Designer Diary

By Mark Wootton, War Chest Lead Developer

War Chest is a game that immediately grabbed my attention, when I first saw it presented by designers Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson, at Essen in 2016. There is an often-used phrase of “simple to learn, tricky to master”, and I immediately saw some of that magic after one play through.

After returning home with the prototype, I discovered that it had the capacity to also hold my attention, as it constantly hit the table in my play-testing group. With each replay came a different combination of units and possible strategies.

I immediately set about seeing if the rest of the Alderac Entertainment team felt the same way.

My belief was that the game was incredibly approachable even for people that were not hardcore gamers, but the challenge was how to show that to our hardened team of gamers at one of our company planning events.

I did the only thing that you can do in such situations, I enlisted the help of our accountant, Taylor, who is probably the best definition of “extended gamer family” at our company – not an avid gamer herself, but enjoys them enough to play something that is straightforward to learn.

Rolling out the game with her, in front of the other staff was a great eye-opener. Having played one game, which I managed to teach and play in less than 45 minutes, she immediately asked to play again, as she could see some new possibilities. After the third game (and double-checking with her that she wasn’t just being nice to me) I was happy that my initial view was correct, and, importantly, the other team members were looking on with interest.

The team then played several games, both two-player and four-player, and the game was a success with the more seasoned gamers too!

From there development began. It was during the development process that I came across this article:

Iconic Viking grave belonged to a female warrior.

And although further reading questions some of the initial assumptions, this became a strong inspiration throughout the development process:

New evidence of Viking warrior women might not be what it seems

One of the things it cemented for me was the sense that this game could have been invented a thousand years ago. Yes, it pays close attention to modern game design concepts, and I am sure a thousand years ago cards might not have been part of the content, but it had that elegant simplicity underpinning the more modern designs. An elegance that gives it an almost classical feel.

When I discussed this with John Zinser we came up with the idea that the game would come in a box that looked like an actual Chest, and John penned a brief story of how the game might have been born in medieval times.

We wanted something that had a classical look, to go with the feel of the game, and after enlisting the help of graphic designer Brigette Indelicato, we came up with a Celtic theme. The intricate patterns and rich imagery of the Celtic genre seemed to be a great fit, and the two kingdoms got the symbol of the wolf and the raven.

In later discussions with Todd and Mara, these became the clans Byrne and Faol, the former derived from Irish Gaelic meaning of “the family of Bran” (Bran being a raven) and the latter being the Scots Gaelic word for wolf.

Production manager Dave Lepore worked tirelessly to ensure that the components lived up to our expectations of a beautiful product.

Continued play-test resulted in one or two small changes in the abilities of the different units, until we were happy with the final balance, with Nicolas Bongiu and Erik Yaple, and their teams, testing the game and its rules.

We added a snake draft mechanism for experienced players so that they can make more strategic decisions at the start of the game. In fact, the real secret of the “tricky-to-master” element is changing your gameplay from more tactical to more strategic.

Players can move on from simple choices of dealing with what appears in front of them on the board to a deeper understanding of the composition of units in their bag, the importance of stealing initiative, the timing of attacks, capturing key locations, and when to withdraw to safer ground.

And all the time you can sense the possibility that a game just like this was once buried somewhere hundreds of years ago with a Viking berserker, a Gaelic Warrior or a French Knight…

In the end, we feel we have really captured the essence of a slightly abstract war game that can represent the broad sweep of early medieval, dark ages or even ancient battles. A game that might just have been presented to a king, queen, or high ranking warrior as a lesson in managing a battlefield, and understanding the deployment, strengths, and weakness of different troop types.

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