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Designer Diary: The "Second" Tetrarchy, or A Lot of (Roman) History in a Small Box

Miguel [finishing TENNISmind]
(from Valencia, Spain)
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My new game: TENNISmind, a quick and fun tennis match
My best-rated game: TETRARCHIA, about the tetrarchy that saved Rome
Microbadge: I love Europe!Microbadge: BASKETmind fanMicrobadge: Big*Bang fanMicrobadge: Tetrarchia fanMicrobadge: I love Ukraine!
Board Game: Tetrarchia
By the end of the III century BC, the Roman consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus was nicknamed "The Sword of Rome" for his exploits in the wars against the Gauls and the Carthaginians.

Five centuries later, by the end of the III century AD, the times of the old Republic are too far away and the now Roman Empire seems doomed. Enemies surround the borders, instability spreads over the provinces, and whenever a Roman Emperor fights a threat, usurpers take his place in Rome. The Emperor Diocletian only sees one revolutionary way out: share the power with Maximian, Constantius and Galerius, forming the first 'Tetrarchy'. Now there are "Four Swords of Rome", and they are going to fall without mercy over their enemies...

That was how I opened my first designer diary about Tetrarchia, a diary that I wrote in 2016. For my second designer diary about the game, I'll cover how a game that went out of print early in 2021 has now seen the light in a brand new edition! By the way, I have recorded a video — available in English, Spanish, and French — that somehow covers both designer diaries for those who prefer listening to reading...

Tetrarchia is a co-operative game for 1-4 players that was published by nestorgames in 2015 in its characteristic pencil-case format. There was no given print run because its business model was print-on-demand, which made the game a bit more expensive than others, but on the other hand always available. It met a relatively big success (several hundreds of copies for such a small publisher), in particular as a solitaire game that could be taken and played anywhere.

Board Game: Tetrarchia
Board Game: Tetrarchia
Board Game: Tetrarchia

I was proud of the steady pace of this success over the next five years, considering how small our marketing power was and how quickly new games replace older ones. But with Tetrarchia, the initially small fan base slowly increased through positive reviews and comments about new players enjoying the history surrounding the four Emperors in a short playing time — not to mention the added possibility of solitaire play, something I had not in mind when I designed the game but that helped me a lot during playtesting!

The prolonged success was also due to our modest efforts to keep the game alive: official variants, the Dux expansion, historical scenarios, aesthetic upgrades (Barbarian paths, 3D-printed meeples), a VASSAL module, instructional videos... And of course that life was also due to the fact that it was always available! Always? Well, until January 2021, when a shortage of raw materials led nestorgames to cancel all of its pencil-case catalog. This was an unexpected blow. The success we had been able to maintain through continuous efforts suddenly came to an end...

And then the magic of the internet entered the scene — well, re-entered since my games had been published only thanks to the internet. I asked for publisher suggestions on BGG and on laBSK, very quickly users suggested some, I sent an e-mail to all of them, and Spanish publisher Draco Ideas expressed an immediate interest! A few days later we were already playing Tetrarchia on VASSAL together, and (even if we lost!) they proposed a new contract to publish a boxed, more traditional edition of the game. The game had been "orphan" for only a week!

Board Game: Tetrarchia

Now it was time to work, to make the game again available in a matter of months and with the best content we could afford. Of course we would add the Dux expansion and the historical scenarios, but I drew a red line: No changes to the base game so that old and new players could play the same game. With that in mind, I started to work with the Draco team to rewrite the rulebook, find new/better variants, and design a new expansion character (the Vicarius)

And artist Matias Cazorla started to work on a better-looking board, an optional big playmat, and a box. All of my previous games had been published in pencil cases, so this was my first box!

From gallery of franchi

With nestorgames' print-on-demand model, small misprints or missed improvements were forgiving (the "h" in Carthaginensis, the Barbarian arrows, the wording of the rulebook...) because details could be corrected "on the move" — but this first box of mine needed to have everything ready before going to the (Chinese) printers. And the clock was ticking, so the VASSAL module (thanks again to Alessandro) was of great help for all the testing. The new "Barbaria" variant was the hardest, but also the most interesting addition because it allows a player to handle the Barbarians against the Emperors, making the game competitive and playable with up to five people!

From gallery of franchi

Things started to move even faster. Draco Ideas put the game on its "300" (preorder list), and it reached the target in days, then kept getting preorders well beyond. In parallel, they were contacted by Italian and Chinese publishers for local editions to be printed in addition to the English/Spanish edition, so several thousands (!) of boxes would be sold in four different languages all over the world! And Draco Ideas are still looking for publishers/distributors in other countries. I had never imagined publishing a game in Chinese...

Board Game: Tetrarchia
Board Game: Tetrarchia
Board Game: Tetrarchia

During these few months, I had the pleasure of demoing the game together with Draco Ideas using the VASSAL module at several game conventions that had become virtual due to Covid. Having the possibility to interact with new players was very pleasant as I had never been at game conventions before. However, also due (indirectly) to Covid, the home straight became a bit harder/longer because of all the transportation issues from China. In late October 2021, the boxes finally reached the Draco Ideas warehouse, safe and full of (Roman) history!

Board Game: Tetrarchia

Board Game: Tetrarchia

The result is even better that I had expected! The mounted board is A4 size and folds once (so the box is A5, still very compact), the printing quality is much better than on a mouse pad, the wooden meeples are shiny and a bit taller, the dice are custom made, the fleets look like real ships, and the optional playmat is the icing on the cake. We hope that all the backers will soon enjoy this "second coming" of the first Tetrarchy, with all the content we have managed to put inside this small box.

Thanks for reading!

Miguel Marqués

P.S. The print run was larger than the preorders, so players discovering the game now will also be able to enjoy this new edition before it runs out. We plan to keep creating additional content, such as a new scenario for a wargame magazine that should see the light within months...
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