Philippe Thibaut and Lewis Pulsipher (designers). Mar 2022
Britannia is essentially a four-player game, and its concept and balance are adapted to it, as everything in the design was created with four players in mind. Nonetheless, the computer game allows it to be played with numbers other than four, and in scenarios shorter than the entire game.
The computer game is different from the first editions of the boardgame, but has been thoroughly created to match exactly what the original designer, Lewis Pulsipher, intended and has included in his 3rd Edition Rules (boardgame).
There are very few differences between the computer version and the 3rd Edition rules, as all of them but one (calculation of the withdrawal of Danes with King Canute on Turn 14) were exactly coded to be in the game and work as they were established for the boardgame.
Our first goal was to create a visual environment that matches as much as possible the boardgame, and this is why we have produced a map that looks like an old parchment board. For the same reason, the default look of units in the game is similar to “cardboard” counters. We felt this would increase the immersive feeling of the players who already had fun with the physical version of the game, while making it simple and appealing to people who had never played it before.
The user interface was designed to let the player get quick and easy access to the key elements of the game, be they the information about the currently active nation, the order of play in the turn and the phase being played; or the timeline showing all the future game turns and their relevant events. All of this is accessible in one click (at most two) from the main screen. Moreover, we have added tooltips on almost every game element, buttons, windows and components. A few visual effects, a special lighting environment (to recreate a Dark Ages feel), and the music came in extra to enhance the point.
Porting the game rules was the most difficult task, not because the rules were overly complex (they are not – see our Quick guide) but because some concepts were not so evident to translate into an immediately recognizable information. There was a particular challenge in showing where units are allowed to go or not, when they are overstacked or not, and usually telling to the player what he needs to understand at the moment he has to make choices. We also included, for the purpose of facilitating the learning curve in the game, an Undo button which is prominently placed in the interface. This, combined with an autosave feature, let players make mistakes and fix them.
Another challenge was to include from the very beginning in the code structure the necessary commands so that the game could be played over the Internet in multiplayer mode. A lot of the fun in the original boardgame comes from the interaction between the players, from aggression to secret deals. Therefore, even with a good artificial intelligence (AI), the game would take all its spice when played between different humans, and the flavour of your game nights could be rendered back.
The last and probably longest phase in the development was the AI design, implementation and testing process. This is what took most time, as we wanted the AI not to cheat (she has to abide by exactly the same rules as the player), so we had to write down the skeleton of human-player decisions and strategies and convert this into code and scripts, guiding the AI through the turns. She will adapt her behaviour to the different nations she is playing, as well as to the situation and goals of those nations at different times. In addition, like a player, she will consider also the overall picture and work with a ‘team’ spirit in a view to coordinating all strategies to reach the ultimate goal: get in the lead in terms of Victory Points (VPs) and find a way to hinder her opponents in their own collection of same.
This entailed hundred of hours of playtesting and matches. We had a good feedback from the early testers, most of them experienced players of the game, who felt it had all been well rendered and the computer game proved to be a challenge for them.
Last, but not least, we created the game in such a way that the key concepts and their coding could be adapted and re-used to make other games with a similar gameplay. To that end, we developed a game Editor program at the same time as the main engine, and that tool will prove a valuable asset to enrich the collection later on.
The vanilla (i.e. first) version of the Britannia PC game is making us proud of the work done and confident in the future for possible evolutions. We keep in mind that a computer game is never really finished and that, in its first weeks following the initial release, it will receive fixes and updates to make it better and answer players requirements (while keeping the game rules and their spirit intact).