to its number of players, plus some tokens based on options.  The default token is “Hasty Assault” (i.e. extra casualties for the attacker), but depending on how the state spent options it may get different, or additional tokens such as “Supply”, “Prepared Defence” (i.e. reduce defender losses if attacked, increase attacker losses) and “Prepared Assault” (i.e. bonus for artillery).

Exhaustion: once an army has attacked, it is exhausted.  It cannot attack again until either the next game turn starts, or some logistic resources are expended in a supply action.  It also suffers a penalty if attacked.  This should make players less frantic to be the first to move … so when a team is called up for an action, they have a few seconds in which they can choose to pass and wait.  In some ways, executing the last move can be advantageous (so the end of the game turn may be 20 minutes +30-120 seconds at random).

 

Anyhow, that is one possible scenario for next year’s Grand Strategy game.


Barbarians at the Gates

February 27, 2012

First, a couple of links.

http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/memphis-mangler-iv-report.html?m=1 (A nice write up a large scale Vietnam game).  And the mega game people in the UK are doing a Zombie game: http://www.megagame-makers.org.uk/megagame-urban.htm

Recently I read Edward Luttwak’s Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, which gave me a few new ideas about how to do a Decline & Fall game.  The Byzantine’s had a strategic problem, of having infinite enemies.  If they wiped out a group of barbarians, they risked losing the entire army  in battle, were down coin and soldiers if they won, captured nothing of value, and got to watch more barbarians migrate into the space where the old barbarians used to be a few years later.  This led to an operational strategy of avoiding combat, and using diplomacy to play the barbarians off against each other.  Not a bad strategy, as it worked for the best part of a thousand years.

So for this “At The Gates” game, the players are the barbarians invading the Empire.  Some possible objectives for the players:

  • conquer or build seven monuments
  • destroy more stuff than anyone else
  • capture some specific regional capitals (that are not in close geographical proximity)
  • capture the Imperial capital and any other three capitals.

So part of the game is trying to figure out what objectives the other players have, and trying to interfere with that where possible.

Players start on the frontier, with their horde.  Some specific Imperial defences/monuments are placed on the map, then each player places an Imperial defence unit and a monument.  As Imperial defences are destroyed, the player that destroyed them can reset the defence unit in front of one of the other barbarian hordes (a mechanic used in an old WWII Pacific game called Hit the Beach).

As players advance, they gain loot from capturing Imperial territory.  Each turn they can gain some recruits from frontier zones they control, and continue the invasion into fresh Imeprial territory where more loot awaits.  Or they can stop movement for a turn, and spend loot to recruit forces, including special capability units.  When they stop to build like this, they also get to repair damaged Imperial defences (the ones in front of other players of course).

Potentially the Imperial defences could get quite hard to penetrate towards the end game, so doing some building should be a good chocie at some point during the mid-game, although I think the early game will be all about grabbing as much as possible.

As a twist, their are two (or more) piles of Imperial loot, which increases by one token of loot a turn.  A player can choose to take the Emperor’s coin for a turn, and take one of these loot piles.  During that turn they are a Warlord recognised by the Empire, so they cannot attack the Empire and score extra points for attacking other barbarians.

… tomorrow night, I should find time to post about the next set of ideas for the Bucjets Grand Strategy (in summary, no dice, and change agents into barbarians).


Buckets of Dice Grand Strategy Game – Player Roles

January 8, 2012

State of my thinking on the Buckets Grand Strategy game for 2012.

Players and Teams

Players will have a choice of playing with the large team, in a small team, or solitaire.

The large team is the Imperial Dynasty, a group of immortal clone princes/princesses.  The clone schtick means they can be assassinated, but back in the game five minutes later after their memories have been loaded up into a detanked body.  Goal wise the Dynasty wants to preserve the status quo (they rule the Galactic Empire), so that victory is based on Status.  Team size, about a third of the players.

The small teams are the Noble Houses, and the Enemies of the Empire.  Team size, 3-5 players.

Solitaire roles need to be handled carefully.  Some people could be observers (journalists/historians) with a social role outside of the main game system – perhaps with some ability to influence Status.  Any solo role with real power, however, is going to have to be able to deal with the fact that for the entire game the team based players will be either (a) attempting to suborn them into their faction or (b) attempting to eliminate them.  A solo player with a fleet is vulnerable in a way that a team fleet admiral is not, because they have no one else to back them up and resupply them if they get unlucky (or I make the games rules massively favour solo player recovery from disasters).

I am thinking that rather than having player pirates, we could have NPC pirates/aliens/etc.  have a new fleet spawn each turn on the maps for the players to deal with.

Player Roles

All players should have at least one role in the mechanics of the game.  Novice players should stick to one role, experienced players should choose two roles.  A player could choose more, but they will run into the issue of being required in multiple places at the same time.  So while they may get to do more stuff, they will not be as good as players with one or two roles.  There is some scope for people to volunteer for GM NPC roles in the game.

Admiral: command a force of warships (map game).

Merchant: can trade commodities in the Trade Pit.

Senator: can vote in the Senate and take part in Senate Committees.

Agent: can do espionage, status games.

Governor: can administer territory (map game).

Leader: for a team.

A team should probably try and have at least one of each role covered by a team member.

Player Attributes

This time around, I am going to avoid giving people special power cards.  I’m not convinced they worked well in my last few games.  I am still thinking about how to have an assassination mechanic that doesn’t suck.

Cash: banknotes held by the player.  I’m thinking of having two currencies, a game map one, and a player one, with game currency being convertible into player currency, but not vice versa.  This allows me to have player gambling, without it risking the map game being broken.

Status: these are victory point chits held by players and can be traded between players, with some mechanics allowing players to take them from other players.

Loyalty: this is chosen by the player when they register for the game.  A high loyalty indicates that it will be difficult for the player to refuse orders from the Emperor, or to rebel.  A player with low loyalty, will have more freedom, but might also be executed or forced to rebel early in the game.

The Senate

The senate will do a very limited number of things:

(1) Ratify bills from Senate Committees.

(2) Confirm membership of Senate Committees (5-7 players).

I am tempted to make the secretariat role for the Senate a GM/NPC role, in order to get Senate business done without filibusters.  So what are the Senate committees and what do they do?

(A) Treasury: proposes the budget for the other Senate Committees, but does not directly spend any funds itself.

(B) Trade: can regulate the conduct of traders and trade in commodities

(C) Colonial Affairs: can regulate the conduct of governors and the administration of sectors

(D) Military: can regulate the conduct of Admirals and initiate EMOs (Emperor Mandated Offensives) that allow Core Fleet ships to be used in the outer provinces.

(E) Security: can investigate loyalty, and punish players not following rules established by other committees (i.e. its up to the players, not the GMs, to enforce all imperial regulations).

A limit on player/committee action here will be a finite number of forms released for use every twenty minutes by the Imperial Civil Service (another GM NPC role).

Combat

Will be diceless.  The intent behind this is to speed map play up.  Combat resolution requires the GM to consult a chart.  Each map table will have a different set of charts, with a new chart being used every twenty minutes or so.  The combat process will be something like:

(1) Player A declares they are attacking Player B in Sector Y with Fleet Z.

(2) GM grabs the Combat Results Chart (CRT) and counts down to the row for this battle (i.e. the first battle uses row one, the second battle uses row two, the tenth battle uses row 10, and so on).

(3) The GM reads across the chart columns until a column entry determines a win.  This could be determined by:

  • Fleet Type (a paper-scissors-rock matrix)
  • Most Battle Ships (Usually greater than to win, but sometimes x2 or x3)
  • Most Atomic Power (as above)

So on one row victory may be determined by checking Fleet Type then Ships then Power, the following row could be Power then Fleet then Ships, and the third row could be the same or a different combination again.  We will want to use clip boards with flip open covers for the CRT, so its hard for a player to accidentally read the CRT (our players of course would not deliberately look at the CRT…)

(4) The GM reads across to the Winner/Loser columns, and applies the outcomes there to the two sides, and any damage to the sector.

A couple of things I plan to do with the charts.  First, the more combats in a Map each turn, the greater the damage to sectors caused by combat (disruption of trade, etc).  Second, as the game progresses, the combat results grow more hideous for all participants (representing the absolute trend in warfare towards a final conclusion).

Trade

Looking at imitating the classic Civilisation boardgame system.  So most trade goods are useful, but there will be some bad cards no one wants to be holding at the end of each trade round.


Adapting boardgames

September 20, 2011

An old book I have on designing PBM games referred to “shell” designs.  These were designs that could be easily recoloured for a new theme without requiring a major redesign/new coding of software.  So Unit A and B might be Knights and Peasants in Shell Z, but Battleships and Submarines in Shell Y.

For a Grand Strategy game, the largest difficulty in adapting an existing boardgame, is that mechanics often don’t scale well when upscaled from 5 to 35 players.  This can be due to the iterative nature of the mechanics.  If everyone needs to make five decisions to resolve a coup in Junta, that’s 25 decisions in a 5 player game and 175 in a 35 player game.  We’d probably end spending half the night resolving one civil war.  It can also be due to the nature of the game components, and in this respect I am leaning away from using cards as a resource in the game (I still think they can be useful for objectives or currency).

I’m not happy with how special power cards have worked in some of my grand strategy games.  One reason for this is that I have often gotten the balance wrong, too many/too few cards or too weak/too powerful.  Another reason is that most of the players don’t get to see most of the cards, so they never learn which cards are good or bad, so the decisions they make in the game are not informed ones.  In Colossus of Atlantis and Dark Lord players spent a lot of time getting large numbers of cards, and then only used a few of them.

So in considering how I could adapt the look and feel of Junta into a Big Damn Galactic Empire game I start with the following thoughts:

– the variety of Influence cards is too complex

– the combat is too indecisive

– the Coup phase has too many steps to it

– the various Ministries need to start balanced.

What I am thinking about at the moment is a game with several levels of play:

1) the Rebels are fighting a wargame against the Imperial Governors of the Great Houses

2) the Great Houses are fighting other Houses for influence, and need the favour of the Dynasty to ward off the Rebels

3) The Dynastic Princes are fighting each other for the Throne/control of the Imperial Government, and need the support of the Great Houses.

So we have at least two map displays.  One is focused on the “Core” game, and has the key points needed to control the Galactic Empire and the movement links between those.  The other is the “Periphery” game, representing the border zones menaced by the rebellion.  The Rebel game is probably the simplest of the three – fight the big bad Empire – and that’s not a bad thing, as it could be pitched as “suitable for inexperienced players”.  The other two games will involve a lot more player diplomacy and trading, with the occasional outburst of civil war.  What I see as the main points of interaction are:

1) the Great Houses acquire Influence (a currency) from control of map sectors, which they can trade to Princes

2) the Princes acquire Warrants (a resource) from control of Government Ministries, which they can trade to the Houses

3) Princes spend Influence in voting on the Imperial Budget

4) Houses spend Warrants (a one use document that grants a “free” map action) on the game map.

Part of what I am thinking here, is that the Imperial Fleets used by the Princes are an order of magnitude more powerful than the Great House Fleets.  This explains why the Princes stay in charge of the Empire, and the Great Houses keep their heads down during the internecine warfare between the Princes (or Princesses).

One of my reasons for building game tokens as currency notes rather than cards, is currency is just a bit less fiddly to build and/or keep track of in game.  A few notes of 1, 2, 5 and 10 are much easier to deal with than 55 unique power cards.

So, time to look at how we might adapt the Junta turn sequence:

Budget

1. The Emperor receives a budget of currency (possibly based on how well the Houses are doing against the Rebels)

2. The Emperor proposes a budget.

3. The Princes vote on the budget, possibly spending Influence.  I’ll probably need a fixed order for the voting, as players will likely be standing around a table for this.

4.  If the budget passes, it is distributed, and all Princes gain a Warrant from their Ministry.

5. If the budget fails, the Emperor keeps the budget, and there is a Casus Bellum for a Civil War.

Locations

1. Each prince secretly chooses one of the following five locations:

  • Flagship (grants a Casus Bellum)
  • Office (can spend Influence to gain an extra Warrant)
  • Pleasure World (gain a Decadence resource)
  • Senate (double Influence spending in next vote if there is no Civil War)
  • Court (trade places with the Prince above you in the Order-of-Succession)

Assassins

1. In a set order, each player announces who they wish to assassinate and where.

2. Reveal locations

3. If an assassin is directed against the right location, they have a chance of killing the target (I think most should be around 50/50 chance, with ten players a close to 100% chance would allow a couple of players to be constantly murdered which feels a bit rough to me).

4. If a Prince is killed, their replacement clone goes to the bottom of the Order-of-Succession, and everyone else shuffles up the list. (I imagine the OoS will be tracked on a prominently displayed whiteboard or similar device).

5.  If the Emperor is assassinated, there is a Casus Bellum.  If a Civil War does not start, then the player who is next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor.

Civil Wars

If a Prince has a Casus Bellum they can trigger a Civil War by declaring their intent to usurp the Imperial Throne.  Everyone else is then free to say “me too”.

Only Usurpers can move in the first phase.

Usurpers that control less key victory locations than the number of civil war phases, are murdered by their unhappy followers.  The Civil War ends if a) only one Usurper is alive (they become Emperor) or b) all Usurpers are dead (the non-Usurper Prince next in the Order-of-Succession becomes Emperor).  If there are five victory locations, then the Civil War can last a maximum of three phases.

During the Civil War, rebels gain a bonus to recruitment – this is a hurry the fuck up incentive for the princes.

New Emperor or Emperor wins Civil War

1. The Emperor can execute one Prince of their choice.

2. All Princes score Victory Points based on their rank (from 1-10, with the Emperor gaining 10).

3. The Emperor allocates the nine Ministries among the different princes.

Ministries

With ten players I will need a few more arms of Government than Junta has.  My initial thoughts here include a few Fleet Admirals, Colonial Marines, Naval Intelligence, Imperial Intelligence, Transport, Communications, Pensions, Monopolies … feel free to suggest some in the comments section.

I’m not sure how many rounds of Budget allocation you should get through in one game bound (twenty minutes or so).  One plus a civil war should be possible, two-three without.