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Action system and empire size

Page: DesignArticle.Article-ActionSystemEmpireSize - Last Modified : Tue, 25 Mar 14 - 1009 Visits

Author : Eric Pietrocupo

The situation

There is a very elegant mechanic called the action system which is used by a large amount of games. The concept is simple, you have various type of actions and you can perform a specific amount of actions every turn. Multiple variant to this mechanic are possible like preventing the player to do the same action twice. Actions can be resolved all at once or each player resolve 1 action at a time.

Now there is a lot of conquest games that use an action system. The problem with conquest games is that the empire of a player will grow and shrink as the time passes. So a larger empire will have in theory more cities to manage and more troops to move requiring players more actions to manage their empire. But most game design does not take this in consideration and the players get in a situation where most troops are locked on the board unable to move.

In "Empires of the void", they added a "warp gate" technology that allows you to move all your ships at the cost of 2 actions instead of 1 action per ship. Not only this technology is powerful, but it's essential. If you remove that technology, the game breaks. So the designer decided to "Patch" their game's flaw with a technology which was a very bad thing to do.

The solution

There is basically 2 ways to solve this:

  • Proportional number of actions: You can adjust the number of actions a player has according to his empire size. For example, I suggested for "Empires of the Void" that you start with 3 actions per turn and each extra planet you control gives you 1 action per turn. So larger empires will give the player more actions allowing him to manage his larger empire.
  • Proportional Action: If you really want to keep the number of actions fixed, the other solution is to have actions proportional with the empire size. So for example, maybe the move action allows you to move 3 ships + 1 ship per planet you control OR simply move all ship once. So the same move action will make you move more ships. Actions should be scaled if they depend on empire size. For example, a technology research action might not need to be scaled because technology researched already affect the whole empire.

It is important not to mix the solutions above, because you will end up in a situation where some actions will be much weaker when the empire size is too large. So when using proportional actions, it is very important to identify which action needs to be scaled.

Another solution would be that the empire does not grow. For example, in "Age of Mythology", each player has a board representing their kingdom like in Puerto Rico. They can build more buildings, control more terrain or hold more troops, but the growth of theses does not require the player to have more actions to manage them.

Update: March 25th, 2014: Somebody pointed out that proportional number of actions could lead to a runways leader syndrome which is true.

Now it all depends on the objective you your game. If you want to make a conquest game with player elimination, then a runway leader syndrome is innevitable because the goal of the game is that one player eliminate all others. If a player cannot grow stronger than the others, the game would never end. Else with a fixed number of action, it penalize what the game ask the player to do: expand.

On the other hand, if you have a development game where conquest is not the core of the game, then a fixed number of action might be a good solution. Because the focus of the game is more toward development so players do not need a huge empire to win. They might be conquest to capture missing resources, but not to anihilate all other players. It's in fact a very elegant way to avoid player elimination without adding an exception rule.

It could be possible to use an hybrid system. Where for example, large empire have more military actions as the expand, but the number of political actions remain the same giving an edge to other players since they are all on the same level.

Another idea I have seen in Romace of the 3 kingdoms is the use of officers to limit expansion. The larger your empire, the less officers per territory you have to manage it. So you need to hire, bribe or search for new officers in order to expand again. This method prevent quick and easy expansion. Players can also use bribing actions to weaken their opponent by recruiting their officer to prevent them from expanding further and weakening their empire.

So again, it depends to the objective of your design. The only thing to remember is that fixed nb of actions and player elimination are mutually exclusive.

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