Monday, May 21, 2012

[Open Design: Mercenaries #4] Getting a Working Design in Place

So far, in the Open Design articles, we’ve talked about possibilities for the game’s bidding system for hiring mercenaries, the battle system for putting those mercenaries to use, and how your success could be measured by conquering territories. I’ve had some very good feedback from my co-designers – people have brought up good ideas that I genuinely would not have thought of on my own – and I’ve really enjoyed the process so far. Now it is time to collect all of these ideas and mold them into a working design model. These are a basic set of rules for the game that we can use for our first playtest.


The game will feature of a deck of 50 mercenary cards and a deck of 15 territory cards. Also, there will be plenty of poker-style “credit” chips, and light, cardboard screens for players to conceal their chips behind. There will also be a “1st Player” token.

Each mercenary card represents a single mercenary specialist. Each one will have a printed Combat Power – a value from 1 to 5. It will also specify an auction type for that mercenary. Lastly, it will have an ability that can go into effect when the card is played.

Each territory card will have a Victory Point score – a value from 1 to 3. It will also have a special effect that goes into play when a player claims the territory. Most special effects will remain in effect for the rest of the game and might alter the way the player who claimed them plays.

The credit chips will be in simple denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, and 50. Players can make change with the bank at any time.


Players begin by distributing 50 credits to each player. Then, shuffle each deck separately. Each player draws 2 cards from the mercenary deck. Choose a player to start the game. That player gets the 1st Player token.

Game Play

The game is played in 10 rounds. Each round consists of 2 phases – hiring and conquering.

Hiring Phase

In the hiring phase each player, beginning with the player with 1st Player token and proceeding clock-wise, takes a turn auctioning a mercenary. When it is a player’s turn to auction, they draw the top card from the mercenary deck, reveal it to the other players, and auction it according to the auction type described on the card. Most of the time the acting player will be able to bid on the cards they are auctioning. After 1 mercenary has been auctioned per player, the hiring phase ends. Any mercenaries won in this phase go into the winning players’ hands.

Conquering Phase

The player with the 1st Player token draws the top card from the territories deck. Beginning with that player, and proceeding clock-wise around the table, each player has the choice to play a mercenary card from their hand or to hold. If you play a mercenary card, activate any ability on the card as you play it. If you hold, add 1 credit to your stockpile. Play continues with players taking turns playing cards or holding, until a complete cycle goes in which all players choose to hold. Then, each player adds up the total Combat Power of all mercenary cards they have face up on the table. Compare each player’s total Combat Power against the other players’ total Combat Power. The player with the highest total wins the round and claims the territory card, adding it to their domain.

Game End and Winning

The game continues like this through 10 rounds. At the end of the 10th round, each player adds up their Victory Points from all territory cards in their domain. The player with the most Victory Points wins the game.

So, this is my proposal for our first working model. If anyone would like to suggest any alterations to this model it is not too late to do so. Once we get a working model fleshed out we can begin designing cards and move towards our first playtest.


  1. This sounds pretty much like what I'd come to envision. It all sounds good to me. I'll give it another look over when my brain is less fuzzy, but I don't think I have anything to add. ^_^

    1. I'm glad it looks good to you. One minor correction I just noticed should be made is that there should be 60 mercenary cards instead of 50. I'd like the game to support up to 5 players, and you'll need the extra 10 cards to keep the game going for 10 rounds.

  2. The prototype is there, and I have nothing to add. Let me know if I can be of help to the production of the cards. Also, where have you been getting the images?

    1. Another Open Design post will be going up tomorrow with information on how you can help with creating the cards. For me, this is the really fun part of game design - when you know the parameters you have to work with and you can just start cranking out material.

      I wish I could credit every image I use, but a lot of them I picked up a long time ago. Most of them come from Google image search or Deviant Art.