Tile laying: You gain influence by simply passing through areas and leaving your influence tiles behind you. However, you must defend your influence not only against your opponents but also against the cities, that eventually will revolt and reclaim the influence.
Resource economy: Your army is no better than your economy, its strength is linked to supply from cities and if you lose the cities, you will eventually (but not immediately) lose your army and the war.
Hidden bidding: The battle system is a kind of "hidden bidding", which does not reward the player with the strongest army but rather the player who throws in just about more soldiers into the battle. The more you spend, the more you lose, and like Pyrrhus, you may find that your victories are so expensive that they will cause you to lose.
Changing game board: The more the cities are conquered, the more they are devastated and the less they will contribute to your army. Your army must claim the victory before there is nothing left to feed it with.
Following Nova Suecia, I took up another old game idea of mine. As an old war gamer, I had always been disturbed by the infinite stacks of armies in otherwise great games like [thing=626][/thing] and wanted to introduce a supply dimension. The strength of your army would be directly - but only gradually - dependent on your supply.
Continuing the Swedish 17th century theme, the Thirty Years' War was a natural choice for the setting. But I wanted to make a Euro game, not a game with huge stacks. The solution was to only have leader tokens, not army tokens, and let the leaders represent the entire army. With only two leaders per player, game turns are swift and down-time low.
A tactical game relies on two main game concepts: means (battles) and ends (objectives). For the battles, I did not want dice to be used but let player skills rather than luck determine the outcome. The solution was to have the players secretly choose how much strength to spend in the battle and let the strongest player win. The more you spend, the greater are your chances to win but the greater are also your cost. Obviously, the winner must get some strength back from the loser (otherwise the loser will always lose less than the winner) and after some simulations, I came up with 2 as a reasonable value. That meant that a player who spends 1-3 strength more than his or her opponent will win the battle AND lose less strength.
The second game concept concerned the objectives. Instead of the common negative objective of elimination, I choose the positive objective of incluence, as marked by influence tiles. They are placed simply by the leader passing by and also give a visual representation of the player's positions.
Also, I did not want the common static positions but rather dynamic positions, where a player's conquests can actually be lost not only to another player but to the game. The solution was the resistance marker, where a city will revert to neutral state after a while. This adds a time dimension to the game since a player cannot lean back and reap the fruits of his or her gains but must quickly utilize it before it is lost again.
The rest of the game more or less wrote itself. I needed movement rules (1 hex in neutral/hostile land and 2 hexes in influenced land), siege rules (the quicker a city is taken, the more it is damaged) and other small details. Finally I had to test and tune the game to get the proper levels for the map size, the number of cities and the number of influence tiles (less than you might expect).
The end result is a fairly straight-forward tactical game but some parts of the rules had to be detailed to handle special situations, particularly around when a hex is influenced or not. The game's nature allows for a lot of variation and replayability but that is to the price of symmetry and cleanliness. If that is good or bad is up to personal taste but for the next game (Christina Regina), I took on the challenge of creating a simpler game.
1 game board, featuring Central Europe during the Thirty Years' War
1 army track with 1 supply track (bread symbol) and 1 strength track (flag symbol) per major power
8 leader markers; Gustav II Adolf and Johan Banér of Sweden, Albrecht von Wallenstein and Johann Tserclaes, Graf von Tilly, of Austria, Cardinal Richelieu and Louis de Bourbon of France, and Ambrosio Spinola and Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Spain
12 battle markers; 2 each for values 1-6
24 double-sided city tiles; 12 with ruin/minor sides, 12 with medium/major sides)
24 double-sided resistance tiles; 8 number 1/2, 8 number 3/4 and 8 number 5/6)
8 double-sided siege tiles; number 1/2)
34 yellow wooden influence tokens for Sweden
34 black wooden influence tokens for Austria
34 blue wooden influence tokens for France
34 red wooden influence tokens for Spain
1 white wooden turn marker
1. Playing Time
Bellum se ipsum alet is quickly set up and although the game may last 15 turns, there are only two playing pieces (the leaders) to move around. It does include tactical considerations but the slightly chaotic nature of the ever changing game board makes intuition more important than logic. The estimated playing time is 1 hour for the 2-3 player game and another 15 minutes for the 4 player game.
2. Simple Rules
Each game turn consists of four main phases: battle, movement, city status and influence. In battle, you secretly spend strength and the strongest side winner. In movement you move two leaders one or two hexes. In city status, you check the siege and resistance figures of "your" cities to see if they surrender or revolt. In influence, finally, you adjust influence, supply and strength based on the outcome of the previous phases. There are no special rules or events that may take place but instead, the game changes come from the tactical changes on the game board, just like in a game of chess or go.
3. Few Choices
There are really only two choices in Bellum se ipsum alet: how much do I bid in the battle and where do I move my two leaders? The rest of the game are mechanical calculations that may or may not be predicted but are certainly not subject to choices. But your small choices have major tactical implications so you need to choose carefully.
In Bellum se ipsum alet, you are always in control of your own decisions. How far you can move and when a city surrenders or revolts is always predictable. Unfortunately you are not alone on the battle field and your opponents' actions will disrupt your predictions and throw you into a chaotic uncertainty.
5. No Player Elimination
In a good game, the players cannot be eliminated but participate to the end. This is not entirely true in Bellum se ipsum alet as leaders can be eliminated but on the other hand, it triggers a game end. Moreover, no player will become too weak (since that would most likely trigger another players' victory) and thanks to the battle system's hidden bidding, even a weak player may cause severe damage to a stronger.
6. Pacific Game
Wait a minute, isn't this game about a war? Yes, but unlike many other war games, Bellum se ipsum alet is about the devastation of the war. The longer the war, the less there will be to fight about and in the end the war may destroy all the players. Could you imagine a more pacific message?
7. Player Interaction
The player interaction in Bellum se ipsum alet is direct as the players compete of the same land and meets in battles. Usually only two players meet in a battle (unless the alliance game is played where players may partly cooperate), but since both of them are likely to suffer, the other players will watch the battle with great interest (which does not mean the same as compassion).
8. Few Pieces
Forget the high stacks of the traditional war games. In Bellum se ipsum alet, you have two leaders to move. That's it!
9. Visual Interest
The theme (see below) was a good help in designing Bellum se ipsum alet. With an old map as a foundation and colorful coats of arms to symbolize the leaders and the cities, the game board got quite appealing, even with my limited art skills. The symbols for city size, siege and resistance are simple but elegant to make the different city statuses easily recognizable. Thus a good balance between visual appeal and clean non-distracting design.
Bellum se ipsum alet does not nearly capture all political and military aspects of the long and complicated war. Yet, I still don't feel that there is any other war that fits this game better than the Thirty Years' War. This was much about letting the war feed itself and it did leave a devastated land behind. Read more in theme about how I have used historical details in the game.
11. No Luck
No dice. Not even cards drawn. Your ability to win a battle depends on how well you out-guess your opponent. Your ability to capture and keep cities is a simple matter of calculation. Tactical and diplomatic skills only award you the victory.
12. Positive Scoring
OK, here I must give in. Bellum se ipsum alet is not about positive scoring. You do increase your influence through-out the game but you leave the game board in a worse state than you entered it. On the other hand, any war game showing something else would simply be a lie.
P&P (PDF, A4)
P&P (PDF, US Letter)
If you like those game mechanisms, I can also recommend: