Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Clockwork Wars Design Diary #2: Espionage

[Diary #1: Overview can be found here]

In this diary entry, I’d like to share with you some of the details of the Espionage system that’s been designed into Clockwork Wars.  Thematically, I wanted espionage to be a part of the narrative experience. Clockwork Wars is very much a game about racing towards amazing new technological discoveries that can change the course of civilization – as such, one might expect  there to be spies lurking in the shadows, positioning for advantage in this war of ideas. However, like most of the systems in Clockwork Wars, Espionage has been stripped to (hopefully!) elegant simplicity.  I’ve tried to model Espionage in three ways.

First, at the beginning of every turn, there’s a Spymaster Phase.  During this phase, each player chooses an action from six possible options.  These options represent your Spymaster’s activity for that turn.  The actions are:
  • Conscription:  Immediately add 1 Worker to your Recruitment Pool.
  • R & D:  Draw 2 Espionage cards from the Espionage deck, keep 1 and place the other on the bottom of the deck.
  • Gambit:  You may immediately move any two of your units on the map to different territories that you control.
  • Counter-Intel:  You gain 1 IP in any research discipline.  You may also force all/any other players to lose 1 IP in any research discipline.
  • Technophilia:  You may go first in each stage of the Research Phase. In addition, gain 1 VP.
  • Tactical Ops:  During the Battle stage, if you are involved in a battle that is a tie, you receive a +1 bonus in Army Strength so that you win the battle.
Once an action has been taken, subsequent players cannot take it.  As such, this mechanic is reminiscent of worker placement.  There’s strategy in the Spymaster Phase, and some subtlety.  If you’re planning an aggressive turn, you might do well to take Tactical Ops.  If you’re racing for a particular Discovery and worried about another player nabbing it, you might take Counter-Intel or even Technophilia.  The Spymaster Phase plays quickly and transitions immediately into the Recruitment Phase.

A second manifestation of Espionage in Clockwork Wars is Court Intrigue.  Prior to each game, a single court tile is placed to the side of the map.  This court represents the palace of a minor lord in the realm – a family whose influence and power might be useful in your effort to win the war.  On any turn, during your Deployment Phase, you can place any number of your Workers on this court tile.  These Workers become Spies once they are placed on the tile.  Other players might also place Spies on the court, but battles never result from this competition.  Instead, during each Scoring Phase (which occurs on Turns 2, 4, and 7), the player who has the most Spies in the court receives an award.  The award depends upon the specific court in play and the specific turn.  For example, the Lovelace court is probably the most powerful in the game.  Whichever player controls the Lovelace court at the end of Turn 2 receives 3 free IP that can be distributed in any of their 3 research disciplines (sorcery, science, or religion).  At the end of Turn 4, the controlling player may claim any available Discovery at no cost - this even includes Late Age Discoveries!  And control of the Lovelace court grants a whopping 5 VP at the end of Turn 7 (a significant bonus, when typical end-game scores are around 30).  Players can choose to ignore courts entirely in a game of Clockwork Wars – but then again, if all the other players are ignoring the court, it’s to your great benefit to send a couple spies over there.

Sample Espionage card (prototype).
The third and most important way in which Espionage is modeled in Clockwork Wars is through Espionage cards.  There is a small deck of Espionage cards, and at the beginning of the game, each player receives one.  During the Spymaster Phase, a player can take the R&D action to draw an additional Espionage card into their hand.  These Espionage cards provide unique benefits for players and can be played at unexpected times to catch your opponents off-guard.  For example, the Ambush card is played during the Reinforcement stage and grants one of your armies a +3 bonus to Army Strength.  Propaganda is another Espionage card that’s played at the end of the Combat Phase and gives you +2 VP for every battle you won this turn.  We have over 20 different Espionage cards currently designed, and each one provides a unique twist to the game.  Personally, I think proper use of Espionage cards is absolutely critical to winning a game of Clockwork Wars.  They’re a lot of fun to use, and can rapidly turn a game around for a player who’s finding herself behind on VP in the mid-game.

I hope you enjoyed this (relatively) brief summary of the Espionage system in Clockwork Wars.  These mechanisms were designed to provide players with additional strategic and tactical options, and also add a layer of surprise and intrigue to the deterministic combat.  Next time, the heroic Generals!

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