Grand Tribunal-The Board Game

Grand Tribunal [Edit]

A Board Game of Magical Invention [Edit]

by P.R.Chase, the games designer.

I conceived the idea of Grand Tribunal sitting in an ice-cold classroom at a notable Manhattan private school. I was tutoring a student during Christmas break and the building was not heated during the week. As part of our Design Technology curriculum, the student’s project was to design a board game. My winter coat wrapped around me, I decided to work alongside of the student on my own idea.

I had played Ars Magica already for five years in New York, with a Troupe that included members from New Jersey, Queens, and the Bronx. We would meet every week to further the story of the Myrydonn Saga, located on the isle of Anglesey off the northern coast of Wales. We had begun with the second edition of Ars Magica, the edition I had bought in 1989, during my first year of college. By the end of the Saga, we had worked through the third and fourth editions, converting our characters and notes as we went.

Something I loved most about Ars Magica was the “down time,” when we’d all plan out various arcane projects and experiments for our intrepid Magi. Of course, adventuring was fun, but some of our best conversations and interaction within our Troupe happened during our seasons of work. This was also the time when we saw our Magi (and Companions) grow and change in a dramatic and exciting way.

Thus I decided that there ought to be a board game incarnation of the magic item creation system that I knew and loved so well in the roleplaying game. Originally, I was vexed by the prospect of converting a Technique and Form system to a board game mechanic, but then I hit upon the idea of organizing the various spells into four categories, which I could then link to magic item types into a matrix of less powerful and more powerful items. The Size and Material table in the roleplaying game complemented this concept well: an item that is made from less valuable material will not hold as many spells, but it can be completed and invested with spells more quickly and with less of an investment of raw vis than a larger item made from more valuable material.

The Vis Hunt idea in the game came about as a revision from the original idea that was pitched to Atlas Games. I had finished the demo of the game by summer of 2003 and brought it with me to GenCon. Michelle Nephew liked the overall idea but made some design suggestions to the common play board and the cards. I returned the next summer with the proposed changes made, and one of them was a system for using actions to gain additional vis. At that point the design was ready for publication.

One strategy hint I would give to players is to start the game with a small item that can gain quick points in the first Tribunal, but which can then be used to cast spells on other players. In a three-player game, players concentrate more on getting points from Tribunals, but in a five-player game, there is more spell use from items that have already been entered in a Tribunal. If you have a small item ready in the early stages of the game, and it wins even a third-place token, you should feel free to install spells on it for use against opponents.

Another strategy hint that works well with four or five players is to take a Resource at the outset of the game and to play it very early on. Resources are powerful but sometimes overlooked.

Finally, with a three-player game, try a variant that gives players three actions, not two, every round. Speaking of variants, the Atlas Games forums have a Grand Tribunal section where you can find some other interesting game variants.

Also check out My handle is “Quedquis,” the name I gave to my Bonisagus magus during the good old days of the Myrydonn Saga. Feel free to contact me with ideas, questions, or suggestions!

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