Fireside Friday, July 22, 2022

Fireside this week! I had hoped to have the next post in the logistics and foraging series ready to go for this week but we are also moving house next week and a number of things related to that have gotten in the way. One of those things was Ollie:

Ollie ‘helping’ me pack my books.

For this week’s musing, I thought it might be fun to expand on some thoughts I had briefly on Twitter about what I would do to fix Paradox’s Imperator or change for a theoretical Imperator II. Rather than doing that exactly, I thought I might thus muse a bit on the period and why it seems to be struggle to get games that deliver on it well and how I might approach it. Now to be clear here when I say ‘well’ what I really mean is games that are both enjoyable games but which also manage to capture or express something about the period. And I want to broaden the question out a bit beyond just Imperator.

We should also be clear about the period – Roman history is, as we’ve noted a few times, very big. But the time period that most games tend to target (and not unreasonably) is the Middle and Late Republic, from around 280 BC to 14 AD. That stretch covers both Rome’s expansion beyond Italy and the conquest of the Mediterranean and the collapse of the Republic and the emergence of the Empire. The date brackets matter because a lot of things that are distinctively ‘Roman’ in the popular consciousness aren’t in that period (imperial succession, the Coliseum, ‘mad’ emperors, Christians, etc.) or are only barely in that period.1 A game set in the first or second century AD would necessarily have to look very different.

Now one of these days we’ll get into more depth into Imperator (though I think Crusader Kings III is likely to get the ‘Teaching Paradox’ treatment first as my thoughts on it are more crystalized), but I think that the core of its struggle is that it tried to do everything rather than being rooted around a central theme or theory of history. The result is a game that never really figures out what it thinks is at the core of the period: is it state-vs-state politics (like EU4) or pops (like Vicky) or politics and personal relationships (like CKIII) or just the business of war (like HoI4)? Imperator ended up, it seems to me, torn between those priorities. That doesn’t make it bad mind you – I liked Imperator just fine. But I think the limitations it struggled against were foundational in the approach.

So the first question is picking a focus. You can see this to an extent in Rome: Total War and Total War: Rome II; the games core is trying to get something about ancient battles – not even wars, but battles – on the screen in an engaging way and on those limited terms to an extent they succeed. I’ve critiqued the Total War model of battles a lot here, but especially in the historical games (and especially the older historical games) it does a better job than most. Certainly the battles in Total War: Rome II have more in common with the real things than the battles in, say, Nemesis of the Roman Empire (2003) or Expeditions: Rome (2022); more still with modding. What the Total War games really struggle with is trying to model the politics of the Roman Republic, despite the fact that its collapse is their other big theme. The first game does this almost comically poorly (complete with not remembering that the plural of Scipio is Scipiones not Scipii) and while the second game makes a better attempt it really still is quite divorced from actual politics at Rome.

The challenge of this period is that most of our evidence in the broader Mediterranean and thus much of the drama that we know about is focused on a single polity: the Roman Republic. And the great irony of that story is that the Roman Republic wins all of its wars, defeats all of its external enemies and then collapses. That means a narrative of this period that captures this story has to deal with both powerful internal political factors that led the Romans towards devastating civil war, but it cannot neglect the great wars of conquest either, in no small part because those wars created the conditions for the political chaos of the first century. So the challenge for a game that wants to move beyond just the battles to deal with the broader history of the period is that it has to encompass both the internal and external threads.

Were I looking to design an outline for something like Imperator II this is where I’d focus – using the internal politics of the Roman Republic (I think that same system could also model Carthage, by the by), to contextualize the external wars of conquest. Because the focus is substantially on internal politics, we can’t have the player running the state as a unitary actor like they do in EU4 or, indeed, Imperator. Instead, I think we need to take a cue from Crusader Kings and have the player in control of a family, directly controlling its patriarch and indirectly controlling its junior members. That said, I think as soon as we choose this focus we’re looking at a game which no longer fully fits within the normal Paradox Development Studio game skeleton; we might still be able to use the engine (but maybe not) but this game probably isn’t going to look like a PDS game. Even Crusader Kings is not going to be a great fit because our families aren’t tied to specific regions; Roman senators do not get provinces as ‘fiefs’ but merely as temporary assignments.

The basic rhythm of politics in the Roman Republic is that elites (like the player’s family) are trying to climb the political ladder, but the rungs are not permanent posts, but rather one-year offices (extendable in some cases but not in most).2 Having the player manage a changing roster of ten quaestors, 4 aediles, 10 tribunes, 6 praetors and 2 consuls every year would be madness, so we don’t do that. By putting the player in charge of one family, the player is only concerned about the actions of a small number of these actors at any given time; the rest can be AI simulated, belonging to their own families trying to increase in power and influence (akin to how little one generally cares about the minor vassals in another kingdom in CKIII; it sometimes matters, but usually doesn’t). Treating individual politicians more as expressions of their families allows us, as a design matter, to prune the player from having to keep track of 300 senators to having to keep track of a few dozen families (to include non-related clients; I’d have no problem placing a young Tiberius Gracchus in the Scipio org-chart until the events of 133 – which we could simulate by having mechanics for characters to break out of their family political structure to found a new one; we might even simulate the contentious politics of the 133-83 era by having the populares/optimates contention expressed in part through individuals breaking out of families to pursue the opposite ideology); that’s a gross simplification but it will serve.

The next question is how the player impacts this system and here we need currencies. Players hate mana, but we can ground our currencies pretty well in actual things. The most obvious is money: these elite families are rich and money can be used to sway elections and buy favors. A core goal for the player to think about should be assembling sufficient wealth to begin self-financing military activity – that was, after all, a huge factor in the collapse of the Republic (though at game start, this should be a pipe-dream). That means it needs to be possible to convert cash into income-producing assets (estates worked by enslaved laborers, mainly) which mirrors how the actual Roman elite ‘banked’ the proceeds of conquest.

Then we need reputational currency: I might divide this as popularity (standing with the people) and honor (standing with the elite).3 I’d see these as working more like piety and prestige in CK3: not something you usually spend directly, but which mostly pools into passive bonuses the more of it you have. Nevertheless, defeats and setbacks (which should happen) and scandals (again, should happen) should make assembling large amounts of either hard. Rather than a general ‘influence’ stat, I think we ought to think in terms of ‘favors’ owed by one family to another as a currency (so not binary like in CK3) used to ‘barter’ with other families, though some UI work needs to go into making these easy to track.

Thus the player’s macro-goal is to dominate the politics of the republic, which leads to a micro-goal of converting political success into these resources which are converted into more political success. So, for instance, the player gets elected as a praetor, burns a bunch of favors to make sure they get assigned to Sicily (a wealthy province which provides them lots of opportunities for self-enrichment of various kinds) and then has to think hard about how they handle that assignment. Do they squeeze the province to increase their wealth at the cost of popularity and honor (low honor should trigger dangerous corruption prosecutions which should reward popularity for the prosecutor if a conviction is achieved) or do they send cheap grain back to Rome (popularity!) or to another theater to boost the armies there (honor, but also handy if those armies are commanded by a political ally who now owes you one!). The player’s big goals should be the goals Roman aristocrats had: secure big commands which could both improve their public standing but also bring huge windfalls of wealth to the victor which could then be reinvested in estates and silent-partner investments in Italy to create income streams for further political activity.

And this is where I think we get away from the standard PDS design frame: by limited the player’s actions to small areas (a province or two, depending on what offices their family holds) for short times, we’re not really dealing with the large-scale design focused on a big world map as our primary focus. We’re going to need a big map of the Mediterranean, but we’re not going to be focused on it all that often.

Instead, I think I’d organize the game as a series of phases in each year. Political campaigning, then elections (by the people, so popularity dominates), then province assignments (by the Senate, so favors and honor dominate), then time in those provinces. Some provinces can be in Rome (like the urban quaestors or the praetores urbanus et peregrinus), but for the ones outside of Rome that should make that character unavailable for the next year’s campaigning and election phases (so you can’t have them perform actions like giving speeches). I think you’d end up treating the provinces phase the way an RPG treats a turn-based battle in that we transition to a different screen and a different UI, giving the player new options depending on what their role is and where they are (again, including Rome which should involve both politics but also maintaining/expanding the family’s economic interests).

The key to the short assignments is going to be both giving the player a lot of ability to shape the outcomes without making it a chain of ‘dilemmas’ (though we can have those) or putting in a complex, dev-heavy real-time battle system. Here I think it might actually be useful to model the control a real general would have because it would keep battles simple, dependent on a handful of decisions. Instead, I’d focus on the player’s operational control – where the army goes and when – along with giving the player the opportunity to strengthen their force in a province by burning currency; spending favors to pull support from other provinces or elites, burn money to enlarge the army, burn popularity to enforce discipline (in the hopes you’ll win it back when you win the battle) and so on. The nice thing is if we build a good operational movement system, it can double as our screen for the player serving as a governor in a pacified province moving through major cities dealing with disputes.

Then geopolitics becomes the final layer of simulation, with external wars that Rome can lose in various theaters. As the player, do you send requested support (in exchange for favors) to a desperate rival or do you let him fall to defeat, gaining in the short term but risking long-term disaster if, you know, Carthage wins the war. Now this kind of feature is going to be very dependent on performance impact and AI-scripting, so I can’t say how much of it you could feasibly do, but my instinct would be to fully simulate (internal and external) Rome and Carthage, but handle all of the other states as unplayable unitary entities (you could then give them systems with DLC if the game proves popular, the way that CK2 added republics and so on). In terms of your state’s actual diplomacy, that should be a Senate thing, but with lots of levers the player can pull to try to create or prevent a war (and a player in a province should be able to – at considerable risk – just provoke a war with a neighbor). Part of what that would build in would be a theory of history on how Roman imperialism happened: Roman elites (and many common Romans) benefited from it, which created structural incentives for conquest.

Now I feel I have to offer a bit caveat here, which is that I have very little game design experience (no more than home-brewing a table-top RPG system) and I haven’t coded anything in almost two decades (and was never very good at it to begin with). And that means almost certainly there is a lot of complexity and difficulty in this tissue-thin design sketch that I’m simply not equipped to see. For one, it is easy to describe how currencies and outcomes should interact, but figuring out the right values to push the player just enough is really hard. But this is where I’d go in terms of trying to make a strategy game about Roman expansion, building it around a theory of Roman politics where the very structure of those politics (which is why we need to simulate a fair bit of its complexity) drove Rome towards warfare and expansion through the incentives they created.

And now on to recommendations!

First, since we’re talking Paradox, now is as good a time as any to note that I will be participating in a Historians Panel at Paradox’s annual con, PDXCON, alongside Eleanor Janega (@goingmedieval on Twitter), September 2-3 in Stockholm, Sweden. I am not sure if the event will be recorded; there was some hope of this happening but the final decision would obviously be up to Paradox. In any event, having written on their games it is pretty wild to be invited to their conference and also get a chance to play an early build of Victoria III (so I suppose expect my impressions on that also).

On the less fun ‘pillaging of the humanities’ theme I recommend “The Fall of History as a Major – and as a Part of the Humanities” by Taneer Greer. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the points here unreservedly, but I certainly see students trying to move to what they think are more marketable majors (which often aren’t actually more marketable majors) or towards area-studies fields. But fundamentally I think a lot of these concerns come back to selling the actual broad public on the value of history and historical thinking; a lot of these shifts are after all driven by students who are trying to guess at what employers want, in a lot of cases for jobs that are still relatively broad and not very technical (or where the very technical knowledge is trained in the industry not in the academy). That in turn demands public engagement, which is not the same as activism (because politicizing your field lowers its broad appeal; I say again that public engagement is how you build support for a field and activism is how you spend that support. We have far too many spenders for far too few builders these days in the humanities) as a way of pushing historians and historical thinking back into the educated public consciousness.

But most importantly this is something we have to be thinking about because the humanities have value.

Meanwhile over at War on the Rocks, fellow Tarheel Joseph Stieb has written a fascinating essay on the various ways in which the ‘war on terror’ has been understood by the American public and how those competing narratives have (or have not) shaken out subsequently. I think Stieb is right here that the legacy of the two-decade long war on terror continues to shape (misshape?) US policy, so it is important to grapple with it. I have not had a chance yet to read it, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that Stieb has a book on this very topic, The Regime Change Consensus which has been well received and already occasioned a lot of discussion in the field. And don’t worry Joe, I plan to get to your book eventually, I promise!

And more public history, The Great War YouTube channel put out this 30-minute long summary of the July Crisis that led to the First World War. The July Crisis is pretty complex, but I think the video does a good job of walking through it for someone who might be unfamiliar and also gives a good sense of both the forces that impelled Europe towards a disastrous (and probably unnecessary) war, but also the real contingency in that process – the ways and moments that the war could have been kept limited or avoided but wasn’t.

For this week’s book recommendation, I want to pick out a book I’ve been using for the current series on logistics, John A. Lynn, Women, Armies and Warfare in Early Modern Europe (2008). Our narratives about warfare tend to focus on combatants, the vast majority of whom were men. In my own period (the Middle and Late Roman Republic) the sources that survive intensify that effect, rendering women in the ‘campaign community’ (one of Lynn’s terms which I found very useful) effectively invisible.4 Lynn is able to take advantage of a much better documented period (albeit not without its own evidentiary limitations) to create a fairly comprehensive sketch of the role of women in early modern warfare in Europe and that is quite valuable both for understanding the armies of these periods but also as a comparative tool with which to think about other periods that are less well evidenced.

Lynn also manages to walk the tightrope quite well between a book that is scholarly (it has footnotes!) and careful with one that explains enough of the basics that a reader relatively unfamiliar with the period or the evidence can follow the arguments and get a sense of the topic. The opening chapter does the job very well of explaining the factors in these early modern armies with shape the role that women take in their ‘campaign communities,’ which is also handy for those of us thinking from a comparative framework since the role of women in this period is unusually broad for European armies before the 1900s. But that situating also puts the reader’s feet firmly on the ground as to what kind of armies these are and how they are organized and how that led to them being defined by their “hunt for pillage” which in turn conditions many of the ways women were involved with them. It also help for the lay reader that Lynn writes clearly and without much jargon.

Lynn goes on to discuss the types and status of women in army camps and then the kind of work they did, each in its own chapter. The last full chapter (before a conclusion) discusses the role of women in combat in these armies, because of course the early modern period is the age of Molly Pitcher, Hannah Snell and Deborah Sampson, women who participated in combat, often disguised as men. It is a topic that gets a lot of sensationalism, but Lynn’s approach is sober and rooted to the evidence: such women existed and Lynn supposes we can document “a few hundred” through military records and other evidence between 1500 and 1815, but they were extremely rare given the many hundreds of thousands of men under arms in the same period. Women who fought in those roles made a big impression in the popular culture, the topic of songs and plays, precisely because they were so unusual and so striking. More common, as Lynn notes and discusses, were women compelled into combat because their homes were placed under siege, participating in the defense of their communities in both combat and non-combat roles.5

An excellent starting point for readers looking to begin to get a sense of this badly under-discussed topic.

  1. For the latter I think especially of the image of the city of Rome itself that is often offered, complete with all of the Big, Expensive Building Projects like the imperial fora, the Pantheon or the Domus Flavia. Only the first few of these are being constructed at the very, very tail end of this period, mostly by Augustus.
  2. Carthage is a bit different here in that generals tend to serve for as long as the political system tolerates them. On the other hand, the Carthaginians tend to be brutally execute failed generals, rather than just letting them cycle out of office, which would make Carthage a challenging game. Lose a battle – even in a winning campaign – and you might find your family patriarch crucified and the command reallocated to someone else.
  3. Initially these shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but maybe post 133 they become so, with high honor imposing penalties to popularity and vice versa.
  4. We are, as an aside, rather better informed about women in and around the permanent Roman forts of the imperial period because those forts leave all sorts of archaeological evidence and records. It thus almost looks like such women poof into existence in the first century AD; clearly that cannot have entirely been the case (though of course the creation of permanent legions by Augustus with long service terms is also a factor here) and there must have been some women in the ‘campaign communities’ of the Roman Republic, though not under arms. If any woman ever served in the Roman army, we do not know about it.
  5. We know this happened in the ancient world too, by the by, though our sources leave us only infrequent mention of what seems like it must have been a frequent occurrence.

79 thoughts on “Fireside Friday, July 22, 2022

  1. Something that just came into my mind:
    Did you ever try Historical boardgames? There one can find a lot of better solutions for problems you notice in video games. Avalon Hill’s “Republic of Rome” springs into my mind, I discovered that exactly in the year I started to have lectures about the roman republic at university, and I noticed how exceptionally well the game modeled that period.

    1. Typical exchange:

      “So YOU’RE my Master of Horse.”
      “Goddamnit!”

      (As MoH only gains a little glory but still has a decent risk of dying.)

      or

      Someone: “Tribune Card! Land reform bill!”
      Everyone else: “Not now, damnit!”
      Someone else: “Murder of a Tribune card!”

      1. Or perhaps my favorite:

        Someone: “I nominate X for Pontifex Maximus”
        X: “But I don’t want to be Pontifex Maximus, I have a strong political career going!”
        Someone: “Why do you think you got the nomination?”
        Everyone but X: “This seems like a great idea!”

          1. Don’t forget rex sacrorum and the flamen of Jupiter. Those were even better for neutering a politician.

        1. What? To make the obvious point, GJC was Pontifex Maximus during the interesting part of his career, and kept using this power (e.g. he kept overruling Bibulus’ proclamations about omens). Indeed this is directly relevant to the existence of the calendar we use in two ways:
          1) The previous Roman calendar was a bit finicky, requiring continuous adjustment by the PM. While GJC was off campaigning, he basically neglected this duty, with the result that by the end the calendar was off by something like three months. This made everyone more accepting of a proposal for a new calendar that wouldn’t require continuous management like that.
          2) He was PM and thus had the authority to propose such a calendar. (And he was GJC so by that point nobody dared to say no anyway.)

          1. Well I think it’s mostly because he was Caesar, as you point out. He was either Dictator or maybe between Dictatorships when he did it, so it’s not like any official authority was more than a fig leaf.

            But him being PM did lead to one of the more absurd stories of the era, when the super-secret women-only Bona Dea party was at his house in the Pontifex role, and Claudius somehow decided it would be a good idea to sneak into the party in drag, and of course got caught…

          2. There was also a run of PMs who ‘adjusted’ the intercalary months to lengthen their friends period of office and shorten their enemies. The new calendar removed that ability.

    2. I played that game! It was actually the first thing that interested me about the Republic, along with the McCullough novels. I knew *absolutely* nothing about that place/time, so it was quite informational! Thank you for the reminder, I could never remember what it was called, so thanks for the reminder.

      And ever since I started getting into PC games I’ve been hunting for something that would basically be this, but I don’t think it exists (yet, till a gaming co. executive reads Bret’s post here 😉 )

    3. Yeah, if time and energy permits, I would love to see our host studying some Roman titles in board games, giving them a try, and putting his thoughts into the blog. A number of notable works simulate Roman history, the power dynamics, and Rome as an empire much better than many video games.

      Avalon Hill’s “Republic of Rome” is, of course, a must-go. My personal favorite is GMT’s “Time of Crisis,” which dives into the Crisis of the Third Century. Players will take the roles of Roman elite families/dynasties, gathering support from the senate, military, and ordinary people, eventually becoming the new emperor, beating opponents and barbarians alike.

      1. I’m not sure about Bret, but the author of the original piece is mostly talking about disciplines where “X” is a social group, usually oppressed: Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Chicano Studies, Queer Studies, etc. The theory (or a theory) is that these disciplines pull students, especially those of leftist bent, away from the History Department.

  2. Re: the decline in history majors. I clicked through to the article when you first posted it on twitter and thought of two issues that it doesn’t address to my satisfaction, though hypothesis three loosely touches on both. First, I skimmed (admittedly only skimmed) some of its linked sources and couldn’t find how they coded the data except for clarifying that one of the studies included history double majors. So, I’m not sure if they properly account for people still studying history just not via the ‘history’ major. Also, the post mentions “The rise of X Studies degrees” in the specific context of polarization, but doesn’t address the more general issue that the total number of available majors has ballooned thus increasing competition for students.

  3. Speaking of CK3, I felt like it leant too far onto its sandbox mechanics:

    – it tried to cover a very broad range of cultures and religions to be inclusive, but ended up making every corner of the map feel the same, while sacrificing a lot of historical accuracy. I want the Duke of Burgundy to have one set of issues in his life, the Prince of Ryazan another, the Eastern Roman Emperor yet another, and the Emir of Ifriqiya the fourth one.
    – the core gameplay loop ended up being too easy, with player goals becoming not “I want to preserve my fief” or “I want to marry my way onto the throne”, but “I want to make my whole family into Herculean albino giants with seven different bloodline bonuses and everyone other noble family in the empire into inbred Asian-looking dwarfs. Also, everyone has to perform blood sacrifices. Naked.” Great for getting good reviews, not so good for actual gameplay.

    1. CK III would have been a much better game if they had taken any fifth of the map and made a game about that fifth of that map.

      And you’re spot on about preserving what you have being a non factor. As soon as it’s easy to preserve what you have, you have a snowballing dynamic. The player needs to suffer reversals and those reversals need to be less then complete because complete defeats by themselves can’t create a real game balance.

      1. If Paradox had done that you’d have the original CK2 map and people would have screamed about how this game was a step back. You already had people annoyed that the map wasn’t *bigger* than the previous game or that there were no mechanics to interact with China.

        1. So instead they took the whole map and made a game about a fifth of the map, more or less.

          I expect their later full expansions (as opposed to the flavor packs) will make major mechanics changes for the rest of the map.

  4. Funnily enough, a game called “Pax Romana” exists with quite precisely the type of game-play our host advertise and it was published a bit after Europa Universalis 2, even by the same creator according to the box set (even though I wasn’t able to confirm it by a quick search). It didn’t do very well partly because of the lack of quality in the execution such as the interface. Here is an old review if anyone wants an idea of what it was like : https://www.gamespot.com/reviews/pax-romana-review/1900-6087133/

  5. >this kind of feature is going to be very dependent on performance impact and AI-scripting

    Performance-wise, not a problem, as long as you don’t want to simulate what each and every citizen is doing (or, Gods forbid, display them on screen). But, assuming reasonably competent programming work, simulating a few hundred polities, with a dozen political parties each, shouldn’t pose much of a problem. Far more so if it’s not in real time.

    Making them do interesting things in a believable manner — aye, there’s the rub.

  6. Having read your article now at least halfways, I can point out that all the solutions you propose in it are actually the solutions “The Republic of Rome” of AH used. Players are playing an aristocratic clan, not individuals, so you can be the player of the Aemilii or Claudii, and you have ratings in money and popularity. The latter one for indivuduals of your gens, as these are also in play. And you have mostly more than one family on the hand, so it is a kind of faction you play (it is also called exactly that in the game)

    The game is also hell to play – on the one hand, you try to get the upper hand over the other players (families), but on the other hand, you all need to cooperate to beat threats from the outside (Hannibal, gallic incursions, the seleucids etc.) – because it is possible the the republic falls from such an external enemy, and all players lose!

    And you distribute offices like aedils and censors among you all, and try that no family is getting to dominant, while still trying to achieve exactly that.

    So what often happens is this: some big thread from the outside forces the players to give the indivudual with the best military rating some legions to fight this danger. Not happily, because then that general will earn popularity galore, which boosts his family/faction enormously. So in the aftermath of the (hopefully) victorious war all other factions try now to diminish the boosted faction, and in that struggle it is possible that one of these factions now gets istelf more popular and powerful and that faction will be the point of all attacks after the first boosted faction got diminished.

    Games like Junta are really tame and lame in contrast to TROR…

    1. I just want to echo this comment about “The Republic of Rome” – it is more or less exactly the game Dr. Devereaux describe here, except that players play a political faction rather than a family.

      And *dang*, it was a great game. Super complex but well worth it if you could get a group of five or so together to play it.

      Here it is, if anyone wants to take a look: https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/1513/republic-rome

  7. For this proposed Lorem Ipsum* game:

    -On twitter you mentioned families controlling estates. This could be a thing that shows up on the big map, with estates are something that exists in provinces based, the number based on how rich said province is, and controlled by different families. You could get them in various ways, and they’d be abstracted somewhat into supplying currency + maybe a couple other resources.

    -A big map could be used for province control as well, if different family members control different provinces at different times, and resources weren’t too complicated. Roman politics could maybe be a big window to the side of the map, also supplying lots of info, or something you regularly switch between with a key to make things simple. Presumably as a family gets more powerful/more members, it might(?) have members control more provinces, you’d want to see these on a map.

    -If the specific offices aren’t too important, possibly abstract some into “consul” “magistrate”, and 1-2 others representing several actual ones. (Not being as familiar with the politics, I’m not sure what might get abstracted together) This could allow other places like Macedon to be included, with some offices and politics removed, but you still have to deal with families and governing regions, and likely start smaller.

    (I did make a Fall From Heaven modmod and some alpha Centauri factions, so a little familiar with what goes into creating this stuff. A lot of likely testing, or calculating out specific numbers to start in a good place. Developers can probably come up with well thought out ways to do what the post is suggesting. And as you’ve noticed I’m not as familiar with what I’m proposing to simulate.)

    *Or a better silly name if you think of one.

        1. I believe my name is sillier, since it’s nothing but “to tie horses to” written with the wrong spacing. (For those who don’t know, it’s an ancient gag for Latin teachers to tell their classes that a post was found with this inscription and ask them if they can say what it was used for, sort of a professorial equivalent of a Dad joke.)

    1. That would also create an interesting tradeoff for players, in that they might prioritize defense of regions where their holdings are particularly concentrated.

      1. Brick. “I found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble.”

        That said, they also used wood and concrete. If there’s a civilization too advanced to use wood, we haven’t seen it yet.

        1. I found Rome a settlement of lumber and brick and left it a city of two grain and three ore.

      2. Marble is a stone, so that’s not so great — but actually, brick is the commoner quote given.

  8. The old boardgame ‘Republic of Rome’ does a great job of combining wars with internal politics. You keep getting thrust into dilemmas like “Scipio is obviously the best man to send to prosecute this Punic War, but if we do, he will return so influential and popular that maybe the Republic can’t handle him… so let’s send this loser instead and hope for the best.”

    (It also has my favorite interpretation ever of Pompey. Very good military leaders have a Military Rating of 5. The very best (only a few, including Caesar and Scipio) have a rating of 6. Pompey rolls 1d6+1 each time he’s in a war, so apparently historically he rolled that 6 for his Pirate War.)

  9. To me the game system you describe sounds well suited to a board game. There would obviously be some extra abstraction (e.g. either the focus would be narrowed time wise or turns will cover more than one year).

  10. “Area studies” is the umbrella term for academic departments specializing in a particular country or region, traditionally meant to prepare students for a foreign service career path like diplomacy or espionage/intelligence (not that the two are mutually exclusive) but dating back to an era when these would’ve often been understood in terms of “colonial administration.”

    Interestingly enough, one of the major changes to Western academia in the ’60s/’70s was that various “area studies” disciplines started trying much harder to disavow their colonial pedigrees and align themselves with newer “X studies” disciplines founded by New Left antiracist/feminist/etc activists, resulting in a kind of “heads I win, tails you lose” effect where modern “X studies” disciplines are often paralyzed from within by self-doubt over whether or not they’ve really transcended their institutional heritage as tools of administrative repression — i.e. is the true purpose of “gender studies” really to spread emancipatory ideas about gender/sexuality, or is it to render the unruly terrain of gender/sexuality “legible” (in the sense of “seeing like a state” a la James C. Scott) for top-down pacification and control? — yet this still doesn’t stop modern “X studies” disciplines from being perceived from without as useless and frivolous, because say what you will about the repressiveness of colonialism, dude, at least it’s a job.

    1. I think it is very rare to encounter anyone, professor or student, in fields like women’s studies, black studies, etc., who conceives of the discipline’s purpose as analyzing gender or racial issues without advancing a particular social and political agenda. In contrast, X Studies disciplines like Latin American studies or Middle Eastern studies often contain contending schools with very different analyses, prescriptions and predictions for the area under study, although given the leanings of the modern academy the political substrate of those analyses tends to run from left/liberal to committed Marxist.

      1. There’s a fairly simple selection process here: Prospective scholars considering a career in X studies must always ask themselves a question: “Does X have concerns, problems, or experiences that are important enough to be worthy of dedicated Ph.D. level study?

        If you think the answer to that question is “no,” you’re probably not going to pursue a career in X studies. People who think there is nothing worthy of that level of interest and inspection/introspection in, say, the experiences of African-Americans will not pursue careers in African-American Studies On the other hand, the history of African-Americans being what it is, a person who does believe that their experiences are worthy of detailed academic study is likely to have… opinions.

        There are a lot of things that have happened that a person can choose to either ignore or care about,, and when one chooses to study a thing, it is usually because one cares.

        1. I’d say another, related process is that the more marginal(ized) your object of study is from the agendas of mainstream institutional authority, the harder it is to delude yourself into believing that it’s even possible to study these sorts of topics “without advancing a particular social or political agenda,” whereas disciplines whose orientation is closer to the interests of those who wield genuine power in society (old-school “area studies,” international relations, most econ/business programs, etc) have an easier time imagining themselves as championing an objective apolitical “view from nowhere,” because the extreme particularity of their social/political agendas is as imperceptible to them as water to a fish.

    2. Frankly, I’d have a lot more trust in the output of a discipline devoted to training colonial administrators than a discipline trying to align itself with a band of political activists (New Left or otherwise).

      The administrators would want advice that would make it easier for them to get things done. The activists would want excuses to tell each other how right they already are.

      James C. Scott’s state is at least trying to see things as they are, not trying to get people to see whatever they have already decided they want seen. I know whose vision I’d rather trust.

      1. (Waggles hand) That’s a somewhat dubious proposition–yes, the colonial administrators are looking for ways to make their jobs easier, but they usually would much rather do that by making reality conform to their desires and preconceptions rather than working within the reality presented to them.

        1. Of course they wanted to make reality conform to their desires – that is what desires are all about. But if you desire to change some part of reality, you need reliable information about the part of reality you desire to change.

          So, if you are David Livingstone or King Leopold of the Belgians and you desire to change central Africa in some way – emancipating slaves or exporting ivory or whatever – you need to have reliable information about Central Africa. For example: where is it? How do you get there? Where are the elephants the ivory comes from? Where are the slaves? Where are the trade routes? Who is in charge of what?

          But if it is a century and a half later, and you want to persuade a group of people that Livingston and Leopold were villains, the part of reality you want to change is the minds of your audience. So that is the part of reality you need information on. What do they think is villainous? What do they know, or can be persuaded to believe, about Livingstone and Leopold?

          These are questions about the modern audience, not about Victorians or Central Africa. An audience of BLM supporters should be told they were evil racist colonialists, but an audience of KKK supporters should probably be told they were evil race traitors who wanted to sacrifice the lives of thousands of white men to rescue a bunch of black slaves from other black people. Whether an accusation works will depend on whether the audience believes it, not whether it is true.
          The part of reality you need to know about, is the part of reality you desire to change, or at least keep the same.

          Political activity is about persuading people that X is true, which is not at all the same thing as finding out if it is true. It is more or less the exact opposite process, in fact. You start with the conclusion, and look for evidence that seems to fit it.

          1. Both Leopold and the locals know where the elephants are. Leopold also has a domestic constituency, and wants to be at ease in his own mind. So his narrative will omit the cruelties and tell of grateful natives brought to Christianity and civilisation. In fact, in colonial histories, the locals are often largely invisible other than as objects. The point and value of subaltern studies is to rescue the local perspective, and see the outcome as an interplay of multiple aims.

          2. “So his narrative will omit the cruelties and tell of grateful natives brought to Christianity and civilisation. ”

            Indeed. His propagandists can talk about the Congo until they are blue in the face while being completely deluded about what is going on there. So can anti-slavery activists. And if feminism and gay rights had been the fashionable causes of his day, he could have had their activists sing his praises as well.

            Universities full of gender studies activists could have cheered him on as enthusiastically as the anti-slavery league, if only they had been around to do so.

            Meanwhile, his administrators in the Congo had to know what they were doing in the Congo, and keep track of it. Every denunciation of Leopold you ever heard was based on their records. There was no one else there to keep a record of what was going on.

            So whose narrative about his empire in the Congo do you trust? The one maintained by the activists in Europe, or the one maintained by the administrators in the Congo?

          3. “Meanwhile, his administrators in the Congo had to know what they were doing in the Congo, and keep track of it. Every denunciation of Leopold you ever heard was based on their records. There was no
            one else there to keep a record of what was going on.”

            OK, seriously, ad…

            That is misinformation. And I only say “mis” instead of “dis” because I don’t know whether you are actually aware of how false it is. If you ever have specifically investigated the history of the Congo Free State, then it’s disinformation.

            First, your claim that denouncers, or anyone else, are only capable of denouncing because they can rely on the accurate Free State administrative records. Modern historians of the atrocities (and both modern and contemporary denouncers of Leopold’s regime) are not particularly indebted to the accuracy of recordkeeping by Leopold’s colonial administrators. In fact, the failure to preserve adequate records is a serious hindrance to this area of study. Recordkeeping was rumored to never have been very good (and contemporaries back in Europe eventually realized that those records that were being publicized were actually doctored – see below), but in many cases we can’t actually know how good recordkeeping was, because on the eve of being stripped of his control of the colony due to the scandal, Leopold had many of the archives, including the most pertinent ones (finance ministry and interior ministry) destroyed.

            As such, Free State administrative recordkeeping is a detriment, not a benefit, to the study of Free State atrocities. Historians of the atrocities (and Leopold’s contemporary opponents) would no doubt love to get their hands on the interior ministry’s archives in particular (the Force Publique, the organization responsible for direct state violence, was under the interior ministry), but Leopold made sure that would never happen.

            This of course means that the claim – “Every denunciation of Leopold you ever heard was based on their records” – is fake. This is a big reason I’m assuming that you might have made claims about Free State records without knowing anything at all about Free State records. Obviously, “every denunciation” was not based on the administrative records that were destroyed without ever being published.

            If you want to learn how it happened, early denunciations of the atrocities in the Congo came together from two major streams, only one of which had anything to do with any kind of Free State records. And not the records produced by the colonial administrators for their own use (many of which, as mentioned, fell victim to Leopold’s attempted coverup), but rather, doctored figures published by the Congo Free State for public consumption back in Europe and America. Edmund Morel, a shipping clerk working for a UK shipping firm, noticed that there were discrepancies between the claimed commercial figures published by the Free State and actual shipping manifests (that is to say, he compared the published claims of the Free State with the records of the third-party shipping company). Free State publications claimed that they were exporting European commercial goods to the Congo and trading them for the colonial goods, particularly rubber, that they then shipped back to Europe. Morel noted that the ships’ manifests added up to a lot fewer trade goods and a lot more munitions than the actual Free State documents claimed. He had caught them cooking the books; he concluded from this that they were extracting goods by force and not by trade and began publicizing his conclusions, eventually founding the Congo Reform Association.

            The first strand of denunciation therefore is not based on the accuracy of the Free State’s records, but on Morel’s detection of the -inaccuracy- of those records (compared to third-party records that were in fact accurate).

            Morel’s publicization of his discoveries and his conclusions from them brought him into contact with the second major strand of early denunciations of the Congo Free State, which were not related to colonial administrators’ recordkeeping at all. Missionaries operating in the Congo were sending back reports of atrocities they witnessed and of further atrocities they were told about by the communities they visited. While missionaries did depend to a certain extent on the Free State tolerating their presence (and in turn the Free State -had to- tolerate a certain level of missionary presence, as Christianization was part of its nominal founding mandate, and hindering missionaries would threaten its legitimacy and justification for existing at all), these missionaries generally were not directly involved in Leopold’s regime, were not Free State administrators, and in a number of cases developed considerable animosity towards both. The reports that they wrote back to Europe (which Morel then further publicized through the Congo Reform Association) were not based on colonial administrative records but rather were their own eyewitness accounts, reported accounts from victims, and, increasingly, photographs.

            “Every denunciation of Leopold you ever heard was based on their records”, seriously? “There was no one else there to keep a record of what was going on?” It would have been SO EASY! to do a little leg work and almost immediately discover how false these statements are. You could have done it with even the most halfhearted effort. The single most famous record of Congolese atrocities in the entire world, the photograph of a dazed Congolese man staring at the severed hand and foot of his small daughter, blows up these claims all by itself, since it is a third-party record, not a product of Leopold’s administrators (it was made by a British missionary, Alice Seeley Harris, and published by Morel).

            Sounds like someone else was there to make records of what was going on, doesn’t it?

            (Along with many other places on the internet, the photo can be found at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Nsala_of_Wala_in_Congo_looks_at_the_severed_hand_and_foot_of_his_five-year_old_daughter,_1904.jpg).

            Loads of the other photographic records that we rely on today were also produced by missionaries (in particular) and by some other reform advocates, rather than by the Free State government.

            Lastly. Moving on from the early strands of denunciation, the major publicity event that really lit a fire under European public opinion (especially British public opinion, but also in other European countries and Belgium itself) was the publication of the Casement Report of 1904. And, like the records of the missionaries, this is a third-party record. -Once again,- not produced by Leopold’s colonial administrators.

            If you were to read it, you would find that in addition to not -being- produced by Leopold’s administration, it also does not -rely- to a significant degree on other records that were. Rather, Casement, a British consul, personally traveled to the Free State and made a journey up into a major rubber-producing region. Casement was shown a handful of official documents during his trip (for example, an informant showed him a copy of a document indicating that the Free State government had been engaged in the slave trade itself as a buyer, in violation of its claimed antislavery principles, and he transcribed it into his report), but the large majority of the report is made up of a) his own eyewitness observations and b) conversations and interviews with the people he sought out or who sought him out, including a large number of face-to-face interviews with atrocity victims.

            This report, which is the report that fueled a major wave of opposition to the Free State in Europe (including by Leopold’s skeptics in Belgium), is not a Free State administrative document, nor is it mainly based on Free State administrative documents.

            Anyone reading this comment can consult the Casement Report at https://archive.org/details/CasementReport/page/n11/mode/2up. It starts on p. 21. The narrative reaches a central rubber-producing region (and becomes increasingly NSFL, although, in the style of the time, language is often circumspect rather than graphic) around p. 41 or 42. The main narrative ends on p. 60, followed by enclosures, which notably include a couple of letters authored by missionaries and six or seven interview transcripts as a representative sample.

        2. One concrete example would be when the British forced nomadic hunter-gatherers such as the Dobe Ju’/hoansi (the forward slash isn’t a typo) to settle down so as to be easier to count and control. The traditional conflict resolution of these societies was for one or both parties to move away, but since they couldn’t do that anymore, their murder rates shot up. This fact did not persuade the British to allow the nomads to take up their old lifestyle, however, and I believe the Brits didn’t even consider that the issue was their fault and they thought making nomads settle down was obviously a desirable thing.

      2. Well isn’t the point of Scott’s book that administrators and bureaucrats suffer from massive systemic blind spots due precisely to their tendency to look at the world and see only things they’ve already decided they want to see (i.e. opportunities for resource extraction and profit) and that those blind spots have been responsible for some of the worst and deadliest atrocities in human history?

        I mean, say what you will about a clique of Oberlin sophomores trying to cancel the campus dining hall for serving banh mi on ciabatta, at least they’re not personally overseeing artificial famines that kill tens of millions of impoverished peasants.

        1. There is a large blind spot in the middle of your visual field right as you read these words, but you can still see them, so long as you try. But if you don’t try to see them, you won’t.

          Someone who tries to see will always see more than someone who doesn’t.

          Which is why governments throughout history have found themselves powerless to prevent famine, but political activists cheered on the Holodomor, the Great Leap Forward and the Killing Fields of Cambodia. Seeing what was happening was not what they wanted to do. What they wanted to do was to stop people seeing what was happening, if it was inconvenient for the cause.

          Activism is not about seeing what is out there. Activism is about getting people to see things that will get them to support the cause. So if seeing well-fed Ukrainians will get them to support the cause, and seeing starving ones won’t, the activists have to get them to see well-fed Ukrainians rather than starving ones.

          That is not at all the same thing as trying to find out if the Ukrainians are starving.

          An “artificial famine”, in the ordinary use of the English language, would be one that someone has intended to cause. It is not easy to find many examples of a rulers intending to cause one on territory they administer, precisely because that makes it harder to get anything done. (Trying to cause one on territory you don’t administer is another matter, but in that case you are not its government.)

          1. If the administration insists on exporting food even as people starve(as happened in Ireland and in the Deccan famine on the late C19) then yes, the famine is artificial. If the administration denies famine relief, despite having the resources to provide it, then the famine is artificial. This also happened.

          2. If the administration insists on exporting food even as people starve(as happened in Ireland and in the Deccan famine on the late C19) then yes, the famine is artificial.

            Many famines aren’t caused by an absolute shortage of food, but by difficulties getting that food to where it needs to be.

            Export bans don’t help much if your transport infrastructure is all geared towards getting surplus food to the ports for export, and not into the backwater hinterland where people are currently starving.

        2. That’s only because they lack the opportunity to do so. At the very least, those students would be complicit in covering it up, if they happened to be sympathetic to the regime that caused the famine.

          1. Well sure, you’re touching on a major aspect of the left-wing critique of student activism: like it or not, these activists are studying at institutions whose traditional role has often been to train bureaucrats, propagandists, and other such “nomenklatura” figures to serve colonial regimes that perpetuate these kinds of atrocities (Oberlin, for instance, has a large monument at the center of its campus commemorating a group of missionaries from the college who were killed in China during the Boxer Rebellion, with not a peep of acknowledgement that the deaths of Western missionaries were used as pretext for a multilateral coalition of colonial powers including the United States to invade China and suppress the rebellion by looting, burning, pillaging, torturing, raping, and massacring their way across the country) and to the extent that those institutions still hew to that traditional purpose, student activists often seem uncomfortably capable of ignoring their institutions’ complicity in unspeakable human rights abuses and tolerating the presence of deep, profound evil in their midst.

            Fun fact along those lines, when a group of student activists at MIT in the late ’60s tried to take these sorts of arguments more seriously than student activists typically do, and started organizing a campaign to challenge and shut down MIT’s complicity in US military research (“the Dr. Mengele’s laboratory of the Vietnam War” and so on), one of the figures who played a key role in talking the students down and convincing them to moderate their demands and methods was a certain MIT linguistics professor by the name of… Noam Chomsky.

          2. For comparison’s sake re: that colonialist monument at Oberlin, just imagine if a Russian university famous/infamous as a hotbed of anti-Putin activism decided to erect a gaudy memorial to the pro-Russian activists killed in the 2014 fascist arson attack on the trade union hall in Odessa, but declined to commemorate or even so much as mention the victims of the subsequent Russian invasion of Ukraine… would their anti-Putin activism still seem meaningful or authentic in that context, or would we be inclined to dismiss it as controlled opposition that actually serves the interests of the Putin regime, helping create the superficial appearance of a vibrant culture of political dissent in Russia without genuinely rocking the boat?

          3. I would be inclined to say that it’s not the missionaries’ or pro-Russian activists’ fault that people decided to use their deaths as an excuse to be jerks, and they deserve to be remembered as what they were, rather than what you want them to be.

          4. Wow, I am usually as happy as anyone to chew the cud of immemorial wrongs, but the complaint about the failure of the current Oberlin administration to protest more vociferously against the injustice of the Western response to the Boxer Rebellion exceeds even my capacity to brood about the past.

          5. I’m not necessarily saying that I think Oberlin should tear down its memorial to missionaries killed by Chinese anticolonial insurgents; my point is that it’s hard to think of an American higher ed institution that derives more jouissance from its reputation as a hotbed of activists striving for social justice and so on, yet an honest self-critical reckoning with the ways in which its own history as an institution is part and parcel of the history of Western colonialism (and not just in an incidental way but in terms of activism itself, i.e. doing that sort of missionary work in places like China was perceived at the time as a benevolent socially-conscious activist cause on par with abolitionism or women’s suffrage) is apparently too much to handle.

            For what it’s worth, just scanning the most basic information about that institution, it looks like the chairman of its Board of Trustees is a former Goldman Sachs banker who was in charge of the company’s “Latin America Debt Capital Markets team,” a.k.a. extracting wealth from poor indebted Third World governments in ways that any honest leftist would describe as a textbook example of “neocolonialism.”

  11. Now one of these days we’ll get into more depth into Imperator…but I think that the core of its struggle is that it tried to do everything rather than being rooted around a central theme or theory of history. The result is a game that never really figures out what it thinks is at the core of the period: is it state-vs-state politics (like EU4) or pops (like Vicky) or politics and personal relationships (like CKIII) or just the business of war (like HoI4)?

    The siren call of “Por que no las dos?“* has brought many a promising game to ruin. Or at least less-good-than-it-could-have-been-ity..

    *Though in this case I guess it’s more las quatro. Possibly more, if you stretch to count elements from other PDX strategy series.

    1. The flipside to this is that every so often a game pulls off combining two things *really well* and becomes a breakout hit, leaving others to continue to try to chase that success. And of course, at some level, you (often) can’t really know if disparate mechanics X and Y will go well together until you try.

      But yes, I tried Imperator and just never really got into it.

  12. My thought on the game thing is maybe it would be better to move the start point a few centuries back in time and make the base of the game controlling a single home city or settlement (which has internal politics to manage) and the struggle is to survive, thrive and turn your city into a real power. So your city state is like a Crusader King’s style county that can control other cities indirectly, but with more like EU’s internal politics as a permanent political actor.

  13. While Rome: Total War doesn’t represent the politics of the Republic accurately, to me it feels like it had somewhat the right idea. You play as one family within Rome instead of playing the entire Roman state (but these families having fixed territories and their own armies is wrong). There are separate popularity meters for the Roman people and the senate (but they don’t do much from what I have heard). You compete with the other families for political offices (but the offices are little more than stat boosts and there is also always only one of each office and they are in office for several years). My impression is that for Rome I they tried to squeeze the the game into how Roman politics worked, while in Rome II they tried to squeeze Roman politics into how the game works.

    For the idea of a successor of Imperator outlined above, I think it would make more sense to treat Popularity and Honor not as resources a character/family has, but a relation between a character and the people/upper class of a region or something similar to pops. I remember that Cicero, when he was Aedile, he wasn’t wealthy enough to sponsor great feasts and games for the people of Rome. But he had been very popular as governor of Sicily with the Sicilians, who now helped him out with donations. So he was able to translate popularity in Siciliy into Popularity in Rome. I’d like it if the game could simulate this. It also allows the popularity with the legions to be separate from the popularity with the people . And it could be adapted easier to simulate the challenges of monarchies through this (keeping different populations loyal).
    But anyways, if Imperator had been like Bret suggests, I would have been much more interested in the Game.

    Personally, I would really like to one day see a historical Third Person RPG, similar to Mount and Blade, but still representing the political structures of a particular era. But that would likely be even more of a challenge from a design perspective than keeping it roughly in strategy game design. It would be quite difficult to make “Holding a Speech in the Senate” or “Commanding a Battle with very Limited Control” interesting when it can’t be abstracted out. And simulating the different political actors in this perspective is probably much more difficult performance-wise as well.

  14. Maybe it is because I recently read Soldiers and Silver, but I myself am hyped for the first DLC: Kings of Hellas, featuring: managing feasts, royal gifts, and charities to other states; trying to keep your reserves of silver up because it is hard to pay people for stuff in gold; desperately hoping that your subject peoples won’t rise up when you need to marshal your Greek and Makedonian settler forces. Good times…

  15. I work in professional services and I am here to tell you how, in theory, you can make (low) six figures working from home with a history degree.

    First, can you do your own research and writing? Are you organized and hard working? Are you able to relate to people, show up to (many, many online) meetings and take notes? Are you creative and flexible but also practical and persistent?

    Congratulations. You might be able to become a proposal manager*, working from home and, after a few years of experience, it seems the market for a senior proposal manager is around 110K-1125K depending upon which market we’re talking.

    A former colleague and I were just remarking how she was struggling to find people in the market who can and will do these things (not all of them fun or rewarding except for the money part). She herself is interviewing for substantially more than that (indeed than I presently make) and the kicker? She earned a few college credits out of high school but left to work full time in a ‘dead end’ office job.

    * There is a secret handshake and learning it has nothing to do with any ‘official’ proposal management certification.

  16. You’re usually very good at putting things into context, so I was surprised that you failed to here, but what is the significance of the year 133? You reference it a couple times, but never say why that year matters.

    1. That’s 133 BC. It’s when Tiberius Gracchus was murdered by a frankly crazed mob of Senators because he was pushing a number of populist reforms (and, his killers argued, was aiming to declare himself king). It was the first time the constitutional order completely broke down and violence was how a political dispute was resolved. It kicked off a century of this kind of thing…

  17. When playing EU:Rome I thought that Crusader Kings style would be much better for simulaation of Rome. For me, Imperator was little disappointment and even quite Boeing. I love CK series and like other series but I agree that with Imperator focus is lost.

    Family based game with different layers and, for example, secret contracts would be dream come true. So, when we will start making greatest Rome themed game ever…

  18. I am struck by the phrase “the Roman Republic wins all of its wars, defeats all of its external enemies and then collapses.” Could you remind us whether you have done a post comparing and contrasting the late Roman Republic vs. our current situation in the US? I feel like you must have, but I can’t find one. If you haven’t written one, would you consider it?

    1. I remember a comment from Bret in which he said writing about the collapse of the Roman Republic would be an an extremely long series (probably longer than any he has done before), so he is hesitant to do it.
      He did write a Fireside Friday talking about a problem of what ancient writers called “stasis”, which was one of the things leading to the fall of the Roman Republic and which he considers a danger in the United States today: Fireside Friday, October 30, 2020

      1. Complex indeed. The fall of the Republic narrowly construed (from the Gracchi to Augustus) makes up 6 weeks of my 16 week survey course on Rome, but that’s really an understatement since at least two other weeks are mostly stage-setting for that collapse.

        1. I’m curious what the overall scope is. Do you go all the way back to the twins and the she-wolf? Do you take it through all the emperors to the fall of Rome? Thru the Byzantines? Just wondering.

  19. Did you ever play an old game, I know it as “Machiavelli, the Prince”, but I think it was also known as the Merchant Prince. In it you played a merchant family from Venice. The time frame was 1300-1492, and the game was centered around trade: finding new trading centers, establishing trade routes, acquiring the ships and caravans to conduct trade, etc. But there was also a political dimension: bribing senators, using those senators to vote for a new Doge. You could elect yourself as Doge, but you could also support another faction in hopes that you would be rewarded with one of the plum governmental positions. (I think when your doge died, you couldn’t vote again for yourself, it had to go to another family). There was some sort of reputation factor you had to manage too. If you embezzled too much money from your position that could make you unpopular, which would make bribes cost more. There were various things you could do to improve your reputation, and you could also launch attacks (rumor mongering) against other factions.

    There was a military aspect (hiring mercenaries), although battles were very abstract. There was also a religious side. You could buy cardinals and get elected Pope, and then there were various ways of making money in that position (plus being able to excommunicate your political opponents). Abuse of the church could, kind of anachronistically (i.e. too early), lead to the Reformation — which sends a large army into Italy, and afterwards the church’s money making endeavors are limited.

  20. Allow me to pitch a similar game idea: The Fall of Western Rome. It could follow the typical Paradox “simulate all the things!” approach, but the unique theme is that, left unattended, every factor deteriorates into anarchy … and you CANNOT attend to everything at once. So what do you save? Do you preserve the army, until the nation collapses under you, and you are just a marauding horde? Do you preserve the religion (old gods or Christianity) as the state withers, leaving you much like the medieval Pope? Do you save the academies and harbors, so that people continue to call themselves Romans and speak the same Latin, even as the Mare Nostrum splinters into a hundred city-states? Do you try to preserve everything in a tiny geographic area, so that the world may burn, but beautiful Ravenna survives as the envy of the world? I would imagine that, much like with most Paradox games, the first few times you play, you end up losing everything, but eventually, you learn from failure and find the virtuous cycles buried in the game mechanics.

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