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Population Management/Combat

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Jerry's picture
Joined: 11/01/2010

I'm currently working on a medieval based war game, and have hit a few roadblocks. Maybe a few of you can shed some possible solutions. :)

I'm trying to make this game a little more in depth with resource management and population count. It's a little like risk in that you move armies around the board capturing countries, but you have to balance your population per country with that countries need for people to work the industries and such. Recruiting armies in a certain country reduces population count as well.

To deal with the massive numbers or civilians, I moved from pieces on the board to players having a playsheet where they keep track by writing information on their playsheet. Inevitably, dealing with such large numbers, I've run int a design block where I can't figure out how to balance management of thousands of units in each country, and army.

So now I'm considering moving from thousands of units, to more manageable numbers like you could have nine peasants in a country but you need four to run the countries industry so you can only recruit five units into your army until the population grows back again.

I'm still running into problems with how to balance everything and coming up with a system for population growth, plus nw the game doesn't deal with thousands f units, which I was wanting to use, for an epic/massive scale game feeling. :p
Any ideas? I'd be happy to answer questions too.

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008
Abstraction is good

Hey Jerry,

It sounds like you have three problems:

1) How to give the game a "large scale" feeling.

2) How to balance resource and population management.

3) Creating a system for population growth.

For #1, I'd suggest a trick used by the card game, "Nuclear War." Population is still abstracted, with players holding a number of cards representing all the people of the nation. The trick was in labeling: each card read something like, "1 million" or "5 million."

In your case, assuming you're using die rolls to inflict casualties, you could do something as simple as making custom dice that read "1000, 2000," ... "6000" on the faces. That's just an example, but you get the idea: some device in your game should be labeled such that players are constantly reminded that each pawn represents 1000 peasants.

#2 and #3 are hard to address until we know more about your design. Can you give brief examples of how you want your resourced and population systems to feel? Do you want statistical or deterministic behavior? How do these systems interact with combat and conquest?

If you supply some short examples, you'll likely get many replies.


Jerry's picture
Joined: 11/01/2010
Here's what I've got after a couple hours of pondering

Thanks for your reply Mark!

I think your idea is neat, I'm going to tinker with that a little bit and see where it leads me.

At the time after my original post, I was doing some more thinking, and I just couldn't figure out how to deal with such large numbers and still have an interesting game to play that wasn't just a constant numbers crunch for players. I'll flesh out what I've though of below, and input will be read and appreciated!

I was thinking of cutting out the huge numbers of peasants, resources, and soldiers in armies, and going with a simple system that allows for the strategy in my game to be displayed and used.

Everything is now measured in income. Each fief gives you x amount of peasant income and money income per turn.
This amount is not stockpiled each turn, but is rather static in nature unless you buy upgrades or lose a fief for example. Eg:

1) I control 3 countries so I get +3 Peasants and +3 Gold per turn.
If infantry costs one gold per unit and a knight three gold, I can buy one knight and 3 infantry units each turn. I left four gold units unused that turn.

2) Players will also need income of weapons and grain obtained by placing buildings like stables, farms and blacksmiths on fiefs. For example to recruit one unit of cavalry, players need one stable, one farm, one blacksmith, and three gold income. Most fiefs can only contain one building so you need to capture a few before your army starts rolling along. Peasant units are free to recruit (or force) into service. There are also archers and infantry units with their own cost of income, etc.

3)Players can also place churches on fiefs to gain more gold.

Over time as players gain more fiefs, they will have a higher income of everything meaning more purchasing power.
The buildings that give bonuses and are needed for income will encourage raiding from other players to thwart production attempts.

I was thinking combat is to be done through die/dice rolling. But I'd like some ideas for this one too.
My current idea is that archer fire first, and then join the battle as peasants afterwards. I don't want them to keep firing over and over otherwise they could be way overpowered.

So archers fire first for say 3 or less, using 5 dice per 10 enemy units. My theory here is that they have a 50/50 chance of hitting all across the board. Each hit kills one enemy unit before any hand to hand fighting begins.

Peasants then roll, for a 1. (after all the have pitchforks.)(archers join in for a 1 in subsequent rounds)
Infantry rolls for two or less
Cavalry for three or less
Depending how many units you have of each type in an army dictates how many dice you can use.
10 (of a unit)or less two dice
11-20 three dice
21-30 four dice
31-40 five dice
41 and up six dice

Siege work the same way except the attacker receives a -1 penalty in rolls. Cavalry only counts as regular infantry in a siege due to their inability to scale walls with their horses.

That's how its looking so far, any input is welcome!

Joined: 11/13/2012

If you divide your units you can say, one archer pawn can beat an infantry pawn, infantry pawn beats a knight pawn, and knight pawn beats archer. Roll to see how many attacks you have that turn, after you do your number of attacks you are vulnerable for the rest of the turn on those units. So anyone who attacks them overtakes them. But if you haven't they could still be armed to defend themselves. So if this archer unit does not attack anyone, and someone attacks him with infantry instead of cavalry, it'll take 2 units to kill him instead of one. And one of the units will die in the way. This way i think maybe could eliminate the dice rolling and keep the game moving a little bit quicker. I find that whenever there's a lot of land and resource management in a game, combat has a tendency to slow things down.

so to clarify, what im saying is
if it's your turn,


if you are attacking and you are attacking whatever is weak against you you don't loose anything, but you cant kill more pawns then you have attacking.

but if you go against hte rock paper scissors kind of feel, so if you want your scissors to beat rock (knight to beat infantry), it'll take double and cost you one unit.

Like i said, just a though. But i think a simple mechanic like that adds enough strategy to the combat side of things.

MarkKreitler's picture
Joined: 11/12/2008
Sounds interesting

Hey Jerry,

Thanks for supplying more design details.

You've got a lot of good ideas in there -- logical and meaningful elements that abstract the game play nicely. The use of buildings as gates to production makes sense and provides a natural throttle to development. Die-based combat is something gamers relate to combat resolution. The decisions you've made look like a reasonable starting place.

I do see some small red flags, but it's likely that I'm misunderstanding your design. I'll talk about these and general design philosophy in the rest of the post. Actually, in reverse order of what I just listed. :P

My first question regards the feel of your overall design: do you want a long or short game? Do you want the player primarily concerned with tactics, strategy, or logistics? At what scale do you want to operate (you've already explained this, saying you want the players to feel that they're commanding thousands of troops, and I assume this is still true)?

I ask because your combat and resource mechanics will differ depending on the answers to these questions.

As for the red flags, there are only a couple.

First, the production scheme you've outlined sounds like it might produce a "runaway leader." If I gain resources based on the territory I control (makes sense), the more I control, the more resources I have, and the easier it is to take more territory and gain more resources. The same problem works in reverse, too -- the smaller my territory, the fewer units I have and the less able I am to hold the territory I *do* possess.

You mentioned Risk, and I believe the early designs for Risk had the same problem. Their solution was "Risk Cards." These sort of work, but become ridiculously out-of-balance toward the end of long games. Before you put a lot of effort into prototyping your current design, you might try playing a game of Risk *without* the cards to see if there's a runaway leader problem.

I like your proposed production scheme, but I fear it feeds into the "runaway leader" problem. If player A and B are both 1 building away from completing the trifecta required to recruit cavalry and A gets there first, all he need to is conquer one of B's buildings to put B at a serious disadvantage: not only is he unable to produce cavalry, he is also now 2 buildings behind A and getting less gold every turn with which to build.

Assuming I've understood the design and am not wrong about the runaway leader issue -- and I probably am wrong -- it's a fun thing to fix. For instance, it's generally accepted that the larger one's empire, the harder it is to maintain. You could throttle production based on the number of territories one controls. It could be as simple as:

Control 1-4 countries: 3 gold / country / turn
Control 5-8 countries: 2 gold / country / turn
Control 9+ countries: 1 gold / country / turn

(or whatever -- the numbers are just for illustration).

Or, you could a "resistance" mechanic, like:

"At the start of your turn, roll 1 die for every foreign fief you control. For each '1' result, lose a building if you have one, and
if not, receive no gold this turn."

This is just another example for illustration. I'm sure rolling a lot of dice each turn would get old, fast. But you get the idea.

Event cards can also address the problem. Roll a single die at the start of your turn, and if you get a '1', for example, you draw from the event deck. Events generally affect the leader poorly, or help the player furthest behind. For example: 'Hoof and Mouth Disease: pay 1 gold / cavalry unit, or lose the unit.'

Also, on the subject of buildings, you may want to experiment with other ways of relating them to the territory on which they are built. I understand what you're going for, but it seems too harsh to lose ability to produce cavalry because one of my countries changed hands (this isn't true if you're imagining many more countries than players, so that I can expand my territory uncontested for several turns, and amass countries and buildings before engaging another human). One mechanic to consider is "build on the tile borders," like Settlers of Catan. Then, only remove a building if all the borders it straddles belong to enemy players.

As for combat, the rules you've outlined make perfect sense. The only red flag I see is requiring players to compute the number of dice used based on the units they have. You've provided a chart, so that's largely a non-issue, but there are other ways to achieve this. In particular, I recommend playing "Memoir '44" to see great alternatives for tracking attack and unit strength. The dicing system is great, too.

I hope you don't take the discussion of "red flags" as an indication that your design is poor. There's no real need to talk about all the good things in it. :) And keep in mind that I'm probably wrong about most of these things. Your design has enough depth that I know I'm not seeing it clearly.

At any rate, it all sounds very interesting at this point, and I hope you keep us posted as you prototype and playtest.


Jerry's picture
Joined: 11/01/2010
A little more

Hey Mark,

Yes, I'm still going for that grand feeling. For example, 1 peasant Unit represents 100 peasants.

I'll try to explain the board layout a little more. Up to four players can play. I've made my prototype out of a piece of 20x22 bristol board. Each player starts in a corner with their default income of +1 crown and +1 peasant income, plus whichever building they chose to place.

There are 40 fiefs to capture.

Each fief adds to your income +1 crown and +1 peasant

There are two game modes, annihilation and Crown (32 turns long at this point)

In crown mode, (vying for the crown) winning the game is not through annihilation, but through scoring points in four different categories.
Power (amount of fiefs you own)
Piety (amount of churches you have and the piety they produce)
Influence ( Crown income)
Renown (Prestige gained through battle)
Points are kept track of on a path tracker.

Building Income: (these are on top of regular fief income)
Each church gives you +1 piety and +1 gold income
Farms give you +1 grain and +1 peasant income
Blacksmith gives you +1 weapons/armor income
Stables gives you +1 horses income

If I have 10 fiefs, my income would be +10 crowns and +10 Peasants. (plus whatever buildings I have built)
This amount is not stockpiled, but is only relevant on you turn. if you don't use it you lose it, so each turn I only have ten crowns and ten peasants income I can use for purchasing troops.

Buying troops uses that peasant/crown/weapons/grain/horses income on that turn.

I like that you mentioned the runaway winner, I was thinking of that too... (of course in annihilation mode this doesn't matter much)

My current untested solution is to have a vassalage system. Players have the option of surrendering and becoming a vassal to their conqueror. They will then have to do their conqueror's bidding, and give up some of their income to their conqueror. However, they can form a rebellion at any point if they wish to reclaim land and try to start over again.
I was thinking this could keep people in the game all 32 turns and gives them point income as well, as being a vassal doesn't stop your point income.

Like you were saying it may be harsh to lose a building which will stop income, I'll have to playtest it to see what happens on that front.

Memoir 44 is a great game and I didn't think of using that dice system, I'll play around with that too.

Event cards are a definite possibility, I just don't want to sit there making cards for hours... I was thinking of possibly making a dice rolling event system, where certain combinations unleash certain events, but with a greater possibility of nothing happening otherwise events could get out of hand.

Loving your feedback, It's very appreciated!

Joined: 02/09/2010
I'm not sure if you're still

I'm not sure if you're still looking for ideas on how to represent the income/population/army ratios for the territories, but I had this idea while reading the OP.

What if each territory has a population, and the player can distribute that population across the different categories? Say a given territory can has a population of 10. Each turn, the player could take an action to change the distribution of that population. If the breakdown was 5 army (troops), 2 production (income), 1 research (new tech), 2 construction (buildings, weapons, etc.) at the start of the turn, but the player wants to divert resources to developing higher tech so he moves 4 of the 5 population units from army to research. Each territory on the board could be split into the areas it supports (maybe not all territories can be used for each category), and the maximum population. So the player puts the fiddly-bits that represent chunks of the population onto the different areas of the territory to signify what the population of that territory gives the player each turn (troops, money, buildings, technology cards, whatever).

Anyway, just my $.02. Hope it helps.

JustActCasual's picture
Joined: 11/20/2012

Love the vassal system! Seems like a cool dynamic that the 'conquered' players could overturn the leader through an internal rebellion :D

If want the large scale feel, I would not stop at unit numbers: make the base income +1 crown, +1000 gold for instance. This reinforces the inflation overall, and emphasizes which things are unique or important, while having no mechanical effect (you just inflate costs proportionately).

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