BARBARIANS AT THE GATE
15th October 2002
Some unsubstantiated feelings about the first game.
The most obvious suggestion is that the two largest empires of the current game are too powerful - Britain and Huns.
Britain starts off with far too much land (and sea ?), even without annexing Gaul as well (as they have done in BA67).
Couldn't you base some of the barbarians in Spain and/or North Africa? (in the current rules the Roman commander of Britain also controls Iberia/Spain). Was it the Vandals or someone that actually went down this route? Didn't do history for long at school (it wouldn't have included anything interesting like the fall of the Roman empire if you had). This would also mean the barbarians don't all start on top of each other, and perhaps could start ever so slightly stronger. And it would mean that the Eastern Empire doesn't take all the initial flak.
I think the Huns get too much advantage for too long. I know I've been a bit slow up till now (Marc is the Huns in BA67), but that's because I wanted to avoid crushing the other barbarians and tried to go around them through lots of sticky areas. I'm sure that the Huns could go straight west at the start and build up massive resources.
Perhaps the Persians could get some sort of limited bonus as well, especially if you reduce the Huns bonus, or would they be stronger with a good emperor at the helm ? But then again, Syria weren't much kop against them until Willem took over.
I know the barbarians might succeed if they all worked together, but people tend to want to accumulate area and pop to build up their income, which probably isn't what they are designed to do. Perhaps some strategy hints for them could be supplied. I don't really know what they are up against at the start.
Finally there's the issue of teamwork. I think it's quite obvious that the Romans are supposed to work together. It's the "default strategy". They are already set up with high kings and people know of a Roman Empire. There isn't such a strong bond or purpose between the Barbarians, and they all start off too negatively.
Having talked to Kev (OSG) we think perhaps the barbarians should be given targets to reach - like Rome, Constantinople, London, Paris and whoever takes these areas could either win the game, or, take all the treasury/VP's from the corresponding Roman, or prevent that Roman from being a over/under lord, or some other worthwhile bonus.
26th October 2002
Historically the Visigoths, Vandals and Suevi and founded kingdoms in Spain, although the latter two didn't last. But they didn't do it until after the empire had fallen. We already have another game set after the end of the empire: the idea with this one was a game that would put players into a position where they have to work together and see if they can manage it. If we started with active barbarian kingdoms in Spain then the game would have to start with the Romans abandoning the frontier and trying to eliminate them. I don't think they could last more than a few turns with a large barbarian kingdom inside the empire.
I think the strength of Britain in this game has more to do with the lack of an immediate opponent combined with the chance to grab Gaul when the Rhine commander lost his army.
If the commander of Britain controls nothing but Roman Britain then he's going to have a very small kingom. If the Rhine commander or Western Emperior holds Iberia then that's going make for a huge kingdom. Maybe we need a seventh Roman so that Iberia is independant. Maybe we could balance it back by giving Brittany to Britain (although the British didn't cross the Channel and settle there until later) and giving Marseille to the Western Empire (to the Romans the areas we'd call southern France and northern Italy were closely connected).
There are some possible rules changes that might make Spain less valuable, and maybe it'd be OK if Britain is small if it can be given a reasonable amount of action (improving the NPC rules and dropout routines to work better across the sea) and maybe keep the job of commanding the navy in the far west.
Another factor might be that although Britain and the Huns are the biggest and strongest kingdoms in the first game, it's the Western Emperor who's just posted a potential win. Let's not forget the game is nearly finished and the Roman Empire is still standing.
We might want to tweak the rules a bit to make future games a little longer.
The Huns SHOULD be big and scary. You're the end of civilisation, the end of the world as we know it (etc, etc). But I agree the bonus doesn't need to last as long as in the first game. If it lasts fewer turns you'll be under more pressure to take advantage of it.
It's thought that it was the arrival of the Huns that pushed the Germans over the borders into the Empire in the first place.
The startup blurb did point out that the Germans needed to work together and to get stuck into the Romans before they could build themselves back up. They did so badly in the first game because they played very poorly. But I will probably redraw the boundaries to make the initial kingdoms bigger and fewer - and apply the NPC rules to the second rank of kingdoms so they're more difficult to eliminate.
If we're going to start the Germans with an alliance structure similar to the Romans then the overlord at the start will probably be the Ostrogoths.
I think we'll meed a change to the sea rules. They're fine for Dark Age, where the sea routes limit movement to scuttling around the coasts and the distances are all short, so it's reasonable that a fleet can show up just anywhere in any strength. As it stands in Barbarians a kingdom on the North Sea coast could drop a reserve fleet in the middle of the Mediterranean. Which is silly. Probably we only allow reserves to be placed where there are ships already, so to go somewhere new you actually have to build a fleet and sail there.
If there are fewer German kingdoms at the start then maybe we could allocate a player to the Picts, Scots, Slavs or Arabs to liven up a diffrent area of the map.
We need to add cites for the next game. I might redraw the map a bit to remove Scandinavia and cover more of North Africa and the Middle East. It'd be a good idea if the Persians had open map areas to the north and east so they're not pushed into instant conflict with the Romans.
I'll probably change the rules a bit so that the Romans are enouraged to try to hold the frontiers. Probably by reducing supply costs for troops in fortifications and increasing the supply cost for troops in the open.
I like the idea of setting destinations for the Barbarians (and others, probably). It tells the players what direct their historical kingdoms went, and encourages them to go the same way. How about a bonus of 10 reserves, 20 treasury and 30 VPs? Is this enough to have a significant impact on strategy? Or does it need to be more?
If the targets are cities then there's the chance to split the bonus in two, paying once for capturing the hinterland (easy) and then again for capturing the city itself (difficult).
Maybe for a Roman the penalty for losing a household should be higher? For a Roman a household represents the individal commander and his personal treasury. This would make it so that the Romans themselves are also useful targets.