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political mechanic

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jwarrend
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Ok, so last week I started a discussion about a combat mechanic for a civ game I'm working on. Thanks to all who chimed in, I'm very happy with the mechanic we hashed out, and I think the game is pretty much done now.

Or is it? One thing I realized I haven't really incorporated into the game is a "political" mechanic; the idea that you must maintain civility and contentment in your empire, in addition to scoring combat victories against foes and spending gadzooks of cash to build the pyramids, etc.

So, I am trying to brainstorm a bit as to how this effect could be incorporated into the game. Rather than wade into specific mechanics, I'd like to propose a couple of possible ways that the effect could be interpreted to be important from a simulation standpoint. Identifying which fits best with the game (if any) and how to add it in will be my challenge, and may in fact get dropped altogether since the game already has some complexity. (and that's also a relevant question: is this kind of effect important in a Civ game, in your opinion?)

I see several possible ways in which "politics" could be important. One would be the "upkeep" aspects of control -- keeping the citizens clothed, fed, sheltered, etc. Another would be the "contentedness" aspect -- keeping the citizens happy so they don't revolt. (these are similar, but probably different in how they're evoked). Another possibility would be the "bureaucracy" aspects: managing the economy and avoiding corruption. Another is the "sprawl" aspect -- keeping control of an empire.

So in game terms, how can these be evoked? The "upkeep" aspects are easy -- you must pay X resources for each Y citizens/territories, etc. If you don't, you suffer consequence Z (lose citizens, territories, etc). This is simple and effective, but I don't think it adds anything interesting to my game. For one, it's been done quite well in the past in games like La Citta, where you must have access to food for all of your population or suffer consequences. In my game, resources are already plenty tight, so i don't think adding one more resource management aspect is worth it, but maybe.

I could perhaps foresee having a "pay one resource per sitting army" that would kind of incorporate both the "upkeep" and "sprawl" aspects. Having a very spread-out army gives you the ability to strike in more possible directions, but it is also more costly to maintain such a structure. However, again, I don't think this would add anything to my game, in which you already, as I described, must "pay to fight" -- I think this does an adequate job of accounting for the cost of maintaining the military -- lots of battles = lots of costs.

I'm most intrigued, then, by the "bureaucracy" aspects. One idea might be to have the cost of builds scale with the size of your empire. So, as your Civ gets bigger, presumably it's producing more, but things also end up costing more because of the overhead associated with having a big empire. Perhaps this would only be related to specific endeavors; building a statue has a fixed cost, but instituting the civ advance "law" is more difficult as your Civilization increases in size, for example. Another thing I could envision is there is some kind of "unrest" track that you must maintain below a certain level, or else you lose something. And maybe keeping unrest down gets more expensive as you own more territories.

The key question, then, would be how to make unrest interesting. I envision some random events that say "Famine: Unrest +1", but you don't want to rely on that entirely. I want to have a couple of situations where the consequence of action A is that your unrest goes up. These might include losing a battle, or overpopulating a territory, etc.

I guess the main question I need to answer is whether I even want to add a political system in the first place. I think it would mainly serve, in the model I outline above, to make land-grabbing a more expensive strategy, as doing so would increase unrest. But there may already be some built-in checks against land-grabbing anyway, so maybe it's not necessary...

Are there other possible ways that you've seen, or could imagine, political or "empire management" concepts being incorporated into a game?

It occurs to me that this might be better as a journal entry, but since my last post generated good discussion, perhaps this one will as well....Thanks for any input!

-Jeff

Brykovian
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I've always wondered about empire-building games that require you to micro-manage the feeding of your citizens ... aren't they able to find food on their own? ;)

I prefer to think about what governments of growing empires need to pay most attention to ... such as the building/maintaining of roads, courts, and other infrastructure. Perhaps you need to pay a maintanence cost which grows based upon the amount of land you control. Perhaps you don't begin to collect taxes from your citizens until a number of turns after you first control their territory. This would make a fast land-grab pretty expensive, without immediate extra income to compensate for it. It would probably encourage plateau-style cycles of growth and development.

-Bryk

jwarrend
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Brykovian wrote:
I've always wondered about empire-building games that require you to micro-manage the feeding of your citizens ... aren't they able to find food on their own? ;)

I guess it depends somewhat on the scope of the game. Have you played La Citta? The mechanism for food supply is brilliant. I also like the one in Wallenstein, where if you don't produce enough grain, you incur peasant revolts (or, alternatively, "revolting peasants"!)

Quote:

I prefer to think about what governments of growing empires need to pay most attention to ... such as the building/maintaining of roads, courts, and other infrastructure.

That's fine. My game currently has options to build structures to gain special benefits (like "Barracks" improves the defense of the territory) but I'm wondering if I should add a separate mechanic to force players to pay attention to the infrastructure/citizenry, which would incorporate the effect that the bigger/more populous an empire gets, the more effort must be expended to rule it.

Quote:

Perhaps you need to pay a maintanence cost which grows based upon the amount of land you control.

This is certainly a possibility; it's kind of the same, mechanically, as "pay for each citizen" although one limits population expansion, one limits land expansion, and not sure which one needs to be reined in.

Quote:

Perhaps you don't begin to collect taxes from your citizens until a number of turns after you first control their territory. This would make a fast land-grab pretty expensive, without immediate extra income to compensate for it. It would probably encourage plateau-style cycles of growth and development.

This is also an interesting idea, but I'm a little worried it adds more bookkeeping to remember which territory was acquired when. This is definitely different than any of the mechanics I advanced, though. I'm probably leaning a bit towards something like "things cost more the bigger/more populous your empire gets", or maybe "if you don't manage unrest, every now and again it boils over and something bad happens". But your suggestions would also contribute to an "empire management" effect.

Thanks for the input!

Anonymous
political mechanic

I would recommend (possibly because I'm currently in the middle of my third game of it :D ) that you also have a look at the Avalon Hill game called Republic of Rome. Although out of print, I think you can find writeups of the rules and PBeM variants.

It has a well set up political system where you balance doing favours for friends, woo-ing other player's senators to your factions and maintaining the strength of Rome. If you spend too much time on selfish pursuits - Rome can well fall and everybody loses.

doho123
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Just a thought about unrest in the populace.

Obviously, being harsh on the people is somewhat amusing, and necessary in some cases, to keep the empire growing. And, to some extent, the population will be restless without any action. It's the point at which the dam breaks in the important part (at least to me).

So what if a certain amount of unrest is allowed all the time, but the dam breaks when the total amount of unrest amongst all the players crosses a threshold, and then the player with the highest amount gets the revolting peasants? Ultimately, you are risking unrest in your little empire with the hopes that other players are keeping thier kingdoms somewhat sedate in this mechanism, which could make for an interesting risk/reward decision throughout the game.

jwarrend
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Curufea wrote:
I would recommend (possibly because I'm currently in the middle of my third game of it :D ) that you also have a look at the Avalon Hill game called Republic of Rome. Although out of print, I think you can find writeups of the rules and PBeM variants.

It has a well set up political system where you balance doing favours for friends, woo-ing other player's senators to your factions and maintaining the strength of Rome. If you spend too much time on selfish pursuits - Rome can well fall and everybody loses.

Thanks for the tip! I've played Republic of Rome once and enjoyed it, and didn't really think of it in this design. That game is all about politics, whereas I'm just looking to incorporate a simple management aspect to this game, but there may be something in that game worth appropriating. Thanks!

-Jeff

jwarrend
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doho123 wrote:

So what if a certain amount of unrest is allowed all the time, but the dam breaks when the total amount of unrest amongst all the players crosses a threshold, and then the player with the highest amount gets the revolting peasants? Ultimately, you are risking unrest in your little empire with the hopes that other players are keeping thier kingdoms somewhat sedate in this mechanism, which could make for an interesting risk/reward decision throughout the game.

This is an interesting though, thanks! Another way to do it might be that there's a diffusion aspect where highly unhappy empires will lose citizens to happy empires. But of course, this effect has also been captured by La Citta. In fact, maybe I should just forgo the political aspects, La Citta has captured it so well!

My idea was kind of like yours, to allow unrest to go unchecked, if you so desire, but if you want to reduce unrest, you can do so by paying one resource for each territory you hold. Thus, a bigger empire is harder to manage. Since the game already has random events, one of the events could be "revolt", and you lose something for each level of unrest in your empire. So, you can ignore it if you want, but at some unexpected moment, unrest could boil over.

The problem I had with this was finding a good reason for unrest to increase in the first place; why are the peasants unhappy? And more importantly from a design standpoint, what do you have to balance such that unrest is a consequence of some other action that you take? All I've been able to come up with was losing in combat and overcrowding in your territories. I haven't come up with too much besides that.

In my current rulebook, the idea is that to gain new territories, you must pay one resource for each territory you currently own. So, for your empire to get bigger, you need to pay more to "manage" it. But there are several reasons why you'd want to get bigger, so it should be worth the expense. I think I'll skip the "unrest" idea for now, as it's more difficult to see a clear path to incorporating it. But I'll keep thinking about it, and if you have any more suggestions/ideas, I'm happy to hear them!

Thanks again,

Jeff

Brykovian
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jwarrend wrote:
The problem I had with this was finding a good reason for unrest to increase in the first place; why are the peasants unhappy? And more importantly from a design standpoint, what do you have to balance such that unrest is a consequence of some other action that you take? All I've been able to come up with was losing in combat and overcrowding in your territories. I haven't come up with too much besides that.

I know you said that you plan on holding-off on the unrest idea, but I thought I'd throw out another idea for a "reason" behind unrest, in case you ever go down that path again. Usually, unrest throughout history has been caused when the masses were forced to do something by their rulers that wasn't very popular -- taxes and military service come to mind, for example.

So, if you do plan to have your players gain resources based upon the size of their empire (basically an abstraction of taxes), perhaps players could choose to draw *more* resources in exchange for added unrest. Also, if the player is allowed to "build" military units from their general population, then you could give the player the option to build *more* units at the price of higher unrest as well.

Just thought I'd throw those ideas out there for you to tuck away for another time ... ;)

-Bryk

jwarrend
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Brykovian wrote:

I know you said that you plan on holding-off on the unrest idea, but I thought I'd throw out another idea for a "reason" behind unrest, in case you ever go down that path again. Usually, unrest throughout history has been caused when the masses were forced to do something by their rulers that wasn't very popular -- taxes and military service come to mind, for example.

So, if you do plan to have your players gain resources based upon the size of their empire (basically an abstraction of taxes), perhaps players could choose to draw *more* resources in exchange for added unrest. Also, if the player is allowed to "build" military units from their general population, then you could give the player the option to build *more* units at the price of higher unrest as well.

Thanks, these are good ideas. I don't really have a taxation mechanic per se, it's just "each peasant produces one resource", but I like your idea that a peasant could potentially produce more but also have that increase unrest more. I actually have a really cute mechanic to simulate this effect, but it's for another game and it doesn't really fit in this one. I'll say more about that mechanic at some later time when I'm more ready to talk about that game; it's simple and obvious, yet (I think) original.

But I appreciate the point that production can be what precipitates unrest. That definitely gives me more to go on if I need to incorporate that (and I probably only well if it's essential to making some other aspect of the game viable...) Thanks!

-Jeff

Anonymous
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On a similar note, what if every agressive thing your empire did (fighting and/or making soldiers, taking over new territories) created unrest. Then doing civil things like building graneries and monuments reduced it.

jwarrend
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Rauros wrote:
On a similar note, what if every agressive thing your empire did (fighting and/or making soldiers, taking over new territories) created unrest. Then doing civil things like building graneries and monuments reduced it.

This is not a bad idea. The game already has a couple of "combat disincentives" built in, but I like your thought that doing "civilized things" will tend to make the population more happy. That said, I think that having a really successful army could also make your population happy; it's nice to know that you can't be beat militarily. So, there's definitely something worth thinking about here, but I may not end up jumping in this exact direction; we'll see! Thanks again!

-Jeff

Scurra
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One of the great ideas in the original Civilisation computer game was that of "government type". (I don't know if that's been carried over to the board game though.)
So there the unrest factor was affected by the sort of government you had chosen to be. Obviously most of them were skewed towards military action, but if you wanted to have a "civilised" empire, sending your army out all the time resulted in lots of unrest, but your citizens were much more productive in science and so on.

I'm wondering if there was any way that idea could be extended (without making things extra complex!) If a player chose to be a more dictatorial leader, then perhaps the army cost less to maintain but the peasants didn't produce as much and there was less unrest. Whereas a more "democratic" leader (for want of a better word!) might have an expensive army but peasant would produce a lot more resources.

jwarrend
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Scurra wrote:

I'm wondering if there was any way that idea could be extended (without making things extra complex!) If a player chose to be a more dictatorial leader, then perhaps the army cost less to maintain but the peasants didn't produce as much and there was less unrest. Whereas a more "democratic" leader (for want of a better word!) might have an expensive army but peasant would produce a lot more resources.

This is an interesting thought, but I'm a little worried about the added complexity. It seems easy to implement: I am a democracy, therefore peasants produce X, armies cost Y. You are a dictatorship, peasants produce Z, armies cost Q, (and X>Y, Z

Scurra
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jwarrend wrote:

But really, this doesn't really give you the "feel" that you're running a democracy or a dictatorship. I'd rather have the game allow enough flexibility that your play style can dictate whether you're trying to be a military juggernaut, a cultural mecca, a trade empire, etc.

Oh, indeed. But other games that have tried this have either suffered from the type being abstract (Vinci is a good example of this - your pair of civ tiles affected your play but didn't particularly change the game) or from the type being similar (La Citta, in which everyone builds the same sort of cites, to stick with the two examples we've been using!)

You are going to have buildings, right? Then it's not going to be that hard to have building effects that reflect the style of government the player wants (barracks = high military, museums = high culture etc.) That way you can have specialist or diversity strategies (e.g. all barracks or one of everything), although balancing these would be tricky (understatement of the day ;))

jwarrend
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Scurra wrote:
jwarrend wrote:

But really, this doesn't really give you the "feel" that you're running a democracy or a dictatorship. I'd rather have the game allow enough flexibility that your play style can dictate whether you're trying to be a military juggernaut, a cultural mecca, a trade empire, etc.

Oh, indeed. But other games that have tried this have either suffered from the type being abstract (Vinci is a good example of this - your pair of civ tiles affected your play but didn't particularly change the game) or from the type being similar (La Citta, in which everyone builds the same sort of cites, to stick with the two examples we've been using!)

Right. The way you pull this off, I think, is to have more goals than just "most territories wins" or "biggest population wins". In my game, as I've mentioned, there are four goals, and players score based on relative rank in the goals. So, which VP categories you go for, and how you go about doing that, can lead to different play styles. Vinci doesn't give rise to a "play style" per se because it's a very simple game system. I haven't played La Citta enough to know, but my guess is that your analysis is correct; there isn't a "building strategy" and a "shipping strategy" like in Puerto Rico. So the crucial component of a game that cultivates play styles is multiple paths to victory.

Quote:

You are going to have buildings, right? Then it's not going to be that hard to have building effects that reflect the style of government the player wants (barracks = high military, museums = high culture etc.) That way you can have specialist or diversity strategies (e.g. all barracks or one of everything), although balancing these would be tricky (understatement of the day ;))

Exactly. The buildings already have these kinds of effects, but they aren't explicitly correlated to a form of government. To say that "building type A is easier to build in government X vs government Y" is already too much complexity. And again, I do hope that specialist or diversity strategies will arise organically. I have my 3rd playtest game (my first with the "real" rules) next week, and I hope this is what it will reveal. But I suppose the one advantage of your "gov't styles" approach is that players don't have to figure out strategies on their own, but can have them "programmed" a bit. I don't like designing this stuff in because in my opinion it could limit the replay value, but I guess if you're the one choosing your gov't type, it's ok. Still, I don't think it will lead to as much variability as my game could. You'll basically have "warlike" and "cultural", whereas I'm hoping the civilizations in my game could be more nuanced...We'll see!

-Jeff

doho123
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I'm just curious, but what is the ultimate goal of the game? I think that this would have a large effect on how you want to run your government.

(such as, if the goal is to take over territories, trying to build an empire based on arts and literature seems silly).

The only good way I can immediately think of that did this is Civilisation's advance track.

jwarrend
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There are actually 4 goals, or rather, 4 categories in which you can get VPs -- these originally included Size, Wealth, Culture, and Military Size. The 4 categories I'm now going with differ somewhat, but require wading into some specifics to get across. The goal, then, isn't just territorial conquest, and it isn't just cultural advance, but you can achieve success using either of those, or some effective combination of the two.

The concepts aren't too different from other Civ games -- you add population, produce resources, build buildings, fight battles. My main concern in this thread was whether there should also be an "empire management" aspect to the game, and what form that might take. Scurra's suggestion, I guess, abstracts that a bit by saying that depending on what kind of government you have, different actions/units/buildings cost different amounts. Obviously, you'd have to balance the government styles against the goals of the game. But in practice, I think the goals of the game will lead players to formulate different strategies, or rather to play according to whatever strategies they'd like to play by (I have one or two guys in my group who play every game full-on warlike whenever possible!) But this is something playtesting will reveal as to whether I've achieved it or not. The key seems to be properly choosing 3 or 4 goal categories that lead to maximally interesting decisions.

-Jeff

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