Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Braunstein - More Of Your Questions!

Another quiet day on the Loshomon Canal

Thank you for your questions! Let me see if I can't try to answer them for you...

Desert Scribe July 31, 2014 at 12:22 AM

Any suggestions for doing a Braunstein space combat game? I have a few ideas for a multiplayer scenario, but with most spaceship rules I'm worried that players who lose initiative will get bored waiting to move or will get blown up before they can move.

Oh, wow!!! I'd love to be there for this!!! My thought for you is to use the system I've used to great effect for 'initiative'; instead of the usual "roll for move / countermove", have everyone roll percentile dice and then they move in order of the dice rolls - in practice, this means that all of the players hang around the table waiting with baited breath to see what the other players are doing. That takes care of the movement phase. Next, do all of the combat resolution at the same time - I do this to reinforce the mental concept that everything happening in the table is simultaneous.  I'd try this out in a small game first, and see what happens. Let me know - we'll think of something!

I'd also allow for the players to be able to signal each other somehow - the actual technology will be based on the setting, of course! - as you want the players to be able to bribe, cajole, persuade, and otherwise connive and plot with each other. A truly fiendish referree / GM would hand the players small pocket mirrors, so they could send signals to each other across the table with heliographs...

(As an example of this, I once ran a naval game set in Tekumel where the players had to pull alongside each other's ships to be able to talk normally. Otherwise, they had a set of the little plastic map flags on a wire to signal each other, as well as whistles and hand-waving. You can imagine what happened...)

Tim Knight July 31, 2014 at 9:54 AM

In the game you have been using an example, what are the choices of spells? Does each mage just get the one spell or does he have an arsenal to call upon?

They each get a selection - I bring along a copy of "Empire of the Petal Throne" to my Tekumel-based games and let the players choose their own spells. It's much funnier, that way.

I also use the plastic templates for spells - the longer one for the ranged spells, and the circular ones for the 'local area effect' ones. That way, there's no confusion over who gets hit by what. If they cross the streams - overlapping templates - I make 'em roll for the effects of doing so. Again, it's funnier that way.

dervishdelver July 31, 2014 at 4:44 PM

Chirine, I was hoping you might talk a little about the actions that take place in a Braunstein. This question may seem a little off target, but in traditional wargames the rules (more specifically, the turn) dictates what can happen when. It usually revolves around move, missiles, melee, and morale. Since Braunsteins are more based on player interaction, there must be some form to the game that encourages it. I'm thinking dialogue, subterfuge, and alliances here. Thing that move beyond a traditional wargame. When and how does this take place in the game?

Great question!

The plotting, conniving, wheeling and dealing, bribery, and general chaos happen all the time in the game. There is no specific 'phase' in the turn order for it, as it happens naturally all during the game. (And in the restrooms, too.) As the referree / GM, you will have no control over this whatsoever in the course of the game. Once the players figure out that they can do this kind of thing - you told them that they could in your introduction to the game, remember - they will go off and do this every time they get a spare second or three. It tends to happen most during the movement phase, when you have players waiting to take their turn to move their figures - I use the egg timers to speed this up, by the way - and the old proverb about "idle hands" really applies here. In my time, the players get up to the most mischief during movement.

I generally run things as 'move', 'missile fire', 'melee', 'magic', 'other actions as needed'; you do have to stay loose, stay flexible, and deal with the situation as it changes. It's utter chaos, more then anything else, and you as referree / GM simply hope to ride the shockwave a the game builds up momentum. Braunsteins are more like an out-of-control roller coaster then wargames / RPGs; about all you can do is hang on and try to stay in your seat as the players romp around.

You will have no control over the 'table talk' all you can do is clearly state that if two players are handing something over to each other, they have to have two figures in base-to-base contact. The entire rest of the game, stay alert and watch your back - they'll be getting up to all sorts of things in the corners.

And that's what makes a Braunstein a Braunstein... :)

welbo July 31, 2014 at 8:08 PM

thanks for the series.
So (given that the Braunstein involves players resolving competing goals) some of those goals are mutually compatible and some are mutually incompatible.
do you have any advice for how many of each makes for a good game? 

Do you start with a situation (e.g., shipwrecked sisters), then add particular types of goals? ... and how does the number of players interact with their number and type?
Any rules of thumb ?

Right! Two good questions!

1) I like to give each faction a common goal that they share with a number of the others - but not all! - as well as an individual goal that's unique to them. I normally use no more then three goals per faction total, and more usually just two, in order to keep things as simple as possible and as uncomplicated as possible. More complication makes for slower games, and you want to avoid that like anything.

2) Yes. I come up with an idea for the game scenario, and then work up the goals from that. I prefer to have a basic premise, and then add in the details based on that.

More players adds to the fun, as they get more diverse goals and they get into more mischief. I think the minimum number is about four, and this can be one vs. three like in the Underworld game I did recently. This was a 'defender' vs. three 'attackers' scenario, and the fun was in watching the three other players wheel and deal with each other for help and aid.

I also try to keep the factions as simple and straightforward as possible; again, complication take time and slows down the flow of the game play. I also make the factions as easy to use as possible, with as little complication and detail in the make-up of the various parties as possible. I give each faction a balanced little (15 to 20 figures each) force, and I make sure that it's easy to use on the table.

I think I got everyone's question - does this help? Looking forward to more questions, too!


  1. Thanks for answering my question, Chirine! I appreciate you sharing your experience and insight. I hope it will make games that I run a little more fun for all involved, including me.

    Your comment about communication reminds me of a pair of connected games a friend and I ran at a convention. I refereed a space battle, an attempt to land forces to capture a planet, while my buddy ran a simultaneous ground combat scenario with the forces already on the world. The forces in the space game could influence the planetside battle with orbital bombardment, starfighter strafing runs, landing reinforcements, and so on. Likewise, the ground forces could choose to fire at the spaceships instead of the ground opponents, jam communications, and the attacker had to take out the defender's shield generator to allow attacks on the city.

    Until jammers were taken out, the only way the players on one table could communicate with their counterparts in the other game was by note passed through the GM ("Where's our air support?!?"). Since then, I've realized that the two games don't need to be in the same room--or even the same city. With texting, you could have the GMs communicating with each other and passing along messages between the space and ground forces. I want to try that some time: I would run the space game while another group plays out the ground battle.

    1. This is very, very cool, and precisely the kind of thing that a Braunstein is - it's all about the interactions between players.

      I love the idea of the interconnected games - and the use of the 'communication devices', too! One of my favorite Dave Arneson quotes was that you really don't need rules to simulate the fog of war - just have the players write each other notes! And then save all the notes for the after-action fun, too!!!

      - chirine

  2. Chirine, thank you for the series of posts on Braunstein style games. I've only recently heard about this style of game and I find it quite fascinating. I'd very much like to run such a game sometime, whenever I can find enough space to set one up.

    It sounds like most Braunsteins are scenario driven events, but have you any experience running an ongoing campaign-style game? Perhaps something where players represent entire kingdoms instead of small groups? I'm just curious whether a Braunstein format would be suitable for such a game. Thank you.


    1. Yes, and see the post I did for you... :)

      - chirine