This is part 1 of a series.
INTRODUCTION TO BLOG POST SERIES
Last October I took part in the first ConSim (Conflict Simulation) Game Jam, and had 72 hours with my design partner, Daniel Burt, to design a game from a preexisting game in the COIN (counter insurgency) series published by GMT. See: http://consimgamejam.com. Dan and I repurposed Morgane Gouyon-Rety’s Pendragon: the fall of Roman Britain (GMT, 2017) to deliver a game on Boudica’s revolt. We wound up being second place in the competition and attracted the attention of GMT with a view to potential publication of our efforts. This was exciting. GMT are – and have been for some time – the biggest fish in the growing pond that is conflict simulation analog gaming. We have since continued developing the project and have now devised a game we hope might be the first in a series focusing on rebellions. The game we have designed together is currently called Rebellion: Britannia, and soon we will reveal it to GMT and hear what they think of it.
This blog is written in four parts: an introduction, with an example of play; an outline of the history concerned; an outline of historicity within the design; and an outline of problematic historicity and a brief summary of the historiography – what the game design appears to be telling us about history. A possible fifth part might follow with an update after presenting the game to GMT.
INTRODUCTION TO REBELLION: BRITANNIA
Rebellion: Britannia is a 1-5 (or possibly 6) player game, playable in about 2 hours, about the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE, and the subsequent military campaigns suppressing the Silures rebellion (47-75 CE), Boudica’s rebellion (61 CE), and the campaigns of Agricola (77-84 CE), which included another rebellion, this time by the Ordovices, and a campaign to suppress the tribes in modern day Scotland.
Players take control of one of the powerful factions of the time, either Rome, or one of the key British tribes — the Iceni, Catuvellauni, Silures, Ordovices, Brigantes, or Vacomagi — and over the course of the 15 game rounds they attempt to outscore all other factions.
It is a game that draws from its spiritual predecessor game series, GMT’s COIN (COunter INsurgency) in delivering asymmetric multifactional gameplay. But whereas COIN is card-assisted, rather than card-driven, and players have actions essentially unconstrained by cards, certainly by cards held in hand (there are none), the Rebellion series is an entirely card-driven system. All player actions are performed through the play of cards by each player on their turn, drawing from a unique deck of cards. These cards, together with tokens placed on the board, represent a faction’s capacity to wage war, to resist, or to impose rule upon other factions.
EXAMPLE OF PLAY
Boudica wants to learn the game but has no one else to play with, so decides to play the Boudica’s Rebellion scenario as a solo game.
She sets up the game, and gives herself the Boudica starting card, which allows her to Pillage, then deals herself 10 cards from the top of the Iceni deck. She puts 3 back at the bottom of the deck and has these cards left in her hand:
- Into the Mists
At the start of the first round Boudica draws the top card of the Event deck.
- Auspicious Omens. Boudica’s Victory Points (VP) will be doubled when it’s her turn. Tension in the Trinovantes increased by 1 as well. This would add a purple cylinder to the Trinovantes region. But there are already 4 Tension cylinders there (all blue, in support of Boudica), so the additional Tension cannot be added. Rome’s VP total is reduced by 1 — because 1 Briton piece cannot be placed. In a solo game against Rome, Rome begins with 10 VP. In a game where Rome has a player it begins with 0 VP, like all other factions with players.
Now Rome takes her turn. In the solo game this means the top 2 cards, one at a time, are revealed from the top of the shuffled Rome draw deck.
The first card is:
- Battle. This card has no effect because there is no region where a battle can take place.
The second card is:
- Treaty. The region where there is a Legion and the most non-player faction Tension, or the region adjacent to a Legion with the most non-player faction Tension is Ordovices. The 2 Tension present are removed.
Because Rome had no March card this turn a March card effect is automatically triggered.
- If Rome doesn’t move due to cards she moves at the end of her turn. All Legions move closer to an adjacent region if there are more Briton pieces there. Prioritize Warbands over Tension if numbers equal. Prioritize lowest number south of Brigantes, highest number north of Brigantes.
This is a special rule for when Rome is controlled by the AI in a game. As a result of this, the 2 Legions in Decangli (II & XX) move to Mona, where there are 2 Warbands, the Legion in Dumnonii (XIIII) moves to Durotriges, and the Legion in Corieltauvi (VIIII) moves to Iceni, where there is 4 Tension.
Now it is Boudica’s turn. She cannot play a prepared Strategy card, because it’s the first round and one isn’t prepared. So she can only play 1 card this turn.
She plays a Rally card, adding 2 Iceni Tension to Catuvellauni, joining the 2 Catuvellauni Tension already there.
She then prepares an Ambush card. She can only prepare a Strategy card. Action cards can never be prepared.
Then she brings her hand back up to 7 cards, by drawing from the top of the Iceni deck. She draws 2 Swarm cards.
That is the end of the round.
The new round begins with the drawing of the top card from the Event deck.
- Roman supply lines are tested. The VIIII and XIIII Legions suffer no cohesion loss, due to both being in regular terrain with Settlements. However, the II and XX are in Mona, which is rough terrain, so they both lose 1 cohesion. They would also lose an additional cohesion point each for being in the same region as another Legion, but 1 is the most cohesion any Legion can lose due to a supply check. All cohesion losses are tracked with the markers in the grid at the top right of the board.
- The bottom of the card instructs us to add 1 Tension to Demetae.
Now Rome takes her turn.
The first card is:
- Suppression. Remove 1 Tension from any 2 different regions where there is a Legion or Fort, prioritizing lowest region numbers first. This will remove 1 Tension in Iceni, and 1 in Cornovii, Additionally, there is a Legion, but no Warbands in Iceni, so Rome receives +3 VP. Rome is now winning 12-0.
The second card is:
- Trade. In any one region with a Settlement, or adjacent to a region with a Settlement, remove up to 2 non-player Tension — prioritizing lowest numbered regions. This means the 2 (yellow) Catuvellauni Tension is removed.
Rome hasn’t finished yet either. As per the previous turn, she gets to move again. The II and XX stay where they are — there are already 2 Warbands with them on Mona. The VIIII moves from Iceni, where there are 3 Tension, to Trinovantes, where there are 4. The XIIII moves from Durotriges to Belgae.
Boudica’s Ambush card triggers during Rome’s turn. Boudica can choose for the ambush to take place in Iceni or Trinovantes — she has 2+ Tension in each region. She decides to set the ambush in Iceni, as the Legion leaves the region. The VIIII legion’s cohesion is reduced by 1. Boudica flips one of the Tension discs in Iceni to its Warband side.
Now it’s Boudica’s turn. She already used her prepared strategy card, the Ambush during Rome’s turn. So now she plays a card.
She decides to Pillage in Venta Icenorum, with the Strategy card from her hand, not using her Starting Card. This converts the other 2 Tension to Warbands, so now there are 3 Warbands in the region. The Settlement is burnt, with the red token being replaced by a black one. This gives Boudica +2VP. So now Rome is winning 12-2. She also removes one of the 3 Warbands in Iceni. When Warbands pillage they all hang around to be useful to you —they go off to do their own thing with their new plunder.
She prepares a Swarm Strategy card for her next turn.
She draws 2 new cards. Battle, and Ambush.
Boudica may be behind in points, but she has plenty of options. All the Legions are starting to look vulnerable. The VIIII in particular is subject to an Ambush and a Battle within the upcoming turns.
There we shall leave it…
Maurice Suckling is an assistant professor in the Games Simulation Arts and Sciences program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York. He teaches and researches narrative in games, and historical simulations. He is a veteran of the video games industry, with credits on over 50 video games, including Civilization VI, and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. He is also a board game designer and his credits include Freeman’s Farm: 1777, Chancellorsville: 1863, and Hidden Strike: American Revolution. He has designed numerous games with his friend Daniel Burt, but none of them have yet been published.