I haven't received my updated prototype of Empire Reborn from The Game Crafter yet, but that hasn't stopped me from working on it. I've had many helpful people provide feedback, as well as a gamer named Adam Goodmurphy who has been testing the game in the woods of Canada. Everyone's feedback has been excellent and the subtle changes to the game this week have been significant.
Slimming the Deck: There have been a few non-military cards in the decks for quite some time. Cards like the Diplomat, Fortress, Fog of War, and others have been added and cut to bolster the deck for Tactics and things like that. Furthermore, I wanted to have them to make it such that players didn't always have good cards, i.e. sometimes your hand isn't ideal.
The thing is, this annoys players and that's not good, even if the design serves a purpose. Plus, players only have 6 rounds in the game now, so having a crummy hand just bites. This is just one of those cases where I was either lying to myself or I had bigger issues to resolve. Well, the big issues are going away and it's time for things like this to be solved. Mr. Goodmurphy was the final pusher.
Now, the Diplomat and Imperial Guard cards are cut from every deck. Players now have Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery cards of varying distributions. Everyone has 3 Fog of Wars, which don't provide Reinforcements, but are now used for Tactics/Staff Orders for every player. Finally, the functionality of the General and Imperial Guard cards is now merged onto the General. Players can play the new general card to either draw 2 cards OR play it instead of a single card for a Tactic or Staff Order. The General card used to be an obvious choice. You just did it. Now, you have to choose how to use it and when.
In summary, decks are comprised of 5 types of cards now, not 7. There are no "dead" cards, players have more Reinforcements, and decks are still distributed such that Tactics can't always be done. This should make for a much tighter and more enjoyable game.
Boards: I haven't even received my new quad board yet, but I already hate how everything is shoved onto a single side. There are too many icons, which confuse and muddy the play space. "Wait, is this seaport for 3 players? Ah, dang." It's just lame.
Furthermore, Mr. Goodmurphy noted that the map wasn't quite working in 3 player. It's just too sparse. For the longest time, I've tried to do everything with one board in order to save the cost of a double sided board. For better or worse, it's what the game needs, so I bit that off and designed 3 total maps. Well, 2ish. Another reason for this is that there was a half page of rules for the 2 player version. In the future I can release it as a variant, as it plays fine. But, it adds a layer of complexity to the experience and clutters the rules.
The back side of the board will feature a 3 player map. The main side will feature the 4 player map with some territories as "mountains," or for now, brown spaces. In 2 player, the custom rules have been eliminated and players simply won't use the mountain spaces. It'll be a tighter map that otherwise plays identically to every other variant.
Battle: Probably the most significant change of the post-GenCon tweaks was that battles were still declared during a player's turn, but not resolved until the subsequent phase. After one test (again, Mr. Goodmurphy), one of my fears has come to light. Players who go last in the turn have such a huge advantage to change the state of the battle that players never declare attacks in the earlier turns.
This is bad.
I thought of a few things, but the simplest, and most similar to the previous design (which worked, but was too slow), is to essentially freeze the zone. Mostly. In the tested rules, players could not abandon a territory in which a battle was declared, but they could move additional Units into it. Now, players cannot add OR remove Units using Mobilize. This does, however, mean players can still use Staff Orders, Tactics, and Special Abilities to get out of dodge. This will allow for some manipulation, but by and large the territory will be frozen. I am confident this will be mostly right.
Cover Ideas: I am very hopeful that I'll find a publisher for Empire. But, when I don't have play tests and iterations to dwell upon, I find myself thinking about other details. Things like manufacturers, box sizes, rules layouts, and other things typically left to a publisher. Also, cover art. I found a few images that appealed to me. They were inspired by old military propaganda art.
More Art Inspiration: A friend made me aware of N.C. Wyeth and Howard Pyle. I quickly found a few Wyeth pieces I love. They have a great sense of action, glory, and look so incredibly epic. He also does cool things with colors and lighting I really appreciate. The pieces below are 3 of my favorites.
I would love to hire Brett Bean to take things like this and make them his own. Or really just do whatever he wants. I just need rifles in there somewhere. Maybe a saber?
You can check out all the art I've gathered so far as reference material here on Pinterest.
Print-And-Play Version: I don't have much hope for many folks actually printing it out and assembling it, but I think in a week or so I'll be able to release a Print and Play version. Folks will need to print the board and reference boards (easy), the cards (100), and gather some pieces from existing games (if you have Risk you're 99% there).
If even 3 people play it this way and give me feedback, it's worth it. We'll see how interested the BGG community is!
I'm really pleased watching this game come together. I think the map will need a bit more smoothing (curse the map), Tactics a little more tweaking, but I'm very confident the game is very solid at this point. Lots of "beta" testing and development ahead of me.
I really appreciate the continued help of Chevee Dodd, John Burns, Adam Goodmurphy, and Nolan Lichti.