Recently, I've been having some more thoughts about a second edition of Border Reivers. Border Reivers was my first attempt at game design, and the 100-copy limited edition, entirely made by hand was the first step on the road to where I am today.
I started designing Border Reivers after a 36-hour marathon game of Mighty Empires in which the guy who was clearly in the lead suddenly got knobbled after 36-hours and went from comfortable first place to languishing at the rear. Had he made a huge tactical error that brought such a reverse in his fortunes? Nope, some random dragon event just hurt him. Surely I could make a similar game that plays quicker and doesn't have such huge swings in power.
My brief was to design a similar, civilisation-level, light wargame, with some development where random game happenings can't screw you completely. I wanted the game to play in 30-90 minutes too, not many people have 36 hours available for a single game.
How Did I Do?
I'm still proud of my achievement with Border Reivers. With no experience as a game designer or publisher I managed to design a working game, get it printed, assemble 100 copies and sell them all within eleven months all over the world. Is it the best game ever? Clearly not. But it's one that I still enjoy when I play and people still ask me to re-print and one that Mal wants to play almost every time we meet up.
There are several things about Border Reivers that I really like. I like the double-sided triangular land tiles that get flipped and upgraded as the landscape changes. I did get the alignment wrong on the coastal ones though, so flipping them was counter intuitive. I liked the aesthetics of triangular tiles and the way that it made movement not quite as expected - I envisaged this was due to the highland terrain making travelling in a straight line difficult.
I also liked the brutal combat. The most likely outcome of a straight fight was everyone dies! However, there were substantial bonuses if you could get weight of numbers on your side. As a result, this led to either building large armies to crush your opponents, or risking everyone on a do-or-die attack. Of course, the cards spiced things up a bit too.
Which brings me on to the cards. The cards in Border Reivers come in two varieties: buildings and strategies. The building cards were played face up, and gave a development advantage to one of your cities - either more income or better chance of getting cards/armies in each future turn. The buildings were ok, but the hidden strategy cards were more fun. There were only a few types, so when you got one, your opponents had a pretty good idea what they were in for. There was a defence for each of them, but the defences were pretty expensive, so you couldn't afford to keep defences for all possible cards in place. I really liked the hidden cards, especially: Insurrection, Reiving Party and Ambush.Weaknesses
At the beginning of each turn you rolled a ten-sided die for reinforcements. You rolled twice for each city: once for army reinforcements and once for cards. Since you could build up to three cities, you could theoretically roll the die six times at the beginning of your turn. In addition, to make things even worse, the reinforcement buildings cards (you could build one of each in each city) gave you an extra die roll. Up to twelve in all! While I liked that these gave you the opportunity to gamble victory points (cash) for possible gain, you could spend 8 cash (a fifth of that needed to win) and still get nothing (it gave you a 90% chance of getting something, but a bad die roll and you're stuffed). I've played many games where you just need one more army to give you enough to attack. Roll for reinforcements... fail. Do nothing this turn except get more money and try again next turn. This is no fun.
Border Reivers had two paths to victory, you could either kill all your opponents (player elimination) or save up enough cash. In two-player games it was about 50/50 over which path ended the game. In three- or four-player games it was almost always the cash route. Since the cash route could be achieved by building strong defences and then sitting back and raking in the cash the game was subject to turtling, where each player hid in their own little corner of the board and sat back trying to race to gain the most cash. This led to little player interaction. Mainly a problem with the three- and four-player games, but still doesn't make for a very fun game. I introduced the mine fairly late in development to try to encourage people out of their holes, but this was only a limited success.
While the mountain range pieces in my first FIMO prototype (see picture above) were really cool, the rubbish card ones in the limited edition were definitely not.Ideas?
On and off I've been toying with a few ideas of things I could have done differently in Border Reivers:
- Each player is a particular Border Reiver clan, with different starting resources or player powers.
- Reinforcements are either free or fixed cost, limited only by the number of cities you control.
- Replace the victory conditions with a victory point track that could reward development, riches and aggressive play.
- Replace building cards with tokens or counters that show which city the building is in.
My aim would be to reduce the number of turns when you've got nothing to do (either because your reinforcement rolls didn't provide the required reinforcements or you don't have enough resources to mount an attack) and reduce the huge number of die rolls at the beginning of each turn while still capturing the feel of the first game.
Have you played the limited edition of Border Reivers? Would you like to get you hands on a copy? What do you think could be improved/changed? Answers on a postcard below please.