Valour: The Game

When we left off last week, I had the first physical prototype of my board game in-hand. Not knowing any better, I thought I might be near the end of the road. Now, after countless hours of play testing and revising, I know two things: a) I was WAY off the mark back then, and b) while I don’t yet know exactly where the road ends, I’m moving in the right direction. Read on to see the ins and outs of the current, and hopefully near-final, state of gameplay.

This is part three in a three-part series about Valour. Here our journey concludes.

III

With any design I draft, I try and bring something unique — either novel mechanics, or clever application of theme, and I’m particularly proud of some of the concepts I’ve embedded in Valour. Without further ado, here it is.

Valour-v8

BCE 58: Julius Caesar is broke. His time as proconsul has cost him most of his personal fortune, and much of his clout within the Republic. Luckily, he is still in command of Rome’s most prestigious army. He has heard rumors of the riches coming back with the traders from Gaul. When reports of unrest among the Helvetii and a threat of invasion from the Germanic Suebi, the opportunity could be ripe for him to “help” the Gauls…

Each player takes on the role of one of the chieftains of Gaul, commanding a tribe. Players contribute to the collective infrastructure of Gaul by generating resources (mining gold, harvesting wood, growing grain, and vinting wine), building roads, trading goods with Rome, and gathering soldiers from among their tribesmen to form armies. Because Gaul is a loose federation of these tribes, the resources generated by players belong to the collective, rather than an individual player. If I grow grain in Alesia, it belongs to Gaul, rather than my tribe — any other player sending their armies to Alesia may use it to feed the troops, or a chieftain may use it as a bribe to get into Caesar’s good graces.

Turn order is dictated by the sole privately-owned resource: Wine. The tribe with the most wine, and therefore prestige, goes last, and has the final opportunity to influence the board before Rome’s forces take a turn. Each turn, the Gauls meet to discuss matters of state, where a tribute of wine is mandatory. Fail to contribute, and your political options will be limited. (Players begin the game with a set of political action cards, failure to bring wine to council forces a player to discard one).

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Meanwhile, Julius Caesar is on the march. As the game begins, he rides at the head of a single army, which advances on and conquers location after location. As his campaign continues, he calls up gifted tacticians from his ranks to become generals (Legatus, pl. Legati) of their own armies to take on additional campaigns simultaneously. Each Legatus and Caesar have their own unique selection criteria when determining where they will march; this provides a tactical challenge for players as they determine which locations along a shifting front are most critical.

While the Gauls are a formidable fighting force, their best efforts are only enough to delay Roman victories in battle. That’s right; Caesar will take every city he lays siege to, and in the end, there is nothing the Gauls (the players) can do about it. This parallels the course of the actual Gallic war, and frees the players to focus on their historical mandate: not to go gentle into that good night. After each conquest, Caesar takes a moment to reflect on the battle, and to dictate his memoirs in the Commentarii De Bello Gallico, or Commentary on the Gallic War. The most valiant (or Valour-ous, if I may?) chieftains and armies of Gaul are enshrined in Caesar’s words as heroes and brilliant adversaries.

This document to history becomes the central scoring mechanic of the game; players who brave the largest and toughest battles are remembered forever, while those that do not are forgotten.

What do you think? I love feedback! Please post your reactions to comments (positive and negative, I promise I can take it). Want to know more? I send out a monthly newsletter with insider details on the game design process, every new game and development, and a historical fun fact. Get on the list:

  • That was a great read Jonathan. The concept of a players controlling a declining power is one that really intrigues me. I particularly loved the idea that glorious mentions in Ceasar’s Commentary on the Gallic War are the scoring mechanism.

    I’m currently deigning a game where players control patronage networks in the Late Roman empire. Each network attempts to maximise their influence and prestige by politiking for posts from Augustus down, building an economic base and defending the empire. The danger however is that the use of their limited resources to maximise their score (usurping an emporer/civil war etc.) may hasten the fall of the empire rendering their machinations moot.

    With that in mind it is very interesting to read about the experiences of someone further down the design/development path of a game which bears has some similarities to my own. How is Ceasar’s invasion played out in your game? Does a player control it? (if so how does his score relate to the Gaulish players) or is it played out automatically according to a set of rules (if so how have you sought to avoid the invasion, and therefore the players response to it, becoming predictable?)

    If you ever need a UK playtester me and my gaming group would love to provide feedback.

    All the best.

    • woodardj

      Hey Tom! Thanks for reading! I really like the “group push your luck” concept you’re describing, where you want to maximize your own stake while avoiding pushing the whole group to failure. Very cool. In Valour, Caesar and his generals each have their own set of movement heuristics, which dictate how they move across the board during the invasion, so they’re automated, but their heuristics are public, so obviously if one is “Will move to the location with the most gold present” — the players can either summon or misdirect the general to locations of their choice.

      Will get you on the testers list, and will definitely let you know if I start shipping copies across the pond!