John Lapham
United States
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So how does one move from a subject (the ratification of the Constitution) and a system (CDG) to an actual game? There are undoubtedly a lot of ways to go about this, but I found it easiest to start with examples of the system that I knew well and admired. I then attempted to adapt those models to fit the historical subject of the game. I started with Twilight Struggle and 1960: The Making of the President as my models because they share a couple of basic mechanisms that would work well for my game: area influence and area scoring. Beyond these core mechanisms, I greatly admire both games for their sense of tension and angst-filled game play, and I was hoping to capture those same feelings in my game as well.

I started by creating a list of issues that would need to be resolved to make the scoring and victory system work. The list derived primarily from the history that I was attempting to simulate but also secondarily from a desire to achieve play balance while maintaining suspense and tension. I generally prefer victory conditions that are not linked to abstract victory point systems. I recognize that many historical events are either too complex or too imbalanced to have simple clear-cut historical objectives as victory conditions, and such games therefore must convert objectives into victory points to work, but I nevertheless find that games like this often leave me somewhat cold in terms of the historical simulation aspect of the game. Fortunately for me, my subject had a clear-cut historical objective that meant victory or defeat: the ratification of the Constitution. If nine states ratify the Constitution, the Federalists win. Otherwise, they lose. This victory condition is clear and historical, but in terms of historicity and game design not completely satisfying. I had to tweak it slightly to take into account a number of factors including the possibilities that the Constitution might have been ratified conditionally, pending amendments, and that if one or two of the most populous states refused to ratify, the Constitution might well have been scrapped despite the fact that nine other states ratified it. I’ve tweaked the victory conditions slightly to reflect these issues, but I’m hopeful it still retains that feel of having a fairly straightforward historical objective.

Although the game does not have “scoring” cards per se, it does have events that serve the same function—namely state conventions. As readers familiar with Twilight Struggle know, that game handles area-control scoring events through the use of regional scoring cards that are seeded into the decks and then occur and recur through random card draw. This method is great for building tension and suspense in a game, but I needed to tweak it to make it work in my game.

First, with respect to the timing of the conventions, I needed to seed them in the deck to reflect the historical timing of conventions while maininting some uncertainty regarding their exact timing in the game. I like games that allow deviation from history within some reasonable bounds. By picking a moment in time when a historical game starts, the designer must accept the historical reality at that moment as shaping the possible paths that the game might follow. For me, that meant that the timing of state conventions could not be completely random. Some states were highly motivated to hold their conventions early while others were inclined to drag their heels. Players in the game should have to deal with that reality. So I decided to stage the conventions across the game by distributing cards for each convention throughout the draw deck. States that held early conventions historically are seeded early in the draw deck, while those that held late conventions are found late in the deck. Players have some means to accelerate or delay the time table for these conventions, but only slightly and even that requires a commitment of resources to accomplish.

Second, regarding the play and resolution of convention events, I decided that rather than having them happen immediately upon being played, they would merely be scheduled for future resolution. This design choice intends to reflect the historical reality that conventions were scheduled well ahead of time. With respect to game-play, this choice provides players with some time to affect the outcome of a convention after they know, or at least suspect, it is in play. Finally, I decided to allow a player to draw a new card after playing a State Convention Card. I wanted to avoid the possibility of severely weakened hands that would result if a player happened to draw several State Convention Cards in the same turn.

Third, regarding the resolution of the conventions, I felt that they needed to involve more than simply comparing influence in the state at the time the convention is resolved. While it made sense to use influence as a starting point, ending with it did not provide enough suspense. Historically, many of these conventions were drawn-out and highly dramatic affairs, with delegates working hard to persuade their counterparts to join their side. So I decided to treat conventions like battles in a card-driven wargame. I borrowed the concepts of battle cards from those games and converted them into Convention Cards. Conventions would thereby remain in doubt until players had the opportunity to influence the outcome through the play of Convention Cards.

There you have it. That’s how I designed the current scoring and victory system for A More Perfect Union. It remains to be seen if it works, but that’s what playtesting is for.

Next up: Implementing the CDG-System – Building a Deck of Cards
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