The first player to acquire a certain number of titles wins the game.
Allocate subjects to the production of goods (grain, wood, cloth, iron and stone) and trade them for gold. Use goods and gold to build fleets, armies and forts or to acquire titles. Subjects, goods and gold use similar tokens and are limited so an economic balance between the three is crucial. Several players may engage in a build and share the profit but only one player can lead the fleet, army or fort.
Each build is a link in a chain linking the kingdom with the overseas provinces where more goods can be produced. However, although each new link increases the overall profit, it also decreases the profit for the previous link. Thus, there will be tensions between the players, both within a build ("where should we sail the fleet?") as between them ("your army's plundering disrupts our fleet's trade!").
Beware, you are not alone. Enemy powers are simulated through hidden player selections and if they are not dealt with, production will be disturbed and the entire kingdom may fall. They are fought through a "prisoners' dilemma" mechanism, where one player may abandon the others to claim the gains for him- or herself but if all do that, all will suffer.
1.1: Tokens replaced by chits, new card design, 3 similar goods in each province with rotating leadership, 1 good+1 gold used for investments, new cumulative title deck, local titles count as 1/2
I started off with a traditional game board depicting Sweden during the Golden Age
with the provinces linked by arrows. It looked
very nice but I hade to explain that the game board really consisted of rims (local provinces,
sea areas, overseas provinces), linked by spokes from the center to the edges. The next version
of the game board was to emphasize the symbols and make all provinces hexagonal. From there,
the step to break down the game board into smaller modular hexagonal boards was natural.
However, the nice old map survived as a semi-transparent background.
The turn order
The turn order of Mare Balticum may seem backwards and that is actually the purpose. Production comes before battle for two reasons: The battle is supposed to disrupt the production and victorious armies should not be able to both loot and produce. Similarly, movement of new fleets, armies and forts to the game board comes before the investment to prevent players from investing and earning a return on the investment in the same turn. In addition, by having investment and movement before production and battle, an investment made in turn 1 will not start to pay off until turn 3. Enemy action comes in the middle to allow the players to move in response before the battle.
The general idea of the Mare Balticum is that one strategy is dependent on another. Production is a prerequisite for a trade fleet. A fleet is a prerequisite for an army to go to war. An army is a prerequisite for a fort to be built. But why can a fleet only transport an army to a specific province and why can't it easily be moved afterwards. Because it is game! You should think of the game as climbing up a number of ladders where the the value is increased the higher you get. Thus, the game could also have been about saving cats from trees but I feel that trade wars are more intriguing.
Initially, I had different units for subjects, gold and all different kinds of good. But putting it all together I realized that what really mattered was where those units were placed. So why not simply use one kind of unit for them all? There was simply no argument against that.
In addition, the limited number of units force the players to maintain a balance between units as subjects (acting on the game board), goods (used for fleets, armies, forts and titles) and gold (used to pay for the investments).
The ambiguous scoring
Should every player on the ladder score the same? No, there will be much more tension if the person higher up scores more than the person lower down. That's why there are conflicting interests between different strategies. Farmers may produce and score immediately or invest and score later. Armies need fleets to start scoring but then score more than the fleet. Forts give back some score to the fleet but are most vulnerable to enemies. All strategies come with advantages and disadvantages.
The army movement
Applying a strict ladder mechanism in the game, the fleets might just as well have been followed by forts immediately. However, the army serve as a "black sheep", profiting from war and constantly moving to seek new land to pillage. Thus, to the vertical and rather predictible ladder strategy, a horizontal and rather chaotic movement strategy was added. The more peaceful players will shun the army when at peace but crying for its help when at war.
There are many games where you build your own little kingdom more or less independently from the other players. They may give a sense of accomplishment in a solitaire game but how about the player interaction? In Mare Balticum, I added the three-step approach to build something. A player may still build, say a fleet, on his or her own but it will be quicker if several players cooperate. This is a game mechanism that actually starts to remind of reallity!
All good stories need villains but if the players in Mare Balticum are on the same side, who is the villain? The theme gave the answer, the historical enemies of Sweden. But how to simulate them. Why not the players themselves? Why not try to use the enemies to disturb the other players' strategies? This was simply accomplished by using the same game mechanism like in Tre Kronor Infernum and let the sum of the players' choices determine which enemies that act and how. Of course, if all come to worse, the enemies will spread to your interests as well and bring the entire game down...
How do you create a battle mechanism where players need to copperate but still have an option to benefit more than each other? Not necessary, there is already one: the prisoners' dilemma. By simply letting the players choose whether to cooperate (attack) and not cooperate (retreat), I had the answer. If both attack, both gain, and if both retreat both lose. But who gains if one attacks and one retreats? I'm sure you can guess that. The extra point that the retreating players gains from looting the attacking player gives an extra incentive for retreating, making it a very tempting choice.
The game balance
The enemies are simulated by the players
drawing one enemy action card each (roughly numbered 1 to 6) and the numbers that are adjacent to each
other will trigger actions.
But how many actions will there be for 3, 4 and 5 players and will the more player actions in
the 5 player game compensate for the more enemy actions. After a lot of calculating, I finally came
up with the following statistics:
Number of actions
Average actions per turn
Average actions per player
No wonder my favorite game designer Reiner Knizia is a mathematician. Provided that my calculations have no errors
(please feel free to correct me otherwise), it looks like the enemy simulator is fairly well balanced.
Just like in Nova Suecia, players are likely to hoard gold after a while, not only causing inflation but also disturbing the player balance as some players will get stronger than others. The game objective of acquiring titles solved both issues. Players now have something to spend their gold on, not only to acquire them but also to defend them.
... and Rejected Rules
There are of course also ideas that did not make it and here I explain why.
At a very early stage, I considered simulating faction strives, where one players' action would benefit a second player but harm a third, a bit like Christina Regina. However, this idea would partly make the game difficult to scale to less or more players and partly force the players into specific strategies. The ladder mechanism, where the players choose their strategies themselves with the similar effects on the other players was even better than the faction strives.
Another idea from the early stage was fluctuating market prices, where the first players to sell would get the best prices, a bit like Nova Suecia. The purpose was to give weak players (with few goods to sell) a better return than strong players (with plenty of goods to sell) and thus work as a balance mechanism. However, this would add a completely new dimension that is not really necessary for Mare Balticum to work and thus it had no meaning in the game.
With fleets it was natural to have sea areas. However, when I created the game board the sea areas only added confusion. They generated the same kind of goods like the overseas province (which is natural, since that is the province it's trading with) but it was not obvious that an army in the overseas province (the green square) would affect a fleet in the sea area (the blue square). The blue square was kept as a divisor between Swedish and overseas province but the fleet units were simply given room in the overseas province instead.
Initially I was worried that players would place armies and forts locally to defend leadership titles and avoid risking them in enemy battles. Peasant revolts were an attempt to "encourage" them to move on.
However, the limited number of units in combination with the lower production of local provinces made such a strategy simply uneconomical. The rule was redundant and frankly, rather than adding restricting rules, it's better to let the game itself remove unwanted player behavior.