ScrapYard Armory

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The Succession Wars, Play by Email

The Succession Wars board game was originally released by Fasa back in 1987.  It took a birds eye view of the five great houses and provided a Risk like game system for playing out the Succession Wars of the early 31st century.

Succession Wars has been long out of print and copies on eBay are a coveted commodity.  That doesn’t mean that the game is out of reach though.  The rules are available to those who know where to look and many conversions have made play by email possible.  This article will dive into the experiences of a small group of gamers who have played the game completely over email and are hungry for more.  We’ve compiled rules, argued intention, and generally made a mess of the place in the hopes of clearing up the cluttered and at times ambiguos rules set.

First, a special thanks to a couple people that have acted as GM while we here at the ScrapYard have participated as players and for the first time got a chance to play this game:

Oboe Cop GM of the “December Winds”, a game that ran from March into October of 2011.

nckestrel GM of the “A New League”, a game just getting started as of this posting.

nckestrel developed a cubic version of the map for displaying the progress of December Winds that we’ve adapted to several other presentations.  I use this one as a reference map:



To play by email effectively, you’ll need a GM to host.  Most importantly, the GM will receive your orders, make the rolls, and clear up or decide any rule interpretations.  However, they can also assist by providing documents to the users for them to fill out.  For instance when the A New League game first started, nkestral provided a list of the starting units with a space for each for where the player wants to deploy them.  Those units that have an assigned location to start had their locations already filled in already.  For placing units and declaring attacks you are generally given 48 hours and for other responses you are given 24 hours.  As usual though, life can get in the way.  Just keep in contact, let everyone know if you need more time, and make a reasonable effort.


As far as communication procedures go, you email only the GM when it is a secret or a choice made at the same time as someone else such as a bid or what cards to play as you attack.  Otherwise you email the entire play group (and the lurkers).  Some declarations such as changing unit combinations need to be declared with other required responses such as when you decide to retreat or not.

Bidding Procedures

Traditional means of bidding, as can be observed on tv shows such as Storage Wars, would be fairly time intensive when bids are received via email and everyone has to keep track of the latest bid then how do you figure out when to stop accepting bids?  Like ebay allowing bid snipers, and what if players aren’t available?  To speed up the process and not require too much time from players, we use a Highest Unique Bid Auction where all players make a secret bid to the GM within a certain time, usually 24 hours, and only the highest bidder wins.  In December Winds and A New League, the highest bidder paid what they bid, while in A New League the highest bidder will pay 1 more then the 2nd highest bid.

Tracking Tools

By all means, you can use The Succession Wars board game itself.  I think most of us playing have a copy, though maybe not all the pieces.  Also, it is sometimes difficult to give up that much space.  Others may have cats or dogs nicknamed Hurricane.

VASSAL is a free open source board game engine for playing online and several modules have already been made for you to play The Succession Wars using it.  However, I’ve found at least one mistake in version II: Liao is marked as a Regional Capital.  However, this is actually easily fixed since the map is just an image inside the module which is really just a zip file.  Still, once you get used to how to select and expand a stack of pieces or an individual piece it is pretty awesome.  However, a not so easy fix is that Ozawa should be connected to Tikonov, the only enemy territory Almach should only be connected to is Tikonov, and Acula should not be connected to Liao.

Cyberboard is another play by email application. BoardGameGeek hosts a Gamebox for The Succession Wars in the Files section.

If you like to play with the original board game pieces but find the map provided a little unclear or so little space to do anything besides stack the pieces in some regions you could also make your own map with larger boxes and hide it in the basement to keep it from your dog’s tail.  The one on the right is based on the reference map above.  Actually you can see an 8.5″x11″ copy of it along with the original map for size comparison.

Read The Standard Rules Carefully

Stealing Periphery Units: If an enemy bids on and wins a periphery state and then takes all their units elsewhere, simply capture the periphery region and you gain control of it’s units.

Once a player gains control of a Periphery state, he may move and attack with that state’s forces just as if they were his own.  If another player captures the Periphery state’s Region, he gains control of those Periphery forces. -page 12
Hidden Merc Unit: Just like the rules for mercs you can effectively deploy hidden merc units in the game.  New mercenary units are placed at a house or regional capital, not a factory (although, there could also be a factory).  Use it as a surprise defense (or attack) at any capital.   Keep in mind that new Mercs are only created by using the card (which may be used at any time).
New Mercenary units are formed in Regional or House capitals.  Rebuilt Mercenary units are placed in Manufacturing Centers in the same way as House units. -page 11

You can control periphery units from the other side of the Inner Sphere: We’ve seen it.  A player leaves no combat units between (nor on) their capital and a Periphery state nearby thinking their front line troops separate their space from the enemies’…  Instead, an enemy bids on and wins a Periphery State just before their move phase and uses those periphery units to take control of an enemy House Capital!

Rules Addendum

Below is a collection of rule additions, subtractions, or clarifications that came up while playing (or preparing for) the game.  Use some, all, none, or modify them to your heart’s content!

Note that these are NOT the official rules that will be used to play, though I’ll probably update these as we play as well.

Placing units: The rules make it sound like you pay for units during the “Spend taxes” phase, but then get to choose where the units get placed during the “Place new units” phase, especially since it talks about not being able to place units at newly constructed factories.  Well duh…

Units purchased during the Spend Taxes phase must have designated locations where they will be built.  i.e. Their placement designation occurs during the “Spend taxes” phase and not the “Place new units” phase.

Hidden Merc Units: Since the rules don’t specify, your GM may allow you to use the card to create Merc units at any capital.  But, it obviously doesn’t seem quite right to be able to hire them behind enemy lines.  Still, you can use them in a surprise attack if your dropship has an extra spot that your enemy didn’t expect filled.

New Mercenary units are formed in Regional or House capitals you control.

Don’t Follow Your Leader: He was bribed…  Don’t follow them.

No troops will change affiliation because a Leader is bribed (with the standard exception of Mercenary Leaders and their associated units).

Standard Game Pieces: Because when playing by email we aren’t playing with a single customized map, it is best to use the standard pieces as they are to prevent confusion and errors in tracking.

Regions, Leaders, Units will not have their names nor stats changed from the rules as in the original rule book.

Bribed Leaders: This is really just a restatement of a rule from the rule book.

Leaders of yours that have been bribed that are in a region you control during the tax phase will reduce your overall tax revenue by their administration skill.

Travel in Terra: Even a Marik Leader starts on Terra according to the rule book.

Jumpships and leaders may pass through and even stop in Terra (while it remains neutral) and will not be captured by Comstar.

More then 2 House Combat: Even the standard rules allow this situation if a 3rd party bids on and wins a merc unit in an already contested region.

When more then 1 enemy House has units in a region where your units are participating in combat, you declare which units of yours are attacking which enemy House.  You may switch their target when you reply that you are not retreating with them.  They will automatically be switched between (not during) combat rounds if all but one enemy House are eliminated.

Extra Cards: These rules make it possible to have more then 4 cards, however it is expressly forbidden by the rules and creates

If you get more than 4 cards in hand, you can look at them all before discarding.  You must discard down to 4 cards before playing any.  Once told what the new ones are, it is too late to play cards before you recieve the new ones.

Discard Cards: Since you can give, trade, or sell cards to other players, why not be able to just get rid of them?

You may discard cards voluntarily to the discard pile.

Changing Combined Units in Play By Email: Because waiting for yet another email to arrive takes time… your choice is simply required with your required response.

You can you mix up the combinations of units from the first attack if you include the combinations with your order to retreat or not retreat.

Interdict and Combine: There is no defined interaction between these rules nor an example.  This rule will encourage keeping combat units from the same ‘unit’ together and reward combining units if an interdict is played.

Interdict effectively occurs after 2 units combine. example: Unit4+Unit3 = Unit7 w/o Interdict = Unit5 w/interdict.

ComStar Regional Interdict: The card is pretty general since it only defines that it affects a region, and a -2 to the roll rather then the attack force would actually be a bonus making the troops more deadly.  However, there is a lengthy description of interdicts further on in the rules manual.

*The card: “ComStar Regional Interdict. -2 on combat rolls in affected region.” is a -2 to all enemy forces in a region just before the attack roll.  These cards (like others) may be played on behalf of another player.

Create new Merc Unit: I think this is a ruling in A New League to get more merc units on the board faster, though I don’t have enough experience yet as to say why.

Merc counters count as one unit when creating new mercs.

i.e. Both counters of the mercs “Bounty Hunters” (a unique unit in the print board game) will count as one for the card to create new merc card.

Combining Conventional Units:

Conventional units are considered to be in the same unit for the purposes of combining attacks.

Build a New House Unit: I was a little confused in that the rules specify rebuilding merc units and also say new House unit.

Rebuilding a House unit is the same as building a new House unit.


During setup, you cannot place any units on territory you do not control.

Bidding: I thought some of these auction models were interesting, so I’m providing a sample of options here for you.  A slight change goes a long way here.

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays 1 million more than the next closest bid. (Highest Unique Bid Auction)

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays 1 million more than the next closest bid.

When bidding, each player shall submit two secret bids to the GM.  The winner pays their lowest bid higher then the next closest bid.

When bidding, each player shall submit one secret bid to the GM.  All players pay their bid. (All Pay Auction) It may seem odd, but scholars use it to model lobbying/campaign donations and… bribes.

When bidding, each player may pay 1 million C-Bills to submit only a single secret bid to the GM.  The winner pays [choose something from above]. (Bidding Fee Auction)


Spy-Trade cards with another player’s hand.  The player playing this card can look at an opponent’s hand.  The player may then choose any number of cards from the opponents hand to trade with an equal number of cards from their hand.  The target lppayer may not play cards in response to the spy-trade.

Lift House Interdict: It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to lift an interdict from Comstar from an entire house, but leave regional interdicts in place.

Lift House Interdict removes any House interdict and all Regional interdicts for a chosen House.

Death Commando: The Death Commando cards will be removed from the game after they are used.  They could be shuffled into the deck with the rest of the discard pile, but they aren’t called Special Forces cards.

Death Commando cards are removed from the game after being used.

Mercenaries with Leaders: Hired leaders lead their own troops.

If all associated combat units are destroyed, the leader may be automatically moved to where the first new associated combat unit is built for free.  Mercenary leaders can only use their Combat ability while in the same region with at least one of their associated combat units.

If a merc leader is bribed, only the associated combat units change sides, but all associated combat units change sides, regardless of region. (Jaime Wolf is bribed, all Wolf’s Dragoons change sides, but no other units even if in region with Jaime Wolf and without another leader).

“5. Adjust Technology Scale”: Specifically defining that technology is only adjusted at this time for the current player rather then whenever something might adjust it, whereas it may seem that this phase is meant to adjust technology only from the results of combat.

Technology does not change for a player until their Adjust Technology phase.  Technology rolls, cards, gaining/losing regions, etc. do not take effect until that player’s own Adjust Technology Phase.

Official Capital: Some rules assume you have your House Capital, but you could have lost it…

When a player looses their original House Capital or their current Official Capital, they must first choose their Official Capital from other House or Regional Capitals that they control, and then finally they must choose from any plain region they control if they control no Regional nor House Capitals.  If they recapture their original House Capital it automatically becomes their Official Capital.

Periphery Movement: Nothing specifically forbids you to move through a periphery state with your units, although nothing specifically allows it either.  It doesn’t seem right that you could move freely through an enemy region though.

You cannot move freely through Periphery states and they will attack/capture.  If you move units into a periphery state you cannot move them out. i.e. You cannot “pass through”.  Combat will occur during the next combat phase and they will capture any leaders or jumpships that remain.

Faction Leader: This will prevent the last leader of a House from simply being bribed away.  Because a House that controls you leaders gets a portion of your House, this will prevent somone from throwing money at a bribe just to end up getting money back.

If faction leader is bribed/captured/killed, and no other Leaders have * for loyalty, the heir chosen by the player becomes Faction Leader.  The faction leader is always * for loyalty (not bribable).  If an old faction leader that is naturally unbribable (* for loyalty) is returned, the Faction Leader status is automatically switched back to that Leader, returning the previous Faction Leader to their old loyalty.

Elimination Outfall From Losing Your Leaders: There are quite a few holes on what to do when a player is eliminated when they lose control of all of their Leaders.

A player is eliminated if the only Leaders they control are of Houses they do not have the ability to build units of.  If a player is eliminated by losing control of all their leaders, their forces come under control of other houses.

If another House controls all of the Leaders of a House controlled by a player who was just eliminated, the House is merged with the new Controlling player’s House. They gain full control including all Regions, units, money, and cards that were controlled by the eliminated player and they may build new or reconstructed units as that House could. All units and Leaders are now considered to be affiliated with the controlling player’s original House.  Such leaders are no longer considered captured nor bribed.

If more than one House controls Leaders of the eliminated House, the House’s forces are split between the Houses that have control of the eliminated. Immediately after the player is eliminated, the units, money, and cards are split randomly in proportion to how many Leaders are controlled by other Houses.  If there are 3 Leaders left and a House controls 2 of the Leaders, their chance is 2/3 of gaining control of a particular unit.  Money and cards should be split in proportion, but where any remainders of less than 1 million c-bills or 1 card are combined and randomly given to a House similar as to units, 1 card/million at a time.  The Leaders and combat units retain their House affiliation, but combat units are controlled and act as though part of the new controlling House.  No units of the eliminated House can be built nor Leader’s abilities used until a single House controls all of it’s leaders at which point the House merges with the controlling player’s original House and are then considered to be affiliated with that House and those leaders are no longer considered captured nor bribed.  All units that had retained their House affiliation now come under control of this merged house and are now affiliated with the controlling House. If a region has occupying combat units from multiple Houses, combat will take place during the next available combat phase. If the player was eliminated during a combat phase, combat will take place immedately.

Example: Marik’s last leader is captured (as result of capturing a region).  Since Marik’s last leader was captured, the region and jumpships in that region belong to the conquering House, regardless of leaders, and are not affected by player elimination.

Marik had the following in other regions: Jumpship 5 Jumpship 3 Jumpship 1 SuperLegion 9 ScrubbyMilitia 3 HighlyPolishedGuard 2 Conventional Conventional Conventional 32 c-bills 7 cards.

Steiner has 2 of Marik’s leaders, Kurita has 1, Liao has 2.  We roll for each unit separately.  2/5 for Steiner, 1/5 for Kurita, 2/5 for Liao.   (Conveniently we can use a d10, 1-4 Steiner, 5-6 Kurita, 7-10 for Liao).

Kurita could end up with most or even all of the Marik’s combat units and jump ships by sheer lucky dice rolls.  If Kurita gets the Jumpship 5 but no combat units in that region and Steiner gets the one combat unit in that region, next combat phase Steiner takes control of the jumpship (unless Kurita got a move phase before the next combat phase and was able to move it to a safe region).  For the cards, (don’t ask me how Marik got 7 cards…) there’s 1 for each leader, and then the last two are individually rolled for as the units were.  32 c-bills are split 6 per leader, and the remainder of 2 are individually rolled for as the units were.  Regions are conquered as usual…  After combat, whoever is the only one with combat units in the region gains control of  it.  Until then they are still effectively owned by Marik.  But, you can’t move through until you gain control (or there are no enemy combat troops).  For more complex or fractional house asset distribution you can download and use this Distribution of House Assets calculator.

Wrapping it Up

Running or playing a play by email Succession Wars can be a lot of work but it is tons of fun.

If only there were a way to play the game online, with friends or strangers without all the record keeping and rules arbitration.  That would be something indeed…

Posted under Articles
  1. Mark Hall. Said,

    That Vid at the end has given me a full on nerd Chubby.

  2. NCKestrel Said,

    Have we doubled the rulebook size yet??
    Can’t wait to see more of Alpha! :)

  3. quigs Said,

    I liked twilight imperium better.

  4. Mark Hall. Said,

    While T.I is tons of fun. S.W is just awesome sauce for very different Reasons.

    Would one be able to get a copy of the sheets you use to play this out?

    My group do SW maybe twice a year. And its always entertaining even if we don’t always finish it.
    But I think running it for my group could be loads of fun.

  5. Oboecop Said,

    Why didn’t you tell me about this… or did you?

  6. Brian Said,

    I blame Saxywolf!

  7. Saxywolf Said,

    Wait. The blog, the post, or the impending online tracker?

    Also, it seems we forgot to enforce “New Mercenary units are formed in Regional or House capitals,” as mentioned in the post.

  8. micheal athanasopoulos Said,

    please email e the rulebook i have the original game and map just don’t have the rule book i would love to play this again

    thank you

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