Here’s what struck me when I dredged the old Tribute prototype out of my archives.
First, I was stunned that we designed Tribute 40 years ago in 1973 - long before Cosmic Encounter was published. Cosmic was still in its infancy with the same six aliens in every game, day after day, month after month, year after year. Yet we never tired of playing it.
Second was the simplicity of the Tribute rules. Roughly 1600 words. They stand in stark relief to the massive BOOKLETS of today’s games crammed with detailed descriptions, fancy diagrams and pull outs, side notes, exceptions and more.
And speaking of more, a good design principle might be: "More is not always better".
Third was the simple physical creation of Legions by connecting basic elements as outlined in Jack Kittredge’s insightful comments: “...men to fight, gold to pay them, and grain to feed them.” Again, the three pie pieces with a ring around them was simple and easy to understand. While realism is the coin of the realm in gaming today, a case could be made that realism overdone can get in the way playing.
Fourth was the Battle Wheel. This design was, I think, our best “simultaneous revelation” interaction. The notion that you lose what you secretly commit, is fiercely powerful and the ability to adjust it at the last instant by changing the dial gets to the core of a players psyche. Panic can be a tough master. Hubris can be Panic's accomplice.
Fifth, Harass and Withdraw. Dial a 0 save your stuff and flee to an adjacent territory. It is such a simple play garnering barely a mention in the rules, because it’s an intuitive mechanic driven by the battle wheel dynamic. When both sides expect that one of the players will harass and withdraw, the opportunity to go light on the perceived stronger side is tempting, inviting desperation and trickery by the perceived losing side.
Sixth, the Roman Numerals. I look at it now as a rookie mistake. Who in their right mind would subject players to the XXVII? Have I mentioned how realism can get in the way of good gaming? Yet, I still think that a cry of “Oh no! VEE ONE ONE Legions Arrrgghhh!” may still have place in my heart.
Seventh was the creation of a system that replicated an intensely complex struggle for ROME placing Cash and Cudgel on equal footing. It was accomplished with such minimal playing parts and minimal instruction that by default the player wound up feeling like the most important game element.
Eighth, the absence of luck. After the initial random assignment of locations, the players are left to their wits, reinforcing the “player as most important element” factor.
Ninth, the other games that we designed that incorporated elements of Tribute: DUNE, now REX: Borderlands..now Gearworld: Darkover; HOAX. Pretty much all of our subsequent work in the Eon time period glommed onto parts of this one 1973 strategy game. A pretty fair tribute to this design if you ask me.
And Tenth, the Emperor’s Crown. The only thing I can add to Bill Eberle’s spot-on write up is that wearing the crown changes meek mannered gamers into tyrants in ten seconds. The fact that the player “self-anoints” his or her self as Emperorheightens the rest of the players’ desires to wrest it from said head and do a little self anointing of their own.
Postscript: Fantasy Flight Games could do worse than publishing Tribute for the first time ever. As a tribute to the simplicity of complexity.