2020-09-19 Goat rustling in Anthe

I have working code for my Gemini game! Currently the idea is this: every player “runs” an orc tribe. The game is a low-effort game where players simply indicate a “strategy” for their tribe and the game engine does the rest: it simulates the lives of orcs living in their villages and appends the results to Phoebe pages. This is where part two of the game happens. It’s a bit like Cosmic Voyage, except that the turn reports function as writing prompts. Phoebe is a wiki and so what you do as a player is you edit your village’s wiki page and turn the dry messages into something more entertaining to read.

So what’s the current status?

When a new game is created, a bunch of villages is created with their inhabitants. When a turn is processed (a year passes in-game), the orcs grow older, give birth, and die. That’s it. It’s a lot of drama.

If you want to see it in action, check out the Anthe wiki space at The Transjovian Council. Feel free to send me mail with ideas, or edit an appropriate page on the Anthe wiki space. 😁

I’m planning on doing something regarding the old conflict between city dwellers and steppe nomads: tribes can focus on animal husbandry or agriculture; the game is going to have occasional calamities such as draughts, long winters, floods, diseases, invasion, marauders, and so on; agriculture allows you to nourish ten times as many people as animal husbandry, but at the same time the calamities will affect you much more; possible further actions for players would therefore be to build granaries (which requires a certain surplus), walls, canals, dams, and so on. Players can help each other in achieving these goals.

So I wanted to start with animal husbandry. Let’s say orcs have goats instead of cattle and thus goat rustlers instead of cattle rustlers. If you village has no animals, you can steal them from another village. My idea is that if the orcs have a strategy of animal husbandry set, but not enough animals to feed themselves, they’ll try and steal them from their neighbours, automatically.

Then we can give one village a bunch of animals and simulate a few years, see how it goes. I also need to think of how many animals are needed to feed a certain number of people at “equilibrium”.

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OK, giant goats… 😃 Or cows? I feel I half-know more about cows but really, I don’t know anything. I hear a cow feeds a family for a year when it’s butchered. Let’s agree that this family just eats the dairy products as well. Does that make sense or would that feed even more people? I have no idea. A cow gives birth when she’s two years old. Remember, this is not reference material. This is reference material, dumbed down to serve for a game, not the other way around! Like the entire game… OK, moving on.

How many cows to sustain a group? Ancient nomads roamed in groups of five to ten families. If we start with the assumption that a family is about five people, that gives us 25–50 people, which isn’t any different from the hunter-gathering model I’ve used of 30–50 people. (Ancient Steppe Nomad Societies, Nikolay Kradin, DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.013.3)

Perhaps that goes to show that the presence or absence of livestock – that is, whether a group lives as hunter-gatherers or as pastoral nomads – depends on the ecosystem they find themselves in.

I have yet to figure out whether I want the villages to be located on a map, with advantageous and disadvantageous geographic places: hill forts can be defended easily but need a hill; fishing needs a lake; a river attracts malaria; living higher up in the mountains means pastoral nomadism as agriculture starts to fail. Or do I want a game of steppe nomads vs. settled people, agriculture, land ownership, taxes vs. free roaming smaller units?

Perhaps the game orcs can all live as outsiders. One of the actions players could vote on would be: do we want to go to war? It’s risky because many people can die, but it can also be very rewarding (meaning less people die). That would point to some sort of “treasure” being available to hoard. If you have it, orcs spend it to buy grain and supplies from border towns. Plunder replenishes this. Big victories result in tribute being paid for a few years.

To be entertaining, the choice to go to war should be some sort of bet. The war would be a sort of “off-screen” expedition that you can join or not. The empire to the North, East, South or West is weak and ripe for plunder. The king of kings calls on his subjects. Do you join the expedition? If you go, your share of plunder is proportional to the number of people returning from the expedition. The mortality rate of the expedition depends on luck and is the same for everybody participating (if the empire was weak, it’s low; if the empire recovered quickly, it’s going to be high).

– Alex 2020-09-22

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