In the past, I've discussed Warline's game design on a more micro level, diving into individual systems and mechanisms. This is because I tend to develop and analyze game designs bottom-up (in flow: functional verbs to mechanisms to systems to global architecture). Though, I do typically establish top-down goals before digging deeply into development of a design. I have yet to discuss this macro level of Warline's game design process; I intend to rectify that here and now with this post, and in tandem discuss the concepts of agency and long-tail engagement in game design.
In the Beginning
In order to understand my process for macro level design goal setting, it's important to roughly understand what happens before then. As I mentioned, I'm a bottom-up developer (for many reasons, which could be an interesting subject for a future post)—here's a sketch of how my initial three-stage development process works, in respective chronology.Quote:1. What is the toy factor? Here, I focus on a one or more functional verbs that simply feel good/engaging to perform as a player. This can be anything as simple as manipulating a large block (which is exactly where Warline started) to blowing on something (not a real thing I've pursued, but it probably would feel great!), etc. Most of the time, the seed of inspiration for a functional verb comes from something I've experienced in my everyday life. A lot of this part of the process is rooted in my long history as a video game designer, and is similar in a lot of ways to the manner in which Nintendo tend to work.It's interesting to think about a few of the existing game designs that seem to be rooted in a similar process—such as Potion Explosion, Teotihuacan, SEAL Team Flix, and Bullet—and to imagine the experience of going through such a process for these game designs!
2. What is the interesting game play-related input/output (i.e. mechanisms) our toy factor can produce? Now, I take the inherently-fun-to-just-do activity and consider how it could communicate decisions to a game, and how those decisions could affect a game space. With Warline as an example, we have large, hefty cubes representing our army units. These cubes are just simply pleasurable to hold and move and stack and rotate. If we consider that rotating a cube changes which face is upward facing, we can lean into that upward face as a point of input into a game system. The top side of a cube in Warline signifies the unit's current status: arms, starting majik, demolition capabilities, and facing. Each of those parameters has great influence over the game space—so, simply by flipping over a cube, moving its position, or pivoting the cube, we have a satisfying activity that continually reshapes the game space in meaningful ways.
3. How can our input/output discoveries intersect and interact with one another to form interesting and gratifying systems? To close out my initial core design phase, I identify mechanisms that have the highest resolution and I begin to analyze whether they currently interact with one another—and if there is not already interaction, how I can inject interaction by way of small adjustments. These intersecting mechanisms I identify naturally become game systems and lay the groundwork for development of the game design. At this time, I'm also able to ascertain the current level of complexity the design offers (by way of a method I discuss in this other post).
Following my three-stage establishment of design foundations, I take a step back to see the forest for the trees and establish my top-down goals. This process isn't as "scientific" as the preceding process, but rather a simple series of questions I ask myself. These questions are based on two concepts: what the design is already doing/has the clear potential to do, and what I personally want the design to do and why. The answers to those questions are then shaped into my top-down goals.
I consider this exercise to be of utmost importance: It helps create the checks and balances I measure development against, which keep the game design evolving on a clear and steady path. These checks and balances also help mitigate feature creep. Without these goals and measures, it's common for a game design to stray and bloat over the course of development, often even resulting in a design that's dissonant from what the designer initially intended.
For Warline, the result of this exercise is the following set of high-level goals:Quote:• Provide players with a very high resolution of agency, both within a match and outside of a match. (<— Hey, look, there's the primary subject of this post!)A Bit About Agency
• Ensure that players explicitly feel the impact of their own creativity and play personality.
• The game must be highly extendable without sacrificing elegance as it continues to expand.
• The design must prevent the meta development of patterned/optimal play.
Now, let's take a look at the first part of this post's subject: agency. The dictionary defines agency as "action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect." That's already a pretty close definition of what agency is within a game design! But, there is one detail that needs to be addressed to get me to where I want to be as a designer/developer, wielding the term "agency" as a tool that can be measured against. That is to say, I like to add the word "meaningful" between "particular" and "effect". Meaningful effect/outcome is a complex (and very interesting) subject, and not all designers align on what it actually is. But, to me, a meaningful effect/outcome is one that results in a change to the game state to such a degree that the decision space is largely reshaped—resulting in all succeeding actions by all players being influenced to an appreciable degree.
Agency is such an important part of the human condition, and it can be argued that the more agency one has over a domain, the more human that person feels (I'm not insinuating the only thing denoting our humanity is agency, just that it's a very import part of the equation). This is probably due to our innate desire to create and change things by our own will. Naturally, it feels great to have agency! But, to avoid going down a rabbit hold of existential pondering, let's move along and take a look at the second part of the post subject...
Long Tails and Legacies
For our purposes, something having a long tail, or something being long-tail, means the something is enjoyable to explore indefinitely. The "explore" part of that statement is key: Something with a long tail isn't just enjoyable to engage with over time, it's also something you continue to learn and discover new things within conceivably forever. "Forever" might be superlative, but considering the manner in which we interact with games, I think the word works well in this context.
Be careful, though, to not conflate a game having lots of content with the game having a long-tail design; the two ideas are not related. Engaging with something for a long time (or forever) simply because new stuff is always there to experience is more of a consumption desire-related concept—a different subject altogether. Remember, long-tail design is all about unending learning and discovery.
To me, the most important benefit a design gains from having a long tail is the ability to build a legacy. It's not the "legacy game" format I refer to, but rather the idea that a long-tail design can pass down key elements to itself (in expansions) and to successors (think spin-offs and sequels, of sorts). I'm fully invested in Warline not just as a single game, but as a series and a platform for design exploration—a legacy of design that can grow and be dissected and reimagined in countless ways for years to come. One of the things I respect most about Reiner Knizia is his ability to build design legacies. Consider Knizia'a Tigris & Euphrates, Samurai, Yellow & Yangtze, and Babylonia—each of these games exist within the same broad design space, yet each design presents something unique and interesting. This is a design legacy that I'm sure Knizia will continue to pass down to even more designs.
Tying It Together
If we look at the first two points in my Warline high-level goals list above, we see "...a very high resolution of agency..." and "...feel the impact of their own creativity..." These concepts are both related to players being able to heavily influence the game space and how the game communicates the ramification of that agency. Earlier I mentioned that when I set my goals I not only ask myself what I want the design to do, but also why I want that. The simple reason I aimed for a design rich in agency and meaningful creative player input is that I also aim for Warline to be a very long-tail design—and agency is a precursor to long-tail engagement.
The higher the agency resolution, the longer a design's tail will be. This is because higher agency resolution gives players more knobs to dial, more levers to pull, more sliders to tweak, so to speak. The more of those influential actions a player can take, the more experiments the player can perform, the results of which are continuous Ah-ha! moments of discovery—and this is powerful stuff.
Thanks for reading, and until next time, have fun!
Justin D Leingang
A look inside the making of WARLINE: Maneuver Strategy & Tactics
03 Dec 2021
- [+] Dice rolls
Recently, we have been running an online WARLINE tournament (via the Tabletop Simulator edition). To my surprise, even after hundreds of other play tests, players have been running into edge case rulings and uncovering other unsatisfying "bugs" that were heretofore hiding deep in the crevices of the game rules. The discovery, and resolution, of these issues during tournament play has proved to be immensly rewarding (to me as a game designer) and immensely beneficial to WARLINE.
Why is it that, through countless plays prior to this tournament, we had never come across these issues? I'd like to explore this question, and propose my theoretical answers, in effort to highlight the incredible value of testing a game design within organized play. Perhaps this post will inspire other (competitive) game designers to thoroughly test within organized play environments (if they are not already doing so).
• When real stakes are at play (the winner of our tournament takes a $100 purse), players care more about how the rules work, and the ramification of rules. As a result, players look with more scrutiny at every nuance of the game, because they desire to gain every edge that they can.
• Competitive players tend to be more pedantic when playing games (see the previous point). Since organized play is competition focused, the number of pedantic players you have is significantly high.
• Sometimes game design bugs are not literal--sometimes the bugs are psychological and emotional. When playing for stakes, players tend to be more conscious of how they feel whenever anything happens.
• To successfully run organized play online, as an independent designer/developer, it is impossible to "referee" every match. In a highly-technical game (like WARLINE), you will find more and more players stymied by ambiguities and lack of clarity, as you are not there to smooth out kinks. (In non-organized blind play tests, this can also happen--however, because of the first couple of points above, more players will be vocal about it within organized play.)
• When a game is designed as a platform for organized play, players have certain expectations of the game design. When those expectations are not met, the players will let you know about it.
Are you designing a game that is optimized for organized play? If so, are you testing within an organized play environment? If not, I highly encourage you to do so. This experience has resulted in even further hardening of the WARLINE game design--which I believe would not have been otherwise possible.
I want to give a holler out to the folks on the WARLINE Discord server. They have been instrumental in the effort to polish the game design to a shine, and ensure that it is satisfying in every regard.
Until next time!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls
14 Mar 2018
I'm presently in the process of fleshing out the lore and world for WARLINE: Tactical Fantasy Battles. More importantly, however, I'm working hard to have the fantasy world and lore fully integrated into the game play--which has been a fun and unique challenge, considering the nature of the game play (competitive abstract-combined-with-wargame).
With regards to fleshing out the world of WARLINE, my starting goal was to not only create a world rich with lore and detail, but also a world that players could directly interact within--a world ready for players to recreate and play within literally every square inch. Over the past couple of months I have been able to settle on what, I feel, is a solid design direction.
I needed to take a layered design approach, because there are three major world concepts that I needed to conceive: 1) Comprehensive geography, including both natural and man-made features, and also land marks and other lore-related features (e.g. rumored locations of powerful artifacts); 2) a defined lexicon for the written language of the land; and 3) how to translate all of the geography and landmarks into a format that players can use to easily and quickly recreate onto their tabletop any given "sector" of the world.
Accomplishing point #1 and #2 were a really fun tasks. It took a little bit of research into the general ideas behind the physical development of certain geological features, and also a little anthropological research into the formation of societies and development of language. The result of the R&D is a detailed map of one of the continents in the world of WARLINE (over time, following the launch of the game, I will flesh out additional continents across the world and offer them as expansions).
The continent of Soroyland
Point #3 was a bit more challenging of a problem to solve, because of the physical construction of the game, and the way that the game plays. For point of reference, to follow is an photo of the current game prototype. You'll notice that the play surface is made up of a simple grid.
WARLINE core game platform
So, how to turn a flat grid into a detailed representation of small sectors in a massive world? First off, I had already designed "terrain modifier" components and rules--so, I was already halfway done solving the problem. In a nutshell, the player is able to apply a single terrain modifier to any given cell on the game platform, thereby transforming that cell from "flatland" (i.e. unmodified) into anything from "mountain" to "hills" to "waterbody" to "chasm" to "populace" and more. Each different terrain modifier type pushes certain properties to battalions (the player's core game components) as they move between cells--so, it's harder or easier to move depending upon the terrain, and combat capabilities are increased or decreased depending upon the terrain.
The other half of the problem, translating a full-featured world into a simple grid of terrain types took some effort. First, I had to determine the relative scale of a single core battlefield (also note that multiple core battlefields can be combined into any size and form factor a player pleases). But, to do that I needed to decide upon the relative scale of a single cell on a battlefield. To spare you the long drawn out reasoning brought about by math and game session times and desire for length of playing out epic campaigns and perceived scope of the overall experience, I settled on: 1 core battlefield represents 1 mile, while 1 cell represents 1/8 mile (there are 8 cells on a core battlefield). The cool thing about figuring out this is I am able to understand the full size of the continent and oceansides--which comes out to be roughly 15,625 square miles! That's a lot of territory to battle on...
Once I settled on relative scales, I began painstakingly plotting every single cell of a battlefield onto the massive world map. I generated a simple color-coded map and legend that makes it quite simple to choose a spot in the world that you want to battle on, and then quickly build it out using terrain modifiers. The map I use to play is a 4-foot by 4-foot cloth beast (big as a small blanket!), but the version that will be included in the shipping game will necessarily be made of quality paper, and necessarily divided into either 8 or 16 separate pieces (depending upon manufacturing cost logistics). And, if you're asking, "Why can't the map be smaller?" Because there is so much land, and an individual battlefield cell needs to be easily measurable by the naked eye--and there are exactly 1000 cells worth of land either horizontally or vertically.
Soroyland terrain grid map, or "The Blanket"
One "dot" equals one battlefield cell--Eight "dots" equals one single core battlefield game platform
Terrain grid legend
Sometimes I question whether or not all of this attention to detail and effort are overkill--will anyone even care? But, whenever I look back at one of my key design goals for WARLINE--the game is a platform for player creativity and involvement as a community--I'm immediately reminded that, no, all of this attention to detail and effort aren't overkill, and they are absolutely necessary to accomplish my goals. So, while it does push back my original target dates for launching the game (now aiming for the end of 2018), it will be well worth it in the end: Not only will players be able to deeply immerse themselves in the game and fiction, but also I can't wait to see all of the creative scenarios and events in the world of WARLINE that players conjure up and share with the community!
Thanks for hanging out and reading!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls
WARLINE: Tactical Fantasy Battles (or r/Warline on reddit) is being engineered as both a community-driven casual play platform and a highly-competitive organized play platform. Unlike a vast majority of modern competitive tabletop games that are popular, WARLINE's game systems include zero true RNG. This fact leaves me with a steep mountain to climb toward success, because it is RNG in competitive game systems that helps welcome new players and keep less skilled/casual players engaged in organized play (for reasons that are too deep to go into in this post).
So, to give WARLINE a fighting chance as a successful organized play platform, I'm developing a custom Elo-like rating system--I say "Elo-like" because my system necessarily can't use a strict Elo algorithm or a variant. With a system like this in place, I can develop a strict organized play platform that includes detailed match-making, based on my rating system, ensuring that any player always has a chance to win an OP battle. The intended result is that new players can have fun, casual players can have fun, and masters can stay challenged and engaged. Additionally, a weaker player's rank can increase much more by defeating a stronger (i.e. higher ranked) player, and a stronger player's rank will suffer if defeated by a weaker player.
In an Elo system, a player's rating shifts up or down following a game based on win/lose/draw and the strength of their opponent. In these systems, points from winning or losing is a binary: 1 point for a win and 0 points for a loss (with 0.5 points awarded for a draw). However, in WARLINE, victory isn't a binary: There are 5 different victory conditions, which each award a different number of Organized Play Points, according to the difficulty of meeting the condition. Because of this scoring system, I have to develop a custom algorithm to express how good any given player is at playing WARLINE. Also, an Elo system doesn't directly account for the total number of games a player has played--I don't care for this fact, because a player's aptitude always increases with play, regardless of whether or not they win or lose. My rating algorithm, therefore, also takes total sanctioned games played into account.
I'm calling WARLINE's custom rating system the Warline Aptitude Rating system (or, WAR). To follow is a breakdown of the factors that are being considered in this system, along with the algorithms currently in place. I'd appreciate feedback on the reasoning behind the factors that I've chosen, along with feedback on the algorithms I'm using to express the intended results.
The WAR rating algorithm
r = ((((t/n)*w)*1000)+n)
(if n == 0, then r = 0)
...where r is the player's actual rating (WAR), t is the player's total AP ("Aptitude Points"-details to follow) across all games, n is the total number of sanctioned games played by the player, w is the ratio of the player's victories to defeats, and the 1000 multiplier is simply applied so that WAR are expressed as whole numbers instead of being < 1 > 0 decimal numbers.
WAR factors rationale
• Total Aptitude Points (t) | The rationale behind this factor is self explanatory, as it's the total number of Aptitude Points (see below for details) a player has scored across all sanctioned games he has played.
• Total number of games played (n) | I'm factoring in the player's total number of sanctioned games played, because a player always learns by playing a game, and therefore his aptitude increases. Without factoring this in, it's difficult to express the difference between someone who's played 1 game and someone who's played 100 games, if the players both played the same opponent every time, scored the same number of points every time, and have the exact same win/loss ratio ("w" in my algorithm). By factoring in total plays, WAR expresses the learning that comes from playing more and more games--a player who's played 100 games and lost them all is definitely going to be a better player than another who's played 1 game and lost.
• Victory ratio (w) | I factor in the percentage of sanctioned games a player has won, because this helps express the traditional Elo binary of win/loss in a manner that harmonizes with my system. We need to express wins versus losses, because that idea expresses the base "strength" of a player.
Aptitude Points algorithm
a = (m*(1+(0.1*(ro-rp))))
...where a is Aptitude Points earned from the game just played, m is a multiplier that comes from the OPP won in the game, ro is the WAR of your opponent, and rp is your WAR. The 1+ is used so that AP is most always a number >= 1, while the 0.1 multiplier is used because WARs are often in the thousands, and AP are best expressed as small numbers, so that shifts in WAR are more gradual.
• Aptitude Points (a) | This is a custom points system for a game, used because WARLINE doesn't have a binary win/lose value. I need a custom points system like this in order to express how well a player understands the nuances of the game, not just whether they know how to win at the most basic level.
• OPP multiplier (m) | Within any given WARLINE tournament or league season, players earn Organized Play Points for wins, based on the type of victory the player executes--these OPP determine advancement in a tournament or standings in a league season. Since these points already express the aptitude required for a certain victory, I use the equivalent value as a multiplier to the win earned.
• Opponent's rating (ro) | I factor in the opponent's WAR because it's more difficult to earn victory against a strong opponent than against a weak opponent. The way this factor is used in the algorithm results in a player *losing* points if defeated by another player who is weaker (lower WAR) than the player.
• Player rating (rp) | This is your own WAR at the time the game took place (prior to post-game recalculation). It's factored in as part of the comparison between your aptitude and your opponent's aptitude.
Applying the algorithms to update a player's WAR
The process of using these two algorithms to adjust a player's WAR, after a game has concluded, is pretty simple:
1. First, calculate the player's AP gained from the game he just completed. For example, consider Player A--who has a WAR of 390--and Player B--WAR 833. If Player A wins the battle for 3 OPP, then Player A earns 135.9 AP for the game [calculated from a = (3*(1+(0.1*(833-390))))]. The AP earned is rather large, because Player A won against an opponent *much* stronger than himself (if Player B would have won, the AP earned would have been significantly smaller, because Player B defeated a much weaker opponent).
2. Next, update the Player A's WAR by adding the game's AP into the Player A's total AP (let's say his total AP is now 193.9, after adding in the game's AP), then updating *n* and *w* based on the game's outcome, and finally running the WAR rating algorithm. Player A's new WAR is 1068.58 [calculated from r = ((((193.9/101)*0.504)*1000)+101)]. By defeating an opponent much stronger than himself, Player A's WAR jumps significantly!
If you're still with me, I really appreciate you taking the time to read! Let me know what you think, and if you have experience developing an Elo-like system for your game or any other game you play.
Thanks for reading, and thanks even more for your feedback!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls
08 Feb 2018
Something that is often undervalued in game design is player agency. It is not, however, player agency within the game systems that is undervalued (there is plenty of this going on in a large number of different games), but rather player agency outside of the game systems that is undervalued.
Taking a step back, let us consider what exactly is "player agency". Merriam-Webster (dictonary) defines agency as: "the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power". So, we can define player agency as the capcity (/condition/state) of the player to act or exert power. Player agency within a game system is the player's ability to act or exert power during the course of a game session--let us call this concept, "internal agency". Conversely, player agency outside of a game system is the player's ability to act or exert power outside of a game session--we will call this other concept, "external agency".
One concrete example of internal agency is, in Azul, a player's choice during game play to take tiles that primarily serve him scoring points (acting), or to take tiles that keep another player from scoring points (exerting power). Another example of internal agency is, in Citadels, a player's ability to dictate turn flow (exert power) by taking the King card during the character draft phase.
External agency is a trickier concept. On the surface level, external agency can be thought of as customization of the game systems, while not playing the game (before a game session, or any other random time while not engaged a game session). For example, adding or removing a game's expansions before playing--or, adding a new character into a character pool (for choosing during game play). However, there is a deeper level of external agencey--a level that has players changing the decision space that a game will have, or the scope that a game will have, or the feel that a game will have, or involvement in something greater than a single game session.
If you have read my Vision Guide for WARLINE: Tactical Fantasy Battles, you will already know that some of my weightiest goals are for WARLINE to be highly expandable and customizable--giving players the capability to shape the experience they are going to take part in. More specifically, my goal is to allow the player to craft an experience that fits his play style, his current mood, his time alloted to play a game, and depth at which he can dive into the sea of strategic and tactical decision making. WARLINE is rich with external player agency. A player can fully craft the play space before any given play session--from size, to shape, to meaningful content. A player can fully craft his toolset--from abilities, to number of actors. One can customize the types of decisions to be made, the number of decisions to be made, the goals, and even the narrative that wraps play. And all of this crafting takes place outside of game play. One way to look at it is that WARLINE has an entirely other game to be played, outside of "the game", which heavily influences "the game".
Though, let us get back to the specific topic at hand, which is not just external agency, but the value of external agency. There is no real easy way to concisely summarize the value of external agency--because the value is so broad and far reaching--so let us simply list out all of the positive returns (as applied within WARLINE) that come about when a game affords a large amount of external agency:
• The game becomes a canvas for your creativity. You can take ownership of the game, just as you take ownership of a piece of artwork you create.
• You can scale a game session to fit your allotted play time or mood.
• The game remains fresh and interesting for a very long time.
• You can continuously learn new and exciting ways to play and ways to succeed within the game.
• Your play experience can be dramatically different every time you play. Your strategies can be wildly different from game to game.
• You become directly involved in the game's development, guiding lore and future elements of play.
• Opportunities for community interaction increase. Players can craft and share scenarios, tales of battle, and custom armies; and share them with other players.
• The game exists itself as a community, not just a game. Events, leagues, and tournaments help bring like-minded players together to challenge one another in a fun environment.
There are many other reasons why WARLINE benefits from a high level of external agency--and I am constantly learning more and more about this value within WARLINE. It is thrilling every time the game comes up seemingly randomly in completely unrelated conversation, in some unrelated social environment, as when a buddy suddenly says: "I just had this idea for a battlefield with a forested island, where I am defending the trees--a source of living for a small lumber milling village at the center of the island. Your army deploys on the mainland shore, and must cross the body of water, invade the forested island, and burn as many trees down as you can--claiming the island as a strategic position for your greater machinations." In WARLINE, you can make this happen.
Similarly exciting to me are the times when a friend says out of nowhere, "You know that army you crushed me with, after you alighted an entire regiment of rayverns on the mountaintops, then stormed downslope to wipe me out? Yeah, I just thought of an army build out and deployment that will trounce you if we re-play that same battle setup." Like sports fans talk afterward about the moments they watched in a match, and how they feel they could have turned out differently, WARLINE players frequently discuss past battles, formulate alternate plans for success, and play them back out to prove one another's strategic and tactical prowess.
So, how can we summarize the value of external agency in only a few words? How about: External agency can turn a game into a lifestyle. I think that just about sums it up.
Above: An example of an unconventional custom battlefield, and a couple of large custom armies.
Above: A creative expression of varied terrain on a double-size battlefield.
Above: For point of reference, the core battlefield and armies without any customization applied.
I hope that you enjoyed reading. Until next time!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls
15 Dec 2017
Before I begin any personal game project, I ask myself a very important question: "Why am I designing this game?" The answer I give myself determines whether or not I continue with the project at all. I do this because I strive to ensure that every game I design fulfills the purpose of bringing unique value to players (myself included as one of these players). I'm not claiming that I aim to change the world, but rather introduce a design that leads to an experience players should feel they can't get from any other game.
If my answer to this question is ever purely self-serving, or simply because I think the game would be cool, I immediately squash the idea completely. There are plenty of games out there that are awesome, but not different enough to bring unique value to players. (Many designers disagree with me on this mindset, but I've always stuck to my guns and have always been very passionate about this. Note that I'm not at all looking down on "redundant" game designs. In fact, many of my favorite games are redundant with other designs. I also feel that redundant designs hold immense value to players and designers alike. My philosophies in approaching a personal game project are simply a personal preference.)
My answer to the question must be a meaningful one in order for me to continue...
Ever since I really got into tabletop gaming, I've been a sucker for fantasy wargaming. Sometime during highschool (in my humble home town of Lafayette, Indiana), I stumbled for the first time into a Game Preserve LGS. This place became my mecca, and nothing was more of a siren call than Warhammer and its various spin-offs. Ever since then, I've gotten uncountable hours of enjoyment playing fantasy wargames. These games are deep, rich, and gratifying (I'm talking long-term gratification) in a manner that most other games aren't. Fantasy wargames exercise my imagination and my intelligence to the highest degree--I love this.
On the flip side, I have also always been deeply drawn to abstract strategy games. There's never enough to be said about pure, me-versus-you competition--no luck, no surprises, just brain versus brain. Also, abstract strategy games are some of the most engaging thought puzzles available, and I love challenging puzzles.
Like a lot of players, as my family has grown, my available time to play games has decreased. In the past year or so, my fantasy wargaming play time has been all but erased. This is really hard for me to swallow. Also, even though most abstract strategy games can be played in a more reasonable amount of time, my access to strong opponents has dwindled to almost nothing (they're also growing families, moving away, etc.). As much as I love abstracts, their variance comes from playing new and different opponents, not from the game mechanics--so, with my few available opponents, the experience has become a little flat (or at least, flatter than the experience and challenge that I crave).
Why I'm Designing Warline
A few years back, I began musing on two separate ideas of finding a way to make fantasy wargaming more accessible, and also making abstract strategy games more varied (specifically, within common opponent play). I had a number of solutions come to mind. Though, the more I thought about these ideas, the more I began to realize that the problems I was trying to solve could actually be united into a single problem, for which a single solution would solve both of the original problems!
So, the answer to the question, "Why am I designing Warline?" became clear to me: "I am designing Warline in order to make fantasy wargaming more accessible and abstract strategy gaming richer and more replayable." My goal is to create one single game that accomplishes both goals.
Warline: Tactical Fantasy Battles is an elegant blend of fantasy wargaming and abstract strategy games. I accomplished this by digging deep into what, to me**, are the pros and cons of each of the respective genres. I used this process to first develop my "Vision Guide"--a set of guiding principles against which I check all of my design decisions, in order to stay focused and on path to achieve the "why" that I set out to achieve. You can read the full Warline Vision Guide in another post--and I recommend that you do, because it will give you deeper clarity into the problems I am solving for.
**(I realize that what one considers to be the goods and bads of any given genre are subjective--which is why I focus on my own personal view of these things when developing a Vision Guide for a project. I work under the assumption that at least some other players--and hopefully a good number of players--share the same viewpoint as my own.)
Me and Warline, pre battle
The question of "Why am I designing this game?", and the process of answering that question have proved invaluable to me throughout my career. In adhering to this process, I feel that I am able to create games that are unique and stand the test of time--games that resonate with players, and give them an experience they can't get elsewhere. I highly encourage you to always ask yourself "Why?" You will find that it brings an immeasurable amount of clarity to your design, and to your purpose.
I'd love to hear more about your pre-design process.
Thanks for reading. Until next time!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls
24 Nov 2017
Below is a copy of the vision guide for the Warline: Tactical Fantasy Battles game design. I used (and still use) this guide as a lighthouse during ideation, iteration, and decision making throughout the game design process.
I really like establishing a vision guide at the outset of designing a new game. I find that a vision guide is a powerful lens that helps keep my ideas cohesive, my iterations clean, and my decisions cogent. I am sharing this guide in hopes of giving you a clear picture of my intent with the Warline game design. Hopefully, this insight will help you become more directly engaged with the other entries in mys Warline designer diary blog.
WARLINE: Tactical Fantasy Battles
Warline combines the prominent features of fantasy wargames and abstract strategy games to deliver an accessible, fast, and furious expression of battlefield combat.
What features act as the heartbeat of fantasy wargames? These are the high points that I am trying to weave into Warline.
* Variable unit capabilities (maneuverability, combat power, tactical options, etc.).
+ Each Warline army's general has a unique "Battle Art", allowing each army to tap into exclusive tactics. Additionally, Battalions have varied capabilities in combat and maneuvering.
* Unit capabilities can change as a consequence of outside forces.
+ As Battalions (Warline's equivalent of units or squads) are attacked and lose strength, they gain maneuverability--their tactical strengths and weaknesses fluctuate.
* Tactical opportunities are not restricted by arbitrary rules.
+ As much as possible, the theme of fantasy war drives Warline's game and play mechanics, not rules for the sake of rules.
* The tactical possibilities matrix is both broad and deep.
+ Battalion's fluid maneuver capabilities and tactical action set, combined with your own strategic and tactical options (Maneuver, Stall, Sacrifice, and more), result in a near endless web of possibilities.
* A leader unit (e.g., a general or the like) can partially define an army’s strengths and weaknesses.
+ Each general's Battle Art harmonizes with a different set of tactics and strategies.
* Variations in terrain play a role in influencing tactical decisions.
+ Warline includes a number of terrain modifiers that can be applied to the battlefield. The modifiers affect Battalions' abilitiy to maneuver, and therefore the way you approach any given situation.
* Terrain variation possibilities can ensure that every battle unfolds in a different manner.
+ Terrain modifiers allow you to fully customize the battlefield, creating a theater of war that is both interesting and infinitely challenging.
* The game systems are highly expandable, with minimal risk of diluting or making obsolete the core game rules.
+ Warline's core rules are streamlined, but rich--and are expandable with a large number of official rules variants (of which you can mix and match to your desire), allowing you to add layers of complexity and challenge.
What burdensome features of fantasy wargames am I trying to address? I am trying to solve for these in order to keep Warline accessible to a larger, broader player base.
* Extremely long game time.
+ Played with just the core set and core rules, an average Warline game lasts around 20 minutes--but feels perfectly gratifying. Game times scale upward as you add more complexity by including official rules variants and expanding the size of the battlefield.
* Random outcomes can often nullify seemingly strong tactical decisions.
+ There are zero random outcomes in Warline. No dice rolling, no card drawing, no luck at all. In Warline, your desicisions and actions, and your opponents decisions and actions, are all that drive the game systems.
* Very large, often impractical, play surface requirements.
+ The core battlefield is 24 inches by 24 inches, with a little bit of vertical depth. This battlefield can comfortably on most common tables, but still feels substantial and "war-like" in scale.
* Expensive to get into and maintain, often prohibitively so.
+ Warline uses cost-practical solutions for the expression of a gorgeous play space and actors: Instead of expensive miniatures, Warline opts for detailed hand-painted illustrations to depict the warriors and the battlefield.
* Visual splendor in the game components is reserved for only the most dedicated and talented craftsmen.
+ Everyone's copy of Warline looks amazing: Battalions are illustrated with detailed fantasy war scenes, terrain modifiers are illustrated with lush landscapes, the battlefield is molded in a sleek modern industrial design. No painting or crafting required.
* Cumbersome rules that can take hours to learn.
+ Warline can be learned in 10 minutes or less.
What are the features serving as the lifeblood of abstract strategy games? These are the key ideas I am trying to elegantly merge into Warline’s fantasy wargame ideas.
* Combinatorial (i.e., no hidden information) game mechanisms and play mechanisms.
* Deterministic systems (no random number generation, no random outcome generation, etc.).
* Each turn resembles a tactical puzzle to be solved - a puzzle with no single superior solution.
* Clear, concise play mechanics.
* Transparent game mechanics.
* Relatively compact game components and play field.
* Employ a minimal number of game components to achieve maximal strategic depth.
What abstract strategy game features do I feel are less compelling? I am trying to mitigate these in order to more fully immerse players.
* Lack of a deeply integrated theme.
* Rigid, pattern-based movement rules.
* Snowballing advantages to one player or the other.
* Situations can often be overcome by means of relatively simple mathematical calculations.
Thanks for reading. Until next time!
Justin D Leingang
- [+] Dice rolls