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.