Barracks Emperor Political Economy

An overview of the game economy and policy choices players will face in the Barracks Emperor megagame on 16 October 2021.

The first draft of the economic rules involved a lot of counting, and income tracks for all 40 odd major provinces. It also had a nice trade subgame. It was a bit complex, and simpler is always better, so the political economy of Barracks Emperor is now an abstract model rather than a simulation of the Roman economy.

There will be two economic currencies in the game: Resource Points (RPs), and Wealth Points (WPs). Factions use RPs. Characters use WPs. RPs can be converted into WPs, and vice versa. At the start of the game, 1 RP converts into 8 WPs, and 10 WPs convert into 1 RP. When inflation strikes in the game, the number of WP required to buy an RP increases, but the RP:WP conversion rate remains the same at 1:8.

Resource Points

RPs are an abstraction of all the resources available to a government to make and implement policy decisions. It includes taxes in coin or kind, bureaucrats and other officials, and the loyalty and obedience of the people it controls. Factions will have an income of approximately 10-15 RPs at the start of the game. There are three sources of RP income:

  1. Fixed Income. This is normally 8-10 RPs per faction. Fixed income is difficult and slow to change.
  2. Variable Income. This is a 1d4 roll (1d6 for the faction that controls Egypt). Control can grant advantage/disadvantage on this roll to reflect the current state of the game. For example, if most of your provinces have pillage markers in them, you might roll with disadvantage (roll 2d4 and keep the lowest die).
  3. Mint coins. Roman factions can debase their currency. This generates 1d4 RP for the Romans and +1 RP for other factions in that region, but may trigger inflation.

RPs have three main uses:

  1. Paying faction expenses.
  2. Paying to action policy options.
  3. Paying for military operations by the faction.

RPs cannot be transferred between factions, unless a policy option specifically allows it. There is a workaround, in that you can convert your RP into WP, hand them over to a character in the target faction, and then they can convert the WP back into RP.

Faction Expenses

This covers the costs of paying troops, maintaining public infrastructure, and for the imperial household – keeping the people of Rome happy with bread and circuses. If you choose not to pay your faction expenses:

  1. Use Logistics to move tokens.
  2. Recruit tokens by any means.
  3. Control may adjudicate other affects as make narrative sense, e.g. conspiracy actions may be easier if targeted at a faction unable to pay its supporters.

Policy Options

Each faction has its own deck of 12 Policy Option cards. Each game round, Control deals five of these cards, placing the cards on a track of slots numbered from 1 to 5. The number is the RP cost to adopt and implement that policy option in the game. Some actions also benefit from having more RPs spent. The faction leader decides which options are chosen – but smart leaders will consult with their subordinates. The faction leader has two special powers to manipulate policies:

  1. The leader can call for a “mulligan”, and discard all five cards. Control will then draw four replacement cards, placing them in the slots numbered from 2 to 5.
  2. The leader can swap the slot locations of two cards.

Most factions have a mix of policies around recruitment, governance, and faction improvement. During the game the mix of policies may change, e.g. reforms by the Emperor may add or take away powers from provincial governors.

The cost to action all five policy option cards would be 15 RPs. This is unlikely for most factions, as they have expenses and operations to pay for, so trade-offs must be made.

Military Operations

All factions have a Logistics rating that is the number of free token moves each general in that faction has for operations each game round. At the start of the game, most factions have a Logistics rating of three, or zero for the European barbarians. Logistics ratings are reduced for famines and plagues, but can be improved through policy options.

In addition to free moves from logistics, each RP committed by a faction leader to operations allows each subordinate general to move one token. For example, if your faction had a Logistics rating of 3, and their leader spent 5 RPs on operations, then each General could move up to eight tokens. If the faction has three generals, they could move a total of 24 tokens (which would be pretty much all the Legions in one region for a Roman faction).

Wealth Points

Wealth Points (WPs) represent coins, and other forms of portable wealth. For individual players, the WP they have at the end of the game can be considered a scoring metric (as can owning land for Senators). Players can exchange these freely with each other.

Most Romans characters have an income each game round of 1-3 WPs. This abstraction probably overpays Equestrian characters and underpays Senators. The Emperor is a source of patronage to increase salaries for Roman characters. Barbarian WP income depends a lot on how many Roman provinces they can pillage in a game round. Romans can also bid to purchase large agricultural estates (latifunda) that generate WP income.

If the Emperor executes a Roman character, they confiscate all of their WPs and latifunda. In all other cases of mortality your WP are kept for your next character.

If there is a trade subgame, it will generate WP for players, not RPs. Bank loans and mortgages on latifunda, and all interest payments, are also in WP, not RP. The Roman government cannot borrow WP from the banking system – its just not a thing they did.

Imperial Patronage

The Emperor has a few things they can do for free each turn:

  • they can appoint a Senator as Consul, this promotes the Senator’s political die
  • they can honour a successful military commander, this promotes the general’s political die
  • they can give any Roman a salary promotion, boosting their WP income
  • a number of jobs in the imperial faction are appointed at will by the Emperor, such as the commander of the Praetorian Guard
  • the Emperor can change Roman assignments, e.g. moving an aristocrat from a military command to the Senate and vice versa, or sending an Equestrian commander to a different front.

Splinter Empires

Part of the imperial household RP income derives from imperial estates owned by the Emperor all over the empire. This has built up over the centuries through confiscations and investments. If a region in the empire breaks away from central rule from the Emperor in Rome, faction RPs will be adjusted.

Splinter Empires will also get some new policy option cards, reflecting the benefits of decentralisation and a focus on regional defence. Splinter Empires can also attempt to implement imperial reforms in their region (see below).

Imperial Policy Reform

There is no science or technology subgame in Barracks Emperor, and any special actions attempting to introduce ahistorical technologies (including Greek Fire) will fail. What the Emperor has instead, is a series of reform options grounded in the history of the period, and each turn an Emperor can choose to action one reform. The frontier of plausible possibilities for these reforms are those undertaken by Emperor Diocletian (reined 284-305 CE). I will not go into the specifics, but the general broad categories of reform include:

  • restoring power to the Senate
  • reform of provincial government
  • religious innovation towards imperial theocracy
  • economic reforms, such as remonetization
  • military reforms, such as increasing the strength of the cavalry
  • increased centralisation of government – potentially increasing the number of players in the imperial bureaucracy and the number of reform actions allowed by the Emperor
  • increased decentralisation of government, such as devolving power and authority to regional capitals.

Many reforms have a cost in Imperial Unity to implement.

Imperial Unity

This works a like the Terror Track in Watch the Skies, and tracks popular support for the Roman Empire on a 0 to 250 scale, starting at 200. If it hits zero, the Roman Empire collapses. When it passes through a 50 point threshold, the Legions check for mutiny (there will be an automatic mutiny check in the first game round). Imperial Unity affects the number of free token recruitment each Roman region gets each turn. Volunteers dry up when Imperial Unity hits low levels – you can conscript soldiers, but that reduces your RP income and Imperial Unity.

Control will adjudicate the state of the Empire on each map each game round, and award either -1d4 to -5d4 Unity (depending on how calamitous the situation is) or +1d6 Unity (if the frontier is holding against the barbarians).

The following events will always affect the Imperial Unity score:

  • A new Emperor in Rome improves unity based on a roll of their Military/Political dice
  • If the Emperor does not adopt any reforms in a game round, their respect for tradition improves unity by a roll of their Political die
  • If the Emperor commands in battle and wins, they can celebrate a triumph in Rome, unity improves by a roll of their military die
  • If Rome is sacked, Imperial Unity is reduced by half (round down), and the maximum possible Imperial Unity score is reduced by 25.

As Imperial Unity is reduced, the cost to implement imperial policy reforms drops, and if Imperial Unity is at 1-50, reforms are free. Some reforms also act to reduce the maximum possible Imperial Unity, not just the current score.

If you think of the Imperial Unity score as “how many years does the Western Roman Empire survive after the end of the game?” then the historical Imperial Unity score in 285 CE was 191 Imperial Unity.


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