As any regular readers of this blog know, I'm a bit of a fan of mini-campaigns, where you play a series of battles linked together into a narrative. You'll also know that I've been messing around with Simplicity in Hexes a little bit recently, and that there's a small campaign linked to the rules - The Emperor's Balls.
There's no denying that The Emperors Balls is a lovely piece of work, with an entertaining (if slightly silly) narrative, but one thing I noticed was the lack of reward or results in the games. Each battle is fought in isolation and whilst the result of one battle dictates which scenario is played next, there are no stakes. Essentially it's a simple Best of Three games, with the setups being pre-determined.
It got me thinking that one of the essential features of a campaign - even a simple one - is some kind of stakes. Either the victor should get a reward, or the loser accrue a penalty. Or both.
In classic, old-school, campaigns some of this would be a change in the situation on the game map, plus such things as losses. Pyrrhic victories are possible; you win a battle, but at the cost of your elite guard cavalry, for example. Losing a battle by withdrawing troops so that they can fight another day becomes a possibility. And this is fine is the campaign is relatively involved; if there are multiple participants, players who are losing can withdraw and regroup, whilst the other participants continue the fight.
But in simpler campaigns - the basic two-player ladder campaigns, for example - the stakes need to be simpler. Some of these do count losses from one battle to the next, but the danger here is the horrible Death Spiral, where one player loses a battle so badly that their remaining forces are unlikely to ever win any ensuing battles, thus making their involvement in the campaign uninteresting. I personally like campaigns where losses are mostly or entirely replenished between battles, and each game sees both players on a nominally equal footing. I'm egalitarian like that. The Emperor's Balls adopts that approach, and I like it. But the winner of a battle should get some kind of edge in the next; the trick is to make it worth having, but without weighting the game too heavily in their favour.
In a simple campaign one of my favourite rewards is a one-off bonuses, such as a reroll. So the winner of the previous battle, for example, may be allowed a combat/initiative reroll in the next game. This is nice because it's an advantage, but it's up to the player to decide how and when to use it. A more interesting option, which would work for The Emperor's Balls, is to allow the victor in the previous game to make two rolls for their force composition, and choose which one they wish to have, whilst the loser simply gets what the dice gives them. Again, this gives the victor a choice, the benefit of which is theirs to exploit or throw away. A more complicated approach is to have two scenarios available to each player as the next game, with the winner being able to choose. For example, at present, if the attacker wins Scenario 1 the campaign automatically proceeds to Scenario 2, whereas if the defender wins it goes to Scenario 3. This option would have the attacker being able to choose between Scenarios 2a and 2b if they win, whilst a victorious defender gets to choose between Scenarios 3a and 3b. Obviously this approach requires a lot of scenarios (since each of the four scenarios that branch off the first one will themselves give rise to two options), although some could be reused, but once again it allows a victor to decide how to exploit their win.
I appreciate that this post is a bit of a ramble. A skim through posts tagged 'campaign' on this blog will turn up examples of the idea I've mentioned, and other thoughts as well, and give a feel for the approach I use. What are your favourite campaign 'reward' mechanisms?