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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