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.

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