Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tabletop Deathmatch: Right of Succession

August is the cruelest month for blogging- with the daily pressures, the tidal wave of Gen Con information, and schedules up in the air. I think we’ve lost at least half our monthly play sessions to the whirlpool. Today I want to mention/shill for a game project. A couple of months ago Cards Against Humanity announced their Tabletop Deathmatch competition. On a whim I submitted the board game I’ve been working on and playing for the last couple of years, Right of Succession. To my shock, I managed to make the cut for the final sixteen.

Seriously, shock.

So I get to go down to Gen Con and pitch the game to a panel of judges. I think I’m going absolute last on Sunday, which hopefully won’t mean people are too punch-drunk and burned out. I’d showed the game last year to a couple of people- which was a learning experience. I spent a number of years as an acquisitions editor for an academic publisher. That meant I took pitches and worked with authors, which gave me some expectations about that process. In any case, I’d planned on going down to Gen Con this year already- if only to pick up my stuff from Pelgrane. We may have a kitten arrive this weekend, so Sherri may well be acclimating that new beastie in while I’m gone.

Apparently they will be taping the Deathmatch process, with an interview plus the pitch session itself. They’ve gotten LoadingReadyRun to do the production on that for a web-series. I’m really, really hoping some of the LRR people will be at the con itself. I’m a huge fan of their stuff and it would be awesome to actually meet them.

I’m glad you asked, fictitious voice in my head. In Right of Succession you take the role of a noble house, trying to rise and gain influence over several generations. You do that in a couple of ways. You add new branches and key leaders to your house, eventually marrying and creating new lines. Each key person has an area of expertise and a rating- so you might have a branch with a Grand Dame (Society 3) and a Pamphleteer (Activism 1). Those roles allow access to different actions which can be used to modify your house, gain influence, generate money, or affect other player’s houses.

More importantly, you’re trying to build up values in the different areas to match the agendas of the current “Real Power,” the figure within the royal household who actually has power. That may be the king, a sneaky vizer, a young prince, the grand inquisitor, or even the royal consort. Each has differing interests. By matching your house’s development to that, you gain more influence (aka VPs). But the trick lies in the way those royals operate. In each generation, one of three people may be the “Real Power”- and through actions and money you can affect who has command. A generation lasts for two turns, and then another rises and takes its place- forcing you to calculate how to match their desires. You can see a couple of turns ahead, allowing for strategic planning.

I enjoy board games, but I’ll admit I can get burned out of even a good game after a half-dozen plays. I’m hugely biased, but we’ve been playing this game for the last couple of years pretty much every week and I’m not tired of it. I still find new approaches and I still look forward to playing. I’m managed to build a game that really hits the sweet spot for elements I enjoy when I play.

Right of Succession came out of two distinct game elements I enjoyed. The first came from classic board games which had better ideas than execution. GW published an epic kingdom-building game called Blood Royale in a giant box. We played it, I think twice. It ended up too long and too boring. It had some great ideas in it- I loved the concept of the goods and treaties. I used that to craft a "Model Feudal Council" at an academic summer camp. It allows me to bring together some fantasy elements with training in Robert’s Rules of Order. I figured that would serve them well if they later wanted to do Model UN, Arab league, or the like. The more interesting idea from Blood Royale was the creation of a lineage- with marriages, family evolution, and the changing of generations. I wanted a game with more of that. I picked up Avalon Hill's Down with the King, hoping it would do that, but it was just a weird hyper-long and detailed game. (That’s one that needs to be reworked and rebuilt for a new era).

So I knew I wanted a game with multiple generations of families. To that I brought another mechanic that I really loved: Demon Fusions from the Shin Megami Tensai video game series. In that, you can merge two demons to create a higher rank one. What you get depends on what you combine. More importantly, there’s a game to trying to carry over the right skills to the new beast. When you play, you try a merge and if it doesn’t exactly give you the right combo of abilities, you back out and try again. And again and again. It’s a weird grind that’s strangely satisfying. I worked trying to figure out how to use that mechanic elsewhere. In the end, I used it as the basis for the marriage system in Right of Succession.

Which I hope doesn’t say anything bad about me.

So we’ll see how this goes. I’m looking forward to being able to show off the game. Maybe I’ll even get a chance to play it with some new people at the con. I hope I run into some readers and fellow bloggers.

Wish me luck.