Friday, March 9, 2018

Barbarian Suns v4.x :: WIP

Barbarian Suns v4

I was inspired to try another solo play-test of my Barbarian Suns game.

This is the version 4 of the entire game system and is my attempt to update a beloved design. It is a revision of the version 2 which I covered here


Barbarian Suns arose as a way for me to express the back-story of a galaxy-wide war in the Superhero 2044 universe which I built with my friends. It forms the conceptual background for all of my game designs. The idea is that this war encompasses trillions of living creatures, billions of starships, millions of planets, across thousands of star systems. 

It is meant to be epic in scale.
  • Version 1 - This was an ad hoc design way back in late 1980 or early 1990. I'll find my designer notes and post it when I can.  Basically hand-written rules and components.
  • Version 2 - This is what is seen at the link above. It took the v1 and formalized everything; rules book, game pieces, elements. Everything was done using the (then) desktop publishing tools like Aldus Freehand (soon Macromedia, soon Adobe Illustrator) and Aldus Pagemaker. My circle of friends built about 4 play-test kits and we play-tested the heck out of this; possibly about a 100 game sessions between all of us. This completed design came together before anything else like Twilight Imperium ever exist.
  • Version 3 - This was my attempt at building an electronic version of the game using Visual Basic 5. I started it before I met my wife and had a family. I tried to revive the effort using Adobe Flash but then life hit me with long work hours. meh.
  • Version 4 - This is my current effort. It saps free time from my other efforts, but I really am enjoying visiting revisiting this concept.


Barbarian Suns v2 lay dormant for a few years. I wanted to publish it at one point and checked pricing (this is early 1990's) and became disenchanted with the publishing costs. That would including shipping, distribution, marketing, etc. So it lay upon my bookshelf for a while. 

However, I began to discuss a revised concept with one of my friends who was one of the original play-testers. As a result, it inspired me to render this concept:

Original inspiration for BS v4.
A solo play-test session. Small game for two players (red and yellow). 


The new design is an effort to incorporate newer game design elements taken from European designer games. Here's a small list of features;
  1. Remove dice. Replace with a hand of "dice cards" which are numbered 1 through 6 and given "dice dots" which are 1-2-3 dots either white or black. This provides greater utility to bluffing and power-plays.
  2. Technology tree is represented by simpler object-oriented micro-rules. This was already upon cards in BS v1 but by BS v2 the phrasing was too complex.
  3. Revenue generation is similar to "exhaust this card". In BS v2 this was instead using poker-chips for tracking revenue. The revised version keeps revenue tenuous until required to be spent.
  4. Modular board. In BS v2 the board was a fixed 12x12 square layout which would allow small games to be played on a subset of that such as 8 x 8 squares or 10 x 10 squares depending on the number of available players. The modular board instead provides greater flexibility. Each player receives 4, 5, or 6 "megahex" tiles and lays them out to build a galactic map.
  5. System traits. A system is representative of several thousand star civilizations. These are now icon-based micro-rules which allow combinations of abilities for each "cluster" of star systems in order to provide further depth-of-play and replayability to the game.

Technology Cards

One of the key features of Barbarian Suns since its inception was the use of "technology cards". Each card presents a set of micro-rules which mutate the game play. The key design goal was to force players to race each other in acquiring disruptive advantages. For BS v4 I wanted to incorporate "deck-building" and allow multiple "tech cards" to be inserted into a "tech deck" of 24 cards at the start of each game according to the individual whims of each player. Many technology cards will stack, where if multiple versions are purchased during game-play their effects increase in magnitude.

I had several versions of how this would work, and I finally settled upon a simpler compromise. 
The compromise was to simplify all verbiage on these cards and spread the effect across multiple cards.
An earlier design for technology cards. The ideas was to use an icon-based "language" to represent the capabilities of each card. I liked the idea because of its elegance, but the visual language represented by the icons is a learning barrier.

The current version of technology cards as used within BS v4. The number of rules per card is dropped. Cards such as "Warp Drive" and "Weaponry" have multiple copies and will stack thereby increasing effect.

System Cards

Another desire was to include a simplified way to differentiate star system "clusters" by adding abilities on their control cards ("system ownership cards"). In BS v2 this was some heavy verbiage and I felt that the mutators on those full-sized playing cards (68.5 x 88 mm) was not done very well. In BS v4 the icon-based attempt allowed me to shrink the size of each card.  Here's what they look like now:

The BS v4 System Ownership cards. "Humani" is representative of the thousands of star systems in the "cluster" of stars surrounding our planet Earth. Each icon is a trait representing a micro-rule which affects game-play.

Additional Work

There's yet much work to do. 

The prototype shown at the top of this blog post is very minimalist and I may actually want to set up a Gamecrafter account to facilitate downloads of the design for others to assist in play-testing.

I'm not sure how long all of this will take before I'm confident the design is publisher-ready, but as I get more information I'll post it here. Once the rules are more "solid" for my alpha I will post them.