1901 Mechanic Introduction: Reinforcement and Morale

Post by: Grant Rodiek

As I design and draft the rules for 1901: Invasion of America, I’d like to slowly introduce and explain the new mechanics. The first mechanics I’m excited about are Reinforcements and Morale. As a teaser, some of the future mechanic articles will be:

  • Creating synergy between the Navy and the Army players (it’s a team game, with each teammate focusing on Navy or Army).
  • Leader-based Action system and evolving the Actions.
  • Designing the new map and how fictional (Empire) differs from historical.
  • Evolving from one-off Battles and Tactics to more strategic maneuvers and behaviors.
  • Victory conditions. 1901 won’t be an area control game.

In Empire, players had the option to discard cards at the start of every turn for the cards’ reinforcement values. This is the game’s core mechanic — do I use the card for Reinforcements or a powerful Tactic? Or, do I hold onto it for something in the future? This made sense in Empire, but I didn’t think it would make sense in 1901. Why? The new game is based closely on reality and is more of a simulation (though I’m cautious of using that term). It seemed strange that with a good draw the American Army could swell to huge numbers on the first turn. Or that the Germany Army, which has to transit across the Atlantic ocean, could suddenly triple in size.

The new game needed a new mechanic. Here’s the gist of what I’m thinking:

  • Players begin every game with a set number of Units. I’d like to add some variance on where they are placed (possibly player choice?).
  • The game will last a set number of Rounds (like Empire). This is both to control the length and flow of the game. I leaned on Rounds for Scoring in my previous game and I intend to lean on them again, but in a lot of new ways.
  • Reinforcements will be tuned to occur in a set amount at the start of every round. So, round 5 you may get 10 new Units. Note that this is ONLY for the Army. The Navy will not grow in size over the course of the game. This is a short war and naval ships take time to build, outfit, and crew.
  • The first phase of every round will be Reinforcements. Players will simultaneously add Units to a muster area.
  • The Reinforcement sum can be modified by Morale. If your Morale is good,  you’ll receive more Reinforcements. If it’s bad? Fewer. You can even LOSE Units already on the board!

This Morale component is really exciting for me. I hope it’s one of the key strategic components of the game. You’ll need to keep your Morale high and take risks to improve it, but also take risks to weaken your opponents’ Morale. Morale will be represented by a simple track on the board. If your Reinforcement for the round says 5 and you’re at 3 Morale, you’ll get 8 Units. Simple.

Morale is an abstraction of, well, Morale. Troops fight better when they are well-fed, believe victory is close, and believe in their mission and leaders. Troops fight poorly when hungry, abused, or in a foreign land for a bad cause. Morale can lead to outright troop loss with desertion, cowardice, and more.

Morale can be modified in a few ways. If you win a Battle, Morale increases. Lose a battle? Or get harassed from sabotage? Morale decreases. Staff Orders and Strategies (no longer Tactics) will directly affect Morale, so you will be forced to choose between killing Units off the board, or weakening Morale in the long term.

There can also be other environmental elements. For example, if the Americans sink a German convoy transporting German soldiers, that will hurt Morale. Technically, you’re outright killing/capturing troops. But, to keep this simple and streamlined, that will affect Morale.

I can also leverage leaders like the Kaiser or Theodore Roosevelt to inspire the troops and improve Morale. What if it was your strategy all along to weaken my Morale such that I waste and action using T. Roosevelt to boost Morale? Instead of, oh, forcing a treaty or something? Who knows!

In summary, as the game progresses your Army will grow. If your Morale is high, it’ll grow larger. If it’s low, it’ll grow more slowly, or decline. Managing your Morale and weakening your opponents’ will be a key component to the game and one of the biggest reasons to take risks to win the war.


6 thoughts on “1901 Mechanic Introduction: Reinforcement and Morale

  1. I really like games that incorporate morale, I think this is a good move on your part. I think at this point it would be best not to use Empire as a frame of reference as they are really 2 completely different games that use 2 different systems. It will be interesting to see how the Navy players role differs from the Army players.

  2. I think having separate army/navy roles in team play could be very interesting. The potential for team play is tremendous in my view, and not much explored as of yet. Giving team members asymmetrical roles is especially promising, and something I’ve been thinking about for a future game of my own. I look forward to seeing what you do with that.

    I was thinking about your morale mechanic. It makes sense that as morale suffers, the American troops will desert. But that option isn’t as viable a choice for the German troops, as they can’t exactly fade into the countryside and return to civilian life. One could imagine defection as a possible analogous risk when German morale is low. Although cowardice and decreased effectiveness would hit either side with low morale, it could prove interesting to have something unique to each side like desertion and defection to allow for unique strategies for the opposing teams. Maybe defection results in the American side learning progressively more hidden German information/orders/etc.

    Anyway, good stuff. Have fun with it!

    • My thinking with desertion is that you’re a conscripted German soldier, serving against your will, shipped to another country, a country not ruled by a despot…I feel desertion is quite a decent option actually. And I’m pretty sure, especially to encourage more of it, Americans would say “hey, yeah, come to our side!” to weaken the incredibly powerful German Army. That was my thinking. Would a rich aristocratic officer desert? No. But a poor conscript? I think so. German immigration to America at this time was fairly large, so people in Germany have to think at least somewhat fondly of America.

    • 1812 does team play incredibly well. It’s been a big inspiration for my designs this year. As for asymmetrical role play, I’m not sure asymmetry is quite the term. At least, I don’t think, at this time, I want Navy versus Army to be *too* different. Not as different as playing different factions in Empire, as an example. I’ll have to see as it develops. I’d rather it feel more like a different area of focus with a twist instead of a unique experience.

  3. So, the more battles you win, the higher your morale, the more units you get and the more you lose, the lower your morale, the fewer units you get. Sounds like the mechanic is in danger of widening the gap between players after an early lead. How do you intend to keep the battle close?

    (Also, yea—assymetrical team play!)

    • How dare you make good points about my design! In all seriousness it’s a good point. In Empire, the winner of the battle claimed one of the finite Unit tokens of the loser, which permanently decreased the defeated player’s Unit pool. This never actually became a problem. Yes, in a game or so one player would play TERRIBLY he would have a reduced pool at the end, but that was only if he made really bad decisions repeatedly.

      A few things equalize this a little bit. In Empire, and most likely in 1901, attrition is very high in battle. So, often, both the loser and the winner suffer heavy casualties. So, in that round, both players are at a loss. Also, there are no naval reinforcements, so I hope to make it so that a decisive naval play and help address a land deficit, and so forth. I’m really curious to see how the land/navy synergy materializes.

      Another thing is that, unlike Empire, I plan for there to be far fewer decisive battles. In Empire, every battle was a fight to the death (at that moment). Here, I’m planning a lot of patrol type engagements, sabotage, harassment, and things like that. There will be fewer big battles.

      Your point is very valid and it is key in my mind. For now I’m trying to get all the pieces in place. I’m really nervous about the map…it won’t be easy!


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