The Golden Ages - designer's diary

Something about "The Golden Ages". A designer's point of view, in a very bad english.
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Luigi Ferrini
Castagneto Carducci
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Welcome back! It’s a bit of time that I do not update these pages, I hope that this wait has not casued too much anxiety on you.

Today I will talk about the choices that underlie the conflict management in The Golden Ages.

The rules of war have been a much suffered generation: I have tried at least ten different possibilities, but in the end the only one to remain standing was this. In the design phase, the initial assumption was obviously that there was the war: there’s no human history without conflicts, and in all the civilization games the military aspect cannot be ignored. But I did not mean that war was too complicated because I did not want that she becomes the very main mechanism of the game.

There being a map, there must have been direct attacks: I have therefore rejected all forms of indirect war, as is the case in other games like “Through the Ages”, “Nations” or “Imperialism: Road to Domination”. However, the attacks tend to carry with them a lot of unexpected problems:

- they penalize the losers. If this aspect can be tolerated (and indeed, in some cases even necessary) in warfare games, I didn’t like the idea that a player uses many turns to build an empire and then he see it wiped away in a single attack and without chances to recover;
- they encourage the fury against the weak. If, say, I attack an opponent by lowering his defenses, the other players will do likewise, taking advantage on the moment of enemy’s weakness;
- they encourage the meta-game, that is, all those activities that directly relate to the interaction between players, like “I attack you because you attacked me before”.

The kind of game add other problems to those. The first one is the “only strategy”: if a player is getting ready to fight, everyone else has to do the same to prevent a total defeat. I liked that one could instead set a strategy less oriented to the war, which did not suffer too many slowdowns from lost battles.

The last challenge is to preserve the uncertain outcome of the battle: the war must introduce a random element, but in a game like TGA, where you have a very strict amount of moves, this factor was likely to destroy at all the strategic dimension.

In addition to that, there was some problems due to my personal taste: for example, I never liked the fact that in many games the gameplay confuses tactical and strategic dimension. For example, in the “Civilization” series for PC, a turn simulates the passing of many years, during which I may erect wonders, buildings, etc. However, the movement of troops is tactical: to move a legion of three squares, for example, I need three turns, that correspond to… decades!

Finally, given that all these bonds were not enough, I also wanted to pass an “ethical” message, that is that the war is a tragedy not only for the losers but also for the (supposed) winners.

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So the solution was to total abstract a military action in an economic investment through which area of ​​the map will change the flag. In a single “combat” action we can abstract decades of battles, embargoes, movements of population and change in the economy. This process has generally positive outcomes, but often not as much as you would like, hence the solution of fishing hidden points. This solution moves the uncertainty from the clash results (“roll the dice to see who wins”) directly to its outcomes. Among other things this solution also has the side effect to keep hidden a part of the score, to avoid “paralysis by analysis” near the end of the game.

I fully understand how the purists of the “Euro” games may be disappointed in such a choice, but I would agree with them if attacks were mandatory; you can choose instead to don’t attack at all. In this way, you don’t take neither the risks related to the war outcomes.

Anyway, the “Cults & Culture” expansion introduces some ways to make the war outcomes more controllable, opening the way to new strategies based on military force. But I will speak about this expansion in the next episodes! See you soon!
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