Locking ideas away in the ol’ mental vault has some real advantages in the ease-of-use department. But retrieval is, admittedly, a problem. So, I’m going to try and make a habit of actually writing things down.
So, here’s my idea: I think the scheming of a court makes for a great environment for a game, mostly because it is already a game. Courtiers accrue influence and power to themselves and use those to outmaneuver opponents. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game that attempts to replicate this. Courtiers, if present in a game at all, are usually some sort of limiting factor for a player whose already a ruler of some kind. But the idea of starting as title-less nobody and eventually becoming a member of the Privy Council (or whatever) seems neglected. There’s a good reason why that is though- I think it’s really hard to emulate well. But let’s see if we can hammer out some fundamentals:
1) People-focus. The focus on the game would be courtiers, politicking at court. So this suggests something like Crusader Kings, minus the whole “actually ruling a place” part of the game. Court is a web of connections between people, who seem like the main actors in this game. This lends itself to sandbox or objective-agnostic play. Maybe the goal is to usurp the throne yourself, amass wealth, or protect the current ruler from other scheming sycophants. In any event, the player is playing a person at court, who interacts with other people at court.
2) Rank/Influence. In a real court, the ruler can’t do everything themselves, so they need a bureaucracy to handle things for them. So positions are important- is rank then the main success measure here? It is in Redshirt, for example, which simulates climbing the ranks on a space station. I don’t think that’s ideal though, because in real history people’s true power was sometimes much higher or lower than their official position might suggest. Also, people sometimes had many positions. So while positions/titles are important, I think the emphasis on what they produce: prestige, influence and income. Those sound like three good currencies of power!
3) Secrets. I think an absolute necessity in depicting a court are secrets. This is a staple of court depictions in film/television: someone knows something that either no one else knows, or knows something about somebody else. If, say, I know that the Baron of Whatever has an illegitimate son, then I could blackmail him. Or maybe force him to use his influence to get me a better position at court. Or spread a rumor about him to damage his prestige. And closely related to secrets are plots. We should be able to plot to do many things, including drastic measures like killing someone, down to plotting to discredit someone or damage their reputation. Crusader Kings doesn’t do enough with its plot mechanic, but the set-up there seems sound: inviting people into your plot increases its likelihood of success, but also increases the danger of it being exposed.
4) Skillsets. Courtiers can’t just plot and scheme to get ahead though. Sometimes they got ahead from being actually competent at their jobs. While I don’t think the game needs to actually simulate being a Medieval accountant (so we do lose some ludo-narrative consonance points), there should be a mechanic for actually performing your job in some fashion. An array of skills you could dedicate yourself to seems like a good fit here.
5) Relationships. Lastly, public perception is an important aspect of court life. Courtiers could dance, recite poetry, and impress eachother. They could have affairs, form friendships, and patronize the arts. I think the main thing to stress is that courtiers need more ways to interact than just impacting our currencies of money/influence etc, and more ways to interact than just killing eachother. I’m envisioning something like the Sims, where you’re allocating your day between competing priorities like sleep, your job, forming relationships, etc.
I think those are some good core elements a court simulator would need. Is there anything I’m missing? What else are classic deadly court politics tropes?