Sunday, September 23, 2012
Abstractions and plans for new edition(s) of Britannia
As you probably know, the Fantasy Flight version of Britannia has sold out its second printing and all rights have reverted to me.
The plan for the new editions of Britannia - don't forget that plans don't always work out - is that there are several versions. The standard version that has been available in the past will be changed more than I anticipated when I started out two months ago, primarily to make it work better as a way of teaching/understanding British history - to make it closer to reality, if you will. In the process the game has changed some, which I also think will be interesting for players. In particular I've eliminated some things that I strongly dislike. First, it won't be possible for the Romans to make a deal with the Welsh, who then submit although never touched. This time, they Will Fight. Second, it won't be possible for a "starving army" to commit virtual suicide by making a bad-odds attack. Its compatriots will have to come along. Third, we won't have the Romano-British scurrying for the hills, abandoning their homes and farms. But they'll be in better shape than in the old game.
It also won't be a Roman walkover with Romans even known to be killing Caledonians. The Roman will have more difficult choices. Unfortunately, players who tend to make a hash of the Romans now, when it IS often a cakewalk for an experienced player, may REALLY make a hash of it in the new version. There's always a problem in games, whether to design for the 99% expert player or the 33% or the 75%. When the 99% expert is going to work a bit, the 33% may just get creamed. Fortunately, the Roman-British are MUCH more prominent in the game - for a while.
There's a smaller, diceless version (“Rule Britannia”) that uses a new board (21 land areas); and a quick, really small (8 nations) "broad market" version (no set title) that also uses a new board. I expect these versions will appeal more to current tastes, and may (should) outsell the standard version.
There's also an "Epic" version that uses the standard board with the addition of Ireland, and will be significantly longer than the standard game (Epic, get it?). So Ireland will be on the standard board, even though it won't be used in the standard game.
The standard game will come with several shorter scenarios (4-9 turns), and a new three player game that I am trying very hard to balance, and a 6-7 turn game that covers the entire period using the same colors/sides.
All of these except the new 3 player version were originally developed years ago, but Fantasy Flight was not interested in expansions/spinoffs/add-ons. Britannia was essentially a trophy game for them, because the owner likes the game. (After the game had been in print about two years, I could no longer get anything posted on the FFG Britannia Web site. They were "too busy.") With the new edition we can try to bring these other versions to the public. Most likely there will be a Kickstarter with several choices, and various perks (perhaps a wooden set?). Time will tell.
In the shadowy background as standalone or expansions are a Britannia card game and a couple games that use the setting, board, and pieces but are new game systems.
With that introduction we can now talk about abstractions and things left out in relation to the Epic and standard versions.
Designing a game that's a model of some reality is an exercise in abstraction. (Keep in mind that many of today's popular games are not models of any reality. They are simply "abstract" with an atmosphere tacked on.) You cannot begin to represent all of reality, it's too complex. You have to combine things together into one thing constantly, and you have to ignore a lot of things that were very important to people at the time.
For example, in Britannia the "armies" represent (in most of the Dark Age) poorly-armed agricultural settlers. (The exceptions are the Romans at one end of the time scale, and the Norwegians and Normans at the other - more or less professional soldiers.) Armies are both population and soldiers. That’s the way it tended to be in the Dark Ages, quite different from some of late antiquity and most of the modern world. A more complex game could represent population separately from soldiers. One of those shadowy add-on games does, though it's generally fairly simple otherwise.
An obvious compromise is the coherence of large ethnic groups that were usually not politically united. The Welsh were never one kingdom, really, though most of them occasionally acknowledged an overlord such as Rhodri Mawr (who is now in the game under present rules). Picts, Romano-British, Norsemen, etc. weren't united much of the time.
What I've done in "Epic Britannia" is undo some of these compromises made in standard Britannia, decreasing the level of abstraction. It's "more true-to-life", though it's still so abstracted that it models effects more than causes. That is, it's good for showing what happened, and even for giving some idea of why things happened, but it doesn't try to model the causes of why things happened.
So what does Epic do differently than Second Edition Brit?
• Caratacus Welsh leader with change in play order (now also in standard)
• Arthur appears for all British nations (now also in standard)
• Ravaging/Forays (now also in standard)
• Disorder/disunity (Settled Nations in standard now)
• Several nations separated (3 R-B nations, 3 Angles)
• Separates Roman control from Roman forts
• Reduction of Roman capabilities in later years but addition of one relief expedition
• Changes the sides (colors)
• Ireland included
• Absorption of Picts by Scots, Jutes by Saxons
• Revolts and second submissions possible
• Stronger Saxons at the end
• More leader movement at end
The reduction in abstraction makes for a longer game, of course. Contrast it with a game with only 8 nations instead of 16-17 and 6 turns instead of 16 (the broad market version), which is 60-90 minutes (I hope).
As the simpler, shorter games are likely to become the "standard" for this topic, I have not been too reluctant to add features to Britannia itself that may lengthen the game, if only because there may be more fighting in the early part. As you see, some of the features of Epic have now been incorporated into the third edition standard game.
Plenty is still left out, for example the Roman Carausian revolt. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carausian_Revolt
And once again, we’ll remember what happens with plans, and see where we end up - next year.