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Subject: [WIP] War Wolf by Brandon Tibbetts rss

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Brandon Tibbetts
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Greetings to the BGG community. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Brandon Tibbetts, the designer of The Manhattan Project and its upcoming standalone sequel, The Manhattan Project 2: Minutes to Midnight.

I have another game in the works with a working title of War Wolf. I am approaching the end of its self testing period, which for me as a designer is always a protracted affair. I first thought of the basic concept about a decade ago, years before The Manhattan Project came along and displaced it. I have self tested a half dozen radically different versions. None of them made it past those tests... until today.

You have found your way to the WIP thread for War Wolf. I hope what you read here will be of interest to you.

The purpose of this thread is to share the details of War Wolf with you and to engage the community for reactions and ideas. I also intend to use it to announce online and in-person play test sessions.

With War Wolf, I have broken away from a personal tradition. I used to get through digital self testing using an excellent (though apparently abandoned) tool known as Zun Tzu. This time around I'd thought try one of the more sophisticated solutions that have entered the marketplace. After Tabletop Simulator did not meet my requirements on several counts, I decided to go with TableTopia, where the game lives and breathes today.

A little about the game:

I had the idea for War Wolf around the time I was just beginning to get into the board games as a hobby. Around that time, I was also completely enamored with a series of real-time strategy games called Stronghold.

The idea of the Stronghold games is that each player is a medieval Lord tasked with managing a simple economy, constructing castles and reducing the castles of his enemies to ashes and rubble.

A scene from Stronghold: Crusader, a PC Game by Firefly Studios

I immediately looked for a tabletop version that might quench my appetite for such an idea, or even come close, but found nothing. I found lots and lots about building castles, but none with the counter play and conflict of siege-craft worked into the equation.

This is how the idea of War Wolf was born. It is a game about building castles to be sure, but it is just as much about attacking and defending them. If my design is successful, it will be nearly impossible to win the game without doing both.

I'll try to update this thread with at least 1 post each day.
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I'll start with a general description of the round/turn structure of War Wolf.

The game takes place over 6 rounds. In each round, players select and activate 7 roles.



The basic role selection mechanic is very similar to Puerto Rico's. A player selects a role, executes the role's action, then each remaining player does the same (with sometimes a more limited version of the action).

There are, however, a couple of notable differences:
* All roles are selected every round. There is no "incentive coin" like PR uses.

* There is a more distinct separation between the active player action and the "other" player actions than in PR. On each card, the "A" action is the one the active player takes. The "B" action is the one the other players take.

* The player who starts the next round is simply the next player in the turn order. (There may not be a need for a Start Player marker.)

* For the most part, the roles are about placing, moving, adjusting, and removing elements on a modular map. There are only a couple of features among them that relate more directly to resource management.


I've found that the simplicity and dependability of this mechanic works extremely well with War Wolf, helping to reign in the overall complexity and to compress the decision space of each turn.
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The Architect (and Castles)

One of the things a player can do when The Architect is selected is Build a Castle.

There are 8 unique castles that may be built. Each uses 1 of 2 possible materials for its Wall, 1 of 2 possible materials for its Gatehouse, and 1 of 2 possible positions for its Gatehouse.



There will be a few rules that control where castles are built:
* Not on the edge or corner of the map.
* Not on any water spaces.
* Not on any occupied spaces.
* Not where it will share an edge with another castle.

To Build a castle:
1. Pay the Build Cost in materials shown on the castle.

2. Place the castle on the map. (You may choose to remove any of your own units from the map first... which is incidentally something you can always do on your turn).

3. Place one of your control tokens on the castle.

4. Place an available Structure die set to 3, a Garrison die set to 3, and a Treasury die set to 1 on the castle.

To Repair a Castle:
1. Pay the Build Cost in materials shown on the castle.
2. Increase the castle's Structure die by 2.


A little about the castles...

Here's a fun image I created as an experiment using storytelling techniques to help explain rules:


This next one is probably jumping way too far ahead, so don't pay too much attention to what's going on in it . Also, I notice that a lot of the detail shown in it is no longer current, but I thought I'd share it anyway:

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The Player Boards and Limited Resources
I'm going to continue going through each of the 7 roles as I see that as an effective way to teach 90% of the game. But I'd like to briefly interrupt that to reveal some details about the player boards and the resources in War Wolf.

In the picture (created in TableTopia) you'll see one of the player boards and the initial resource supplies in a 3-player setup.

Limited Resources and Hoarding

All resources in War Wolf are limited, meaning a player cannot obtain them when they are not present in the supply. Thus hoarding is permitted to an extent. The player supplies of each resource type is limited and the total quantities of each resource is adjusted for each player count. These 2 factors allow me to carefully control the hoarding potential of each resource.

Wood (brown) is the most important and most generally useful resource. It would be impossible to win the game without it. So, I've also made it the most plentiful resource and most difficult to hoard. Currently, if all but one of the players is maxed out on wood, the remaining player would still be capable of obtaining 5 out of a possible 8.

The other resources (white - stone, black - iron, orange - pitch) have more specialized uses than wood. Because it's possible to do well at the game without having these resources at all, I've upped the hoarding potential for them. Currently it's possible to completely starve another player of any these resources... but this would mean that all other player supplies are completely full. For example, if player 1 and player 2 both have 4 iron (the maximum), player 3 would not have any iron at all - nor would the general supply.

Unit Information

I plan to go into detail on each unit later, so for now I won't explain the iconography you see on each unit in this picture. But I will explain the information displayed underneath each unit stack on the player board.

"Q" followed by a number means quantity. It's the total number of that type of unit in the game for each player.

"P" followed by a number in the unit's production limit. It indicates how many of that unit each player is allowed to produce each turn (when the Engineer is activated).

The resource cube shown in the middle of the Q and P values is the Build Cost of the unit. Each unit costs 1 wood to build except the cannon which costs 1 iron and the army which does not cost any resources.
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The Engineer
Since I mentioned it in the previous post, I thought I'd continue by explaining the Engineer role.



The Engineer plays out pretty simply. The player who activates it unlocks the trebuchet or the cannon (making it available for construction), and then builds up to 3 siege engines or ships somewhere on the map.

Then, in clockwise order, all of the other players take a turn in which they are allowed to build up to 2 siege engines. They do not get a chance to unlock the trebuchet or the cannon, but they may build them if they already unlocked them on a previous turn.

Players have a ton of flexibility when deciding where to place their siege engines. They can place them on any empty land space (either mountain, forest, or plains). They cannot build them in water, naturally, but they can build them on top of their own ships. The resulting stacked counter indicates that the engine is aboard the ship... and that its movement capabilities are now the same as the ship's. More on that later when I discuss the Marshal.

The following picture shows a trebuchet on land, a ship, and a ship-mounted onager owned by the red player:

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The Marshal


The Marshal allows the player who selects it to move 2 units, with 1 of those units optionally moving twice. (I'm still working on the wording on the card.)

Other players may only move 1 unit (once) when their turns follow in clockwise order.

Only units with a green circle in their upper left corners are capable of movement. The value shown in each green circle shows the maximum number of spaces a unit may move when it is moved once.

Units that display a yellow shield are capable of capturing other units by moving into the same space. In order to capture a unit, the attacking unit must have at least the same shield value of the captured unit. Except in the case of captures, units may only end their movement in empty land spaces or on unoccupied friendly ships. All units may move through other units (and industries, as shown in the picture below) as long as they end their movement in an empty space or friendly ship.

Units must stop moving for the remainder of the turn once they have completed a capture.

Armies are uniquely capable of capturing opponent industries. When they do this, the owner of the army collects the output of the industry (or whatever portion is available in the general supply).

Some of the possible moves for the 2 purple armies. Some of these movements are double movements which are possible only for the player who selects the Marshal.
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The Trader

The Trader is strictly about resource conversion.

2 markets are shown on the role card. A "trade" consists of exchanging the amount shown of one item with the amount shown of another item in the same market. Usually a player will trade resources for gold (sell for gold in other words) using the upper market. Usually a player will trade gold for resources (buy with gold in other words) using the lower market.

The player who selects the Trader can make up to 2 trades using either market. The other players can make only 1 trade using only the lower market.

There is a general rule in War Wolf that whenever gold is earned, including through the Trader, that the player who earns it can optionally take points instead of gold.

Selecting the Trader not only gives you 2x the trades, but it also lets you trade first. This can be important due to the resources in the game being limited.
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The Constable

The player who selects The Constable takes 2 actions. The other players each take 1 action.

With each action, a player may either raise the value of a Garrison (the red die on a castle) by 1 or place an army onto any empty land space or unoccupied friendly ship.
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The Worker

The player who selects The Worker builds up to 2 industries and then activates all of his or her industries. The other players build only 1, but then may also activate all of their industries.

All industries cost 1 wood to build. Industries may be built in any empty space that matches the terrain indicate by the border of the industry tile.

Players put control markers on their industries to mark them as their own. When an industry is activated it produces resources. An industry adjacent to your own gatehouse produces double its normal output.

There are 5 face-up industry tiles available to be built when the Worker phase begins.

There are Sawmills that produce wood,

Quarries that produce stone,

Iron Mines that produce iron,

and Pitch Rigs that produce pitch,


The red player's iron mine produces a total of 4 iron. Its output is doubled because it is next to the red player's gatehouse. The blue player's iron mine only produces 1 iron because it is not next to a gatehouse owned by the blue player.
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The Siege Engines
I've got one role left to explain, The Commander. But before I do, I think it will be helpful to cover some of the basic qualities of each of the siege engines (which, as you may recall, are placed onto the map by The Engineer). I'll describe each siege engine in plain language, and then later you'll be able to see how these ideas are implemented in War Wolf's Attack Cards...


The onager is a versatile weapon, being useful for damaging castle walls, an also to attack nearby enemy units of all kinds. It does not fire from a great distance, but it attacks a castle from far enough away that it is not susceptible to incendiary counter attacks from defenders.



The ballista is primarily an anti-personnel weapon. It fires from long range and can cover a lot of ground. When equipped with pitch, it can set fire to wooden castles, enemy siege towers and rams. Due to its relatively small size and light weight, the ballista is also one of the few mobile siege engines on the battlefield.



The ram is capable of causing devasting damage to wooden gatehouses without consuming valuable pitch. Its positioning options are limited, as it is only capable of attacking a gatehouse. Because of the large crew required to operate the ram, it also threatens castle garrisons when the order is given to scale the walls.



The tower cannot damage castle structures (walls or gatehouses) nor can it attack units in the field. But it can send its payload of soldiers over castle walls to attack castle garrisons.



The trebuchet is an advanced weapon that cannot be built until it is unlocked by the Engineer. Once it is deployed, though, it is indeed a fearsome engine. It can fire from a great distance, damage castle structures and lob burning pitch over castle walls to attack the garrison inside. Unlike the onager, the trebuchet cannot be used to attack units in the field because it cannot be re-targeted quickly.



The cannon is the most advanced weapon in the game. It can only be unlocked by the Engineer after the trebuchet has been unlocked. Its operation is both simple and deadly: it deals maximum damage to castle walls, both stone and wood, from long range and without consuming pitch.



The ship is considered a siege weapon, as it is constructed by the Engineer like all other engines. The ship is the only engine that is built in water. On its own, the ship can capture other ships via the Marshal's action (which I explained earlier). It also carries a crew, so it is able to contribute to the overall force required to overwhelm a castle garrison. Finally, a ship provides a platform its owner can use to position engines and armies in the water. Siege engines that are otherwise immobile become highly mobile when they are ship-mounted.
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The Commander
And now for the 7th and final role, The Commander.



Each player in War Wolf has an identical set of 7 Attack Cards:



Each Attack Card, when played face up to the table, allows its owner to activate all units on the map of a certain type. The attack card depicts a summary of the possible attack options for each unit, represented with by simple icons.

In addition to allowing the player who selects it to attack first, it also guarantees for that player that all of his or her units will be able to attack. The other players will be faced with the decision of using the remaining cards in their hand or picking up all of their cards and saving them for the next round.
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How to Win
The scoring system in War Wolf will likely see some changes. But I've got it to a point where I'm happy enough with it for the first play test. It produces final scores in the upper 40s and 50s for 3-player games. There are instant points, end-of-round points, and end-of-game points.

Instant (from capturing castles and trading):

Instant points come from capturing castles. Take 2 points + the treasury of each castle you capture. The treasury portion (1-6) may be taken in either points or gold.

Points may also be earned instantly via the Trader, by trading resources for gold and taking points instead of gold.

End-of-Round (from holding castles):

Take the total value of your castle treasuries in either points or gold. Also at the end of a round, each castle treasury increases by 1.

End-of-Game (mostly amount of material on the map):

2 points for each industry
1 point for each garrison
1 point for each unit
Sell all goods for gold (lower market) then 1/2 points for each gold

1st tie-breaker: gold
Tie-breaker: final selection order (later wins)



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I'm considering changing from a simple rotating turn structure to one that is one that is determined by the role selection similar to what Carson City has.
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New Role Selection Mechanic
The new Role Selection mechanic working quite well. All around an improvement over the previous simpler, rotating system.

In particular it was needed for the 4-player setup, which I've only started testing over the past couple of days.

Since the game has 6 rounds and 7 roles that activate every round, it essentially has 42 phases. 42 is evenly divisible by 2 and 3 (players) but not 4. I experimented with numbers divisible by 4 and balancing acts attempting to compensate for not all players getting an equal number of "first player" turns (advantageous by design), but ultimately I think introducing the chaos of turn order manipulation via the role selection itself is the best option.

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Today I thought I'd share a full size mid-game shot of a 4-player game I'm currently testing.



This includes a couple of recent experiments. Notice the new icons above the round track:


Until this test I was prohibiting the placement of castles along edges and in corners of the map, since those are naturally much more defensible areas (opponents cannot place attacking units on as many sides of the castle).

But this restrictive rule was making it too hard to find new places to build castles mid to late game. Now I'm allowing castles on edges in rounds 3 and 4, and castles in the corners in rounds 5 and 6. Late castles are not quite as valuable as early castles anyway, as there is less game time for their treasuries to grow. And later in the game, certain players will be able to field trebuchets and cannons with high destructive power and greater range, making it easier to attack castles without placing so many adjacent units.

I also thought I'd extend the rewards for pursuing a more engineer-based strategy. There is now an additional space to unlock via the engineer, but this one doesn't unlock any new units:



Instead, this space gives you 1 additional build anytime you're building siege engines (whether you activate the engineer yourself or not), and it allows you to ignore production limits (the "P" values shown under each unit space on the player boards).
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Joachim Heise
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Let me start off by saying that I love this concept! I'm wondering about thematic justification for delaying castle building on the edges and corners. I understand the gameplay necessity of it, but I find it nevertheless jarring. Perhaps something about the gradual retreat of neutral, primitive tribes? You could even randomize it a bit, and include an action that hastens their retreat, or delays it by supporting the tribes (trading with them or hiring them, for example).
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edges/corners
I wish I could give a thematic reason for that, but I'm stumped! The reason for it is entirely gameplay related. If castles could be built on the corners and edges right away, those spaces would be taken right away and they'd be too difficult to besiege. War Wolf is still early in development though. (I still haven't played it with anyone else!) So, anything is possible. Maybe I'll try it out once or twice without the edges/corner rule at some point.
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In a rules-heavy game with a lot going on, thematic resonance is paramount. I can help you brainstorm a bit.

1) Neutral factions that concede ground in 2 phases mid-game and late-game, opening up the edges and corners respectively.

2) Snow melting, revealing more land.

3) Wraparound edges?
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Brandon Tibbetts
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I really appreciate your suggestions! If nothing else 1 and 2 might warrant a flavor-ish mention in the rules, or in the case of a winter thaw some illustration of seasons on the round track. A wrap-around board though would make some of the adjacency rules a bit too difficult to follow I think.

As a designer, theme is something that is constantly on my mind while I work. It is the driving force behind my effort, and integration between theme and mechanics is something I strive for in my games. If you take a look at some of the mechanics of the siege engines, I think you'll be able to see how they relate directly to the capabilities and limitations of their real-life counterparts.

Still, if a game needs something that doesn't quite fit its theme just so it will play better, I won't hesitate to include it. I might really struggle if the needed element is directly opposed to the theme somehow... but even at that extreme I wouldn't completely rule it out.

The suggestions you're coming up with are sort of a thematic band-aid, if you will. I recall doing something like this in the rule book for The Manhattan Project. In TMP, you have workers sitting on your buildings, and once in a while another player might decide to bomb your buildings in an air strike. I tested the game with having the workers on the buildings get killed, which would make sense, but quickly realized it was for too punishing to the victim. So to band-aid this I came up with a bit of humor in the rules that explains something like "the workers have all heard the air raid sirens and have safely escaped into underground bunkers." Also makes sense thematically, right?
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I thought I'd take time once in a while to explain specific game situations. Here's a late-game one playing out. The blue player's castle is pretty obviously threatened, especially by red. Its walls (white die) have completely collapsed. It's garrison (red die) has not yet been overpowered - but that looks imminent. Red and green both have a force of 2 against the castle (yellow shields on adjacent army units), but they would currently need 4 to break the siege.

To help his chances of keeping the castle for another round, Blue uses the Engineer (activated by another player) to build 2 ballistas in the upper left corner of the picture. These could take out Red's two armies. They'll also serve to protect Blue's nearby industries. It would be better for blue to take the Marshal and use its double-move capability to move his army to take out Red's army close to the castle, because then it would not leave an empty space where Green might place an army and take the castle. But if the Constable, the role that places armies, has already been taken, Blue would be safe from that. Which roles are taken by which players and the order they are taken will have a lot to do with whether Blue keeps his castle or not. But by having the ballistas as backup protection he whittles down the number of possibilities that result in losing it.
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The problem I see with winter is that you already have mountain terrain, and surrounding mountains are the only explanation I can think of for the edges opening up on all sides in the spring thaw. So I think neutral nations would be the best choice.

Combat looks really intense! I don't have tabletopia (nor do I have several hours at a time to sit and play a game), but I'd really love to take this for a spin.
 
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One cool thing about Tabletopia is that it's totally free to play non-premium games (which of course includes prototypes). All you need is the link to the game and 2 free browser plug-ins: Java and Unity 3D.
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4 player end game

Here's the final spread of that 4-player test: 61, 59, 53, 45.

I didn't realize it until now but the new selection order also provides a simple and sensible tie-breaker. In general the advantage to going first is greater in later rounds, so it makes sense for players later in that order to win ties.
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Greetings Brandon. Sorry I never replied to your email regarding Stronghold Heaven. Heaven Games seems to be down right now so I was looking into my emails (gmail made it difficult to log in so I haven't in a while) and saw your inquiry. You are welcome to start a topic there (when and if it comes back) but the place is pretty dead. You could try a post at http://www.strongholdnation.co.uk/ where some players are still active.
Good Luck,
-Doomsword
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