Cobre, Vacas y Cucarachas: Mexican Revolution 1913
Onside report by Jonathan Pickles
This was a follow up to my game design session from October. The game revisits the many games I ran on the 1913 Mexican Revolution culminating in the megagame in 2004 The aim of this revision is to try to use far simpler mechanisms to deal with the operational side of things, while still capturing the essence of what made the war distinct. I also wanted to add a bit more history and oomph to the briefings. This was substantially to encourage cross map factions to be formed rather than the regional blocs we otherwise seem to get.
The game in October was very ad hoc with a badly hand drawn map and random bits. It has conceptually very different systems to what we are used to. It sort of worked but the maths was a bit awry and it was not clear to me that there was enough interesting gameplay in the operations to allow that to be a focus for anyone.
I gave myself a list of many things to address for this one and in the last 6 months sort of did some of them.
The actual session went very well, much better than I had anticipated. I had 6 players so I ran 2 maps in parallel, 3 players to each map. The players gradually consolidated their positions on each map and then formed alliances that ended up as 2:1 on each map with predictably poor outcomes for the 1. I should perhaps have split the players 4:2 as I really only had “good” briefings for 4 and 3 is a terrible number for a military/political game, at least without careful briefing. Marc was particularly stuffed being the most politically isolated and having a complete red herring of an ability.
Introducing the game
I introduced the game like a boardgame, teaching the players how to play without them seeing the rules and referring to a large but not quite comprehensive playsheet. After a couple of turns the players could run the game themselves which is what I was aiming for. There were a couple of exceptions – poorly conceived map details and some rules I seamlessly ( 🙂 ) made up, which is obviously inadequate in a bigger game.
The core combat system seems to work fine with the randomisation method being drawing cards investing the players in the process by smoke and mirrors. It became deterministic once you had enough material (at least vs the NPC federales) which I think is OK, it certainly echoes the original game.
The finances also seemed to be about right. Players’ activities were constrained by limited resources but they were not completely unable to act. We did not really test big broadly balanced “PvP” action or people getting very smashed & having to rebuild from nothing, just bullying 2 v 1.
Thanks to everyone for trying it out & my apologies to those that got bullied out of their little empires.
So how did my to do list from October pan out?
- Make everyone stronger. Yup the early game was cautious but not calamitous.
- Spread out the income. Yup. Andrew thinks we need even lower granularity.
- Reduce swing in taking over towns.
- Reveal town strength to mitigate risk. Together with 3) the open combat table meant players could manage and eliminate risk. The “swing” vs Federal towns was OK but was too high for other player controlled towns.
- Action to gain money Yup.
- Real game implications of policies. A bit via personal briefing. We had some ideas how to develop this. It will always be subtle/marginal justified as ideals being somewhat suspended while there is a war to be won. They were added to give something other than realpolitik to disagree about.
- Limiting munition purchase. Yup, this needed a bit of planning and worked OK I think. Andrew thinks we should restrict it more and I think I agree. Max 2 / turn or 4/5 if you control an entrepot. This is to avoid munitions being “parachuted” into isolated positions.
- Try to remove one political issue. Nope added one but made some less important (and some guys will be open to persuasion on several issues). I think this is OK. It needs a larger pool of players to test properly.
- Change combat rules to allow and reward cooperation. Yup. Seemed OK. It’s possible serially attacking is too much more effective than doing it en masse.
- Decompress support gained from taking a town and garrisoning it. Nope, just disappeared it.
- Defending should not be free. Well it costs a fatigue but now seems too hard.
- Improve components. Yup. Map is functional and will be prettified. Markers were adequate will be made good. Cubes were great. Under control. The only issue is that I want Support to be on a badge and I’m not sure of the best way to track it.
- Play aid. Yup
- Proper briefings. Well I got a couple that were OK and made up a couple more plausible ones. A WIP.
- Chrome special abilities and stuff. Some abilities done – this is bundled with 3. No “stuff” but that’s easy and fun to add later.
- Write a “How to” guide. Now upgraded to make a Youtube rules explanation. I will also add something about things you can do if you get smashed. TBC.
One of my design considerations for this game was to try out rather different systems from most megagames and to see if I could address some of the issues that crop up repeatedly.
I wanted to see if I could do a very freeform game that allowed people to just visit the map every so often to do a bit of activity. I don’t think i have really managed that. I think the time constraints of a megagame will make it hard to have that flexibility in any case. Specifically in this game it’s too hard to defend yourself when you are not at the map so that’s not very safe. I also introduced an off map “map” so you don’t need to be at the map to dabble in map stuff, killing the point a different way.
What do I need to do now?
- Rework “looting” to split out capturing munitions & to make it less of a swing when taking over player towns
- More impact of party policies – something to encourage party membership
- Restrict quantity of munitions imports – 2 or 4 in an entrepot probably. (AndrewH)
- Flesh out the policies. Make “don’t care”, “open to persuasion” (Mukul)
- Look at cost of defending. Try out player built “garrisons”
- Keep working on components. Cubes for munitions & fatigue worked well. Get paper money. Prettier map. User friendly bases & control markers. Solve the Support Badge issue. Munition orders tokens, Liberate/control industry markers
- Keep doing briefings
- Make Stuff
- “How to play” video.
- Should there always be a chance to fail on a town attack? The downside is that these attacks are kind of all in so it’s a huge swing. The upside is a bit of realism & tension
- Is it too hard to defend? Does adding player Detachments mitigate this or make it too easy (assuming they cost ~ 1 munition & 1 support). It felt too hard 1 vs 2 but the 1s were also wonky (no munitions is not supposed to work). Should the cost be less? No fatigue to defend yourself only to help.
- Can I clean up the split between liberating industry for the revolution & taxing it for yet more simplification. Anti nationalisation/land reform players should not want to liberate any industry though one might argue they were merely repurposing it. It also matters for foreign (US) owned industry.
- Can you effectively become a guerilla if things go badly for you, Ie operate mostly to cause trouble rather than gain power?
Anyway I am very heartened about this & think I can make a megagame out of it that would be fun & somewhat of a reasonable simulation. Now I need to sell it to someone…