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Posted on Aug 24, 2007 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

CrossCut Games Interview

By James Lombardi

ACG: Galactic Emperor takes an interesting approach to turn order and phases that provides a great extra level of strategy, can you go into a little bit of detail on that, and some examples of how it affects game play?

Adam: One of the concepts behind GE is merging some nice, fast paced Euro-style game mechanics with an exciting space theme filled with American-style ships and lasers. The game has two mechanics that help put these ideas together: turn order cards and roles. On the first round only, the turn cards are handed out randomly. So it doesn’t matter so much who you sit next to. On your turn, you get to choose a role to play. The person who chooses that role gets a special ability – but everyone else also gets to act in that role. There’s a role for Explorer – where everyone gets to pick and place a space sector. There’s a role for harvesting resources called Industrialist. And everyone gets to harvest resources. You resolve these things in turn order – going first is usually good and going last is usually not so good. But one of the roles is called Regent. After the first round, the player who takes the Regent role hands out turn cards. If no one takes the Regent role, the old Regent keeps the Turn 1 card and passes out the other turn cards again. So this keeps the game moving very fast and makes for some really interesting decisions. It’s tactical because on your turn, you need to decide which role will benefit you the most and benefit others the least. Should you take Marine now or hope someone else does? Should you take Regent and then next round, take Politician because most others can’t pay for extra influence? And by handing out turns and pulling roles, you can force some players into a poor position. It’s strategic because as you play the role, you are planning for what you’re building toward – ships, planets, harvesting resources, making cash, and playing politics. It all moves toward explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate-but with some more modern game sensibilities like short rounds, turns and no player elimination.

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ACG: How complicated has it been to seek a proper balance in the game? For example, the number of resources available at any given time are very constrained, was it difficult to find the level that seemed to play best?

Adam: This is one of those places where two things help. The first is a pretty good handle on mathematics and statistics. The second is computer programming! For example, with combat, I simulate all possible combinations of combat – several hundred thousand – to see what was the right balance between each ship and their respective costs. With resources, I determined basic flows in the game and likely ways it would play out – and ran some numbers on that. But in the end, it all comes down to lots of play testing. No matter what the numbers are telling you, if it doesn’t feel right to players, it isn’t right. I think we still probably have some tweaking left – so more play tests are happening. Just a few tests ago, we found a potential strategy exploit in the economy and had to plug that up – again, using statistics to make the odds more balanced. It’s getting more difficult because any change – no matter how small – has a cascade effect on other mechanics. That’s good because it shows how tight the game is but bad because it’s making it really hard to improve things now.

ACG: I was able to play in a full game, but I was left wondering, how does the game scale down with fewer players?

Adam: GE scales from 3 to 6 (your game was with 6). I think it’s somewhat a different game with different numbers of players. For example, with 3 players, there’s more time to expand in the game and so more resources flowing and in the end, larger fleets. With 4 – which was the original tuned number of players for the game – it’s pretty even between all extremes. With 5 and 6, since players are in closer proximity, things tend to churn and boil up faster. But all the games finish in the 120 minutes or so duration because we’ve tuned in the victory conditions. That’s been a balancing act – figuring out how many rounds you want in the game, what feels like a complete game and tune things toward that.

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