Wednesday, February 1, 2012

#1 - The beginnig

I know I started this topic on this blog a while ago, now I am coming with a different approach. So, enjoy :)

Warriors & Traders is a pure strategy historical game, which combines several mechanics, including area control, taking actions

My first game, Warriors & Traders was released in Essen 2011 and I want to share the story behind the development and the things to come.

The kick start

In my group of gamer friends, I was usually suggesting changes to make games either more strategic or less dependent on dice or in some way different from what the original idea was. 

The idea to design my own board game was laying dormant inside me for a while, but a friend gave me that final push that made me start working. He gave me an actual challenge, telling me that within one year I have to come up with a board game that all of the people in our group will enjoy playing without complaining. So, a few weeks later, I started putting my idea on paper. The one that seemed to be one step ahead of all the other ones was of a historical game independent of luck. Once I chose my winner, I also came up with the name and the gaming paradigms I was going to abide to no matter what. And so the story began...

Design principles

I had to write down what I wanted to make out of this game, which I decided from day 1 to call Warriors & Traders. I had decided not to make any compromises and laid down all the important things that I care about and I believed make a game with potential:
- Euro game mechanics
- deeply strategical
- a war component
- lots of player interactions
- layered long-term decision making
- historically accurate

Drawing the line, I realized that it will be hard to combine all these in a game playable in less than an afternoon, so I chose my priorities.

First, I decided to put the play-ability before the historical accuracy, but without making severe compromises. This is why I chose the setup in the Dark Ages of Europe, when empires were forming, putting the bases of nowadays European countries. At some point in time, every country was covering roughly the area which is drawn on the game board. And I make here, now this promise, to come back with the details behind placing each single country on the board!

Another key point in game design was the decision to leave every single aspect of the game untouched by any element of luck. That means no dice, no event cards, no random whatsoever. At this point, the major decision was whether to go towards an economical game or a war game, keeping the "NO luck" paradigm. At first I was tempted to go towards the Euro side, it would have been much easier to balance economic decisions in a random-less environment, but I did not gave up and decided to search for a way to put together armies, war and solving battles without rolling the dice.

The place where I compromised a little was the player interactions. Having a fixed (non-modular) map, it was obvious that gamers would find more ways of interaction in a 6 players game rather than in a 2 players game. This seemed like the least amount of distance from the original idea.

Version 0.0

Once design paradigms fully covered, I started to mentally make order in the game components and mechanics. I had to always keep in mind that I was my own harshest judge and I would not go on easy on myself if not following my core design principles.

First I wrote down game components, most of which you'll still see in the actual box of Warriors & Traders:
- game board, with the countries in Europe, each country divided into provinces
- army units, player and neutral; all defined by power (deal damage) and toughness (absorb damage before dying)
- resources: weapons and gold to build armies, food to keep them alive and products as a generic "currency"

Then I wrote down the mechanics and the main aspects of a turn:
- tech development that applies to the entire 'country' a player controls; three 
- actions - each player takes action(s) each turn, developing a technology or building armies
- simultaneous army movement, followed by combat and clean-up
- strategic resource management, using resources before gathering; this required strategic planing for at least 1 turn ahead.

Version 0.1 - plain paper
And here it is - the very first print out of ..hmm.. 'two weeks old Warriors & Traders' 

The map - I got excited and a bit carried away, trying to put every important European country on the same map, from England to Russia. It turned out to be quite crowded and extremely large, with no less than 109 provinces player were "fighting over".

Every province had 1 to 3 resources drawn on it, 1/2 of these resources on the map being Products, 1/4 Food and 1/4 Weapons, with Gold only available through trade.

The resource "tokens" were small square pieces of brown (Products), red (Food) and yellow (Gold) paper and some poorly drawn swords (Weapons) - somewhere West of the map, outside of the picture.

Provinces were Capitals (3 resources and starting provinces for players) and common (1 or 2 resources). In all of them there were Barbarians, some random armies who would fight the invaders and nothing more. 

The development cards, nowadays replaced by the play-mats containing the technology tree, were divided into... countless categories. The most important ones were upgrading Trade Technology, allowing simply a better exchange rate with the bank for Gold, Production technology - multipliers for resources and Military technology.

This Military technology was the key to a random-less combat, so players were be able to to 5 type of army upgrades with 3 options each, so you could end up with any kind or army X/Y (x-power, y-toughness) with X and Y ranging from 1 to 10 !shake

After seeing the pictures above, you're allowed to lough (but not too loud cool)

The game round was composed of four steps:
- feeding armies (yes, before getting resources)
- getting resources
- action - upgrade some tech OR build army
- armies movement and battles

First tests

The first two tests, actually two and a half, were done with just me and my girlfriend (again, big thanks for putting up with all that).

There were no two of the same army after 5 rounds and there were no victory conditions. We were just playing to see how the game works and what are the things that need immediate response.

The top of the list was the giant amount of army types and the Barbarians who had random power and toughness, conflicting with one of the core principles - no luck.

The first two game tests were conclusive, the game had potential, it worked, but it was too all-over-the-place. It required a lot of work to bring structure and a bit more effort on the basic design to make it user friendly. The last test, well... I sneezed in turn three and all the "tokens" flew away, concluding a night that I will always remember, The beginning of an amazing story that changed my career options and maybe my life.

So, stick around, I will tell you the rest of the story behind Warriors & Traders and much, much more.

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