The Bastard Comes Design session – the race for the Crown
I ran this at the October Conference, the latest in a very long line of design sessions for my much-delayed megagame of the events following the battle of Hastings in 1066. As many of you will have now done once or more, I cast the players as the heads of the Anglo-Saxon noble families meeting in London to elect a new King on hearing of the decisive Norman victory at Hastings. Unlike several recent sessions aimed at fine-tuning the map mechanics, here the specific aim was to test the developing mechanics for political actions in the megagame as well as the usual dynastic skulduggery. I had designed an action economy which essentially made it necessary for any potential new King to receive solid support and to reward co-operation between the different factions.
We had a mixture of experience for this session, with Trevor, Mukul and Deborah all being veterans of Bastard Comes playtests, James having played in one (but set in Scotland) and both Sophie and Anna being entirely new to the context.
James, as Edgar Atheling, was in pole position but desperately needed allies to prop up his strong claim but militarily weak faction. Haggling desperately, he managed to get support from three others which was enough to see him cement marriage alliances in time to be crowned King just before the Norman forces stormed the walls of London. Sadly, despite Mukul’s Cassandra-like warnings, he had not offered either Trevor or Deborah enough to keep them in his tent. A crucial decision to take a bishopric away from Trevor’s faction had the wrong impact and as a result the disappointed leaders ordered their troops to let Norman forces into the city. After some tough fighting, the determined Norman troops won out and the city fell. Although King Edgar escaped to York, it was far from clear he could put up much of an effective resistance after having lost the capital.
Those that have played this scenario before will recognise that this is perhaps the most likely outcome – it is extremely challenging to keep all the Saxon factions happy. In fact I think we have only had 1 successful Saxon hold of London at Christmas 1066 from 5 or 6 different runs in the last 5+ years. This is partly because of the usual tensions of different claims but also because the geographic distribution of factional lands makes them very differently vulnerable to the advancing Normans. Transferring lands to create better shared incentives to resist might be the best strategy but it takes time and effort to do so, which the Saxons just don’t have.
The action mechanics seemed to work fairly well and I am happy that the use of playing cards to build poker hands that can be cashed in for different rewards will work well – at the very least it gives players some negotiating power and reason to interact. I have shamelessly borrowed Pickles’ idea of escalating costs for additional actions in the turn which also was very effective in encouraging collaboration. The rules on appointments still need some work.
Unfortunately I also still need to do some thinking about how to integrate played Church roles into this political part of the game better, having had a strong steer at a previous session that a separate Church game would not be interesting to play all day. Good advice was given on producing a family tree showing how closely related many of these characters are as well as better developed individual objectives.
Thanks to all the players, especially the newer ones, for taking part enthusiastically. As I will be too busy to run the megagame in 2024 I fortunately have some more time to work on the mechanics and develop this further. I’m sorry for anyone at CLWG who is sick to the back teeth of 1066 but I think I’ll be working on it for a while yet…