Demesne, Design Overview

I’ve always liked the idea of demesne-level games, but it seems they often become exercises in counting peasant families and calculating – to the coin – tax revenue and expenditure. Many benefit from the use of spreadsheets.

Spreadsheets and other tools can have their place in tabletop gaming. They’re probably best used for things typically done away from the table, such as creating (or updating) characters, creating new monsters, and so on.

However, round to round activities really should be feasible to do without tools like this. Even for a demesne-style game where a ‘turn’ might represent a month, a season, or even a year… it should be doable by hand.

This unfortunately rules out many games I might look to for demesne-level play. They’re simply too high-resolution. I don’t want to count peasant families and exact coin values of taxes and tributes (both that I collect and that I pass on to my liege).

The Birthright setting has just about the level of abstraction I’m looking for. The Empire book from AEG uses similar abstractions.

In skimming these books and considering how to best trim out the AD&D part to make a just-demesne-game version, I realized this could work pretty well as a tabletop game.

Overview and Initial Thoughts

I’m working out how to make demesne-style game. I’ve got some ideas for a base and will be exploring how to fit them together.

  • Probably use hex tiles for the regions. This is mostly because hexes are a good fit for overland regions, providing almost-round sections that tessellate well and look reasonably natural – or at least, lacking straight lines that draw the eye. Also, I am frankly a sucker for hex tiles.
    • There will be a tile placement element. Whether this happens entirely at the start of the game to determine the shape of the land, or happens in play as the land is explored, I do not yet know.
    • I considered having ‘sections’ of hexes that form larger pieces, to use as starting areas for each player, but I’m moving away from that idea. I might still come back to it, but for now I think I’d rather stick with individual hex tiles.
  • Probably a deck builder of some sort.
    • Players start with decks containing the same cards, but can develop in different directions such as focusing on commerce, magic, military might, and so on.
    • Asymmetric decks could be an option, as with Hero Realm character decks.

Hex Tile Component

The following elements are based on rules from Birthright. They will be applied differently, but are still rooted in what Birthright did. I will mark where I deviate from Birthright.

  • Players make connections to regions via ‘holdings’.
  • There are holdings of differing types and subtypes.
    • Commerce holdings generate gold, and potentially other resources.
      • Guilds are commerce holdings and can allow specific actions in addition to just generating gold.
      • When generating resources, a player gains gold for each commerce holding (theirs or someone else’s) on each tile they have a commerce holding on. Commerce depends on connections to others, and gaining a foothold in a trading hub is quite lucrative.
    • Source holdings generate magic, and allow the creation of ley lines (and ley networks) so that magic can be used elsewhere.
      • Ley nodes are source holdings that can be used for specific magic types and exceed normal limitations on magic use within a ley network.
      • If a player has a source holding on a hex, the player can use magic in that hex with a cost up to the potential of that hex, minus the number of non-source holdings on the hex.
      • If the hex has a ley node, the player can use magic of the associated type up to one point higher.
      • If the hex is part of a player’s ley network, the player can use the highest-value hex in the network, plus the number of ley nodes of the associated magic type (thus exceeding the normal limit).
    • Martial holdings help defend (or attack) a region, and produce troops.
      • Fortifications are martial holdings, and can produce better or more specialized troops.
      • When a region is under attack, those with martial holdings can choose to help defend against the attack (adding to the defense score), join the attack (reducing the defense score), or stand neutral (not change the defense score). Still need to work out what each option means.
    • Social holdings help control a region (to determine ownership).
      • Temples are social holdings and can have additional effects.
    • In Birthright, characters of different classes can gain certain benefits only from particular holdings (a fighter doesn’t gain anything from a source or guild holding). In Demesne, there is no such limitation – any player can gain from any holding type. However, over the course of a game, a player make choices that make certain holding types more effective than others.
    • Each hex has six sites (one on each corner) that can have a holding.
      • The holding sites might be constrained, so only holdings of a particular type can be placed on each site. Or they might have differing costs, etc. Still working out details.
      • Each player’s starting hex probably has a certain number of sites populated ‘for free’ at the start of the game.

I have some draft hex tiles, just to see what they might look like (click thumbnail for full-size).

Forest Hex Tile
Forest Hex Tile
Desert Hex Tile
Desert Hex Tile
Hills Hex Tile
Hills Hex Tile
Mountains Hex Tile
Mountains Hex Tile
Mystic Tree Hex Tile
Mystic Tree Hex Tile
Plains Hex Tile
Plains Hex Tile
Swamp Hex Tile
Swamp Hex Tile

Deck-Building Component

The previous section described how the regions are represented. This section describes how the deck-building component of the game works.

  • Each player starts with a small deck of cards. This deck is probably the same for each player, functionally (it’s possible the characters on the cards would have different names and titles, but do the same thing). If it becomes feasible, the cards might differ somewhat in effect or there could be wholly-different decks… but that’s for later consideration.
  • A player can gain additional cards by expending resources. These might be the same resources as are used in play, or ‘meta-resources’ gained from cards. That is, it might be that card-buying resources are gained from cards and are not usable for building holdings or other game effects (and vice-versa), or they might be all the same resources. To be determined.
  • Most cards are likely played during a player’s turn, but some can be played out of turn to affect another player’s actions. For instance, a player under attack might play a card to help defend against the attack, at the cost of having fewer options available during the normal turn.
  • [possibly; not yet decided] A player may play a card without all the resources needed to complete that card’s action. The card is placed face-up on the table with resources tokens on it, to be accumulated until the action is paid for. The card is not returned to the player’s deck until the action is complete, and other players can target that card to interrupt the action (action fails and resources are lost).
    • Not yet decided because I haven’t determined what all the consequences are: it lets a player exceed normal resource availability limits at some risk (which I’m good with), but allows a player to semi-trash a card (remove from the deck so other cards are easier to get). I’m not sure yet if I like that… I might, though.
  • Cards and other resources are refreshed at the end of the player’s turn, so they are available out of turn (and so the player can plan the next turn).

Closing Comments

Lots of work left to be done, many details to figure out. I like the shape of what I’ve got so far.

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