Archive for December, 2019

Starting to make a new Kingmaker

A few months ago Gibson’s asked me to develop the new edition of Kingmaker. This was the result of a conversation at UK Games Expo, brought about significantly by a meeting between my fellow Surprised Stare Games director, Tony Boydell, and the good folks at Gibson’s, about another project entirely. Serendipity in action. It took only a few weeks to sort out details, which, amongst other things involved a brief conversation with the original designer of Kingmaker, Andrew McNeil; I wanted to check he was happy – which he was, thank goodness.

I suspected there would be some talk on BGG about the game – and was I right! There’s an immense amount of fan-based material developed over the years, including extensive sets of house rules, and a whole other game, Bella Rosarum by Greg Sarnecki, alias shturmovik14. I have to confess that I will not be able to contribute more than a jotting to the painstaking research carried out by Kingmaker enthusiasts. However, my commitment, alongside the Gibson’s team, is to create the best Kingmaker yet, while retaining the essence of the classic game that we don’t want to lose.

I played many a game of Kingmaker back in the day, and I have the original Ariel edition, a Gibsons 1983, an Avalon Hill v1 and a TM Games copy. I had a small involvement in the TM Games version, though it’s probably best to draw a veil over that (in short, I felt that TM Games didn’t want to invest any significant time and effort into improvement, so it was very much a lost opportunity).

So, I am very familiar with the game.

My starting point in the development was to read and digest the hundreds of comments about Kingmaker on BGG, leavened by further discussions with my design and development friends and colleagues here in the UK. This has included conversations with Andrew McNeil and Charles Vasey, in order to gain an understanding of how Kingmaker was designed and developed. I now have a rather large inventory of issues and pointers, as well as a vast array of suggested solutions, some good, some bad. Also, I have extensive notes of my own initial reactions, again, some good, some bad. I’m very conscious that I’m unlikely to satisfy everyone in the Kingmaker community; I won’t be able to implement many of the suggested solutions, because changing a part of a complex system is apt to have knock-on effects elsewhere, or might destroy the kernel of the game experience I’d like to retain.

Development and playtesting of the revised version started earlier in the autumn 2019. I’m focusing on making the play of the game run more smoothly, but with the same feel as the original. There are elements of the map that need clarification – for example, does the road go through Shrewsbury or meet outside? Does Oxford block the London to Bristol road? Is Chillingham in The Cheviots and does it matter? There are some ambiguities in the rules to tidy up – mainly in the Avalon Hill version, to be fair – for example, where precisely in a square does a noble end up when he’s finished movement? what happens if a ship-board force has to battle its way into an unfortified port? How is the movement of stacked allied pieces tracked?

In view of the perceived length of the full game with 7 players to the traditional end point of controlling the last crowned royal piece, I am developing and testing a revised ‘short format’ game, aiming to come in at 30 minutes plus 30 minutes per player. Based on scenarios for 3, 4 or 5 players, this is intended to produce a 2 to 3 hours game that still captures the traditional feel of Kingmaker. I envisage that we will include the full length 7-player game too. In addition, I would like to make a 2-player scenario based on Henry Tudor versus Richard III.

Current ideas that I am testing include:

  • Big game scenario: 4-7 players for the classic Kingmaker experience with the original end conditions, and optional alternatives.
  • Short format game: 3-5 players with a time limit of 30 minutes plus 30 minutes per player. This would involve alternative win conditions currently under development and called ‘Dominion over Territory’ (conquering cities), ‘Dominion over Government’ (obtaining most of the Offices in play), and ‘Dominion over the Church’ (obtaining most of the Archbishops and Bishops, plus Canterbury and York). I’m currently testing the details of the win conditions, so I won’t share the full mechanics here yet. There is also a relatively simple method for assessing victory after the time limit (not votes in Parliament!).
  • 2-player game: Henry Tudor versus Richard III. Missing from the original game, but should be a fun addition.
  • 3- and 4-player scenarios: with set factions specifically to make these balanced. I envisage these based loosely on specific historic starting positions, such as Warwick’s rebellion against Edward IV.
  • Game board – I am now testing an idea for a major change to the board to make it regional movement rather than “squares”. The idea here is that this will help with playability. I’m thinking that we could have a new regional movement map on one side of the board, and a version of the traditional map on the other. So, players with feelings of nostalgia could opt to play the original movement system, but with an unambiguous implementation of the board.
    Crown deck and Event deck much as now, but with different layout for playability, and proper playing card stock. There will be some amendments, but retaining the current balance of the combat system, so the game feels the same.
  • Pieces: hunky Eurogame style counters for nobles and royal pieces. For ease of play, each player might have a set of noble pieces with their player colour in the background, so everyone can see who owns which stack. Royal pieces could be flippable when crowned, so it’s obvious who are the current monarchs.

If you’re in the UK, please do get in touch about the possibility of playtesting at various conventions, including AireCon, HandyCon and UK Games Expo.

Airfix Battles: Juno Regina

I’ve been dreaming up some scenarios for Open Battles, our working title for the extension to Airfix Battles. These are mainly D-Day ones (or shortly thereafter), based on a mixed old and new set of Unit cards and rules.

Rather than getting carried away with the expensive acquisition of actual terrain models, I decided to playtest using map boards derived from artwork from the original game, plus some fairly lame extra pieces of terrain that I’ve created in Photoshop. This all makes it easier to focus on design and playtesting rather than the looks of the thing, so bear with me.

My current Juno Beach board represents a piece of Nan Green beach, assaulted by the Regina Rifle Regiment supported by 1st Hussars. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve not attempted to replicate the full intricacies of either the defences or the attacker’s plan – this would complicate the scenario immeasurably and might threaten to turn it into more of a simulation that we would expect or enjoy.

junoBoard

A Piece of Nan: Draft Juno Beach board

This board has a fairly narrow beach; the beach landing squares are water+sand, the beach proper is 1 square deep. Then, there is the sea wall, displayed here as a normal wall Edge Cover, but tracked vehicles cannot traverse Sea Walls. Note that the slipway “road” is blocked by a concrete block, also Sea Wall Edge Cover. On the grassy “promenade” are a couple of pillboxes, providing inter-locking fire to the front. Behind them is a line of single storey beach huts, then a beach-side road – I think this would now be Avenue de la Combattante, but presumably a different name in 1944!

Courseulles is fairly flat, but there is a slight rise as you move into the town, as you’d expect coming up from the sea front. The buildings are also more substantial. Therefore, I’ve allowed that this would enable firing from the village itself towards and into the beach area over the beach front properties. Though not something you’d normally call a “hill”, I’ve represented this slope as a Gentle Hill in Open Battles terminology. This will be common in our Normandy representations where a few metres of height would be of great importance. More houses continue beyond this rise.

In terms of defences, I’ve provided the Germans with a couple of pillboxes on the beach front and a bunker on the rise into town. The Germans will also be able to stick down some barbed wire. For a more flexible game, you could allow the Germans to place all their Static Defences wherever they liked – mine is a starting suggestion.

In this scenario, I wanted both players to get some experience of the new equipment in Open Battles. For the Germans, this is primarily the Static Defences, and they have very few actual troops: a couple of PaK 40 guns, an MG section and some Osttruppen. Therefore the German player’s actions will be mainly limited to selecting targets, rather than any game of maneouvre. However, the bunker has height advantage on the beach area, so troops in there get +1 range, which may be significant.

I’ve also given the Canadians (using the British Unit cards) fixed Units for this scenario. Sometimes, you just have to work with what you’ve got. In this case, they’re fairly officer-heavy with a Captain for their tanks and a Captain for their infantry. New men and equipment include a Preparatory Artillery Barrage – unlikely to destroy the fortifications, but you may pin the occupants – Engineers, a Sherman DD tank (hull down when in water!), a Churchill AVRE (with Petard Mortar firing AT8) and a Churchill Bridge Layer.