Blog launch & site news

Maybe this won’t be a lasting feature of the site, but since we’re using WordPress for content management, and it is first and foremost a blogging system, I thought I would go ahead and use the blog.

First up, I was thinking of implementing a Wiki and/or a forum as well for anyone who wishes to contribute to the site. The purpose of the wiki would mostly be to define game concepts or write up historical game incidents. The purpose of a forum would be more for personal reminiscences and chatting. If you would contribute to one or both of these, please comment on this post as to what you want to see. Not much point in doing either unless there would be enough people using them.

Also, if you want to help and you are a web developer/designer, a former Empire player who has serious material to contribute, or somebody who wants to make new Empire material (maps, game pieces, whatever), please get in touch. The more the merrier!

Also, though there are buttons on the bottom of every page to “like” that page on Facebook, there’s also a Facebook page for Empire. Feel free to go there and become a “fan”… once we hit 25 fans we can get a custom URL, as the current one is kinda lame: Though I admit, something about asking for fans, which of course requires people to go use Facebook, feels vaguely unsavory to me. It’s like there’s some sort of pyramid scheme involving encouraging Facebook users to spend more time there.

In other news, yesterday I had lunch with Andrew Nisbet, whose name is all over this site as the main keeper of Empire lore, knowledge and rules since the late 1960s. Not only did we have a nice meal, but he continued to enlighten me on a variety of things which of course will all be reflected here….

Thanks to our discussions, in the past 24 hours or so I have added several paragraphs to the Detailed History, mostly about pieces and such. Here is what’s new:

Over time, the usage of pieces versus records in Empire changed significantly. In the late 1960s, there were pieces for everything in Empire, including even some immobile things such as factories. Of course, a city held too many things to keep them all in one space on the board, so players used a set of egg cartons to contain the contents of all the cities. You could take them out as needed during the turn, and at the end of the turn you would dump all your city contents back into them.

Eventually records reduced the need for having quite so many pieces, and keeping so many on the board. City sheets tracked everything in a city at the end of the turn, and so did away with the egg cartons. Had-Used-Produced (HUP) sheets allowed you to track what you built. That being said, there were still pieces being used all the way up to the end of the classic Empire period (the mid-1980s), but by then players just pulled pieces out of a box, used them during their turn to figure out their moves, and then put them away after updating their record sheets at the end of the turn.

One of the limiting factors within the game was the availability of worker units (known as “coolies”) to move key resources from their production sites to factories and between factories. The intricate movements with workers moving things from one place to another and free workers coming back to replace them became known as “coolie shuffles.” Whether because of complexity or temptation to cheat (in the face of limited numbers/locations of workers), some players would end up doing shuffles that were not in fact possible within the rules. “Checking people’s coolie shuffles became a ritual pastime,” says Nisbet. If looking at another player’s records revealed a shuffle that seemed implausible, if you were not yourself a veteran player, doing such checking involved getting an experienced player to see if they could come up with a way to replicate the same change from starting position to an ending position for the turn. If not, a challenge might be made to the player’s records for them to demonstrate how they got from their starting point to their ending point for that turn.

I also corrected some info on the maps page, notably the identification and attribution of two of the maps. I had managed to mislabel Ackerman II as the long lost Ackerman I, and the map I was calling Ackerman II was in fact a map by Andrew Nisbet. Oops! All fixed now.

Next I will be back to editing my rules variant/descendant, the “Logistics branch” of the Empire rules. One thing I have been focused on is the “functional delta” between those rules and Andrew’s. By this I don’t mean so much the reorganization and clarifications, or adding a glossary, but the actual functional changes that I put in. There is one thing that is arguably a good idea in theory, but incompatible with pre-existing maps, is getting rid of sub-squares (the ones created by geography, not those inside cities). But most of the changes had side effects that I didn’t fully grasp without having played more. So I’ve been identifying those changes and rolling them back, trying to get to the point where the Logistics branch is not so much an arbitrary variant, but mostly a more detailed/complete/reorganized version of the classic rules, that incorporates clarifications and addenda that came up since. It is getting there, one step at a time.

About Thomas Phinney

Thomas is a typographer and board game fan, living in Portland, Oregon.
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