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Subject: Some design notes and strategy tips rss

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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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TETRARCHIA

The fate of Rome in the hands of 1 to 4 players


NOTE#1/ The game is finished but not published yet. Anyway, this is a short description of the process that led to its design. Some small things may change when publishing, but I don't expect it.
NOTE#2/ The rulebooks (English and Spanish) are available in the files' folder.
NOTE#3/ The game has been published! Rulebooks in English, Spanish and French on nestorgames site (links available here).


THE IDEA

This game was born from the intersection between two things I like: ancient military conflicts and the random but able-to-be-controlled fire propagation mechanism introduced in Flash Point: Fire Rescue. Plus the kind of things I appreciate in games: simple rules that lead to variety and/or depth, playing time below 1 hour, ability to hold several players while allowing a solitaire option...

My interest in ancient history had the main focus on Classical Greece, but due to my passion for Commands & Colors: Ancients it has been shifting to Rome. First the Republic, then the Empire... and finally the Late Empire. When I came across Diocletian's establishment of the Tetrarchy, in order to respond more efficiently to the many (and unpredictable) threats, I immediately thought of this game.

It would be a cooperative game, playable by 1 to 4 players, in which the 4 Tetrarchs would fight for the survival of the Empire against internal revolts and the attack of Barbarian armies. I thought about introducing incentives for each individual, but soon forgot about it and sticked to the cooperative idea. As seen below, the first Tetrarchy was the only strictly cooperative one!

The propagation mechanism required two levels of threat, that could be unrest and revolt, and two area coordinates, that in the Empire could be regions and provinces. All this had to be integrated with a mechanic for an external Barbarian threat and a design of the board as close as possible to history, without sacrificing gameplay...

THE MAP

As said in the rulebook, the geography and some of the names have been adapted for gameplay sake. I needed 6 regions of 6 provinces each, over which I could randomize the threats with a single roll of 2 dice. The optimum setup was 6 regions around the central one, Italia. Some were evident, like Hispania, Gallia, Asia Minor, and Africa.

From the Danube down to Greece there was room for 2 regions, that I called Illyricum and Graecia, and in order to give the 'Danubian buffer' the importance it had at that time I distorted the geography so that Illyricum was able to hold its 6 provinces. All these considerations 'ruled out Britannia' from the Empire!

Then I needed 6 provinces uniformly distributed per region. In most cases the historical ones worked, but I had to move, discard, or make up some. The links and their nature were mostly given by the geography, a smaller degree of freedom when one works with historical games.

Once I found the Barbarian mechanic, I needed a potential external threat for each region. For Gallia, I put Britannia back in the game, and I found the incoming point to Hispania by adding Mauretania Tingitana (modern Morocco), that was indeed part of that region during the Tetrarchy.

As a bonus, using the same two dice (with Roman and standard numerals) that provide the province coordinates, I found a very simple combat mechanism that in fact encourages cooperation between the Tetrarchs! And without the need of combat tables (I don't like them).

The uncontested Roman naval supremacy made me think of a simple naval movement mechanic that kept the focus of the strategy on land. Only 3 sea zones, with movement between coastal provinces allowed or not by the presence of fleets.

THE CAPITALS

Although Rome continued to be the nominal capital of the entire Roman Empire, the Tetrarchs based themselves in other cities closer to the frontiers, mainly intended as headquarters for the defense of the Empire against the most immediate and menacing threats:

() Augusta Treverorum (modern Trier) was the capital of Constantius, the western Caesar, near the strategic Rhine border (province 'Germania Inferior').

() Mediolanum (modern Milan) was the capital of Maximian, the western Augustus, in charge of Italia and Africa (province 'Cisalpina').

() Sirmium (modern Sremska Mitrovica) was the capital of Galerius, the eastern Caesar, on the critical Danube border (province 'Pannonia Inferior').

() Nicomedia (modern Izmit) was the capital of Diocletian, the eastern Augustus, a base against invasion from the Balkans and Persia (province 'Bithynia').

In the game they play their historical role, a base to reach the borders more rapidly and a support against revolts and Barbarian armies. And without adding specific powers to each Emperor figure, they give them a historical flavor.

THE HISTORY

The 4 main figures of the game ruled and defended the Empire together for 12 years (293-305), a period of stability unusually long for the time. By the end of a III century that witnessed an endless list of Emperors, rivals and usurpers, these are the key dates that shaped the Tetrarchy:

284 Diocletian becomes Emperor.
285 He appoints Maximian as Caesar, his successor.
286 Maximian is promoted to Augustus, the equivalent of co-Emperor, starting the Diarchy ("rule of two").
293 Each Emperor appoints a Caesar, Galerius in the East and Constantius in the West, starting the Tetrarchy.
305 Diocletian and Maximian retire. They promote Galerius and Constantius to Augusti and appoint Maximinus and Severus, respectively, as new Caesars, giving rise to the second Tetrarchy.
306 Constantius dies, and his son Constantine is proclaimed Augustus of the West by his troops, instead of the intended Severus.
310 Death of Maximian.
311 Death of Galerius.
312 Death of Diocletian. Constantine emerges from a series of civil wars as sole Emperor of the West, starting a difficult cohabitation with Licinius in the East.
324 Constantine now "the Great" defeats Licinius and becomes the sole ruler of the Empire, until his death in 337.

The sudden death of Constantius and the claim of his son broke the chain of peaceful succession that Diocletian had envisaged, and that was key for the stability of the Tetrarchy. Constantine, with the foundation of his new capital Constantinople at the site of ancient Byzantium, paved the way that lead to the reinforcement of the Eastern Empire and, 150 years later, to the fall of the Western one.

SOME STRATEGY TIPS

You will need a plan in order to defeat the advancing Barbarian armies. The closer they get to Rome, the more support they generate through devastation, so you will have to lay traps with several Emperors and/or attack first their rear, if you do not want to rely on lucky rolls, with sometimes overwhelming odds.

In the midst of battle do not forget your goal: secure the 6 Empire borders. You may be tempted to use the Emperor tokens to secure provinces and gather support, but their number is limited and you will need 6 of them beyond the border in order to win. Note that uprisings may give you back some of them at a critical point.

The geography of the Roman Empire leads to a very asymmetric board. Revolts and uprisings will be more deadly in some regions. Losing control of a big area with multi-link provinces will threat the Revolt token reserve, throw many Barbarian armies towards Rome, and provide a multi-chain strong support making them almost invincible. Learning which are these areas and reacting swiftly to the evolution of the board will be more important than rolling well!

The Tetrarchic capitals should be kept free of revolt. They provide a support token 'for free' against unrest and Barbarian armies, and give an alternative starting point for the Emperors that may take them quickly to a revolt far away from Rome.

Keep in mind the fixed turn order. Broken links add some uncertainty on the exact Barbarian paths, but you should plan your attacks with supported Emperors taking into account where the advancing army will most likely be when their turn will come. And note that sometimes instead of spending IP attacking an army, you can let it attack you...

Play the game and you will find others!




PS/ You can completely skip the last section, Combat Odds (below, in small font): combat is simple and should be guided only by intuition. I just computed those odds for curiosity, but they are written nowhere in the rules on purpose. So go and check them only if you are curious!

COMBAT ODDS

The combat mechanic is very simple: add the die to the linked tokens, and eventually multiply x2 if another Emperor is linked to the target. However, sometimes it may not be straightforward to see how much the odds are improved by adding some support tokens, or whether it should have been better to support the attack with Emperors.

These are the percentages of victory/defeat for Diocletian, for example, depending on his linked support tokens (rows) and those of the Barbarian army (columns):

| +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
--|-------------------------------------
+0| 28/58 17/72 8/83 3/92 0/97 0/100
+1| 42/42 28/58 17/72 8/83 3/92 0/97
+2| 58/28 42/42 28/58 17/72 8/83 3/92
+3| 72/17 58/28 42/42 28/58 17/72 8/83


More or less straightforward, and symmetric. However, if we add 1 or 2 Emperors we multiply Diocletian's combat value x2 or x4, improving those odds to:

| +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
--|-------------------------------------
+0| 67/25 58/33 50/42 42/50 33/58 25/67
+1| 83/11 75/17 67/25 58/33 50/42 42/50
+2| 94/3 89/6 83/11 75/17 67/25 58/33
+3| 100/0 97/0 94/3 89/6 83/11 75/17

| +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6
--|-------------------------------------
+0| 89/8 83/11 78/17 75/22 72/25 67/28
+1| 100/0 97/0 94/3 92/6 89/8 83/11
+2| 100/0 100/0 100/0 100/0 100/0 97/0
+3| 100/0 100/0 100/0 100/0 100/0 100/0


Anyway, you should better forget all these tables, roll the dice, and cry: Alea jacta est!
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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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franchi wrote:
THE MAP

As said in the rulebook, the geography and some of the names have been adapted for gameplay sake...

An example of the compromises: a map of the era, my starting point with paper and pen, and the final map!

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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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And a great picture: the board on top of a real map!

See the image comment for the 'why'...
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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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The 'expanded' designer diary:

https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/51400/designer-diary-tetr...

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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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And two recent reviews!

- In Spanish: http://labsk.net/index.php?topic=175003.0

- In English: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1605374/four-alone-space-bi...

meeple
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Miguel (working on TENNISmind...)
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My latest game: Big*Bang, a simple abstract about the first minutes of the Universe
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And digging a bit among my notes, I found the very first maps!



And also some graphical tests for the 'hard' links:


First I tried 'double' links, which were too cumbersome if the links were long. And then an intermediate small space, to display the idea that you needed 2 IP to go through, but it let believe that you could move half the link, and did not explain why Barbarian armies could fail the move.

In the end it was the 'broken' link that looked/worked better.
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