# How to make a war game more interesting

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bigbc
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Joined: 12/31/1969

The art of designing a war game is one that not everyone has. I would like to think that I have a gift and i can make games that are crystal clear in the rules and easy to learn how to play. How ever my games dont appeal to my testers and they become bored and dont want to play the game agian even in an effort to inprove it.

My game is simple but after playing multiple times ive found that there there are many strategies. the rules are as follows. The board is set up with a river bisecting the board. The board its self is rectanglar about 1:2 ratio in width to lenght, the river runs the narrow way. there are two bridges that are equidistant from the sides of the board. There is a tree that functions as a road block one one each side at the end of either bridge.

The game play is extremly simple:

A player is alloted six squares of movement each turn and can subdivided these squares amoung any number of their pieces. There are two types of pieces, foot soldiers (fs) and calvary(c). C has the ability to travel two spaces and is only charged one square of movement, and can't change direction during a turn. The fs moves one square for one square of movement and can move in any direction(except diagonal neither piece can travel daigonally).

Any piece can take any piece the only limitation is that once a piece has taken a piece, it cannot move until the next turn. The object is to kill the opponent's "General".

I dont know why but the people that ive play this game with dont seem to enjoy it. I need suggestions on what to change to make the game or exciting. Ill take any idea, no matter how bizzare! Thanks for all the posts in advance!

clapjaws
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

At first blush, based on what you've described, maybe the game plays too much like checkers? What I mean by that is - if every piece is equal value, except movement rates, maybe its not immersive enough. Maybe making the troops more varied and special would allow for players to explore different strategies, thereby increasing interest in re-plays.

zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

This is a very interesting topic. Basically, the question is: why isn't my game fun? This is always a very hard question to answer.

When I sent in my first design, Urban Construct, in for the Hippodice competition, I was certain I had a winner. The game had simple enough rules that were well explained, the mechanisms worked well, playing time wasn't too long, not too much downtime or kingmaking or other obvious flaws. When I finally got feedback from the Hippodice they agreed with me on those points. However, the only thing I had forgotten was to put "fun" into the game...

So what is "fun"? There are various things that make a game fun. Different people have a different idea of what is fun, of course, but I'll try to list a few things that make a game fun for some people.

1) Direct player interaction. Negotiating with other players. Coercing other players to follow your plans, or get them work together to attack another player. Making deals or trade resources. Some people enjoy this social aspect of games. Example: Settlers of Catan, where you can trade resource cards and have to negotiate with other players, or Diplomacy where you have to negotiate with other players about your attacking plans.

2) Indirect player interaction. The ability to mess with other people's plans through the game mechanics, to obstruct or annoy another player, smiling gleefully when you make that move that causes the downfall of another player. Example: Pompei, covering other players' pawn with lava and throwing them into the volcano. Bang!: shooting at other players or putting them into prison.

3) Making plans. Coming up with a long term strategy and short term plans to execute that strategy, and over the course of the game seeing your plans come to fruitition, or adjusting it based on circumstances. Example: Ticket to Ride, choosing your initial tickets and then trying to connect them during the game. Puerto Rico: saving money for a certain building that goes with your long term plan (ex. wanting to buy the Harbor to go with your diversifying, shipping strategy).

4). Luck. Pure luck, randomness, can be fun. Cheering at the dice, hoping to roll the right numbers, or praying to draw the right card. Shunned by hardcore gamers, but loved by many casual gamers. Example: Candyland, Yahtzee, LCR, the dynamite mechanic in Bang!

5). Uncertainty, surprise. Making a plan, or performing an action and not knowing for certain if it will work or how exactly it will play out. This may be because other players may mess with your plans (see #2), or because of luck (see #4). Hidden information, such as cards in hands of other players, often plays an important a role here. In open information games, such as Chess, there's uncertainty because you cannot possibly calculate all the moves and countermoves, and you have to hope your evaluation of the moves you can calculate is better than your opponent's evaluation. Almost all games have a certain degree of uncertainty. A counterexample is Tic-Tac-Toe, which has no luck or hidden information, and where the decision tree is so narrow and shallow that most grown-ups can calculate all possible moves and countermoves, making the outcome predictable.

6). A tight feedback loop. This is something we recently discussed in another thread here. It's a bit vague, but what it comes down to is that a player periodically has to get feedback about how he is doing. If long periods of time (turns) go by without a player getting any idea of how he is progressing in the game and how his moves turn out, then a player may feel like he is just going through the motions, an excercise in futility.

7) Tension, friction between plans and (sub)goals, forcing tough choices. It's fun to come up with a plan, but it's not much fun to come up with a plan and then just go through the motions executing that plan. It's more fun if along the way a player sometimes is presented with a dilemma that forces a player to make a choice between various subgoals, or an opportunity that might urge a player to deviate from his current strategy and follow another plan.

I'm sure there are many more, but these provide a good starting point I think. Not all games need all of the above, but they certainly need some of them.

Like clapjaws said, your game is like checkers, a luckless, open information game. Checkers works because players are able to formulate short term goals and long term strategies, and because it has a relatively short feedback loop. It is possible that your game lacks these things. One thing that caught my eye in your game is that each player has 6 movement points per turn, unlike checkers where each player only has one movement point per turn. This might result in making it hard to plan ahead beyond one's own turn, because there are so many possible countermoves during the next player's turn. If this is so, then this would diminish the feeling of being able to formulate a plan. I would recommend you to try and give a player less movement points per turn (perhaps only 2 or 3) and see if this makes the game more strategic.

Another option is to add a few pieces that are more powerful or valuable than others, like the Queen in Chess. This gives the players a mid term goal to work with - protect your own valuable pieces, while at the same time attacking opponent's valuable pieces - besides the long term goal of capturing the general.

One other thing to keep in mind is to know what your playtesters like. Perhaps they are not huge fan of abstract games. Do they like similar games like Connect-Four, Stratego, Chess, Checkers? If not, then perhaps it's not through a fault in your game that they don't like it. I'd recommend to try it with players of which you know that they like abstracts, or at the very least don't dislike abstracts, and see whether they enjoy the game.

Good luck!

Hollyhock
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

I have witnessed that gamers who like die-throwing light games usually dislike open-information, mathematically complex games (as chess or checkers). These players don´t want to think in advance 3 turns ahead. When the game includes random elements (as dice) or surprise elements, (as face down cards), a player examines the tabletop and makes his move based on short-term thinking and a lot of intuition. This requieres much less thinking, and if you make an error, nobody can blame your decision (that was bad luck!). Maybe your playtesters feel like this.

I have suffered these situations, as I like open-information games, but my friends don´t. Adding randomizers to your game can make it more interesting, as zaiga says, but the more you randomize, the less "mathemacially perfect" and the less strategical it will become, so here you have to find a balance point.

Another thing I feel about your game is that the layout you have described looks too defensive. Splitting the board in 2 parts with only 2 access points between them, and stating that the moving pieces can´t attack, seems to me that the player who plays more defensively will have superiority. If the game doesn´t encourage attacking, it will become boring.

Some suggestions would be:

-Some troops can fly. They move 2 squares and can move through the river. They can only be killed by missile troops.
-Some troops have bows. They can kill flying troops.
-Some troops are engineers. They can build a new bridge if they are near the bridge.
-Some troops are amphibian. They move 1 square and can move through the river.
-Some troops can charge. They are cavalry allowed to move 2 squares, attack AND continue moving (and maybe attack again?).
-Some troops (4 or 5) are Nobles. One of them is the King, but until they attack or get attacked, the opponent doesn´t know (they are face-down chips).

JeffK
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

zaiga wrote:
One thing that caught my eye in your game is that each player has 6 movement points per turn, unlike checkers where each player only has one movement point per turn. This might result in making it hard to plan ahead beyond one's own turn, because there are so many possible countermoves during the next player's turn. If this is so, then this would diminish the feeling of being able to formulate a plan. I would recommend you to try and give a player less movement points per turn (perhaps only 2 or 3) and see if this makes the game more strategic.

I second this suggestion. I'm currently designing an abstract, perfect information game (tentatively titled "Zone of Control"). My original design was to allow players to move two or three pieces per turn, and each piece could move a certain number of spaces in any orthoginal direction (depending on wether or not their HQ was still in play) and some could change direction mid-move. Basically, some of the qualities were very much like your own game. Heck, it even has a river in the middle! :) After reading the thread about feedback loops, planning and decision trees I realized that this my game was destined to fall into the very quagmire that was being described in the thread. As a result, I'm reworking all of the movement rules of the game to make it easier to create meaningful plans. Players will only be able to move one piece per turn (I've given the HQ another benefit) and the movement of each type of piece is more narrowly defined.

Another thought is that your game does sound remarkably like chess/checkers. Sure, with different movement rules for the pieces, but what is the fundamental difference? What does your game offer, other than a movement point allowance, that seperates it from the "classic" abstracts of chess, checkers, shogi (japanese chess) and xiang-qi (chinese chess)?

A final thought is that on a board of your size, moving pieces only one or two spaces is kind of slow. You should definitely consider adding some pieces that have large, dramatic moves (like the bishop, rook and queen in chess). Otherwise players may feel like they're just "plodding" along.

I hope some of this was helpful.

Jeff K.

Hedge-o-Matic
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Joined: 07/30/2008
How to make a war game more interesting

I abstracts, I tend to think of actions in many ways, but one opposed pair of actions is what I refer to as "Building or Bleeding". Basically, a move should either combine with other elements on the board in order to give a player more power later on, or direct conflict.

Chess is popular, in this view, because the players are so clearly doing one or the other, and sometimes both. The player can start attcking on the second or third turn, but the tension in play as players wait to see when the change from building to bleeding will occur is a good thing. The knowledge that you don't have all the time in the world to get what you need done is a gameplay positive.

Go, on the other hand, is an excercise in extended building, for brief periods fo bleeding. This play style doesn't appeal to everyone, since, as other threads have pointed out, building is a "long feedback loop" process.

Other games, such as Dralius's excellent game Cannon are mostly about bleeding. In Cannon, play starts with both players already at each other's throats. Building is always done under threat. Again, some people would prefer a heightened building element in Cannon's early play, but the game is not about that.

There are lots of good examples given already for ways to improve your game. My only addition would be the thought that it's difficult to do building in your game, since the pieces don't easily reinforce each other, and difficult to get to the bleeding due to the constricted board.

To encourage Building: Perhaps the River is bridged every other square, by neutral Bridge pieces. These pieces can be captured (and removed) by either a standard piece (sacrificing itself), or a specialist piece (in very limited numbers) that can remove any bridge it stands on (but surviving the process). This simple change will allow players to take the far shore in order to protect their own bridges, or to attack the bridges of the enemy. This gives the game a lot of focus beyond dash-and-die.

To encourage Bleeding: As it stands, your pieces don't help each otehr much, except en-masse. As it seems they start in a mass already, any lone piece that dashes forwards to attack will just be consumed by the horde next turn. This makes beneficial exchanges difficult. One possible element that might benefit your game as it stands is giving the pieces a simple facing. A piece always faces the direction is moves, but cannot change facing without moving at least one space. Pieces have a Strength in each facing, and moving piece win ties, else the higher strength piece wins contests.

This is simple: A Footman has Strength 2 in all directions. A Cavalry unit has Strength 3 in front, 2 from the sides, and 1 from behind. If a unit attacks a lower-powered side of another, it can take that unit's space and continue moving. If it takes an equal power piece, it can take that unit's space and stop (current rules).

With just these small additions, the actions of Cavalry, and the interactions between Cavalry and foot troops are vasty changed. Sure, Cavalry can blast clean through ranked footmen, but they'll be destroyed for certain. Or they can hit and run, but are weak from behind, allowing them to be possibly overtaken and destroyed. Outlying "skirmishers" are suddenly attractive, and players move a few infantry pieces to forward positions (building!), and Cavalry pieces wait at the sides of the field to catch escaping attackers (reserves! Building again!).

bigbc
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

Perhaps my explaination was unclear, but my game doesnt really play like checkers or chess. It has it own feel, but it is too slow, to start, and too quick when attacking. This might be caused by the fact that all of a players pieces start on opposite sides of a river massed together with infantry on the outside and calvary on the inside and all surrounding the general, this aspect is alittle like chess but not completely.

My game does encourage "building". By moving your forces forward it allows you to engage the enemy before they attack you. This is because if you are attacked then you automatically lose your piece(thats why I made it this way). And the strategy is pressent because you might sacrifice a footsoldier (which you start with more of), in order to set a trap to catch an enemy calvary. There are strategic positions on the board which, due to the lay out of the board, offer the ability to not be attacked from a bridge but can attack as soon as a piece crosses a bridge.

I realize that my game is centered around controlling a bridge. Could this be a problem?

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
How to make a war game more interesting

Quote:
I realize that my game is centered around controlling a bridge. Could this be a problem?

That might not be a problem because it might be the best strategy to use on this kind of map. Try on another map, the results will be different.

You can also make some other test, check if a player with less soldiers in a defensive terrain will win against another player with more troops.

According to the player you play with, there might be some stalemate, where each player face each other and don`t wan`t to attack because they know that they will lose.

zaiga
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

bigbc wrote:
Perhaps my explaination was unclear, but my game doesnt really play like checkers or chess.

I think your explanation was clear enough. I don't think your game is exactly like checkers or chess, but it does share certain features with those games. They are all open information games without luck and pieces that have certain movement rules. Therefore it may be a good idea to look at those games and see how certain problems are solved in those designs.

You call your game a "wargame", but, apart from the theme, it doesn't fit most typical "wargames". Do you think chess is a wargame? Usually when people talk about wargames they talk about games with many different units, each with their own strengths and weaknesses and special rules, a map with varying types of terrain, battles decided by dice or card playing, hidden information through card or hidden units, etc.

Your game is an abstract game, like chess, checkers, go, etc, because it does not have any luck, and it is all open information. To put things in perspective it may be a good idea to think of your game as an abstract, because designing an abstract game requires a different mindset than designing a wargame.

Quote:
It has it own feel, but it is too slow, to start,

A possible solution to this is to make the map smaller and start the units closer together, so that there is the possibility of conflict right from the start.

Quote:
and too quick when attacking.

Again, I urge you to consider the possibility of reducing the number of movement points per turn. This will reduce the possibility of "lightning strike" attacks and make the game slower and more strategic.

Quote:
This might be caused by the fact that all of a players pieces start on opposite sides of a river massed together with infantry on the outside and calvary on the inside and all surrounding the general, this aspect is alittle like chess but not completely.

Why not try a different starting position? Perhaps a small squad of unit starts on the opposite side of the river, or a few units start close to the opposing player's general. Try things, go crazy.

Quote:
My game does encourage "building". By moving your forces forward it allows you to engage the enemy before they attack you. This is because if you are attacked then you automatically lose your piece(thats why I made it this way). And the strategy is pressent because you might sacrifice a footsoldier (which you start with more of), in order to set a trap to catch an enemy calvary. There are strategic positions on the board which, due to the lay out of the board, offer the ability to not be attacked from a bridge but can attack as soon as a piece crosses a bridge.

Sounds good.

Quote:
I realize that my game is centered around controlling a bridge. Could this be a problem?

Might be, might not. I don't think it is the root of the problem, though, more of a result of other problems.

What you should try to avoid is start tweaking and balancing the game, before you have found it whether the basic mechanism of the game is actually fun. My guess is that, because of the lackluster response of your playtesters, the game is not yet fun, and trying to balance the map will not help a great deal. A fun game is fun even when it is not perfectly balanced. Yes, yes, I know, a game with a balance that is completely out of whack will not be fun either, but it's different. You know your game has that spark of life when you see it, even when it is unbalanced.

So, take one or two steps back in the design, and be prepared to rethink things you thought were unchangeable. Try out things that seem crazy or weird, shake things up, who knows where it leads you.

Infernal
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

To make a war game more interesting, you need to increase the tactical and stratigic choices available to the players.

In medieval warfare they not only had infantry and cavalry, but archers too. These units for an interesting relationship. The archers could shoot at infantry from a range and thereby defeat the infantry. The cavalry could move quick enough to avode taking too much damage from the archers and the archers could not run away, thereby being able to defeat them. The infantry could use long spears, pikes and ploe arms to stop the cavalry from chargeing them, and if the cavalry did then they could do a lot of damage to the riders therby defeating them.

This creates an interesting system: Archers -> Infantry -> Cavalry -> Archers.

You have Cavalry and Infantry. The Cavalry can move 2 squares each turn, so they have a tactical advantage over the infantry. SO far your infantry only seem to have an advantage in movement. If you gave the Infantry the ability to spend an action point to "brace against a charge" and allowed them to be able to attack any unit moving into an adjacent square you would then be able to use them to defeat infantry. If you then added in the archer units and allowed them to make a ranged attack (at a cost in action points equal to the distance), you then introduce a system that allows for this circular unit relationship.

It is not an absolute out come so a clever player might be able to use a unit in a way that would be able to defeat aother unit that has a tactical advantage over them. Because no unit is the best, all units are important and the player has a lot of stratigic and tactical decisions to make.

nnatee
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Joined: 12/31/1969
How to make a war game more interesting

i think the adding cards element might work. for example each player has 5 cards in his hand he may use 1 card at each turn. you can decide that when players uses cards he draws one from the deck or player have only thier 5 begging cards which will make them careful when to use each card. the cards can change rules/make special abilities like: your Cs can got to 2 directions (thus he doesn't have to move in a straight line) in this turn. or instead of moving one of your pieces move an enemy's piece. things like that. that might make it more tense and adds more careful planning. i didn't play the game of course so i don't know if that helps, just an idea....

Anonymous
How to make a war game more interesting

playtest, playtest playtest !

get feedback.

what did they like about the sytem ? and more importantly what didn't they like about it.

it usually boils down to playability versus realism.

I have found that your standard run of the mill wargame suffers from the downtime aspect. IE your opponent is pondering his move. You sit and wait. You can do some planning, but if the game has a large luck aspect its just waiting... not fun

perhaps creating some sort of non phasing player action would spice things up