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A slightly weird co-op of Greek(ish) city states balancing demands of gods and the people

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polyobsessive
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OK, so following a really fun and interesting evening of brainstorming with a couple of other chaps on Facebook, I have got a game burning its way through a corner of my brain. The basic idea is for a cooperative game where you are forced to attack people, but you can only win if you aren't too successful.

A summary of the discussion and my initial thoughts is here on my blog.

More thinking on this got me to planning a game set in a world based on mythical Greece, with players controlling rival city states. Again, i have blogged on this here.

Now I'm trying to put together an initial prototype. I'm usually pretty good at getting something very basic up and running, but right now I am struggling a bit. Basically I need to get an initial set of cards (it doesn't need to be enough to play an entire game) so I can at least try a few turns, and I am going very slowly at the moment.

The idea is that cards each have a couple of options on them and when you play them, you choose one of the options. Some of these options are simple and uncomplicated, but on most cards one option is a demand from the people of your city (we want games, we want to attack those people who offended us, etc) and the other is from one of the gods (build me a temple, offer me this sacrifice, etc), and whichever option you don't take may cause you problems. So ignore the demands of the gods and you increase divine displeasure; ignore the people and you increase unrest; both of these may be shifting you towards defeat.

At the moment I partly needed to just start explaining this to people who may reply, but I also need to hear questions, suggestions, etc. I am finding it hard to pair up actions onto cards and decide what mechanisms are needed to fit in with them.

If you have read this far, I would *really* appreciate any questions at all, or comments along the lines of "it would be neat if you could..." to push me along the way.

Thanks for reading. If you can help me get over this little bump in the road I would be forever in your debt.

- Rob

questccg
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I don't know...

I don't know if this will help you, but I find breaking things down into smaller elements makes it easier to move forwards on a design.

So basically there are two (2) categories of "demands", right? Or is there a third (3rd) category you did not mention?! See that's not clear because you say it is possible that "both of these may be shifting you towards defeat." Which could suggest a third option you can choose.

Then you could sub-divide into other categories, like:

A> Good People Demands
B> Bad People Demands
C> Good God Demands
D> Bad God Demands

(I have assumed that there were only two categories to pick from...)

Then you can sub-divide again, for example "Good People Demands":

1. Costs X amount of resource Y
2. Takes Z turns to perform
3. etc...

Basically it will help structure your options into categories such that you can have a subset of the greater category.

Why would you do this?

Well I find it allows you to define all types of "demands". And then you can BALANCE your game by say allowing "5 of each basic option". As another example...

I sort of did this when I designed my 81 sub-categories of "Minions". And another example was deciding which Wizard would have what KIND of cards in Wizardry: The Card Game (WIZ) - now defunct.

Anyways this might help you BALANCE and DESIGN all the demands...

IMHO. Cheers.

Tedthebug
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I like the above suggestion

Adding a time element to some items lets players play a slow build for a big improvement when it delivers. Modes the player go for a quick item so it frees up resources next turn or do they commit to the long play which will constrain resources until it is delivered? Can players interrupt what other players are doing? Could the players forgo doing something for their cities to try & sabotage the other player/s (you mentioned it's a sort of competitive co-op so I'm assuming that instead of trying to win you are trying to make the others lose)?

polyobsessive
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Thanks Questccg

Hi Questccg, thanks for reading and commenting.

Yes, there are basically 2 categories of demands, and some might be problematic and some not, but one of the problems to worry about is that if you choose to appease the gods you may be annoying the people, and so on. Sometimes you'll get down to a point where you might have to just send an army to attack your neighbour even though you will be losing troops and causing them to develop a grudge against you because the people are getting bellicose and if they don't see some blood being spilled it might get a lot worse domestically.

Now I'm not sure if basic actions like producing commodities, building locations or forming armies should be put onto cards to choose from or that should be totally separate and the cards are just used for demands. Now I type that in, I am starting to think that possibly you should have a few standard actions you can do each turn and must achieve one of the demands on a card that you hold each time. Or you can probably just discard a demand card and take a "displeasure" hit for both gods and people.

I think your hierarchical approach to breaking down the options on the cards is interesting and could be useful. I think I might need to figure out more of the basic mechanics to do that though.

polyobsessive
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Fully co-op

Hi Tedthebug. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

Hmm, the time element could be interesting, possibly with some actions taking multiple turns. I'll think on that. Thanks.

The game is actually intended to be fully cooperative, with a shared goal. While I can see plenty of ways to lose, I haven't yet figured out the win condition. The idea is that the game will occasionally force players to attack each other due to the will of either the gods or the people. Some of that sort of shenanigans will be fine, but part of the challenge of the game is to limit the damage caused by the attacks, because if you are too successful, you might wipe out another player, and that would be a lose condition. (The idea is that to win, long-term stability is necessary.)

Basically, can everyone get through this despite the annoying and destructive demands of gods and the populace?

questccg
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Some more insight

polyobsessive wrote:
I think your hierarchical approach to breaking down the options on the cards is interesting and could be useful. I think I might need to figure out more of the basic mechanics to do that though.

Well if you work on "developing" your *demands* (with categories), you should be able to define:

A> The resources used by your game
B> How turns will affect the game
C> All of the ways you can be penalized by not choosing a demand
D> The bonuses that can help to enhance a player

See that's one of the things I'm not certain you considered. You talk about the "negative" consequences of "Bad" demands, but you have not considered beneficial consequences of "Good" demands.

You could have things like "Keep this card: Play when A occurs." And what I mean is that an earlier reaction to a demand can yield a card which can be used to offset a "Bad" demand or the consequence of not performing it.

Because your goal is STABILITY for B turns (seems like it from what you have been saying...) it makes sense to have CARDS to offset demand consequences based on earlier choices. The only problem I see is this:

I. When you decide that you are going to TRY to WIN, you will invest all your assets into doing so. Not achieving the goal sets you back Z turns (because you have spent/exhausted your "Good" cards)...
II. It opens the door for another player to try his luck at "winning the game".

And not that it's bad - just need to figure out if this is HOW you want the game to play out.

Arcuate
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Pain now or pain later

One thing your description suggested to me was that some demands from the Gods or people might be unreasonable and destructive, giving you the urge to ignore them, but in that case you might risk the problem festering and being more of an issue later.

One game that does this well is Twilight Struggle, where it is often best to play an opponent's event and wear the pain now, rather than postpone it to some other time that might be even worse.

So you could have the option of satisfying the people and the Gods' demands fester, or vice versa, or you could chicken out and defer satisfying both groups' demands for some short term bonus. How this actually worked and whether it suited your overall game would depend on your mechanics.

Tedthebug
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Gfc?

So this is a mythological version of Greece surviving the gfc? The population demands certain things but the gods (IMF etc) demand certain sacrifices.

polyobsessive
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Thanks to both Questccg and Arcuate

Talking about this game here is starting to make things a bit clearer. The input is making me think about things from a different angle.

I think that my first pass on this will be that I need to set up a basic game where there is fairly simple resource management and military operations, probably without any use of cards. Each turn, you can do a certain number of actions, probably. So at this level we should be able to have a mechanically OK game, but with no spark or direction.

The demand cards can then be added on top of that, and probably just about all of them will be "unhelpful" in some way. They will either burn resources or disrupt the balance in some way.

I envisage that every player will have a hand of cards and will have to play one each round, and only get new cards once everyone has played all their cards. So you can't avoid a card entirely, but you can decide what order to address them so as to hopefully minimise the problems arising.

I am also thinking about having "grudge" tokens that are handed over when one player attacks another. If player A attacks player B, then player B has a grudge against A and this can affect demands by the people: they want to avenge the injury that was done to them. It will probably be possible to remove grudge tokens sometimes, but in general they are likely to just spiral out of control if you aren't careful.

Questccg: at the moment I am not planning there to be any way for someone to get an individual win, either everyone wins or everyone loses.

Arcuate: yes, I think you get where I am hoping to go with the game. You need to address the demands, but may be able to delay on some of them, and few of them will be helpful in themselves. Twilight Struggle is a good example of this sort of thing, but I think I am moving towards something more like TS but where *all* the cards benefit your enemy rather than half of them! Your comments do suggest an option to not play a card to resolve it but to put it into a "delay" state where you must still deal with it at some point, but the penalty for not doing so gets worse as time passes; interesting...

polyobsessive
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GFC?

Tedthebug wrote:
So this is a mythological version of Greece surviving the gfc? The population demands certain things but the gods (IMF etc) demand certain sacrifices.

GFC? Global Financial Crisis? XD

Get rid of the gods and replace them with bankers and investors...

Possibly not the aesthetic I was going for, but topical... :)

gilamonster
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I have a few

I have a few suggestions:

Firstly, the individual Greek gods were always engaging in feuds with one another. So I would suggest that your game include a small number (maybe 5) individual gods, each with their own likes and dislikes. Then some actions will please some gods while angering others. This will require much more effort for players to keep balanced (because you don't want to irritate any one god too much - each one could bring their own brand of disaster down on you). You could include some sort of mechanic to bribe a god without creating too much umbrage through expensive sacrifices or building a temple.

Next, if you gave each player control over not one but several Greek city states (maybe three to five each) then they could have a favour-rating in each state as well. It could even be partial control - i.e. some cities have control shared between players. So if you anger the populace too much, then they oust you. If all players are ousted from any one city, then this would lose the game. This could work somewhat similarly to the gods - because of old emnities, certain things will anger some cities, but please others. And, of course, each Greek city-state has its own patron god, whose likes and dislikes are well known, but can be temporarily disregarded by the citizens for the right incentive...

Next, you could consider having occasional external military threats, for example from the Persians. If more than one Greek city-state overcomes a Persian invasion together, it reduces the odium between them.

Then, regarding the victory condition: As you probably know, the Greeks believed that being Greek was really special, and that the ties of Greek nationality were a strong bond. Unfortunately, not strong enough to stop inter-city warfare, but certainly strong enough that apparently many Greeks apparently dreamed of a unified Greece. There was also the old myth of the golden age, which could be woven into this - obviously they wanted the golden age to return, and that implied peace and unity. Of course, the Greek city-states were eventually unified by Philip II of Macedon and ruled briefly but famously by his son Alexander the Great (who claimed divine ancestry). So maybe the victory condition is to either unify the city-states politically or religiously, or by raising up a military hero like Alexander to do it for you.

I hope some of this helps

polyobsessive
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Lots to think about!

Hi Gilamonster. Thanks for commenting.

Yes, the feuding gods is something I like the idea of. I am actually thinking of each city having a different patron god (not necessarily a benevolent patron!) whose demands can't be easily ignored, but I think having the gods wanting to resolve their differences using the player controlled cities as proxies is a major potential feature.

The multiple cities per player thing could work well, and is something I hadn't really considered. You present some interesting possibilities there. My hunch is that it might make the game complicated in ways that I don't want, but if I get stuck, this is definitely something I can look into.

As for external threats, this is definitely something I like. One of the things that drew me to the setting is that tension between the cultural connections shared by the Greek city states and the intense rivalries between them that sometimes turned into open war. Combine that with the mythical elements and there are some great stories that could come out of a boardgame. Actually the mythology isn't really necessary, but it's a conceit I like. :)

In addition to external threats, I think some form of trade with off-board powers would be good too. And in an ideal world I'd like to add monsters and heroes somehow, but that could be something to add later, once the basics are mostly stable. Monsters would need to be animated by Ray Harryhausen.

I like the idea of the end of the game being signalled by the rise of a figure like Philip. Good thinking. Alternatively it could be an invasion by someone like Darius or Xerxes to finish things off. Or monsters!

Thanks again for your input. Lots to think about.

My plan at the moment is to get a very basic economic/war game together to act as a base for the game, and then start piling on the various demands to drive the game play properly.

ruy343
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I like where this is going...

I think that you're on to an interesting idea, but you've got a complex build on your hands. I don't envy you!

Here are some ideas that your brainstorm here has prompted me to come up with:

-Each player's "god" has a deck of cards that are drawn once per round (or less often, perhaps a game has only 3 phases, but 9 rounds?), which affect their play for the round. Perhaps their god tells them that they cannot trade with their neighbor to their right, or they suffer the consequence printed on the bottom of the card. Perhaps some consequences aren't set in stone, but decided by a roll of the dice (or spinner), creating tension.

-The way you gather resources could be based on a spinner used by all players on their respective turns, granting you resources where it lands. to play on this mechanic, perhaps the wrath of the gods could impose droughts, famines, and othersuch could cause a marker to be placed on a space that prevents you from gaining that particular spot's benefits, making your spin sometimes worthless. This might eventually mean that your city is unable to grow food, and must trade - becoming a strain on your friends.

-Each player's populace has specific demands (another deck?) that they must meet each game round/phase, or similar consequences could be inflicted (printed at card's bottom). However, while the wrath of the gods could have world-changing consequences or send horrible monsters to wreck your populace, the populace consequences would likely just affect you or things that you've built for yourself, or it could sometimes cause you to go to war with a neighbor, which becomes a new demand card that must be resolved, or the player is deposed (and everyone loses the game).

-The historical event that makes the most sense in my mind is the Persian invasions. The Persians had a strong navy and an immense army, which could create two different problems that the players must overcome to defeat them. If the enemy navy becomes too strong, trading becomes less and less likely to work. If the enemy army becomes too strong or advances too far, you lose.

I really like the idea. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help you to build it!

polyobsessive
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Great stuff!

Hi ruy343! Thanks for the ideas and your support.

I hadn't actually considered each player having their own god deck, I was thinking of a single, shared deck, with each card having a gods demand and a people demand, and you had to choose. But now you come to mention it, a separate deck for each god could make for some nice thematic stuff and would probably help with scaling the game: add a player, you add a god deck.

That said, my concern would be that the gods might quickly become too predictable. I'm sure there are solutions to that, but this is good stuff to keep in the dev notes, so thankyou for that suggestion.

Having resource production based on (or at least influenced by) a spinner, die roll, card flip or something could work well too. Though, as you suggest, having production based on divine whim would work thematically, so that needs to come in.

I agree that this game could easily become rather large, so I will need to ensure that any complexity adds to the decision space without making comprehension of the game too hard. Most of my experience in game design so far has been in pretty lightweight games, and it is only recently I have started working on meatier projects. We'll just have to see how I get on... :)

At the moment I am crawling along on a basic game. I have started working on a basic economic game which, aside from population, soldiers, and the displeasure of gods and men, I currently have 7 different commodities, which feels like it might be too many, but only time and testing will tell.

How can you help? Thanks for asking. Really, at this point, reading, commenting and asking questions is absolutely amazing and is a huge help.

polyobsessive
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Economy

So just a small update on the incredibly boring guts of the game, a first pass at the economic system.

I figured out a list of commodities that I wanted to include, which might be too many, so it may get trimmed, but for now we have:

  • food
  • wine
  • cloth
  • wood
  • stone
  • bronze (a stand-in for "practical" metal goods, really)
  • silver (currency)

I was working for ages on either using tokens (so... many... tokens...) or score tracks to track the amount of each commodity possessed by a player, but neither was satisfactory. I eventually settled (for the time being) on a system where you control locations which produce one of the commodities and you simply put a marker on each location to show that that good is available there, and remove it when it is used. So the most of a good you can have is the number of producing locations you control.

I may decide that silver will be represented by actual coins, but we'll see.

These locations are represented on an abstract player mat, which has one zone representing your city, flanked by two "provinces" areas, each of the provinces containing one of each of the locations. You control the locations on your player mat, but another player could put an army into one of your provinces, at which point they control the locations, until you bump them out.

(Sorry, this would be easier to explain with images!)

Each player, at the start of their turn flips a production card, most of which state two commodities may be produced; each player may choose one of these commodities to be produced in their locations (empty locations fill up). You work through the small production deck before reshuffling it, so production is randomised but there is some predictability.

The main use of this economy is that you will need to spend commodities to fulfill demands from the gods or people, which I will deal with next.

I also intend there to be off-board trading, so you can send boats (which you can build!) off to trade something you have for something you don't have. Not yet sure how that will work, but it's a few steps down the line.

The key thing is that I think I have a working base on which to build the more interesting parts of the game...

Tedthebug
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Resources

If the resources are held on the location & are removed when used this places gather strategic value on them as players can't hoard them. Instead they will need to defend those locations until they are ready to use the resources or churn out cheaper, lower grade items (this may be an issue, I'm not sure). Players could then focus on disrupting supply to other players by attacking those locations but only if they have the resources to create their army. If you went this way you may need to consider allowing players to spend resources after an attack so that if they win a position they are able to partially replenish, otherwise they may then be to weak to defend it before they get to use the resource.

Are there people they need to control? Would those people be recruited into armies, sent to gather resources, sacrificed to a god, or made to join the priesthood or female equivalent? The latter would be a permanent choice so players lose that person resource but might gain a gods favour, weighted by number of full time religious followers, to help alter results.

polyobsessive
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Resources, population and armies

Hi Tedthebug.

That is more or less what I had in mind for resources and their strategic value.

The armies side of things I wanted to abstract away a lot of detail and possibly make battles into a Diplomacy-style thing where whoever has the most wins. Each city will have a population level, and that will dictate how much food is required every [period to be decided] as well as limit the size of an army, as the armies would be citizen soldiers. I envisage there only actually being a handful of armies mobilised at any time.

Each [period] that you want to keep an army in the field, you will need to spend resources, probably silver. You can always choose to simply disband an army at any time. One thing I had in mind was that if an army gets defeated in battle, they are disbanded and population is reduced accordingly. This would be brutal, but would mean that most battles would probably actually be standoffs until one side simply backs down (playtesting may prove me wrong). Maybe some sort of card play or special ability could modify this.

Dedicating population to the priesthood could be an interesting approach. It might be more detail than I want, but it's a good idea and may prove useful, so thanks for the thoughts on that.

Squinshee
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Okay, read all 16 posts and

Okay, read all 16 posts and I'm all caught up. *phew*

My biggest takeaway here is the choice between fulfilling a God's demand versus your people's demands, which is an awesome thematic concept. I'm hugely in favor of each player having their own deck of cards that corresponds to a certain God. That makes scaling simple and depending on how big the decks are and how many Gods you include, a lot of potential replay value.

I can't remember if this was someone else's thought, but I think it would be cool if the players sitting to the left and right of you had like a partial affinity to you God, making them nets benefits and punishments based on the demands you do and don't fulfill. This then forces other players to adapt their strategies based on your decisions.

I get lost in your design when you want it to be cooperative...yet there's also battles amongst players? From my understanding of your concept, a competitive game makes more sense, but that's just me.

Cool concept!

Tedthebug
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Affinity to other gods

The idea of having an affinity to the gods either side would be interesting for 4+ player games, it would certainly add to that cooperative/competitive game mix. I can't see it working for <4 players though, & I can't think of anyway to get it to work for 2 player games.

Perhaps this is how players get their head around it, they play to win but the strategy is in when they take their actions so they don't help their neighbours to much? Would the effect cascade around the table e.g. I do something that helps the players to my left & right which in turn helps the players to their left & right (does some of that reflect back to me?) & so on around the table?

polyobsessive
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Hi Squinshee!

Squinshee wrote:
Okay, read all 16 posts and I'm all caught up. *phew*

Thanks for taking the time. :)

Quote:
My biggest takeaway here is the choice between fulfilling a God's demand versus your people's demands, which is an awesome thematic concept. I'm hugely in favor of each player having their own deck of cards that corresponds to a certain God. That makes scaling simple and depending on how big the decks are and how many Gods you include, a lot of potential replay value.

It makes for a huge challenge in balancing the game, but you're right, it would have some significant advantages as you say. I think I will probably work with a single demands deck to start with, but as I build up its contents, I'll see if I can split it into separate, themed decks.

Quote:
I can't remember if this was someone else's thought, but I think it would be cool if the players sitting to the left and right of you had like a partial affinity to you God, making them nets benefits and punishments based on the demands you do and don't fulfill. This then forces other players to adapt their strategies based on your decisions.

That's a good thought. I was actually thinking that there might be a central measure of divine displeasure, indicating how annoyed the gods as a whole are with those pesky mortals, and that could be another path to defeat for everyone. Do you think that might work?

Quote:
I get lost in your design when you want it to be cooperative...yet there's also battles amongst players? From my understanding of your concept, a competitive game makes more sense, but that's just me.

It's not just you: having a cooperative game where players sometimes attack each other doesn't really seem natural, does it? But that is pretty much the whole point of this exercise. I want to see if I can make this work and have a game with those clashing aspects pulling in different directions. I may fail, but it's fun to try.

polyobsessive
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Tedthebug...

Tedthebug wrote:
The idea of having an affinity to the gods either side would be interesting for 4+ player games, it would certainly add to that cooperative/competitive game mix. I can't see it working for <4 players though, & I can't think of anyway to get it to work for 2 player games.

You're talking about the adjacent players suggestion? Agreed, that would be more of a thing for bigger games, and the original brief for the game came out of a discussion about 3-player co-ops, so I would like to make this game work well for 3.

What do you think about just having all gods affecting all players, but cities being most affected by their patron gods? So, for example, I might have a city dedicated to Athena, so it would be really bad for me to ignore her demands, but I may end up with demands from Poseidon, which don't affect me quite as much if I ignore them.

Quote:
Perhaps this is how players get their head around it, they play to win but the strategy is in when they take their actions so they don't help their neighbours to much? Would the effect cascade around the table e.g. I do something that helps the players to my left & right which in turn helps the players to their left & right (does some of that reflect back to me?) & so on around the table?

If I'm focusing on 3 players, everything will affect everyone pretty much. I think I need to get testing to see how the dynamic develops, but I would like everyone to be affected by just about every action or card play.

Tedthebug
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Multiple gods

Most cities had temples to multiple gods but each city tended to focus more on one than the others so that would make sense that multiple gods could affect cities but that some would have more effect/influence than others.

Gods of crops etc would influence neighbouring cities as well assuming that their cropping ground was abutting each other, a storm God punishing a city could have an affect on neighbouring cities etc. that sounds interesting

ruy343
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god effects affecting others

I think that, while it might be OK for a god's demand to have an effect on neighboring players (like some of the black cards from 7 Wonders), I think that instead the way that displeasing the gods affects them is through the creation of impediments to the players as a whole (like monsters). This would allow players who have pleased their respective gods to lend a helping hand to a player who is struggling.

I was thinking about your resources and population ideas, and I have an additional one that I'd like to present. What if you measured your population (or just people) by a hand of cards, each with costs and benefits. Those cards can be used for the benefits listed, or they could be used as a means of transporting your resources (place the card face-down between you and a neighbor with a resource on top to indicate that you're sharing with them), or you could send them out for basic resources (the spinner idea I mentioned earlier). Some cards might simply be able to give you a guaranteed resource.

To encourage trade, I would limit what can be stored by a particular player between rounds - perhaps up to 3 resources each, or maybe that a given city can store as many as they want of just one resource, making them a hub for that kind of resource (if you've got too much of something, then it'll be wasted unless you can figure out a way to get it to that player). The demands of the people could be these physical resources, where they demand that you provide 2 food, one soldier, and one ore for their benefit, and if you fail, you might get fewer worker cards to use the following turn.

The gods might also require a sacrifice of resources, or they might also ask that you send your soldiers or a hero on quests, giving you a time limit to accomplish the task.

In thinking about this, I really, really want to include heroes. Rather than worry about individual soldiers, I would instead take the Civilization route and have a single hero minifigure for each player that could be sent on quests to slay monsters and do the bidding of the gods, but you could also have soldiers allocated to your army be used by having that hero minifigure enter the space with enemy forces, allowing your dudes to combat the invading hordes.

Of course, this is all spitballing, so feel free to pick and choose among this for ideas that you like. PM me if you want to collaborate on this.

polyobsessive
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Loads of ideas

Hi Ruy343, thanks for all that input and ideas. It's great to have a heap of additional ideas to kick around. It sounds like you are envisaging a more complex resource system than I have at the moment, but it may be that I need to add something else in the future, so I'm not discounting anything yet.

Your idea of having monsters as the manifestation of divine wrath is great ("Release the kraken!"), and you are right that having heroes would be a great thematic addition.

Right now I think I need to get this first prototype to a playable state, then I can start seeing where the holes lie.

I'll PM you so we can chat more directly.

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