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Tabletop Game / Oath

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Oath: Chronicles of Empire and Exile is a 2021 Political Strategy Board Game from Cole Wehrle and Kyle Ferrin of Leder Games (creators of Vast and Root). In it, one player steps into the shoes of the powerful Chancellor ruling over a fantasy Empire by virtue of uploading its Oath, while the rest start out as Exiles trying to overthrow them either by being a better Oathkeeper or by receiving and fulfilling a Vision of the Empire heading down a different path. Unique aspects of the game include:

  • Oaths and Visions are sets of a four distinct victory conditions players can pursue. An Oath is sworn once at the start of the game and fulfilling it (i.e. preserving the status quo) is the main goal of the Chancellor, while Visions are alternative victory conditions unlocked as the game progresses, which only Exiles can pursue.
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  • The Chancellor can offer Citizenship to any Exile. If accepted, they henceforth fight for the Empire under the Chancellor's command and gain an extra Successor goal, which depends on (but differs from) the current Oath. A Citizen who fulfills the Successor goal succeeds the Chancellornote  if the Empire defeats the Exiles, but the Chancellor can send them back into exile before that happens...
  • Each session's setup depends on who won the last one and how: the winner of the last game becomes the new Chancellor; if they had won by fulfilling a Vision, that Vision becomes the new Oathnote ; lands that the new Chancellor had ruled in the last game become the new Empire's Cradle; and the Empire's demographicsnote  shift in favor of the groupsnote  that the new Chancellor had previously relied onnote  to win.

The game was funded on Kickstarter in January 2020 and shipped in 2021. The rules can be downloaded from the official website.

The game contains examples of following tropes:

  • Adventure Board Game: Downplayed. The Chancellor and the Exiles are represented with unique pawns which sport very distinct appearances and travel around the board in turns, collecting resources and occasionally fighting each other. However, the focus of the game is not on gathering loot or solving a mystery, but on dynamic alliances and the struggle for political domination over the Empire.
  • Asymmetric Multiplayer: Downplayed, especially compared to Leder Games' previous titles Vast and Root: while the Chancellor and the Exiles play mostly by the same rules, the former fights to preserve the status quo and has access to the Citizenship mechanicnote , while the latter have it much easier to challenge the status quo and mostly fight for themselves. In particular, whereas the Exiles can only win by Usurping the Oath or fulfilling a Vision, the Chancellor and the Empire win automatically if they simply prevent the Exiles from winning for 5 to 8 turnsnote .
  • Civil War: Any campaign in the game is essentially this, since even the Exiles are former citizens of the Empire. Of particular note is any armed conflict between the Chancellor and a Citizen, which is perfectly legal under the rules (and skewed in the former's favor).
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Each Exile's warbands are colored the same way as their pawn (red, blue, yellow, black, or white), while the Chancellor's pawn and Imperial warbands are purple. If an Exile becomes a Citizen, their troops are replaced by the uniform purple ones from the Chancellor's reserve.
  • The Conspiracy: The eponymous card is a "false Vision", meaning that its back looks like that of a Vision card, but you cannot play it into the Vision space. Instead, playing the Conspiracy allows you to steal a Relic or a Banner from another player in the same site, as long as you have two advisors of a suit matching any of the target's own advisors (implied to be the conspirators).
  • The Exile: Most players start the game exiled from the Empire and are, in fact, referred as Exiles. Unlike the Chancellor and the Citizens, they cannot defend each other with troops, but the are also not bound by the Oath and can instead win by playing and fulfilling a Vision. Their exile ends if they accept the Chancellor's offer of Citizenship, but the Chancellor can later send them back into exile; alternatively, a Citizen can also exile themselves (as long as they do not hold the Grand Scepter).
  • The Great Wall: The Sprawling Rampart edifice is a giant wall that protects (by adding an extra defense die to) not only the site where it was previously erected by a victorious Empire, but also every other site ruled by whoever controls (rules) it.
  • I Gave My Word: While most promises made between players are not binding, there are a few that are, specifically anything negotiated between the Chancellor and an Exile during the offering of Citizenship.
  • Kingmaker Scenario: As to be expected from a political game, Oath is rife with kingmaking opportunities, and even the rules explicitly support it in some cases. For example, if two other players fulfill the Oathkeeper condition simultaneously and are tied for it (e.g. rule an equal number of lands or hold an equal number of relics), the current Oathkeeper can arbitrarily decide who receives the title.
  • Large and in Charge: The Chancellor's pawn is easily the largest piece in the game, not least thanks to their huge spiky crown.
  • Legacy Board Game: This is a "legacy-lite" board game, in that the events and outcome of every session meaningfully changes how the next one is played (specifically determining the next game's victory condition, mixing up the layout of the board, and swapping out six denizen cards from the gameplay deck). It is not a full legacy game, because no permanent changes are made to game components and the game can, with some effort, be reset to its original, pre-first session state.
  • MacGuffin: When playing under the Oath of the People or of Devotion, the People's Favor and the Darkest Secret, respectively, tend to become this toward the endgame, as everyone scrambles to snatch it from the current holder to win the game, barely using its respective special power.
  • Military Coup: Winning by a Vision of Conquest against any Oath other than that of Supremacy is essentially this.
  • Plot Coupon That Does Something: The banners of the People's Favor and of the Darkest Secret are the Golden Snitches under the Oaths of the People and of Devotion, respectively, but they also grant their holders potent special powers: the People's Favor lets its holder evict denizen cards from sites (which isn't allowed normally) and to settle new denizens anywhere within the current region (rather than only on their current site); while the Darkest Secret reduces the costs to draw cards from the world deck for its holder (while everyone else's costs go up as the game progresses).
  • Political Strategy Game: While Oath lacks many common elements of this genre (like current issues), what makes it an essentially political game are, on one hand, the Variable Player Goals in the form of Oaths and Visions, which effectively represent different ideologies (very roughly: imperialistnote , populistnote , mercantilistnote , and theocraticnote ) and let players duke it out not only over who comes to power in the Empire, but also how to legitimize their rule. On the other hand, the Citizenship dynamic is a wellspring of political gameplay, as it allows for formation and reformation of an explicit coalition to defend the status quo against more informal coalitions of the Exiles.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: The People's Favor banner is a powerful gameplay tool, representing the holder's popularity with the population of the Empire, however, spending too much on it or seizing it by force flips it over to the Mob side, which doubles its upkeep cost, making it much more volatile and prone to change hands.note 
  • Purple Is Powerful: The Chancellor and their troops are color-coded purple, as they represent the might of the Empire. The Chancellor can also field almost twice as many warbands as any individual Exile.
  • Rabble Rouser: An Exile who plays the Vision of Rebellion becomes this, rallying the denizens of the Empire to overthrow it.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: Partially. The game is played on a mat containing eight sitesnote , with each site containing a card drawn from a deck of site cards, conferring special powers two whoever controls it. Furthermore, each site can contain up to three denizen cards, representing the people living there (and also granting their special powers), and a relic or two (which can be recovered for their own powers). However, the map generation is not fully randomized, as the map for the next session is generated at the end of the current one, with the sites ruled by the winner shifting up towards the Cradle, while the remaining are discarded and replaced with new, face-down sites. Also, six random denizen cards from among those not under the winner's rule are discarded into the Dispossessed deck and replaced with random six from the suits favored by the winner, also affecting which denizen suits are more likely appear in the next session.
  • Short Title: Long, Elaborate Subtitle: Like Leder Games' previous offerings, Oath has a four-letter main title and a long subtitle, Chronicles of Empire and Exile.
  • Sliding Scale of Cooperation vs. Competition: The game typically starts out between a Free-for-All and Dynamic Alliances, with the Exiles fighting each other and the Chancellor, but the Citizenship mechanic (which technically creates a Fixed Team led by the Chancellor) really muddles the waters, with the Citizens fighting the Exiles to ensure a team victory for the Empire, while also fighting each other over the Successor goal, while the Chancellor tries to prevent that from happening to stay in power.
  • Sworn in by Oath: At the start of the game, the Chancellor swears an Oath of office, which sets their victory condition for the rest of the game (in contrast to the Exiles whose victory conditions are initially highly dynamic). To become a Citizen, the Exile also swears an oath of loyalty to the Empire, represented by the Successor victory condition.
  • Tabletop Game A.I.: Oath comes with the Clockwork Prince algorithm, which is primarily designed to automate the Chancellor, but can also play as one of the Exiles. It is completely deterministic and uses a simple finite state machine to assess the biggest current threat to itself and to carry out sequences of actions in response.
  • Title Drop: The game is named after the Oath sworn by the Chancellor at the start of the game, which determines their victory goal for the remainder of the game.
  • The Usurper: If an Exile fulfills the current Oath and holds the Oathkeeper title until the start of their next turn, it is upgraded to that of the Usurper, and if they are still the Usurper at the start of their turn after that, they win the game.
  • Variable Player Goals: There are four possible victory conditions in the game: holding the most lands under military control (Oath of Supremacy/Vision of Conquest), holding the People's Favor (Oath of the People/Vision of Rebellion), holding the most relics and banners (Oath of Protection/Vision of Sanctuary), or holding the Darkest Secret (Oath of Devotion/Vision of Faith). In addition to Oaths and Visions, there are also the Successor victory conditions, which depend on the current Oath and which only Citizens can pursuenote .
  • Written by the Winners: Quite literally, as the winner of a round of Oath is the one who gets to write their own narrative of what happened into the "Oath Chronicle Book" (a stylized notebook for recording the round-to-round history of the Empire).