Last Friday, Russ and I had the unique opportunity to attend a seminar at the World Boardgaming Championships, entitled “Snapshot of a Card-Driven Game Under Development.” The presenter was Ed Beach, and the game was the forthcoming Virgin Queen, a card-driven game about Queen Elizabeth and her era. You probably already know we are huge fans of Here I Stand, Ed’s 2006 game about the Protestant Reformation. Virgin Queen follows right on the heels of that game, picking up where it left off. I’d say about 30-40 people attended the talk. Ed highlighted four major topics, and I’ll take each in turn:
What will stay: Looking back at Here I Stand, it seems that several elements will remain the same in Virgin Queen. The new game will retain the card-driven element, the same basic combat system, and the same basic feel. One of the huge successes of Here I Stand is that each player can gain victory points in slightly different ways: for instance, the French get points for military conquests, New World exploration, and building chateaus. Virgin Queen will have similar “unique VP” mechanics.
What will be tweaked: Ed highlighted a handful of elements that will be improved in Virgin Queen. The first is the religious subsystem. Right now, it sounds like players flipping spaces to Catholic or Protestant will be rolling one die with modifiers, not multiple dice. One common complaint about the older game is that the religious side bogs play down quite a bit. Another tweak will change diplomacy. Ed expressed frustration with diplomacy in the old game, especially in new players being unwilling or unable to wheel and deal effectively. To get new players into diplomacy right away, Virgin Queen will feature a “diplomatic marriages” sub-system. Some players will begin the game with a number of princes/princesses they will be able to marry off to other players in exchange for diplomatic benefits. Essentially, you match up a prince with a princess and end up rolling dice and adding modifiers to see how successful their marriage is. They could divorce, have no children, or found a new and powerful dynasty. The last major tweak is the addition of a two-player tutorial to introduce new players to the game. Right now, it looks like a scenario pitting the Turks against the Spanish in the Mediterranean Sea. This will introduce some basic mechanics.
What’s new: Several elements have either substantially changed from Here I Stand, or are completely new. What excites me the most is the map itself. The map designer has drawn the map as a cartogram. Ed has described it as “the world according to Philip II.” This allows many more spaces in the Netherlands to simulate the Dutch Revolt, while keeping some areas (like the New World) small. It’s a truly beautiful map, and I think it will draw the eye at conventions and the like. Another major element is the New World. Unlike Here I Stand, players will be interacting with it a little more. For instance, you’ll be able to send raiders there to harass enemy colonies a la Sir Francis Drake. Also, prevailing wind markers will allow you to move more quickly or take attrition depending on which direction your pirates are headed in. The New World also includes the Philippines, China, and India this time around. Last, Virgin Queen will feature a robust espionage sub-system to simulate assassinations, sabotage attempts, etc. (Jesuit agents infiltrating England? You bet!) The Pope is also reduced to a sub-system. Interested players can pay cards to gain Papal influence. The new game will also feature a patronage sub-system, where you can gain victory points for hiring important artists, writers, and scientists to create lasting works.
Current progress: I was surprised to learn that Ed has been working on this game since Here I Stand came out. Right now he’s reporting that the two-player tutorial, New World, Papal influence, and diplomatic marriage mechanics are all working very well. The patronage and religious systems need a bit of tweaking, as does the mid- to late- game feel. It also sounds like the powers are up in the air. The current powers include England, Spain, France, New Protestants (with separate Huguenot and Dutch counter mixes), Turks, and Austrians/Holy Roman Empire, but there are some balance issues with the Austrians as of this writing.
Throughout the presentation, I was able to spot a few specific elements. These included two cards, Paris is Worth a Mass and Iconoclastic Fury. I also spotted a “Jilted by Elizabeth Table.” Playtesting will begin in earnest this September, with various people around the world trying out the two-player tutorial via email. Stay tuned for updates: Russ and I are both on the playtest list. While it looks like there’s a lot of work to be done on this game, I am excited to see it in print in the next few years!