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Subject: DRCongo Design Notes rss

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Stephen Kendall
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At Ragnar game week-ends there is often a book exchange and at one such I picked up a copy of Blood River. This tells of the implausible adventure of Tim Butcher as he retraced the journey of Henry Stanley from Lake Tanganyika, down the River Congo to the capital Kinshasa and then to the coast. My interest was personal in that I'd made a trip in 1981 that encompassed the river from the coast as far as Mbandaka. That journey (in the time of President Mbutu) had been hairy enough, but clearly things had gotten even worse since. The Horror! The Horror! Can games change the world? Probably not, but if there is any chance then surely the Democratic Republic of Congo deserves whatever help we can give.

Tim Butcher pointed out a few salient points that provided the main dynamics of the game. First that the wealth of DRCongo is potentially staggering. Four key industries stand out; Agriculture, Hydro-electricity, Mineral mining and Oil production. Next, that invariably the value of resources is compromised by having to export through neighbouring countries. Finally that the constant insurgency within the country cripples the economy.

The country is made up of ten provinces (the capital, Kinshasa being an extra 'special' province) and the industries were easily distributed into these following the actual resource geography. From the outset I wanted the mighty rivers to be the driving force in creating a unique internal transport system. The railways do exist as shown, so clearly someone at some time had a similar idea; i.e. the mineral wealth of the East to be moved to the Atlantic port of Matadi and thence to the industrialised countries of the world.

The economics of the International Market took a bit of working out, but the aim was always to create something relatively simple, yet very dynamic. A key moment in the game development was when payment for transporting of resources was taken out of the equation. This runs contrary to the norm of similar games, but here it felt laboured when players kept passing $100 bills - and for very little gain. The Transport Bonus Support cards reward any profit that might accrue from building a transport system in such inhospitable terrain.

Insurgents and Peace-keepers have been intrinsic from the start, but have also been gradually modified. The decision to introduce figures was made in order to un-clutter the map-board; for long enough there had been another set of counters valued at 1 or 2. Much easier to have 1 or 2 figures.

The Government Ministers were always three in number and their respective roles haven't altered greatly since the initial design stage. The Interior Minister underwent most change as the Take Over ability was held by that Minister for a number of years, before being moved to Support cards. The ability to receive 'back-hander' payments was a later addition, but has proved very popular with players since its inception.

Simplify! Simplify! And yet the game is pretty complicated when all its elements are put together. So we decided to build the rule set in the same four layers as the game is built. There were one or two rules that didn't quite stay the same from game to game, but in time these were found to be aberrations that demanded resolution. Moving the Industrial Baron rules from the Government game into the Ragnar Game was one of the last improvements.

The game has been designed over a period of four to five years. This may seem like a long time, but for two years the game sat in a production pipe-line that eventually proved to be non-productive. That time gap was useful in that I think we came back to the game with new eyes and fresh ideas. We hope (and are confident) that you will enjoy this addition to the Ragnar Brothers game catalogue.
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Adam Stonewall
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Portland
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I can't applaud you enough for making a game out of this important and amazingly under-reported topic. Hats off!

If you ever need any playtesters or any kind of help, please don't hesitate to geekmail me.

Cheers!
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Stephen Kendall
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Thanks Adam. Much appreciated. We're set to Kickstart this week.

Steve k
 
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