The ideas Behind '63

by Ted Parry, rules designer for ’63

The essential ideas for ’63 come from three sources.  The first is the shape of Wales, history and rail network. There’s a lot that’s already effectively decided as soon as you make a game on a map of Wales, and even more when rail travel is included.  Second was the sharp learning experience of failing to create a very different board game. This fed into the last, and perhaps central determinant of how I eventually worked out the rules of ’63: some philophical principles relating to simplicity, luck and reason.

The limits of luck and the limits of reason

The game we started out working on over half a decade ago was a huge and ambitious affair, with cards and maps and beautifully crafted pieces, and more cards, and more cards.  And yet more cards.

You can see part of how it failed. 

But beyond simply ‘too many cards’, there was also an essential conceptual confusion.  We weren’t really sure if we were seeking to make a game of skill, or a game of chance, or a game that looked pretty.  (It really did look pretty, by the way.  Ianto, the image and board designer for both games, is very good at his work). 

But if the mechanisms of play don’t work, nobody’s going to care how pretty the game is.  So when I had the idea for the ’63 game I looked hard at how to make it as simple as possible.  I found one part answer in chess, with its total rejection of luck.

So far, so good.

Chess, however, deals with an abstract battle between just two players.  It doesn’t deal with the mechanics of something that’s not (openly, at least) a battle,  a world where declared enemies have to live with each other on occasions, with pieces coming back from the dead after apparently being killed off, or a situation where some pawns seem fated to change sides.  And it doesn’t deal with the uncertainty that comes with not knowing who you can trust.

I solved some of these conundrums in ’63 by thinking about what I’d call the limits of reason.  The most famous instance of this in political science is a thought experiment called “The Prisoners’ Dillemma”. Here an entirely rational view of the world is usually understood to result in a bad outcome for everyone. 

This thought experiment was repeatedly showed not to work in experiment, however.  This shouldn’t be a suprise. It does not address the simple fact that it is more rational for a prisoner under interrogation to distrust their jailer than to distrust their accomplices. 

Bearing this in mind, I wanted to work out an objective model across the map of Wales that would offer players a constantly updated set of choices about who to trust and who to regard as the enemy.  The three player version of ’63 works brilliantly in this respect – if you play as if all opponents are your enemy at all times, you are likely to weaken yourself decisively.  Similarly, I wanted to avoid the idea that the objective should be to decisively wipe out an opponent.  So if you are too successful in reducing one opponent’s numbers, you’ll find yourself threatened everywhere by them instead of removing them from play.  This also allows, to some extent, realisation of the strange and unpredictable rebirth of political ideas and causes that have gone through periods of serious weakness.

I also sought to create a cost for some forms of aggression.  After all, politics often involves compromises  Attacking an opponent’s base will therefore lose you pieces on the board, and slow your route to victory.

Having roughly worked ’63 out for three players, I found myself stumped by how to create such complexity in play, alongside simplicity in mechanisms, for two players.  Historical fact came to the rescue though.  The relative weakness of the Liberal Party in the postwar era, and the tendency of its politicians to change sides, provided an answer.  From there it was obvious to build the Liberals, as a non-human player, into the three-player version too.