You win by influencing a certain number of cities or hexes.
The armies are represented by leaders rather than stacks of units and they spread their influence by passing hexes and conquering cities. Influenced hexes give movement advantages and influenced cities give supply to the army. The supply level will gradually affect the strength level - the more supply an army has, the stronger it gets.
Cities are conquered through sieges. How-ever, in time they will free themselves and the more they change owners, the more their supply value will fall, until only a ruin is left that is worth nothing.
The battles are fought by betting a certain number of strength points. The highest wins but also loses the strength points thrown into the battle.
The challenge of Bellum se ipsum alet is to acquire and maintain supply and to use the strength timely and economically.
1.1: Scalable victory condition; 1 city less required for every 2 ruins
1.0: First edition
The complete rules are available in the PDF file to the right. In the following sections,
I will describe how they came to be.
When making an abstract tactical game, there is choice between a symmetrical game board
(such as chess and go) and an asymmetrical game board (such as my favourites Tigris & Euphrates
and Samurai). I chose an asymmetrical game board as this add a geographical dimension to the
tactics and also connects it more closely to the theme. The cities are placed so that their
area of influence are not overlapping and the rivers so that some cities are protected by them
(cities may not be besieged across rivers) and some are not. (The price for this was to
place some cities and rivers slightly off their real locations - reality does not always
offer perfect game conditions.)
Special attention has been given to the starting postions to ensure that the major powers
are equal and that there are no given openings. Each major power can reach one, and only one,
city in the first move and another one in the second move. While the first city is usually given,
there is still the question of how fast to capture it, whether to send both leaders or have
the second to go for another city, when to challenge an opponent and whom and so on. But that's
part of the game.
The supply and strength
The idea of linking an army's supply with its strength originates from old RISK and War &
Peace games, where I found the ability to lie low and grow without limits to be a bit unrealistic
(although I didn't expect to use the idea in an abstract Euro game). In Bellum se ipsum alet, a
player will never be stronger than its base - the supplying cities. As an extra challenge, I also
chose to have a lag time between supply and strength so that an army does not immediately gains
or loses strength when cities are gained and lost. In this way, an army deprived of its base will
still have some time to recover and an army winning a victory will have to consider the time
after the victory to let the army grow again.
Don't get me wrong, I do like purely tactical games like Napoleon at Leipzig, but moving
stacks of units across hexes is cumbersome. Initially I thought of having units on the board
equivalent to the army's strength but then I realized that this was pointless. Your strength has
a number so why do you need to repeat the number on the board? Why not simply have one unit
representing the full strength? The leader representing the army was born! Continuing the
thought, I evaluated how many leaders to have and settled with two, giving the player the option
to either consolidate the forces against a specific goal or to spread the forces for rapid
expansion. Two clear option, no more and no less were needed.
The idea of influence originates from the classic games of chess and go. Moving pieces to
capture other pieces is one simple but brilliant idea. Placing stones to capture territory like
in go is another. For Bellum se ipsum alet, I wanted combine those two and also make the game
dynamic by letting territories being subject to both capture and loss. The solution was to simply
lett leaders spreading influence tiles as they pass hexes. Almost as simple and brilliant as
chess and go! But such an abstract idea requires a lot of testing to find the right balance.
I already had cities in mind for supplies so letting them having influence as well was a small
step. Initially all cities would fall when leaders passed them and free themselves again a
certain time afterwards. The introduction of major, medium and minor cities (with different
strength) added more variation without adding complexity, and rules about siege and storm added
a time dimension as well. Is a city's value worth the time and effort to take it? The number of
12 cities was chosen to give the players 4 cities each, 2 more than the leaders can defend and
2 less than is required to win. Should a leader occupy a city to
prevent it from revolting or attack another city to deprive an opponent of a city? All tactical
choices have advantages that must be balanced against the disadvantages.
In most tactical games, you have a movement phase first and a battle phase afterwards but not
in Bellum se ipsum alet. Here you move last in your turn and don't battle until next turn. Why is
it so? The first reason is that I wanted to mimic the careful maneuvers of the armies, where
each sides try to find the best positions before waging battles. With movements last, you can't
bring all your forces to a weak point AND strike at the same time as the defender will have time
to bring reinforcement.
Secondly, this actually results in a LESS passive game. How can that be?
To answer that, let's first consider a common problem with multi-player tactical games that all
RISK players know about: why should I start a fight when I can wait until the others have
fought one another off? This tactic may still work in Bellum se ipsum alet, but with the
movement last rule, it gets more risky. Imagine that you are waiting for two other players to
battle and then advance against the (now weaker) winner. That player will now have time both to
withdraw and to consolidate. In addition, the winner may even reach the victory threshold and you
can't do anything about it since it will take you two turns to fight him or her, one to move
and one to fight. Of course, you can move into position before the other player's battle but
then they may decide to fight you instead!
... and Rejected Rules
There are of course also ideas that did not make it and here I explain why.
When the first map draft was completed, I had some redundant territories, such as the sea hexes
in the North and the Hungarian areas in the East. One idea was to use them as a refugee
area where only one major power could enter, move quickly and reenter at another place. Sweden could
for example choose to land somewhere else on the Baltic coast. But what would such a rule add?
Chicken play? Less interaction? More uninteresting moves? No, it was better to just cut off the
Eastern part of the map and keep the sea hexes for visual effect only.