Monday, March 17, 2008

Knights Templar, and a backwards approach to game design

I always thought that the Knights Templar could offer a strong theme for a medium/heavy eurogame about building up power and influence. There's so much legend and mystery surrounding the Knights Templar that I'm kinda surprised there's not already some game about them. Today in the BGDF chat room I was bouncing ideas off people about what a Knights Templar game might be like.

I was having some trouble with player identity and conflict... who would the players represent, and what would be the point of the game? I think I was having trouble because I was going about it sort of backwards. I started not with a main mechanic, or a problem for the players to solve, but rather with some parameters:

* 2 hour max game length,
* Medium/heavy euro-strategy style
* Knights Templar theme

And then tried to come up with a game structure that fit the parameters. One idea was a cooperative game, where players are all members of the Order of the Temple, but I couldn't figure out what they would be playing against. The inevitable decision by King Philip to send out "Order 66," disbanding the order and killing the Knights? That doesn't sound too good... Maybe a competitive game where the players each play a country and he Knights Templar are a sort of Non-Player Character in the game. Nah, too distant from the theme.

What I've come up with so far is a competitive game in which players accumulate Wealth and Influence for the Order of the Temple until the Crusades end and King Philip starts his purging of the Knights (Friday the 13, 1307). After that point, the game will either end and he with the most influence will be the one Knight that escapes (wins), or perhaps the game will start suppressing the influence of the Order, until it is gone, and at that point the player with the most influence escapes while the rest are arrested by Philip (and ultimately burned at the stake!)

My idea is that there will be a disconnect between the players, who will all be members of the Order of the Temple (or perhaps Families), and the Order itself. Since joining the Order meant turning over all your personal wealth, it wouldn't make sense for players to have individual holdings. Instead, players will be amassing wealth for the order, in a communal coffer. Players will also take actions which will earn Influence.

In the case of Influence, players will track the amount of influence they bring to the Order, and the total influence of the order will also be tracked. Upon the turning point in the game, the total influence of the order will begin to decline, setting a clock for the remainder of the game. It's possible at that point that some of the actions will change, become more potent, etc. It's also possible that there will be a geographical element to King Philip's purge... starting in France and radiating outward, buildings will be removed from the board (causing the Order to lose their Influence). Thereby a Church or Castle built in or near France is "more fragile" than one built farther away, and could therefore offer more in game terms than a distant Church/Castle.

The idea of Rank also came up, where a player could advance in rank and therefore have access to more or better actions. In the case that Rank is determined by Influence (essentially score) i don't like that idea, because it is the kind of mechanic that can make a winning player win more. However if Rank is based on the amount of Wealth the player has amassed for the Order, then it becomes interesting - there's an opportunity cost in investing in Rank (less Influence or victory points). In that respect I like the idea.

So far that's about all I've got. The game begins with players amassing wealth, influence, and power for the Order of the Temple, then when the Crusades end and King Philip issues the decree to disband the order, the Knights Templar take important relics and artifacts and go into hiding.

Maybe the Relics could be an endgame score kind of thing...

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