ANY WARGAMES, whether PBM, computer or boardgame, have ignored or played down the reasons why wars are fought.  This is quite reasonable in certain contexts; if you are producing a game based on a specific historical war, or even battle, the context of the 'eve of the war' is already set - players know where their allegiances lie (or should lie).  As the level of play moves up from operational to strategic and beyond, however, the choices open to the players grow wider in scope, and hence the causes of actions become more important.

In many strategic games, alliances are treated on an informal, abstract level.  Players may make an agreement, but there is nothing to bind them to keep it, and betrayal by imagined allies is common in such games.  In an abstract game such as Diplomacy, this is part and parcel of the enjoyment of the game, but in a self-professed 'simulation', the consequences of such actions should be reflected in the game. If not, the game can become simply a case of 'do whatever is necessary to win, no matter what'.

What I have tried to do with Blood Royal is take one specific period of history and attempt to show how the actions and choices of the rulers are shaped by many factors beyond a simple desire for conquest. Economic pressures, dynastic histories, previous alliances, disputed claims - all have caused countries to go to war (or refrain from it) against the most immediate wishes of their leader.

LOOD ROYAL IS WHAT I WOULD TERM an 'open' game.  By this I mean that each player knows the game situation, including the map, and other players and NPCs, from the start of the game, and changes will usually be known generally.  In a 'closed' game, much of the early emphasis is on exploring your surroundings, and contacting other players.  Although 'closed' games often justify their approach by saying that the player's character has only recently achieved power, in a strategic game it could be more reasonably assumed that, even in such a case, the existence of the player's domain could be projected back into the past, and hence there would be a body of knowledge about the world on which to draw. There is room for both types of game, and I have enjoyed a number of 'closed' games myself, but for Blood Royal, a game of strategic level, I feel that it is most appropriate to play 'openly'.

LOOD ROYAL HAS BEEN DESIGNED using a pseudo-medieval setting, based roughly on the period in European history when the Angevins ruled England; about the twelfth to thirteenth centuries. Given the number of references I have made to this period, you might well ask why I didn't use the real background. The answer is simple - time.  I felt that: 1) a disproportionate amount of research would have been required to make the game historically accurate; 2) more playtesting would have been required in order to ensure that the player positions all started off with a reasonably even level of ability; 3) given the amount of time required to design the game as you see it, the time required to add a number of factors which were important, but which I have preferred to ignore (an example being religion, and especially the power of the Pope) would have made the whole proposition impractical. I have not made a great attempt to make the background detailed, as this in itself could have become a time-consuming activity, and I feel in any case that the depth and believability of the scenario will grow out of the players actions and interactions.

EASONS FOR USING THE PERIOD CHOSEN as a jumping-off point for the game-design are many: I mention some here, but there are others as well.

During this period, the political map of Europe was particularly fluid, kings were often less powerful than the nobles they nominally ruled, and small noble houses could rise to prominence and great power over a very short timescale (and fade away equally quickly!).  This allows the GM great flexibility in allocating player positions, and gives players great scope for play.

The major factor in the wars, alliances and treaties of this period, was the dynastic connections between the various great families.  Often wars were fought purely as a result of marriages that may or may not have taken place, and great rulers could be dragged into unwanted conflict by the actions of their far-flung relatives, by blood or marriage.  See my notes at the start of this appendix for this.

Behind the political manoeuvrings lay the shadow of the Holy Roman Empire.  Although often a office with little economic or military power, the Holy Roman Emperor was usually a great diplomatic figure, and many emperors (and would-be emperors) aspired to recreate the hegemony of the original Roman Empire.  This allows Blood Royal to have a defined goal, of becoming the Emperor; without this, the game would become unfocused.

Economically, Europe was beginning a great expansion and intensification from the relative inefficiency of the Dark Ages at this time, partially inspired by the Crusades and the external trade they engendered.  This allows the economic side of the game to be relatively simple at the start, yet giving the players a great incentive to develop their economic structure to support their diplomatic and military objectives.

Military tactics during the period were primitive enough that I felt comfortable reducing this aspect of the game to a strategic level (see below).

Also, I happen to like the period.

NLIKE MANY OTHER FANTASY PBM GAMES, I have not provided a phenomenally detailed background or history.  This is intentional.  I feel that frequently such a background is provided because the designer of the game unconsciously realises the point I raised at the start of these notes about the causes of war, and feels a need to provide a backdrop against which the battles will happen.  My hope is that the game will in effect write its own history, as the actions of the players (and NPCs) cause epic battles, the redrawing of borders, and the rise and fall of empires.

In order to make the dynastic focus of the game move at a reasonable speed, the turn-length of one year has meant that sacrifices have been made in the detail of military control.  On the whole, I don't feel this is entirely bad; setting targets and seeing the results at campaign level separates the player/ruler from his generals, and allows options not possible in games aimed at a more operational level.  The campaign reports are designed to give an 'atmospheric' description of what your generals might report to you after returning; if you are looking for the chance to move your armies mile by mile, specify battle tactics, collect different troop types, etc., I suspect this may not be the game for you.

This game does not approach the level of complexity which I would have liked to reach, but my aim was never a realistically achievable one, merely a standard to compare the end result against.  My expertise was not great enough, the software and hardware used not advanced enough, and the time constraint was against me.  For those who are interested, Orson Scott Card, in his story Breaking the Game (in the collection Capitol), and Iain Banks in his novel Complicity describe what might be considered the ultimate power and diplomacy games.  If anyone is willing to try to program something along these lines, let me know - I'll sign up for the first game!

INAL NOTE: there are a number of areas in which I would like to enhance Blood Royal, but which have been left out as either not essential to the game, or requiring too much work to put into this version. With luck, some of these should be added to the game as time passes.  Any ideas or suggestions for improvements will be welcomed and given due consideration.


Copyright © 2001-04 James Doyle. All rights reserved.