Alright, it is time to start talking about Empire. This is a grail game design for me. I love 4X games and that is exactly what Empire is. Players are powerful faction leaders trying to take control of a floundering empire after its emperor was assassinated. The empire’s senate still holds some sway, but the different factions are warring militarily, culturally, politically, and technologically to be the next emperor.
There were two main inspirations that made this game click in my head. Population as the basis for economy and a battle system that uses a deck building mechanic. Let’s look at each of these but first a few mock up images I have been working on. These are very rough and very much in flux as the game evolves, but they will give you an idea of where I am headed.
POPULATION AS THE BASIS FOR ECONOMY
In all 4X games, there is some type of currency that the player is trying to collect whether that be natural resources or money. This is fine and I enjoy these games, but I had the thought that the real economic foundation of empires is the people. As the area you control grows so does the population you control. Your ability to produce goods and resources is directly proportional to the number of people you control. As you produce these goods and resources you can then begin producing more technology and culture. In Empire, there will be two primary ways to bring more population into your control: military and culture. A military-controlled area doesn’t produce as much population for the player as the culturally controlled areas. And players can culturally control areas that are militarily controlled by other players, letting them siphon off some population. Culture might have this advantage, but it is much slower growing than military control.
As players gain population through controlling different areas militarily or culturally they will use them in different ways.
- Production – players put population markers on the Production track to represent producers of goods, services, and resources. The more a players allocates to production the larger armies and cities a player can put on the board. A player’s level of production also produces wealth that the player can spend in the game.
- Science – players put population markers on the Science track to represent scientists and their ability to discover technology. The ability to place population here is directly related to the actions a player takes on during a round. If they take more military actions in a round they will be able to place population in the military technology area. If they take more societal actions they will be able to place in the Social technology area.
- Culture – if players put population markers on their Culture track they represent the entertainers, artists, architects, musicians, etc. of your nation. The more population you have here the father your cultural influence will reach from your cities and the more cultural power you will have to “attack” an opponent’s areas with.
- Military – players will spend population and sometimes wealth to purchase military unit cards that they will use to populate their armies. I’ll go more into the deck building aspect of the armies in a bit.
- Improvements – players will spend population and wealth to improve the areas they control to produce additional population, provide defense, increase cultural influence, increase wealth, etc.
- Politics – players can spend population to win votes on political issues that come up in the senate, swaying different aspects of the game in their favor.
DECK BUILDING ARMIES
Players will have single units on the board that will represent the presence of their armies. The contents of these armies will be made up of a deck of cards for each that players will be building throughout the game by spending population and wealth. I like this idea for several reasons:
- Fog of War – Having the armies be decks of cards creates a bit of a fog of war. You know that a player has an army close to you but you don’t know the exact contents of that army.
- Espionage – players will be able to spy on each others armies by being able to look at the top X cards of a deck.
- Sabotage – players will be able to add cards to other players army decks as sabotage. These cards will hinder the owner of the army in battle.
- Uncertainty of battle with some control – No matter how big your army is in Risk it all comes down to the dice. With a deck building system, you still experience uncertainty in battle as the player won’t know exactly what they will draw but they have the power to build the deck and control what is in it.
When players go into battle they will draw cards from the decks of the corresponding armies and play several skirmish rounds of playing cards. I need to work out the combat but here is one idea I have:
The different units will have strengths and weakness like paper/rock/scissors and a power value. Each skirmish will generate points for the winner of that skirmish. For example, if one player plays a cavalry regiment with a power of 5 and the other plays a pikeman regiment with a power of 2 the pikeman regiment would win based on the strength/weakness of the two regiments played (pikemen are strong against cavalry). The difference between the two powers is the points the winner receives so the player who played the pikeman regiment would receive 3 points for the skirmish. Because of this even if a player doesn’t have a card that will beat their opponent they can minimize the points their opponent receives by playing a card with a power very close to their opponents power. The player who initiated the battle will have to play first in the first skirmish, but then they alternate. The last skirmish will be simultaneous play. Players will roll dice to see how many units they lost in the battle (with the loser in the battle rolling a die with more sides) and must lose cards with power equal or greater than the die roll.
Here are some other concepts and ideas in the game that I think are interesting:
- Seasons and Years – I like the idea that players can do different things in different rounds. Each round in the game is a season. Spring is when players produce new population. In Summer players will issue orders and resolve them. In Fall players will gain wealth based on their production and then have another round of issuing and resolving orders. Winter is the politics and book keeping round. Then a new year starts.
- Hidden Orders – I really like hidden order systems like Game of Thrones has. In the same way players will place order tokens on the board in their different areas and then reveal and resolve them in a particular order.
- Fixed starting tiles – This will be a hex tile based game so that the board will be different each game. But the starting locations will be 3 hexes put together so that I can balance starting areas and so that players know that they will start with some type of strength that the combination of these three tiles lend themselves to.
- The map – One of the Xes in 4X is for exploration. To achieve this in a known empire setting I want to put some areas that have been outside the empire as explorable tiles. So there will be some known and some unknown tiles at the beginning of the game. Another part of the hex tiles I really like is the way they handle terrain and movement. Instead of just saying that it takes 3 movement to get across a hex that is mountainous terrain the hex will be split into thirds so that to move across the hex actually does take 3 movement instead of players just having to remember.
- Hand building – players will have a hand of Command Cards which represent powerful leaders that they will spend during a year (4 rounds) and then get back for the next year. They will start with just a couple cards and then “recruit” more cards into their hands as the game goes on. Players will use these to augment military, cultural, and political power as well as produce things like wealth or population for the player. I have thought of using these also to bid for turn order and control how many orders a player can issue each round.
This game is very much in the idea stage but I have done some mock ups of the player boards that will handle all of the population marker movement, cities, and armies. I have also been working on the hex tiles that will make up the board. This is another big game with lots of components but I am really looking forward to getting it to the table for a play test.