The Future Looks Good

February 17, 2011

In the Future Your Car Will Drive Itself - Allowing You to Play Board GamesI can’t wait to be able to play board games in my driverless bubble car.

Virgin Queen Sneak Peek: Mechanics Evolution

December 1, 2009

I am currently knee-deep in the playtest of Ed Beach’s latest game, Virgin Queen. In previous posts, I revealed the earliest design themes and some pictures. Having digested the most recent rules documents and seeing a few phases of a four-player scenario play out, it’s time to reveal some of the updated mechanics:

Margot flirting.

Marriages: These have been integrated rather seamlessly into Here I Stand‘s diplomacy mechanics. In order to make diplomacy more interesting and easier to learn, a marriage sub-mechanic has been introduced. Each European power has a number of unmarried royal persons, each with his or her own “eligibility” rating. By offering them in marriage to other powers, you both get the chance at earning victory points and cards. In a recent playtest, I cemented an alliance with Spain as the French. To seal the deal, Margot Valois married Philip II. We placed their two pieces in an “engagement” box on the board, and at the end of the turn, we will see how successful the marriage was. Rolling dice and adding eligibility ratings, we can go all the way from “Husband murdered” to “Founds a new dynasty.” Clever!

Activating Minor and Inactive Major Powers: One of the common gripes about Here I Stand these days is how players can start phony wars. For instance, the Hapsburgs often agree to go to war with Venice so that the Papacy can intervene, get the Venetian key, and thus another card to fight the Protestant player. Now players can spend the CP value of cards to get bumped up on an influence track for a particular minor or inactive major power. When a card is played which requires you to “resolve the power’s status,” each player with influence with that power rolls a die and adds his influence rating. The highest roller gets to activate that power. In my current game, for instance, the French player starts with one influence in the Holy Roman Empire (an inactive major power in the four-player scenario). If the mandatory event German Intervention gets played, I’ll get to roll a die and add my influence. If I am the highest roller, then I get access to a small hand of Holy Roman Empire cards, can move those armies, build fleets, etc. This elegant way of fixing the “dummy war” problem is well-integrated, and doesn’t add complexity to the game.

Reformation and Counter Reformation: Another common complaint with Here I Stand is that resolving the religious game takes far too long. Ed Beach has developed a new way of resolving Reformation and Counter-Reformation attempts that both reflects the changes in the religious game in this new era, and moves the game along more quickly. The English, Spanish, French, and Protestant players can all either “preach sermons” or “suppress heretics” (think “publish treatise” or “burn books”). Spending 2 CP gets you four attempts. You first look at the map and determine whether any spaces are eligible for “automatic conversion.” If you wish, you can immediately flip these, which means no more rolling seven dice, knowing you’ll probably get your “six” result anyway. Once this is done, each remaining attempt equals a die. You roll those dice, and each “five” or “six” result means you flip an eligible space, while each “one” result means you place unrest on an eligible space.

The religious game is further enhanced by a special action only the Protestant player can take. This is a “rebellion.” Spending one CP, a player can start two rebellions. Choosing a space which is currently under Protestant religious influence, but French or Spanish (actually Dutch) political control, the Protestant player just flips them to his political control (assuming no enemy units in the space). Those planning on playing the Catholic powers will quake in their boots–if this space is fortified, a Protestant army pops up on that same space! This is why I’m currently rushing my French forces to unoccupied fortresses that are seething with discontent…

These are just three system that have clearly evolved in a positive fashion since Here I Stand. Stay tuned for more updates as the playtesting process continues, including systems that don’t seem to gel quite yet.

Virgin Queen Sneak Peek

August 13, 2009
Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

Queen Elizabeth's coronation portrait.

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.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

The map is similar in style to History of the World.

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!