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Designer Diary: Medieval Mastery

Miles Ratcliffe
United Kingdom
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I have spent the last 18 months working on, playing and developing my games Brave the Elements and Medieval Mastery along with my colleague and good friend David Inker. We created Chaos Publishing Ltd. to publish these games (and more), initially starting out by producing limited print runs consisting of a few hundred copies.

Originally, we had planned to release both Brave the Elements and Medieval Mastery at the 2011 UK Games Expo but due to delays we decided to put Brave the Elements on hold for the time being and push forward with Medieval Mastery. As for that game, let's get into its history...

History & Initial Thoughts

The idea for Medieval Mastery came to me after one night in which I first played the games Cosmic Encounter and Wings of War. This confluence of games made me think of creating a short historical wargame in which players could manoeuvre their forces on the field of battle, vying for control over the land, so I did.

I really liked the combat system in Cosmic Encounter, but thought I could take it in a new direction by giving each of the players their own decks from which to draw. One thing I disliked about Cosmic was the inconsistency of both the card distribution and length of play. In fact, one of the games I played ended on the first round before I had even taken a turn! This was the result of one player repeatedly attacking a single player who had a pretty bad hand. Sure, that was an exceptional circumstance, but with all players having the same distribution of cards in their decks, this aspect would not be an issue in Medieval Mastery. I would then go on to solve the issue with length fully by balancing the board layout and variable player powers.

Having played Dominion, I thought I'd make use of a similar card drawing system where players always redraw up to a certain amount of cards in their hand each time they are involved in a battle.

Also, having played Risk and Warhammer 40,000, I wanted a light-medium weight wargame which didn't fall into the usual patterns of games such as these. Therefore I set out to design a game which:

-----• took less than an hour to play,
-----• could accommodate up to six players,
-----• would have little to no downtime,
-----• would be easy to learn (i.e. no large rulebooks), and
-----• would keep all players in the game with a chance at winning.

Now that the foundations were in place, I soon began to develop a working prototype...

Initial Prototypes

Initially the player decks were comprised of three artefact, seven conflict, three support, one mastery and four resource cards, with each having its own particular strengths and special abilities. This, though, was quite unbalanced and there were decks which had a definite advantage over the others.

The mastery cards – yes, that's how the game got its name – could be played only when you were either the attacking or defending player and could be used only once per game, but they usually granted players an immediate victory in battle as well as another largely beneficial effect. Then again, these were removed from the game after playtesting revealed just worked better without them.

In addition, in the early stages, the defending player could choose to retreat from battle if he thought the attacker had a trick up his sleeve. This added a bluffing element to the game, but as the game developed and it became much more tactical, this was effectively dropped.

In terms of the game board, I realised straight away that the board should be split up to best allow for the varying number of players. Originally, I had thought of some abstract board before realising that the areas would just be better captured using a simple hex map layout.

Now, what led to using dice to represent each of the players' knights? Well, with a minimum budget and the areas not being very large, I chose dice. This worked incredibly well and has stayed as a constant throughout the whole process.

This was only very early in its development, but it was clear that even though there were a lot of balancing issues, we really liked the concept and decided to prepare the game for publication.


To assist with balancing the cards, we went back to basics and made each of the six player decks the same; this played much better and we realised that, due to the distribution, the different card types couldn't be balanced against one another effectively - which would result in a particular deck being stronger than the others, which we didn't want. From there, we started to focus on getting the different artefacts balanced with one another. This alone was not an easy task and, even though some artefacts didn't really change, the majority went through much iteration.

Of course, we also went through multiple designs for the cards:

A card design summary, showing the main design changes I made along the way

Medieval Mastery 2.0

After discussing a few details of the game with its playtesters, I suddenly had a "light bulb moment" - Medieval Mastery was about to dramatically change...and for the better! I thought of redesigning the board layout so that it consisted of a number of single hex tiles, each with their own special abilities and victory point values. From this point, the game has completely transformed from what was referred to as an okay game to what could be defined as a great game! Then again, there was still a lot of work to do...

A board design summary, showing both original and final six-player maps

Further Development

Shortly into further development, we decided to re-invent how the artefacts worked. We removed them from the decks and proceeded so that each player was given a random artefact of each of the three types at the start of the game. Furthermore, the card distribution had changed a multitude of times, but we finally settled on ten conflict, four support and four resource cards.

I also came up with an alternate system for drawing cards in which you chose to either draw cards or advance your knights. After taking this idea to playtesting I realised how foolish this idea was and immediately returned to the original Dominion-style draw system without much hesitation. Then again, this act of foolish redesign highlighted other key issues in the game to do with the effects of artefacts and territories.

We then worked to resolve these issues with more playtesting until we were finally happy with the results.


That's where the Medieval Mastery development cycle is now – finished! What started out as a small bluffing game of medieval conquest has developed into an engaging, thematic tactical experience that can be enjoyed in less than an hour's playing time.

An example set-up of a six-player map - picture taken by James Sutherland

UK Games Expo 2011

The game had a great response at the UK Games Expo, selling forty copies in 14 hours; in fact, every group that played the game bought a copy! We are now looking to the future to make larger print runs of the game, but for now you can buy Medieval Mastery through our website...check it out!

Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you pick up and enjoy playing Medieval Mastery in the near future. If you have any questions, please post a comment below or send me a Geekmail.

All the best, and have fun gaming!

Miles Ratcliffe
Chaos Publishing Ltd.
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Subscribe sub options Thu Jul 14, 2011 6:30 am
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