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Subject: WARLINE Design Diary | A Test of Ingenuity | 09/19/2018 rss

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Justin Leingang
United States
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When I first set out to design Warline, I began with the lofty goal of affording players the capability to "play their own way", devising their own unique ways to accomplish victory. Essentially, I established an incredibly challenging design tenet for the project: The means of accomplishing an end (victory, in game play terms) must not be specifically bound to a fixed set of strategic approaches and tactical options. I wanted players to, every game, create their own path to victory, rather than follow one of a handful of pre-defined (explicit or implicit) paths.

Suffice it to say, I struggled with this concept for quite a while—noodling on and off with different design approaches and solutions over the course of four or five years. At times, I even began to think that it wasn't possible to achieve this goal without leaving players stuck mucking around in a mess of convoluted mechanisms and systems. However, a couple of years ago, my goal suddenly began to seem achievable, and the design approach necessary to accomplish the goal began crystallizing. I had transitioned (in my day job) to a small software house that diversified into development of software for the military. In doing so, I had been introduced to a frame of mind and path of study that I had never known existed: The theory of, and processes within, "maneuver warfare". It is the ideas that drive maneuver warfare that began to become the ideas that drive the Warline game design in a direction that accomplishes the vision that I had established.

I plan to dedicate a future design diary entry specifically to elaborating upon the theory of maneuver warfare, and how the nuances of the theory translate into Warline's game design. But, to help ensure that a solid point of reference is established within this entry, I'll do my best to summarize some of the high-level concepts of the maneuver warfare theory.

Maneuver Warfare is a theory developed by retired Air Force Colonel John Boyd, which posits attrition (sheer numbers and fire power) is not the most effective and efficient means of winning in combat—but, instead, the most effective and efficient means is the execution and maintenance of a rapid OODA cycle: Observation-orientation-decision-action. Boyd views conflict as a time-competitive series of these OODA cycles, and that the most potent tools for outpacing your opponent's cycle (a key to success) are those tools and processes that specifically aid in the compression of your own OODA cycle. Such tools/processes allow you to rapidly and continuously iterate in response to developments in combat, leaving your opponent in a state of confusion and incapable of reacting in an adequate manner. Having tools to accomplish a fluid, reactive approach toward victory is in stark contrast to the ideas of attrition warfare, which basically offer a doctrine of ways to attain victory.

In game design terms, attrition warfare is like guided strategic options and low-gravity mechanisms—in contrast to maneuver warfare, which is like a flexible tactical tool set that interacts not only with the game systems, but also directly with your opponent (both tangibly and intangibly); along with mechanisms of extremely high gravity. When I made this translation, I ignited just the spark that I needed to get the Warline vision cranking into full gear. I began to realize that I should be aiming to develop a framework for player interaction that is based on micro-verbs not literal to game play, but rather OODA focused. Instead of common game verbs in the vein of "play a card" or "score points" or "trigger an event", I needed verbs that articulated the concept of interactions within maneuver warfare—and articulated those interactions in a manner that afforded rapid decision making, iteration, and execution.

Moving forward in the design process, I began to develop verbs for Warline such as "manipulate", "surprise", "stun", and "sacrifice"—and to find ways for players to express those verbs, both literally and figuratively, by means of game mechanisms. These more appropriately expressive, and more impactful, verbs began to result in the development of systems that asked players to continuously engender unique and innovative strategies on the fly (as opposed to the common limits of picking a strategy and optimizing within it). To follow, I'll elaborate on just a couple of those aforementioned verbs, along with some of the ways in which they apply to Warline.

• One of the most poignant (and my personal favorite) verbs of play in the game is "manipulate". Warline gives you various tools that allow you to physically manipulate your opponent, and also to—even more importantly—implicitly manipulate your opponent's decision making process (OODA cycle). Implicit manipulation of your opponent's decision making is perhaps the very most important concept to grok and work toward mastery of, when working toward improving your Warline aptitude. To touch on one of the significant applications of this idea within the game, I'll discuss the mechanisms and systems that drive the capture and maintenance of prisoners of war.

The "rout" mechanism—a versatile multi-use tool—can be used to drive an opposing battalion out of the battlefield, and into a trap that has them taken as your prisoners of war. As long as this enemy battalion are your prisoners, you have the option to "torment" the battalion at the beginning of each of your turns—which essentially means that you torture the battalion, reducing its "arms" value by one (arms is an elegant single value that represents the weight/efficacy of the battalion's armor and weaponry). If ever a battalion's arms are reduced to zero, the battalion is destroyed and sent to your graveyard, which works toward one of the victory conditions—this holds true whether the arms were reduced by an attack on the battlefield, or by torment within your prison. Now, your opponent is capable of sending in spies to extricate the imprisoned battalion—but, your opponent must do so before you torment the battalion to destruction, and also before you take two more enemy battalions as prisoners of war (which satisfies another victory condition). The consequence of this system is a countdown—an immense pressure—that your opponent has to be wary of, otherwise lose a battalion for good or fill up your prison with more battalions, in either case becoming a step closer to defeat. Your opponent must choose—at some point in time soon enough—to extricate this imprisoned battalion, instead of spending a turn (i.e. a moment in her OODA cycle) on an action in accord with her current plan. This deeply meaningful and impactful decision was brought about, and is maintained, by your decision to take prisoner the opposing battalion, rather than attacking it. You are manipulating your opponent's decision making process, and are implicitly in control of her OODA cycle.

• In Warline, there are a number of ways in which you can wittingly "surprise" your opponent. One interesting mechanism of surprise emerges from the core battalion status system. A battalion's current status is expressed as two directly interrelated values: Arms and maneuverability. The greater a battalion's arms, the less maneuverable the battalion is (and vice versa). A battalion with a higher arms value can better survive attacks, and can better deliver impactful attacks of its own—while a battalion with higher maneuverability can execute a greater number of actions during a turn (i.e. a more efficient OODA cycle).

This system ensures that attacking an enemy battalion is frequently not a clear cut decision: If you do attack, then the opposing battalion becomes more maneuverable (arms decreases but maneuverability increases), and can potentially follow up to affect your OODA cycle in a different way than you had previously expected (as one example, drive deeper into your backfield and attack or rout one of your battalions that was optimally positioned for your current strategic goal).

In understanding the ramifications of this concept, you can begin to bend the system to your advantage, casting deception and doubt across the battlefield. One of my favorite things to do is move one of my heavier battalions into more than one of my opponent's lighter battalions' striking range—giving the impression that I'm marching my battalion in effort to destroy one or more of those lighter battalions. This quite often guides my opponent's mind to (wrongfully) understand my intention. In a sense, I'm throwing up smoke and mirrors. After my opponent takes the bait and attacks my battalion, in effort to deal with what she thinks the situation is, my battalion's arms decrease, but its maneuverability increases. What follows is a total surprise to my enemy: I order my battalion—now capable of taking more actions—not to attack one of those closer, lighter battalions, but instead to march farther across the battlefield and rout an enemy heavy that was previously far out of range! Surprises like this really throw a wrench in your opponent's OODA cycle: Your opponent must react and change her current strategy quickly, or else fall farther behind in the cycle-competition.

All of the verbs that I have chosen to focus on and design around have very high turn gravity, as you can probably ascertain from the given examples. Every decision that you make on every turn that you take has significant impact on the game state, changing the meaningful decision space in radical ways. Because of these more significant state changes, you have the capability to rapidly iterate on your plans, to suit the evolving situation. Taking an action won't just slightly increase your resources, or grant you a few more points. Instead, taking an action will considerably re-sculpt the way that you and your opponent view the battle, and the manners in which you can take control of (or lose control of) the battlefield. Warline is a continuous dance, a jostling for position as leader, leaving your opponent only to follow in accordance with your nimble steps. This is deep, interesting maneuver warfare in tabletop game form.

Coming full circle, I'll shed some light on the "why" behind my vision for the game: I intend for Warline to be a test of a player's ingenuity—not just a test of how well a player understands the game systems. I want to be surprised time and time again (as both a player and designer) by the creative, unique approaches and methods that players construct in order to win. I want players to continue to learn and grow as competitors within the game—potentially forever. And so, I am providing players with the tools and processes necessary to accomplish just that—tools and processes that are inspired by an unexpected source. As is often the case, I find my game design deeply informed by a source outside of games, a source outside of my typical sphere of influence.
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james bob
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Firstly, while I play a lot of board games, I'm not a big war gamer. The closest thing I do is D&D/pathfinder and other rpgs. Risk was one of my favorites board games as a kid and I've played other area controls (small world, smash up, blood rage, rising sun, etc...) and some chess casually. Anyway...

I thoroughly enjoyed warline. While it reminded me the most of chess (mostly because of the grid). Now that I think of it, it might be a little more of stratego, but that doesn't really represent it fully either. It is much deeper...because of optionally beginning board state, multiple win conditions, etc... It is a great game and I have a hard time thinking of something to accurately compare it to.
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