Thursday, February 2, 2012

#2 - The development

I will simply pick up from where I left in my previous post, the moment after the two first tests with the very first version of Warriors & Traders. The first moments of euphoria, made of "I have a functional game" and "Oh, my God, it's really happening" were soon dialed down and replaced with "is this ever gonna work?". 

Versions 0.2 to 0.5
It was already decided that the project needed structure to become an actual board game. I had to take it step by step, changing one thing at a time, to avoid breaking what was already working.

The first big step was to reduce the incredible number of possible army types to just a few, thus implementing a major change - keeping the armies' power and toughness equal and limited to 3. So, the armies became 1/1 army (nowadays called Infantry), 2/2 army (Archer) and 3/3 army (Cavalry).

After testing this shortly and seeing that the project shows a better shape already, I run into a different problem, the outcome of all battles was easy to calculate by everyone and there was nothing in the game that could spice it up. I needed a mechanic to make combat ... well, to tell the truth, less boring. The improvement I found and implemented immediately was the first ability in the game. Armies of a certain level had the option to retreatwhen getting to exactly zero life, instead of dying. It remained in place until today, but it took a lot of time, effort and testing to remove any ambiguity. Giving the players the power to freely distribute the damage inflicted by the armies in a battle combined with the retreat mechanic made battles interesting and unpredictable.

Using Risk pieces as 1/1. 2/2 and 3/3 armies, in version 0.5 of Warriors & Traders.

Technologies and the Play-mat

With armies and the retreat ability successfully tested, the game still lacked structure. To develop the three technologies, players were using Development cards. Actually, every Action in the game was governed by this extensive card usage, a mechanic that was slowing down the game a lot.

To make it even more complicated, players were drawing their cards in the very beginning of the turn, before even feeding armies, and they were using them in a later phase, after gathering resources and trading. Every player was drawing only one card per turn, but there was a mechanic in place to draw more. Thinking back, I guess we called it 'level-up', meaning when you reached a new level on one technology path, you'd immediately draw a new card. When it came to using the cards, there was quite some chaos. Players were allowed to use as many cards as they wanted per turn, with the sole restriction that 'Declare war' cards were played at the very end. There was no turn order and everyone was taking actions at the same time, the whole game turning into a small battlefield of screaming louder than everyone else. Furthermore, without a set order of play, the Declare war cards (they have an equivalent now in using one Action to Declare war) were only used to keep your opponents under pressure, but actual wars were rarely seen.

This whole mess needed to be addressed. At this point in the history of Warriors & Traders, a good friend of mine, Vlad, started being really involved and together we came up with the idea of completely removing the cards from the game.

At first, we merged the drawing and playing cards in one single Stage of a turn, called the Development phase. There was no need to make player think in advance what they would do later that turn and there was also no need to pile up cards and play them all at once. 

Then, we structured the technology tree for Production, Trade and Military on a Play-mat. On Production player would get simply multipliers for the resources, on Trade better rates with the bank and on Military better armies. To upgrade one level players would need one, two or four cards. This made the game better, but we did not manage to avoid stockpiling cards in our hands.

A glimpse at the Play-mat and the map with armies. 

Versions 0.6 to 0.10

The game started to gain structure and we enjoyed testing it more and more. If, in the very beginning, very few of our closest friends were interested to play again, at this stage there was a 'queue' of people curious to try this new project, some of them already saying that they want a signed copy when the project will be final. At that point, I was still taking that as a joke.

After a few more tests, we realized that the game was quite flat and that, except for the military path who provided the option for armies to retreat, there was nothing else special happening in the game. Players would quickly get bored of upgrading a technology just to get more of the same things and went straight for battle. I already had a few ideas of things that would merge naturally into the game, but we needed a few more to make all the technologies interesting and useful.

It was the night after the Christmas day when I met my friends for a 'quick game' which turned into an all-night session of development. By 6 AM we had a new Play-mat with all the technologies in place, the same as you can now recognize on the final Play-mat.

New Play-mat with resources.
By that time, we had already made our own resources out of photo paper, to avoid so much depending on beans, matches or, at best, resource tokens from other games.

We were testing continuously and making small changes, one at a time, based on feedback from many friends from many places when the idea to transform this into an actual business came out in the open. At first, I did not take it seriously, but it was growing on me and I felt that Warriors & Traders deserved a chance to become a published game. I cannot pinpoint when and what was the final kick, I just realized one day that I want this to happen. And I felt so attached to this game that I was going to try to publish it myself.

But this will be the topic for the next entry.

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