Monopoly is one of my favorite games. I’m also a pretty big fan of World of Warcraft. So when my good friend Ernest McKee told me he was working on designing a board game that would combine the property trading excitement of Monopoly with combat RPG elements, I said, YES PLEASE.
He’s in the middle of working out the kinks of the game, which he’s currently calling “Province”, and fine-tuning the play experience. I went over to visit him to beta test the game and talk to him about it.
This game is FUN. I originally started playing it using my typical Monopoly strategy, which is to buy anything I land on and then go bankrupt. But about halfway into that, I realized I was having way more fun attacking people with my soldiers. I almost lost interest in property collecting altogether, and encouraged Ernest to incorporate more opportunity for battle in a future version. The game appeals to me even more thanks to the varied strategies you can apply to play.
Read on to delve deeper into the game, its inception and its features. Ernest’s roommate Brandy joined us for the interview, adding her insights. If you are interested in learning more about the game and possibly being involved in future beta tests, like it on Facebook! You can also e-mail Ernest directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interview With Awesome – Ernest McKee
Jess: Tell us about the original idea for your game.
Ernest: Growing up I played a lot of tabletop RPGs, Dungeons & Dragons, HeroQuest, things like that. And I was always a big fan of Monopoly. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a game like Monopoly, with FIGHTING in it?
The original idea was to just modify Monopoly with some additional rules for combat. As I procrastinated and didn’t do anything with it, the years progressed and it finally evolved into something that’s got a very small resemblance to how it started.
Basically what we have is a medieval real estate game. You trounce around the board buying up regions that are owned by the king. Once you buy a region, you can collect taxes from everybody that lands on them. It’s got kind of a weird board set up, you don’t have to go in a circle, you can go in different directions.
The goal is to either be the last one standing, to own every one of the regular provinces on the board, or if you’re really an entrepreneur, you can try to buy the four capital city blocks which cost 2,000 gold each. If you buy all four of those, you win the game. You’ve essentially bought the kingdom from the king.
Jess: How many people can play at once?
Ernest: A maximum of seven.
Jess: What are you calling this game?
Ernest: Right now, it’s called “Province”. Which may be a working title, it may end up being the final title, I haven’t decided yet.
Jess: I have a good idea for a name! “Twilight”.
Ernest: There’s already a Twilight board game. And I’m sure it’s far more epic than mine.
Brandy: And there is a Twilight Monopoly.
Ernest: There is.
Jess: What about “Foggy Day”?
Brandy: That is very medieval sounding. His brother keeps swearing it needs to be a VERB! Like what, “Jump”?
Jess: “EAT”! “HAGGLE”!
Ernest: [Redirecting our focus, the brave soul.] So, the players are basically land barons, their job is to run around and buy up as much land as they can. Whenever you land on someone’s region, they can of course charge you tax. “Province” is actually designed to be more cutthroat and competitive than other games like it. So if you land on someone’s region and they happen to have soldiers with you, you can say, “I’m not paying your taxes and I’m going to fight you!” If the person who owns the region has soldiers on the land, you have to do a battle. If the person who landed on the square wins, they don’t have to pay anything, they get to stay for free. If they lose, they have to pay double.
The current “Province” board and pieces
Ernest: Each region has a maximum tax, so if the person who owns the land is feeling generous, they can say, well, you just owe 50%, or, you don’t have to pay me anything this time. So you don’t have to pay the same amount every time, it’s up to the player, they can charge you anything up to the maximum tax. And of course the more regions you have in a given province, the more you can charge.
There are optional rules designed to make the game even more cutthroat. If two or more players own regions in a province they can form an alliance, which means that anyone in the alliance who lands on those squares that are affected, they don’t pay any taxes.
You can also do what’s called a “closed borders”. If you own all the regions in a province, you can say, nobody’s traveling through this until the next turn! And until your next turn, nobody can move through those squares, which can close off massive sections of the board depending on where those regions happen to be.
Jess: How long have you been working on this game?
Ernest: Well, it depends on how you look at it. The original idea came to me…ten years ago? As far as functional, actual, working working on it, I’d say, a year and a half? Because I’d do a little bit, then put it away, then do a little bit more, then put it away. I’d say about six months ago is when I really started digging into it.
Jess: You’ve been doing beta testing games, how much revision do you do after a beta test?
Ernest: Well, after the first beta, there were a number of issues that needed to be fixed, the major one being the currency.
Brandy: The original currency was poker chips.
Ernest: But we only had three colors.
Brandy: And we had six types of currency.
Ernest: We put dots on half of them to differentiate.
Brandy: It didn’t work well because no one could remember how much they were worth.
Ernest: Including myself. So after that, I broke it down to five colors instead of six, and I got these nice heavy poker chips to represent it, at least for the prototypes.
Current “Province” currency
Ernest: The board has been revised twice since the first beta, there’s now restrictions on which directions you can go. Originally you could go any direction you wanted, but that created a lot of, “Well, if I go this way I’m going to land on this person’s property, so I’m going to go this way instead.” You ended up with people just going back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, nobody went anywhere. I revised that, so that two of the lanes go in and two go out. You still have a choice, but it’s not back and forth. You actually have to go through at least half of the board before you can head back to the Capital City.
The Capital City is the starting location, it’s the safe zone. It’s also where you do all of your trading. On your turn you can’t just say, “Oh, I’m going to trade with you.” At least one of you has to be in the Capital City. So it does limit that a little bit.
Aside from Capital City, there are other specialty squares. There’s treasure cards, which can give you extra gold or special abilities you can use throughout the game, such as a teleporter that lets you move your character to any space on the board. There’s also traps and stuff hidden in there, though, so it’s not all good things.
There’s the King’s Bounty, which is the square nobody wants to land on. If you land on it, you either have to pay 500 gold, or give up every soldier you own, or you have to give one of the lands that you own back to the king.
Then there’s Royal Tribune, which is a modifier that changes the rules of the game.
Brandy: The cards each have something different on them, and it stays in play until someone else lands on it and has to pull another card, which changes the modification of the rules.
Ernest: Yeah, it’s not a one-off thing, it actually changes the rules unless someone else pulls another card. It’s things like, everybody pays double taxes or half taxes, or everyone has to pay maximum tax and the king gets it instead of you. There’s modifiers to combat; all the defenders get an extra die, that sort of thing.
Brandy: Or no one can go to Capital City for any reason.
Ernest: Yeah, Capital City shuts down. It’s just different things on the board, and it changes the rules, makes it a little more interesting.
Brandy: Which is awesome because the way he’s got this set up means that the game isn’t static. It’s not like, say, Boggle, where you have the same rules. This game does have set rules, but just flipping a card can change the rules entirely, where everyone is affected by the rule change.
Ernest: To move in the game, you move by cards instead of dice. A new modification that’s going into the game will be random encounters in the movement cards. Right now there’s just movement and Royal Favor cards, but soon there will be random monster encounter cards mixed in with those as well. With the movement cards you can either move forward, backward, or it gives you the option of picking which direction you want to go.
Brandy: The random encounters actually came from a beta test party, where some guys were playing against me and another girl. They kept coming up to us saying “I CHALLENGE YOU!” But we didn’t want to lose our soldiers, so we didn’t fight. So there was a lot less combat than the game is meant to have.
Ernest: There’s an arena, which may or may not exist in the final version of the game. Right now, you land on the arena and place a bet of however much gold you want up to 500. Then you figure out how many soldiers you want to fight with, it has to be soldiers that are traveling with you, you can have up to five. You draw a card with a monster on it. The monster can be anywhere from a level one to a level five. You roll a regular combat, just like the tax rolls. If you win, you double your money and if you lose, you lose your money, and possibly soldiers.
There’s the tavern, where you can gamble, which means you can place a bet up to 500 gold, then you roll a die. If you roll low you lose money, if you roll high you win increasing amounts up to doubling your money.
There’s the barracks where you buy your soldiers, and I’m thinking about changing how it works as well, but right now you can’t buy soldiers unless you land on the barracks. The cost of soldiers goes up depending on the number of soldiers you have, based on where you’re putting them. So, your traveling party, if you don’t have any soldiers with you then the first one costs 100 gold. Next one’s 150, next one’s 200 and so on. The regions work the same way, the first soldier on a region’s cheaper, then they’re more expensive from that point on. The number of soldiers you can have in a region depends on the number of regions you have in a province. It’s one soldier per region, plus one. So let’s say it’s a four region province, then if you own one region, you can have two soldiers, two regions, three soldiers, and so on.
Jess: Are the soldiers the equivalent of a hotel in Monopoly?
Ernest: Essentially, except you don’t have to own all the regions to put soldiers on them. Actually, when you buy a region, it automatically comes with one soldier. Buying more regions allows you to get more taxes, and it increases the number of soldiers you can have per region. You still have to buy soldiers per region.
Jess: What made you decide to do this as a board game as opposed to, say, a video game?
Ernest: Well, the original concept was an addition to a board game, and it just seemed like a fun idea.
Jess: What board games other than Monopoly did you enjoy playing?
Ernest: Well, I really miss playing the simplified table top RPGS: HeroQuest, Dragon Strike, which were board games, but they had role playing elements. You had a character and you went through and did a quest. They’re actually a lot of fun.
Ernest: HeroQuest was put out by Milton Bradly. You had a quest that you want to complete, and the guy in charge laid out the board. He only revealed the board as you went to the rooms. When you found monsters there was a combat system. It’s a very simplistic game, it’s not in depth at all, but you can play it in an hour or two at most.
Dragon Strike came out a couple years after HeroQuest, it was put out with cooperation from TSR, the company that originally published Dungeons & Dragons. It borrows a lot of terminology and a lot of concepts from D&D.
My goal with “Province”, of course, was to keep it simplified. I didn’t want to get too in depth with it. It is a base work, though, so once I get the main game done, there’s a lot of room for expansion and modification. I’ve got several ideas, I’ve actually got a whole other version of the game planned that reduces the number of provinces to just four, instead of the twelve or thirteen right now. It will split the board to where it’s a lot more competitive. You’ll really have to fight to get a whole province, which gives you some additional benefits. I’ve got a lot of different ideas that I might throw in there, different card sets and such.
Jess: What’s your ultimate plan once you’ve got the game the way you want it?
Ernest: Honestly, I haven’t really got a plan. Like I say, I thought about it for years and finally decided to put it together. Ultimately, I would like to get at least one production copy, an official, this-is-the-real-thing copy that’s not just poster board. But the actual motivating goal behind it was just to do it. Once I get a good working copy, and get a website up, if there is any interest, I would definitely see if I could mass produce it. But up until then I don’t really have a straight forward plan. I am looking into artists who can do some basic artwork for the board just to make it pretty.
Jess: Is there anywhere people can contact you?
Ernest: Ernest@sweetpoet.com, you can contact me if you’re interested in being involved as one of the beta testers.
Be sure to check out and like Province: The Board Game on Facebook for updates to game revisions and information on future beta testing!