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Subject: Freedom! - Designer Diary rss

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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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Ask any designer who's published a few games and he'll tell you there is always one game that took him way longer to get published than all the rest. Freedom! is that game for me. The good thing is that with so many years between concept and publication, you usually end with a pretty good story to share!

Here's mine.

Inspiration

Our story starts on a Sunday. Specifically on March 27th 2011. It is easy for me to remember that date and you'll soon see why. Every year on March 25th Greece celebrates its Independence day. It is the date on which the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire began, which ultimately led to the Greek state as we know it today. The same day is also a religious holiday: The Annunciation to the Holy Mary. As you can imagine there are many celebrations happening during those days: parades on the streets, school plays, greater doxologies on the churches, festivities etc.

On that Sunday, a local Sunday school had a small celebration which included a play about the siege of Messolonghi. We knew some of the people there so my wife and I (and our 6 month son) decided to attend. The play was very well written and they had done a great job with the sets. And indeed, it was during one of the last scenes of the play that the idea for the game was born.

Before I give you more details on how that idea was formed, I think I must first tell you a few things about Messolonghi. In Greece, everyone knows about this city and its history but outside of our country, not many people have heard about it.




Messolonghi was a small city located in Western Greece which held a key position: It was very well fortified by nature and its harbor was very important, having developed a very powerful Merchant Navy during the 18th century. During the Greek War of Independence (1821) it ended up being the focal point of the Rebellion in central Greece.

The Ottoman Empire made 3 attempts to capture Messolonghi by besieging it: The first was near the end of 1822, the second one (which was extremely short) in the Autumn of 1823, and the last one, which was the most important one, started on April of 1825.

What seemed like it would be an easy task, ended up lasting way longer than it should. The city would not fall, no matter what the Ottomans would try. About six months in, Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt was brought to help with the siege, however even he could not get through the fortifications.

The people within the city, even though they would sustain the constant attacks, after a point they run out of food. However, even under those circumstances they held on, refusing to surrender.

After a point, the situation was very bad for both sides. The Greeks were starving, their morale was very low and they knew that if the city was to fall, they were doomed. The Ottomans on the other hand, had spent a huge amount of resources on that siege and yet the city would not fall. The pressure from the High Porte was enormous, their supplies were also running out and they couldn't sustain their vast army for much longer.

On the 10th of April 1826 (one year after the siege started) the Greeks could not last any longer so they decided to do a sortie and flee from the city during the night. Unfortunately, their plan was betrayed and the Ottomans were waiting for them, the result being a massacre. The irony was that Ibrahim Pasha later stated that if the siege had lasted 2 more weeks, they would have probably gone away - they couldn't last any longer either.

One would imagine that the fall of the city would mark a significant win for the Empire and would help them quench the rebellion. However, the exact opposite happened. The impact of the 12-month heroic resistance, the legendary Sortie and the slaughter that followed, was huge. Despite the defeat, the Greek Revolution was now seen under a new light in Europe, which ultimately led to many countries deciding to interfere and help Greece win the war.



Back to our play now.

While I was watching the play, during one of the scenes towards the end, it was mentioned that Karaiskakis (a very famous Greek commander - one of the leaders during the war) was meant to come help a few days before the siege and fight part of the besieging army, but unfortunately got sick and didn't make it. When I heard this, in my mind it sounded like an event card was just played. And that's when it hit me: The siege of Messolonghi could make a great game!

You had a conflict that was very interesting, two asymmetric sides, numerous events taking place, many famous people participating and an end result that was very close and could easily go either way. Why had no one thought of this yet???

Most importantly though: A game around the siege of Messolonghi would bring this event to light and would allow many people to learn its remarkable history. Even beyond that though, the whole concept around the events was fascinating. You had a handful of people rebelling, fighting for their freedom, struggling against all odds to keep the enemy out of their city. On the other side, you had a massive Empire trying to maintain control over its territory. Everyone could relate to that story.

Gameplay-wise the idea was also exciting. Siege games provide a challenge to both players who must prove themselves. "Can I overcome all obstacles and capture the city?" asks one player. "Can I face overwhelming numbers and come out of it still standing?" asks the other. In all games the players are competing but a siege game is a bit different. It affects both players psychologically. It makes them more involved, more immersed, like there is a personal stake in all this.

I had to do this.

I happened to know the person who wrote the screenplay (Alexandros Chrysanthopoulos) so a few days later I approached him and suggested that we work on a game around Messolonghi. He knew the history well (he had read a lot in order to write the screenplay) so he would provide all the historical background and I would work on the design. Combined, we could bring this to life. He immediately liked the idea and agreed to help me.

Unforunately, life had other plans for both of us. While we both kept it in the back of our minds, it was never a priority. I was working on other games at the time and I was struggling to combine that with my day job and my family (which was expanding at the time) while Alexandros was still in college with plenty of studying required of him.

Every now and then, we would exchange an idea or two but nothing concrete. In fact, we would always end the conversation with the same phrase: "We need to meet at some point and discuss about this."

Luckily, in 2014 some major things happened! One was that I decided to leave my day job and become a full-time game designer. Around the same time, Alexandros (who had finished college by that time) was just ending his military service (compulsory in Greece for all male citizens). He was about to start looking for a job but realized that this was the only period where he could freely work on this project and dedicate plenty of time to it. I agreed that it was "now-or-never" so we started meeting on a regular basis.


First Steps

Before moving forward there were two very important questions that needed to be answered. The first one actually was the one that would define everything:

"What kind of game are we making?"

When I had first gotten the idea for the game, I had thought of something like Twilight Struggle or 1960: The Making of the President. A card-driven wargame with the cards depicting actual events that took place and an action-point based system. The "problem" was that this would result in a relatively complex game and would be aimed towards a specific audience. You couldn't easily play it with non-gamer friends for example. The alternative would be something along the lines of 2 de Mayo. I really really loved that game (and still do) and I consider it a brilliant example of a game teaching you history very elegantly, through its gameplay. In fact, this game had everything I wanted: Simple, easy to learn rules, rich theme that really came through, asymmetric gameplay. I had learned history through that game which was exactly what I wanted my game to do.

In the end, and after much discussion, we decided to go the card-driven wargame route. We felt it would allow for a richer gameplay experience and would better pay justice to the historic events that took place (since more would be included). After all, that was really our goal; we had an incredible story that we wanted to share with the world, and we wanted to do so in the best possible way!

The second question in our minds was equally important:

How much of the city's history should we include?

There was a LOT of history taking place in Messolonghi. In fact (as I mentioned earlier) it wasn't besieged just once, but three times! Do we put all of them in the game? If so what happens between the sieges? Moreover, there were many changes in the fortifications during the first siege compared to the last one and also their "scope" was different.

Once again, after a lot of discussion, we realized that gameplay-wise, it didn't make sense to have all 3 sieges in the game. And since the last one was the most important one (and the one that lasted the longest) we should focus on just that. Unfortunately, that meant leaving Lord Byron out of the game since he had died (in Messolonghi) before the last siege.


The Reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi



It was now time to start designing how the game would play! More on that in the next part!


To be continued...



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chris 34
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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary, Part 1
Well done !!!!thumbsup
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Costantino CARACOSTAS
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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary, Part 1
Hello
My family is from a small village near Messolonghi so I know very well the subject...and I visit the site of the siege and the town Many Times...a boardgame on the subject??...I am on it!!!!
Good Work Vangelis!!!

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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary, Part 1
Adding a thumb on the top of the page, where the subject is, would help to make the post more visible. Thank you.
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Alexandros Boucharelis
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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary, Part 1
i m really glad that you decided to go the card-driven wargame route, this will be a great game!
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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary, Part 1
Freedom! Designer Diary - Part 2

Having decided on our approach it was now time to put things down and start designing how the game would play.



Game Boards

One of the first things we realized was that the siege was not only affected by the battles that happened on the city's wall and the islets in the lagoon, but by events in the surrounding area as well. Both sides received a lot of support from nearby towns they controlled during the siege, whether that was in the form of supplies, new troops or even equipment like cannons. That meant they had to be included somehow in the game.

After deciding on the exact surrounding area that made sense to have in the game (and the key-locations in it) we faced another problem: In the last 200 years, some of the topology had changed (especially in regards to the lagoon). Most of the maps we could find (of that scale) were present-day maps that were not very useful. Luckily, Alexandros found a military map at some point which showed exactly the area we wanted, during the appropriate period.



I started thinking of mechanics that would help convey the support they were providing. Initially I considered a small track beneath each location with a marker (a cube) in the middle that the players would try to move towards their side in order to get a benefit. In the end, to make it less fiddly and more straightforward, Ι went with double-sided cardboard tokens. One side was for the Rebellion, the other for the Empire. Depending on who had the location's control the markers would be stacked there with the appropriate side on top. If the opponent wanted to add Support he would remove those tokens and when there were none left, he would add new ones, with his side up now. The last addition that was made was that the location itself become a double-sided tile. Each side corresponded to one of the two players and indicated what the location provided if you had its control. The Greek player for example would get new soldiers, while the Ottoman player would get supplies. That tile was also considered a marker in regards to support, so even when there were no other markers on it, its side would indicate who controlled the location.



The most difficult part was of course the main map - the one depicting the city. We went over various historical maps to see what was the best way to depict the city until we found one that we really liked. Now, we had to figure out what spaces we should put in it and how.



That map was also showing the deployment positions of the Ottomans and I realized they resembled concentric circles. I started "playing" in Inkscape, overlaying circles over those positions and in fact, they were very close. I then split the distance in 4 or 5 sections and made 5 concentric circles. I cut each ring in more parts and I had my spaces!

When it came to the Wall and its sections, I kept the concentric circle approach but divided the spaces according to the forts there, as they were in reality. Ι also added moat sections in front of each space, since it played an important role during the siege.



The lagoon and the islets in it were a bit trickier due to their distance from the city - some of them were not very near. They had played a very important role though and they also had to be somehow included. In the end, I "cheated" a bit, placing them closer than they were in reality. (in later prototypes I would try to show that through the lines that were connecting them)

The end result was this:



Yes. I know it looked like an auditorium (that's what 99% of the people who saw it said). But it didn't matter. It fit our needs and we could start playtesting!



Mechanics

Since what we wanted to make was a card-driven war game, the main mechanism was the cards and the action points they provided. Thankfully, Alexandros had read every single book he could find on the siege and had plenty of material to provide me with. However, we still had to see how exactly the action points would be spent.

The first three ways to do that was easy. One would be to move your units, another was to attack with them and the third was to add support tokens to a surrounding area. Beyond those three, we put other ones that made sense like building cannons, filling the moat (or emptying depending on the side), getting more units etc. These actions, and the way they would work, allowed us to make each side feel and play differently. The rebels fighters for example would be able to move wherever they wanted inside the city. The Imperial troops however would move to adjacent spaces towards the Wall. Similarly, the rebellion could train civilians and turn them into soldiers. The Empire on the other hand depended on the units they already had (which were way way more though) and the reinforcements they would get each round.

When it came to combat, I divided it into 2 different types: Close combat and Cannons. In the actual siege, it was extremely difficult for the outside forces to get over the Wall. Thus, I made it so that they had a 1-in-8 chance of succeeding. The besieged on the other hand, had a vantage point, firing from above, so I gave them better chances. However, there was a big difference. For every rebel fighter, there were more than 10 enemies on the other side - this had to be shown somehow. In the end I went with this: The Empire would roll 2 dice (8-sided) and would only hit if an 8 was rolled. The Rebellion on the other hand would roll just one die, but would hit with a result of 6 or higher. It felt right and during the first playtests it gave the players the feeling I wanted, so it was kept up to the end. One more adjustment that we made though was this: The Imperial army consisted of mercenaries who were paid to fight. The rebels on the other side were fighting for their lives, showing more rigor and determination. To show this, I made it so that each Ottoman unit could only Attack once per turn, while a Greek unit could fire multiple times if needed. On the other hand, the Ottoman player could (as an action) spend money to incentivize their units to attack, giving them a bonus in battle.

For the cannons, I didn't want to make it so that everything depended on them. If they were too powerful, then the players would just focus on firing with the cannons and there would be no close combat. On the other hand, they were an important part of the siege so they had to be there and play a significant part. To combine all these, I made it so that the cannons had their own separate phase where they would fire, at the end of each round. This allowed them to affect the battlefield significantly, while not making them overpowered. Instead of having them use 8-sided dice, I used regular six-sided ones for them and I made it so that the farther you were away from the Wall, the harder it would be to hit (and the other way around).

One interesting historic fact that I wanted to incorporate right from the start, had to do with each side's request for assistance. By the time of the siege, there was an established Greek government in the city of Nafplio. The people in Messolonghi kept asking them for help but they were mostly ignored. However, as the siege kept on and on, and the continued to ask, the government at some point gave in and decided to send some help. That felt like it could make an interesting mechanic so I made a small deck of cards. It was mostly "NO" cards and just a single "YES". Whenever the Greek player would ask for help, he would draw a card at random. If it was a YES he would get a small (but crucial) amount of help - new units, supplies, morale etc. If it was a NO, the card would be removed from the deck and a YES would be put in its place, increasing the chances to get a positive answer next time.

I happen to like symmetry in games (even in asymmetrical games!! ) so I was interested in finding something similar for the Empire. The answer was simple: Kutahis, who led the Imperial forces, had a lot of support from the High Porte because the Sultan wanted the city no matter what. So, initially, whatever he asked, he would get it. As the siege went on and on though, the Sultan was getting more and more impatient and wanted results - not more expenses. This fact, allowed me to put the same mechanism in there for their side, but in reverse. They had a similar deck, full of YES cards and only a single NO. As the game would progress, they would lose the YES cards and have them replaced with NOs, making a NEGATIVE result more likely.

Another thing we did was divide the playing time in 12 rounds, one for each month. Each round, a specific Event would trigger (based on actual events that happened that month) and would affect the board accordingly.

Finally, there was also the matter of food. Since the day I first thought about making a game out of Messolonghi, I had this mechanism in my mind: Every round the Greek player would have to spend Food for the citizens inside the city. If no Food was available, the player would lose Morale and if the Morale ever went to 0, the game would be over. This made sense, so it was put into the game and stayed there up to the final version. As far as the other side was concerned, they also had similar problems. Since they were mercenaries, they had to be paid each round. After a point though the money would end and then, if soldiers were left unpaid, they would just leave, abandoning the siege. That in turn would cause the besiegers' morale to drop and if that reached zero then the Empire would also lose.



A very very rough sketch of the initial board, containing all the elements


In the next part we'll see how the actual playtesting affected all these!

To be continued...
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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary [Parts 1 & 2]
Freedom! Designer Diary - Part 3

It was now time to put all these ideas to the test!

Early Playtests

The early playtests were very promising. The most important part was that the game gave the feeling we wanted it to give: In the early game the Ottoman Empire seemed invincible and like they would easily take the city. As the game progressed it would become apparent that it was not such an easy task and that they would have to work hard to achieve it. During the final rounds on the other hand, the Greek player should feel like he is hanging from a thread, trying to survive just a tiny bit longer, while the Ottoman player should feel the pressure increasing - if they didn't take the city soon, everything would be lost.

The fact that we were on the right track didn't mean that there weren't changes that needed to be made. One of the very first ones was to reduce the number of rounds. 12 was too long and the game dragged a lot, so they were reduced to 6 - one for every 2 months. The fixed events were also removed. They made the game feel scripted and on top of that, it gave an advantage to experienced players who knew what was coming, compared to new players who had to remember that, on top of all the new rules they had just learned. It was decided that putting the fixed Events in the deck with the rest of the cards was better. The problem however was that the siege was very different in the beginning compared to the end. Some events made little to no sense (thematically) if they appeared near the end of the game and vice versa. The solution was relatively simple: The game was divided into 2 parts: Period A and B, with 3 rounds each. Consequently, the deck with the action cards was also divided into two parts. During the first 3 rounds the players would draw cards from the first deck and during the latter rounds, they would draw from the second one. This change was not only important for the gameplay, it also made perfect sense thematically: It was around 6 months in that the Sultan sent Ibrahim to help with the Siege, bringing with him his Egyptian troops who were better trained. Dividing the game in those 2 periods, was a perfect fit since it allowed us to simulate that pivotal moment!



As the playtests progressed, more changes were made, this time to streamline some things. For example, it became soon apparent that filling and emptying the moat was something that the players never did. The Ottoman player would always go toward the part of the Wall that had an empty moat in the beginning and would attack from there. Then, the 2 players would go on filling and emptying the moat every turn, making for very uninteresting gameplay. I ended up removing the moat and no-one missed it a bit.

A couple more actions were affected similarly. According to the historic documents, the Ottomans would bring dirt and construct artificial hills in order to hide behind them as they advanced . By taking dirt from the back of these hills and pouring it in front of them, they would "move" those hills closer and closer towards the Wall. I had tried to incorporate that option in the game but it was a bit complicated (especially for new players) and in the end it wasn't used as much. Even when it was, it didn't make a huge difference so I ended up removing it completely and just left an Event in that referenced it.

Another change that was made was in the surrounding map. Having too many areas ended up not being helpful. The players would only focus on a few specific ones, and would leave the rest as they were. Reducing the areas from 10 to 8 helped a bit, and I also made sure that more of these areas were referenced in the action cards.

Finally, I changed the mechanism of the request for Help from the Government. While it was nice, it added a lot of components to the game (since I needed to have many YES and NO cards) and it was bit time consuming to add/remove cards all the time and reshuffle constantly. The same effect could be had with a die and a track in which a modifier would advance each round. Initially, I used a twelve-sided die for this purpose but it was soon turned to 2 regular dice. The game already had them - why add an extra component that wasn't used anywhere else? Not to mention that the 2d6 distribution made it more likely that you got the help in the second period of the game which was more appropriate/thematic.




Final prototype map



All these changes helped the game a lot. It was now easier to play, things made more sense, and the number of components was realistic. More playtests helped us adjust a few more things and there was now only one thing remaining:

To find a publisher!



Finding a Publisher

Even though we had a great game in our hands that people enjoyed a lot and were very excited about, getting it published was not that easy.

The problem it was facing was a strange one: In Greece, the game's theme was extremely popular - a guaranteed seller! However, its mechanics were very complicated for the Greek main market. It was way more difficult to play compared to the mass market games found in toy stores, which made all the publishers very hesitant to proceed with its publication. On the other hand, in the english-speaking part of the world there were many people who would love to play such a game, but the theme was completely unknown to them.

I wasn't ready to give up on the game though. I knew it was good and I knew its story was very interesting and people would be fascinated by it. They just had to give it a chance first! So, with this in mind I decided to try and find a publisher for the game during Spiel Essen in 2016.

At the time, PHALANX had released The Magnates: A Game of Power and 1944: Race to the Rhine which were both stunning to look at. They had very good production values, very positive reviews and the people behind them looked like they knew what they were doing. I decided to send an email and schedule a meeting during the fair.

I met with Jaro Andruszkiewicz at their booth and I started telling him the story behind the game. Right from the start I saw he was very interested in what I was describing so I kept telling him more and more about the actual siege, its people, the idea behind the game, how everything tied thematically and so on. My passion and enthusiasm at that point went through the roof and he could tell. It was clear that I had found the right man for my game! In fact, as I said to Alexandros when we later spoke: "In a scale of 1 to 10, that meeting was an 11!"

After the fair, he got to try the game and he liked it a lot. The rest as they say, is history!


Conclusion

The game's journey was a long one but it will soon reach its destination. I couldn't have done this without Alexandros - it was thanks to him that the project started and his contribution regarding the historic facts was invaluable. I also want to specially thank Jaro for taking a chance and believing in this game. It means a lot to me!

Finally, I want to thank all of you who will give this game a chance. You may not know the history behind it but believe me, it is a fascinating one and you will enjoy it immensely! Especially when you consider that it affected the future of all Europe! Things today would have been very very different if it wasn't for that siege!




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Re: Freedom! - Designer Diary [Parts 1 & 2]
This is a wonderful story, Vangelis. I’m happy your dream, hard work, and perseverance are coming to fruition. I’m super excited about this story gaining a new audience via this hobby, I can’t wait to support your project when it launches, and love the fact that today’s more united world allows me to do so from very far away. Good luck to you and to the team that’s helping make this game become a reality.

-Pente
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