David and I have been incredibly happy with War Chest's reception since its debut in 2018. Following the reviews, the comments, and the discussions has been a real treat. One thing that came up again and again was how expandable people thought the game was. Of course we agreed — we had lots of different ideas rattling around in our heads — but we had to wait to see how well the game did. When AEG gave us the official thumbs, we couldn't have been happier. This diary explores the design and development of War Chest: Nobility, the game's first expansion.
Of course Nobility would add new units. That much was obvious. But we wanted it to include something else — some new element that would add additional choices and texture through its interactions with the existing content. Our starting point for this was the Royal Coin.
In War Chest, each player's bag starts with a slew of Unit Coins (Archers, Cavalry, etc.) and a single Royal Coin. Despite its flashy name, the Royal Coin is strictly inferior to the others. You can't place it onto the board, and you can't use it to maneuver your units. Like the Estates in Dominion, the Royal Coin's sole purpose is to encourage you to build your bag. The more coins in your bag, the less often you have to draw it. While this is an important function, it's not a particularly fun one. With Nobility, we set out to change this. We wanted players to be excited to draw the Royal Coin, and this would happen only if the Royal Coin created choices, rather than removing them. Enter the Royal Decrees...
Royal Decrees are a new type of card that introduce generic (non-unit specific) powers into the game. Three of them are dealt face up during set-up, and each player (or team) gets to use each one once during the game. To do this, you discard your Royal Coin face up, then place a Royal Seal onto the Decree. So three times during the game, your Royal Coin gets to do something cool. The king say-eth, the people do-eth!
The core mechanisms for the Decrees came quickly, but it took us quite some time to get the powers right. On the one hand, we wanted them to be as varied as possible, interacting with each other and with the units in interesting ways. On the other hand, we had to ensure that the Decrees weren't too powerful, either individually or in the aggregate. The Royal Coin still needed to promote bag building, and this simply wouldn't happen if the Decrees were too strong. Our solution was to create powers that were both situational and more powerful in the mid and late game than in the beginning.
The Royal Decrees achieved what we wanted. They made the Royal Coin interesting, while also giving us a mechanical and thematic hook for the expansion. The next step was to design some units to run with this.
Nobility includes four new units. The Earl and the Herald have abilities that interact directly with the Decrees. The Bishop and the Bannerman are thematically linked, but explore other types of abilities.
Along the way, we tried out lots of different ideas that just didn't make the cut. Inspired by the Royal Guard, for example, we tried out a variety of units that had Tactics powered by the Royal Coin ("Discard the Royal Coin to do X"). These "Royal Tactics" were a great fit thematically, but they caused some pretty severe issues. First, they competed directly with our new Decree Cards. If you were using your Royal Coin for a Royal Tactic, you weren't using it for a Decree (and vice versa). Second, there were power issues. The stronger the Royal Tactics, the less likely you were encouraged to build your bag. This was much worse than what we encountered with the Decree powers as Tactics can be used again and again. Speaking of which...
Confession time: While certainly not unbeatable, we felt that the Royal Guard as it appears in the base set is something of a problem. We knew it was a strong unit, but we didn't realize just how strong until after the game was released, and people started posting strategies and discussions of those strategies to various threads. The problem is that its Tactic — Discard the Royal Coin to move — is too versatile. Moving a unit is something you can always do, and something you pretty much always want to do. This makes "small bagging" with the Royal Guard extremely effective, particularly given the nature of its attribute (When attacked, you can remove a coin from the supply rather than the unit). In a small bag, a Royal Guard becomes a tank that can move quickly!
In turn, this reduces the variety of game play on offer when the Royal Guard is in the draft mix as its tactic dominates the game flow. We pride ourselves on how differently the game plays with different units and different army composition, and we felt it was important to get back to that feel.
To address this, the Nobility expansion includes a new version of the Royal Guard card. The attribute is the same as before, but the Tactic now reads: Discard the Royal Coin to move the Royal Guard up to two spaces to a location that you control. So its effect is larger (you can move two spaces), but more limited (you have to move to a location you control). This resolves the issue with small bagging, while also making much more sense thematically. (The Royal Guard should be running around to guard your locations, not to cause general havoc and destruction!)
The Royal Coin and the Royal Guard aren't the only things that we've "upgraded" in Nobility. While overall people have been extremely happy with the production of the game (how couldn't they be!), there have been a lot of comments that the Control Markers were the same size as, and hence got covered up by, the Unit Coins. Some people forged their own DIY solutions (gotta love gamers!) but for those of you who didn't, we've included a set of hexagonal Control Markers. Hope this helps!
We're so excited about the Nobility expansion and the future of War Chest. One of the greatest things about the experience was getting the whole team back together to work on this project. Mark Wootton served as the lead developer for the project and always pushed us to make the expansion the best it could be. And we are thrilled that Bridgette Indelicato was able to bring Nobility to life with her graphic design and artistic skills. Now let's go play Nobility!
This diary first appeared on AEG's website. The rules and additional information can be found on AEG's War Chest product page.
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