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Design Diary: War Chest: Siege, or Buildy-Buildy, Smashy-Smashy

Trevor Benjamin
United Kingdom
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From gallery of TrevormBenjamin
Hi, all! After much delay, War Chest: Siege, the second expansion for War Chest, is being released on March 19, 2021. Like War Chest: Nobility, it adds an entirely new element, plus four thematically and mechanically integrated units. This diary explores the design and development of this new content.

The New Element: Fortifications

Barring the core distinction between spaces you can control (locations) and those you can't, War Chest's board is featureless and invariant. This fits perfectly well with the game's abstract roots, but we knew that there was room to experiment here. Siege's fortifications (henceforth, forts) are our first attempt.

From gallery of TrevormBenjamin

The Siege expansion includes seven fort coins (chunky plastic poker chips!) and six map cards. During set-up, you randomly draw one of the map cards, then place forts onto the four indicated locations. Forts can also be built by the new Sapper unit when it enters a location.

As you'd expect, forts offer an extra level of protection to locations and the units defending them. Here's how they work: You may not enter enemy locations with forts, and you may not attack enemy units in forts. In both cases, you must attack and destroy the fort first. This is done in the same way as you attack units.

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We wanted forts to introduce additional planning and risks, but we had to ensure that the game remained dynamic and balanced. This took quite a bit of development. For example, we initially had map cards with three forts on each side (six total). This slowed the game down a tad too much and favored some units more than we liked. [**No spoilers! We'll leave it up to you to figure out which ones!] We also had maps with asymmetric configurations. Unsurprisingly some playtesters complained of imbalance and so, reluctantly, we dropped them. As a final example, the Sapper could initially build forts in any space (not just locations). This introduced a few fiddly rules, but perhaps more importantly made forts feel too much like bolstering (which made the Sapper feel too much like the Herald).

The New Units

You won't be surprised to hear that War Chest: Siege includes siege weapons, three of them in fact: the Trebuchet, the Siege Tower, and the War Wagon. Like real siege weapons, we wanted these units to be powerful but lumbering. They should be slow to set up, fragile to counterattack, but can wreak havoc if left unchecked. After much experimentation, we settled on a very simple rule which achieves this quite nicely. Siege units must be bolstered in order to use their special abilities, which we've called "siege tactics".

From gallery of W Eric Martin

We also wanted the siege weapons to actually help players overcome (siege!) the forts. We began by explicitly coding this into their abilities. An early version of the Trebuchet, for example, could attack any fortified location up to three spaces away. This led to some weird dynamics — players simply abandoned their forts — and became totally useless once all the forts were destroyed. In the end, we had to be a bit more creative. The siege weapons remain effective at attacking forts, but their abilities are general enough to make them useful in other contexts as well.

Oddly enough, the only unit which explicitly references forts is the fourth and final new unit: the Sapper. As mentioned previously, the Sapper has an attribute that allows it to build a fort in any location it enters. It also has a tactic which allows it to move, then destroy a fort, so just like a real sapper, it can both build and destroy forts. A useful resource for a siege to be sure!

From gallery of W Eric Martin

Conclusion

We are incredibly excited about the Siege expansion and the continued success of War Chest. Big thanks to AEG (the publisher), Mark Wootton (lead developer), Brigette Indelicato (artist and graphic designer), all of our playtesters, and to everyone else who has helped us bring this game to life.

And now let's go play Siege!

Trevor and David
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