ARTICLE: Cry Havoc Design Journal 01

Today we share with you the first in a series of design journals from Cry Havoc designer Grant Rodiek. Enjoy!

ch_3d_loresIn the spring of 2012 I was looking for a new game to design. It’s wild thinking back 4 years, mostly because in that time I’ve played so many more games and learned so much more about design, creating fun experiences, and the hobby in general. 4 years ago I knew relatively nothing, and Cry Havoc, which was then Battle for York, was a wonderful tutor. Also a harsh mistress.

After my first design was published, I felt surefooted in card design (ha!) and wanted to design a war game with a board. I loved war games, or at least what I thought were war games. Risk, believe it or not, was probably my biggest inspiration. I loved the game as a kid and appreciated its simplicity. I’m nostalgic for it and Stratego, the latter of which is still an amazing game. However, I saw a great deal of room to improve, so I began.

I knew I wanted to make a game based on 18th and early 19th century warfare (think Napoleon), but I didn’t want to be constrained by history. It’s my favorite time period. Plus, the technology is simple and the types of the different arms groups — infantry, cavalry, and artillery — have intuitive roles.

I wanted the game to be short – 60 minutes or fewer. Practically, I knew I’d never be able to test a 2 hour game, and I didn’t play “long” games then. I wanted the game to play with more than two players, which seemed to be the most common war game player count. Finally, I thought it’d be fun to make a game without dice. I don’t really dislike dice at all, I just thought that would pose a novel challenge. Spoiler: it did.

Initially, I spent a long time doodling maps on dry eraser boards, some of which still have remnants of the drawings. Thinking about Risk, I knew I wanted a smaller map that didn’t have room to hide. I wanted players to get to the action quickly.

I always assumed players would start from a home territory. I assumed, like Risk, they would need to recruit and move units as core choices in the experience. To address one problem I had with Risk, I decided to limit the players’ unit pools to only 15 units. Once you cap out, you need to focus on fighting, not just overwhelming your enemies.

I love multi-use cards. They were the cool part of Farmageddon (my first design), so I again looked to that experience for Cry Havoc. I created a decision around using each card for Reinforcements OR Tactics. That was one of the first ideas I had, and it remains the core of the final design.

The first test went badly. I had a pencil drawn map on a poster board with a pile of index cards with numbers scribbled on them. I don’t remember the specific details, but the win condition was to capture one player’s home territory. This meant everyone sat back, waited for someone to screw up, and pounced. It was a lousy experience. I knew then and there I wanted to build the game around reasonable aggression. No sitting back. No camping. But also, you couldn’t be eliminated for a single misstep.

I needed to answer this question: How do I make a 4 player war game that keeps everyone involved the entire game? What other goals were available instead of objective elimination? I looked to European style designs and victory points.

I added country and city spaces. The country was worth very little, but the few precious city territories were worth a great deal. Initially the cities were on the exterior of the map, so players naturally stayed away from each other. I moved the cities to the center to force conflict and tension.

Another problem emerged, which was that players’ flanks were too comfortable. A very clean “front line” emerged and it was impossible to threaten somebody’s flank. World War I’s trench warfare isn’t terribly compelling! Therefore, I introduced seaports. Four territories on the exterior of the map that were considered adjacent to any other territory on the exterior.

I shifted the game towards one of a finite number of rounds, some with scoring, some without. This let players spend a round or two setting up and positioning themselves, almost like a winter and campaign season. I added in endgame strategic goals. I had a handful of them, but only a few came into every game. They might reward bonuses for having the most cities, the most country territories, and so forth.

I thought about tactical combat in highly abstracted terms. I designed my battle system after the high attrition battles of the Seven Years and Napoleonic Wars. This was never meant to be a simulation, so instead of precisely moving cavalry to the right side, I instead designed tactics that represented a cavalry charge’s effect on the battle.

The most important thing in Cry Havoc were battles. I always wanted players to fight, fight often, and have fun doing it. This is an aggressive game! I hated how players spent 3 hours in Eclipse building fleets for maybe 1 or 2 final round battles.

I focused all complexity on battles and reduced it elsewhere. I provided incentives for being aggressive. Points were awarded for winning battles, claiming territory, and capturing prisoners. Plus, I made sure to make it possible to recuperate after a loss. Nothing sucks more than losing in round 1 and being dragged through another 5 rounds.

Battles, specifically, were fought in waves. Players would arrange all units involved in the battle in 3 waves, then play offensive and defensive tactics to modify things. Artillery Bombardment would cause your opponent to lose 3 units outright. Fortresses on the map would cause high attrition for the attacker initially (the forlorn hope), and a fighting withdrawal would let you ding the enemy and move your units away. Fast, brutal, and abstract.

I took the game to Gen Con 2012 after crunching on it all summer. Every night after demoing Farmageddon for 8 straight hours, I’d test what was then Battle for York at the First Exposure Playtest Hall from 8pm until midnight. I did this for 3 days and learned a great deal. Firstly, I had to fundamentally improve my approach towards graphic design. The game’s presentation was making it difficult to play.

I also learned the game was too slow. Players took three Actions in a single turn, with each player having one turn per round. This meant player four had to wait a very long time, especially if players 1-3 had analysis paralysis. Furthermore, so much could happen on a single turn that the weight of the decision could be crippling.

The game also had a lot of public information with Tactics. Plus, there were four distinct factions, each with their own tactics, which led to a lot of cross table reading. This public information problem would plague us for a long time and took us, me and Portal, a long time to fix.

I made a really big change to the game: on each turn, a player would now take a single action. Players would take 3 total actions each round, but spaced out. This fundamentally broadened the strategy, made turn order less of an issue, and completely eliminated the pacing problem. Cry Havoc isn’t a short game, but it’s a brisk one.

Year one was fruitful, but year two would prove decisive and tumultuous. I’d deal with a crisis of confidence, quit, settle, then send a hail mary pass to a Polish guy with a weird last name. But, that’s a topic for next time.



We are bookworms. Movie maniacs. Story addicts. We grew up reading Tolkien, Howard, Herbert, Dick, Lem… We were watching Willow, Blade Runner, Never Ending Story, Robin Hood…

And yet, we don’t write books… we don’t make movies. We don’t make those things, because we make games. We make games that tell stories.