Strategic Primer: A Global Exposition

One of the major problems of the early stages of a game of Strategic Primer is that because populations are small, communications are slow, and exploration is incomplete, everything is for the most part done in isolation; there isn’t any interaction between players. And even if there were, players would like to see (from what they’ve said so far) how they stand relative to one another and to the mythical “typical player.” These problems have seemed intractable for a long time. But recently, I had a thought: what if the game-world of Strategic Primer used the same sort of thing that our world has at various times used for countries to “show off”—the World’s Fairs, or the Olympic Games?

If players show an interest in this, every game-world year (which in the current campaign is fourteen turns), a city or fortress is chosen to host the Global Exposition. (Most independent cities and fortresses will volunteer if they haven’t hosted it recently; if a player volunteers a fortress, the choice will come down to diplomacy.) Hosting it can provide benefits for the city or fortress in question, especially economic advantages, and can provide a cultural boost of some sort (though figuring out how Strategic Primer should model things like culture has been on my to-do list for a long time, and still hasn’t been done). But it also has its costs, of course, so in the early game it would probably not be wise for a player to offer to host the Exposition.

The Exposition, and its location that year, is announced via messengers a few turns in advance. Then, on the turn in question, every independent city or fortress and every player who knows where the host city is may send a representative or representatives. These workers cannot carry out any other task that turn, of course, but for gameplay reasons I expect normal travel time and costs will be waived. Players may also elect to go themselves, in which case diplomacy will be rather more direct, but everything at their headquarters will be (as all other fortresses normally are) run solely by a deputy for the turn.

What the Exposition contains will vary from year to year, depending on how the players and the independent cities wish to show off. But it may include athletic competitions (tests of skill for “champions” put forward by the players and independents), exhibitions of advanced technology (more about which in a moment), agricultural competitions (most likely on the basis of yield per acre or some such, but also demonstrations of unique crops), and formal and informal diplomacy among the attending representatives.

In the case of technological displays, if a player “shows off” an invention, other players will learn that the technology exists, and if scientists make their skill checks they will take less time to independently invent them, but since there is always the danger of espionage anyway players will likely find that the chance of helping opponents’ scientists along slightly is worth the morale and cultural effects of “showing off” and perhaps intimidating any would-be rivals. If the technology is something the player would be willing to trade, showing it off at an Exposition also provides a more tangible explanation of why someone would want to trade for it, and so could increase the value that could be received for it in trade.

Speaking of trade: An Exposition is also likely to be attended by any number of independent traders. A large-scale trade deal made between two players at any other time would require both parties to spend a great deal of their workers’ time and labor to transport goods across the distances required, but at an Exposition they can arrange for a third party to provide that service for a small “cut” of the products being transported. These independent traders also likely know better routes than players’ explorers will have found, so using them for trade will usually speed up transportation. And the Exposition is also the one place where a player is nearly certain to be able to make contact with any other player or city with which he or she would like to negotiate, even those he or she has not yet met or whose home location is unknown.

Because nearly “everyone” is likely to be at the Exposition, diplomacy becomes far easier. Instead of having to send emissaries back and forth, either trusting their skills as ambassadors or waiting turns at a time for replies to come and go, messages can be exchanged quickly and more or less directly. I still want players to send messages through me, on general principles and so I’m not caught off guard later, and since diplomacy isn’t the primary purpose of the Exposition and it doesn’t last forever there will be limits to how much communication can occur during the turn, but it’s still a chance for all but direct communication with fellow players.

Beyond diplomacy and trade, a player’s goal for the Exposition is likely to be prestige. The independent cities will look up to a leader who has demonstrated the superiority of his or her technology or people. And other players are, in a sense, in a position of trying to catch up. And, as I mentioned, the rules I eventually draw up for morale and culture will likely include bonuses provided by prestige gained in events like this.

Diplomacy and trade deals, of course, would be conducted in secret, but the nominal “main events” of an Exposition would not. The athletic competitions, the technological showcases, and so on, being by nature deliberately public and opportunities to “show off,” would be reported both in each player’s results for the turn in question (though any players who only sent representatives would only get the briefest of reports) and in the turn summary posted in this space. I would try to present this information both in a convenient, brief format suitable for referring to to see where each player stands and in a more expansive and imaginative report describing the events in more detail.

But all this is uncertain; if players think it a worthwhile addition, we’ll plan on adding Global Expositions to the current campaign of Strategic Primer, but if not the idea can be safely dropped with no harm done. Do you have any thoughts?

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