Friday, March 22, 2024

Play Balance in Britannia and Duel Britannia

Play balance - that is, ensuring that each player has an equal chance of succeeding - is an ideal in games that it can be difficult to achieve when the game is asymmetric, that is each player starts with a different situation.

If I had a dime for every time somebody had said that Britannia is poorly balanced I’d be in good shape. But 34 years of experience has allowed us to come up with a game that is well-balanced for those who really understand it. World Board gaming championships tournaments show this over and over. One color may dominate for a while or even for an entire tournament, but then other colors displace it the next years.

Play balance is even more difficult to achieve in a two player game. In the game for more than two, what I call the “Invisible Hand” helps maintain the balance. This is the efforts of the most skillful players who recognize weaknesses of other colors and don’t allow yet other players to take advantage of those weaknesses. They also recognize when one player has done poorly, and tend to “lay off” that player. It’s like an invisible hand helping to arrange where the pieces are on the board. When there are only two players, there are no additional players available to provide the effects of the Invisible Hand.

Playing style has a lot to do with game balance as well. Some groups just don’t figure out the best strategy, or the strategy that prevents one color or side from dominating. Some groups accidentally don’t play the game quite according to the rules, and that can make quite a difference. So right out of the box a game may appear to be unbalanced when it’s not. Britannia has 34 years of play behind it, and the current version was first published in 2006. Duel Britannia on the other hand existed for one year before I had to turn it in to the publisher.

I am including here some rule tweaks you can make if you think that either of these games is not perfectly balanced.


If you feel a Britannia color is too weak, try the following.

Blue: Pict leader Brude mac Bili in Round IX. (reigned 672-93)

Green: Welsh Leader Cadwallon in Round VIII. (r. 625-34)
Welsh Leader Rhodri Mawr in Round XI (or could be Round XII). (r. 844-877)

Red: Give the Saxons double increase points in Round XII (this represents another effect of Alfred, a monarch who truly deserved the name "The Great").
In Round XII let the Saxons build up to eight Burhs regardless of how many areas they possess (but still only one Burh per area).

Yellow: Scots Leader Kenneth McAlpin in Round XI. (r. 840-58)

If you feel that one Britannia color is too strong, try the following:

Blue: The Angles do not get their leader Ida in Round VII.

Green: Danes do not get their leader Ivar/Halfdan in Round XII.

Red: the Irish get no reinforcing army at sea in Round IX.
Saxons do not get their leader Egbert in Round XI.

You also have the opportunity to use the Saxon-Jute move order as a small balancing factor in four-player games: if green tends to do better than red in your games, have the Jutes play before the Saxons; if red tends to do better than green, the Jutes should move after the Saxons.

Yellow: Reduce the Roman invasion strength to 15 instead of 16.
Dubliners do not get their leader Olaf Guthfrithson in Round XIII.

Duel Britannia
There are many different strategies in this game, more than you might think at first, and you might not achieve a balance until you’ve tried all of them. But if you think one side is at a disadvantage, try one or more of these:

Anglo-Saxons weak?

Give the Saxons a leader, Egbert, in round five.
Take away the Ostman army appearing in round six.
Give the Danish Raiders in round five, five armies instead of six.

Brythons weak?

Give the initial Norse appearance in round four, three armies instead of two.
Give the Danish Raiders in round five, seven armies instead of six.
Reduce the number of armies with Saxon Athelstan from two to one.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Review of book The Scythian Empire: Central Eurasia and the Birth of the Classical Age from Persia to China

 I recently read Christopher I. Beckwith The Scythian Empire: Central Eurasia and the Birth of the Classical Age from Persia to China, Princeton University Press 2023


Summary: Christopher I. Beckwith, relying heavily on an astonishing knowledge of linguistics and ancient languages, shows in his latest book that the Scythians were a single people speaking a single language, with a monotheistic religion, who created an actual empire that strongly influenced the Near East, China, and everywhere in between. This contradicts traditional scholarship.




This is a brilliant book, a monograph, as much linguistic as historical, very heavy going in some parts. It is very scholarly. Beckwith has studied these topics his entire life.


His thesis is that there was at one time a united Scythian empire that contributed a great deal, especially ideas, to ancient civilization both in the Middle East and in China. He approaches this partly on linguistic grounds but using archaeology, history, and any other disciplines he can draw from.


From my point of view, I have often wondered how the Medes seemed to come out of nowhere to destroy Assyria and then rapidly form their own empire, only to be overthrown by the Persians, who also seemed to come more or less out of nowhere. Beckwith says that the Medes learned much of what they knew from the Scythians, who controlled Media for 28 years (according to Herodotus); even the Medes’ common language was Scythian, but also modes of dress and warfare. Mede and Scythian bows and arrowheads, for example, are indistinguishable.


The Medes took over from the Scythians after those 28 years and within decades had destroyed Assyria perhaps with some help from the Scythians and Babylonians. Then the Persians (Cyrus the Great) took over the Scytho-Mede empire, and Darius took over Cyrus' empire, not so much war as coup.


I am not a linguist and could not follow all the details of the linguistic arguments down to the level of Chinese script and even pictographs, but Beckwith tries to show that several ancient languages (such as the language of the Avesta religious tracts) were in fact Scythian. He shows that many loan words in old Persian were Scythian. He tries to show that the organization of the Persian Empire is derived from how the Scythians organized their empire. He tries to show that four great philosophies/philosophers of the ancient world are derived from Scythia (Anacharsis, Buddha, Taoism, Zorastrianism). The Scythians, he says, had a single god, not a pantheon, and the monotheism that appeared in the ancient Near East derives from that point of view.


He also shows that the West Scythians had similar effects on China, including that the First Emperor of China was brought up in a Scythian culture.


I don’t know how experts in the field will react to this, although the tendency is to stick with what you know rather than accept the new way of looking at things. Prior to now the Scythians have been regarded as mere “barbarians,” not founders of a great empire.


He convinced me, but it’s easy to be convinced when there is no one else presenting counter arguments. Beckwith himself tries to present counter arguments and has very detailed notes and discussions of scholarship and different possibilities. The book seems to be very, very, thorough, perhaps Beckwith’s masterpiece.


How did I get this book? I actually wanted Beckwith’s earlier book Empires of the Silk Road: a History of Central Eurasia from the Bronze Age to the Present but my local library did not have it, and this one sounded like it might be as interesting. I suspect the Silk Road book is written for a broader audience but I don’t know.


Monday, October 09, 2023

GrogCon 2023 Report (Old School D&D Convention)

(Photos below) 

Most of what I have to say about games goes into videos on my YouTube “Game Design” channel [ ], but this time I’ll put it in writing.


This is a discussion of my attendance at GrogCon 23 Sep 30-Aug 1 in Orlando, FL. I’d been at the con for three days last year as well. GrogCon is an “old School” RPG convention, playing AD&D and Basic versions of D&D from around the same time. It’s attached to larger conventions.


Grogcon is attached to Crucible. This year Crucible merged with QuestCon. Crucible is primarily a fantasy and science fiction miniatures convention while QuestCon is an RPG convention. The miniatures took place in one of the largest rooms I have ever seen, one of the hotel’s ballrooms, that was filled with tables and terrain for miniatures play (War Hammer and War Machine). And on Saturday there was a vast number of people there playing (didn’t try to estimate).


QuestCon also brought with it a large number of vendors. The vendor area was much larger than for WBC in Pennsylvania or PrezCon in Charlottesville, though very small compared to GenCon. Many of the vendors were selling dice and dice paraphernalia such as fancy boxes to roll dice in, 3-D printed dice towers in wild configurations such as a dragon head, and lots of what might be called RPG related art. These are not the kinds of things that I typically purchase but were certainly interesting to look at. I realize now that I didn’t see much in the way of 3-D printed character pieces, I’m a little surprised.


When I arrived Saturday before noon (con started Friday morning) the GrogTalk podcast/YouTube video was being recorded. After five years every week, as much as three hours per show, one of the two principals has bowed out but the show will continue. As I came in they were showing a beautifully built “Wand of Orcus” (about three feet long) that was to be auctioned with the proceeds going to charity. (Orcus was the theme of this year’s convention.)


Dungeons & Dragons is possibly the greatest cooperative game in the world, quite the opposite of a competitive environment. But people try to run tournaments at conventions, and the “traditional” tournament at GrogCon pits various randomly generated groups against one another, all playing the same adventure with different GMs. In this case there were three tables with 6 to 8 players per table for a maximum four hour adventure. The adventure was primarily detective work. At the end of the time the GMs and the convention organizers/writers of the adventure got together and decided which table won the tournament, and each player from that table got a prize, which appeared to be a 3-D printed kind-of paperweight of a Buddha like figure.


A “tradition” of the con is a Holmes Basic D&D adventure using 3D terrain. In Holmes rules a character species is the equivalent of a character class. In this case the favorite is fourth level dwarves, 12 of them. There may be some clerical capability but no magic users. Last year the dwarves entered the Lonely Mountain and finally encountered Smaug the Dragon. This year the biggest terrain object was an Aztec-style step pyramid, with each level removable so that you could place the miniatures as necessary within the pyramid. The other major terrain was a Tudor style inn several stories tall.


I don’t usually play games at conventions, unless it’s necessary for playtesting one of my games, because I don’t want to get tied up for many hours in one activity. Also I’m not a big fan of one-shot as opposed to campaign D&D. The more I watch one-shots, the more I realize how vastly different they are from campaigns. I’ll be writing about that for “Worlds of Design” on, likely next year.


David (missed his last name) ran an interesting adventure Sunday afternoon. The adventuring party was five high-level (ninth?) paladins with holy swords and one high level cleric with a mace of disruption. They had gone to a demi-plane and were up against some really hefty monsters, beginning with a 64 hit point black dragon.


The dragon breathed on two characters, one failing her save and surviving with 3 hit points. At my urging (the GM approved of my intervention) all the paladins charged the dragon. In that situation (especially with no magic to speak of), either you all flee or all charge and try to kill the dragon before it breathes too many times. Someone had a Wish, and Wished for everyone to have five times as many hit points as their normal maximum, permanently, as well as something else. Many of us shook our heads at this, far too powerful; in the end the GM allowed half-again his points for a period determined in rounds.


Here I encountered an interpretation I hadn’t heard before, but turns out to be from the Moldvay Basic D&D version. The dragon’s second breath did only as much damage as the dragon had hits remaining. That actually makes a lot of sense. I’m familiar with Holmes Basic, but never read Moldvay.


The players did away with the dragon (a Vorpal Blade cut off its head), and soon after a couple demons. David had a dilemma because he had underestimated how powerful the party would be despite missing two clerics for lack of players. But since it was a one-shot, and being played for the first time, I suggested to him during a break in the action that he just put in more monsters. He was already setting the monsters to maximum hit points, I don’t know if he put in more monsters or not and I had to leave before the adventure ended.


It was a new hotel this year, a Doubletree within walking distance of Universal Orlando. The rooms were $139, but the parking was officially $29 a day (con attendees got a discount). Two of the three elevators for the 18 story tower that I stayed in did not work much of the time I was there, and evidently on Friday none of them worked. At check-in time I counted five people behind the desk, but only one was actually checking people in (and no famous cookie!). I did not see a map anywhere at any time, which meant I had to ask several questions about where various restaurants were. The room was very nice. But the restaurants were expensive for a convention, as in $20 for a Cobb salad and $26 for fish and chips, with a 16% gratuity added on automatically. There was only one (Korean) restaurant nearby. You may have gathered I was Not Impressed.


On Sunday I had an hour and a half lecture/conversation with James Garoutsos, organizer of the con and of GrogTalk, recorded for GrogTalk, about strategy and tactics in AD&D. When it is posted I’ll try to remember to provide the URLs below. I’m thinking of expanding the 23,000 words I gathered for this, and a lot more including my never-finished D&D Army rules, into a small book.


Attendance. Last year a hurricane swept through Orlando the day before the convention started. The result was that the attendance at GrogCon was much less than the registration because people couldn’t fly in or chose not to come, especially from the northeast where the hurricane headed. This year the weather was fine but the attendance was not much more than the actual attendance last year. Furthermore, last year there had been many mostly younger people playing in organized D&D sessions as part of Crucible. This year QuestCon was supposed to be bringing more RPGs, but I hardly saw anybody playing RPGs as part of Crucible/Quest. I walked past the three rooms reserved for that several times, and I don’t think there was anywhere else where RPGs were supposed to be taking place but I’m not sure. On Friday when the con was already in session but I was still at home, I had checked the event list which showed how many people had signed up for various RPG events. I noticed that several had been canceled and many had few or no sign-ups.


The upshot of this is that I wondered if, post pandemic, people are less likely to go to conventions (at least, to play RPGs) than in the past, especially as there’s been an uptick in Covid cases recently. You can’t really judge from such a small sample space, but it is interesting. I’m puzzled if we can draw any conclusions from this. Is it a genuine lack of interest in face-to-face RPGs, or is it something else?


I believe I heard there is an Old School RPG convention in Minnesota, otherwise I don’t know of anything like GrogCon. It is nearly unique.

Monday, August 28, 2023

Recently in my (free) "Game Design" YouTube channel:

 Align the way to succeed with the "fun" way to play in a game design  3:02
    Some players will do whatever it takes to succeed in a game, even if it's "no fun". Winning is more important than fun, to some. Help these folks out by insuring that the "fun" way to play leads to success in the game.

Puzzles are not necessarily abstract (or short).  3:16
    Puzzles are not necessarily abstract, or short, but the circumstances that encourage puzzles (no hidden information, no randomness) tend to be associated with abstract, or short, "games".

"Games are about people" does not equate with games of negotiation.     4:47
    Two major ways of looking at games, "Games are about people," OR "Games are all math." But people-games are not the same as games of negotiation.

"Inventions" that make life easier in games, part 1      8:32
    Thinking about inventions that make life easier in general (such as air conditioning in the South USA), I made a list of inventions that have made game design easier. Part 1 is about tabletop games, part 2 about video games.

Inventions that make life easier in games, part 2 - video games     5:25
    More about "inventions" - techniques, mechanisms - that have made game design easier. Video games this time, part 1 was about tabletop games.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

 A while ago, Sam Bennett wrote to me about my Barroom Brawl convention scenario for D&D that appeared long ago in White Dwarf. He has compiled a lot of information about this kind of quite unusual form of D&D. The ensuing interview was originally published at It's formatted more attractively than it is below. If you go to Sam's blog you'll be able to find his discussion of this kind of adventure at

Friday, June 10, 2022

An Interview with Lew Pulsipher


In researching my post from yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking with Lew Pulsipher, a big name in the early days of White Dwarf and Dragon, as well as the creator of the original bar brawl scenario in White Dwarf issue 11. See here for my initial writings on the subject. With his permission, I've chosen to publish our discussion here.

Lunar Lands: As far as my research has led me to believe, it was you who wrote the first [bar brawl] - assuming, of course, that's the same Lew Pulsipher. I was excited to see that you still had an active presence online, and I felt like it might be of use to gaming historians like me. If it is you, and if you can recall the details, I would like to ask you a few questions on the subject, if you don't mind.

Lew Pulsipher: Yes, that was me, and as far as I know it was the first such for FRPG, though you'll notice from the article that I saw a non-FRPG version of a br brawl and went from there. I tried to turn it into a stand-alone game, but didn't get far enough to playtest it. Now how much I'm going to remember otherwise, 40+ years after, is doubtful. But ask away.

LL: It's nice to be able to hear from someone who was around in shaping the hobby in its early days. Yes, I did see in the article that you had adapted this from a Wild West scenario - which helps point, to me, that this truly is the earliest example of bar brawl scenarios being developed for fantasy RPGs. In that regard, having you as an asset is a valuable one to us historians. This is my first time hearing about you having worked on a standalone game, too! That's quite an interesting what-if. I don't suppose you remember anything about it?

LP: The game was called Troll Tavern. IIRC, Games Workshop asked me to adapt the brawl as a separate game, but they lost interest in it later. It was old-fashioned/clumsy from today’s perspective, I’d do a much better job if I tried it today. Big square grid board depicting a tavern. Like other boardgames, no GameMaster, which made it much more difficult to achieve.

I had to devise parts of a standalone RPG, in effect, to govern movement and combat in the game. Nowadays I have a very basic/minimalist RPG that I’ve tested a few times, that probably derives from all that. It may turn up in a book of reprints of my old articles, if I ever get around to finishing it (both game and book).

LL: As I've discussed, in my research I've found that these articles were published extensively in White Dwarf, and by contrast there doesn't seem to be nearly as many examples in the American gaming sphere at the time - which is why I was surprised to discover, in looking up more information on you, that you're from Detroit! What made you want to publish in White Dwarf, as opposed to The Dragon or another domestic publication? Were you living in Britain at the time, or was there greater cross-pollination across the Atlantic during the 70s?

LP: Born in Detroit but grew up in Ohio, and later in Battle Creek Michigan.

I was researching my doctoral dissertation (“Aircraft and the Royal Navy, 1908-1919”), lived in England three years, married someone I met there in a D&D game. Met Albie Fiore, wrote for Games magazine; and met the GW guys Steve and Ian. It was a natural to submit to White Dwarf.

At one point, GW had the D&D license, and I was writing a supplement for them (similar to the early D&D supplements in booklet form), but then they lost the license.

I did have many articles in Dragon, and other magazines, actually, perhaps tending to be later after I came back to the USA.

LL: Do you know how your article was received? I imagine it must have been quite popular if it spawned so many similar scenarios, and Graeme Davis cites it specifically in his retrospective on Rough Night at the Three Feathers. When subsequent bar brawl scenarios were published, did anyone reach out to you, or get your thoughts on their work? Or was this just something people did without asking any questions? Do you have any experience playing any of the other bar brawl scenarios?

LP: How was it received? Often, authors don’t know, especially when there are no online forums. Some people played some variation at conventions (that I wasn’t involved with), so that’s good. I don’t recall seeing the other versions you mention, certainly haven’t played them. No, no one reached out to me about them - not unusual. Even people who have published Britannia-like boardgames have not reached out to me, not a single one; most don’t even mention Brit in those games.

LL: When I was reading your article in White Dwarf, I was struck by how, despite using D&D rules, it seems much more reminiscent of a wargame, what with having multiple players controlling different sides and giving their orders to the DM independently on pieces of paper. The evolution of D&D from Chainmail is well-documented, but at this point in time, would you say that competitive player-vs-player scenarios like this were still fairly common? Or was this supposed to be more of a minigame built on a D&D chassis, going off of you working on your own game on the subject?

LP: My own game came later. The original D&Ders were from wargame fandom. Some people, including me, always used a square grid to govern movement in encounters. I’ve never been a “theater of the mind” guy, too loosey-goosey. And if you play it as a game, rather than as a storytelling mechanism, it naturally feels like a wargame at times.

I don’t keep track, but I cannot think of many player-vs.-player D&D or RPG scenarios, period. I think that I saw the Wild West scenario, thought it would be interesting to do similar for D&D, and did it, without thought of competitiveness. Not that it’s so much competitive as it is amusing.

LL: I feel like the separation between RPGs and wargames happened later in Britain than it did in the US - Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and Fantasy Battle are at least theoretically compatible between each other, for instance, and the first edition of 40k had heavy RPG elements. I don't know if you would know or not, but would you say that there was any sort of regional divide going on? If so, why do you think that the wargaming aspects persisted so much longer in Britain?

LP: Britain has always seemed, to me, to be more interested in miniatures battles than the USA. If you say “wargame” to a Brit, often they’ll think miniatures battles. Say the same to an American, and they’ll think board game battles. The kind of books Don Featherstone wrote were rare in the USA. Perhaps because minis often involve more than two people, while board wargames involve just two, they prospered more in Britain where population density is much higher? Nah, I don’t buy that.

Perhaps because we had Avalon Hill in the USA from an early date, we became wargame oriented? It was a Baby Boomer hobby, here, and didn’t transfer to later generations. Keep in mind, Baby Boomers heard a LOT about World War II (I certainly did, though born six years after it ended).

A big thanks to Dr. Pulsipher for his help in my research on this genre! You can find his own blog here.

Friday, March 04, 2022

What were the real World Wars?

 Wars are sometimes name for odd reasons. What we call World War I was called the Great War before World War II occurred. Yet some people would tell you that the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763) was the first war that occurred over much of the world. But it didn’t have the intensity, the national armies (conscripts), of a world war. Perhaps the American Civil War or the Russo- Japanese war or the Franco-Prussian war had that intensity, but certainly the French Revolutionary and the Napoleonic wars ending in 1815 had that intensity. Those were the wars of the universal draft and of national armies, and of enormous casualties.

So it would make sense to call the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars World War I, and what we call World War I to be World War II, and what we call World War II to be World War III.

On the other hand, in terms of participating nations and major fighting, World War I was almost entirely confined to Europe, so in that sense World War II was the first real world war.

Just a rumination . . .

Monday, August 02, 2021

Compendium of Britannia-like Games, Published and Unpublished


Compendium of Britannia-like Games, Published and Unpublished

A listing and description

 This is edited and revised from the transcript of a video. I offer free videos on the “Game Design” channel on YouTube:


There aren’t many games that have spawned a group of games using similar systems by different designers, but my game Britannia is one. I haven't even laid hands on some of these games. I've only played Britannia, Duel Britannia, and (once) Italia.


I include both published and unpublished games, the ones that I've been able to find. The objective here is to talk briefly about each one.


Maybe I should characterize Britannia first. Britannia is about migrations and organized invasions in the Dark and Mediaeval ages, using a large area map of Britain. It covers a very long time scale, about a thousand years. It equates population with armies, which is a Dark Age characteristic. It has an economy, that is, you don't just have units appearing at given times and places, though that also happens. You can build/raise more units, according to your economy, which depends on what lands you occupy, using the old mantra that Land Equals Wealth.


Point scoring is by nation and a player controls several nations (usually four) during the course of the game. The player’s nations cannot cooperatively attack or defend their separate nations; if they happen to be in the same place they have to fight. There are no event cards, and the game uses dice combat. There are about 200 armies with no numbers on them, just an identifier. Four players is the norm, three is sometimes a variation.


Many of the following games deviate in one or more ways from this summary, even some of my games from this list. So we have many games of similar complexity. There are also games that are more complex and there are a few published games that are less complex - well, actually just one that's been published so far.


I'm not listing the designers because I may not know or may not remember. Since I moved house I don't know where many of these games are in my house. Sorry about that, but most of them are on boardgamegeek, the published ones anyway.


The first here is Ancient Conquest I and II. I list these first because Ancient Conquest I predates Britannia. I saw that game being played, and read the rules, somewhere, sometime in the 70s, probably the late 70s. I borrowed the notion of several nations per player, but I don't let those nations cooperate. In Ancient Conquest, the player moves all his/her nations at once, and they can cooperate closely, even occupying the same city.


Ancient Conquest is a hex and counter wargame with numbers on the counters. The map has a hexagonal grid. It uses a combat table. As far as I can recall it only had an order of battle, not an economy. In other words, you got pieces when you got them and that was it. What you did on the board didn't make any difference generally to how many pieces you could acquire, making it, in my taxonomy, a Battle game rather than a War game.


Ancient Conquest I and II share similar maps. They depict the early and later history of the ancient Near/Middle East/Eastern Europe, so it includes Greece for example.


Maharajah is the first game that followed Britannia. This was done by Avalon Hill some years after they published Britannia. It's a slavish imitation in some ways, for example, the identical number of nations and the same number of land areas as Britannia. It has the problem of Indian history, that all the invasions come from the northwest instead of from all around. One of the great advantages of Britannia is the invasions come from all around. Now if you get into gunpowder days and the Europeans then you've got invasions from the sea, but I think that's a big mistake. Nonetheless, it was done here, so late in the game you have the Europeans. I've read that the designer died during the process and maybe that had some affect on it. People say it's a good three player game but not a good four player game


Chariot Lords is the ancient Near and Middle East. There is no economy, you get back a portion of your dead. It has random player turn order, you roll for the player order every turn, and that's horrible to me, it just makes a hash out of the whole business, but that's a matter of preference. Moreover it has possibly the most confused and unclear set of rules I have ever read.


Peninsula Italica (1993), is ancient Italy from 2000 to 200 BC. All I know is what I read on Boardgamegeek. That Sicily is four areas gives an idea of the scale. About 250 cardboard pieces. Evidently Italian language rules only.


The Dragon and the Pearl covers pre-gunpowder Chinese history. It was published by a United Kingdom game shop with a plasticized map, plastic disc pieces with stickers, coming in a cardboard tube. It's a pretty straightforward adaptation of the Britannia game system. While I’ve not played, I wouldn't be surprised if this is the best of the Brit-like games other than Britannia itself.


Hispania is the history of the Iberian Peninsula. The problem here is that at times the entire area was ruled by one government, for decades or centuries. The Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims except for Asturias, which didn't amount to much at that point, all controlled the peninsula. How does a game cope with this? This game is much more complex than Britannia. It has something like 500 pieces and several additional piece types, using 10 sided dice to help differentiate the types.


Rus is a game of Russia in early days, self published long before Kickstarter. I've read some criticism of how it plays, I haven't tried it myself. It's a difficult subject, not one that I've even tried, and I try a lot. There's so much difference between the steppe and the forest  areas of Russia. The area of the board extends well beyond Russia, not surprisingly. The name is a reference to the Vikings who came to Russia and established the early principalities.



Hegemonia (2004) is about ancient Greece and Western Persia, and some of Italy. I've never seen the game, only images of the map and rules (in German). It was offered privately in Germany in a limited form, could be print and play, I don't know. In fact I'm not sure I know anybody who's ever seen it, let alone played it.


China: the Middle Kingdom. This is Chinese history from ancient times, extending through the Chinese Civil War post-World War II, and my view is the Britannia system doesn't model the gunpowder era, let alone World War II; the system was made for gradual migrations, slow movement and communication, with a population that was more or less synonymous with the army, none of which is true in gunpowder times.


The game also suffers from what I can only call an egregious error. The playable board doesn't extend beyond China's modern boundaries. So Mongolia, for example, is not part of the playable board. Korea is not playable. Vietnam is not playable. Those are areas that at times the Chinese dominated or actually controlled, but you can't play there. Think about that. Why would you do that?


It introduces an idea with rebellions where in order for one dynasty to be followed by another you roll a lot of dice for individual areas to determine whether they go over to the new dynasty. It's also interesting in that the attackers have a permanent advantage over the defenders: attackers hit on a 4, 5 or 6, defenders on a 5 or 6.


Italia is by the same designer as Hispania. It's also similarly complex. It covers Italy, a bit of North Africa, and some of the border land around northern Italy. The game uses a “campaigns” rule involving big groups of units making repeated attacks as they move through areas, so that a campaign can conquer a large area at once. This is sort of a super-major invasion.


Given Italian history, there are two game segments separated by the period of Roman domination and the Empire. One of the main scenarios is for three players rather than four.


Invasions I and II are all of Europe and North Africa post Rome. Invasions I covers earlier history and the second will cover later history. There are vastly more areas than Britannia. I counted once (from images, have not seen the game itself), and it seems like there were around 150, and vastly more pieces and piece types than Brit. So it's in the vein of Hispania and Italia, but even bigger. It's also one of the few (only?) Britannia-like games that uses event cards. The designer is also designer of Europa Universalis I in both the tabletop and video versions, which may help explain the level of complexity. Other than Duel Britannia, this is the most recently published Brit-like game I know of.


Finally we have Duel Britannia. This is packaged with the 2020 reissue of Britannia, two games in one box. It's for two players, up to 90 minutes, seven turns, many fewer land areas on a new board, so it's considerably simpler than Britannia, especially in the immensely simpler scoring. It is a two player game, although perhaps someone will make a three player game out of it someday. But that three-player is not in the box because I only had a year to design it, and the two player was a pain in the butt to try to get balanced, so I didn't get to the three player game.

This and the reissue of Britannia are the only Britannia-like games using plastic figure armies. They’re 18 mm tall, which is much larger, for example, than the soldier pieces in Risk, and I've seen photos of the figures as painted by gamers - painted individually and in detail.


Then we have “B3" as I call it, the third edition of Britannia, which actually is three separate games: Epic Britannia, Rule Britannia, and Conquer Britannia.


Epic is what I call a better teaching tool, some may suggest “more realistic”. It has more constraints on the players, otherwise a full Britannia. There’s also a free-form mode that works well with two through five players, and is much quicker and simpler than older Brit. The scoring of the free-form uses the simple method that I've used in some of the small games (such as Duel Brit).


Armies cannot vacate areas (as in Risk). There are land raids or forays. Armies are not allowed to make suicide attacks when faced with starvation, instead their entire group must attack. The Romans have to work at it to succeed, which they don't really in second edition Britannia. This had lots of solo testing but not much by others, but it has “lain fallow” for years.


Rule Britannia is nine turns, four players, diceless. It uses combat cards, and includes Ireland. It's been tested a little by others a long time ago. The diceless method has been tested a lot in other games.


Much of Duel Britannia methods derive from Conquer Britannia. Conquer Britannia is an up to 120 minute game for four players, the shortest play so far is 84 minutes. It begins after the Roman withdrawal, just as Duel Brit does. It's been playtested by others a lot. I intend to make a three player version for before the Romans appear. It has six turns, 18 land areas, 11 nations.




I've designed quite a few other games to various stages. “Mega Brit” had 55 land areas, 24 nations, 24 turns, and included Ireland. I played this, maybe three times solo a long time ago.


Dark Ages Europe, from about 400 CE to 1250, is for five players quite big, played once by others, some by me. A different, huge Europe game that didn't have a name was played once by several people in 1980. 12 hours, and I had a note on it that if Britannia got published, maybe this could be published. But now it's long abandoned.


Then we have for three or four players, Adventus Saxonum or Arthuria, including only England and Wales with 20 nations. It starts when the Romans are gone and ends before the Vikings.


Caledonia is the early history of Scotland. It's simpler and shorter than Britannia.


Normannia is Britain, France, and the Vikings only.


Barbaria is all of Europe 400CE to 1250 in six turns. It is simpler and much shorter than Britannia, and unlike most of these it has been submitted to publishers (unsuccessful so far).


Frankia: the early history of France and Germany is diceless and uses the card combat system. It has three scenarios, one for three players, the others for four. This has been submitted, not yet accepted anywhere.


Hellenia is not complex, but it's a large map because it's all the Mediterranean, and the Near East, so you have a very long but fairly narrow map. Rome, Carthage, and the Diadochi, five players, I think.


Hibernia is more like a block game, but it has many Britannia-like characteristics. It's the early history of Ireland for three players, not four.



The most recent one, Minimalist Britannia as I call it so far, has only 13 land areas, three players, diceless, and it plays solo in an hour. Whether I can balance it, who knows? Fortunately, three player games can be self-balancing.


I started on a all-of-Third Age J.R.R. Tolkien game, which I’ve played once. But a license is expensive. Also, I have since realized it should be a co-op game as well (competitive version and co-op version).


This list excludes games I have mapped out or set up reinforcement schedules for but haven't played: India, Iberia, Graecia, Central Asia, China, Babylonia, the Balkans, Wales, Columbia (the Americas), Byzantium, Sicily even. Who knows where else that I've forgotten over the years - most of these were a long time ago. It is of course a drawback of Britannia-like games that they tend to be long and that's not what people want these days.


Unpublished by Other Designers

Now for unpublished games by other designers. There was one called Mandate of Heaven (China) that I ran across in an online playtest years ago, and I haven't heard of it since. It was huge.


There's one called Corsica, about a relatively small island in the Mediterranean southeast of France. It's where Napoleon Bonaparte grew up. I have a print n play copy, and there may be an electronic form ultimately. It is as big as Britannia despite the smallness of the island.


An unpublished game called Conquest of Europe by Roger Heywood, who was the uncredited developer of the original Britannia for HP Gibsons, has an entry in boardgamegeek.


There may be more but the unpublished ones are hard to ferret out.


Not Brit-like

You may have heard of my game Germania (nearly published twice) and might have thought from the title that it's Britannia-like. It is not, although it is of similar scale.


Then we have History of the World, which is a “sweep of history” game but not Britannia-like, though I have to say, it might benefit from being more like Britannia. It certainly loses sight of history.



This turned out to be a lot more than I expected, and now I should get some more of mine published.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Deconstructing Diplomacy

(Originally appeared in Diplomacy World #154, the free flagship magazine of the Diplomacy-playing hobby)

The following is edited and modified from a transcription of a video I made for an audiovisual class I’m creating for It was created for aspiring game designers, not for hobby Diplomacy players. But you may learn something from it.

I think this one of the greatest games ever made so as you might expect I’ll talk a lot about it. 

What's a deconstruction? We’re trying to discern the inner workings of a game. What makes the game work or not work from a design point of view? The purpose is to help designers understand how the game works and why it is successful or not, so they can apply those lessons to their own games. 

I've a lot history with this game. It was my favorite game from 1970 to 1975. I played a lot by mail, and as there was no email the games took several years to complete. I was quite successful as a player, and I published two Diplomacy fanzines. These were the days of printed fanzines, mimeo or ditto printed. I also wrote quite a few articles about the game. 

My series of articles about playing the game well was on the Avalon Hill website for decades, and was cited on the boardgamegeek page for Diplomacy until their recent redesign stopped citing articles. I also designed a lot of Diplomacy variants, and to this day I'm probably the most prolific designer of published Diplomacy variants, though I gave it up when I started to design standalone games in the late 70s. 

What is It?

So what is Diplomacy? Diplomacy was originally published in 1959, the same year as Risk in the United States. It requires exactly seven players, a very unusual requirement. It roughly represents World War I and the era before it. It's a very long game when played to a conclusion, which is often a draw, 4 to 8 hours. Almost all the activity is interaction amongst the players, especially via secret negotiation, and it is the secret negotiation that “makes the game” while also making it such a long game. 

Moreover, it's a zero-sum game. The only way to gain something is to take it from someone else, and that's part of what makes it such an aggressive game. There's no way to progress without “regressing” somebody else. It's a heavily psychological game because much of it goes on in the players’ minds, though there is a tactical system and strategic system. 

This is something that struck me only recently: it's actually a co-operative game. Diplomacy is known as a cutthroat boardgame full of lies and deceit, but it is one of the most co-operative games in existence that can still produce a single winner, though often it doesn't. It's not like a standard co-op game where all the players win or none of them win. Also, you’re not playing against the game, not playing against programmed instructions. Nonetheless, it's very co-operative, because you can't go it alone. You have to work with other players to succeed because you're outnumbered six to one, at least at first. 

Even more important, one of the fundamental mechanics of the game is a support order that lets you directly assist another player, or be assisted, and that's a rarity in games. That's possible because we have simultaneous movement adjudication in Diplomacy, which is also quite rare in tabletop games.

So we have a game where strategy, in the sense of military grand strategy, is very important. It's a game of negotiation, but you need to negotiate with the right objectives in mind, so understanding the strategy of the entire game is vital. A good strategist will beat a good tactician, again because you're outnumbered 6-1. At the game start there are seven players, but you only have three or four neighbors at that juncture. Yet you have to see and try to influence the entire board for the entire game to maximize your chances to win. It is an epitome of strategy, both of military strategy and of “strategy games” more generally, as you have to use your mind to succeed. 

While many play the game with the short term in mind (owing to the possibilities for surprise and betrayal), those who think in the long term are more likely to succeed.

Part of the fascination with the game is a fascination with maps and with the shapes of geography with geopolitics, so it’s unsurprising that there are hundreds of Diplomacy variants, frequently with a new map, sometimes not. 

There is is a conference map which the players take with them when they go away from the board to secret negotiations. It shows the map of the game and the 75 areas on the board. There are just two kinds of units, armies and fleets. The fleets can move in coastal areas, and only 8 of 34 supply centers (23.5%) are landlocked. Armies and fleets are about equally useful, especially given the geography of Europe and some of the Mediterranean littoral depicted on the board.

The tactical system uses simultaneous movement/adjudication. There cannot be more than 34 pieces, but players have to write orders for each of their pieces, something that wouldn’t work today except for niche markets. (In 2006 Fantasy Flight Games published the second edition of my game Britannia; they refused to include a scoresheet, feeling that writing down scores was unacceptable to the market! They included scoring chits instead.) It's possible to help another player in the tactical phase of the game as well as to hinder others. There's no overt chance in resolution of conflicts, no cards, no dice. But because of simultaneous movement sometimes there is guesswork. Sometimes there's Yomi involved, reading the enemy's intentions. You can play a Game Theory minimax style most of the time tactically, but as in real warfare, the best generals are successful via Yomi.

In the larger sense Yomi is very important to the strategy of the game, because if somebody's going to stab you in the back, or someone is lying to you, you’ve got to figure that out in time to do something about it. 

My Ten Subsystems of Games

I'm going to go through my 10 subsystems of all games and describe what we see in Diplomacy. These subsystems are a framework designers can use to help them conceive new designs.

For the first one, model-theme-atmosphere-image and so on. The game loosely represents World War I. Loosely. The seven players are roughly equal in strength. We have 75 areas on the board and only armies and fleets. The technology is more 1900 than 1914, though the map is from 1914.

Player interaction rules. This is a game of very strong player interaction via negotiation. Lying and even cheating is encouraged in the rules. Surprise is common owing to simultaneous movement.

Objective/victory conditions. Players need to control a majority of the 34 supply centers, so usually there is player elimination. But at the end of the game, there may be three to four or even more players, and often nobody can achieve a majority of supply centers and you end up with a draw. One of the fascinations of play is that some players value second place over most draws, while others value any draw over second place (partial win versus outright loss). There is nothing in the rules to require or force a draw, so theoretically the game could go on forever.

Number four is data storage. There's an area board. Armies and fleets of seven colors are supplied, and players use a paper and pen for writing orders. Everything else is in the player’s minds.

Sequencing is a negotiation session followed by order writing and then simultaneous adjudication. 

Movement/Placement is one unit per area. Units move one area maximum in a turn. Fleets can occupy coastal provinces. The sea areas and the areas along the edges of the board are larger so that you can move just as quickly around the board as across the center of the board to get to the other side. 

Information availability. Only the player's intentions and his orders are hidden from the other players, until the simultaneous adjudication.

Conflict resolution is simultaneous and deterministic, a majority wins, ties to defender, no loss in combat unless a unit cannot retreat. For a wargame, deterministic combat with no loss is rare.

The economy is zero-sum. 34 centers; to gain a unit you must take the center from somebody else. Players at start occupy 22 of 34 supply centers (65%).

The user interface is a boardgame. Players talk with other players frequently in secret, leaving the table. They write orders for their units.

Some Evaluation Questions

I also have some evaluation questions I try to use with a deconstruction. 

What is the essence or vision of the game? Negotiation, followed by strategic and tactical action in a very rough representational World War I, that's diceless and uses simultaneous adjudication. (“Gunboat” Diplomacy, while a popular variant, makes nonsense of the game’s essence.)

Who is it marketed to? Hard-core psychological game players. It's kind of the opposite of Chess in many ways. It can also be seen as a strange combination of poker and chess. It's poker psychologically but retaining the determinism of chess. 

Players’ primary activity is negotiating. If you don’t negotiate, you lose. 

What are the major challenges? Reading opponents’ intentions while disguising yours is a great deal of it, and military grand strategy. 

The actions the players can take to overcome the challenges. They can negotiate offensive oriented alliances, negotiate nonaggression agreements, make war, make peace, expand, capturing supply centers with superior force or guile, and outthink the other players. As I said, there are lots and lots of variations of Diplomacy. 

What about the play balance? The inner three powers (Austria, Germany, Italy) are at a clear positional disadvantage, and as far as I know this translates to a disadvantage in results compared with England, France, Russia, and Turkey. Keep in mind, the actual strengths of nations in this time period have nothing to do with their strength in Diplomacy.

What is and isn’t a variation?

(I am repeating some of the following from Diplomacy World #100)

This brings me to the question, what characterizes Dip, what makes someone look at a game and say "that's a variant of Diplomacy"?

I have made two lists at various times.  The first is very short:

Simultaneous movement

Units directly related to territory controlled [zero-sum]

The support mechanism

No overt chance mechanism in combat resolution

But this leaves out negotiation! But it allows Gunboat to qualify.

Another try is less terse:

Secret Negotiation 

Always, simultaneous movement (but some people call Game of Thrones: the Boardgame a Dipvariant, and it isn't exactly simultaneous movement; it uses a mechanism to avoid the need to write orders).

Always, the support mechanism.

Always, no overt chance mechanism in combat.

Usually, centers maintain units in a zero-sum fashion--and while some games give economic points to spend in various ways, players still must pay maintenance for existing units.

Usually, no-holds-barred negotiation.

Usually, an area board and one unit per area.

Most of these elements appear in other games - I'm using the support mechanism in a couple prototypes - but the appearance of most or all of these is likely to be in a Dipvariant.  One could try to use the same list and make a game that doesn't derive from Diplomacy, of course.

If Released Today?

A final question. If Diplomacy and its variants did not exist, and it was released today, what would be the result?

It would probably fall flat on its face - like most older games, it must be admitted - not because they're not good but because tastes and players have changed drastically to favor puzzles and shorter experiences. Even Chess wouldn't amount to much if similarly treated.

Briefly in Diplomacy's case:

way too long

you don't know how long it's going to take (unpredictable length)

player elimination (frowened upon nowadays)

requires exactly seven players (inflexible)

requires a very large number of players (often impractical)

very direct-conflict driven in a tabletop game world that values lack of conflict

it makes people write things down

there are far too many draws

Any commercial variant that aims at a market outside current Diplomacy players must address those problems. I have designed one, "Scramble for Africa", that addresses those problems (except direct conflict and writing things down), and when we get back to a situation where we can playtest games in person, we'll see what happens.

My apprenticeship in game design was partly with Diplomacy variants.The game is a niche taste, but it's the epitome of this kind of game. Because of the nature of the game those whose feelings are easily hurt should not play. It's an extreme example of a game where you have to earn what you get, and that's out of fashion these days. I regard it as one of the great games in the world, and I rarely call a game great. It's instructive in how a psychological game can be so different from poker, which is very much a psychological game, and also how a chess-like game can be so different from Chess.

Nowadays the game is often played by email, with software judges, and some variants are played by email as well. There are Diplomacy conventions. But it's not that easy to get seven people together to play the game, especially because it takes so long. There have been commercial Diplomacy playing video games, but they have been a disaster, just horrible. Video games are rarely (never?) good at grand strategy.

It's a game at an extreme, more than 60 years after publication. It doesn't suit most modern tastes, but still has lots of fans.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

How or where would one start learning about the board game design process? (Quora answer)

One Page: How or where would one start learning about the board game design process?

(This was an answer to a question on Quora.)

I’ve been asked to answer this question, so I’ll answer despite my personal involvement in the answer.

First, it depends on how you want to learn. The best way to learn game design is through doing it with the help of a mentor. There are many degree programs for game development in colleges and universities, some of them called game design even though most all of them are actually game development with little game design. They are also quite expensive. Unfortunately, in many such curricula there will be no one who knows much about actual game design. Moreover, all of these programs are aimed at video game design, not tabletop game design.

Some people can learn by reading. I doubt that there are many full-time game designers out there who haven’t read at least one book about game design. I have to say that the best single book covering tabletop game design is my book “Game Design: How to Create Video and Tabletop Games, Start to Finish.” While it is first a book about video game design, my approach is that you start learning with tabletop games even if your ultimate goal is video game design. So the book is a sort of “guerrilla” approach for tabletop game design as well. The book is available (very inexpensively) in paperback and electronic form on Amazon and other outlets.

Kobold Press offers a few short books about tabletop game design that are anthologies of contributions from many people. (Keep in mind, Kobold publishes RPG supplements, not board games.) There is also a freely downloadable book called “Tabletop: Analog Game Design” from Carnegie Mellon. It is another anthology (I wrote the leading chapter). The problem with anthologies is that they are very hit and miss, and lack a guiding vision (for lack of a better word), an organization that starts with something and goes toward something and ends with something specific. Instead anthologies tend to jump around from here to there with no particular goal.

There are many game design blogs, including my own, that you can easily find with a Google search. Again these jump around from here to there, naturally.

Some people prefer to learn audiovisually. There is an occasional free MOOC (massively online free classes) at sites that specialize in MOOCs. Most of these will be primarily audiovisual. Of course, they are aimed primarily at video games as well.

My “Game Design” channel on YouTube offers 275+ free videos. While I try to cover both video and tabletop games, as a tabletop designer I do tend to lean in that direction, and some of the videos only apply to tabletop design.

In particular you might want to look at:
“Learning Game Design: the Big Picture”

“7 ways to learn game design”

“Introduction to ‘new’ online course "Learning Game Design, Part 1"

There are many other videos on YouTube, but most are aimed at video game design.

There is purely audio material available online. Tom Vasel’s Boardgame University is one (I am interviewed in #27 The Ludology podcast is about the whys in board games. There are not many podcasts that actually discuss board game design, as, say, the [Board] Game Designers of North Carolina podcast does.

Finally, I offer a variety of game design (and occasionally other) courses on The landing page is at Discounts are offered at These are more or less the equivalent of (usually short) oral books.

People often say, "play lots of games". You need to KNOW lots of games, however you go about that: playing isn't the most efficient for some people. In fact, there are designers who would design a lot more if they didn't enjoy playing games so much.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Yes sport is a game, but money is what ultimately counts (soccer and the Super League)


With all the broo-ha-ha about the European soccer “Super League” I felt I had to comment on the underlying forces involved. The Super League was an attempt by the biggest European soccer clubs to set up a separate mid-week league (while still playing in domestic leagues) that would not use relegation to lower divisions while making more money for those teams. It was and is a business endeavor to make more money. Fan outrage was so great that most of the teams pulled out of the league within several days of the initial announcement, and there is still talk of punishing those teams.

(For those unfamiliar, in European sports, the worst team(s) in each division of a league goes down to the lower division the next year, while the best team(s) move up a division. Theoretically you can get into a sport several divisions down, and move up to the top through several years of successful play. I know of no American sport that follows this model, including soccer.)

International soccer is wedded to, and held back by, the now-ridiculous notion that every soccer match is just like every other, that any amateurs with a ball and a field can play the same game as played in Old Trafford or Camp Nou. That hasn't been true since big money came into the game. Remember, people still alive can remember when professional footballers were all paid an identical and minuscule wage in England, until Jimmy Hill (yes, the one from “Match of the Day” in the late 70s) led a threat of industrial action. Fans can complain about "the dream" being lost, but face it, the dream is no longer that a deeply lower league team will get some really good players and rise to the top tier, possibly to win a championship. That's already gone because those good players are bought for large sums by the biggest clubs early on. The dream now is a wealthy new owner (Chelsea, Man City) who will spend big and move a team into the Premier League Big Six (which, not so long ago, was the Big Four). Money talks.

This has been going on for decades, e.g. at Blackburn in 1995 where a rich owner led to a championship.

The Super League is the next step of "money talks", inevitable at some point. Though it looks like that point may be some distance away.

Self-righteousness among Super League opponents runs rampant:

El Plastico is dead for now, thanks to fan-power and the likes of Gary Neville, Carragher, Henderson, Shaw and Klopp speaking out powerfully. But the shamed owners are still here, their greed has not abated.   - Henry Winter (the (London) Times chief football writer)

I respect Winter as a football writer (I once listened to him talking about football); but I have no doubt that he is well-paid, especially after he moved from another newspaper to The Times. Yet he clearly thinks owners who want to make more money are greedy.

This ignores that the “greedy owners” are the ones who have raised the profile of soccer so much by putting money INTO the game at the highest level. If you’re willing to only have owners who are philanthropists for soccer, who are happy to lose money, then you go back to an earlier time.

The so-called “greedy” owners are simply looking for ways to make money from an investment; they aren’t looking to provide charity to teams and fans.

Fundamentally, it’s a view of sport as amateur rather than professional in standards and outlook. 

In their arrogance Europeans believe their (amateur) way of sport is the only valid way. They ignore what has worked well (much better than the European way, in fact) in America. Nobody loves Americans, especially after four years of Trump insults.

Professionalism is in short supply in European soccer, where they still have only one referee on the field instead of two even though bad calls are common, where video review is new and is somehow botched far too often, where they are far behind on matters of concussions (and still don’t understand that players will have to wear helmets before the sport is sued into penury by former players).

No, I'm not a traditionalist. I am one of those few who thinks the Super League, or something like it, is inevitable given the money that has flowed into international soccer. And I have no respect for the FIFA money-grubbers, and little for UEFA who can also be money-grubbers. The owners who support the teams ought to make the money, not the associations. The associations haven't done enough.

One American columnist put it this way:

The clubs are still seen as literal clubs, with members (fans) – as they were when they were born over 100 years ago. They’re public trusts, sociocultural cornerstones, community pillars. They’re also big businesses, just like NFL and NBA teams, of course. But when big foreign businessmen attempted to come in and run them purely like businesses – the 'Super League' would’ve benefited them financially – they found out just how strong the pillars are.     - Yahoo Sports

When money comes to a sport, the sport is ultimately going to be governed by money, not by fans. This has already happened in European soccer (scheduling for television rather than for traveling fans, corrupt FIFA money-grubbing). The Super League, or something like it, will happen one day, because everyone ends up following the money.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Recent free videos on my YouTube Game Design channel.

Logistics and game design (and history)

"Amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics" (Napoleon and many others). But commercial historical games rarely reflect logistics. Why and how.

Apr 15

21st century marketing: age of destinations not journeys

Another look at 21st century game marketing. It's the age of destinations, of bucket lists, not of enjoying the journey.

Apr 12

How much solo playtesting?

Some designers do not playtest their games solo, especially if tabletop. I think this is a serious mistake, here's why.

Apr 8

Three possible "hats" of game designers

Game designers don't do everything involved with making and marketing a game. What are some of the roles the designer might assume?

Apr 5

Surprise in games, especially tabletop

How to enable surprise in games, especially opposed games (which are usually tabletop games).

Apr 1 (not an April Fools)

Historical fiction

I don't read historical fiction much, but I thought some people might like to hear about some of my successes.

Mar 29

My take on abstract games

Just what it says. I'm not, usually, a fan, preferring models of some reality, though I have designed a few.

Mar 25, 2021

Could the Mongols have conquered Europe? NO

Bonus Monday. People enamored of maps and worship of warriors often think the Mongols could have conquered Europe. Not a chance. Here's why.

Mar 22, 2021

"Meeting expectations" in game ratings - a nonsense question to ask

In many cases, when people are asked to rate a video (or book, or game) they're asked if it met their expectations. This is nonsense. No author can be expected to meet another person's expectations.

Mar 18, 2021

History: Is history inevitable? Of course not.

This is important in game design, but important in general as well. This isn't about those who imagine a history that they like. It's about those who think history could only be one way, whereas in fact it's one of many possibilities, often not even the most likely.

Mar 15

Barbarians with Fire and Sword? - No

A long one this time. There's a tendency, perhaps encouraged by TV and film, to think that barbarians always came with fire and sword, raping and pillaging. Sometimes they did, but often they did not.

Mar 11, 2021

Modern game markets: The Age of Avoiding Responsibility

Game markets depend on the habits and preferences of potential buyers. I have a few videos about what appears to be the market. While this isn't a part of game *design* it's certainly important to game success.

Mar 8, 2021

Fundamental differences between board and card games

Just what it says. But it's an analysis of function, not form. Of course, designers need to pay attention to function much more than form.

Mar 4, 2021

How people react when thy learn the truth about game design

Over many years of teaching and making videos and online courses, I have occasionally encountered people who react negatively when someone tells them the truth about game design.

Mar 1, 2021

What play length to put on the box?

We all know that tabletop games take varying amounts of time, some more than others, depending on both the game and the players. So what time should you put on the game box?

Feb 25, 2021

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Part 3 (end) of RPG Review interview

 In 2016 I was interviewed via email by the magazine RPG Review. Here is that interview, divided into three parts. This is part 3 of 3.



What can you tell us of some of the more recent planned and upcoming games like Barbaria and Germania? And Sea Kings, which I believe has recently been published? What other gaming endeavours is planned from the mind of Lewis Pulsipher? And whilst on that topic, why is it we've never seen an RPG from you? Do you think RPGs have a future?


Sea Kings is on a Worthington Publications Kickstarter until 1 November, and the Kickstarter says it will be published in December (although I’m a little skeptical). My “Game Design” channel on YouTube ( has at least one video about the game.


As you know I wrote a book titled Game Design (McFarland 2012) and I have several other books in mind, but the return on my time spent, in an era when fewer and fewer people read nonfiction, is quite discouraging. I'll be self-publishing three reprint books RPG material and Diplomacy variants as well as some books deriving from my online audiovisual courses.


The online game design courses - latest news at - provide a much better return on my time spent, and more and more people would rather listen than read.  Also there's no competition, the only other online game design courses that don't cost an arm and a leg because they are for degrees, are text rather than video.  (Brief titles of my courses are: "Learning Game Design", "Brief Introduction to Game Design", "How to Design Levels and Adventures", "How to Write Clear Rules", "Get a Job in the Video Game Industry".  Many more coming.)


I am still on track to have at least five games published next year including Sea Kings, Germania, Seas of Gold, Pacific Convoy, and a zombie game. (Haven't placed Barbaria yet.) I say "on track" because lots of things can go wrong.  But the traditional wargame publishers are desperate to get out of what I call the "wargame ghetto," and many of the games I've been designing are in between wargames and peace games: games where everyone would like to be at peace so that they can prosper but most likely someone's going to start a war when they see someone else doing better.  They are definitely games of maneuver and geospatial relationships, which is not true of many Euros.  That's probably because most of my games are meant to be models of some reality, and most Euros are abstract (with a story tacked-on afterward).



Why no RPG from me? Well at one point I was writing a supplement (in those days before the hardcover Advanced D&D) that Games Workshop was going to publish as TSRs representative in the UK (I was living in the UK at the time).  But that didn't work out and ultimately Games Workshop lost their representation of TSR.  And I was getting boardgames published, so I worked on boardgames. 


AD&D was my favorite game for decades and I could make it do whatever I wanted with my own house rules and additions, so I didn't feel the need to design another RPG. Even now, if I designed an RPG it would be intended to be and remain simple, and that doesn't fit what's left of the market. So until a few years ago I didn't even think about designing an RPG, and when I started it was to be used in conjunction with a boardgame, not in the traditional sense.


Another way to look at it might be this: the composer Sir William Walton, when he finally wrote an opera, said something like "never write an opera - too many notes."  So I could say about RPGs "too many words."  More important, I'm not a fiction writer, I'm too literal-minded, and I think most people who design RPGs are really frustrated fiction writers, not game designers per se.  Game design is about problem solving and critical thinking within constraints, RPG design is (especially now, when gamers in general are much more story-oriented) about storytelling with few constraints. 


My favorite game nowadays is the game of designing board and card games. 



The future?  RPGs will be played as long as the real world holds itself together, though I think gradually computers will overtake tabletop RPGs, not because they're better but because they're easier . Being a good referee of a tabletop RPG is difficult, and for most people it's a form of work, work they're accepting to entertain their friends.  (In fact I've always said I don't trust people who would rather referee than play!) As computers become more powerful and computer programming gets better a computer can take on more and more of the work required of a really good RPG referee. Perhaps computer assistance is the wave of the future but I suspect in most cases it will be "let's play this cooperative RPG or this MMO " on computers, rather than "let's use computer assistance for tabletop games."



Tabletop RPGs have the social aspect in their favor that you can't get with computer RPGs, even MMOs. Many of my friends are D&D players. I met my wife through D&D in 1977, and in that group of five, two others (who were not in a relationship when we started playing D&D) married one another, and the last one married my wife's best friend! And we're all still married. You can't beat that!


Unfortunately, RPGs tend to be "prisoners of capitalism" (see my video about this on my YouTube channel:, so we more or less inevitably get more and more rules until the game gets so complex that it starts to collapse under its own weight, and we go on to a new edition. At the same time in other forms of gaming we see games getting simpler and shorter, not more complex.  The RPG market collapsed several years ago, and between capitalism, crowdsourcing, and saturation of the market we're not going to see it recover. The biggest companies can prosper in that climate but it's extremely hard for little companies to make a living. Yes, a little company can sell 500 or even 1000 copies of something, but that's not enough to make a living. People can do these kinds of things as a hobby but having to earn a living another way takes an enormous amount of time and energy.