by Jeffrey S. Kase
and B.M. Powell

A recurring question we've received about Ambition & Empire is how we settled on the date of 1763. Why create a variant that starts at the end of the Seven Years War, instead of right before it?

Part of the reasoning was that we didn't want to create a variant that simply allowed players to reshape the events of the Seven Years War. We were looking at doing a period of history that had not been fleshed out. (We would be surprised if this didn't figure on some level into Calhamer's own decision to select 1901 as the starting point for Diplomacy rather than 1914.)

However, we also believed that the states-system and balance created by the Seven Years War was far more conducive to a multi-player variant than what existed at the outset of the war. For starters, while a number of events and political forces factored into the struggle, at its heart the Seven Years War was a fight between superpowers of the day, France and England, for global dominance. At the conclusion of the Seven Years War however, this power structure was simply no longer in place.

Until the conclusion of the First World War, international relations in Europe would be dominated by five great powers: England, France, Austria, Russia, and Prussia. In his book, The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756-1775, author H. M. Scott traces the origins of the Great Power system to the events of the third quarter of the 18th Century; most notably, the military emergence of Russia and Prussia in the Seven Years War and, with Austria, an eastward shift in the center of power in Europe.

For play-balance, we added five other states to the mix. The first of these had to be the Ottoman Empire (Turkey). While not yet the "sick man of Europe", it was certainly ailing. We also added four other countries which had reached their zenith in the 16th and 17th centuries, and were now gracefully (or not so gracefully, in the case of Poland), settling into second-tier status in 1763: Sweden, Spain, Denmark-Norway, and Poland & Saxony. The inclusion of Saxony with Poland reflects the fact that the Prince-Elector of Saxony was also King of Poland. Politically, Saxony was the leading German state after Prussia and Austria (although certainly not in their league).

Of these smaller player countries, the most ado has been made about our inclusion of Denmark-Norway and Poland & Saxony. Denmark-Norway was, admittedly, little more than a commercial and shipping power by 1763, although it did have a sizeable merchant navy — one of the largest in Europe, in fact. Similarly, but for its political ties with Saxony and sheer size, Poland — which was on the brink of anarchy in 1763 and would soon be partitioned out of existence by Prussia, Austria, and Russia — is another "stretch". Still, we like the inclusion of these states for play-balance, and because we wanted a larger multi-player variant.

When we first came up with the A&E map, it was very clear that we needed to do something to prevent those Powers close to "Germany" and "Italy" from simply feasting on the numerous minors to be found there. Our initial solution was to put armies or fleets in each minor so that the played Power couldn't simply move in, but instead had to conduct a supported attack. Immediately, we came to the conclusion that arming the neutrals, by itself, was an inadequate device to solve the key problem of access. Powers like Austria and France would still have huge advantages over Powers like Russia and Sweden.

The idea of letting the Powers manipulate the minors was influenced by "Bid Diplomacy", a variant in which two players (most often paired as E vs T or A vs G) bid for the support of the five unplayed Powers.

As soon as we fleshed out how the Diplomatic Points would work and fully considered their ramifications, we realized we'd struck gold. The Diplomatic Point mechanism:

  • gave all Powers a chance to influence events across the map;
  • provided for game play that looked and felt "historical", and;
  • by keeping DP allocations secret, added an element of intrigue and duplicity that truly added spice to the contest.

Of course, a lot of tweaking went into the DP allocation rules.

Initially, we allowed some Powers to have greater influence in some minors than other Powers did. Austria in Tuscany, Spain in Two Sicilies, and Turkey in North Africa come to mind. After a playtest or two, we found the additional rules added nothing to the game except longer rules, so we scrapped them.

Also, when we first started, we had nothing resembling the Religious Rules. As a result, we routinely saw such historical anomalies as Algiers supporting the Brits into Morocco or the Papacy supporting the Ottomans into Two Sicilies. This made no sense to us, so we began experimenting with various solutions until we came up with the Religious Rules as they currently exist. Though some people don't like them or think they are confusing, we are very pleased with how they work.

Ambition & Empire has undergone significant change since it was first introduced in 2000. Much of this change represents valued, thoughtful comments and suggestions we have received from a number of dedicated players over the course of the years. We are genuinely grateful for their input and enthusiasm for the game!
Jeffrey S. Kase
or B.M. Powell

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