But even with this very basic AI, I find myself regularly drawn into imagined political dramas when there are lots of contested borders. I make a move on the Amber enemy, knowing I can take out their main base and split their forces, if only Crimson doesn't decide to screw me by attacking while my main army is on the march. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Sometimes their decision leaves both of us to be crushed by Amber, sometimes it doesn't make any difference. Or I might be anticipating having to make a risky attack with inadequate forces, when Crimson launches an unexpected assault of their own, causing Amber to 'panic' and split their forces, giving me a perfect opening to jump in and tear apart their previously unstoppable military machine. How I interpret these actions can vary wildly based on what happened earlier in the game: Crimson harrassed my early borders and was generally irritating? Their assault on Amber is more hubris and foolishness. But if they generally left me alone? Then we're impromptu allies working together against a common foe.
This interplay of factions was what I wanted to focus on with 'Honour War' as I'm calling it for a WIP title. The goal of the game is to gain prestige, which is done by prevailing in large scale battles which happen at the end of each turn. These turns are split into four rounds, and players have a limited number of actions in each round. Actions can be used to build up your economy and military, where two resources (Food and Treasure) and several troop types allow some specialization and the ability to counter enemy armies if you pick the right units. There are three other factions, and this is where the elements of diplomacy and espionage come into play.
I enjoyed Compact Conflict most when I felt I was 'playing' the AI, letting them attack each other or tempting them into bad choices. The use of diplomacy and espionage in Honour War should achieve the same feeling.
There is only one battle at the end of each turn, with only two sides. The first player to proclaim themselves willing to fight gets a bonus prestige point, but can no longer choose not to take part in the battle. After that, other players can choose to fight against them, or hope to join forces with them. Anyone who doesn't take part in the battle must pay tribute to whoever does win. If no-one chooses to challenge whoever steps up to fight first, they get easy extra prestige without losing any troops. Obviously the ideal situation is to rally other factions to join your banner and leave your enemy without any allies. But perhaps you might be better served by offering to fight alongside someone, and then abandoning them at the last moment to be decimated by the superior enemy force, hopefully taking them out of the equation for a turn or so while they rebuild? The idea is that diplomacy will serve as a reliable source of influence over how other factions choose to join alliances for the main battle. They can refuse, but will suffer a prestige loss - which may be heavy if you've invested in a lot of diplomacy points (of course, they can do the same to you).
But in order to choose who to manipulate and how - or just when to fight and when to stand down - you need information. This is where espionage comes in. You'll have some general idea about the military strength of the other factions, but not the exact unit types they have. There are also some units that can be quickly raised by spending Food or Treasure, so a weak looking enemy might be able to greatly boost their strength just a turn before a battle. If you have more detailed information about what an enemy has, you can tailor your army to counter theirs, or just make sure you have enough allies to beat them... you just have to hope your allies have the right kinds of units, unless you've been spying on them too.