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An intriguing prospect…

Hi all, Oliver here! Today we’re showing off our first mockups of the Intrigue view. In this mode, you encounter the seedy underbelly of your court – the plots, the schemes, the secrets and lies! And this isn’t just a spy-assignment minigame, oh no. The idea is to collect parts of secrets (for example, ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something with Count Crapula’ ‘Count Crapula is plotting an assassination against somebody‘ ‘Baron Nogood is plotting something against you’) and try to match them together into accusations that your Inquisitors can use to take out the culprits (such as ‘Baron Nogood and Count Crapula are plotting to assassinate you’). But how, I hear you ask, do you actually do this?

intrigue mockup clean.png

The way we have it working is very simple. On each planet, system, and star (on which more later) you have a list of Clues – incomplete pieces of information, displayed like sentences with character portraits in place of names and so on – and at the bottom of the screen, in the selection area, you have the cases you’re currently working on. Clues are supplied by your Inquisitors’ diligent monitoring work, gossip you hear or overhear at court, and characters you charm or coerce into revealing them. Each clue also has one or two leads – characters who are listed as potentially knowing other, connected clues. You just click-and-drag the clues you think belong together into the selection area to put together your accusation, and when you’re confident you’re right, you can click ‘ACCUSE’ and fire it off! You’ll choose which of your limited number of Inquisitors to send it with, and shortly (or immediately if they’re in the same place) you’ll hear the outcome…

Now the Imperial Inquisition is a unique and frightening institution. They will never convict an innocent man – this is the reason the Great Houses allowed the institution to continue – but the experience is nightmarish for the accused. If found innocent, they and their family will despise you not only for the insult, but for the accused’s having to endure the mind-bending horrors of the Inquisitorial process. So beware!

One thing you might still be wondering is: ‘Why have separate lists of clues on each system and planet? Surely it would be less of a pain in the ass to just have one big list?’ While we do indeed have one big list available in the summary screen (accessible from a button in the top left of the screen), the point of dividing up clues this way is to prioritise them. At the start of the game, when you’re mostly dealing with individual planets, the doings of individual characters on those planets will be of paramount interest. But as your empire grows, you’re going to be moving up through the levels of control, simply because you only have so many Action Points in the turn. By hooking the clues to game locations, putting clues to bigger and more important plots at higher levels, we can make the same process of moving up through the levels that you’re engaged in with regard to the other facets of gameplay work here, too.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy playing with the Intrigue system! Ave Imperator!

Oliver

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Secrets and Lies – The Intrigue System

No game about Machiavellian scheming, least of all one modelled on the Byzantine empire, would be complete without a fully-fleshed-out intrigue and espionage system! In Imperia, we aim to go beyond the usual ‘stick a spy in a place and wait to know things/do stuff’ routine that usually makes up espionage systems in 4X games. Those systems have very simple, rather boring feedback loops: you pays your money and you takes your chances, maybe with a simple upgrade-your-spooks mechanism tacked on. Our system, on the other hand, is built right into the fabric of the game.

The Imperia intrigue system has two main ‘legs’: the way Edicts work (Edicts being the way you build fleets, develop your worlds, and generally do things that fall under ‘exploit’ in the 5X quinity) and the Secrets system. Now your Empire is crumbling, corrupt, and under the sway of numberless light-fingered lordlings, and the Edict system reflects that. Rather than simply paying for, say, a new planetary mining network yourself, you assign a number of characters to carry out the construction. These characters contribute resources, administrative clout, and money to a central ‘pool’; once the requisite amounts have been amassed, the mining network is established! So far, so good – BUT. The characters aren’t restricted to adding to the pool – they can steal from it, too, and contribute ADM (administrative power) to hold the project back, rather than advance it. And contributions to the pool are anonymous. You can see what has been stolen, but a canny corrupt character will be careful only to steal from Edicts with many characters assigned to them.

What this means is that, in order to catch out your corrupt officials, you must set up Edicts to trap them and flush them out. Put your suspects in an Edict with a set of squeaky-clean characters, and see what they do – but perhaps they’ll catch on. Check out their Edict history – is it full of corruption? Is there anyone else it could be? You are building up partial information to try and infer who’s really guilty, in the spirit of a whodunnit, in order to avoid arresting the wrong man – your vassals will really not appreciate an undeserved evening with the Inquisition.

The other ‘leg’ of the intrigue system is the Secret system. Characters can engage in all manner of plots and sinister dealings, and have a number of secret attitudes to one another and to you. And, as you might expect, this creates the problem: who knows what? Our solution is to have every plot and secret attitude generate Secret tokens, which can be copied from character to character. (When you play the game itself, there will be no mention of ‘tokens’ – it’s just a board game metaphor to make it easier to visualise from our perspective as designers.) Each Secret has a list of characters it Incriminates and characters that Must Not Know that secret, such as the authorities, the targets of a plot, the cuckolded spouse of a lover, and so on. If one of the latter gains the Secret Token, there will be consequences for the former – the secret may be made public, revealing it to all other Must Not Know characters, firing all of their consequence triggers (eg. changing their public stance, making the Incriminated valid targets of Inquisitorial Purging, etc) and then deleting the Secret Tokens as there is no more use for them; or the MNK character may do something private, such as gain a Grudge secret attitude against the Incriminated. Secrets, when gained, can be used to blackmail their Incriminated; they can reveal their secret attitudes towards the MNKs, revealing whether they had a motive for their assassination, for example; or they can simply reveal that a character is not as trustworthy as you thought.

A single Plot may generate a whole pile of different Secrets. One might say that Character X and Character Y are conspiring together, without revealing their aim, whilst another might simply state that there is a plot to assassinate Character Z involving at least three conspirators. A third might name Character W as a conspirator, and link the other two Secrets together. Each of these Secrets is kept in your Intrigue window, and can be searched, filtered, and juxtaposed in order to work out what piece of information you need next – who to spy upon and who to squeeze for their Secrets. This in turn links back in to the rest of the game – can you afford to antagonise that character? Is there something they want? What will it cost you to find the answer – or is it worth the risk to leave the conspirators at large?

Finally, one of the most important considerations with a system like this is to make sure there aren’t too few or too many plots and secrets going on, so there are enough to keep things interesting without swamping you with conspiracies. That’s why one of the functions of the Aitvaras AI is to regulate the amount of plotting going on – behind the scenes, it will permit or forbid characters to engage in plots. The limits it places on them will be loose, however – you ought never to be in a situation where you can say something like ‘aha, there will be no more plots for a while, because I know about these five’.

Ave Imperator!

Oliver