Strategic Primer: Origin as Science Fair project

I’ve mentioned before that Strategic Primer, my strategy game began as the apparatus for a science fair project. Today I’d like to talk about that in somewhat more detail.

In my school district, at least at that time, all eighth graders had to produce a project for a science fair. (This project was graded—leniently—but no prizes were awarded and there was no “next level” for any of the projects to advance to.) I concluded that I did not want to do any of the traditional projects, since I don’t like laboratory science in general. I eventually happened on this idea.

The question I settled on was, “What effect does age have on the ability to succeed in a game of military strategy?” I hypothesized that older people would be more likely to succeed. Then I designed my “experiment.”

My apparatus consisted of a game of my own design. (I based it on a game I had created earlier, based on Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen.)As I described in earlier posts, I changed the way I ran the game significantly as it progressed, but none of those changes was visible to any of the players. I’ll append a copy of the rules of the game at the end of this post.

After designing the game, I recruited players. I only managed to recruit thirteen players (four or five of which are my Facebook friends at the moment), only eight of which continued to the end of the game, and apart from one outlier all were within a few years of each other in age.

In the end, I concluded that age did not have a significant effect, largely because the oldest and youngest players seemed to do best. But my design was badly flawed, my sample size was too small and too homogeneous, and there were too many confounding variables—and I knew nothing about statistics. So the experiment was notable only as the beginning of a game that I have devoted a great deal of time and effort to since, that I now consider one of my magna opera (emphasis on “large”).

The original rules (phrases removed in the course of the game are struck through; there’s no way to tell which phrases were added in the course of the game, but the “if this game is a continuation” is plainly an addition):

THE GAME EQUIPMENT CONSISTS OF … a board; unit and building tokens as needed, usually around fifty; and dice; as well as a computerized database including a chart of measurements, formulas, and the like and an index of players and units and their attributes and statistics; basic message forms; a program for generating random numbers; a (computerized) logbook, and a program to create it; and some unit equipment designs.

TO BEGIN … Set up the board(s) in an out-of-the-way place. Install all included software. Generate twice as many random numbers as there are players, use them as coordinates for the players’ headquarters. If any of the coordinates are not on land, re-generate them. Place building tokens of the proper colors on the coordinates. Pick one person (who should must not play) as the Judge. Have the Judge decide (by negotiation or arbitrarily) which units to give to the players (all players must have identical sets of units, such as: catapults, legions, phalanxes, etc.) and place their tokens at headquarters. Decide (in the same manner as before) which units it shall be possible to build at the beginning and make note of it in the logbook. Fill in all information into the form for the first message from judge to player and print the forms. Give one to each player, along with several blank player-to-judge forms, a copy of these rules, and anything else that it is felt is necessary. Create a game using the game program and enter all information.

IF THE CURRENT GAME IS A CONTINUATION OF A PREVIOUS GAME . . . Disregard the instruction about “all players must have identical sets of units.” Each player has 2 of each unit s/he knows how to build, in HQ. Each player knows how to build all s/he knew how to build in the previous game and a few more thing. If an alliance is formed before the game begins, the players do not receive points for it, however, they receive a jointly held fortress midway between their respective HQs.

THE JUDGE … does everything in the previous section, receives strategic and tactical instructions, implements them, and reports to each player how his or her own plan turned out. He may also alter the odds in favor of a plan that seems ingenious to him.

EACH TURN … the players’ strategies are carried out by the Judge, the results are entered on the judge-to-player forms and put into the logbook, the judge-to-player forms are printed, each form is given to the appropriate player (along with several blank player-to-judge forms), and the next turn’s instructions are given to the Judge by the players.

UNITS … function as soldiers or pieces of machinery, only on a somewhat smaller scale than one unit to one soldier. They cover ground and make it specifically belong to their nation so long as they are there, as reflected by the Territory Held stat. They can be built by announcing the intention to build them to the Judge, so long as the unit has been invented in the world of Strategic Primer. The number of turns needed depends on the complexity of the unit, and will be determined by the Judge. When a unit is invented, a working prototype of the unit will be built in one turn, with the mechanics working overtime.

INVENTING UNITS … is accomplished by sending a design of the unit to the Judge. (Or, if the player can see the Judge at some time when nothing else is being done, he or she can give the Judge a design from a book, to be copied and added to the file, if the player cannot draw properly) It can, however, like all messages, fall into enemy hands. If the design is too complex for the mechanics of the country, it will be filed but not built until the mechanics can understand it (that is, by the invention of complex but understandable related units). If a unit requires a fuel or other chemical, such as gunpowder, a formula for the chemical must be included. It can be encrypted, however, so if it falls into enemy hands, it cannot be read, like all messages except designs.

MESSAGES … are the communications from a player to his or her units. If all units affected are in headquarters, no messages will be sent. However, if any unit is affected that is not in headquarters, a message will be sent. All messages from one player in a turn are identical. Messages can be captured by the enemy if they run into an enemy unit or go through enemy territory and the “capture” chance is rolled. A captured unit does not reach the unit it is intended for unless the messenger is released. Messages can be encoded or rerouted for secrecy, but their speed is impaired when this is done. Messengers can also be given camouflage clothing to wear while riding for secrecy, but this also impairs speed greatly the first time it is done. After that, it takes very little or no time. In a pre-automobile country, messages move slightly faster than the speed of cavalry; in a post-automobile pre-aircraft country, slightly faster than a tank; and in a post-aircraft country, slightly faster than a subsonic bomber. Messages must be “spell-checked” and very specific to be accepted.

ODDS … are calculated with the dice randomnumbers program, according to the chart. They may be bent by the Judge, and the chart may be added to if necessary.

THE INDEX … is a record of all the players and units in the game and their vital statistics. It is in the form of an Access database and may also be in the form of an Excel spreadsheet or a Works spreadsheet Works databases. Only the Judge may see it (except for the Players as Joining table, which is a record of the real names of the players, without their code names, and a query from the Players table without the players’ real names or headquarters coordinates).

THE CHART … is a record of which dice rolls mean what, in which situations. It may be edited by the Judge. It is in the form of an Access database, an Excel spreadsheet, and a Microsoft Works spreadsheet. Any player who asks may see it.

THE SMALL MAPS … are to be kept secret from the other players, if used, and are to be used to keep track of what types of terrain are where, according to the information about the terrain brought in by the units. They are created with information given by the Judge to the player by the player.

THE AUTOCHART … automatically finds out what happens in a given situation, automatically randomly generating numbers

THE LOGS … are the way of keeping track of where the players are and how they got there, so strategies can be reconstructed and so that the game can be set up if it is put into disarray. They are to be added to every turn. In this edition, they are in the form of a HTML file, and a program is included to add to it.

MONEY … is used to pay mechanics and scientists. Each unit takes a certain amount of money to be built. Each fortress generates a certain amount of money each turn. the mechanics’ overtime (other than to create a totally new unit) and for bargaining with other players. At the end, $100 is equal to 1 square mile of territory.

FORTS … are either temporary or permanent installations where units may stay and have their defense and range attack stats increased. They are formed after a unit(s) stay(s) for 2 turns. They may be destroyed as the units leave or not. If not, the fort may be taken by an enemy nation. When taken or returned to, the addition to the stats takes place immediately. The most important fort in a nation is the Headquarters, which is always permanent.

TREATIES … are agreements between nations, usually making a permanent border instead of letting the territory for each be what is covered by forts and units. If a border treaty is broken by any nation, both nations’ territory goes back to what is covered by forts and units.

SCORES … are calculated as follows on a Works spreadsheet: 10 pts. when a unit is completed, 10 pts. for each enemy unit destroyed (15 if the enemy unit was fortified), -5 pts. are for each of the player’s units destroyed, 100 pts. for each enemy headquarters captured, -50 pts. for each time the player’s headquarters is captured, 200 pts. for each treaty [original: that gives the player more than 20 square miles of territory], and -10 pts for each treaty broken [original: that he or she knew about]. 100 Strategy points are given by the Judge if a good strategy is made, and 200 are given if it succeeds. If a player is defeated by a grossly inferior strategy, 50 strategy pts. are taken away. (All the strategy points are in the Judge’s reckoning.)

THE END … is reached when time runs out. Reckoning $100 as 1 square mile, the players with the most territory and the person with the highest score (strategy score is added x 1%), if they are not the same person, share the victory.

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