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Kings & Chronicles...A Long Process

Posted March 22nd, 2012 at 01:29 PM by jbbnbsmith
After quite a few games and plenty of small tweaks, it has become obvious that the game in its current state is just too long. It is also obvious that the whole Assyrian invasion isn't even close to being nailed down in terms of both timing and balance.

What I've decided to do is a pretty serious overhaul of the game. Here are the things that seem to be working well and will remain essentially the same:

1. The Event Cards. These cards are sort of a cross between We the People (now Washington's War) and War of the Ring. All cards contain both an event and a point value. (They also contain a Battle modifier and may be played during combat to gain a bonus) The events cause certain historical events to happen, while the points may be spent to raise armies, build fortresses, declare war, make treaties, or move and attack with your armies. While I'm still tweaking the events for balance, the card-driven approach works well.

2. Combat. The combat system is simple and plays quickly and yet still captures the feel of ancient combat in terms of seiges, fortresses, and supply lines.

3. The Map. The map flows well. Although extensive play testing may reveal issues later, at this point the only changes I would make are aesthetic.

But these things need work:

1. The game play length. Games have been taking about 3 hours. That is way too long for a game that is intended to be somewhat light in its treatment of the topic. My goal is to get that down to 90 minutes.

2. The King Cards. The purpose of the King Cards was to provide the historic framework for the game, and provide a method for tracking game time. While the King Cards work to a degree, and provide the option to play with a strict chronology or add varying degrees of randomness, they are a major factor in the game length since they require 13 turns to go through them all. I like the fact that they have an educational value as well, but that can be included through other means.

3. Game Scope. My original design was going to cover the period from the Divided Kingdom (just after King Solomon in about 931 BC) to the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC. I soon discovered that this was just too much for a game of this weight and desired duration. So I decided to move up the end point to the Fall of Samaria in 722 BC. The problem with the current version is that it feels like two games. There is the majority of the game where Israel and Judah are engaged in a back and forth power struggle with the surrounding nations, the most powerful of which is Aram/Syria. But then the Assyrians show up and the game changes completely in that Israel is simply trying to survive against a vast war machine. What ends up happening is that several hours of game play feel like just a pointless preamble to the final few game turns. While this is basically a good historical representation, it doesn't make for a very fun game.

4. Victory Conditions. These have never really been completely defined and are very fluid still. Given the coming change in game scope, it's probably for the best that I haven't wasted too much time here.

Proposed Changes:
I've come up with a few ideas that I hope will tighten the game scope, decrease the duration, while maintaining a sense of the history.

1. Seven Era's. The game will consist of 7 turns (instead of 13). Each turn will represent an era of history of about 30 years, and will cover the reigns of a varying number of Kings. In some cases there was one King who ruled in either Judah or Israel (such as Ahab, Jehoshaphat, Omri, Jeroboam II) and in other era's there was a high degree of turn over and so many King are represented.

2. Events. I will be moving some events that were originally on the King Cards to the Event Deck. I will also introduce "timing numbers" on the Event cards that will indicate when certain events may be played (that is, which Era). So an Event Card with a "3" may only be played during the Third Era. Many events cards were already somewhat conditional, so this should be an easy change and will actually reduce the wording needed on the cards. It will also help maintain some degree of randomness. However, with the reduced game duration, I will need to tighten up the deck, so I may include multiple events on each card, each with a different Era Number. Hmm, that would make for some interesting decisions because once an Event Card is played for it's event (rather than the points) it is removed from play.

4. Scope & Victory Conditions. Rather than include the Assyrian invasion as an actual military campaign that is played out, the game will end just as the Assyrian Invasion would take place. There will still be sudden death victory conditions that may end the game sooner, but right now I'm rethinking the goals of the two players. The Kingdoms player (Israel & Judah) will try to accomplish several goals, some of which are mutually exclusive: To conquer the surrounding nations, to avoid being conquered by the surounding nations, to prepare defenses against the rising Assyrian empire, to maintain the favor of God and potentially avoid being conquered. The Nations player (Philistia, Moab, Edom, Ammon, Sidonia, and Aram/Syria) will try to: regain independence, expand their borders, weaken the Kingdom Player so that it will not be able to defend against Assyria, reduce the Kingdom Player's "favor of God" to bring on the Assyrian invasion.

These objective remain essentially unchanged from the current game, but rather than actually resolve the Assyrian invasion I want to design victory conditions that will determine the winner without actually playing through the invasion.

3. Duration. The combination of changes 1,2 & 3 should easily reduce the game time to below 90 minutes, and will also maintain a unity within the game, rather than feeling like two different games.

4. Resources. While the point values of the Event Cards have represented the idea of resources, I have been thinking for a while that adding a more tangible resource management aspect to the game would be a good thing. Resources can be gained each turn by controlling certain key locations, such as those that produced valuable items (food, copper, balsam, salt, etc) or locations that are located along the key trade routes (Kings Highway and important ports). I want to keep things simple, so all resources will be essentially a generic "gold." I also think that players may spend the points on an Event Card to generate "Gold". Gold would be required to support existing armies, maintain fortresses, perform temple repairs (which would increase the "favor of God"). Gold could also be another way that armies could be raised and fortresses built. It would also provide a way of "paying tribute" to encourage an enemy to withdraw or to end military conflict, which was a very common thing in this era.

So the bottom line is that I still have a whole lot of work ahead of me. But this has been a fun undertaking when I've had time to work on it. Maybe it won't be too much longer before I'm ready to let people start play testing.

We shall see.
Total Comments 2


chas's Avatar
Consider the possibility of putting in two or more different scenarios to cover the pre and post invasion periods timewise, using the same rules but different set-ups and victory conditions. A number of Ancient period games play better with them added later, such as Chariot Lords. The mega complex one battle game Siege of Jerusalem used different "Assault Periods" which came down to the same thing.
Posted March 24th, 2012 at 10:43 AM by chas chas is offline
jbbnbsmith's Avatar
Hey, I'm having enough trouble finishing ONE scenario!

Seriously though, I have thought about that. I've also thought about multi-player and solo rules. Maybe for the expansions.
Posted March 24th, 2012 at 08:51 PM by jbbnbsmith jbbnbsmith is offline
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