Archive for the 'Kingmaker' Category

Kingmaker: The Carisbrooke Anomaly

Many older games have little quirks and foibles that would nowadays be smoothed away in the interests of consistency and playability. Kingmaker has some of these. One of my jobs in the re-development of the game for the new version is to identify them and take my knife (and sandpaper) to them.

The Carisbrooke Anomaly: Carisbrooke is a royal castle in the centre of the Isle of Wight. It wasn’t particularly important in the Wars of the Roses, though its existence did discourage French raids. It was held by the Woodville family for Edward IV for a while. It is more famous for its royal occupant at the end of the English Civil War, when Charles I was imprisoned there.

In the original Kingmaker, Carisbrooke was represented by a Crown card with just its name (left), updated for the Avalon Hill/Gibsons version with some graphics (right):

Within the Crown deck, the ownership of royal castles is generally indicated on an Office card, such as the Constable of Dover Castle (for Dover), or the Chancellor of England (for Caernarvon). Except for Carisbrooke. This royal castle, and only this one, has its own specific Crown card with no associated Office. In every respect, except for its picture and fortified location type, Carisbrooke is equivalent to a fortified Town, like, say Southampton. This has the unfortunate side-effect that this type of Crown card cannot be accurately called a “Town card”, because one of them is a castle. As an aside, there’s also Bristol with its own card, though it’s a City not a Town; nothing’s perfect.

I’m experimenting with a resolution of the Carisbrooke Anomaly by removing its current card and introducing a new Office: Warden of the Isle of Wight. This Office would have 50 troop strength and control of Carisbrooke Castle. In addition, it would have a ship, Le Maudeleyn of Newport (Isle of Wight) with a capacity of 150 men. The ship and troops represent the considerable efforts that the crown took to contain piracy in the area, both locally and from across the Channel. Furthermore, to reinforce this anti-piracy role, the Warden of the Isle of Wight is called away by 2 Piracy Events on the South coast.

Here is the new card, not tested as yet:

I’m hoping that this will make Carisbrooke Castle a little more relevant and interesting in the game.

Kingmaker re-developing: playtest version on Tabletopia

First cut of re-developing Kingmaker on Tabletopia:

Re-developing Kingmaker (1st cut on Tabletopia)

Re-developing Kingmaker (1st cut on Tabletopia)

Game development components!

Kingmaker: moves afoot!

I’ve been working on a proposed revision to the Kingmaker board using ‘regional’ movement. In this idea, noble pieces using non-road land movement simply move from 1 region to an adjacent region, rather than having to count up to 5 ‘squares’. In this way, players can avoid many of the difficulties and inconsistencies with the original Kingmaker map, and also the slightly counter-intuitive diagonal movement that is available in many places in the original board. Although there are some necessary compromises, the actual distancies moved are similar in the new mechanism compared with the old one.

When a noble piece lands in a new region, the player selects a specific area within the region for the piece to occupy. This enables a noble or stack of nobles to end up in a specific named location (town, city, castle), in the ‘open field’ or on the road network, ready to exploit road movement in a future move. For ease of play, and maybe a bit of historical realism, I don’t force nobles to decide immediately whether they are in a specific location, thereby avoiding potential random plague death; the decision about the noble’s precise whereabouts can be made when a potential hostile force enters the area. However, if your noble is sent to a location by a raid or revolt, then he should be in that location – so, if it’s a fortified town or city, the noble will be risking plague in this case.

We played the revised map last weekend at Eclectic Games, and it will have another outing or 2 at HandyCon this weekend. It was well received. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview. Bear in mind that this is a prototype version for playtesting purposes, based loosely on the old game board; it is not a newly created production version; that will only be commissioned once we have the prototype finalised.

In this map, the purple lines are ‘region’ boundaries, the white lines are area borders. Wooded areas are passable only on roads. I would also note that the current draft hasn’t been fully checked, so there may be the odd line missing or spelling mistake; it’s very much a work-in-progress. Also, many thanks to my wife Charlie for much sterling work on this board. Finally in addition, we’ve not yet addressed the heraldry and any geographical anomalies that fans of Kingmaker have identified.

Kingmaker: Raids, Revolts and other shenanigans

I don’t want to change the Kingmaker Event deck much at all, as so much of the flavour of the classic game comes from there. One of the basic mechanisms in the Event deck is to break up turtling stacks of nobles through raids and revolts that send powerful office-holders hither and yon. Part of the game is to be in a position to exploit this, either by picking off individual travellers, or by instigating a major engagement before a key noble can get back into position.

Offices can give a noble many more troops, the Marshal of England doubly so, in that he has 100 extra troops anywhere in the country, whereas others have only 50, with some having extras in restricted geographical locations. However, allocating the Marshal of England and the Bishop of Norwich to Mowbray for example isn’t a great idea. In the original game, this would be the cards for that allocation:

 

It’s not obvious to a new player why this might not be a good idea. A difficulty for new players is not knowing the details of who gets sent where by the Raids and Revolts in the Event deck. I think one way to help resolve this issue is to put more information on the Court deck cards to reference the Events that might occur. At the moment, I’ve put a simple number at bottom left in square brackets – this probably needs a better graphical and layout treatment, but it’s a start:


Although Mowbray in this example has 160 starting troops, there are 16 cards in the 90 card Event deck that move him involuntarily around the country. That’s slightly more than 1 in 6 times per Chance Phase. So, in a 4-player game, he’s likely to get moved approximately every other round (1 Chance Phase per player). This grossly reduces his effectiveness, and you need to take this into account when allocating the cards.

Hopefully, putting some of this information on the cards will help. I wonder whether increasing the information to ‘Events: 4/90’, ‘Events: 11/90’, ‘Events: 1/90’ might be better – at the expense of more clutter.

Kingmaker: Red-faced

Hmmm. The colours on the Events cards didn’t work. My print facilities failed to differentiate between the 2-1, 3-1 and 4-1. Now revised:

Not exactly pro graphics standard, but I hope good enough.

Playtests of Kingmaker upcoming: Sat 11 January at Eclectic Games in Reading; HandyCon 17-19 January.

Kingmaker: Events, dear boy, Events

I’ve been re-doing the Events Deck to make the lookup of odds easier for players to process. I’m using a bit of colour and a bit of layout amends. I’m still unsure whether to completely overhaul Events card wording (for clarity and consistency) – that sounds to me more like a final production process, so I may not. Also, I’m pondering the whys and wherefores of revising the Event content; I’m wary of that, because the ubiquitous Peasant Revolts, along with Marshal to Black Heath, are iconic.

However, there are 90 Event Deck cards – it takes a while to scan, prep, stick ‘em into InDesign and then add stuff and check! Here are a couple of examples:

Without InDesign and Photoshop (other s/w programmez are available) this would have been pretty much impossible. I now have an intimate knowledge of the makeup of Kingmaker cards. Apparently, left align wasn’t a thing in those days, and neither was consistency of positions on a card. Also, consistency of font size and CAPS was not pursued. Ah, well sans DTP, I guess it was very tricksy.

The ‘victory block’ will match up with the lookup table, currently much like the original in the Gibson’s rules, but with added colour and amended heading. This will be subject to proper design and layout by graphics experts – this is just my prototyping.

xref_combat2_sample

Continuing…

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.