Maps & Map-​​making

Empire game map boards, and resources for mak­ing them.

Empire Drowned Australia map left portion

Photo of a left-​​side por­tion of Andrew Nisbet’s “Drowned Australia” map for Empire

Empire maps are huge—72 inches wide and 42 inches tall, divided into a total of 3,024 one-​​inch squares. These squares are off­set so that each square touches six of its neigh­bors. Most maps depict a world built on a cylin­der: the ends con­nect hor­i­zon­tally, but not ver­ti­cally. Nearly a dozen maps were drawn in the 1960s and 1970s; most sur­vive in rea­son­ably decent shape, con­sid­er­ing their age and use. Many of them are posted here, and more may show up in the future.

In addi­tion to being impos­ing game boards, Empire maps are also remark­able works of art. Hand drawn on large rolls of paper, each map took its pri­mary artist many hours of plan­ning, draw­ing, and cal­lig­ra­phy. Most of the sur­viv­ing maps were designed by Andrew Nisbet, while Cecilia Eng did the cal­li­graphic let­ters, com­pass rose let­ter­ing, and much of the nicer shad­ing (for exam­ple, those maps that have blue shad­ing around the water edges). Most of the maps that work well for actu­ally play­ing Empire are opti­mized for about eight play­ers, and have nat­ural start­ing areas for each player (see notes on each map for ideal player count).

Scanning well-​​worn 40-​​year-​​old maps the size of a large din­ing room table is not for the faint of heart, but good scans of some of the maps are found here. Yes, the files are large and some­what unwieldy, but not nearly as large and unwieldy as the orig­i­nal TIFF files (also avail­able, for the stout of heart), nor as the more-​​original rolls of paper.

Map Sample

About 110 of an Empire map, reduced

To play a game of Empire, the large map must be placed on an even larger table. Extra space is required around all sides for an aston­ish­ing amount of ancil­lary crap—unused pieces, dice, the rule book, intim­i­dat­ing amounts of paper­work, food and drink (despite the explicit require­ment that no food or drink be placed on these frag­ile and beau­ti­ful maps, it was rare to visit the Empire Room with­out see­ing Big Gulps perched pre­car­i­ously around the edges of the table).

Where both med-​​fi and hi-​​fi ver­sions of a map are pre­sented below, the med-​​fi ver­sion would be fine for view­ing on-​​screen and gen­eral exam­i­na­tion. Only if you intend to print out the map at full orig­i­nal 72″ x 42″ size might you con­sider a hi-​​fi version—those are some very big files at 100–500 MB each. Even then you might be fine with the med-​​fi version.…

There are also some newer maps and other map-​​making tools in the works.

Map Tools

Blank grids can be used to make maps or printed on clear plas­tic as an over­lay for exist­ing maps. Also pre­sented is the PostScript pro­gram for mak­ing such cus­tom grids.

Emergency man­age­ment sym­bol­ogy fonts. Useful sym­bols such as bridges, air­ports, etc. From the US Dep’t of Homeland Security.

The National Park Service offers all sorts of use­ful sym­bols (in var­i­ous for­mats), PLUS sev­eral awe­somely use­ful Illustrator swatches (lava/​reef, sand, swamp and tree). The tree pat­tern looks a lot like for­est graph­ics from a clas­sic wargame, and the swamp sym­bol looks just like the swamps on exist­ing Empire maps.

Classic Empire Maps

These maps are pre­sented in approx­i­mately his­tor­i­cal order, from old­est to newest. If you’re look­ing for maps to actu­ally play, con­sider espe­cially Ackerman II, Big, and Archipelago. Most maps have resources dis­trib­uted in clumps and thus have a spe­cific ideal num­ber of play­ers; this is noted where the infor­ma­tion is available.

  • Ackerman IIa. A near re-​​creation of the sec­ond map made by Alan Ackerman. This map fea­tures large con­ti­nents and a cen­tral ocean with a large divided island. Good for games with many play­ers. More Empire games have been played on this map than any other. One of only two maps known to have been recre­ated when lost or dam­aged. When the orig­i­nal Ackerman II dis­ap­peared, it had been the most pop­u­lar map avail­able, so a com­bi­na­tion of in-​​game records and mem­ory were used to recre­ate it as closely as pos­si­ble. Records often indi­cated where cer­tain fea­tures were on the map, some play­ers had draw­ings of their areas of the map, and some sim­ply remem­bered key facts like the exact dis­tances between cer­tain resource loca­tions. Andrew Nisbet com­ments that he was sur­prised at how eas­ily the map was recreated.
    • 8-​​player map
    • Med-​​fi 150 dpi (with JPEG com­pres­sion) PDF (5 MB)
    • Hi-​​fi TIFF (com­ing soon)
  • The Archipelago (Circle) by Andrew Nisbet. Only two games were ever played on it. A large cir­cu­lar ocean is sur­rounded by a large con­ti­nent, a small con­ti­nent, and many islands. Hint: build a navy.
    • 6-​​player map
    • Med-​​fi 150 dpi JPEG (14 MB)
    • Super-​​hi-​​fi 300 dpi TIFF (363 MB)
  • Big. A map with a very large con­ti­nent divided by many moun­tain chains and other inter­est­ing geog­ra­phy. Drawn by Andrew Nisbet in the spring and sum­mer of 1973, sev­eral games have been played on this one. Andrew con­sid­ers it not a great map.
    • Med-​​Hi-​​fi 225 dpi JPEG (7 MB)
    • Super-​​hi-​​fi 300 dpi TIFF (341 MB)
  • Ten Steel. An exper­i­men­tal map by Andrew Nisbet. The idea was to bal­ance three large coun­tries with lots of steel pro­duc­tion (good for ground forces) with a bunch of coun­tries able to make other kinds of units such as air forces. Unfortunately, it turned out that the big con­ven­tional coun­tries can over­whelm the oth­ers before they get to the point of exploit­ing their more spe­cial­ized resources, so Andrew counts this as a failed experiment.
    • Downloads com­ing soon
    • Med-​​fi 150 dpi JPEG (X MB)
    • Super-​​hi-​​fi 300 dpi TIFF (XXX MB)
  • World Map. Created by Andrew Nisbet, Charles Averill and Cecilia Eng. Charles had a copy of the Oxford World Economic Atlas, which was used to deter­mine resource dis­tri­b­u­tion based on then-​​current pro­duc­tion of resources. As it turns out, the real world mad a great-​​looking map, but a ter­ri­ble Empire game. All the resources ended up in the wrong places to make inter­est­ing Empire countries.…
    • Hi-​​fi 300 dpi JPEG (13 MB)
  • Nameless Nisbet map. Drawn by Andrew Nisbet, this map was an exper­i­ment that did not quite work out, says Andrew—neither great nor awful. The map also suf­fered some water damage.
    • Med-​​fi 150 dpi (with JPEG com­pres­sion) PDF (3 MB).
    • Hi-​​fi 150 dpi TIFF (91 MB).
  • Drowned Australia (The Desert Map). Decades before the cur­rent inter­est in global warm­ing, Andrew Nisbet decided to see what Australia would look like if sea lev­els rose a lot. A whole lot. Andrew’s last map, and (in his opin­ion) his prettiest.
    • 10-​​player map?
    • Med-​​hi-​​fi 150 dpi JPEG (18 MB)
    • Super-​​hi-​​fi 300 dpi TIFF (456 MB)
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