Thursday, January 05, 2012

Revisiting the Templar Knights

A few years ago I had the idea that a euro game about the Knights Templar ought to be doable. I haven't put too much thought into the idea since then, but recently it's popped back up on my radar as something I'd like to think about. Here's the fruit of that thought:

* I still like the idea of players dealing with a communal coffer
* I like the idea of players building structures on the board which will give them points and benefits
* I like the idea of player actions boosting the overall influence of The Order of the Temple, and that eventually triggering the End Game Phase (Friday 13, 1307 - when King Phillip IV issued an arrest order for all members of the Order of the Templar)
* I like the idea of an End Game Phase where players must flee and make a last ditch effort to score points, potentially losing flat out if they do not make it to safety in time
* I like the idea that the End Game Phase represents the destruction of buildings players had built, and that buildings closer to the 'epicenter' of destruction are worth more points while buildings further away will last longer (and confer their benefit longer)
* I like the idea of both militaristic and economic viable strategies
* And most recently I like the idea of using a Rondel mechanism to drive the game. Specifically, a "Rond-cala" mechanism (combination of Rondel and Mancala) similar to that in Stefan Feld's recent Trajan

I've mentioned before that upon reading about the Rondcala mechanism in Trajan, my guess was that you would choose an action and it's intensity would be based on the number of bits in that actions bin... then you would Mancala those bits around the Rondel. It turns out I had it backwards - instead you pick a bin and Mancala the bits from it, and you take the action at the end of the line. That's a lot harder to wrap your head around, and I wondered if it wouldn't be worth trying my mistaken guess out as a main mechanism in some game of my own - and now I'm going to give that a try.

I currently don't have a complete game, rather I have various parts of a game and ideas about how I'd like them to go together. The purpose of this blog post is to help chronicle them and facilitate putting the pieces of this design together to see if I can come up with the game I've got described in my head.

I suppose I could start with a title... since the game is about the Knights Templar it seems fitting to name the game Knights Templar, Templar Knights, or Order of the Temple. The subtlety of tricky or clever titles such as Friday the 13th or Order 66 would likely be lost on most players, and would cause more harm than good. I am open to suggestions on this, I'm leaning toward those first three - I like Order of the Temple but I also like the word Templar...

Players will be members of the Order of the Temple, and as such they would have gifted all of their personal wealth to the Order. Therefore players will not have personal holdings. They will act on behalf of the Order, spreading the Order's influence throughout Europe by building infrastructure and fighting in the Crusades. Players WILL however have personal Influence, representing their standing in the Order - the escaping player with the most influence will win the game.

My version of the Rondcala:
Actions in the game will include things like...
* Moving pawns on the board
* Constructing buildings
* Mustering troops
* Crusading (attacking a hostile region on the board)
* Spreading influence (collecting VP)

Each player will have a personal Rondel, and each of these actions will have an action space ("bin") on that Rondel. Each bin will begin with some number of bits in it (probably 2). On your turn you choose any action for which there is at least 1 bit in it's bin, resolve that action according to the number of bits in the bin, and then "mancala" those bits around the Rondel - that is to say take all of the bits and distribute them, one at a time, clockwise around the Rondel. In this way, the relative strength of each action will rise and fall over the course of the game. If you want to do a strong action (one with several bits in it), you must first do the actions preceding that one in order to build up enough bits in your chosen action's bin.

In addition, and I'm not entirely sure this is necessary, I thought it might be interesting to have money in the game. But as above, that money is in a communal coffer and accessible to all players. This means that one player could spend money, and not leave enough money for the next player (which could be good or bad I suppose) - and it also means that there needs to be a way to add money to the coffers. My old thought was that there'd be an action to "collect charity" or something, which would add money to the coffers. My current thought might be a bit better though... Each time a player chooses an action, an amount of Gold is added to the coffers equal to the number of bits in that action's bin. This way, the bigger or more powerful your action is, the more money you make available for your opponents to use. That dynamic sounds interesting to me.

In order to simplify the discussion, I'm going to define a variable X to be "the number of bits in an action's bin" - so the paragraph above translates to "when taking an action, add X Gold to the coffers."

Now that I've got a pretty good idea of how the main mechanism in the game might work, I probably ought to consider the rest of the game...

Here are some of the actions I expect to want to use in the game. This is not necessarily an exhaustive list. It seems like +/- 6 actions seems to work well for a Rondel game.

* Move: Move your pawn up to X spaces. Or perhaps split X movement points between all of your pawns on the board. I expect that other actions such as Build and Attack will take place where your pawn is, so moving around the board may become important in order to take your other actions.

* Build: Construct a building of level X or lower. I expect to use a variety of buildings, each conferring a specific benefit, and each coming in different levels (say, 1-4). The higher the level, the stronger the benefit of the building. In order to build a Level 3 building, you would need 3 bits in your Build bin, AND the Level 1 and level 2 buildings of that type must already be on the board. It's possible that the buildings will also cost some amount of Gold, in which case that Gold must be available in the coffer... though with the scheme outlined above you'd be adding Gold to the coffer before building anyway, which should help.

Possible buildings and what they might do include...
* Bank: allowing you access to more money in some way
* Church: helps you score Influence with the Influence action perhaps
* Castle: helps you with attacking perhaps? Or makes troops stronger (more Knights for example)? Or maybe when you build a Castle, you get a new Knight pawn on the board, making your movement options better/more versatile.
* Farm: helps muster or maintain troops (you have to feed them)

* Influence: Collect X influence (plus additional influence from each Church in play?) I like when a game has a 'straight VP' action, usually weaker than other actions, unless you work really hard to make it good. In this case, perhaps by building Churches you can choose this action more often and make out ahead while doing so.

* Muster: Collect X troops (plus additional troops from each Castle in play? Limited by number of Farms in play?) Troops will be needed to attack regions. I expect there could be Knights, a special kind of troop that is stronger somehow.

* Crusade: Attack a region with up to X troops, or maybe with strength X (or X per troop). I expect the board will have some spaces (region) that are empty at the beginning of the game, and others that are defended by enemies. Each region should have some number of building spaces (no 2 like buildings in any region), so in order to continue expanding players may have to clear out Enemies via Crusading. This would earn them influence as well as open up new Building spaces.

Interesting idea: suppose you attack 1 region with this action, and if costs you X troops, meaning for this particular action, you want X to be small, not large. There could be a building that reduces the troop cost to attack (hospital?) In this way, the more often you attack, the less it costs each time - rewarding a warmonger for attacking often.

* Move: Perhaps another Move bin, since movement may be key to positioning your pawns.

Influence track and game end timer:
I envision an Influence track across the top of (or around) the board, which records influence each player brings to the order (which will be their score), as well as the overall influence of the order itself - which I envision to simply be the running total of the player' influence. So whenever a player scores Influence, they adjust both their marker and the Order's marker on the Influence track. When the Order's influence marker reaches a certain point, marked on the board, that will indicate Friday 13, 1307, the time at which King Philip issues the order to arrest all members of the Knights Templar. At this point the Order's marker on the influence track would cease to represent the combined influence of the players, and instead would turn into a countdown timer of sorts. In some way the marker would decrement, and when it reaches certain spaces (marked on the track), buildings in the region(s) indicated by that space would be destroyed. Perhaps as well, Knights in those regions would be captured. Players would need to move their Knights to Portugal, the only European country where the Knights Templar were safe, before they are captured. When all knights are safely in Portugal (or captured), then the game will end. Perhaps there could be more than 1 (I want to say 3) different possible 'epicenters' of this destruction, so you don't know which it'll be, and it could be different from game to game.

Building tech tree:
I've got a couple of different ideas about this... it could be the case that there is 1 big set of buildings, with 1 or 2 tiles of each, and when all the Level 1 Farms (for example) are gone, then it'll be a little harder to get a Farm (need to build Level 2)... then the benefits would probably be related to the total number of the appropriate buildings on the board, meaning everybody has the same tech upgrades (though in theory you'll build the buildings that support your strategy more than someone else's).

Another idea is for each player to have their own supply of building tiles. While this requires more bits, it could be better because (a) players could differentiate their player profiles based on which buildings they build (only 1 building of each type would be allowed per region, and only 1 building per player would be allowed per region as well) - and (b)there could be 2 copies of each, and when built, 1 could go onto the board, and the other could go onto the player's Rondel so it's easy to calculate and not miss the benefit. In this case, for each player it will get harder and harder to specialize in a particular building (each one will be a little harder to build), which is a neat dynamic. On the other hand it would be relatively easy to build several different level 1 and level 2 buildings, giving the player a variety of bonuses, but no action that is super powerful. This scheme sounds best to me at the moment.

That's about all I have for now. I'm working on some thoughts for the game board. I'm sure I'll keep you posted on any progress this game sees. In the meantime I'd be interested in any comments you may have on it!


Clive said...

Using a mancala rondell just because it could be a cool mechanic does not work for me. However, if the mancala rondell was a way of compartmentalizing money then it could work. Treasures claimed by your night could be put in a cache for points and some placed in the mancala rondell banking system. By moving money around the mancala you manage your funds to afford to do the actions in the game. Or maybe some money has to go the communal good. Or maybe the mancala is a communal coffer...

Clive said...

knight not night :)