The Shot Heard Round Charleston Harbor…Fort Sumter Design Notes and AAR (Part 2)

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As promised in Part 1 of this article last week, what follows next is my Twitter game of July 1st, with accompanying photos and my original text. The only edits were to take the necessary abbreviations that Twitter’s 140 characters impose and write them out in full. This is an instructional game, so the strategy is solid, but there might have been superior moves at times. I will supplement each photo and tweet with a short dialog on what is going on so you can follow the action while learning the game.

Caveat: I exceeded my multitasking abilities, as this experiment occurred prior to a family BBQ. One of my nephews hit the map, a neighbor’s cat decided to see what was going on, and my wife appropriately insisted that anything she wanted me to do had immediate priority. As a consequence, errors were made when reconstructing the situation and are indicated where appropriate in the text. Everyone participating in this experiment was a professional; do not try this at home.

The Crisis

Lincoln has been elected and Round 1 begins. 

Each round begins with the players being dealt 4 strategy cards and 2 objective cards. Of the two objective cards, you pick one and put the card not chosen back into the deck. One element of Fort Sumter that got a large amount of my design attention was “how to factor out luck in a short, intense CDG.” I will write an article about this down the road, but an old friend kindly built me a Monte Carlo simulation for this game. I have played it, electronically, over 100,000 times. For example, the probability that you will get a hand with none of your events occurs around 5 times in 6000 hands. I did this because, although Fort Sumter is a simple CDG, I still wanted it to be a game of skill. Over the course of the round, you will play three of these cards, with the fourth card set aside for the final crisis, giving you some control over each round.

Ft Sumter experiment. Try to tweet entire game. Unionists hand, top cards are objectives, choose 1, Ft Pickens.

Here is the opening Unionist hand. If you have played For the People, you already understand what you are looking at, but if not the upper left hand number is the card’s token value and the color of the number denotes which side also has the option to play the event instead of taking the card’s token value. The upside down band of color denotes its final crisis dimension. You only use this color in the final crisis.

I chose the Fort Pickens objective space because it aligned well with the Gustavus Fox event. Because only three cards are played per round, they are individually very strong and important.

Secessionist hand, going with Newspapers for objective.

Because the Secessionist’s objectives are both in the Public Opinion dimension, I chose Newspapers, as it is the pivotal space, and more important to control initially than the Abolitionist space. One important theme in the game is that some of the Secessionist events represent the rebellious states. I want you (the player) to experience the States leaving the Union. Before you have to ask, the decks are asymmetric, so the South has a natural advantage in this dimension of the crisis.

For the online comments about the color scheme, it is based on the historical base map, and is therefore using a color scheme consistent with the period map. More importantly, this is just the prototype and the art is not final. One last note, before anyone raises the colors used in the game. My artist friend Francisco Colmenares has all titles associated with graphic symbols, so technically you could play this game in gray scale.

Union event, 2 tokens to Federal Arsenals and 1 to Ft Pickens. Note tokens come from Crisis track to map.

A quick primer on placing tokens on the map. The rule is you must empty your off-map token pool (location is indicated on the map edge, which may be hard to see in the photo) before you can remove tokens from the map’s Crisis Tracks (at left of image above). At the beginning of every game, neither player has any tokens in their token pool, so each player’s first tokens come from the crisis track, highest numbered space (15) to lowest (zero).

Because the Union is playing the event (they chose the Gustavus Fox event; for this replay I’ll show the card played toward the bottom right of each card), they receive 3 tokens from the 15, 14, and 13 spaces of their Crisis Track and deploy them onto the map into the Federal Arsenals space (2T) and the Fort Pickens space (1T).

Secessionist add 2 tokens, can’t use Union event, to Newspapers.

This is a standard rule in For the People, but you can always play a card for its upper left value to ADD tokens to the map, but you can only use the event if it is your color (blue Unionists, Gray Secessionists). Although none have been seen yet, either player can use the red numbered events. For the final we will likely use the For the People half gray/ half blue to indicate this, but it was beyond my graphic skills for the prototype.

2nd Unionists card, add 1 token to Ft Sumter and 1 to Federal Arsenal pivotal space. Pivotal space control important.

Let’s briefly talk about pivotal spaces. This is an important capability, as it is how I bring maneuver into the game. Each of the four crisis dimensions has a pivotal space and two associated spaces. Each turn, after all three strategy cards have been played by each player, control of a pivotal space (more tokens than your opponent) allows you to move or remove up to two tokens across all of that crisis’ dimension spaces. With the card play pictured above, the Union is aiming for control of the Armaments dimension; by controlling the Federal Arsenals space they can shift up to two tokens (later in the turn) to counter Secessionist efforts.

2nd card Secessionist event, 2 tokens to Border States pivotal space and 1 to Deep South.

The South has decided to use the Alabama event to begin gaining control over the Secession spaces. As I said before, the decks are asymmetric, so it should come as no surprise that this event plays into the Southern strength. Many of the Southern secession events are focused on a subset of the States that left the Union, so you will experience this aspect of the history through these cards.

Unionists event, 2T to Wash, breaches 1st zone, 2T bonus to pool off map. Last secret final Crisis card is Armaments

This section will cover two important aspects of the design. The first is an explanation of the Crisis Track. Each player has 16 tokens that begin each game on their side of the Crisis Track. In addition the track has three colored zones. The first of the three zones is the escalation zone (yellow) that gives two bonus tokens when breached. The other two zones are the tension (3 bonus tokens) and Final Crisis (more to follow on this zone) zones.

As you can see in the photo, the first time you uncover a space in a zone you have breached that zone. After you finish the strategy card play that caused these tokens to be removed from the track, the bonus tokens are placed in your token pool (indicated area just off the map). Please note that the timing of this is AFTER the card is concluded, so the bonus tokens never affect the action that brings them into play.

The photo above shows the Union event (Seward) taking the 10 and 9 space tokens from the crisis track and placing them in the Washington (political pivotal) space. After the placement of these two tokens, the two escalation tokens (all of these values are on the map) are placed in the Unionist token pool. The Unionist player will not remove any tokens from the crisis track until the two tokens in the token pool have been moved to the map.

As this was the Unionist’s third and last strategy card play of round 1, the fourth card is placed secretly off map for use in the games finale. In the photo I show the type of card (Armaments), but this was for instructional purposes. In a real game, this is done secretly.

The Final Crisis is also asymmetrical in that there are only three crisis dimensions represented. The Political crisis zone has no final crisis cards. The Political dimension can act as a political capital reserve from which tokens can be taken in the final crisis. An important strategy element in this game is not letting your opponent gain control of the Political dimension. What I have found in testing is inexperienced players against veterans tend to learn this in their first game. The good news is it’s a twenty minute game, so just play again.

This last point leads me to what I will humorously call Herman’s paradox. The paradox says, ‘how do you make a good long-term decision for a situation that you have no experience with?” In a nutshell, why did the Union choose an Armaments card for their final crisis? I will cover this in more detail at the end of this article series, but suffice to say in your first game either save three of a kind or one of each type and see what happens. As I said, it’s a 20 minute game, so it is easier to experience these decisions than explain it at this point.

Last Secessionist, event 1T to TX and 1 to Border States. Also breach escalation zone, 2T bonus. Also pick Armaments.

The Secession player is always going to go last in round 1. Thereafter, the player with the most points goes first; if points are tied, the Unionist goes first. I have accommodated this small disadvantage in the tiebreaks, and the Unionist deck has a very small numerical advantage.

Another point to be made that is always a concern in a CDG is “what if I get lousy cards?” Well, first off, that is not really possible in this game because the cards are by intent bound by the crisis track. What you will find is even if you have the worst cards possible and the other player has for example all 3 strength cards (this can occur a handful of times across 600k hands of cards in 100k games), you will only be down about one token unless the opponent breaches the final crisis zone. More on that later, but the bottom line is even with the weakest hands possible, it will be your decisions that will drive the result. In addition, each round you will be putting a card aside for its final crisis color, so you can always bury a less useful card in this manner.

In the photo situation above, the Secessionist player decides to lock up the Secession dimension VP. The alternate play was to try to deny the Unionist player his Armaments VP by one token into Fort Sumter with the 1 value. This would be a poor play since the Unionist controls the Federal Arsenals space and would maneuver a 2nd token into Fort Sumter to reestablish control. Hopefully this illustrates the importance of pivotal spaces.

As an aside, the Unionist controls the Washington pivotal space, but because they only have two tokens they have insufficient resources to hold onto Washington and gain control of the other two Political spaces.

Unknown to the Unionist player, the Secessionists have also saved an Armaments card for the final crisis.

Pivotal space moves/ removes up to 2T amongst same colored spaces. Armaments (u), Secession (s), 1 VP each.

Now that all of the strategy cards have been played, it is time for pivotal space actions. The Union shifts a few tokens around, gaining control of Montgomery. They also reinforce Fort Sumter. By the way, you can never have more than 4 of your tokens in a space. The South makes no moves because they already control the Secession spaces and see no advantage in changing the situation. Each side scores 1 VP for control of one crisis dimension.

Both score objectives 1VP each. Newspaper event removes Unionists 2T from Ft Sumter. End of Rd 1, score tied @ 2VP.

After crisis dimensions are scored, the two secret objective cards are revealed. The player who controls either objective space gains 1 VP. The objective VPs are awarded prior to any objective card event implementation, so objective events will never impact who won a space or alter the score. That said, you can only implement the objective event on your secret card if you gained the VP. The opponent can never use your event, even if they win the VP. After the event is implemented, the round is concluded.

In this situation the Unionists reveal Fort Pickens as their objective. They control Fort Pickens, so they get the 1VP.  After gaining the VP, the Objective Event allows the Union to remove up to 3 tokens (yours or opponents) from any Armaments spaces. As there are no Secessionist tokens in any Armaments spaces, though, this has no effect. The Secessionist also controls their objective space, Newspapers, so they get a VP. Their objective event is powerful; it allows them to remove up to 3 tokens from any single space. So they remove the two Union tokens from Fort Sumter. Again, note that the event effect makes no changes to VPs already awarded; it just sets the conditions for the next round.

From an historical note what does this mean? My intent is Public Opinion is showing diminished interest or concern around the fate of the Fort. This was one of the major historical themes supported by segments of the Northern public and Buchanan’s cabinet who called for the evacuation of Fort Sumter. The game effect is Union political capital around control of the Fort Sumter space is reduced.

One other point is that ALL tokens that are removed for ANY reason ALWAYS go into their owner’s token pool, no exceptions. Removed tokens never leave the game. To keep this game simple and straightforward, there are no exceptions to any rules and all timing questions are handled by following the simple sequence of play. I guarantee all rules questions will occur when either of these concepts is intellectually violated.

This ends round 1…

In the next part of this article, Round Two begins!

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