Echoes of Empires Past
Christian T. Petersen, Corey Konieczka, and Peter Olotka discuss Rex
With the release of the rules for Rex, the upcoming board game of negotiation and betrayal for 3–6 players, players all over the world are already planning their conquest of the galaxy’s capital city. Coming to stores worldwide later this month, Rex tells the fateful story of once-proud Mecatol City in the months and years following the death of the last Lazax emperor.
Fans following the development of this much-anticipated board game are likely already aware of its design roots. Rex is based on a game system originally designed by Bill Eberle, Jack Kittredge, and Peter Olotka (Cosmic Encounter) and redeveloped for a new audience through the collaborative efforts of Christian T. Petersen (Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game), John Goodenough (Tide of Iron), and Corey Konieczka (Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Runewars). The original mechanics have been celebrated by the hobby games community for over thirty years, having first appeared in the (unpublished) ancient-Roman themed game Tribute. However, hobby game enthusiasts are more likely to recognize Rex’s core mechanics from Dune, the 1979 Avalon Hill board game based on Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction masterpiece.
Today, we’re pleased to offer a few words from Christian, Corey, and Peter, in which they discuss some of their insights into Rex.
Click the image above to view the back of the Lazax Empire’s faction sheet. You can also view the back of the Jol-Nar sheet.
Christian T. Petersen
We were absolutely, positively, thrilled when Peter Olotka and the team at Eon agreed to license FFG the rights to the game mechanics used in the great Dune board game. After signing the deal with Peter, we set about trying to procure the Dune license to relaunch the classic game which Avalon Hill so famously published in the 1980’s. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we tried (and we do know a thing or two about licensing), the Dune rights were not forthcoming from the Herbert estate.
While not being able to license the Dune IP was a disappointment, Peter and I agreed that the game-system (which Peter dubbed “The Dial-Based Conflict System”), would work perfectly in FFG’s Twilight Imperium setting. As the game mechanics were originally intended to distill the flavor of ancient Roman conquest, they would lend themselves well to the epic universe of strife, diplomacy, and betrayal that are the hallmarks of Twilight Imperium.
Making the organic and non-invasive narrative port of the Dune board game to the Twilight Imperium canon, however, was not an easy task. The last thing I wanted, was to contrive a retelling, or a thinly disguised paste, of the Dune narrative. I didn’t want to invent a substitute for Arrakis, or create some equivalent of Spice. Not only is there no substitute for the amazing Dune, but such a contrivance would be a disservice to the spirit and the stories we’ve told, and plan to tell, of Twilight Imperium.
Practically, there were some difficult key aspects of the Dune board game that would need to be convincingly recreated such as the sandstorm, the unique dynamics of race abilities, and the transportation of forces to the game board.
The narrative idea for Rex came sometime in ’09 after I browsed through a few office copies of older Twilight Imperium releases. Several years earlier, in the rules for the Shattered Empire expansion, I had written a short fiction piece about Sallai Sa Corian and the surprise attack on Mecatol Rex that killed him. The death of the last Lazax emperor had taken place 3,000 years prior to gameplay in the Twilight Imperium board game. It was an event that ultimately led to the Twilight Imperium galaxy spiraling into a prolonged dark age.
It struck me: This fateful incident, and the ensuing struggle for power on the imperial throne world, would work perfectly as the backdrop for the “The Dial-Based Conflict System,” Instead of the sandstorm, we had the Sol bombardment. Instead of Arrakis and the Spice, we had Mecatol City, its dwindling resources and its myriad of influential constituencies. Instead of the Guild, we had the Hacan-enabled Sol blockade. It fit.
With the IP concept decided, the long journey to make Rex began. I was pleased to contribute by writing artwork descriptions and helping with artwork procurement, to write the racial narratives and a short story of the Rex era, to develop the background for the Mecatol City regions, and so on. The heavy lifting, of course, was done by John Goodenough, Corey Konieczka, and Jason Walden who worked diligently on the development, project-management, and testing of Rex. To represent the opulence and ancient texture of the Lazax empire (which was to have existed millennia before the look we had given Twilight Imperium) Dallas Mehlhoff and Andrew Navaro created an elaborate “futuristic art deco” look that blew me away. It was at once sophisticated and elaborate, it was earthy but with a sense of spindly fragility. It was ambitious but fickle; a fantastic basis for the ruins and other faded remnants of Twilight Imperium’s long-dead empire.
The process of creating the next iteration of Eon’s classic game has been a rewarding experience. I hope that players will be as pleased with Rex as we are.
Developing Rex posed some interesting opportunities and challenges. We knew that we wanted to use elements of the classic game Dune in a way that would fit into the Twilight Imperium universe, while appealing to gamers that may or may not have heard of the original game. At the same time, we had said from the outset that Rex should be its own experience. Indeed, our August announcement stated that:
Rex [has not sought] to become a replacement or a “new edition” of its classic predecessor, but a different game, one based in the same core mechanics, one inspired by, but not replicating or replacing, Avalon Hill’s classic Dune.
Some of our design decisions were relatively easy. For example, the plentitude of optional rules and race advantages could present a barrier of entry to new players. We wanted to make sure that ALL of a race’s abilities were printed on their faction sheet, and there was no question about which special version of the game we were playing. This dovetailed into the creation of Ally Advantage cards, which players could use to not only mark who they were in an alliance with, but also reinforce the fact that ALL special abilities available to a player were sitting in front of him.
Meanwhile, part of what made Dune such a fantastic design was the way that all of the various game systems interacted with each other. Conveying this sense of interconnectedness while updating the game to fit our own design vision was a challenge; each change we made would cascade into a larger one. First, we chose which abilities were most exciting and/or fundamental to our desired game experience, and then we began meticulously playtesting, to balance them alongside the changes we’d introduced. As we continued to develop Rex, the process confirmed that we were not just sticking a new IP on a classic game, we were creating a new game based on the classic system. The heart of the old game lived in its unique combat system, game-changing variable player powers, and shifting political allegiances. This is what we wanted to preserve, and this is how we captured the spirit of EON’s beloved classic.
Every design decision, from big to small, was made with the utmost attention to detail. Some were made to modernize the game – for example, not requiring players to write down who their Traitors were. Others were made to add more tactics – such as the new deployment rules. Ultimately though, everything came together to create one cohesive vision that we hope that gamers new and old will enjoy for many, many years to come.
Working with Peter Olotka and the rest of the EON crew was really a treat. I’m a huge fan of both Dune and Cosmic Encounter, and meeting their creators left me star-struck. These guys were pioneers, and without them, the game industry would not be where it is today. In fact, playtesting Rex with Peter Olotka will go down as one of the defining moments of my game design career!
Future Pastimes (Jack Kittredge, Bill Eberle and I) created the game system [used in Rex] in the late ‘70s for one of our unpublished games called Tribute. Tribute was a strategic territorial conquest game devoid of any luck, and chief among its attributes was our simultaneous revelation ‘battle wheel.’ The wheel pits players against one another by allowing them to secretly sacrifice their troops in order to gain a territorial win.
Simply put, you dial the number of troops you are willing to sacrifice (limited by the number of troops in the territory in question) and the player with the higher number wins the battle, but loses the number of troops dialed. Meanwhile, the loser of the battle loses all troops in the fray. Players were therefore allowed to dial 0 and “beat a hasty retreat,” fleeing to an adjacent territory. With Dune, and subsequently Rex, additional considerations of leaders, weapons, and defense were added to battle.
When I played Rex at FFG last fall, I was delighted at the elegance of the fit. From story line to graphical details to play mechanics, our game system felt like it belonged. The sense of fit was evident in the face of dramatically different stories, environments and characters. I am certain that Twilight Imperium fans will be drawn into the intrigues of the game without the slightest twinge, and that Dune players will easily pick up the modified mechanics without missing a beat!
I am excited for Twilight Imperium fans, many of whom have not played Dune, and for our loyal Dune fans who have longed for the republishing of the classic. Both groups of players will have the opportunity to experience elements of each other’s cherished game blended into one.
Thanks, Christian, Corey, and Peter! Look for Rex on store shelves everywhere next week, and keep checking back for more.
About the writers
Game Designer and CEO Christian T. Petersen (Twilight Imperium, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game) founded FFG in 1995, and has since guided the company to become one of the world’s foremost hobby games publishers.
Corey Konieczka (Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, Runewars) works as Vice President of Research and Design for Fantasy Flight Games, where he has contributed his valuable creative input since 2005.
Peter Olotka (Dune, Cosmic Encounter) is co-owner of Future Pastimes, LLC. His contributions to the hobby games industry have been substantial; during his time as owner and designer at Eon Products, Mr. Olotka helped to develop the Dial-Based Conflict System, among many other designs.