We became acquainted with Maurice Suckling with his game Freeman’s Farm 1777 from Worthington Publishing in 2019 and really enjoyed the mechanics of that game and how they all came together to create an interactive and interesting look at the Battle of Saratoga in the American Revolution. Since that time, Maurice has designed several games that have went onto successful Kickstarter campaigns including Hidden Strike: American Revolution, Chancellorsville 1863 and 1565 Siege of Malta. He is now working on a game that is the first entry in a future series called Rebellion: Britannia from GMT Games and we reached out to him to give us some information about the design.
*Note: The pictures and game art used in this interview, and pictures showing any of the various components and cards, are still in design and are intended to be illustrative at this point. Also remember that rules might still change prior to final development and publication.
Grant: What historical period does Rebellion: Britannia cover?
Maurice: In general, the game covers the turbulent second half of first century CE Britain.
The Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE was a military success – for the Romans. But as a series of rebellions demonstrates, military success is not so much the end of a story, but really the beginning of a story, a story that is all too often left untold. The British tribes were unruly, and even when defeated in large pitched battles they did not cease antagonizing Rome, nor, indeed, each other.
Rebellion: Britannia is a game about the Roman military campaigns subsequent to the invasion of Britain. The game’s focus is on the military campaigns suppressing the Silures Rebellion (47-75 CE, but with periods of relative calm from the late 50’s onwards), the Brigantes Rebellions (47 CE, 52-57 CE, and 69 CE), and Boudica’s Rebellion (61 CE).
The game also includes some light modeling of political dynamics and aspects of civil control complementary to military control – such as the construction of roads, and settlements.
Grant: What was your design goal with the game? What published games inspired this design?
Maurice: Morgane Guyon-Rety’s Pendragon was the first direct influence.
To back-up here, the origins of our game lie in the first ConSim Game Jam in 2020, an international competition organized by Fred Serval, and sponsored by GMT. The brief for that was to take a pre-existing COIN game and to use the board and any of the wooden pieces, and add any amount of cards, cardboard or stickers to it to make a new design playable on TTS in 72 hours. We made a ‘COIN-ish’ game with the Pendragon board called Boudica’s Revolt. Our game was placed second by the judges (the designers Volko Ruhnke, and Morgane Guyon-Rety, and Jason Carr of GMT). Vijayanagara, was placed first, and In The Shadows was placed third – both of which were picked up by GMT and have since made the cut on P500.
After the game jam we worked on some additional scenarios, and talked to Jason Carr in his guise as a publisher who gave us a choice – pull our game much closer to Pendragon, to make it an official GMT expansion, or to reset our focus with a view to designing a new system unhindered by any COIN Series legacy elements if they no longer suited us, with the potential of spinning out that system either alongside the new Irregular Conflicts Series, or perhaps even into a series of its own. Working with Morgane on an official expansion had many draws, but ultimately we decided to try to forge our own path.
From there we set about thinking what we most wanted to do with a new series. We hit upon the idea of focusing on rebellions, something we felt the wargaming hobby had largely neglected to date.
We continued to be inspired by the COIN Series, and the work of Brian Train, as we looked for approaches to multifactional asymmetries, including military as well as political dimensions – the latter being at the heart of rebellions.
But we were also inspired by the work of Ian Brody and his Quartermaster General games. We liked the elegant simplicity of the card play – often it’s just play a card on a turn. We’d played lots of his games together lots of times so we’d seen how satisfying this design approach could be, how adaptable it was to a variety of topics with relatively short playtimes, and also how accessible it is.
There’s also some Pandemic DNA in here. There’s a core mechanism we wanted to use and adapt to ensure we kept the pressure on Rome to address the Tension that her presence in Britannia was fomenting.
We also – again, at least in part inspired by Brian Train – wanted to explore topics with a postcolonial perspective – giving agency to factions who were not always given meaningful agency in wargames, and shining a light on stories that had often been neglected for more familiar (and bankable?) stories.
With this provenance and these inspirations in mind, our design goal came to be to create a game system that was accessible, card-driven, played fast (60-90 minutes), that incorporated asymmetries in line with historical factions, giving meaningful agency to factions in often neglected stories from world history – and for us these stories were rebellions which included a mix of military and political modeling.
Our first topic was first century Britain, and our goal within this design was to represent all the major factions, showing their differing agendas, capabilities, and weaknesses.
Grant: Who is your design partner Daniel Burt? How did the two of you come to work together?
Daniel Burt and I were at school together in Oxford, UK, back in the Twentieth Century. We weren’t in the same year, though, so didn’t really know each other until after we’d left, gone to different universities, and moved back to Oxford. We used to bump into each other, discovered we were both making video/computer games for a living, and we’d talk about history and games. That developed into us playing board games together, which eventually developed into us starting to design games together.
Prior to the 2020 ConSim Game Jam we had a couple of designs under our belts, but nothing that we’d got that close to publishing.
Daniel is a triple threat – he designs, can handle art and graphic design, and can handle TTS implementation including scripting. I think it’s fair to say his taste in games skews more to Eurogames, while mine skews more to wargames, so we keep introducing each other to different mechanics, or different ways of working with those mechanics.
Daniel will hopefully be on players’ radars more soon, for his design and development contributions to Winay Kawsay (with which Alison Collins was a finalist in the Zenobia Awards in 2021) which I believe is due to be published next year by Wizkids. It’s a game about being an historian competing over differing interpretations of Machu Picchu.
Daniel is also a musician, which makes me think of Daniel Bullock, Wes Crawford, and Grant Wylie, amongst others – I think there’s a board game designer super band out there…
Daniel comment: But what would the band name be? The Rolling Dice? The Meeples?
Grant: What from the history of the various rebellions was important to include?
Maurice: So, like I say, despite those military successes of 43 CE this isn’t the end of the story of Rome in Britain in the first century.
Rome had a tricky strategic puzzle to address. She had only four Legions in Britain, and lots of Britain to cover, and lots of Britons to quell in some form or another. We needed players to feel just how stretched Roman resources were: four Legions cannot be everywhere, and whichever regions they leave – to go deal with other regions where Britons are arming – are likely to see their own opportunity to arm themselves. This kind of whack-a-mole situation with powerful conventional forces attempting to find and destroy unconventional forces is something with which students of irregular warfare will be highly familiar.
It’s worth bearing in mind too, that although it was extremely hard for British forces to defeat Roman Legions in open battle, the Legions were not invulnerable. It’s hard to be totally sure because our sources are all Roman, but it seems as if Boudica not only managed to defeat the IX Legion at Camulodunum (Colchester), but she may have all-but destroyed it too. (It may not have been at full strength at the time.)
These Legions weren’t just tasked with fighting – they were also tasked with constructing forts, settlements, and roads. They needed to maintain supply chains, perhaps destroy the druids on Mona, perhaps march to strategic locations to help enforce alliances or trade treaties…They had a lot to do.
The other key element here is that we wanted players to feel as if the British tribes had meaningful agency. These tribes weren’t reduced to just waiting to see if Legions marched towards or away from them. Sometimes these tribes allied themselves with Rome. Sometimes they fought each other (or even themselves). But aside from fighting, the tribes were also engaged in trade, agriculture, preserving and asserting their own cultural identities, and embarking on diplomatic missions.
Connected to this is that we wanted players to get a sense of the different identities of the British tribes…
Grant: What are the major differences between the Silures, Brigantes, and Boudica Rebellions?
Maurice: Boudica’s Rebellion (61 CE) is the one most well known today. Boudica was Queen of the Iceni, who were based in a part of what today we call East Anglia. The rebellion was explosive – swift, savage, and immensely destructive. They burnt Camulodunum (Colchester) almost destroying the IXth Legion in the process, then burnt Londinium (London), and Verulamium (St.Albans). It all came to a climactic head at the pitched battle of Watling Street, as Suetonius rushed back from Mona (Anglesey) where he was attacking the druids and assembled the XIVth and the XXth Legions. This was the most severe military test Rome endured in Britain with perhaps the only exception being the battles with the Catuvellauni, the most powerful tribe in south-central Britain at the time of the invasion.) Boudica lost that battle and died shortly afterwards. Prior to this rebellion, under the rule of her husband, Prasutsrgus, the Iceni had been a peaceable client kingdom to Rome.
In contrast, the Silures, based in what today we might call south east Wales, were in a fairly constant simmering state of rebellion from around 47 CE to 75 CE, with lulls in activity from the late 50’s onwards, in part due to the capture of their leader Caratacus who was so successful in his hit-and-run tactics. (Caratacus was originally leader of the Catuvellauni.) It was a rebellion characterized by what today we would recognize as sustained guerilla warfare. The Silures never attempted to meet the Legions in battle, but the terrain and weather made it immensely hard for the Legions to hunt down and find Silures warbands if they didn’t want to be found. Rome even found it hard to keep forts supplied safely. The test for Rome here was logistical and a matter of perseverance over military might.
The Brigantes were a large and powerful tribe in what today we would call northern England, and included modern day Yorkshire, but also extended beyond. There were three Brigantes Rebellions. The first, in 47 CE, was rapidly put down, and the alliance that had pre-existed the rebellion was restored. The second rebellion lasted from 52-57 CE and began when Queen Cartimandua and King Venutius divorced. The King opposed the Queen’s pro-Roman stance. Rome, of course, took her side and defeated Venutius. When Cartimandua married Venutius’ armor-bearer, Vellocatus, and made him King, this set things off again in 69 CE, but in this case Rome – suffering the ‘Year of Four Emperors’ sent Cartimandua no Legions, just some auxiliaries. She fled to Roman controlled regions to the south and Venutius seized control of the Brigantes. These rebellions were all more flash-in-the pan – less explosive than with Boudica, but more frequent. By and large there was peace between Rome and the Brigantes through much of the first century – albeit significantly on Rome’s terms. We might wonder what could have happened if the British tribes had ever coordinated their rebellions.
Grant: The game is designed for 1-4 players. How are each of these player counts handled?
Maurice: In a 1-player game if you choose to play as Rome the enemy AI will be any of the British tribes you choose – or 2 or 3 of them if you want to take more of them on. If you choose to be a British tribe the enemy AI deck will be Rome. Any playable factions without a player have their pieces set in place on the board, but don’t move – unless compelled to by what happens with the active factions, or due to the Events deck.
In a 2-player game if one player chooses to play as Rome, the other must be a British tribe (of their choosing), and vice versa.
In a 3 or 4 player game the extra player(s) choose an available playable British tribe.
What all this means is the central potential conflict axis of Rome with at least one British tribe is always present. But there are three important aspects to grasp here:
- The system is such that this potential conflict might not necessarily ignite. Rome has lots of ground to cover and its interests (acquiring VP) might be better served by not confronting a specific tribe directly. Rome may prefer to focus on different parts of Britain, and her focus may be building infrastructure (roads, forts, settlements) rather than seeking battle. In addition the British tribes, at different times, might have different incentives, which might discourage them from engaging in direct conflict with Rome.
- The British tribes are not allies with each other, at least not in any permanent sense. It’s quite possible for the British tribes to engage in direct conflict with each other and for this to be the primary axis of play – which will likely be extremely good news for Rome.
- The Events deck means that there’s persistent dynamism, where even inactive factions (those without a player) can unsettle what players have planned.
I should also add that, although this game models three major British tribes and gives players the chance to control them, there were numerous other British tribes of note in this century, and we model them too. We have a non-playable conglomerate ‘faction’ we call ‘Other Britons’. These tribes can grow and shrink in power over the course of the game, and they can be influenced to join alliances with the players’ factions. (We know that the Trinovantes tribe joined Boudica’s rebellion, and we also know that Rome also tussled with the Ordovices tribe in what today is north east Wales – so this allows us to reflect this part of the history too.)
Grant: How does the solo AI function? How does it choose its priorities?
Maurice: Link to current rulebook: http://cloud-3.steamusercontent.com/ugc/1862811590727728255/CA02695A040A30691B668DEBD1101B0FD7745556/
Whether the faction is player controlled or AI controlled it has the same deck of cards. If the faction is player controlled you read the larger text on the card. If the faction is AI controlled you read the Non-Player Faction text.
Here’s a card from Rome’s deck.
This card means all Legions will stay put if in a region with 4 Warbands, but they’ll move towards the region with the most Warbands, prioritizing the lowest region numbers first, moving into separate regions (and moving the lowest numbered Legions first).
The Scorched Earth effect is additional to the March. It lets the Rome player remove an Agriculture token from the board in a region where it has a Legion (either before or after it moves, if it moves). If there’s a choice, the AI prioritizes the lowest numbered region on the board.
So the AI makes demands according to the (same) cards in the (same) deck, reflecting the same basic balance of potential moves the players have available. The AI then prioritizes according to the region numbers, which in essence keeps the focus on what today we would think of as central, eastern, and south-eastern England, which was the heartland of Roman control at the time.
But let me pull back a bit more to try to better explain the AI in general.
There are 12 rounds in the game, and at the start of each round the top card of the Event deck is revealed. Then factions always take their turns in this order (skipping over any factions that have no player):
When a faction takes its turn the Sequence of Play always runs like this:
3. Prepare (optional)
4. Discard (optional)
The Strategy step allows players to play a certain kind of card (called a ‘Strategy Card’) which they prepared the previous turn.
The Play step is where players play any card from their hand (either a ‘Strategy Card’, or an ‘Action Card’).
When it comes to an AI deck the sequence is just:
- draw the top card of the faction deck, and implement all the effects possible.
- do that again.
And that’s almost all there is to it. This double-play is enough to keep the pressure on the human player to keep maximizing their turn and looking to prepare Strategy Cards in order to do so. But, in case the cards haven’t caused any Legion movement, there is a special rule for the AI Rome deck to ensure they all move.
Grant: The game is a Card Driven Game. Why did you feel this mechanic was the best way to tell this story?
Maurice: We set about designing a system that would be flexible for different faction capabilities, and flexible for player counts, but also accessible. With this card-driven approach we could deliver the simple sequence of play outlined above.
We felt this system, in turn, would let us tell the story with flexibility and potentially allow us to reach a fairly broad audience.
Grant: How are player’s available actions dictated by the cards they currently have available to them?
Maurice: Players have a hand limit of 7 cards. They usually play 1 or 2 cards in a turn, and can restore their hand to 7 at the end of a round – if their deck isn’t depleted. (Discards are essentially gone for the remainder of the game.) So players are limited by the cards in their deck, and the cards in hand.
But some cards have dual applications, so players can choose to use them in different ways.
In addition, players can also decide to take what we call ‘Forced Actons’, which still require you to have some cards in order to discard them. I’ll talk more about these in a moment – but the idea is even if you don’t have the cards you really need to do something, you can always make something happen that gets you some of what you want – even if it’s more expensive than usual.
And on top of this the Event Card for the current round – or any from previous rounds with persistent effects – will likely have a bearing on what players decide to do with their turn.
Grant: How do Event Cards affect each turn?
Maurice: As outlined above an Event Card is drawn at the beginning of every round. Each card has two or three effects, and each of these effects modulate play in a variety of possible ways:
- Roman supply lines are tested, which could reduce their Cohesion levels.
- Attrition might hit all factions, resulting in unit/Cohesion losses.
- Briton Tension increases or decreases in specific regions.
- Culture tokens are placed in specific regions (I’ll explain this in a bit)
- The weather might be bad, making movement more difficult for Rome and stopping the play of all prepared cards.
- One of the faction’s leaders replaces the existing leader.
- VP’s might be modulated.
A quick note on supply. We decided to model supply in such a way that it was present, but didn’t bog down the pace of the game. There’s no supply step – no turn-based injunction to test supply lines. But every so often an Event Card will show up that forces Rome to test their supply lines. In such a case, Rome is penalized for having Legions in rough terrain, for being in regions without a Fort or Settlement, or for having more than one Legion in the same region. This approach means Rome can’t ignore supply, but nor does it really slow the game down, and we’re pretty happy with it as a way to handle supply in a game of this kind.
Grant: Can you show us a few examples of these Event Cards?
Maurice: This Event Card has three effects:
- +1 Tension in every region with one or more Legion present.
- +1 Tension in Belgae & Durotriges regions.
- Add a Culture Token to the region where the Second Legion is.
The color of the Tension (the owning faction) is determined by the region itself. Either that region will belong to a player or it won’t. If it belongs to a player that player receives a Tension token they can use. If the region doesn’t belong to a player it uses the color corresponding to the color of the region’s outline.
This Event card has two effects:
- Rome will lose 4 VP this turn if she doesn’t win any VP – with the Emperor’s eye upon her, the Rome player needs to show results fast.
- The Roman leader, Scapula, changes to Paulinus.
This Event card has three effects:
- -1 Tension from each region bordering the region in which Rome initiates a battle this turn.
- +1 Tension in the Cantiaci & Trinovantes regions.
- If Cartimandua is the leader of the Brigantes, Venutius rebels and replaces her.
This Event card has three effects:
- +2VP to the faction with the most Craft Tokens at the end of the game.
- +1 Tension in the Dumnonii region.
- If a Settlement has not been built in Eboracum (modern day York), add 1 Other Briton Warbands in Corieltauvi.
Grant: I see that the Sequence of Play is boiled down to Strategy, Play, Prepare, Discard, Draw. What do these five words tell us about the game play?
Maurice: I hope it’s true to say they demonstrate just how straightforward the Sequence of Play is.
Strategy Play a prepared Strategy Card if you have one,
Play Play a card from your hand.
Prepare Prepare a Strategy Card (place it face-down, ready for next turn).
Discard Discard any number of cards (usually not recommended, but there might be times you really need to do this because you are desperate for a specific card to address a specific issue).
Draw Get your hand back up to 7 cards.
Remember, we wanted this game to be approachable and reach out to new gamers and felt that playability was a key focus of the design.
Grant: How do players Prepare a card? What advantages does this preparation provide?
Maurice: To prepare a card a player takes a card from their hand and places it face-down by the appropriate tab on the edge of the board.
When the relevant phase of their next turn comes around they MUST use that prepared card.
The advantage of preparing a card is you double your potency in a round – you play two cards instead of one. There’s also the addictive satisfaction of pulling off a combination move as you find synergies between card pairings. There’s much to like in that.
But there’s a potential downside too. Not only will you deplete your deck faster (essentially discards are permanently gone from the game), but you might also enact moves that are not only a waste of resources (burning the card for no gain), but perhaps even deleterious to you – as a British tribe you might be converting Tension into Warbands at precisely the wrong moment, for example.
That prepared cards must be used represents the nature of strategic commitment – the potential advantages and disadvantages bound up in it – and it’s a simple way to represent the impossibility of instant communication in this era.
Grant: Can you share with us a few examples of cards and tell us how they are used?
Maurice: A couple of cards in Rome’s deck:
- Rome gets to build a Fort and Settlement (or two Settlements) in every region where it has a Legion where there are no Warbands.
- In addition, +1 Tension is placed in any region where anything is built.
To use this card well Rome wants to first of all have its Legions dispersed enough so it can maximize the card to take advantage of the ability is as many different regions as possible. It’s possible to get 12 VP here (4 Legions each scoring 2 VP for a Settlement and 1 VP for a Fort in each region – and you can actually score 13 VP if building London 2 Settlements with that Legion for 3 VP, instead of a Settlement and Fort ), but if Legions are in the same region, or if they’re in regions where there are Forts or Settlements already you can end up scoring nothing. These are powerful scoring cards, but Rome only has 4 of them, and timing the play is absolutely critical to their strategy and chances of winning the game.
Note the Britons understandably don’t like it that much when Rome builds, so it generates Tension.
- Rome removes up to 4 Tension in any one region with a Settlement in it, or adjacent to a region with a Settlement.
- In addition, Rome gets +2VP if it controls the Iceni region.
- This card also has a Trade icon on it. If Rome has more sequential Trade icon cards in her discard pile than any of the Britons she wins that number of VP at the end of the game.
Region control works like this:
- If there are no Roman pieces in a region it’s controlled by the Briton faction with the most Warbands there, or if no Warbands, by the region with the most Tension pieces there.
- If there’s a Fort and a Legion in a region it’s always controlled by Rome.
- If there’s one or more Legion in a region it’s controlled by Rome, unless there are any Warbands present, there are 3 or more Tension pieces (belonging to any combination of factions).
- If there’s a Settlement in a region it’s controlled by Rome unless there are any Warbands present, there are 3 or more Tension pieces (belonging to any combination of factions).
So, again, you can see how crucial timing the play of this card is for the Rome player. You don’t want to play it before you can take advantage of a Settlement, and you want to have control of the Iceni region as you play it too in order to get the most utility out of the card. This is one of the key points of strategy in this game that of playing cards when they help you maximize the return.
Next, we will take a look at a couple of cards from the Iceni deck:
- If Prasutagus is the leader, the Iceni gets 1 VP for removing its Tension (but not from Iceni itself, and they must all be in the same region).
- If Boudica is the leader you add Tension where you have 2 or more Warbands in or adjacent to Iceni.
Prasutagus wants to encourage Romanization throughout Briton as he is rewarded for adopting a pacifist attitude toward Rome, but then he’s limiting his future options. Boudica on the other hand, violently reacts against Romanization as she can leverage it to create more Tension, if she has Warbands in being.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
- This lets the Iceni pull the maximum number (4) of pieces into any one region, even if they had been disparate, and to convert them into Warbands.
- In addition, the Iceni receives 1 VP for every region where they have the most Warbands.
The Iceni can move rapidly and present a substantial military threat from a seemingly innocuous position. Like other scoring cards, the timing of the play of this card can make a significant difference to the VP haul.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
A couple of cards from the Silures deck:
- The Silures places 3 Tension in or adjacent to the Silures region, or 2 Warbands in a region adjacent to the Silures region.
- In addition, the Silures receives 2 VP for every region where they have the most Warbands.
The Silures can generate Warbands quickly with this card. If they build up sufficient Warbands they can also present a substantial threat to Rome – forcing Rome to come and deal with them.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
- With this card the Silures can inflict Cohesion damage on Legions even if they only have Tension in the same region. Or, with the 2+ Tension, the Silures can destroy a Fort or Settlement. This can be a very powerful card for them as it is more difficult to destroy a Fort or Settlement in other ways. Taking advantage of this ability will be key for the possibility of victory for the Silures.
Usually to inflict any Cohesion damage on a Legion, Britons need Warbands (or they need Rome to suffer from supply checks). But this card represents the Silures’ ability to melt away after a raid and to infuriate and frustrate Roman attempts to bring them to battle.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
A couple of cards from the Brigantes deck:
- This card converts any Briton pieces without a player to control them into Brigantes Tension pieces.
- In addition, if Cartimandua is leader, you can look at Rome’s prepared card – if she has one.
The card reflects how the Brigantes was a major tribe in the north of what today is England, and how Cartimandua might choose to use the nature of her alliance with Rome.
The ability to look at a prepared card is very rare and should be taken advantage of whenever possible in order to be able to best prepare for any Roman aggression in the regions.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
- If Cartimandua is leader, place 1 Brigantes Warband in any one region with a Settlement and at least 1 Legion.
- If Venutius is leader you can replace any Briton Tension piece (regardless of faction allegiance) with a Brigantes Warband.
There are distinct differences to how the different leaders encourage interaction with Rome.
No other Briton faction has this card in their deck.
Grant: What actions can be taken by the players discarding cards?
Maurice: These are the Forced Actions mentioned above.
Instead of playing any cards Rome can discard 2 cards from her hand to perform a Campaign Action. This lets Rome move 1 Legion 1 region, or 2 regions if connected by a road, and then conduct a Battle action, if one is possible.
Instead of playing any cards a British tribe can discard 2 cards from hand to perform an Agitate Action. This generates 1 Tension or 1 Warband in the tribe’s home region.
Alternatively, a Briton player may discard 3 cards from their hand to declare a Client Kingdom status. This awards 1VP and stops Rome from removing its pieces or moving into regions with its pieces in the current turn. Rome can override this, but it costs 3 cards to be discarded immediately.
Even if just getting to grips with the basics of the game it might be possible to see these moves are suboptimal – they will deplete your hand fast for relatively little gain. However, there will be situations where these are sensible options and worth the expense.
Grant: How are the different factions asymmetric in their abilities and victory conditions?
Maurice: Rome is different from the Briton factions in numerous ways. The Legions are hard to beat in battle – impossible unless they’ve been worn down. But Rome only has four of them so they need to be used carefully. The Roman deck is essentially entirely different from the Briton decks. Rome’s cards allow them to fight, to march their Legions, to resupply them, to address diplomatic and trade concerns, to use cavalry to try to prevent ambushes, to send out patrols, to build Settlements, Forts, and roads, and to suppress Briton Tension.
In general the Briton warbands fare poorly against Legions in battle, but it’s an even fight against other tribes. Briton decks allow them to pillage, to sow unrest, to rally, move, convert Tension into Warbands, to convert Warbands into Tension (disappearing ‘into the mists’ in the face of a conventional army), to send out emissaries, and to entice allies.
But the Briton factions are also different from each other, not only with different combinations of cards, but also with each faction having cards unique only to them.
On top of that, all the factions have two leaders, which again pulls them in different directions at different times.
As for victory conditions – for everyone the most Victory Points (VP’s) wins. But Rome and the Britons acquire VP’s in very different ways.
Rome gets VP’s this way:
- +2 VP for every Settlement built
- +1 VP for every Fort built
- +2 VP for every Briton Stronghold destroyed
- +1 VP for every Battle card played that removes 2 or more Warbands
Britons get VP’s this way:
- +1 VP for every Fort burnt
- +2 VP for every Settlement burnt
- +1 VP for every Legion Cohesion step loss
- +4 VP for every Legion destroyed
All factions also acquire VP’s for the play of various scoring cards held in their decks. These VP’s are worth varying amounts depending on the conditions being met – so each player is looking to use these cards at a time when they can be maximized for scoring purposes – although given the flux in the game it’s not always easy to tell when that might be.
There are also two automatic loss conditions for Rome. If she ever has 2 or more Forts and 6 or more Settlements burnt at the same time, this ends the game, or if all four Legions have all been destroyed (have a Cohesion of zero), Rome loses and the winner is the British tribe with the most points.
Rome also loses VP if any British tribe (including the conglomerate faction of ‘Other Britons’) cannot place a Tension marker when either an Event Card or their own card requires it. This represents Rome’s compulsion to keep the Britons in check – if there’s too much Tension in Britannia then Rome is failing at its overall task of suppression. This maintains pressure on Rome to keep the situation in check. It also incentivizes the Britons to keep agitating and to make life difficult for Rome.
In addition to all of that, there’s also another systemic layer to the game which is a source of potential points.
All Briton faction cards belong to one of four suits:
Each of these suits reflects a key aspect of British culture at the time. At the end of the game, the Briton player with the highest sequential run of each suit in their discards wins that suit (i.e. unbroken by cards of a different suit) and is awarded the number of VP’s equal to the sequential run.
This incentivizes British tribes to prioritize cultural concerns over making war. But then, for Rome this could be bad news as immensely stable and culturally successful but placid tribes might ultimately be a threat to Roman hegemony.
But there are two further important details here.
Rome also has some cards belonging to the Trade suit. If Rome has more sequential Trade cards than any Briton factions Rome gets the VP’s instead of any Briton factions. So Rome, too, can focus away from military campaigning.
Further, on set up there are tokens corresponding to the four suits placed in specific regions on the board. As mentioned above, the Event Deck can also cause new tokens to be placed. Now, if you control a region with one of these tokens at the end of the game, these are added to your tally of sequential cards, so can become VP’s.
Rome will also lose VP for every Ceremony token on the board at the end of the game. This represents Rome failing to assert herself in the face of significant cultural sites (such as stone circles) or ceremonies, which help the Briton’s retain a sense of identity and continuity.
Given the geographic locations of the different Briton factions – with the Iceni closer to the nexus of likely Roman control, and the Brigantes and Silures more distant from it – it’s also more likely for the Iceni to either be placid towards Rome, or to rise up quickly and potentially lethally, while the Silures remain persistently difficult to tame, and while the Brigantes remain more tangential to Roman plans, unless forced to take action.
Grant: What is the concept of Tension? What did you hope to accomplish with its inclusion?
Maurice: The Britons were certainly militarily outmatched, but that’s only one aspect of our story. Back to our design goals – to attempt some kind of accessible modeling of the history with its complex mix of military and political agendas. So, then Tension in our game represents the political will of the Britons to resist Roman control – this is forged, in part by the agency of the tribes themselves, but also it’s generated as a direct result of Roman military dominance. The more military success Rome has the more Tension it’s creating amongst the Britons. It’s a quality that the Britons may leverage either to exert political control, or convert into military pieces (warbands) with which to conduct military operations. We can think of this conversion as representing the transition of a disgruntled, potentially volatile populace into a military force. The Tension is the motivation that leads to Britons picking up swords and being willing to fight. But that motivation needs to be directed to forge those military forces.
So, Tension is an integral part of how the whole game works as we try to model a mix of political and military factors. The Tension counters on the board are literally the flip side of the warband counters. This is similar to how the terrorist cells work in Labyrinth, or how guerillas work in COIN Series games.
Grant: What does the game board look like?
Maurice: This is the art for the prototype. If/when we hit P500 it will take another step forwards.
Grant: What are the different icons and spaces included on the board?
Maurice: The green regions represent regions with a standard level of difficulty for supply.
The tan regions represent regions with an increased level of difficulty for supply – more hilly or mountainous terrain.
The numbers on the regions are part of how the AI system works.
The fort icons show where British strongholds are placed on set-up. (These are just placeholders- they’re likely to change to something more era-appropriate like a hillfort icon.)
The spaces with the building edifice icon on are where settlements are placed at the start of a game, or where burnt settlement pieces are placed if the settlements are later burnt.
The various different squares are to help speed up set-up – they show where you place what pieces.
Similarly, the Roman numerals show where each Legion is placed on set-up.
The empty circles are places where settlement pieces are placed if they’re built later in the game, or where burnt settlement pieces are placed if the settlements are burnt.
The Cohesion Track tracks the step losses of the four Roman Legions.
Grant: What role do leaders play? What abilities do they offer?
Maurice: Each faction always has one of two possible leaders, and these are always available in a set (historical) sequence. But when a faction switches between their leaders is determined by the Event Deck, and since not all cards from that deck are present in the same game, it’s possible these events aren’t triggered and a faction never switches their leader.
Scapula scores VP by building Settlements, and may score VP once per game based on the difference in Tension in Briton home regions – this rewards keeping the tribes divided in their attitudes towards Rome.
Paulinus receives VP when he builds Forts, and may score VP once per game based on the number of Forts Rome has in play – this rewards a more immutable military presence.
For the Brigantes:
Cartimandua gains VP any time any Briton faction makes a Client Kingdom play and she may score VP once power game based on Rome’s VP total – rewarding the Brigantes if Rome is winning – i.e. if the Brigantes and the British tribes in general are keeping the peace.
Venutius immediately increases Tension in the Brigantes upon becoming leader, and gains VP whenever Rome makes a Forced Action, and may score VP once per game based on the Brigantes’ dominance in the north – rewarding a more aggressive approach to leading the Brigantes than Cartimandua.
For the Iceni:
Prasutagus gains VP by removing Iceni Tension, and once per game gains VP for Rome building a Settlement with Iceni Tension or Warbands in the same region – encouraging the Iceni to adopt Romanization.
Boudica immediately increases Tension in the Iceni upon becoming leader, and gains VP whenever a Roman Settlement is burnt, and may score VP once per game based on how many Forts and Settlements are burnt – rewarding a style of play reminiscent of Boudica’s Rebellion.
For the Silures:
Caratacus converts any other Briton Tension to Silures Warbands when he initiates battle in a region. Once per game he also allows the Silures to score 1VP for each Legion not at full strength.
The Caradog leader represents the ‘spirit of Caratacus’. He immediately increases Tension in the Silures upon becoming leader, and gains VP whenever a Roman Fort is destroyed. Once per game he receives VP for each Home Region that has Warbands without any Legions present – rewarding maintaining a state of opposition to Rome.
You can hopefully get a sense for how these different leaders shape different kinds of incentives in play, and further, that, given you don’t know exactly how long you have these leaders for, or quite when a new leader might come along it makes for a dynamic environment for players.
Grant: How does combat play out in the design?
Maurice: We have a deterministic combat system here. You play a Battle Card, and the effects are implemented (unless something else disrupts this). Essentially Briton warbands can chip away at Legions to reduce their Cohesion Levels, which amount to a 4-step reduction Hit Point rating. Legions in combat are devastating, destroying all warbands in the same region if a Battle Card is played.
Grant: What type of units and pieces representing those units are there?
Maurice: Rome has 4 Legions – the IXth Hispania, the XIVth Gemina, the IInd Augusta, and the XXth Valeria Victrix.
Britons have Warbands – warriors in arms, and the flip side of the same counters are Tension – representing the potential for violence (the potential to be turned into warbands) but also the political will of a tribe to assert itself.
Rome also has Forts and Settlements.
There are also pieces to represent burnt settlements and fortifications.
Rome can build roads too. There are no pieces for roads. This is dealt with by the system itself. If two adjacent regions both have either a Fort or a Settlement (regardless of whether it’s been burnt or intact) then there is a road linking those regions, and roads speed up the movement of Legions.
Grant: How do players recruit new units?
Maurice: Rome can’t create new Legions – representing the considerable expense, as well as the plethora of other global obligations on the Empire’s resources (and its potential meltdowns). However, Legions can be rested and re-supplied to restore their cohesion levels. This is handled through card play.
The Britons can generate Warbands or Tension by the play of certain cards, or they can convert existing Tension into Warbands with different cards. In addition, they also have their Agitate Action mentioned above.
Grant: In the end, how is victory earned?
Maurice: Players accrue Victory Points (VP’s) throughout the game, and the player with the most when the game ends (after there are no Event Cards left to draw) is the winner – unless one of those automatic win/loss conditions is triggered earlier (2 Forts and 6 Settlements burnt, or all 4 Legions lost).
As outlined above, there are a variety of ways in which players actually acquire those points.
Grant: What are you most pleased about with the design?
Maurice: It’s either that we made a wargame where winning is often not about fighting, and even when it is, it’s about choosing which battles not to fight – and this represents some complex decision-space in the context of rebellions – and yet this is all so accessible and plays so fast.
Or it’s that the system looks to be so flexible and that we have so many places we want to go with it.
Grant: What has been the response of playtesters?
Maurice: An early playtest with Liz Davidson (Beyond Solitaire) and David Thompson exposed some flaws – we didn’t have the balance right early on, and some cards were too powerful, granting too much VP too easily.
But we’ve fixed that now – at least that specific set of cards. Most recent playtests have been confined to either just Daniel and me, or inside GMT’s circle.
Ken Kuhn, Staff Developer at GMT, had this to say:
“While we haven’t quite gotten to the playtesting portion of the development process, I was able to get in a number of plays with playtesters during the evaluation period for the game. Playtesters agreed that two of Rebellion: Britannia’s biggest strengths are its super simple Sequence of Play, which leads to lightning fast turns, and its card preparation step.”
In Rebellion: Britannia, the player turns always follow the same order in a round and they are lightning-quick, so there is very little downtime between turns. Playtesters loved how snappy the gameplay felt and that was dictated by the simplicity of the sequence of play:
- Play a previously prepared card, if available.
- Play a card from hand or discard cards for an action.
- Prepare a card for the next turn.
- Discard any unwanted cards.
- Draw back up to the hand limit.
Playtesters also love that because you draw at the end of your turn, you can consider your options before your next turn, which further expediates play. And that whether a card event or discard action is taken, moving pieces around and resolving conflicts happens in a matter of seconds, even though the underlying strategy is rich.
The key part of the Sequence of Play that playtesters found most intriguing and innovative was the card preparation step. On its surface, the decision seems very straightforward. If you prepare a card, you get to double your card economy on the next turn. But the impact of that decision is often much more significant than it seems. If you program the right card, you can end up setting yourself up to score well on your turn or foil an important play by one of your opponents. But if you program the wrong card, you may end up with a useless action and worse yet, you’ve wasted one of your precious cards, of which you only receive a certain number each game.
Playtesters loved the decision space that the prepared card provided and ultimately, this unique twist is one of the main reasons that I and many others are very excited about Rebellion: Britannia.
Grant: What other designs are you working on?
Maurice: For myself:
– For Worthington, I have Crisis: 1914, about the July Crisis that led to WWI. Players take on the roles of key historical diplomats and try to use the diplomatic crisis to leverage the most national/imperial prestige without actually triggering the war – if you trigger the war you lose.
– With Jason Matthews – we have a design about the Glorious Revolution underway, currently called Churchill’s Coup: 1688, which is about surviving the political turmoil in England as rival factions grow up in opposition to James II’s rule.
– As part of a team who took part in the second ConSim Game Jam I’m working on a 2-player game about the end of the Russo-Japanese War – you negotiate the 1905 Treaty of Portsmouth. The judges – Mark Herman, Jason Matthews, and Candice Harris awarded us first place. I’m pretty excited about how it’s shaping up.
– Gonzalo at Salt & Pepper Games really liked my Chancellorsville game and recently asked me to work on his WWII Commanders Series. The plan was I would do a game on Montgomery. But I ended up sketching out a design for a game about the intelligence war in the Mediterranean in 1943 – just prior to the invasion of Sicily. If you know about Operation Mincemeat you know a part of this story already. Anyway, Gonzalo liked that design so I’m working on that for him instead of Montgomery.
– I’m working on a game about the fall of Camelot, which has dragons, and giants, and magic and the Quest for the Holy Grail in it. Phalanx has expressed interest in this.
– I’ve started to get back to my Leipzig project – an operational level game about the 1813 campaign, which is a development from my Chancellorsville game, and this will also be for Worthington.
– I have a 4-6 player hidden traitor game about Elizabethan (the first one) spies in development.
– With Daniel Burt, we have several games we’d like to work on together. We’d love to get Rebellion: Britannia through P500 so we can tackle some more rebellions. We have high hopes we can really develop this into a series and we’re holding our breath a little to see if that gets to happen.
As for Daniel, he says:
– I have a few games at playable prototype stage, including a game about the Wars of the Roses (Loveday 1458), a solo game about managing scout squadrons during the First World War (Jasta Leader), and a dexterity game of aircraft combat (Fingertip Aces). Maurice and I also have a design that has been in long term development that I need to get back to working on (Marshals of the Old West), and whilst I am not involved with Wiñay Kawsay at this stage, there was a sister design (Eachdraidh) that looked at the site at Stonehenge in a similar way, and that may be something that I revisit in the future.
Thanks again for your time in answering our questions Maurice and for your great attention to detail and how you explain your design thoughts. This type of explanation is very interesting to players, especially of historical simulations, as they want to know the details and how you are accounting for the history. These details make for a much richer and rewarding play experience and also show that you have thought long and hard about how to model things to replicate that history. Excellent work as always! I very much look forward to playing this game and cannot wait to check out all of your “work-in-progress” games as well.
If you are interested in Rebellion: Britannia, you can pre-order a copy for $52.00 from the GMT Games website at the following link: https://www.gmtgames.com/p-989-rebellion-britannia.aspx
Looking forward to this one very much, name-checks or no… but I’m grateful that I have given some inspiration).
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You inspire more people than you realize Brian. What is the status on China’s War?
Sending you an email re this and other things.