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Sami Laakso
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Foreword

This will be a six part writing describing the journey I made while creating Dawn of Peacemakers. I hope you find it exciting and educating. A new part will be released each Friday for the next 6 weeks. Please don’t hesitate to comment and talk about each part. I’ll happily answer, if you have any questions.

And without further delay, let’s jump right into the first part!

Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 1: In search of uniqueness

My first real effort in game design was Dale of Merchants. I created it to simply have my own card game that I could enjoy with my friends. I didn’t think about the theme or mechanisms that deeply before getting my hands dirty. With Dawn of Peacemakers, I wanted to have a direction, a target to aim for. What kind of game could I create? What kind of game should I create? Everything was possible. A world full of untouched ideas!

It was clear that I wanted to make something unique. Something not seen in a cardboard form. It wasn’t easy to come up with an idea that I would be happy with. An idea that I would keep my attention and keep me passionate for well over a year. Then it hit me. What if I made a war game… where players aren’t fighting for victory but rather trying to achieve peace? When I had this idea, I knew I had came up with a game idea that I had to pursue.

Did I say it wasn’t easy to come up with a unique idea for a game? Well, it’s a piece of cake when compared to actually executing any grandiose visions to completion. What was the next step? What the theme needs in order to work? Before I could answer the question, I had to ask a totally different question. What would the players do in this game? After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to command a bloodthirsty army and then want to make peace with the opposing side, would it?

After thinking about it for a while, it became clear that players wouldn’t be the ones controlling the warring sides. At least not directly. This meant that I needed a game engine. An engine that could simulate two sides waging war. And that simulation should be able to create interesting and tense moments by itself. I didn’t even bother thinking about how the players would affect the sides, or what else the players would do. If the war simulation would end up being boring by itself, influencing it wouldn’t get players excited either.

There were countless iterations and changes made to the core engine, but one thing that did survive, was some kind of Artificial Intelligence for both warring sides. An AI that decides what their side’s units would do and when. I rigorously tested different AIs just by putting them against each other time after time, making adjustments between sessions. Only after this core engine created tense situations, I started thinking of ways for the players to influence the game. I liked most the idea where the goal of the players was to exhaust the sides to form a truce and finally a peace. This was going to be a long but rewarding journey.

Next time we will discuss replay value. Is it better to have a few really exciting plays, or a ton of mediocre ones? Is it possible to have both?

To be continued…


One of the first prototypes of armies' order cards
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Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 2: The lifespan of a modern board game

This time I will concentrate on replay value and quality of play. Dawn of Peacemakers was originally going to have individual scenarios with tiny back stories for each of them. Any single scenario could be played in any order with no clear connection to other scenarios. Later it was brought to my attention that in doing so I wouldn’t tap into the whole potential of storytelling and world building that we started with Dale of Merchants. I was afraid that creating a more connected story wouldn’t be able to offer as much replay value. Next I will tell you how I managed to tackle this issue.

Let’s start by analyzing what makes a game feel different between plays. What generates the excitement that makes you to want to play the game over and over again without it feeling the same? For me, it definitely has a lot to do with variability – how many different states the game can create in which you need a bit of a different approach as a player.

There are of course countless ways to make this happen in any given game. One of them being the setup. A different setup can push the game in unique directions. I heavily use this in Dale of Merchants in which you choose which different decks to include in any given game. Varied setup is one of the parts in Dawn of Peacemakers as well that makes the same scenario feel different between plays. There are small tweaks to setups in the campaign based on your path leading to any single scenario. One example is that if a unique leader gets defeated, they’re not coming back in any following scenario. They are dead after all.

Another way to create variety is through randomization during play. For my taste this needs to be done in a deliberated way so it doesn’t make players lose control too much. In Dawn of Peacemakers this comes into play with the AI I talked about last time. Each army is controlled by their so called order decks. These are shuffled during setup. This results in one army being sometimes extremely aggressive attacking the opposing side relentlessly. Next time the exact same army can feel totally different making calm evasive moves. Each order deck is built during setup by following the scenario specific rules to give the army a tendency to act in a smart and believable way following their intentions in the scenario.

Each army has actually two order decks. At the end of all rounds, a card is drawn from both of these. Combining the drawn cards creates the final order which that army’s units will follow. This combination of two entities creates highly varied situations with relatively low amount of variables. Each army has also partly unique cards in their decks making them behave in certain ways. For example, you will definitely recognize the way ocelots tend to fight, if you’re familiar with them from Dale of Merchants…

Finally, I want to talk shortly about the most obvious part of varied gameplay in games, the players. Most board games introduce choices for the players. These result in varied game states as long as players don’t make identical decisions each time. There are certain things in Dawn of Peacemakers, which will address player’s decisions as soon as players feel comfortable with the core engine. I can’t go further into this discussion without spoiling the fun of discovery so I will end this diary part here.

Next time I will talk more about the over-arching story and how the game had to be altered to best serve it.

To be continued…


Next prototype featuring two order card per army

Now, a question for you, my dear reader. Would you rather purchase a game with let’s say 15 superb plays with each creating long-lasting memories, or a game that offers near unlimited plays of noticeably worse but still good play experience?
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Liuhuparta wrote:
Now, a question for you, my dear reader. Would you rather purchase a game with let’s say 15 superb plays with each creating long-lasting memories, or a game that offers near unlimited plays of noticeably worse but still good play experience?


So I'm not allowed to choose "unlimited superb plays"?

I prefer replayability when buying games. I would rather have Mage Knight Board Game with a limited number of very replayable scenarios than Mansions of Madness: Second Edition with a limited number of plot-heavy scenarios. On the other hand, you can have a seemingly very variable game with lots of scenarios, but it won't help if the game isn't good (Betrayal at House on the Hill). I'll admit I don't have much experience with campaign-based games.

Will a scenario always have the same animal armies fighting each other? Will I be able to choose different characters/animals to play as? And most importantly, will there be Intimidating Dwarf Crocodiles with tiny hats and guns, or did the technology for tiny hats and guns not yet exist a thousand years before Dale of Merchats?
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Jjahas wrote:
So I'm not allowed to choose "unlimited superb plays"?
Of course not as everyone would simply choose that otherwise.

This has also been my goal while designing Dawn of Peacemakers. While there are limited amount of plays with new components, there's so many ways any given scenario can pan out that you should be able to enjoy them multiple times.

Jjahas wrote:
I prefer replayability when buying games. I would rather have Mage Knight Board Game with a limited number of very replayable scenarios than Mansions of Madness: Second Edition with a limited number of plot-heavy scenarios. On the other hand, you can have a seemingly very variable game with lots of scenarios, but it won't help if the game isn't good (Betrayal at House on the Hill). I'll admit I don't have much experience with campaign-based games.
I mostly agree. The games that stay in my personal collection are the ones with large amount of replay value. I still like to play for more experimental games with limited replay value from time to time like Time Stories and any Escape games.

Jjahas wrote:
Will a scenario always have the same animal armies fighting each other? Will I be able to choose different characters/animals to play as? And most importantly, will there be Intimidating Dwarf Crocodiles with tiny hats and guns, or did the technology for tiny hats and guns not yet exist a thousand years before Dale of Merchats?
Any single scenario has more or less same animalfolk armies fighting. The big differences come from in ways that they interact with each other among other things that I can't talk too much about.

Guns weren't invented during the time period Dawn of Peacemakers takes place. That was one of the reasons when I was choosing which era I wanted to set the game in. I wanted more simple time where war tactics weren't as honed. Individuals and armies did crazier and more unconventional things.

Tiny hats? I can't promise that the game has those but they were definitely invented. In style? Not too sure about that.
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Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 3: Deep dive into Daimyria

Before discussing about details about the story, I want to talk a bit about the world the game is set in, Daimyria. There are already two games set in Daimyria – and you guessed it, they’re Dale of Merchants and Dale of Merchants 2. Creating this world was a result of a simple stretch goal of additional card flavour texts in the first game’s Kickstarter campaign. Daimyria is very much like our own Earth but instead of humans, there are intelligent animalfolks. They resemble our animals from the outside. Technology during the Dale of Merchants games mirrors our beginning of 19th century in Europe. The events in Dawn of Peacemakers take place several hundred years earlier. The world has really grown on me and I desired to create more games in it. And still do!

Last time I mentioned how Dawn of Peacemakers first had individual separate scenarios. It was brought to my knowledge that the game would surely be way better, if said scenarios were linked together. This as well as countless other things felt obvious when looked at later. Good design can often look like it wasn’t designed at all. Thinking about the game now, it doesn’t even come to my mind that it was a choice to include a narrative story.

Dawn of Peacemakers would have multiple scenarios linked together with a story. How would players progress through it? Would there be multiple branches? How much players would be able to affect the story? These were just a few of the questions floating in my head without clear answers. I can say that the story won’t have multiple main branches without spoiling too much. I came to this conclusion because that way the story would have more structure and I could keep the scenario count in a manageable size. If I would introduce a lot of branches, most players would only see a fraction of the content anyway. Other benefit is that I could also polish and balance the scenarios a lot better if there aren’t hundreds of them.

How would players interact and affect the story? I wanted to avoid interrupting gameplay as much as possible. This way any story told during the game would come naturally from the players and their actions during the play. It would be unique. My aim was to give players enough background information and lore before each individual game so that they can then tell their own story on how the events take place on the board. You need to be able to familiarise yourself with the setting in order to fully dive into it. After each game, there’s multiple closures to each fight based on the end result.

Finally, I want to talk a bit about designing and developing the scenarios as it’s closely linked with theme and story. While some scenarios definitely were invented with an interesting mechanism, most were designed with the story in mind. They would have to make sense in the story we’ve written. It was also challenging to tie them together with the wide array of different endings each can have. In the end, I’m extremely satisfied with the whole campaign and the fact that this is the first time players can really immerse themselves in the world of animalfolks. While both Dale of Merchants games have well-written flavours in the cards, there isn’t a narrative. You could create a blurry image of the world in your mind based on them. In Dawn of Peacemakers, you can actively tell stories in it.

The plan was to release one part of the development diary each Friday. However, next week I’m going to be busy at Essen SPIEL ’17 so you will have to wait two weeks for the fourth part. Then it’ll be time to talk about the art and presentation of the game. If you’re coming to Essen, come say hi! I would love to meet you. You can find me in hall 7, booth H119.

To be continued…


Demoing the game at a local gaming convention

This part’s question is simple. What’s your favourite board game which you love to immerse yourself in? Does it have a world or a universe with multiple games set in it?
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Hi Sami. At the moment. Near and Far. There also seems some obvious similarities in how Red Raven have evolved various narrative threads into the game, when reading your thoughts here, although your game is quite different.

On the previous question, I like replayability that comes from variations in the game state and the challenges it presents. This really helps create the sense of immersion for me. "How did we end up here and what will we do next?" A game that I find does this well is Days of Ire. When in co-op mode the game AI creates some fun problems that feel organic and thematic. More so than a co-op like Forbidden Desert where the AI seems more mechanical and the problems a bit samey, in Days of Ire the problems and timing of them are quite varied. That variation to me is a big part of the narrative I imagine as the game progresses. Pre-designed story elements are all good but I like some of the narrative to flow from the gameplay itself.

I like what you are describing about the game AI for DoP. Seems like it might create similar interesting and varied puzzles and organic game arc. I like highs and lows.... change of pace, surprises without it being entirely random. A good AI will deliver this.

BTW. Lots of love for DoM down in New Zealand!
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I've only played Days of Ire with a human controlling the Soviet forces but I do know roughly how the AI mimics that. While both Days of Ire (co-op mode) and Dawn of Peacemakers have AIs in them, they are used for radically different reasons. I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm just going to point out the main differences.

In Days of Ire players' objective is to mainly react to the AI and all the different states it creates. Dawn of Peacemakers has multiple AIs fighting each other. They pretty much ignore players on the board. While players do have to react to AIs' actions, the game revolves more around influencing those AIs. The focus is trying to predict what they will do and manipulate them to do your bidding.

Royds wrote:
BTW. Lots of love for DoM down in New Zealand!
Thanks! Always nice to hear people enjoying my games.
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Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 4: Charming animals trying to kill each other

After discussing about Daimyria, the world of animalfolks, it’s natural to move on to how I wanted to represent it in the game. This time I will tell you about illustrating, artwork, miniatures, and how they help players immerse themselves in the game.


Akezan the fennec fox's sketch and sculpt

I believe that artwork is the single most important part when in helping to sell a world. Art and visuals grab players’ attention. It’s hard to get excited of a game world, if it’s not inviting you with attractive artwork. This is different from books for example, as you’re usually not expecting to have illustrations accompanying the story when reading purely text-based media. All that being said, while artwork might be the single biggest factor inviting players, the content is what keeps you in and makes your imagination go wild.

I had a clear direction with the artwork as the game is set in the same world of animalfolks as Dale of Merchants. The biggest difference is that this time they’re warring against each other instead of haggling for the best prices at market. As the game is set hundreds of years before those games, I had to study medieval weaponry and armors. My aim is to keep Daimyria coherent and consistent with its internal logic and also entertaining – an alternative world to ours. Each time I got lazy and drew something without proper research, my friend would immediately notice it and I would have to make corrections.

The theme in Dawn of Peacemakers is definitely grim. There’s no denying that. Wars are horrible and many folks die in them – even if you’re trying to stop it by making peace between the different sides. However, the artwork doesn’t need to be dark and gritty. It was fascinating to create a family-friendly looking game while keeping its theme credible. The dire setting comes through more in the story texts which you will explore in the campaign.

Which would be the most suitable pieces to represent the different folks on the game board? This was a hard question I pondered for months. Finally I settled with miniatures for a few reasons. Before discussing my reasoning, I must say that I’m not a huge miniatures fan. Well implemented minis can bring the game to life while unneeded or badly done ones make the opposite.

The most important part for me with Dawn of Peacemakers was theme. Which component would get the units on the board the best table presence? Beautiful miniatures were the number one above cardboard standees or wooden pieces. It would be a huge hurdle to make them but it would be worth it – I hope.

The last bit that cleared any uncertainty about using minis was the so called insignia bases. In any given scenario, each unit can belong to a different army and a different group in that army. This is represented in the final game by different coloured and shaped custom plastic bases. These can be snapped on and off from the miniatures. It was the best option we came up with usability vise. They are firmly attached to the minis while you play while still being easily swapped between scenarios.


Example of an ocelot archer with different red bases

The problem was that I didn’t have any experience with sculpting miniatures myself. After comparing plenty of really talented people and contacting a few, I made a contract with Chad Hoverter. He’s the guy behind all miniatures in Mice and Mystics games. They have probably my favourite sculpts out of all games. I thought that his style would fit my artwork extremely well. I’m really glad he had time for Dawn of Peacemakers and I’m extremely satisfied with his work on my game. These minis will definitely bring my animalfolks to life.

Next time I will compare legacy games with more traditional campaign games. And how I tried my best incorporating my favourite things from both genres in Dawn of Peacemakers.

To be continued…

Now, I’m interested in your opinions. Which game has your favourite artwork in it? Do you have a favourite board game illustrator?

PS. Dawn of Peacemakers is now live on Kickstarter!
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Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 5: Ripping components apart

I will go through my thought process behind the campaign of Dawn of Peacemakers in this part. I covered the story in the 3rd part so I will now concentrate on my take on the campaign and its resemblance to legacy games. The main content of the game is the 12 scenarios long co-operative campaign. You will unlock all components during it and encounter many surprises while doing so. Why I decided against doing it a pure legacy game? I’ll answer this question and some others as well today.

Continuing story, surprises, fresh gameplay. Those three are my favourite things in legacy games. Destroying components on the other hand is something I’m not so keen on. When I consider purchasing a game, I like being able to play it as many times as I wish. I have purchased Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, and will purchase Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 with my game group. Those were all great experiences but sadly I can’t go revisit them anymore. My ultimate goal was to make something that’s as memorable or even more so while providing huge replay value at the same time. I’ll now share my experience doing so with you as well as I can without spoiling the twists and turns the game has.

I love surprises during the campaign. These are pretty straight forward to add without destroying stuff. I could simply replace a card or stop using some instead of using stickers and destroying cards. The hard part was making the scenarios fun even if you knew all the surprises when playing them again. That’s why I designed the armies to work in surprising ways to provide tension and surprises. I talked more about this in part 2. There are also new elements unlocked later in the campaign that add to the uncertainty that the players feel even if they know where the story is leading them. Some things unlocked later on can even be used in the earlier scenarios making them feel fresh if you want to replay just a single scenario or even the whole campaign.

One thing that some legacy games fail to do properly is scale. They may start extremely simple and end up heavier with all the added complexity. Some offer higher complexity to begin with and end up so convoluted that the players end up enjoying the game the more they play it. It’s a hard balance making an unfolding game like this so that it doesn’t creep up so much that the players who loved it at first can’t quite recognize it later. This is the reason that we as designers really have to put constraints on ourselves. My philosophy is to only add things in, if I really really have to do so. This way I rarely have to cut things out. Still, with Dawn of Peacemakers I had to cut some parts out. While it hurts at first, it almost always makes the game better and more streamlined.

I’ll end this part with another constraint designers should keep in mind – components and manufacturing. Each added part needs new components, new rules, or most likely both of them. All of this doesn’t only add to the complexity but the price of the game as well. As I also publish my games myself, it’s extremely important for me to keep these things in my mind from the start. When I knew roughly what components the game needs, I contacted the factory. It’s good to have them in the loop early on as they may have great suggestions helping to keep the price down as well.


Prototype campaign logs used to track each group's progress through the so of each group

Next week I will post the last part of this development diary. I will ramble about playtesting and polishing the game.

Also, the game is right now on Kickstarter. Please take a look and see if the game is something you might be interested in.

To be continued…

What are your favourite parts of legacy games? What do you dislike about them?
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Jjahas wrote:
[q="Liuhuparta"]

I prefer replayability when buying games. I would rather have Mage Knight Board Game with a limited number of very replayable scenarios than Mansions of Madness: Second Edition with a limited number of plot-heavy scenarios. On the other hand, you can have a seemingly very variable game with lots of scenarios, but it won't help if the game isn't good (Betrayal at House on the Hill). I'll admit I don't have much experience with campaign-based games.



I am the opposite. I really love legacy and campaign games. Pandemic Legacy both season 1 and 2 are awesome! I don't mind spending money on a great experience to not play it again once done. There are so many games out there that not all get to hit the table often enough, whereas a campaign or legacy game will get played until completion. I think there is room for both legacy and re-playable games as they both scratch different itches. I came from video games before finding my love for board games and I kind of see legacy games as the same thing to a degree.

For me personally, i hope this game gets funded because it looks great I would love to get it to the table!
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Dawn of Peacemakers - Development diary
Part 6: 90 % done, 90 % to go

It’s time for the final part of this development diary! What’s a better way to do so but to talk about some of the most important parts of game design, playtesting and polishing. While this is the last part of the series, it doesn’t mean that playtesting was the last part of developing the game. Quite contradictory, it was essential part during the whole design process. I playtested the game as soon as possible and as long as possible. There’s some last playtest groups playing the game even now!

I did the first playtests alone to test the core engine. After I had iterated that for long enough and was relatively happy with it, I started testing the game with my friends. This took place way before there were any sort of campaign or scenarios. The hardest part begun when I decided to have a campaign with new parts introduced in each scenario. I had multiple groups of players, each playing the full campaign from start to finish. I made sure to make changes after each game so all scenarios would be better and more polished with each new group.

It would be critical to pace any new mechanisms and components in the correct rhythm. If I do it too fast, players get overwhelmed and on the other hand players might get bored if I do it too slowly. One thing that I kept doing after each playthrough was making the first scenario more simple. It’s easy to forget how complex your game is to an outsider when you have been immersed into your creation for so long. It was critical to get the game in hands of new players all the time to get better understanding on how complex the first scenario should be. The campaign was the perfect way to teach the game to new players – kinda like one huge tutorial.

The groups learned the rules a bit differently from each other. The first few groups learned the game directly from me. I also taught all the new things as they went through the campaign while keeping notes of them and any possible changes I wanted to make. I didn’t want to waste time polishing detailed rules at that point as I made so big revisions between plays. Later when I was more happy with the pacing and order which things were introduced, I wrote all the rules out and let players use them. I just observed and made notes on any parts that needed clarifications or honing.

I have one main key takeaway from designing a campaign with multiple scenarios. Try to make each scenario as unique as possible. This means that some really cool mechanisms are only used once. It would be easier to just bolt each new thing to the game but it’s so much more interesting to play the game when it doesn’t just get more complex. I try to add just enough to make you approach each scenario in a slightly new way. These changes are often really simple but they still manage to twist the core gameplay enough that you can’t use the same technique again.

The weird thing about creating pretty much anything is that the closer you are of completing your creation, the more work it takes to get one step closer to getting it finished. The first playtest group found the most things I had to fix. The second found roughly half of that, the third roughly half of that. Groups playing now are experiencing what I want them to experience but they still find tiny things that I need to polish in the rules and cards.

When should I call the game ready? When the game is 95% perfect? 96%? 97%? There’s no correct answer. Polishing a creation has diminishing returns and no product is never perfect. There’s always something to fix, something to hone. It can be as simple as a rule written in a way that makes it easier to understand or just a slightly better drawn illustration. I’m not quite a perfectionist but I do have high standards. It means that I’m able to be happy with imperfect games – as long as they are intensely polished.


Some resource and unit cards

Oh, did I mention that the game comes with two game modes? You can also command the armies directly in Skirmishes. That could be it’s own game but I foolishly included it in the same box. That however, is a totally different story that might get told some other time.

The Kickstarter campaign for Dawn of Peacemakers is still running for 2 weeks. Check it out and consider backing if any of this sounds interesting.

I’ll end this last part of the development diary with the easiest question so far. Which is your absolutely favourite game? Does it have any rough edges – would there be something to make it even better in your opinion?
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