Battle for Byzantium: The Board Game- How it All Started and What to Expect

Posted by Powee Celdran

“Battle for Byzantium”, game logo

The idea for the game began in 2019 when I found myself immersed in the rich and colorful history of the Byzantine Empire after reading about the Eastern Romans and traveling to some of their historic cities in Europe. This sparked a journey of discovery that led me to discover even more books about its history and culture, to online discussion groups on Byzantine themes with scholars and enthusiasts, and ever more visits to key museums and the many locations that have had a part in the empire’s history – even a course on Byzantium in Oxford University!

This new knowledge, interactions with the like-minded, and travel experiences across the Byzantine world have in turn inspired me to embark on telling original stories and creating original content that can be shared with other enthusiasts of Byzantine history on social media and the internet. Thus, was born @byzantine_time_traveler on Instagram and Facebook where I regularly post historical trivia, original art works, and photos from my travels across what used to be the Eastern Roman Empire. I’ve also created original short documentaries and animated films in Lego recreating Byzantine historical themes and characters for my YouTube channel No Budget Films. After gathering a large following on IG (and counting) and a lot of interest on my FB posts, I knew I was ready for something even BIGGER. And that’s why I decided to create my most ambitious project yet: “Battle for Byzantium”, a historical board game with elements of fan fiction integrated in it.

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We all do our part to educate people about Byzantine culture and history. Historians and academics produce scholarly works, archeologists gather artifacts for display in the world’s museums, museum curators and tour guides introduce travelers to the wonders of Byzantium, and online content creators upload artworks, podcasts and blogs to discuss its history with a larger audience. Some, like me, choose to go a STEP FURTHER and tap popular culture to popularize the marvels of Byzantium to the rest of the world. THE CHALLENGE: to create a fun and family-friendly historical board game that can entertain and educate players at the same time. Few things bring people together to have fun and discuss history at the same time as a board game can.

“Battle for Byzantium” game cover

The game “Battle for Byzantium” is set in the year 1025 AD in the aftermath of the death of the great emperor Basil II with the empire at its greatest territorial extent reaching as far north as the Danube River, west to Southern Italy, south to Syria and the Mediterranean Sea and east to Armenia. Uncertainty, however, rules in the empire as Basil II’s younger brother, Constantine VIII, is seen as not fit enough to manage the powerful realm left behind by his great predecessor. In a fictional, though realistic, twist to authentic history, the board game introduces four opportunistic commanders who, after refusing to recognize the reign of the new emperor, set out to compete with each other to conquer the great cities in the empire, including the ultimate prize – Constantinople! 

Map of the Byzantine Empire in 1025, the game’s setting, art by Alessiahv 

Featuring 18 Byzantine cities on the map, the objective of the game is for the players to capture the most number of cities using the roll of the dice to advance and the relevant game cards to conquer one city after another. Many surprises along the way either help or frustrate the conquest of the commanders. After the last city on the map is taken, the commander with the greatest number of captured cities conquers the empire and wins the game. On the road to conquest, players discover the many treasures of Byzantine art and architecture, the rich history of its cities, and the wonders of civilization introduced by the world’s longest reigning empire.

For those interested in the art, design, and historical background of this game, this is an international collaboration with various individuals from different parts of the world. For instance, the game’s box design, characters, event cards, and city cards were illustrated by Athens based artist Chrysa Sakel (follow on Instagram @chrysasakel) who many may know as the artist of the Byzantine Tales graphic novels series. While the map wherein the game is played as well as the elements on the map was illustrated by Catania based Alessia Hilary Valastro (follow on Instagram @alessiahv) well known for illustrating mythology and fairytale books. Other than them, this entire project involved a number of historical and marketing consultants in which Byzantine history artist and video creator Byzansimp (follow on Instagram @byzansimp) was even a part of, storytellers, and many other gaming enthusiasts, and of course my family and friends. This article now will include 10 puzzling questions for me to answer on the creation of this special passion project being the “Battle for Byzantium” board game as well as what it is all about and following that a few questions I will have for the key members in the creation of this special project namely the artists Chrysa and Alessia together with the game’s lead history and design consultant Nilay Tokaoglu (follow on Instagram @ntokaoglu) and the game’s storyteller Franco Gallardo (follow on Instagram @franco.gallardo96) who was responsible for creating the background stories for the 4 in-game characters. This article too as the last one for 2022 on this site of mine is a wrap-up of the year, and truly there is no better way to wrap it up by announcing and describing my ultimate achievement for the year which was in producing this board game itself!  

Initial cover art for the game, art by Chrysa Sakel

What to Know About the Game?

Q: Why Create a board game to popularize Byzantine history and culture?

A: It has always been my passion to create a product that can both popularize and give some fun to Byzantine history which often gets either a very academic or obscure image. Since I have already seen so many books including encyclopedias, novels, and even comic books about Byzantium, I wanted to create something different which at the same time could be fun and family-friendly as well, hence I thought of creating no other than a board game which I think is the perfect way to get family and friends to bond together over a story as interesting as Byzantium. True enough, more than 3 years ago I had a class on designing games, and being already fascinated with Byzantium back then I chose to make my game a Byzantine themed one. However, over the years the game and its idea were forgotten, until I one day decided to bring it back as I felt like I wanted to do something worthy out of my Byzantine passion as a business and passion project. The MAIN REASON now to why of all products did I choose a board game to popularize Byzantine history and culture is because for me a board game is possibly the most interactive way to bring Byzantine history to life while at the same time Byzantium does not really get much representation in board games the way it does in comics or books in general, hence it was about time to create a new product in the market for Byzantium that hasn’t been tested yet from what I know, which here is this game “Battle for Byzantium”.

The “Battle for Byzantium” board game in motion

Q: Why choose 11th century Byzantium as the setting for the game?

A: Well, the history of Byzantium is full of interesting periods which have their own fair share of colorful emperors, battles, intrigues, and all kinds of events.

Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565), art by HistoryGold777

If someone were to think of Byzantium and therefore create something like a story or game out of it, many would choose the 6th century which was its golden age under Emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) wherein the empire literally covered almost the whole Mediterranean Sea west to east from Spain to Syria and north to south from the Danube to Egypt. No matter how fun and exciting it would be to create a board game featuring the map of Justinian I’s Byzantine Empire, it would be too tedious to create while the gameplay may be too long due to the enormous size of the empire then. Therefore, in order to choose a setting in the Byzantine Empire that is not too big to fit within a map which could take forever to play being Justinian I’ Byzantium or a time period where the empire is too small with such a depressing story such as during the 14th and 15th centuries, I had to choose a time period wherein the empire would be large enough but not small, therefore I chose its 11th century setting. Additionally, I am also a fan of the middle era of Byzantine history being the 10th and 11th centuries wherein Byzantium was ruled by the Macedonian Dynasty.

Basil II, Byzantine emperor (r. 976-1025), art by Amelianvs

On the other hand, the Byzantine Empire of Justinian I often gets too much attention, hence I wanted to create a game set in a time wherein Byzantium is powerful and fascinating yet not talked about much, thus the early 11th century was the perfect choice. True enough, it was in the early 11th century when Byzantium was once again a dominant power especially in the year 1025 during the death of Emperor Basil II of the Macedonian Dynasty (r. 976-1025). At this point, Byzantium was the cultural and military power of the Middle Ages whereas its territory covered the entire Balkans following Basil II’s conquest of the Bulgarian Empire in 1018. Byzantium’s conquest of Bulgaria thus cemented its reputation as a feared yet respected empire that no other kingdom would dare challenge. Additionally, I also chose this exact setting being 1025 because here- although Byzantium did not have the entire Mediterranean- it had a large enough empire with varied territory spanning west to east from Southern Italy to Armenia and north to south from the Danube River to Syria, hence we get a varied set of cities and topography without having to have a map so huge while at the same time we get to feature a time in the Byzantine Empire so interesting yet so underrated!

Map of the Byzantine Empire by 555 under Emperor Justinian I the Great
Map of the Byzantine Empire (white) in 1025

Q: What were the 4 characters playing the different commanders based on?

A: Since the game “Battle for Byzantium” is a 4-player game, it features 4 in-game characters who are not just mere game characters but commanders and warriors with special abilities.

Demetrios, the Byzantine commander, art by Chrysa Sakel

One of the 4 commanders is Demetrios, a disgruntled Byzantine military commander who is now up in rebellion against the imperial government following the death of the emperor Basil II as Demetrios despite winning many battles and gaining glory for it is tired of being treated as just a henchman and so are his men, which gives him a reason to rebel in order to change the way things are run in the empire. Demetrios’ story is actually based on a real-life Byzantine general from the reign of Basil II being Nikephoros Xiphias who despite being the hero of Basil II’s Bulgarian war was disgraced and like Demetrios treated only like a henchman and not a military hero which therefore led Xiphias to rebel against Basil II in 1022 only for his plot to be discovered and therefore blinded and exiled. Demetrios’ story is therefore based on Xiphias’ except Demetrios rises up in rebellion 3 years after Xiphias did already after Basil II’s death.

Jean-Pierre, the Norman knight, art by Chrysa Sakel

The other commander in the game is the Norman knight and adventurer Jean-Pierre who is originally from France but has just recently settled in Southern Italy in search of land and wealth where he true enough gained both but now has further ambitions to expand his lands for his family. Now, Jean-Pierre’s character is loosely based on the story of the famous Norman duke and adventurer Robert Guiscard (1015-1085) who although was more prominent after 1025 where the game is set in. On the other hand, Jean-Pierre was based on a lot of research on the Normans, and true enough in 1025, the Normans were already present in Southern Italy as knights, adventurers, and mercenaries having just arrived from Northern France and were already in contact with the Byzantines either as allies or troublemakers, therefore it was fitting to put a Norman character in the story with the same kind of background which here was Jean Pierre.

Al-Sadin, the Arab warrior, art by Chrysa Sakel

As for the 3rd commander being the Arab Al-Sadin, he is a member of the now gone Hamdanid Dynasty that once ruled Syria where his mission is to avenge his fallen dynasty by conquering lands to the point of having ambitions of conquering the entire Mediterranean Sea. According to Franco when creating Al-Sadin’s story, he based his story off on the story of the famous 12th century Sultan of Egypt and Syria Saladin who although lived almost 2 centuries after the game’s setting. The 4th commander of the game being Freydis, the female Varangian warrior is one character entirely made up for the sake of fantasy, as for one despite there being female Viking warriors, there were no females in Byzantium’s famous Varangian Guard unit- or at least none recorded- made up mostly of Scandinavian Vikings or Rus’ people protecting the Byzantine emperor.

Freydis the Varangian warrior, art by Chrysa Sakel

Freydis now is the rare exception being the only female in the Varangian Guard force, though this was entirely made up for the game, although she has a higher purpose which is not just to become rich but to loot the money from the imperial treasury to give to the children of military officers killed in war, as apparently there’s a Varangian tradition that when the emperor they are sworn to protect dies, they loot his riches, but in Freydis’ case she resigns from the Varangian Guard once Basil II dies in order to loot the money for the orphaned children of war. To sum it all up, I chose these 4 particular characters for the game for the sake of representing different races and civilizations during this time while it had to be accurate to the time setting as well. In the game, Demetrios’ character represents the Byzantine Empire and its mostly ethnically Greek people, Jean-Pierre as a Norman is to represent the Latin West (Western Europe) as he is a French Norman wherein by 1025 the Normans were already an active force in Byzantine Italy, Al-Sadin as an Arab is to represent the Arabs or more generally the non-Europeans as he originates in Syria and is of Arab ethnicity, and lastly Freydis represents not only the Northern Europeans or Vikings but her gender as in order to have a sense of equality and balance in the game’s setting there needed to be a strong female character hence a female Viking would be the perfect choice and true enough the early 11th century was also the golden age of Byzantium’s Varangian Guard which makes Freydis very fitting for the story. Due to coming from different lands, the 4 characters have their own respective starting points- wherein each have their faces on it- as here due to Demetrios being a Byzantine commander stationed in the empire’s eastern provinces his starting point in the map is at the east, as Al-Sadin comes from Syria by ship which is in the south his starting point is at the south, as Jean-Pierre is a Norman based in Italy his starting point is to the west in Southern Italy, and as Freydis being a Scandinavian comes from the north but also because she was stationed at the empire’s northern Danube frontier she starts there. Each player too is given a color-coded pouch depending on the character they choose, and each of the 4 pouches have 18 tokens with the first letter of each characters’ name with its own color code- hence if the player plays as Demetrios his color is red and so are his tokens, if Jean-Pierre his respective pouch and tokens are blue, if Al-Sadin it is green, and if Freydis her pouch and tokens are gold.    

Draft sketch for the 4 in-game characters for the box cover, art by Chrysa Sakel

Q: What elements of Byzantine history and art are accurately represented in the game?

A: First of all, the characters in the game had to be from ethnicities and countries already present in the year 1025 such as the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, and Varangians (Norsemen), which is therefore why I did not put any character from a civilization no longer in contact with the Byzantines anymore by this time like the Sassanid Persians, Avars, or Huns while I also did not want to put people from races and countries that were not yet in contact with the Byzantines by 1025 such as the Turks and Latin Crusaders. However, aside from the Arabs, Normans, and Varangians there were more people in contact with the Byzantines by 1025 such as the Pechenegs, Kievan Rus’, Magyars, Lombards, and Khazars, though it would add too much to the game if I put characters of these other ethnicities. Although if I were to do an extended version of the game, I would definitely add a Rus’, Khazar, and Magyar character. As for the Bulgars, despite them being another power in contact with Byzantium during the 10th and 11th centuries, they do not appear in the game as by 1025 the Bulgarian Empire had already been wiped off the map and annexed into the Byzantine Empire by Emperor Basil II since 1018.

Full body image of Demetrios, the Byzantine commander

Now as for the game’s elements, first of all the attire worn by the characters are historically accurate to the 11th century time period which includes the complete lamellar armor set worn by Demetrios, the leather armor and conical Arab style helmet of Al-Sadin, and the Norman style chainmail armor of Jean Pierre; however Freydis’ attire was not entirely accurate but rather more fantasized as there were true enough no female Varangian Guards, although the lamellar armor she wears on her body is more or less accurate to the lamellar body armor worn by Byzantine soldiers known in Greek as Klivanion which means “oven” due to it overheating under the sun when soldiers wear it fighting in the intense heat. When creating the characters, Chrysa as the artist did a great amount of research for the characters’ attire to appear historically accurate to its 1025 setting. Other than that, since the game has 18 cities to conquer, it includes 18 different city cards wherein each have an illustration of a particular landmark of the city which was already around during the 11th century, and out of these 18 cards Constantinople is the only colored one as it is the imperial capital and the ultimate prize of the game being the most difficult city to capture. Each of the 18 city cards which a player gains when conquering a city have an illustrated image while at the back of each card is a quick description of the history of each city as well as what is important about it in 1025 where the game is set and what the city is today. As Chrysa illustrated the landmarks found in the city cards, she did not just copy an image of the said landmark of the city, rather she had to recreate them based on research so that they looked like what they did back then.

Sample city card of Athens, art by Chrysa Sakel

The images on the city cards meanwhile all depict landmarks in each of the cities that have already been around by the 11th century hence some city cards such as that of Philippopolis and Attaleia show landmarks there that have already been around since Ancient Roman times while city cards like that of Athens shows the famous Ancient Greek Parthenon which in the Byzantine era became a church, the one of Constantinople not only shows its famous landmark being the Hagia Sophia but the Hagia Sophia with other important landmarks of the city, while other cities in the map such as Dorystolon, Ancyra, and Sinope which have nothing much to show depict the said cities’ Byzantine castles which still stand today. Other than that, some city cards such as Antioch show the whole city being city walls climbing up a mountain whereas some cities like Nicosia in Cyprus which does not really have anything Byzantine to show nowadays features a Byzantine era landmark from the 11th century not within the city but nearby being the Castle of St. Hilarion, and lastly cities like Smyrna which do not really have any famous landmark instead just shows a generic looking recreated agora which Smyrna definitely had in ancient times.

Sample event card in the game (Gain an Army), art by Chrysa Sakel

Other than illustrating the city cards, Chrysa also illustrated the game’s 7 event cards which are the cards that give directions to players, and all these event cards depict things that already existed in Byzantium or generally in medieval times- though not strictly from the 11th century- and such images seen in these event cards are two swords and a shield for the “Gain an Army” card, the Byzantine superweapon Greek Fire which has already been around since the 7th century for the “Greek Fire” card, a Byzantine or at least a medieval catapult for the “Besiege a City” card, a generic fist for the “Rebellion” card as it is a symbol of rebellion, an ornate golden Byzantine style chalice with golden coins for the “Gain Gold” card, the symbol of death for the “Plague” card, and lastly a chest with gold and a bloody medieval style dagger for the “Sack a City” card. As for Chrysa’s illustration of the box cover featuring the game’s 4 characters it also shows the mighty 5th century land walls of Constantinople known as the “Theodosian Walls” which was no doubt already standing by 1025. Overall, the elements in the game especially the city cards’ illustrations and the event cards’ illustrations had a lot of research involved including some consultations with Nilay who helped in choosing some of the landmarks that would appear in the city cards and event cards. The game’s map meanwhile which was designed by Alessia includes a great number of historically accurate elements such as the golden mosaic tiles or tesserae wherein the characters move and the reddish-purple tiles or porphyry tiles where players select the event cards upon landing. Additionally, the anchors of the 2 “Gain a Navy” functions and the crown which is Constantinople also appear over round porphyry slabs. The golden tesserae as well as porphyry were very common elements of architecture and design found in the Byzantine Empire and were in fact precious items too.

The crown representing Constantinople in the game, art by Alessiahv

All 17 cities in the map except Constantinople- which is represented by a crown- are represented by Byzantine style towers illustrated by Alessia which were inspired by the towers found in Constantinople’s land walls whereas the crown which represents Constantinople too is historically accurate to the era as the design of it illustrated by Alessia was after all inspired by the crown of St. Stephen I, the King of Hungary who ruled basically during the time period of the game while his ornate crown too was in fact made in Byzantium which is why it has a very distinct Byzantine style.

Plague skull in the game’s map, art by Alessiahv

The skull meanwhile on the upper-left corner of the map being Ragusa, the exile place for those who get the “Plague” card which was also designed by Alessia also appears to have a Byzantine style crown on it. Lastly, the map’s border which Alessia designed is based on something historically accurate as it was based on the border of the 6th century mosaics of Emperor Justinian I and his wife Empress Theodora found in the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy. Meanwhile, the back part of the event cards as well as the front page of the manual feature a red porphyry slab while the eagle being the game’s logo designed by Alessia depicts a double-headed Byzantine eagle which is historically accurate as its wings are facing downwards, as true enough the Byzantine style double-headed eagle has its wings facing downwards unlike Western- particularly German- double-headed eagle designs which have their wings facing upwards.

“Plague” in-game card, art by Chrysa Sakel
“Gain Gold” in-game card, art by Chrysa Sakel
“Greek Fire” in-game card, art by Chrysa Sakel
“Besiege a City” in-game card, art by Chrysa Sakel

Q: What elements are fictional?

A: Of course, the most obvious fictional part of the game is Freydis the female Varangian warrior as there is true enough no record of any female in Byzantium’s Varangian Guard force protecting the emperor.

Full body image of Freydis the Varangian warrior, art by Chrysa Sakel

With Freydis’ character being plainly fictional and something based on fantasy, the attire she wears too isn’t entirely accurate as in the game she is seen wearing a fantasy-like female armor in the form of a strapless top in which its style most likely never existed which therefore leaves her shoulders unprotected except for the thick layer of fur covering it, although the large axe she wields is historically accurate for the Varangian Guardsmen as they wielded large two-handed axes known as a Dane-axe whereas they wielded swords as their secondary weapons, and here Freydis wields the standard Byzantine sword known as a Spathion as her secondary weapon which is seen sheathed. As a matter of fact, Freydis’ facial appearance was not based on anything historical but rather on that of influencer and content creator Alquatica (follow her on Instagram @alquatica) who is also known by the name Ro.

Full body image of Jean-Pierre the Norman knight, art by Chrysa Sakel

Now for the other 3 characters, whatever they wear is historically accurate and so are their weapons as Demetrios wields a Byzantine style spear and sword as well as a small shield with the standard of Christ (Chi-rho) on it as seen in the shields of many Byzantine soldiers, Jean-Pierre carries a large two-handed Norman longsword, and Al-Sadin wields the classic Middle Eastern curved sword or Scimitar as well as a small round shield with Arabic patterns on them. Other than Freydis being the most obvious fictional part of the game, nothing else in the game is really fictional as the cities that appear in the game had to be cities that already existed and were still existing during 1025, hence newer cities like Mystras doesn’t appear in it as it only became a thriving city by the 14th century while cities like Ephesus don’t appear in it too as by the 11th century it already lost its significance.

Full body image of Al-Sadin the Arab warrior, art by Chrysa Sakel

Other elements in the game though may not be entirely accurate but not entirely fictional too such as the skull, anchors, and compass on the upper right corner which were designed by Alessia, as more or less the skull, anchors, and compass appear to just be generic looking ones. Of course, no matter how accurate most elements in the game are, it is still not overall accurate as for one the game is in English and so are the names of the locations, hence if it were to be really accurate the game would therefore have to be in the Greek language spoken by the Byzantines back then and so would its color schemes too. Now, as to give the entire game an antique feature, its letters use an old-fashioned style font being the Antiquarian font while the map is covered in a faded texture to give it a historical feel. The game too includes 72 wooden tokens wherein each of the 4 characters is given 18 each due to there being 18 cities, and these tokens too are not all accurate and so is the print on them as if they were to be accurate the letters on them would have to be in Greek and the pouches too would have to be made using a material that had existed in Byzantine times, if it were to be all historically accurate.

The full game map, art by Alessiahv

Q: Will those not familiar with Byzantium be able to enjoy the game?

A: I would say yes because Byzantium is after all just the game’s setting, therefore one does not really have to be completely familiar with Byzantine history to appreciate the game. To simply put it, the game’s nature is overall exciting and full of unexpected twists and turns which can make players more and more excitable as they get their hands on it. Pretty much, a lot of board games are like that wherein they just have a particular setting which could be a historical one, but those playing it don’t really have to know its historical setting because they’re really in it for the fun of playing. This is then is the whole point here, as I think that people will really play the game for the fun of it especially for the exciting element of capturing city after city without having to know so much about Byzantine history. Other than that, I believe the game features such beautiful and detailed artworks that one can already appreciate the game without having to know much about Byzantine history. For other players, I think they can enjoy it too especially if they are already familiar with the Total War PC game series, most especially Rome Total War which definitely inspired this game a lot in terms of its mechanics. Now, I don’t think it is necessary for people to have to know about the Byzantine Empire before playing the game, but I encourage that those who play the game must do a little bit of research about Byzantium just to get themselves familiar with it.

“Battle for Byzantium” board game with its components in motion

Q: What can those not familiar with Byzantine history and culture learn from the game?

A: I would say they could learn a lot as for one the map obviously shows the borders of the Byzantine Empire in 1025 while the characters too appear to look interesting and the event cards feature things that are only found in Byzantium such as Greek Fire, Byzantine weapons, and other elements found in Byzantine history. The images found in the game such as the crown and the towers which were based on the towers of the Walls of Constantinople, the weapons, Greek Fire, the mosaic border, and the porphyry and tesserae tiles I believe will surely make one be interested to know what they are and therefore begin searching on google for it.

Philippopolis city card, art by Chrysa Sakel

What I believe those who are not familiar with Byzantine history and culture will learn from the game when playing it are for one the cities as the game features 18 of them with illustrated cards showing them in detail. Those who play it and would not really be familiar with Byzantium too would I believe simply appreciate the art to want to know what these certain things are such as the cities like Dyrrhachion, Chandax, Ancyra, and Sinope or when seeing things like let’s say Greek Fire on the cards they would be interested to know what it is especially since the Greek fire symbol looks so prominent being a bronze dragon emitting fire. While other event cards such the Gain Gold card which features something prominent on it being the golden chalice would I believe also make people want to do research on this kind of ornament. For me, I really think that the illustrated city cards which feature quick descriptions of the cities will truly get those unfamiliar with Byzantium into it as the illustrations are so well made while it contains very informative texts which I believe will surely get people interested to know what they are. Lastly, I really think that the Byzantine setting in general being the 11th century would really want to make people learn about it especially since it is a very unique background for a board game. Other than that, I think that the game’s Byzantine history setting can also make it marketable worldwide as Byzantium was after all a global empire which people from different parts of the world may already be familiar with even by just knowing its name.

Skull and anchor design samples by Alessiahv

Q: At what stage of development is the game currently at? And when can we hope to see it finished?

A: Honestly, the creation process of the game was a long and tiring one that goes a long way back and never seemed to end. The idea for this game began all the way back in 2019 but only as a project for a class I had as after that, the game was completely forgotten. It was only in early 2021 when I revisited this idea and decided that it would be time to execute it, however it still took even more than a year for the idea itself to be fully executed; as certainly I had to build up my name and brand as a Byzantine history content creator, and that surely took a lot of time! The game itself was first put into motion early this year (2022) yet it still used the very first 2019 prototype version when we were play testing the game as well as the very first mechanics of it that was created back in that class I took back in 2019. Over the months in 2022 we continued to develop the game and its mechanics as well as introducing new elements and features to it, however we were still using the very first crude 2019 prototype of the game which was simply a handmade illustration board with elements glued to it until August. It was only in August of this year when the game finally became digitalized using photoshop which I used to place shapes over a map of 1025 Byzantium, and it was thanks to the layout artist Arjun for really creating the template for the game’s map- although not yet a real board but a large mock-up piece of paper- which eventually became the finalized version done by Alessia just last November while for the meantime we were still using homemade mock-up pieces for the game’s cards and other elements. During September, October, and November the game testing phase occurred and this was when the game’s mechanics were finalized and so was the art done by Chrysa for the characters, city cards, event cards, and box cover thus these months definitely saw the completion stage. Now by December, we already had everything for the game complete and the mechanics more or less finalized wherein there is already a box design too but not a physical box yet. More or less, I can say we are complete with everything and the next step is just to set up our online store to sell the game and therefore begin selling. By February of 2023 I can assure that we can see it all finished and either by then or by March it will be fully available for sale in a number of stores and in our online store. True enough creating a board game like this was a long and tedious process, but it was actually quite surprising that despite the whole conceptualization phase taking more than a year if not almost 2 years, the execution phase was completed in just 4 months from August to December of 2022. Really, I believe that all these hardships involved in creating this game will really pay off at the end when the game is already for sale. Overall, I would say that it is because of how those who worked on the game believed in the project enough to the point that it would become a success that the game really moved forward to the point that it is now complete!   

The original 2019 prototype of the game
The 2022 initial prototype of the game

Q: How can those interested in the game help you fund it?

A: Well, I really think that the best way to help fund this game project is for those interested in Byzantine history, art, or board games in general to purchase the game and more so for individuals to not just buy one but several copies of it. I also think that in order to get funds to continue this project, potential fans of my game or just my site Byzantine Time Traveller in general can subscribe to my Patreon and donate to it as well as donate additional funds to my PayPal to show some support. True enough, I believe this game will have true fans that would really believe in the product enough to the point that they could help fund it if they want to see me create more Byzantine themed products in the future.

Q: Are you creating other Byzantine-themed games and products at the same time- or in the future?

A: Yes, definitely! In fact, as I was creating the board game, I was already creating a Byzantine themed deck of cards featuring my illustrations of historical figures from the whole history of the Byzantine Empire (4th-15th centuries) as well as Byzantine weapons and ornaments which are now out! Now that we are in the completion stage of the main product being the board game, I already have future Byzantine themed products in mind in which some I am already beginning to work on which in particular is a late Roman era themed deck of cards which will be the follow-up to my Byzantine deck of cards. Other than that, other products I have in mind for the future with a Byzantine theme include Byzantine puzzles, rulers with the names of Byzantine emperors, shirts, and another big project being a book featuring “on this day” events in Byzantine history. Despite all the challenges I went through in creating, this does not stop me from wanting to create more Byzantine themed products in the future as after all I have my mission to further popularize the rather obscure history of Byzantium and make it seem like something for everyday people! 

My Byzantine themed playing cards, now for sale!

Q&As with Some Members of the Project

Now here are some questions about the “Battle for Byzantium” board game with answers from key members of the creation team. Here, 4 team members will be sharing their experience on taking part on this project through a number of questions.


First will be no other than Byzantine Tale’s illustrator Chrysa Sakel, the lead artist of the game who illustrated most of the game’s elements which includes the 4 characters, box cover, event cards, and city trivia cards. Here, she will be answering 5 questions related to what she did for the game as well as her experience on creating her designs together with some of her thoughts on Byzantine history.

1) What was your favorite experience in creating the art for this board game project?

Chrysa: I really enjoyed making the cover of the box, I wanted the result to look epic. I’ve never done anything similar before. I also enjoyed the event cards, since I had to come up with different ideas on how they could look like.

2) Did you do a good amount of research on Byzantine history to create the art for the city cards and event cards?

Chrysa: I mostly revisited information I already knew, since the game takes place during the same period of my comics, so I’ve already done a lot of research on the topic. There were certain city cards where I had to search information on the buildings and the history of the city to choose a good landmark i.e., Nicosia.  

3) Do you think this game could be something that could further give the lesser-known history of Byzantium some more exposure and could it be a good way to introduce those unfamiliar with Byzantine history to it?

Chrysa: A board game is a really cool approach on making Byzantine history more popular. While playing the game, people can become more familiar with the history of the Eastern Roman Empire, and get a glimpse of the very intriguing parts of this time period and its interesting characters.

4) Did working on this board game help you get to learn more about Byzantine history and expand your passion for it?

Chrysa: I already have a great passion for Byzantine history. This game actually helped me find ways to depict Byzantium in a more approachable, modern, and epic looking way. I had to imagine what would look appealing to someone who doesn’t have any idea on the topic and just wants to try out a new board game. It was very interesting to work on something that has a very different audience than what I’m used to.

5) What were your biggest learnings from this experience of working on this board game?

Chrysa: It’s the first time I worked on something like this, and I really enjoyed collaborating with people across the world. It was a different experience to work in a team, get feedback, and see the final result after, being printed. It was a very wholesome experience and I really appreciate it.  

Sample artwork by Chrysa Sakel for the Byzantine Tales comics


The next team member to be interviewed for this article is the game’s second artist Alessia Valastro, an artist influenced mostly by fairytales, fantasy, and mythology who has worked on a number of projects before for both Italian and international authors. Here, she will be answering 6 questions about her passion for board games and design as well as her thoughts on Byzantine history as she worked on the game’s map and logo.

1) What is your background on board games?

Alessia: I’ve started to play with some friends more than 10 years ago. We started randomly by reading the Arkham Horror manual and organizing some game sessions out of curiosity. From that, we explored many other games, so my visual background started to be more and more expanded.

2) Did helping in creating the game get you interested in Byzantine history?

Alessia: Well, I already knew something about it, but for sure it made me more curious about the art. Even if I was already familiar with it, the chance to do specific research about the crown or the map for example made me more curious for sure.  

3) Is Byzantium something familiar to you?

Alessia: Yes, it is! Both because of my “artistic education” and because I’ve studied Byzantine history during my university years.

4) What were your favorite parts in creating the game’s map?

Alessia: The map itself! I was curious to test my ability to create something simple but elegant and with precise borders, I love old maps so it was a pretty good chance!!

5) What were your biggest learnings from this experience on working on a board game?

Alessia: The importance of having specific info before starting to work and I’ve had the chance to experiment again how important it is to try and match the style with other artists. I already knew that, but for the first time I applied it “professionally” on an actual soon-to-be published product.

6) Are you willing to do more Byzantine related art projects in the future?

Alessia: If the chance comes, why not?

Sample tesserae and porphyry tiles designed by Alessiahv


The next team member to participate in this Q&A is the game’s “executive consultant” for history and design Nilay Tokaoglu. Here with these 4 questions, she will be sharing her experience on the historical and geographical parts of the game as well as her experience in providing information for the design elements of the game and her background in Byzantine history.

1) What is your background with Byzantine history and is it something that fascinates you?

Nilay: Because I live in Turkey, Byzantine history is part of my life. I was born and raised in Bursa where it is an old important Byzantine city and also it consists Nicaea in its borders. I live so close to Istanbul today and every time I go out to the city center, I see Byzantine historical buildings. Of course, it fascinates me a lot. I should tell you that what triggered my interest in Byzantine history was when I visited the Hagia Sophia for the first time when I was a teenaged girl.  

2) What did you enjoy most in the process of creating the game?

Nilay: First of all, I think I loved most that someone living far from old Byzantine lands is interested in its history and spending efforts to make it popular and I also loved how the creator was open to any ideas to make the game better. I witnessed every step of building the game, and being a part of it made me really happy.  

3) What made you decide on choosing some of the landmarks for the city cards as well as for the design elements such as those seen in the event cards?

Nilay: Depending on my knowledge on cities, I tried to decide the most popular landmark belonging to them. Because some of them are still alive and I visited them on site. I love visiting ancient ruins. About the design of some elements, I actually trusted my memory again. I chose the ones closer to the real ones as design and colors. Helping choose the “art” elements was so much fun for me.

4) Do you think this game has a potential to introduce people to the rather unknown side of medieval history being the Byzantine Empire?

Nilay: To be honest, “people” is me actually because I haven’t got so much information about the medieval period of the Byzantine Empire. With Byzantine Time Traveller I learnt so many new things. And the game of course without even noticing will help players to learn about history and surely will encourage them to be curious about more.

“Battle for Byzantium” game manual cover


The 4th and last member to take part in this Q&A is Franco Gallardo, a film graduate with a passion for creating stories. For this project, he provided the 4 characters with a quick background story as well as their names.

1) Before you worked on this project, were you already familiar with Byzantine history?

Franco: Unfortunately, not at all, I was familiar with modern human history and I’ll admit my knowledge on the Roman Empire and everything that came before the 19th century was limited outside the religious history we were taught in school, however once I started reading and researching about the Byzantine Empire and where it fits in human history it was easier to put things together. 

2) When working on the background stories for the characters, did this get you interested in learning about the Byzantine Empire and this particular timeline?

Franco: Yes, during my days in high school I was always interested in human history and modern wars, although I admit I wasn’t too familiar with the Byzantine Empire and its timeline, it was very interesting reading about their history, what was done during that time and the significance of that period in history today.   

3) Who is your favorite of the 4 characters in the game and why?

Franco: If I could say all four of them would be favorites but I had the most fun making the background story for Demetrios due to his struggle or rebelling against the government, who treat him and his men like expendables, so he and his men can have a place back home even without a war. I feel like this resonates even today, hence why he was one of my favorites. 

4) How does it feel like to be working on a project of such a large scale like this being an international collaboration project?

Franco: It was a very humbling and eye-opening experience but at the same time it was exciting to work with a unique pitch for a board game along with the team. I had fun researching and knowing something new about this time in history and making background stories for these incredible characters for this revolutionary board game.  

Draft sketch of the box cover featuring the 4 in-game characters, art by Chrysa Sakel



And now this is practically all you would need to know for now for this upcoming board game “Battle for Byzantium”. To be honest, for me this was truly a revolutionary experience as this was in fact my first time to work with a large team with members from different parts of the world, and also my first time to actually do such an ambitious project that is an actual business at the same time. It is through this board game project that I am finally combining my knowledge in business which is what I studied in college being entrepreneurship with my passion for Byzantine history. However, this is just the beginning of it, but at least the product is more or less already there and no longer a concept like it is was for the longest time. So far, in my Byzantine history journey which had lasted for almost 4 years now, this has been my greatest achievement as no longer am I just producing content such as videos, blogs, social media posts, and artworks but a physical product itself that will be for sale borne out of my own imagination and creativity shared with the knowledge and creativity of others passionate for the subject being Byzantine history. It is really now a dream come true that I have gone this far in producing this revolutionary board game, and for getting this far in creating it I am truly thankful for Chrysa in terms of illustrating almost all its elements that therefore bring this game to life, for Alessia who made the map which thus makes this project look like a true board game, for Nilay for giving good quality information and images that were used as references for a lot of the game’s elements, for Franco for giving life to the game by giving some story to the game’s characters, and of course to all those who gave in their ideas and suggestions which helped shaped the game both in terms of mechanics and designs which include many others especially Arjun for creating the game’s box design and the initial prototype for the map which definitely did help in shaping the actual game map itself. It was to be honest very tough to work on this project with so many setbacks along the way especially in getting everyone together to work on it and make sure they deliver on time and worrying whether it will actually succeed or not. However, from working on this board game project, I came to learn that ambitious projects such as these are really difficult and it requires taking great risks and going out of your comfort zone especially if you want to produce something big out of your passion. At the end though, it was all worth it as there is indeed already a finished product, but again this is not yet it as even though the development is more or less done, the real action being the marketing and actual selling of the game is yet to come.

“Battle for Byzantium” game with its components


Now as 2022 comes to an end, I cannot be more than satisfied that I have actually produced something not only based on my passion for Byzantine history, but something that also brings to life my mission in making Byzantine history for everyone and not just scholars and historians. This board game “Battle for Byzantium” I believe is something that can take Byzantium out of its scholarly perception as it is something families and friends can enjoy yet learn something about Byzantine history whether they know it or not while it is also a game that is not too complicated to play wherein its Byzantine history setting is very prominent but not too difficult to understand as the game really explains it a lot in a way that is very understandable to everyday people. The goal for this game is really to make Byzantine history something fun and approachable and not just something only for history books, and due to having tests of this game a number of times as well as marketing it, it surely does seem that those who are not familiar with Byzantine history are actually interested in it. However, at this point the product has just been completed and the real action hasn’t yet started, but when the time comes that we begin to sell the game itself, that would now be a whole different story, but I still do hope for the best that it not only sells but that it could also spark an interest for Byzantine history among everyday people who purchase and play the game so that Byzantium does not anymore just stay an obscure topic only academics and hardcore history nerds are fascinated with. So as 2022 comes to end, I am glad that it ends with something I’ve always wanted to create become a reality so I hope that for 2023, this game will truly be a REALITY. I am definitely proud that I have made something big out of my passion for Byzantine history through this game the way others make their passion for it big by becoming historians or writing books, but for me creating an actual board game is something just as big as what I just mentioned. One again this is Powee Celdran the Byzantine Time Traveller saying thank you for reading this article and goodbye for 2022! I hope to see you all again in 2023 wherein I will have more articles especially about this board game of mine which will by then be a reality, so I am ready for whatever you have for me 2023 wherein I will continue to have more articles on this soon to be released exciting and revolutionary board game!   

Published by The Byzantium Blogger

Powee Celdran, currently majors in Entrepreneurial Management, a Byzantine scholar and enthusiast, historical military sketch and bathroom mural artist, aspiring historical art restorer, Lego filmmaker creating Byzantine era films and videos, and a possible Renaissance man living in modern times but Byzantine at heart. Currently manages the Instagram account byzantine_time_traveller posting Byzantine history related content.

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