York Development So Far

This week, April 7-10 at Game Kastle in Mountain View, CA, I'm attending the annual Protospiel event. It's my favorite event of the year. I will be testing York heavily, because it's the farthest along of my designs and it's the one I want to really dig into. I've been testing extensively with my local group and I want to make sure the game I think is feeling sharp is indeed sharp.

Because of this, I wanted to write about the game.

A few months ago I wrote that I had once again returned to the land of York. To quickly catch you up, York was the prototype I worked on for 2+ years before it was signed by Portal Games and became Cry Havoc. Now, in an effort to revisit a game I love, but tweak it and make something fresh, I'm once again working on York. York is a "director's cut" of both the original York and the game that became Cry Havoc.

At the outset of this new project, I had a few goals, largely inspired by some of the reactions to Cry Havoc and opportunities I saw.

  • Create a simpler game. Cry Havoc is a big, complex game, due mostly to its asymmetric content. York is purely symmetrical.
  • Create a game with a lower price point. Cry Havoc has been very successful due to its spectacular production. But, are there people that missed out because of the price?
  • Smooth out some rough spots. Cry Havoc has quite a few exceptions. While a lot of this is due to asymmetry, there are also just a handful of things I think can be done differently to eliminate rules questions.
  • Make something new. It isn't enough to distill and edit Cry Havoc. It needs to be a fresh experience that stands on its own.

Interestingly enough, before Cry Havoc was signed, I had identified that the asymmetry in the game made that first game very difficult for new players. As a result, I designed a generic faction for everyone to play on their first game. This allowed everyone to have a learning game on equal footing before moving into the heavier asymmetric experience. With York, many of the challenges have been re-designing that symmetric experience while preserving the entire action economy. It needs to be tense. Players need to feel like they need to do five things, but can only do three.

Let's discuss what's new with York versus Cry Havoc.

The Map: The map is quite different in York. Originally I tested a map that was mostly similar to Cry Havoc's, but recently I've changed it even further. Firstly, I want the map to be tighter so that players are in conflict sooner. Secondly, I want it to be more connected so that the game doesn't need the Seaport rule, which is confusing and oft overlooked, or the outer region adjoining rule from Cry Havoc, which is also confusing.

Now, the map has effectively two rings of regions, as opposed to three. There are two outer regions, yes, but they are connected to beginning headquarters. In addition, the main ring does not have peasants, which means players can move in, build, and fight each other sooner. Also, the center rings are deeply connected, which means a player cannot get to it and merely push other players out. There was a problem with the last map iteration where a player could get to the center, which was valuable, then merely sacrifice one unit to keep their opponent's Units out of the middle. It was lame, and led to an anticlimatic conclusion.

The other subtle, cool thing is that Terrain is now variable. Players place Terrain tokens at random every game, which means your region might be heavily forested, or very diverse, which will change how you draw cards and customize your deck.

Finally, the map is the same for all player counts. This reduces the cost of printing. Players move their HQ around. In four player, they split themselves evenly (which is also used for team play). In two player, the outer rings are removed, and players each move their HQ into a region, which means the map goes from 10 regions to 6. In three player, players split themselves around the map. 

The Pace: I found that players were spending rounds 1 and 2 fighting the Peasants, round 3 building up, then rounds 4 and 5 fighting each other. This made the game a little too predictable and consistent. Therefore, I've made several changes to speed the game up. Firstly, players begin with 5 Units instead of 4 on their Headquarters. They also cap out at 13 Units total, down from 15. This means they don't wait until they have all their Units out. They fight sooner. Subtle, but important change. The other change to vary up the initial rounds is that every Scouting token is now different. There used to be five different ones, with two of each. Now, there are ten distinct tokens, which adds a lot of variety to the opening rounds.

Finally, and this is the most conclusive, at the start of the game, players in turn order may move any of their Units to a region adjacent to their HQ that does not contain Units from another player. This means players begin the game in the field, ready to build, and ready to fight. In a game with only 15 Actions (and no Skills to add bonus actions like in Cry Havoc), adding that one free move really acts as a catalyst to the experience.

The Scoring: Up until recently, scoring was a little inflated in York. I provided far too many incentives to take territory, which meant players were ignoring the Prisoner and Attrition objectives, which made battles a little stale. Furthermore, it inflated the scores a bit too much and added too much math. Firstly, I removed the incentive for winning a region. Now, you get 2 points if you take a region from an opponent, but otherwise, you only get the points at the ends of Rounds 3 and 5 from the Region. Secondly, by removing about 4 peasant tokens, the scores are less inflated at the beginning. Another change is that after round 3, you take half the resources, rounding down, not rounding up. This slightly deflates things further and again encourages other methods of bettle resolution.

I also knew Attrition had issues. Initially, I restricted it to just killing two Units, but it wasn't potent enough or worth the investment. Then, I made it such that the player with the majority killed Units equal to those put there, but that was too punitive. It meant that if you put all of your Units there...why bother? I found a nice solution that is a little more complex, but allows for richer play. The majority player kills Units equal to the difference between them and the other player. If I place four Units, you can place two. This won't offset all casualties, but it means I only lose two Units as opposed to four. Attrition then rewards points per Kill (sometimes more due to Events), but also costs you greatly in terms of lost Units. Remember, cards must be spent to a.) recruit and b.) move those recruits.

One of the biggest changes came about with Prisoners. This affects scoring, but it's such a big change I'm going to give it its own section.

The Prisoners: In Cry Havoc and York originally, prisoners were just another way to earn points. For one, this was a little boring...everything is just points. Secondly, it meant players were constantly conducting mental math to figure out the optimal play. Lame!

I wanted to do something new and thematic. I tried quite a few things, but have landed on the following. When you take a prisoner, you immediately put a prisoner card on top of your opponent's deck. While these cards used to be more punitive, now, that card eats up a slot in your hand, which is a big hit to your resources. Furthermore, you cannot trash the card, and can only discard it when taking one of the core Actions. If I draw four cards at the start of each round, and 1-2 are prisoners? Ouch! That's a big hit to resources. It also means I'm not drawing cards with Tactics for battle!

I loved this because it plays into the thematic notion of "I interrogate prisoners and the information gained hurts their army." Secondly, it ties into the deckbuilding mechanism already present in the game.

At the end of the game, the player who takes the most prisoners gains 7 points. This is a big swing, especially as scores in York tend to be around 20-30 points. I experimented with other punishments, but they were too punitive. This is simple, tied in, and affects the game nicely.

The Battles: One of the biggest changes is that everything is resolved by majority now. For prisoner, it's majority, with the attacker winning ties. For territory, it's majority, with the defender winning ties. For attrition, it's majority, with ties resolving in nothing. Another big change is that attrition and prisoner taking only happens at the end of the battle. This means your choices are purely strategic for the outcomes, and you don't need the additional layer of tactics changes plus battle order resolution changes.

Many of the Tactics are new in the game and I enjoy them quite a bit. The Tactics are as follows:

  • Add One Unit from your Reserve: This one is quite good, but late in the game when most of your Units are out, it is far less Potent. 
  • Add One Unit from each adjacent Region: I love this one, as it has a 1-3 Unit swing. But, you must setup for it, and in reinforcing the battle region, you leave your other regions exposed.
  • In a battle space in which you have the most Units, immediately Kill one Enemy Unit: This is great because it gives you a kill (worth 1 point), and frees up units to move elsewhere.
  • Move 1-2 Units from one space to another. Just pure flexibility.
  • Your opponent discards one card at random from their hand. This is nice as it might kick out that card they wanted to use in the battle. But, it also hurts their resources in the next round.
  • Your opponent moves one Unit from the Battle that cannot be killed or captured. This is a gentler tactic, but losing one Unit can be devastating.

The Building: I discussed this in the last blog, but now there are four Structures players can build. There are only two of each, so supply is limited. There are two Tactical Structures (Artillery and Forts) and two Strategic ones (Railways and Supply Depots). Players choose to prioritize battle efficiency or resource efficiency...or taking those built by an opponent.

But, to diversify the Action economy, there are also six Logistic Bonuses, of which three are chosen randomly each game. These give players new powers to activate.

 

Which ones happen to be in play every game can really change the game. I like the variety they bring.

The Team: I'm very excited about this, though I haven't had a chance to test it yet. Team play is an obvious addition to the game. We aren't really able to do it with Cry Havoc, as the asymmetry is difficult enough to balance when it's a free for all, let alone in different team configurations. Therefore, it's an obvious value add for York. 

The changes to the rules are quite simple. Teams win or lose together. Teams can build in an ally's region. Teams can move allied Units as long as one of theirs is in the move (inspired by 1812/1775/1754). And, if both allies are in a battle, they can alternate playing Tactics. 

The hope is that you have big, epic battles, and the entire map is in play. I look forward to seeing how it works...or doesn't.

In Summary: There are quite a few subtle rule changes between Cry Havoc and York, but the main changes are:

  • Smaller map with two rings
  • Peasants exist in 2-4 player games
  • All Unique Scouting tokens
  • Twice the Events, all Unique
  • 3 new Battle Tactics
  • Logistics Bonuses
  • New Prisoner Mechanism
  • Scoring is automatic in rounds 3/5 and depletes resources from the map
  • Players earn points for conquering opponent's territory
  • Team Play
  • Players get into battles more quickly

If you are at all curious about York, take a look at the rules here. If you are in the Bay Area, come play at Protospiel this coming weekend.