So there I was, working on Trading Post, watching the Dan Brown movie Angels & Demons when all of a sudden a new game design hit me. I thought to myself wouldn’t a game about electing a pope be kind of fun? So I changed course and laid the groundwork for a game design I am calling Conclave. (It could also be called Preferiti, Triregnum, Habemus Papem – which is already used for a game, or Fumata Bianca).
That was back in 2011. I had the idea for the game and a sheet of paper with a few details, but, like so many other game concepts, it sat on my shelf for nearly two years.
While again working on Trading Post a few weeks ago, and yes, while watching Angels & Demons (I guess I have a liking for that movie) I again was drawn to the idea of a game about electing a pope. So this time, since Trading Post is my white whale, I diverted my attention to actually conceptualizing Conclave.
Papal Conclave: What is it?
In the Catholic Church the pope is the person elected to succeed the line of Saint Peter, Jesus’ disciple. Since the dawn of Christianity there has been a leader of the Christian Church. And the Catholic Church has referred to that leader as the Supreme Pontiff, or more simply, the Pope.
Conclave is all about electing a new pope. The word Conclave is a conjunction of two Latin words, cum (“with”), and clave (“the key”). The interpretation of the word conclave is “sealed with a key.” In 1274, due to several elections taking years to decide the next pope, it was decreed by Pope Gregory X that the elections should take place inside a sealed room. This way the college of cardinals would have to elect a pope while basically being sequestered and given small rations of food and water.
Since 1846 all conclaves have taken place in the Sistine Chapel, in the Vatican City.
During conclave the cardinals of the Catholic church are locked in the Sistine chapel. They will cast their first vote in the afternoon of the first day. To elect a pope requires a 2/3rds majority for any single candidate not including that candidate’s vote. If the vote does not result in a newly elected pope, the ballots will be burned with chemicals that result in black smoke emanating from the Sistine Chapel smoke stack. Each subsequent day the cardinals will take a vote in the morning and another vote in the afternoon. Black smoke will be displayed each vote until a pope is elected. Once a pope is elected then the smoke will be white, thus informing the world that a new leader of the Catholic church has been elected.
While this Scrutinium method (secret ballot) of electing the pope is a standard method there are three others: Compromissum, Accessus, and Quasi-Inspiratio. This game design is focused on Scrutinium.
How does the Game Work?
During a game of Conclave you represent one of the Preferiti, the preferred cardinals for the papacy. It is your objective throughout the game to manipulate the college of cardinals such that you earn their votes and get elected as the next pope.
This game is all about area influence. The game will be played using cards that represent each of the players. Each player will have their own deck of cards. Half of the cards are your own player color. The other half match the colors of the other players.
The first portion of the game represents the first afternoon vote on the first day of Conclave. During this portion of the game players take turns playing cards onto each cardinal to set their initial vote. Once all the votes are in, assuming no player has a 2/3rds majority (which is physically impossible in the first round with how I’ve designed the game), then the second phase of the game begins.
The second phase is the manipulation portion of the game. One your turn you can perform one of several types of miracles/charities, each basically giving you a specific action. These are listed here:
- Miracle of Feeding: Flip the cards of any one cardinal.
- Miracle of Healing: Swap the top cards of any two cardinals.
- Acts of Service: Lock any one cardinals vote.
- Acts of Mercy: Examine the bottom card of up to three cardinals.
So I’ve mentioned cards and tables. Let’s explain. During the first phase of the game (the first afternoon vote) players will take turns placing cards on each of the cardinals. They will place one card face down, and one card face up. The face up card is the only one that matters when counting the votes. The bottom card represents the bias that the cardinal has toward another Preferiti. So when players choose Miracle of Feeding they will flip any one cardinal’s vote over to the other card.
When players choose the Miracle of Healing they will take the top cards from any two cardinals at any tables and swap them.
Acts of Service allows for any one cardinal’s vote to be locked in for the rest of the game. This cardinal can no longer be swayed. But beware, each player has only so many “locking cubes” that they can use to lock cardinals.
And Acts of Mercy allows a player to look at the bottom cards of up to three different cardinals to see which way they might be leaning. This will help players know when it might be beneficial to choose the Miracle of Feeding (flip cards) action.
How do you win?
The game board basically represents the locked down Sistine Chapel. Your objective is not to earn a straight up 2/3rds vote as that would be boring for a game. Rather, you are trying to win different tables within the Sistine Chapel. It’s an electoral college of sorts. There are tables of 3, 5, and 7 cardinals. If you possess the majority of votes at any table, then you receive a number of votes equal to the number of cardinals at that table.
So if a table of 3 cardinals has two green votes and one blue vote, the green player would currently have 3 votes. It is an all-or-nothing system.
Players play to a certain number of votes depending on how many players are playing. Once a player has successfully manipulated their way to the right number of votes then they are elected as the new pope and the game is over.
Current State of the Game…
Currently the game is in the prototype phase. I basically have it ready for solo playtesting. Right now it is a pretty simple concept and is easy to prototype. But I’m exploring a few things that could make it both more interesting from a gameplay perspective and more difficult to prototype at the same time. So for now I’ll keep it simple. My goal is to solo it this weekend and get a better idea about how to move forward with the concept.
I’ll post more about Conclave in the future, but until then check out this awesome infographic from image-illustration.net: (click to embiggen)