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Compendium of Britannia-like Games, Published and Unpublished


Compendium of Britannia-like Games, Published and Unpublished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I include both published and unpublished games, the ones that I've been able to find.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.