ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The Divided States —

For today’s prize, you get a free rough idea for a role-playing/strategy game. It comes with many bonuses, including the requirement to research if it hasn’t already been done, the process of implementing a ruleset that’s functional, and the years of refinement and marketing. It’s foolproof!

Some time ago, and by some time ago I mean something like 7 years ago, a fellow named Brian Rossa and I were chatting and he (I will give him full credit) told me about this crazy what-if scenario.

What if, he said, there was this huge political event and all fifty of the United States broke up? Statism rules the day. Washington can go fuck themselves. They’re just another little town, probably fought over by Maryland and Delaware and Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In fact, a lot of states are fighting. California needs water. Montana is finally free to stockpile nuclear weapons shucked from various missile sites. New York has the Niagara power generation and shuts Ohio the hell off. And so on.

First, there’s the tangling issue of finding out who all these different states depend on, along with what strengths they have. Then there’s the issue of assigning a structure to their interaction. Then you make it this big diplomacy game, utilizing real state statistics and aspects (their flags, their known nuclear capacity, their natural resources) and then you have a classic resource and military tactical game from that.

The name we had was “The Divided States of America” and the cover idea I had was a rendering of a toll booth saying “Welcome to New York” except it’s been turned into a fortified military checkpoint. We had some additional components, including creating “maxi states” that were very balanced, in case only 3-4 people were playing (North Atlantia, Sunshine, Freedom’s Journey… you know, fun names).

We probably threw this idea around for a couple years, bringing it up when we saw each other. But six years is too long. I call time out and throw it to the masses. Here’s what stopped us:

  • Tactical games are cool, but they’re hard to design, especially if, like me and Brian, you don’t know the full ins and outs of it. At a party of BU students, one was reasonably into tactical games and his cursory discussion of our ideas was quickly in the realm of head-spinningly complicated, accounting for conditions and traditions we simply lacked any knowledge of.
  • I kind of prefer online games over paper and card games. Again, we’re in the realm of coding and construction far beyond my knowledge, or Brian’s.
  • Just a lot of work generally. You really have to do a ton of research and look into a lot of statistics, and while that’s cool (there’s a flight simulator called X-Plane that utilizes real weather conditions and can integrate them into the game!) it’s a big chunk of time I will never have.

So there we go, an idea Brian postulated and that I got excited over and which, maybe, you will find exciting and interesting enough to move forward on. Go ahead! Have an awesome time. As a bonus, let me know about this game having existed for 20 years and I was totally unaware of it.

Out of One, Many!

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  1. Church says:

    My first thought is Diplomacy variants. There seem to be a few listed here that are at least close to what you’re talking about:

    (Unfortunately, most are just notations that they exist.)

  2. Chris says:

    Reminds me of the recently departed CBS series “Jericho”, where 20-or-so terrorist nukes go off in various American cities at the same time. The country splits into something like 6 or 8 pieces at first (with 6 or 8 Presidents), then eventually into The East, The West, and Texas.

  3. Chris Barts says:

    I predict some interesting results the first time people realize that Montana owns the Missouri River, the largest in America. (Yes, it is both bigger and more voluminous than the Mississippi at St. Louis.) The dams and hydraulic monopoly it establishes will have a huge impact all the way to New Orleans, making huge parts of the prime food-growing areas reliant on Montana politics.

  4. Church says:

    I was thinking that there would be a Risk variant of this scenario, but I can’t find one. (Of course, you could just pull out a travel map and play on that.)

  5. Brian says:

    I have another good idea for an RTS called “Race” which is probably a bit easier to implement, and just as much fun to think about. Only downside is that it will definitely appeal almost exclusively to the GTA-generation. (Hint: Think colors, not cars or politics.)