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Subject: Game Idea - King's Ransom rss

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Benson Wolfe
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The basic idea for this was inspired by Stratego--a board game that we had around the house when I was a child. Two things I didn't particularly like about that game were: (1) the setup was rather fiddly, and (2) the gameplay took a while to get interesting, just nibbling at the opposing army with whatever you had in your front ranks. This game is based on the same one-on-one comparison mechanic, with a couple of tweaks to get things moving faster.

King's Ransom
Players: 2
Time: 10 minutes
GBOG Components: All 36 tiles
Goal: To score the most points by capturing a higher value of your opponent's tiles (measured in pips).

Setup: Each player takes three tiles of each symbol, for 18 total. Arrange them in two armies of three ranks of six. This can be done either randomly or deliberately, by agreement. During gameplay, a player *always* has the option to peek at any of his or her own tiles before making a move (as would be the case with one-sided standees, like in Stratego).



Gameplay: Players take turns attacking by flipping one tile in their own army face-up, then selecting an opposing tile in the same column to attack--provided it is within range. Different symbols have different ranges of attack, depending on the number of pips they have. An "Archer" (arrow) can attack over six ranks, counting his own. Thus an Archer on the back row of his own army can attack any opposing tile in the same column, all the way to the final opposing rank. Vacant spaces do not count as ranks for determining range. As intervening spaces are vacated by losses, ranks toward the rear may come within range of lower-ranked attackers.

A Grenadier (cog wheel) can attack over five ranks, counting his own. An Engineer (bricks), four; Calvary (concentric circles), three; Infantry (hammers), two (i.e., he may attack the rank immediately before him). A Spy (droplet) cannot initiate an attack, but may serve as a reinforcement, and may defeat an attacking Archer, as below.

The attacker will not know the value of the tile he is attacking until it is flipped. In this opening move, the near army attacks with an Engineer at his full range, targeting what turns out to be an Infantryman. The Engineer has a higher pip count, and absent further developments, would conquer the Infantryman.



Rules of Engagement:
1. If the Defending tile has a higher pip count, the Defender conquers immediately.
2. If the Defending tile has an equal or lower pip count, the Defender may flip any one orthogonally adjacent tile to serve as a reinforcement. The defending tile combines its pip total with the reinforcement for purposes of the battle. The attacker does not have the option of calling in a reinforcement.
3. The side with the higher pip total in the engagement (including a reinforcement, if any) is the victor. Victorious tiles are removed entirely from play. Conquered tiles are "captured" and go to the victor's tally for purposes of winning the game.
4. In the event of an unresolved tie, all engaged tiles from both armies are removed from play.

In this example, Cavalry in the far army has initiated an attack against a Spy in the front rank of the near army. Rather than suffering defeat, Spy calls in a reinforcement from a neighboring Cavalry piece, for a total of four pips. Far army Cavalry is captured. Near army Spy and Cavalry are removed from play.



The Spy:

The Spy has a range of "1" (limited to his own rank), and cannot initiate an attack. He may be called in as a reinforcement to an adjacent defender. Also, if an Archer initiates an attack against a Spy, the Spy conquers immediately. Below, the near Archer has initiated an attack against a spy in his opponent's rearmost rank. The Archer is captured. The Spy is removed from play. Note that the Spy's ability to defeat an archer single-handedly is activated only when the Spy is the initial defender, not when he is called in as a reinforcement.



Strategy: Because winning the game depends on the value of pieces captured, and not the number of engagements won, margin of victory is important. Here, far army Grenadier has attacked near army Grenadier. Calling in the Archer as a reinforcement would be a waste. Calling in the neighboring Spy, however, allows near army to capture a Grenadier most efficiently, with six points to five.



Often, sacrifices will make sense, if only to prevent the opponent from gaining too great an advantage. Here, far Archer has attacked near Grenadier. As above, calling in another Archer would be overkill. Calling in the neighboring Spy, while not enough to ensure victory, at least results in a tie and prevents far army from capturing the Grenadier for five pips. At other times, it may be wise to lose the initial defender and call in no reinforcement at all.



Closing Ranks: Play continues until no two opposing tiles are in the same column.



At this point, the two armies "close ranks," and slide their tiles toward the center (without changing their ranks). Play continues. Ranks can be closed again if necessary.

Endgame: When one army has been entirely removed from the field, any remaining tiles in the prevailing army go toward that player's victory tally. Whichever player tallies a greater total number of pips (those captured and/or remaining in the field at the end) is able to demand a higher ransom from the other, and wins the game. Tiles that were removed from play as a result of either a victory or a tie do not count toward the victory tally--presumably these soldiers have gone home to put their feet up. It is possible to be driven from the field, and yet have a more valuable (and even smaller) pool of captives that would nonetheless result in victory.

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Alexandre Santos
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Very nice use of pips, cool idea!
 
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Jørgen Brunborg-Næss
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Very clever, clean and cool concept!

I have also played Stratego with my son, and while we did enjoy it, you are right about the slow start. The game suffers from a classic design flaw that you might call "Waiting to have fun".

Your game gets straight to the action, and I guess it is a cross between Stratego and Battleship (which also has a "waiting" problem).

The balance of choosing when to reinforce is nice, and I guess that is the most important strategic choice in the game.

One important aspect of Stratego (and Battleship) is trying to guess the positions of the opponents pieces, based on limited information. This is really the one thing that makes these games interesting, and while your game has other interesting choices, this aspect seems almost completely missing. The only time you get any kind of information that you can use later is if the opponent chooses *not* to reinforce. Then you can guess whether this was because she didn't have enough reinforcement, or because the reinforcement was too strong to be wasted.

I have two suggestions to introduce the aspect of guessing based on limited information:

- The Spy: Why not give the Spy a special action relevant to its name. In stead of attacking, the Spy can let you look at one of the opponents pieces, anywhere on the board. The Spy will be revealed, of course, and become a "sitting duck", but with smart reinforcements you can turn this also to your advantage.

- The King: I propose introducing a new type of piece, and a new victory condition: Capture the King. The King is a good fit for the "Crown" symbol, now used for the Grenadier. Remove 4 of these, so each player only has one King. That leaves 16 tiles pr player, fit for a 4x4 grid (which might make the range calculations even more interesting as reaching the back ranks will be hard in the beginning). The King only has a combat value of 1, and can not attack, so it needs to be surrounded by good reinforcements.

Now, the King has the ability to move after being attacked. After using reinforcements to successfully beat back the attacker, the reinforcements are removed from the game as normal, but not the King. Take the King to you hand, and also pick up one other tile of your choice. Then you can place these two tiles face down back on the board, in any two vacant spaces in your grid.

This means there will be no "5" among the units, which increases the relative value of the archers (and the need to spend them wisely). This also makes the game more accessible with the Very First Edition, as the symbols have no pips and the wheel does not really fit the number 5.

You could still have som sort of points counting towards the "Ransom" at then end, and maybe the game ends when a King is captured or maybe it just scores a lot of points.

Another small suggestion:
Maybe players should "Close ranks" as soon as both have the ability to do so. I.e. if at least one piece from each column is captured, it will be possible to draw them together to form a grid that is one column smaller.
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Benson Wolfe
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Gwarv wrote:

- The Spy: Why not give the Spy a special action relevant to its name. In stead of attacking, the Spy can let you look at one of the opponents pieces, anywhere on the board. The Spy will be revealed, of course, and become a "sitting duck", but with smart reinforcements you can turn this also to your advantage.

Nice tweak! We'll try that.

Gwarv wrote:

- The King: I propose introducing a new type of piece, and a new victory condition: Capture the King.

You know, it was bothering me that we didn't have a "king" in the game called King's Ransom. We'll try some different things with this. I like the "movement" idea. Maybe capturing the king could be an "end game" trigger instead of an outright win condition. The player who captured the king will win unless his opponent is holding enough prisoners that he can swap to ransom his king back (whatever the best amount for that works out to be). This would add a dimension of wanting to trigger the endgame at the right time, if you can (I'm thinking like Tiny Epic Kingdoms), but it also preserves the pip economy throughout the game, and discourages taking inefficient victories along the way.

Thanks for the feedback, and for all your work on the GBOG!
 
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Benson Wolfe
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So here are a couple initial modifications for adding a little depth—and a King—to the game.

But first, I’ll say this for the original rules. There are a couple of games in the GBOG set that aren’t terribly complex, but “kids like to play them.” The original King’s Ransom rules are quite popular with my younger son, and it seems like a good lightweight option for a quick game between bath and bedtime. We had more than one “gotcha” instance of an Archer falling to a Defending Spy, and we learned that even an inefficient victory (e.g., a Grenadier taking an Infantryman) at least gets the Grenadier safely out of play where he cannot be captured.

That said, my 10-year-old appreciated the mechanic but said it was “too easy” (after beating me). So, along the lines of the excellent feedback above, I’ve roughed out some additional rules to introduce the King to his game, without him being so important that he takes over the entire party (i.e., without turning this into a variant of chess). Here’s what I have so far:

In addition to/in place of the original rules (with thanks to Jørgen):

1. During the Setup phase, remove all but two of the cogwheels (“Crowns”) from the tileset. Each player takes three of every other tile, as above, and one Crown, which this will be the King. Arrange the opposing armies of sixteen tiles in four ranks of four, either randomly or deliberately.

2. A Spy may not attack, but may be turned face-up by an attacker to force his opponent to Reveal any tile of the attacker’s choosing. The opponent’s revealed tile is flipped face-up, and remains this way as long as it is in play. Note that a Spy that has already been flipped up, either voluntarily or because an opposing Spy “outed” him, cannot activate the Reveal ability—his “cover is blown”. However, a face-up Spy may still reinforce a neighboring tile as normal. Any other tiles turned face-up function normally.

3. The King cannot initiate an attack, but when defending (and for purposes of the victory tally), he has a value of five. The King cannot reinforce another tile, or call for reinforcements. This means that only an Archer can defeat a King, another reason Archers must be used and positioned carefully. After defending successfully, a King remains in play and may take a free move to any vacant spot within his army’s ranks, provided the middle two columns are not left incomplete and the King is adjacent to at least one other tile. Once revealed, the King stays face-up.

4. Instead of attacking, any player may opt to “close ranks” on his turn, and rearrange his remaining tiles in any formation, so long as all ranks in the middle two columns are filled before the outer columns are occupied, and there are no intervening vacant spaces in any ranks. (Because options for targeting the King are limited, this freedom of movement may be necessary in order to maneuver an Archer into position to attack the King. At least once I had an Archer in an outer column who couldn't simply slide inward because the inner columns were clogged with Spies. And because the critical tiles on each side may be face-down, this could involve a bit of second-guessing and bluffing).

5. During the Endgame, if only one player has captured the opposing King, that player wins automatically *unless* his opponent can pay the “King’s Ransom,” and surrender five points’ worth of captured tiles to purchase the King’s freedom. The surrendered tiles are paid into the tally of the player holding the King (who can refuse to “make change” if payment is tendered in a denomination greater than five). The released King is sent back to his castle and removed from play.

6. If neither or both players are in possession of the opposing King (either because both survived, both were captured, or one was Ransomed), the player with the higher pip total in his captured tally wins the game, as above. In the event of a tie, the win goes to the player who collected a King’s Ransom, or if neither did, the game simply ends in a tie.

Other notes:

The way this works right now, even if you lose your King you can still win if you have an eleven-point lead. My boys did this to me twice, so it’s possible. That said, I haven’t labored over the mathematics or play-tested it extensively yet. There may be a more balanced way to value the King’s Ransom. As it is, there seems to be a workable trade-off between saving Archers to hunt down the King, or pressing to capture as many pips as possible.

Running out of archers means you cannot capture the opposing King, but you still can protect your own king and build a sufficient bank to pay the King’s Ransom if necessary.

To defend against an Archer who may target your King, you can attempt to attack him with a weaker piece (if you know or guess where he is), deliberately incur a loss, and thus remove the Archer from play. Having eight total ranks does complicate this somewhat, in a good way, as weaker tiles best suited to this may be out of range.

The “fill the middle two columns first" restriction on the King’s free move and on Closing Ranks is designed to keep the King from fluttering around on the edges indefinitely where he can’t easily be targeted. Toward the end of the game he’ll need to choose one of two columns, and try to anticipate where his opponent’s Archer(s) will be.

Both my boys liked this variant as well, and the older preferred it. Other thoughts on the math, ways to balance the game, or additional improvements are welcome!
 
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