A few weekends ago I attended the last Pennine Megagame of the Year- Popes Poison and Perfidy run in Manchester and developed by Paul Howarth.
Set in Renaissance Italy and based very loosely on the old boardgame Machiavelli (the only real similarity was the map). It was, and still is, a period I know little about but the game was set just as the French were set to invade the Italian peninsular to capture Naples. Players represented either Italian city states of the major powers (France, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire- aka Austria) that were dabbling in Italian politics. Paul’s design had several sub games to it: there was a trading game very similar to shove ha’penny. A group of grognard condottieri battled it out for money on the military map whilst the usual scheming and politicking went on between the teams. Top to it all off there was a mechanism for city states to commission great works of art- paints public buildings etc. to compete to be the most cultured amongst the city states.
My role in the game was to be in charge of all the spying and assassination attempts, the lovely dark side of politics. Accordingly I had read ‘The Prince’ in the week prior to the game. The regional controls (Jerry taking care of the major powers, Rupert the northern half of Italy and John Moley the southern half of Italy) would come to me with requests for information from their spy networks, or assassination plots that they wished to press forward with. Players could attempt to take out a player’s support base or try to off the player themselves. With this remit I had to keep a fairly good track of the game, fortunately the other control players were really good at passing along any pertinent info. However I was ensconced in a side room without a direct line of sight to the maps so a bit of backwards and forwarding was needed.
After a bit of a slow start things really started to get busy. The assassinations came constantly. The mechanisms were based on rolling two dice based on the rating of the spy or assassin (the players had a qualitative grading of their asset but not access to the corresponding quantitative value). France’s Cardinal put a hit on the Pope 6 turns running; the Pope only finally succumbing to old wounds after the 6th attempt. The Viennese players ignored the main map and spent the majority of the game trying to assassinate each other. Matt broke away from Naples and proclaimed himself the ‘King of Regusa’; immediately leading to two assassination attempts (one from his old team) and the wrath of the Turks descending upon him.
The game worked really well, the players seemed to enjoy things and it was the most fun I had as control yet I think (at least in somebody else’s game). The pub discussion afterwards continued for a good few hours which is always the sign of a good game.