The ivory tower is peculiar; this is well-established. While it attempts to shelter both student and the tenured from the world it entrusts them to better, it's also still an institution, and influenced by the top-down pressures of ideology, in-grouping, and rhetoric to which most institutions are subject. As Diary #0 hinted, the idea of Project Genealogy is to design a boardgame that lampoons some of the absurdity in this, by following a ridiculous, over-the-top war between rival universities that's waged by their genealogy departments rewriting the histories of their schools' founding families. The on-going "study" of these families and their competing schools unveils significant details that affect their public image, so unprecedented manipulation of history to better your status and cripple your enemies' is a reasonable path to the top.
Listing below my ideas for some of the foundational parts of a successful design in this vein, I'll proceed to then use them as inspiration for developing the rest of the system for this game:
Part of this design is inspired by an older idea for a time travel game: a hex-chart timeline. Orientated properly, each hex's six sides provide two paths to travel forward in time (right), two paths to travel backward in time (left), and two paths to travel to alternate events/timelines (top and bottom). While there isn't direct time travel in this design, there will be blatant manipulation of historical records and lying to alter "what really happened" in the past, so indirect influence on individuals or events on the timeline will likely be frequent. So a somewhat intricate event mapping and connecting system will need to be utilized to ensure they all impact on another. The number of sides or corners to each hex allows for the possibility of both a positive or negative outcome for each of the three time-travel directions (forward, backward, lateral), so perhaps somewhere in there lies an interesting mechanic or two.
"Take-That!" Family Dynamics
A significant amount of player interaction will be crucial in this design, because the theme is about bitter rivalries between the players' avatars. The university-founding families each department is researching have interacted and intertwined for years, providing plenty of fodder for players to use in their struggles over who gets credit for what and last-minute upsets. But rather than storytelling positive or negative events as in Gloom, players' characters will be swapping names in historical documents, tweaking dates, forging records, burning archives, etc. They also won't be above manipulating social or political elements at their rivals universities to slow them down. Much of this game should be about impeding and reversing your rivals' progress while minimizing their damage to your own. However, considering the long timelines this game deals with, it would be appropriate to utilize simultaneous action selection, so players have to try and predict how their rivals will act of the next few months and choose the appropriate actions.
Consistent with the academic theme of making history, players' efforts should have effects not just on what people in the past are responsible for what events, but also on what events happened in the past to begin with, and maybe even some of the spin with which the public "accepted" these events or not. The timeline should be editable with player actions, and this should enable strategy, as well as some randomness in the chains of effects caused by swapping events. While players should be able to target their edits more precisely than time-travellers would be able to target their objectives, the complex ripple effects should be comparable.
Annual School Review
Thematically, the players' universities are being ranked every year by an outside agency, based on certain parameters. This lends itself to a cyclical review turn structure, and one such as partial goal - play - full goal reveal - scoring - repeat, seems appropriate for the unknown cause-and-effect of time-travel-ish missions. Players will go in with at least one goal to pursue in mind, but at the end of the round won't be sure how well their full strategy will pay off. There's a delayed cause-and-effect with changing the past to affect the present, and so there should be too in the players' risk-reward structure. This can seem like it would make successful strategizing and refined play difficult, but a design that uses several rounds of this type still allows players the room to refine their tactics and work with unpredictable outcomes.
It would work well for the general social critique embedded in the theme of this design to link the corrupt struggles of a strained academic department to the larger struggles to remain funded in a competitive, and/or for-profit university environment. Perhaps the editing of history being done throughout most of the game is the large set of actions a player can take that don't require much funding. However, there would be a much smaller subset of actions that provide significant bonus effects without being dishonest in the theme, but they require significant funds that are hard to get. "Sure, pouring $400,000 into the library would be a good thing, but we're struggling just to make the money to forge an 1800s birth certificate!" Similarly, the primary source of funding available to the players could come from annual new student admissions, attracted to their school by both their general prestige and specific educational focus. This kind of entices me to expand this into a game about capitalism-crazed for-profit schools competing for student loan money, but that might deserve its own design some other time.
Each player should have a University Board, which not only tracks the founding family's members and their stats, but also the stats of funding, students, and what specialties the school is known for since the last annual review. Like most player boards it will track stat diversity between players and accumulation of victory point stats. Each player could also have a unique objective card of their own with unique victory bonuses for, say, having the highest of a certain educational specialty, or the most students. Perhaps each university can get one or two "Tradition" labels or categories that they belong to, typifying the specialization of the school's approach or traditional thought (like say "Freudian," or "Post-Structuralist" or something). However, I do still have some ideas for a different, theory-debating game about academic rivals presenting at conferences, so I may save that type of label for something else.
I'll try to keep this design a little smaller than the others, but we'll see how long that lasts. First, I think my focus should be on hammering out how events work on the timeline, and how they interact with each other, since that will likely dictate most of the stats and victory conditions.