Specialties in Strategic Primer

In Strategic Primer, the players have limitless possibilities in their countries’ scientific and technological advancement, not limited even by what’s strictly possible in our own world. But one of the few actual limitations on that principle is that ordinarily, a player can’t follow more than one somewhat-similar “line of inquiry”—either Star Wars-style “hyperspace” or Star Trek-esque “warp drive,” but probably not both, for example. And even when “directions of research” aren’t mutually exclusive, a player’s researchers will find some easier than others. These two ideas make up something that I call “specialties.”

Each player’s researchers will eventually have a number of specialties—broad categories of advances that they, other things being equal, find easier to work towards and discover. As long as they continue to research within those areas, this becomes a major advantage—to compensate for the initial cost (which the player might well not notice—and see below) of developing a somewhat complex and comprehensive understanding of the subjects involved rather than just dipping in here and there.

But this advantage is not without its price. First, as I mentioned, embarking on a specialty may limit other areas of research. This can be an essentially absolute prohibition, such as further development of a “magic” with inherently and necessarily unpredictable effects becoming impossible if all researchers are trained in the scientific method, but this is not always the case—as illustrated by the story of the discovery of antimatter in our world. And second, some specialties may become more difficult (but not impossible) to research: “retooling” and paradigm shifts are always costly.

This comparatively simple mechanic is complicated somewhat by the fact that players can have more than one specialty, and even more by their ability to exchange knowledge—and scientists—with each other. Because of the principles behind specialties (among other reasons), trading advances is not (or eventually won’t be) a simple matter of sending blueprints or prototypes across, but if two players with contrasting (or “incompatible”) specialties work together, they can develop technology or discover knowledge that neither could alone. This synergy also applies, to a lesser extent, to a single player’s research deriving from multiple specialties.

I’ll probably (when the relevant game mechanics are more fully developed) let players “mothball” specialties they’re no longer pursuing. This will forfeit the bonuses for research within that specialty, but will also negate the penalties for “cross-specialty” research. The reason I say “mothball” rather than “discard” is that, as long as the old advances themselves aren’t “forgotten,” I don’t think it should be possible to begin research along truly incompatible lines (unless another player has helped the scientists over the “humps” that made the specialties conflict)—the notion of “incompatible” specialties exists to allow technologies (and such) from mutually exclusive legendaria to exist in the same world without breaking the game entirely.

Any comments or questions about these game mechanics?

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