Field Marshals Checkup #3

Post by: Grant Rodiek

I really love working on Field Marshals. I spent so much time on Frontier Scoundrels, Poor Abby Farnsworth, and other failed designs, so finally landing on something worthwhile is good for the creative soul. I imagine it’s somewhat akin to the satisfaction Wellington felt after the battle of Waterloo? That may be a tinge hyperbolic…

Nevertheless, it’s fun to watch players thinking about their turns and trying to make the most out of their options. It’s fun to watch them pull out powerful tactics only to see their opponent counter them. It’s neat that it’s becoming a game.

To cut to the chase, here are the new rules for Field Marshals. Below, I’m going to discuss the changes I’ve made as a result of testing, followed by a quick examination of some of the map development I’ve done. Note: Map development is REALLY DIFFICULT.

Testing Changes

In the latest test of Field Marshals, I tested a few key things:

  • Revised Tactics, especially new options for the defender in a battle. Previously the battles favored the aggressor entirely, which just isn’t accurate for the time period OR fun.
  • New conscript mechanic, which determined a player’s turn order and maximum Units.

Defensive Tactics

The revised tactics were definitely a step in the right direction. However, the value proposition for defenders just wasn’t there. Essentially, a defender would need to spend 3 cards (out of a hand of 5) for a marginally useful ability. By spending those 3 cards as a defender, he wouldn’t get to use them on his turn, meaning his round was relatively horked. Furthermore, the Ambush mechanic, which wasn’t a Tactic, was poorly integrated. It created clunkiness and confusion.

Now, all defensive tactics are activated with one card. For all 3 Tactics, playing the card is a definite trade off, but it won’t ruin the defensive player’s entire round AND it gives them a chance to turn the tide of the battle. I believe it’s the right direction. Ambush is now a tactic, which means it’s fully integrated into the system and it’s consistent across all defensive tactics.

Conscript Mechanic (Part 1)

The conscript mechanic was also a step in the right direction. Non-random turn order is better, having to decide how to build your Unit pool is good, and in general, the design needed a little breadth to deepen the strategy. However, the mechanic as implemented added a great deal of components and the dynamic turn order was too static for my tastes.

Before I explain my changes for the conscript mechanic, it makes sense for me to discuss the updates to the map first. They are very closely tied together.

The Map

In addition to the two features discussed above, some of the map’s current problems really became apparent. Fundamentally, too many map elements encouraged players to separate and spread out instead of fighting over scarce resources. For example, players start from the center and move to the outskirts to accomplish goals. There are too many coal territories, which means they don’t need to be fought over.

As a result, I’ve shifted a few things. The changes weren’t difficult to make, but I think they’ll have a huge impact on the quality of the game.

  • There are no longer Secret Orders that direct players to conquer Seaports. I don’t want players rushing to the edge. Seaports are now just a tool to use, a means to an end.
  • I’ve condensed the map slightly so that there are fewer overall territories.
  • There are now 3 coal territories instead of 4.
  • Coal territories are located in the center of the board. Player Headquarters are located on the outskirts.

Here is the map I just tested:

Here is the update:

Conscript Mechanic (Part 2)

Instead of adding conscript tokens to normal territories on the board for players to obtain, conscripts will now simply be tied to controlling territory. The previous mechanic had a few problems:

  • It added 12 new tokens and cluttered the board.
  • It encouraged players to sprint around the map to collect tokens. It rewarded mobility, not holding territory (which is fictionally strange and bad for the game).
  • It encouraged players to separate instead of competing for scarce resources.

The new mechanic allows players to increase their maximum Unit pool merely by controlling territory. However, there’s a twist. For each territory connected to his Headquarters a player controls, he can increase his max Unit pool by a set amount. Note that each individual territory doesn’t need to be connected, it’s that the set of connected, contiguous territories must ultimately be connected to the Headquarters.

In addition to adding Units, connected territories are worth more points at the end of the game than disconnected stragglers. And, if you notice the map above, there isn’t enough space for everyone to have all of the territories to hit the max pool easily. Plus, there are coal territories to conquer, fortresses to build…

Other Changes

  • Players will now earn points for Battle Trophies
  • Players will now earn points for controlling an opponent’s HQ
  • I’ve made slight tweaks to the card distribution in the decks.
  • I’ve modified the cards required to activate Tactics as well as some of the numbers on the tactics (See snapshot of the player reference board below to see what I’m talking about).
  • Assorted reference board improvements.

GenCon is quickly approaching, which means I need to polish off these changes and order some prototypes. I also hope to have some blind testing feedback before I pitch, which is also pressing. Deadlines lead to good decision making! We’ll see how it rounds out.

As always, questions, comments, and feedback are appreciated.