Golden Journal No. 40:
I created the Golden Journal to add cool extras to our games. And we’ve done that, over many issues, with new tanks, planes and ships of all descriptions. But I don’t think any of those were quite as cool as Golden Journal No. 40: Byzantium Eternal.
For Byzantium Eternal, I got to create a whole alternative history – not just a little smidgen of one, but a whole one, in which the Byzantine Empire fought off Mehmed the Conqueror in 1453. The Byzantium Eternal story is a variant for Soldier Emperor, and since we don’t get to craft odd Soldier Emperor variants very often, I decided to go all in for it.
And so Byzantium Eternal is much larger than the usual Golden Journal. To start with, it has two sheets of pieces instead of just one. That means you get a double set of leaders in about half of the copies assembled (we had a lot of damaged sheets, when the cartons must have bounded on their edge. So we decided to slice off the edge and use the rest of the pieces anyway, and thereby embiggen the set of pieces. Just use one set of leaders.) You also get a double set of armies and fleets, but you’ll use all of them: ten armies and six fleets.
Soldier Emperor is a very fine game, one that I like a great deal, but it’s never been as popular as series like Panzer Grenadier or Great War at Sea, and the pieces for Byzantium Eternal were printed on the same sheet as Golden Journal sets for variants from both of those series. So I knew that we’d have lots of extras even without the shipping damage. Once it sank in that we had the option to double the numbers of fleets and armies, I knew that we had to do that.
Giving the Eastern Roman Empire (the proper name of the Byzantine Empire) 10 armies, six fleets and three leaders put the Empire well ahead of any minor power; with just one set of pieces, they were already by far the strongest minor power in the (enhanced) game. With that many armies and fleets, they had to be a Major Power, which when I thought about it was what I’d wanted to do all along.
I’ve always had a fascination with Byzantine history, though I’m not an expert – I don’t read Greek, either ancient or modern, and calling yourself “deeply read” when you can’t even read the source languages is the act of a pathetic buffoon. But I’ve written a role-playing adventure set in the Empire (Last Days of Constantinople) and the chance to write an alternative history where that adventure succeeded was too good to pass up.
The double set of pieces seemed to justify a little more embiggening, starting with the Byzantine Empire itself. I think the back story is sort of plausible; fighting off the Ottoman Turks would have been a tall order, as the Turks were pretty badass for a very long time. But in the story, the Byzantines manage it, and they’ve built themselves a handy little thalassocracy there, with provinces ringing the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, plus a canal across Suez. That seemed necessary to support an army and navy of the size provided by the pieces, and it also created more interesting geo-political situations.
I didn’t want to just replace the Ottoman Turks with the Byzantines, in essence taking away the puke-green fleets and armies and using purple ones instead. That’s not very interesting, and wouldn’t add a whole lot of fun to the game (or satisfy our Byzantino-phile customers, both of them). I wanted the game to play very differently than standard Soldier Emperor, so that players who just like the game and don’t really care about the weird history I’ve written to justify the variant, and those who do like the story aspect would have fun playing, too.
The Byzantine Empire covers ten provinces, though some of these are pretty small and poor in resources. That seemed like too many to play “Let’s Pretend X is Y,” and I wanted to alter some of their resources (usually for the better), which meant even more information to keep track of somewhere else, on a chart or something. So we made a map overlay, a nice big map overlay (11x17 inches, covering the lower right quadrant of the Soldier Emperor map). It shows all the changes wrought on south-eastern Europe and the middle East by Byzantine survival. It’s not just the added Empire; Austria and Russia have picked up some territory in the wake of Turkish defeat and there’s a slight alteration to the connections between provinces (so that the Turkish rump state isn’t sliced into free-standing pieces).
Once we went for a map, I decided to go for a Player Display, too. The Byzantine player gets a full-color display just like the other Major Powers, assuming the Empire is in play under control of a human or other sentient player. Like almost all of the Major Powers, the Byzantine Empire can be played as a Major Power or Minor Country; as the latter it’s a pretty rich prize for whoever wins the diplomatic battle.
That latter aspect is going to alter game play quite a bit. The Byzantines like the Russians, their co-religionists, tolerate the Austrians, dislike the British and the French (who have made stabs at seizing the Suez Canal) and really hate the Turks. Ottoman Turkey survives in the backwaters of Anatolia and the Fertile Crescent, ripe for a war of vengeance on their part or one of conquest by the Byzantines.
All told, it’s a package equivalent in physical quality (though not size) to the Player’s Edition of Soldier Emperor, with its full-color play aids. While I like crafting unusual scenarios and the alternate histories behind them, and had a lot of fun concocting this one, I also wanted people to actually play with it. The pieces are just as nice as the decadent tiles of Soldier Emperor (not quite as thick, but with a nicer core and that silky-smooth finish – we did them in part as a test for future Gunpowder Strategy games and they passed magnificently). You get an altered, full-color map and a full-color Player Display, just as nice as the really fine ones in the core game.
This is the sort of thing I want our Gold Club to have: unusual game extras, produced to a very fine standard. Games are supposed to be fun.
The Golden Journal is only available to the Gold Club (that’s why we call it the Golden Journal). It’s just $9.99. We print enough of them to handle initial demand and a few extras, but once they’re gone we won’t reprint them – there’s just no profit in a company as small as Avalanche Press keeping a $9.99 item perpetually in stock. If you want your Byzantines, the time to grab it is now.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published zillions of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children, and his dog Leopold, who is a good dog.
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