Sunday, October 5, 2014

Wasteland 2 design thoughts

I'm taking a brief psychological break from obsessing about Clockwork Wars.  To help distract myself, I've dipped full into Wasteland 2, which I Kickstarted a couple years ago and which was recently finalized and released.  I have powerful and bittersweet feelings for the original Wasteland. I played parts of it in 1988, when I was 15 years old, on my Commodore 64.  After years of Ultima, Bard's Tale, Wizardry, etc., it was a breath of fresh air.  A different kind of world, where other humans were your primary enemy, rather than dragons and trolls.

Wasteland also broke my computer.  This was the time of 5.25" floppies, and disk drives with loud mechanical parts, and my computer was towards the end of a long and storied (primarily gaming) life-cycle.  Wasteland's robots and mutated bunnies made my disc drive explode like a blood sausage, and I doubt I got to see more than 10 hours of the game.  It was a highly traumatic experience.

So it's with some excitement (and trepidation) that I've entered into the world of Wasteland 2.  But it's been very satisfying, and certainly a reminder of how "old-school" RPG's used open world + lots of text + skill checks to craft evocative narratives. 

One design aspect that interests me about RPG's is whether the game system gives you control over one player-character (PC) or a party.  The advantage of one is that you, the player, can better experience the world through the eyes of your individual PC - and therefore, you have a more personal experience with the crises and challenges that emerge.  Planescape Torment is a good old-school example of this, and all the Elder Scrolls games are excellent modern ones.  But a party system allows for greater tactical possibilities in combat, which has always been a central feature of Dungeons & Dragons and its many progenitors.  Furthermore, a party allows for multiple archetype representation:  you can have a brawler, a thief, a healer, etc., etc. and get to role-play each of them.

Wasteland and Wasteland 2 are firmly in the second category of forcing you to control a party of characters, where each should be developed in a particular specialty so that you can deal with as many different challenges as possible.  The number of character skills and attributes is, at first, overwhelming - especially if you haven't played a game like this in a while:

Animal Whispering?  Toaster Repair?  You're tempted to take them, aren't you?  As was I.  In the end, certain skills are more useful than others (Field Medic, Demolitions, Safecracking), but with 3-6 skills being developed for each of 4-7 characters, you're going to be able to play around with most of them a bit.  

One subtle decision that Wasteland 2 has made when it comes to using skills is that it forces you to select a character and their skill when you want to use it in the world.  For example, you're exploring a research facility and run across a locked safe in a side-room.  You're not an idiot, so you suspect a possible alarm or trap.  You have to select a character (left click) with a high Perception skill to inspect (right click) the safe.  That inspection reveals a trap.  Now, you need to select another character (left click) with a high Demolitions skill to disarm (right click) the trap.  Once the trap is disarmed, you need to select another character (left click) with a high Safecracking ability to open (right click) the safe.  Maybe the same PC is strong on all 3 of these skills, which makes sense thematically and reduces the "strain" of having to switch characters so much.  But maybe the skills you need to meet a particular challenge are distributed among 2-3 party members.  Lots of clicking ensues.

The designers could have made it so that, if you have your entire party selected, you can right-click to meet any challenge using the appropriate skill from the character with the highest value.  In other words, a lot of this could have been automated to reduce click-strain.  And some reviewers have been complaining about this, and for all I know, the developers are going to patch this in.  But there's another side to this.  When you select a character to test a skill, you've temporarily put yourself in their shoes.  This enhances the role-playing aspect of a game that utilizes a party system.  I think I appreciate that.  It's interesting that a character select via left-click can cause me to make a slight, but meaningful, psychological shift like that - embodiment, or something like it.

Another issue that always comes up for me when I play party-based RPG's is optimal party size - with regards to this issue of personalization and connection.  Too many characters in the party, and I start to lose interest in the entire group as a whole - because it gets harder for my cognitive architecture to perceive the individual and unique value of each character.  I suspect that optimal party-size in part depends upon some inherent aspect of human cognition and memory load, since it just gets too hard to juggle so much information from more than 7-8 characters (for example).  Another factor is probably the breadth of specialization offered by the system.  Let's say that there are 20 unique skills in a game, and that each character can become an expert in 2.  You could theoretically have a party size of 10 to accommodate the entire range of possibilities.  Interesting that you rarely see that solution vs. 4-5 characters who each can specialize in 4-5 skills.

Wasteland 2 parties can increase to 7, and personally, I think that's too much.  I max out at 5, and I kind of wish the system limited me to that.  I'm pleased with the Hobo I just recruited, but do I really need another shotgun expert?  (what a great sentence to be able to write)

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Post-KS: the work continues

I'm not quite ready to write a complete "postmortem" on the Clockwork Wars KS campaign, so don't expect that here.  It was a thrilling, anxiety-provoking, and perplexing experience that I have yet to fully wrap my head around.  Given that it was my first campaign as well means that I don't have a clear understanding of what was "normal" or "odd".  I will say that watching the initial pledge total roll up like it did in the first 24 hours was an amazing feeling.  We weren't able to keep all our initial backers, but we kept a fair number of them.

There hasn't been much time for a celebratory break - a lot of art and component work still needs to be done, and I'm setting a hard deadline for myself (and all the artists) for November 1st.  If we can get all our files to our Eagle contact in China by then, we have an excellent chance of meeting our shipping deadline, or even getting the game out a little early.  

The artwork is coming steadily.  Some artists can finish a piece in 3-4 days - most take a lot longer. But with 9 artists working simultaneously, our pace is solid.

We've also pretty much finalized the look of our first player token and score tokens.  The first player token is going to be wood, shaped like a gear, around 4 cm diameter.  I think it will look great and have some nice heft to it.  The score tokens, as we revealed during the campaign, are also going to be wooden, matched to the player colors of course, and shaped like miniature steampunk airships.  I've been working with one of our artists, Alejandro Lee, who did the magnificent "Dirigible" artwork for us.  

I asked him to draw us some simple schematics for a score token, based off of this beautiful and unique airship.  Here's what we came up with, after a couple iterations:

These aren't the exact player colors we're going to use, but close.  They'll likely be ~20 mm long.  I think they look very cool, and not like your everyday blimp.  These are war machines - troop transports - not the Hindenburg.  

Finally, we've also been brainstorming how we can re-design our Discovery Cards to really show off and maximize the fantastic artwork .  I think our new design will be an improvement over what we revealed in the campaign.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Developing Art for Clockwork Wars

Among the seemingly endless list of things of do for Clockwork Wars lies one particularly enjoyable task:  working with a large group of very talented artists, as they complete the remaining illustrations for the game.  From my first conversations with the folks at Eagle Games, we knew that CW was going to need a large number of unique art pieces to enhance its flavor and theme.  Each Discovery and Espionage card called out for a different scene.  Given that there are 60 different cards just in the base game, art was always going to be a major issue in our development - and by issue, I mean time, money, and quality.  It takes time to find appropriate artists, and for them to complete the commissions.  Every piece costs money, and you don't want to take advantage of these extraordinarily talented freelancers.  And you can't sacrifice quality for time or cost, or it will adversely affect how people perceive your game.  The importance of artwork (and using it to draw in your potential audience) is especially clear when considering the role that KS campaigns play in modern board game development and publication.

I'm currently working with 8-10 different artists, located around the world.  Each one is going to end up doing between 5-10 pieces for the game.  The advantage of this diversity in artists is two-fold.  First, it rapidly speeds up development time.  Every artist is working on a piece concurrently, and there's a solid possibility we'll average 4-6 finished pieces per week for the next couple months because of that.  Second, working with different artists brings different visions and styles to a game.  I've always loved Magic the Gathering.  But if I was going to be honest, I'd say that at least 50% of my love for that game has to do with the artwork.  From the time when I first started collecting in the early '90's, I loved the imagery - and the different styles that various artists brought.  Personally, I always loved the immediately-recognizable style of both Rebecca Guay and Chippy:

Now, there are disadvantages of working with multiple artists too.  First, the logistics are more challenging, since you're in communication with many different people, all working on different projects at different stages.  I'm a very organized person, fortunately, so logistics don't bother me.  Second, the diversity in artistic approaches can be a detriment to stylistic consistency within a game.  Not all our Rhinochs are going to look the same.  Some of our artists have a more "photo-realistic" style, while others are a bit more impressionistic.  Take, for example, this image of a steampunk Gargoyle, drawn by Shane Braithewaite:

Compare to this illustration of the University, by Marco Morte:

And this image of the Harvester, by Ben Jackson:

These artists have such different visions and styles, and I absolutely love all three of them.  To me, the variety in art in a clear boon to Clockwork Wars.

The process of working with these folks is just flat out fun.  The first step is to generate some ideas for what a particular card's "scene" might be.  I really have to immerse myself in the world of Clockwork Wars to do that, and exercise my imagination.  For example, here's a description I recently sent to one of our artists:
Card name:  Sabotage
Theme:  Espionage
There's a large water mill or dam in the image.  Some Troglodyte spies/saboteurs are planting explosives that will blow up the mill/dam.  OR the dam is already exploding, and the Trog spies are observing from a distance.  I imagine a somewhat distant point of view for this image, so the Trogs don't need to shown in clear detail.

I'm trying to provide enough guidance and inspiration without over-detailing and impinging upon their creative process.  The fact is, I've been surprised and delighted by nearly every single piece our artists have come up with.  Their visions are much more imaginative and interesting than anything I could possibly generate.  This is why I'm a scientist and not an artist.  The artist will then get back to me with some initial sketches, which we'll chat about and possibly revise/dump before they proceed into coloring and detail-work.  

I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the art design process for Clockwork Wars.  Everything has been a learning experience for me, but that's honestly been one of the best aspects of all this.  Gaining some insight into an industry that I've always been curious about.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Developing a 2 vs. 2 Variant

Even though we're in the mid-campaign lull for Clockwork Wars, I've been putting in hours of work every night on further development of the game.  I've got plans to video-record a complete 3-player game within the next week, but scheduling folks at my age (meaning, people with babies and toddlers) is always tricky.  We've also been running some polls on the KS page for one of the territory icons:  the icon that will represent both Manufactories and Science Influence in the game.  That's been a fun process, involving backers in some key design decisions.

Smokestack vs. Flask
I've been brainstorming a number of ideas for the two Kickstarter exclusive territories that would become available if we hit 70K.  I've generated ideas for Volcanoes, Prison Camps, Power Plants, Jungle, Academies, Desert, and even Dungeons.  Some ideas have been better than others!  But I've honed the list down to a solid four, each with unique rules that will throw a twist into any session.  Pretty soon, I'm going to poll the KS backers to see which two they'd like to see actually developed.

Finally, I've been working on a 2 vs. 2 team variant for Clockwork Wars.  This came about from a suggestion from several backers.  During initial development of CW, I never even considered the idea - even though "informal" alliances are very possible and even quite common, depending on the play-style of the group.  But developing formal rules for what I'm calling the Alliances variant has been a pleasurable (if slightly daunting) challenge.  In the Alliances variant, each alliance will consist of 2 players who sum their VP total at the end of the game to determine the winner.  That much was easy to come up with.  But I had to comb through the rules, and each specific phase of the turn, to see what rules needed to be tweaked to accommodate and facilitate team play.

For example, I had to decide early on whether I was going to allow allies to have units in the same territory.  I went with "yes," mostly for thematic reasons.  But this brought up questions about control.  If both allies had 2 Soldiers in a Village, for example, which player would gain the recruitment advantage?  Both?  Just one?  I decided that control of a territory could never be shared.  The ally with the greatest Army Strength in a territory would be in control and gain the benefits of ownership (worker recruitment, IPs, VPs, etc.).  But what if the allies had an equal Army Strength, as in the above example?  This forced the creation of a new game concept:  the commander.  During each turn, one player in each alliance serves as the commander.  That player is the one who comes earlier in turn order.  The commander controls a territory where there is a tie in Army Strength between allies.

Another issue I wrestled with had to do with the hidden deployment system and "table talk".  It's very important to me that the uncertainty and tension of the Deployment Phase be maintained, even in a team game.  As such, it didn't make sense to allow allies to share complete knowledge of their deployment orders.  This also didn't sit right with me from a "realism" or simulation perspective.  Especially in a time and place of limited technology, allied generals would not have perfect knowledge of each other's troop movements.  So, allies cannot openly discuss their deployment plans and must make their decisions in secret, as per the normal rules.

However, the commander of each team can make a call-to-arms request of her ally.  To do so, you simply write down the ID tag of the territory you want your ally to deploy units to, and pass that (secret) information to them during the Deployment Phase.  All you can specify is the location - not the number of units you are requesting, nor how many you plan to commit.  This allows for some coordination of offensive thrusts or defensive actions, but it's imperfect and should lend itself to some fun and surprising moments.  The ally is also not bound to fulfill the call-to-arms, if he does not wish to.

These are some of the major issues that have come up so far, but like I said, it's been a joy - as game design always is.  I plan to release a version (work in progress!) of the complete Alliance variant rules sometime next week.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Balance and Symmetry

I've been thinking a lot about game balance lately.  And here are my sacrilegious thoughts.  I don't think balance is necessarily the paramount objective towards which we should always strive.  Imbalance creates more interesting strategic and narrative possibilities. Balance in asymmetrical systems is impossible.

For example, I'm hoping that the 5 races in Clockwork Wars are "balanced."  The only difference between the races is their unique unit, which possesses a special ability.  The Troglodyte unique unit, the Engineer, gives you a +1 bonus to IP generation on any territory it's stationed on.  The Rhinoch unique unit, the Crasher, automatically kills 3 enemy soldiers during the reinforcement stage in combat.  These are very different abilities.  But are they balanced?  I understand the basic issue:  players want the special abilities to be relatively equal in power, such that no race possesses a significant advantage in the quest for victory.  And balance is primarily assessed through repeated play-testing and collection of empirical data.  But, I'd argue, in the board game world, such balancing is very difficult because it's nearly impossible to have a high enough "n" (in the statistical sense) to make meaningful conclusions.  The developers of Starcraft II or League of Legends can rely on millions of data points (win/loss stats) to determine whether Banshees are properly balanced or Jax is overpowered. They also have the advantage of being able to tweak balance easily post-release, whereas in the table top world, that's more difficult and perceived more negatively.

Furthermore, balance is overrated.  I've mentioned before how I much I love Space Hulk, Claustrophobia, and Memoir '44.  All three of these games, I would argue, feature scenarios that are heavily imbalanced.  If you win as the humans in Claustrophobia, you've got something to be proud of!  I also love how both Space Hulk and Claustrophobia feature highly asymmetrical sides.  The difference in play mechanics between the Genestealers and Space Marines makes balance somewhat irrelevant - but not, I would argue, to the detriment of fun.

Claustrophobia:  demonic advantage

Another area where balance is of central concern in Clockwork Wars is map layout.  Prior to each game, players generate a unique map using anywhere between 20-40 hexagonal tiles (or more, if they want!) that come in 11 different varieties.  So, a 3-player map might feature:  3 Capitals, 5 Villages, 4 Citadels, 5 Shrines, 4 Manufactories, 3 Towers, 4 Forests, 3 Lakes, 2 Barrens, and 1 Nexus.  If the players want to, they can set up these tiles in whatever configuration they wish - perhaps ensuring that each Capital is relatively close to at least one Village, one Tower, one Manufactory, etc.  For the purposes of balance.  But you know what?  My favorite maps in Clockwork Wars tend to be those that are 90% random, 10% balanced.  In other words, I like to come up with a general layout or pattern first and then just randomly choose the tiles to fill it out.  This way, you might end up with 3 Forests in a cluster (interesting!) or the Mongrel capital adjacent to 2 Towers (sorcerous dogs!) or, heaven forbid, the Rhinoch capital surrounded by worthless Barrens.  Let me play the Rhinochs, then, and spit in the face of balance!  I'll always choose the underdog, for thence comes the greater glory.

Asymmetrical maps are more interesting because they allow for better narratives to unfold.  Was the terrain of Gettysburg symmetrical?  Or the forest of Ardennes?  You take what is given to you, turn it to your advantage, and worry not for unfairness in the world.

click to enlarge
Now, I understand that not everyone's going to agree with me on this one.  Don't worry!  I've designed some (nearly) symmetrical maps for Clockwork Wars that are well-balanced and properly fascinating to play.  For example, the Lake of Fire map shown to the right is a well-balanced map for 2 players.  However, if you look closely, you'll see I didn't make it perfectly symmetrical.  It just wouldn't be right if it was.

This map is fun because the Lake in the center of the map is worth 4 VPs instead of the normal 3 for Lakes, and that extra VP tends to draw players' attention (perhaps more than it's actually worth!).  I imagine that it's got a huge oil reserve underneath, and that the oil on the surface periodically sets afire.  I like maps with slight rules tweaks like this, and I hope that players of Clockwork Wars delight in creating unique maps and scenarios with the many tools we're going to give them.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Kickstarter Success!

I finally have a moment to breathe, about 3 days into our campaign.  I'm shocked and thrilled to say that we were able to meet our $25,000 goal within 12 hours, and our current pledge total is teetering just beneath $50,000.  I was telling Aili, my wife, the night before we started about those amazing KS campaigns where people press the button, fret, go to sleep, and then wake up to find that they've already met their target.  But I never imagined I'd be fortunate enough to be in that camp.

How did it happen?  Well, it's far too early to make any firm conclusions, and I'm not an expert in KS advertising and mechanics - but I have some ideas.  Obviously, having Eagle Games in my corner with their broad advertising outreach and stellar reputation (especially when it comes to strategy games and KS campaigns) helped enormously.  That's #1.  The professional artwork and videography we had done, I'm sure, also did wonders for us.  It's basically a necessity.  A large percentage of our supporters, it appears, wandered over to our KS page from the "Popular" projects area.  People clearly like to browse KS projects and are willing to check out what's currently trending well and looks interesting and shiny.  But how did we get on the Popular page?

First, I think our Eagle Games strategy bundle early-bird special was extremely attractive - and those 25 pledges got gobbled up very fast.  That's nearly $7000 right there.  Second, our international outreach and ability to have EU friendly shipping, especially to France and Germany, have brought in a LOT of international backers.  The design of the game, as I had hoped, also seems to cross boundaries and appeal to Americans and non-Americans alike (to be honest, I'm not even sure I believe in the Ameritrash vs. Eurogame distinction anymore, insofar as they suggest geographic differences in what appeals to gamers).  Clockwork Wars has theme, beautiful art, and lovely components.  But it's a hard-core strategy game at heart, with rules of steel and play that rewards intelligence and wit.  

What next?  Well, obviously I hope we can keep the momentum up and achieve as many stretch goals as possible.  I'm especially passionate about our $60,000 goal - where we would get to include plastic miniatures of all the unique units in the game.  This would greatly increase the value of everyone's game and play experience, and I desperately hope we get there.  If you're reading this and have backed the project, spread the word!  60K is where we want to go!

This has been an immensely gratifying and humbling experience.  I'm a pessimist at heart, so to see so many people legitimately interested in the design and asking great questions and showing enthusiasm for the campaign is mind-blowing.  The internet is an amazing place, and periodically, magical things happen here.

In celebration, here's a close-up of possibly my favorite piece of art in the game:  the Colossus.  What a great piece and what a great time to be into board games!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Last minute preparations

With less than 24 hours to go before our Kickstarter campaign begins, we're busy with last minute preparations.  I've been tidying up our official website, adding a few more component pictures.  I've also been working with some French and German translators who have prepared versions of our instruction manual for potential European supporters.  I really hope we get a good push in our campaign from France and Germany - I think a hybrid strategy game like this has great appeal across the ocean.  And of course we're finalizing our Kickstarter page.  We've got a ton of info for potential supporters on there - multiple videos, lots of images, rules, etc.  And I think there are some fun stretch goals planned that we'll hopefully get to include.

We're aiming for $25,000.  I don't know if that's a little or a lot, but it's an intimidating number regardless. And to get a copy of the base game, a supporter needs to pledge $85 ($79 if you're an "early bird").  That certainly sounds like a lot, but I guess I can say a couple things about it.  First, I didn't have much say in that number.  That's just Eagle Games crunching the numbers.  Second, like most modern board games, Clockwork Wars is a quality product.  The production value here is very high, and we're obtaining individual art-work for over 70 different cards and game components.  Each one of those pieces costs money.  There will be wooden components, tons of big hexagonal tiles to build maps with, and at least 3 unique miniatures. Since I designed this game to play very differently every time, I think you're getting a lot of bang for your admittedly high buck.  

Fingers crossed!  Anxiety levels high!  Enthusiasm peaking!  Hope to see you on our Kickstarter page tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kickstarter videos

With the launch of our KS campaign only two weeks away, I've been busy working on various videos for our KS page.  Eagle is putting together a professional looking and sounding video (around 2 minutes) that will serve as a nice introductory "pitch" of the game.  I'm excited to see how it all comes together.  We just finished picking our voice actor.  I never thought I'd get a chance to be involved in all these nitty-gritty decisions.

I also finished putting together a 3 min video introducing myself, in which I also talk a little bit about where the idea for Clockwork Wars came from.  It's weird - I'm a professor, and I spend a lot of time in front a classroom blah blah blahing about lots of different things.  I never (or rarely) get self-conscious or nervous about that anymore.  But doing this video was a little horrifying.  First, you have to deal with watching yourself in a video.  It's worse that hearing your own voice and realizing you don't really sound like the "internal voice" in your mind.  Second, you worry about saying the wrong thing, coming off like an idiot, or arrogant, or confused.  Gakk.  I took a bunch of takes, and I think it came out fine, but I can't say I'm looking forward to seeing it on the KS page.

Finally, I'm putting together a sample play-through video, where I take people through 3 or 4 turns of the game.  This one was more fun and easier to do, but the raw footage has ended up quite long. I need to do some editing or try to do it again more succinctly.  I'm learning how to use iMovie, which is a nice bonus.

I understand that these videos are immensely important to the success of our project.  People will often run away from a KS page if the intro video is crap, and boardgamers expect to see a decent play-through video nowadays so that they can get a solid sense of the gameplay.  I think we're doing everything right and real professional-like, but the tension is building!

Oh, and check out this awesome art for one of our territory tiles.  This is what our "tower" tile is going to look like (or pretty close).  I love the lava rivers and arcane runes on the ground!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Official Kickstarter Launch Date

Well, we're finally ready to get this party started.  The KS launch date for Clockwork Wars is July 30.  You can follow any last-minute announcements at either our official website, or our Facebook page.

Right now we're solidifying our various stretch goals and add-ons.  It's at a time like this that I'm eternally thankful I'm working with Eagle Games, who have extensive experience launching and guiding successful KS campaigns.

Whew!  I'm excited/anxious to see whether all this hard work and patience pays off.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Game Length Variants

My apologies for the lack of updates or information this past month.  Another series of frustrating delays prevented us from launching our KS campaign in June.  You really learn to develop your patience as a game designer, especially when working with established publishers.  There are so many factors in play that are simply beyond your control.  In addition, we got some valuable feedback from playtesters who got a chance to try out Clockwork Wars at Origins.  I've been wrestling with some of the key issues for the past few weeks.

One concern expressed by a number of folks was game length.  This is a sensitive issue for me, since I always wanted Clockwork Wars to play fast: 90 minutes at most.  However, several of the learning games at Origins were clocking in at over 2 hours.  As such, I've been trying to tighten up the turn structure a bit and, more importantly, develop a couple different ways (variants) to play the game.

The basic game will now be a shorter, tighter experience.  It will last 7 turns, with an Early Age of 2 turns, a Middle Age of 2 turns, and a Late Age of 3 turns.  For those who don't mind having a more drawn-out strategy game experience, there is an "epic game" variant that is 9 turns long (3-3-3), as per the previous rules.

Shortening the game down to 7 turns necessitated a few minor rules changes.  Capitals now provide 4 workers per turn instead of 3.  And each player starts with 1 Sorcery, Science, and Religion IP each, to help kickstart discovery.

I've been playtesting this shorter version quite a bit lately, and there's a lot to like about it.  Every turn feels incredibly important.  The first turn in each age is all about maneuvering on the map and acquisition of key discoveries.  The latter turn is about acquiring Victory Points or court dominance.

Originally, I tested a 2-2-2 version, but a 2 turn Late Age had some issues.  Players who researched late age discoveries only got 2 turns to use them - and that's assuming they researched them right away.   This made late age discoveries far less valuable, when they should be the most exciting and "over-powered" ones in the game.  With a 3-turn late age, players get the benefit of having a lengthy final stage to the game where all their toys are in play.  

Otherwise, we'll still working through a lot of the component design and should have some updated (and near final) prototypes in time for GenCon.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Clockwork Wars website is live

We've launched a great new website dedicated to Clockwork Wars, and you can find it here:

You will find lots of information about the game, including artwork and reviews.

We also have an Art Contest running, so if you're interested in the possibility of getting your artwork into the game (and winning $150), please enter!  The deadline for submissions is June 15th.

Saturday, May 10, 2014


After a brief lull, we're moving into our final push of Clockwork Wars development before the Kickstarter launch.  I'm starting to get anxious!

In today's designer diary, I want to talk about Attrition.  In war, attrition refers to a gradual loss of strength and effectiveness of your military presence through the consequence of sustained attack or pressure.  One critical mediator of attrition is supply.  

I always wanted Clockwork Wars to be a (relatively) simple wargame that could still model complex and interesting interactions.  I've tried to keep the "rules of engagement" lean - thus, the one-for-one combat resolution which I've discussed previously. However, I also wanted to include a few wrinkles that would offer players more strategic and tactical options.  As such, supply lines exist in Clockwork Wars, but they don't invoke significant rules overhead.

A tile with your units on it is in supply if it it connected, through a chain of tiles under your control, to either your capital or one of your cities.  If that chain is ever broken, your troops that are out-of-supply must suffer a penalty. The penalty is straightforward:  you lose a Soldier from every out-of-supply territory at the end of every Combat Phase.

This simple rule can have a powerful influence on military strategy, especially, I have found, during the Middle Age (turns 3-4).  The Early Age (turns 1-2) in Clockwork Wars is often defined by players rushing for territories and saving up Influence Points for that first big Discovery.  There are often skirmishes, but rarely major battles.  However, in the Middle Age, most players have successfully claimed a section of the map - but not shored up their defenses.  There will likely be weaknesses in your opponents' "empires."  And if you can exploit these weaknesses, you'll be in an excellent position to take a significant lead in Victory Points as you move into the Late Age.   

Here's an example of how attrition works in practice.  This is actually an excerpt from my first instruction manual:

Purple hex is a Capital (Jules').
Yellow hexes are Shrines.
Red hexes are Towers.
Green hexes are Forests.
Blue hexes are Lakes.
Brown hexes are Citadels.
White hexes are Villages/Cities.

Hopefully you can see how you need to be vigilant in defending and developing your empire, as soon as you see that your opponents are within striking distance.  I've won (and lost) quite a few games of Clockwork Wars because of Attrition.  

As a final side-note, there's a lovely (and quite cheap) Early Age Religion discovery, Monasticism, that allows you to ignore the effects of Attrition.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Integrating theme with mechanics

I think it’s fair to say that every designer approaches the issue of “theme” in a slightly different way.  A game has to have theme, or else it’s just an excel spreadsheet with a random number generator.  But it’s also clear that some designers are willing to sacrifice thematic relevance for game mechanics.  Eurogames, classically, have been guilty of this.  Many Eurogames possess clever mechanics which interlace in fascinating ways – encouraging players to explore the gamespace and become proficient in manipulating the various levers and pulleys.  The thematic overlay is simply there to provide an attractive backdrop.

Lately, I’ve been playing some Alien Frontiers.  I like the game quite a bit, and everyone I’ve played it with has been quickly impressed with its intricate design.  I like how it combines dice-rolling, worker placement, resource management, and area control.  And I like the retro sci-fi look to the whole package.  But the two - mechanics and theme – are not intertwined in any meaningful way.  There is nothing about rolling doubles, for instance, that screams out, “build a new ship” – or rolling three in a row that evokes “raiding.”  The only minor exceptions to this lack of thematic integration are some of the alien artifacts, like the Plasma Cannon.  Because of this disparity between theme and mechanics, Alien Frontiers ultimately leaves me a bit cold.  Again, I like it – but it won’t ever be one of my favorites.

One of my guiding principles in designing Clockwork Wars was thematic integration.  I love steampunk, especially for how it flaunts anachronisms and envisions alternative histories.  I also think it has enormous potential to influence game design, since it’s so evocative and “culturally diverse.”  Let me see if I can explain this.

I knew early on that my best opportunity to weave theme into the game mechanics was within the Discovery cards.  Like in any good civilization game, I wanted the player’s personal narrative to unfold both within the realm of conquest and exploration, as well as technological discovery.  When you’re playing Civilization or Nations or Through the Ages, your civilization is largely shaped by what you research.  Setting a game in a steampunk universe opens up the technology tree in fun and unexpected ways - especially, if you also allow magic and sorcery in.  Now you can have a game where one player is researching Necromancy and Philosophy, while another player is developing Gunpowder and Dirigibles.

 But beyond the simple anachronistic pleasure of this, I wanted to ensure that each of the discoveries made mechanical sense.  As such, the specific rules for each discovery are very much guided by theme.  They are not arbitrary.  For example, the Dirigible lets you move units around the map and reinforce your battles easier.  The University helps you generate Influence Points faster.  Inquisition forces your opponents to discard sorcery and science influence.  Divine Right grants VPs for every Shrine you control at the end of the game.

Developing the discoveries was an interesting design process.  I did start with some guiding concepts.  I wanted sorcery discoveries to be aggressive, powerful, and relatively expensive.  I wanted science discoveries to provide flexibility.  Religion discoveries were defensive, often focused on enhancing your villages and shrines, and cheap.

Then I started making lists of “cool things” I wanted to include in my game.  Like dirigibles, and druids, and a colossus, and pestilence.  So I started with images – narrative – first.  Then, for each image, I tried to conceive of a mechanic that would make sense for that card.  I got surprisingly far using this approach.  Indeed, it was only later in development when I began looking through the rules for mechanics which were available to manipulate through new potential discoveries (in other words, starting with a mechanic and trying to find a theme to match it).  For example, once I came up with the idea of discovery tokens being placed on the map, I wanted there to be a discovery that could help you defend them.  Thus, the Golem (right) was born.

In contrast, I get the sense that a lot of games (even heavily thematic, “Ameritrash” games) are developed through spreadsheets.  Let’s use an imaginary game example.  Let’s say I’m developing a civilization game where there are 3 civilization “attributes”:  military, economy, and culture.  There are also 2 resources:  gold and science.  In this game, there are dozens of potential discoveries for the players to research.  For example, a discovery that gives you +1 military and costs 1 science to research.  It is now a simple matter to generate a spreadsheet and create all possible permutations.  You can even have very complex techs, like something that gives +5 military/+2 economy and costs 4 gold/6 science.  But it’s all numbers.  Once you have your list of permutations, you give a name to each one.  Cheaper ones might come from ancient times (like a granary, or polytheism), and more expensive ones from modern times.  But the thematic integration is bare-bones here.  You might be calling that +8 military card an aircraft carrier, but nothing about the card itself – or its effect on the game – has anything to do with a ship that carries jets.

I suppose I could have approached the design of Clockwork Wars' discoveries in that fashion, but it wouldn’t have been as fun – and it wouldn’t have created a thematically meaningful steampunk game.

The one major obstacle to creating game elements that consistently tie theme with mechanic is balance.  It’s (relatively) easy to balance cards, for example, generated from a spreadsheet. But when every card is different – and breaks the rules in fundamentally different ways from every other card – balance becomes a nightmare.  It’s been a major design challenge for me – one that I enjoy greatly – but one that is not easy to address.    For example, the late age Sorcery discovery, Necromancy says:
For every Shrine that you control at the beginning of the Recruitment Phase, you may recruit 2 additional workers.
What’s the value of this card?  How many Influence Points should it cost?  Is it a “better” card than the similarly priced Dirigible?  This part of game design feels uncomfortably like intuition at times, since play-testing can only reveal so much.  In one game, Necromancy might be used to great effect – in another, hardly at all.  So player feedback on its value will vary wildly.  Again, I really enjoy thinking about this kind of stuff, but it’s also a constant source of anxiety for me.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The evolving map: discovery tokens

I’d like to tell you about one rule in Clockwork Wars that makes every game different and interesting.

I’ve previously talked about the Discoveries in the game.  In every Age, there are 3 Discoveries available to research:  one based in Sorcery, one based in Science, and one based in Religion.  An example set from the Early Age might be:  Golem (Sorcery), Gunpowder (Science), and Monasticism (Religion).  These Discoveries are available for all players to research.  As such, they represent another point of competition and conflict of which all players must be constantly vigilant.  If you’re not careful, a wily opponent will research two different discoveries that have a powerful effect when played in concert (for example, Steam Train and Knighthood).

Discovery token (prototype)
When you research a discovery, you pay the necessary cost in Influence Points.  There is both a card and square cardboard token associated with each discovery.  You can place the card in front of you as a reminder of its special effect, but you must place the token somewhere on the map.  This token represents your actual discovery – in play.  As such, it now becomes a potential target for conquest.  If another player takes over the territory that holds the discovery, they will become the new owners.

I love this rule for so many reasons.  First, it creates a difficult and interesting choice for the player who makes the discovery.  They must decide where to put the token on the map.  They can place the discovery in their capital.  The advantage of this is that no player may ever attack another player’s capital, so the discovery will be safe for the rest of the game.  However, any one territory, including your capital, can only hold one discovery.  Let’s say you research Medicine – a powerful early age science discovery.  Do you place it in your capital, knowing that any subsequent discoveries you research – including the most powerful ones of the late age – will have to be placed in vulnerable locations on the map?  Or do you risk it by placing Medicine on the map?  If the latter, you better commit some of your valuable forces to defense of the territory.

When you can place the discovery on the map, it must be put in a research territory within the same "discipline."  Science discoveries must be placed on Manufactories.  Sorcery discoveries on Towers.  Religion discoveries on Shrines.  Furthermore, some Discoveries have powers which directly relate to their position on the map.  For example, the Catapult - an early age Science discovery - states:
During the Reinforcement stage, you may kill 1 enemy Soldier in any territory within two tiles of the Catapult.  Catapult may target its own territory.
This means that every map you play in Clockwork Wars will evolve in different strategic directions.  There’s already infinite replayability in how you set up the map itself, using 9 different terrains and any configuration your heart desires.  And then you add on top of this, players developing the map by deploying discoveries and radically shifting the value of individual hexes.

I recently played a game where I researched Soul Drain, an early age sorcery discovery, on Turn 2.  It’s a powerful card that says:
Whenever you win a combat versus a lone enemy Soldier, you gain 1 VP and may add a worker to your recruitment pool.  
I began using it to great effect over the next two turns (especially since it combos well with the Spymaster ability, Tactical Operations).  However, my opponents recognized the threat quickly and immediately began assailing the tower where I had the discovery stored.  I couldn’t keep it, while still expanding my empire, battling over court influence, and developing my villages.  So then one of my opponents took control of the tower and Soul Drain – and started using it against me the very next turn.  It was brutal!  Soul Drain changed hands a couple times that game, and every time it did it shifted the power-balance.  If you research something in Clockwork Wars, you have to be prepared to defend it.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Rules complete

Just a quick update today.  It's been a busy couple weeks with regards to Clockwork Wars.  We're in the home-stretch, trying to be 100% ready for the KS campaign - as well as generate some pre-campaign buzz via Facebook, BGG, etc.

I'd say at this point we've got about 50% of the art finished, but our artists are completing 2-3 pieces per week.  With over 50 cards in the game, each one featuring unique art, we knew it was going to be a time-consuming task from the beginning.  But I love the artists we're working with right now, and their enthusiasm is invigorating.

Graphic design work on the game-board, card layouts, and tokens is coming along nicely.  I'd say we're about 60% done there.

The best news is that I've submitted the rules to Eagle for translation into French and German.  In other words, I'm 99% confident that the bulk of rules writing and editing is complete.  I, and several other people, have gone over these rules dozens of times, and I think they're well-organized, clear, and complete.  If anything, I've erred on the side of making them too long and detailed.  I'd rather the rules be precise, without any holes or contradictions, and with plenty of gameplay examples. In terms of rules complexity, I consider Clockwork Wars a light-medium weight game.   For most strategy gamers who regularly play modern board games, the rules will be easily manageable.  On par with Memoir '44 (or really any of the Command and Colors series) or Conquest of Nerath, if you're familiar with those titles.  However, if Risk is the only strategy game you've ever played, CW might be a little overwhelming at first glance.  But I guarantee you that after a turn or two, you'll get the rhythm and be seeing the possibilities unfold.

We've got some new prototypes in the works and will continue play-testing, ensuring that the card balance and race balance, in particular, are just right.  That stuff is always hard (asymmetry is fun, but a pain-in-the-ass from a design standpoint), but I can promise you it's at the top of my mind.

Cheers, all.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Ritual of Blood

Today, I'd like to show off some art and also tell you a little more about how specific discoveries work in Clockwork Wars.  Here's the current art for the sorcery discovery, Ritual of Blood.

Pretty grim! Purebreed technowizards conducting nefarious experiments on some poor Mongrel captives.  I find a lot of steampunk art, especially in games, cartoonish or whimsical. We aimed for a slightly more mature style with Clockwork Wars and think we've achieved it. I love this piece and can't wait to show you more from the same artist. He's got a unique eye.

So how does Ritual of Blood work?  First of all, it's a sorcery discovery, which means that you need to collect sorcery influence points (IP) by controlling towers on the map.  Each turn, every tower that you control generates 1 sorcery IP.  Ritual of Blood costs 7 sorcery IP to purchase, which is relatively expensive.

In addition, Ritual of Blood is not available to research until the Late Age.  A game of Clockwork Wars lasts for 7 turns.  Turns 1-2 are the Early Age, turns 3-4 are the Middle Age, and turns 5-7 are the Late Age.  At the end of each age, there's a scoring phase where players earn victory points for any resources territories (Forests and Lakes) that they control.  The ages also determine what discoveries are available to purchase.

Let's say you planned things just right.  It's turn 5, you've got the first player token, and you have 7 sorcery IP tokens. When the research phase comes around, you can declare that you're "discovering" Ritual of Blood and take the card and its associated discovery token.  That token must be placed in either your capital or any tower that you control.  Discovery tokens represent the discovery itself - and they can be captured by your opponents.  If you place Ritual of Blood in a tower under your control, but then one of your opponents captures that tower on a subsequent turn, you will need to hand over Ritual of Blood to your enemy. Brutal!  However, a discovery placed in your capital can never be captured.  Unfortunately, any single territory, including your capital, can only ever hold one discovery.

So now you own Ritual of Blood.  What does it do for you?  Every research phase, you can activate it for the following effect:  for each Tower you control, you may kill up to 2 Soldiers in a single territory and gain 1 VP per Solider killed.

In effect, Ritual of Blood lets you attack your opponents anywhere on the map - AND get VP's for doing so. The more towers you control, the more powerful it is.  Imagine if you controlled 3 towers! You could kill 6 enemy soldiers per turn and get 6 VP every time you did so:  18 VP just from late age use of Ritual of Blood.  Almost certainly a winning strategy.  But if your opponents let you pull this off (by ceding control of so many towers), they deserve to lose the game.

From the beginning, I wanted discoveries to be real "game-changers."  They're not supposed to be subtle or slight.  They should change the landscape of the conflict in a significant fashion, create drama, and provide enormous advantage to those who research them.  As such, you ignore research and discoveries in Clockwork Wars at your peril.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The elevator pitch

What is Clockwork Wars?  More to the point, how is it different from other games out there?  Let me give you the quick elevator pitch!

Clockwork Wars (CW) is fundamentally an area control game.  I’m going to call it a hybrid, and what I mean by that is that it’s got both Ameritrash and Eurogame elements to it.  It’s a light war game with a thick veneer of theme, but it plays quickly and won’t consume your entire evening.  It’s got combat, but no dice.  It’s mostly area control, but there’s a little worker placement and a little area majority.  There's a tech tree, espionage system, four different races to play, and unique units - but the rules for everything have been streamlined, and there's virtually zero down-time between each of your turns.

Let’s talk about the area control. There’s a map that you deploy units to, and you earn Victory Points (VPs) for controlling certain strategic territories.  However, unlike a lot of area control games, the map is infinitely variable.  You will construct it at the beginning of every game out of hexagonal tiles that represent nine different territory types:  capitals, villages, citadels, towers, manufactories, shrines, forests, lakes, and barrens.  Now, you might guess that these territory types represent different “terrains” and that there are terrain modifiers that affect combat.  But you’d be wrong!  I think plenty of other games use that mechanic quite well (I’m a particular fan of Memoir ‘44), and I didn’t feel the need to use it in CW.  Instead, every territory that you control gives you a particular benefit.  Capitals and villages are for recruiting workers; towers, manufactories, and shrines are for generating research points (which I call Influence Points); and forests and lakes generate VPs.

Generating maps is a joy unto itself.  You can use one of the recommended maps for your player count which we include in the instructions, or make one up yourself.  The shape and size of the maps can vary enormously, and we hope people get excited about this aspect of CW and eventually share their creations with each other.

Each turn you’ll deploy units to the map.  You’ll engage in battles with other players’ units in an attempt to control key territories.  But again, CW offers some unique twists on this age-old formula.  First, unit deployment is hidden.  Players decide where they want to send their troops and write down their orders using a quick, simple system (each tile in the game has a unique identification number).  Then, all players reveal and perform their orders simultaneously.   This leads to an enormous sense of tension every turn, as you try and predict where your opponents will shift their military strength.  Second, once units are deployed to the map, they rarely move.  Consider the unit deployment in a game like Small World.  You’ve got to think carefully about your deployment decisions, because you can’t easily move your armies around.  However, control over a greater extent of the map opens up more deployment options for you.

Combat is simple and deterministic.  The tension of combat resolution isn’t generated by a random die roll, but rather by the hidden and simultaneous deployment.  Battles are resolved using a simple one-for-one rule but several other factors will come into play.  Battles can be reinforced by soldiers stationed at adjacent citadels.  Players can research discoveries, like Power Armor, that provide significant benefits in combat.  And players can also play espionage cards if they’ve invested a little in that system.  Most battles are resolved in seconds - but that doesn't mean there aren't tough decisions to make!  I'll admit that CW can sometimes be a bit of a brain-burner.  There are a lot of factors you need to juggle and every decision you make counts.

So if you find modern hybrid war games like Cyclades, Nexus Ops, Kemet, Chaos in the Old World, and even Tammany Hall attractive, I think Clockwork Wars is for you.  It’s very different from all the games I’ve mentioned, and I don’t think there’s anything out there currently that plays like it.  One final point I’d like to emphasize is that I think CW plays great (and quite differently) with 2, 3 or 4 players.  CW started its life as a 2-player game, and unlike a lot of modern area control games, it’s perfect for 2.  With 3 or 4 players, negotiations and deals can become part of the game, which of course tends to create a unique experience.  I think CW, because of its replayability, tight integration of theme with mechanics, and relatively short play-time, has broad appeal for people who like strategy games.

Want to learn even more?!  Read my ongoing design diary series:
[Diary #1: Overview]
[Diary #2: Espionage]
[Diary #3: Generals]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Box Cover revealed!

I'm pleased to show off our current "draft" of the Clockwork Wars box cover art.

I love the detail in here.  We've tried to feature all four races:  Purebreeds, Mongrels, Rhinochs, and Troglodytes.  There's a bit of magic and a lot of guns.  

It's been a busy couple days, now that we've got some art to show off.  I've been updating our Facebook page, our BGG page, and doing a lot of constructive back & forth on marketing and such with the good folks at Eagle games.  It's finally starting to get "real"!  

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Clockwork Wars Design Diary #3: Generals

[Diary #1: Overview can be found here]
[Diary #2: Espionage can be found here]

Happy 2014!  If you’ve been following this blog or the development of Clockwork Wars at all, you may know that our original goal was to start our Kickstarter campaign before the end of 2013.  That time has come and gone, but I’m very comfortable with the decision.  Simply put, we’re just not ready to launch yet.  We’re still play-testing and tweaking rules, making major graphic design decisions, and plowing our way through art development for the tiles, cards, and possible minis.  Building a modern wargame is a big project, and as we all know nowadays, you shouldn’t launch a KS campaign until you’re absolutely ready.  We’d love to get a couple professional “beta-level” prototypes out there being previewed/reviewed just before launch and that also is going to take a little while.  I should be able to start previewing some of our magnificent art quite soon, and hopefully you’ll see me make a big announcement about the campaign itself in the next couple months.

 In the interim, I’d like to continue this series of designer diaries, providing some additional insight into the design and development of Clockwork Wars (CW).  Sometimes it’s hard for me to remember when or how some of the design decisions were made – I’ve been thinking about and working on CW for about 5 years now, so a lot of my memories of those early, formative stages are muddled and hazy.  I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post, but one source of inspiration for me for CW was real-time strategy (RTS) games on the PC.  For those that don’t know, what differentiates RTS games from more traditional turn-based “wargames” (like Civilization, or Panzer General, or Master of Orion) is the ability for the players to move their units simultaneously and in real time.  The primary advantage of this is that it allows for a much more fluid, dynamic, and surprising experience.  It’s easy to simulate feints, ambushes, and wars on multiple fronts.  The primary disadvantage, I think, is that it forces players to make decisions much more quickly and rewards fast-thinkers and fast-clickers perhaps too much.  Many of us who enjoy strategic games want the ability to ponder our decisions with leisure – to have a true “armchair general” experience.

When I first sat down with my original ideas for CW, I knew that I wanted to merge some of the benefits of traditional turn-based strategy with the excitement and surprise of real-time strategy.  Board games make this very possible.  A standardized turn structure (with no pre-set time limits on decision making) mean that players can ponder their decisions and think carefully about long-term strategy.  But simultaneous and hidden deployment (which I’ve blogged about previously) provides a much quicker pace and more realistic wartime simulation than “you go, I go.”

Another element I wanted to borrow from RTS was the idea of game-changing, special powers or uber-units.  One of my favorite RTS’s was The Battle for Middle Earth II (BFME II), based on Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings series of books.  An example of a special power in BFME II was summoning the Balrog.  You had to earn the Balrog power (through a small tech-tree), and since it was so advanced and expensive, you’d typically only get to use it once during the late-game.  But what a power!  Played at the right time, the Balrog could turn the tide of a major battle, and allow you to establish a significant foothold which could snowball into a scenario win.  I loved the strategy behind both researching the Balrog power, as well as knowing precisely when to activate it to gain the greatest advantage.

In every game of Clockwork Wars, there are three uber-units available for any player to research.  These units are called the Generals, but they aren’t your traditional officers.  The Leviathan is the most straightforward of the three.  It’s a massive, demonic creature from the underworld that rises up to swallow an entire army.  To research the Leviathan, a player must spend 5 Sorcery and 2 Religion Influence Points – a significant investment, but one easily achieved by the mid-game.  Once you’ve researched the Leviathan, you can hold onto him - and then, when the time is right, activate him to maximum effect.  The Leviathan can be deployed at the end of any Reinforcement stage (so after all players have made their final reinforcement decisions and just before battles are resolved).  You deploy him to any battle you are currently engaged in.  The Leviathan instantly destroys any and all opposing units on the tile in question, leaving your units safe and in control.  In addition, you receive Victory Points equal to the number of enemy units destroyed. The Leviathan is then removed from the game; this is a one-time power.

I love the Leviathan, and he was definitely inspired by the Balrog, as well as the sandworms from Frank Herbert’s Dune.  He’s well-suited for an aggressive player who’s perhaps focused on controlling Towers and generating Sorcery IP.  He can be incredibly useful during a Scoring Phase, if you find yourself locked in a huge battle over a valuable Lake.  Or he can help you wrest control of a city from an opposing player, and therefore gain an important advantage in worker recruitment.

Another General available for research is the Guardian.  In my first prototypes, he was called the Paladin.  He’s the ultimate defensive unit.  For a price of 5 Religion IP and 2 Science IP, you can take the Guardian and, as with the Leviathan, wait until the right moment to deploy him.  You place him directly on a map territory that you currently control at the beginning of any Deployment Phase.  As long as the Guardian remains on that territory, it cannot be attacked.  That territory is permanently protected.  Even the Leviathan can’t attack the Guardian’s territory!

The third General available to research is the Steamtank.  A massive sentient machine sowing chaos and devastation.  The Steamtank is currently the only unit in the game that can actually move every turn on the map.  After you research it (which costs 5 Science and 2 Sorcery IP), you immediately place it either in your Capital or a Citadel that you currently control.  The Steamtank has an Army Strength of 3 – so it’s basically equivalent to 3 Soldiers.  At the beginning of every Deployment Phase, you may move the Steamtank one tile in any direction.  It’s slow, but immensely powerful.  Your opponents will be hesitant to attack any territory that contains the Steamtank, and you can use the Steamtank to initiate crucial offensives into enemy territory. The Leviathan can destroy the Steamtank in battle.

I’ve talked previously about the Discovery “tree” in CW.  During the set-up for each game, 9 different Discoveries are drawn (from 45 possible), 3 in each discipline (Sorcery, Science and Religion), and 3 for each Age (early, middle and late).  Thus, every game of CW will be different because you’ll always see a new combination of Discoveries to compete for and research.

However, the Generals are omnipresent.  There are always available to research in every game.  Don’t like what you see in the Discovery tree?  Focus on researching the Steamtank ASAP and get it out by turn 3 (which is entirely possible).  You might very well win yourself the game with such a bold move.  But a clever opponent will immediately start working towards researching the Leviathan to counter you – or the Guardian, to protect his most valuable territory.

Generals add yet another layer of strategic opportunity to Clockwork Wars.  You’ve got so many toys to play with!  Soldiers, Spies, Unique Units, Discoveries, Espionage cards, and Generals.  I hope that players see CW as more than just a hybrid area control game – it's also a sandbox that offers infinite strategic and narrative possibilities.