Cookies preferences

Online shop for board games / tracked and fast delivery

Svarog's Den - Board Games

Designer Diary: Warline: Maneuver Strategy & Tactics

by Justin Leingang

After a long, long journey, I’m happy to have finally brought Warline: Maneuver Strategy & Tactics to life, and I’m even happier that I’m now able to share the game with the greater boardgaming community. In this post, I’m going to fire up the time machine and give you all a ride through the adventure that was Warline game design and production, but before we jump into the DeLorean, some quick background for those of you unfamiliar with the game.

Warline: Maneuver Strategy & Tactics is what I call a “maneuver warfare sandbox” game. The “maneuver warfare” part of that appellation comes from the fact that most of, if not all of, the game systems are modeled on Colonel John Boyd’s Theory of Maneuver Warfare. The “sandbox” part comes from the core principals of the game design, which offers you many, many knobs to tweak and dials to turn as you experiment and explore all axes of warfare doctrine past, present, and a bit of future.

Warline is wrapped in a new “graceful dark fantasy” IP (intellectual property), visually fueled by the incredible Chen-Chi Huei. The initial core of the experience takes place on the continent of Soroyland (pronounced “Sorrow-land”), which is populated by the people of four kingdoms. Each match, you take on the role of a single kingdom and employ the kingdom’s exclusive capabilities on the battlefield, performing incredible feats of “majik” to gain every edge in battle, even down to weaponizing terrain. Each time you play, both prior to battle and throughout battle, you’re encouraged to design and implement your own unique strategy and tactics.

Here’s an excerpt from the proem in the core rulebook:

…With one conflict being catalyst to another, like dominoes in an infinite spiral, the peoples of the kingdoms are necessarily reared for war. For hundreds of years, wise leaders have dedicated their life to the evolution of warfare, honing the craft like master blacksmiths. The studies and teachings of these leaders serve as the groundwork for the Warline game design — which offers you a rich and flexible warfare tool set. With these tools, you are free to explore all angles of warfare. In your exploration, you are going to experience conflict in a manner that you likely have not before.

Your keys to success are not a race to build power and crush your opponent. Instead, you will prevail by craft and ingenuity. You will outpace and overcome your opponent by means of shock, disruption, and deception. You will make sacrifices to gain every edge. As with the great historical commanders at the Frozen Coast, the Channels of Opulence, and the Flooded Cove, you will lead one of Soroyland’s many kingdoms, and wield the multitude of tools at hand to design your own unique and memorable path to victory.

Okay! With the fluff out of the way, we can now fire up the time machine and take a ride.

On the Origin of Warline by Means of Natural Selection

I’ve always had a fascination with the way people perceive, learn about, and explore various concepts. If you have children or protégés of your own, you probably can relate: Uncountable amounts of pleasure and pride come from seeing lights turn on and skills improve as your pupils learn and grow. In particular, I’m engrossed in the way people perceive/learn/explore the concepts of space and time. This fascination is likely a catalyst to the way I think about game design: I tend to conceive designs that offer players various outlets to explore, in a detailed manner, physical space and the objects within, while also letting them explore the timeline through which said space and objects are manipulated.

Our journey begins way back in the dark ages, circa 2005. On an occasion, I was perusing a local crafts and hobby store for probably no particular reason. While there, I walked down an aisle full of generic wooden pieces of every conceivable primitive shape and size (within reason). The most basic and commonplace object of all grabbed my attention: one-inch wooden blocks. Something about these cubes spoke to me on a fundamental level. My mind began spiraling with realization that these blocks just feel dang good to hold and manipulate; I thought about the fact that this might be an innate feeling as even toddlers love to play with blocks.

My one-year-old daughter, Chloe, loves playing with Warline blocks!

Being one addicted to game design (stated lovingly), a passion was sparked for finding a way to make large blocks a meaningful, inextricable part of gameplay. I wanted to start working on a design that encouraged players to explore the physical relationships between multiple large cubes and to explore all the simple properties of a cube. I was convinced at this time that, regardless of what gameplay were to come, the core of the user experience and “game feel” would be wonderfully engaging — something I strive for with anything I design.

Before diving into deeper detail, at this point I’d like to give you all a brief snapshot of how the industrial design (physical make-up and presentation) for Warline evolved over many years of intensive playtesting. Game design is a science, and as with any science, experimentation and iteration are core principals of discovery, as is the necessity for hands-on repeated experience and observation. This process resulted in the physical form of Warline changing rather dramatically, multiple times, throughout the process.

This is how it started, with my hacky print-and-paste user interface stuck to those very wooden blocks I picked up at the craft shop, plus a hand-drawn gameboard grid.

Some years after I was convinced the core gameplay was satisfying and interesting, I began beefing up the presentation and table presence. Here, the entire prototype is made of wood — two-inch blocks (huge!) with sassy artwork on all sides, 3D gameboard, 3D tokens, flashy and colorful terrain tiles.

After running into many manufacturing hurdles and much deliberation, I decided to “flatten” the core game actors from blocks down to a large “tile and tray” design, which reduced production cost by over 60%.

And here we finally are at the finished, shipping industrial design. After realizing the “flattening” in the previous prototype resulted in a violation of the very core values of the game design, I went back to the glorious blocks, this time with a design that is more practical and cost effective to manufacture. I adore how the game components and presentation turned out!

Blocks, blocks, blooocks! “Battalion cubes” are 30mm large and made of solid ABS plastic. They have a weight and “clackiness” to them that’s oh so satisfying.

The Evolution, From the Root of It All

Unfortunately, I’m not able to share a photo of the first 2005 prototype because I have none. (I didn’t even have a cell phone back then!) But that’s where it all began, a few days after my craft shop visit. In this first prototype, the game board and physical pieces were the same as you see in the first photo in the snapshot timeline above. However, the gameplay information on the cube faces was drawn on with sharpie markers, so this looked as DIY as DIY can look. I soon realized that iterating the gameplay information on the cubes was impossible without starting on a whole new block, which began to become impractical.

What has never wavered from this first prototype, though, are the core values of the baseline design. These values have carried through across some eighteen years. (Well, except for that year or so I flattened the physical design, but I quickly corrected myself on that.) Back then and still now, at its heart the game offers and encourages players to explore space and time and the physical relationships between blocks and within each block. Tangibly, all that hullaballoo means that you, as a player, are moving large blocks around the board, rotating the blocks on all axes, stacking and unstacking the blocks, removing/replacing cardboard terrain tiles relative to blocks, and, if you are so inclined, throwing the blocks at your opponent. (Total jest — please, please don’t do this as it’s very dangerous.)

As utilitarian as this first prototype appeared, it serviced me quite well in establishing the foundation of the game design. With this prototype, I was able to lay out design goals and develop the core:

1 • Express kinetic motion on a battlefield.

2 • Offer players tools with which they can be creative and “design their own way to play”.

3 • Define interesting interactions between large masses of military units.

4 • Explore the contrast between powerful heavy units and more maneuverable light units.

5 • Make sacrifice a palpable and literal necessity of play.

6 • Promote improvisation and creative decision making over situational/systems memorization.

7 • Ensure every decision and action have rather high “turn gravity”.

8 • Ensure perpetual motion toward an endgame to achieve relatively rapid match times.

These super-systems and mechanisms at play are still present to this day at Warline’s core. It is with this prototype that I was able to develop some of the key game systems and to unknowingly set the foundation for other systems: “Balance of Power System”, “Sacrifice System”, and “Strategicraft”. The Balance of Power System promotes the idea that any given unit, regardless of size or power, has unique and meaningful value. I decided early on that there would be no “pawns” in Warline; every unit was to carry the same weight of efficacy in its own unique manner.

After four paragraphs with no imagery, here’s some of Chen’s insane artwork to ease the sting

Each “battalion” — Warline’s term for a military unit — is represented as a large cube block. At any given time, the top face of a battalion block represents the unit’s current status, that is, the unit’s power/durability, actionability, facing direction, and a binary for “demolition capabilities”. (This is the ability to destroy and remove ramparts.) Any time a battalion is damaged, or the battalion is willingly “lightened”, its block is flipped so that its new status is on top. The result of this is the battalion becomes less powerful/durable, potentially loses access to some of its kingdom’s special abilities, but — and this is very important in a game that ended up being modeled on Maneuver Warfare — the battalion becomes capable of performing more sequential actions during a single maneuver.

The Balance of Power System was tricky to get right and polish. It took a little bit of science, a little bit of math, and a lot of experiential iteration before I was happy with how battalions’ properties changed in consequence of outside and inside forces. What I ended up with is a linear inverse relationship between “arms” (the large white number on a battalion, which represents its offensive power, defensive durability, and special abilities access) and “majik” (the rose colored diamond pips; essentially action points to spend within a single maneuver).

Heavier battalions show a higher number but show fewer rose-colored diamonds

The values for arms and majik were the tricky part of this design and required all of my attention at the beginning because this system was to be the trunk from which every other branch of the design ramifies. The first thing that needed tuning was the amount of majik per battalion state; this property was essential to me accomplishing design goals 1 and 2 in the list above. What should be the extremes of majik values? By how much should majik values change as status changes?

I ended up determining that the lightest battalion should be able to, in a vacuum, march from one edge of the battlefield to the opposite edge, while having one additional majik with which to perform some other action in the sequence of this hypothetical maneuver. The most basic action, marching, costs a single majik if marching into the default “flatland” terrain. The battlefield grid is seven zones by seven zones. All that being the case, a battalion would need six majik to march from one edge straight to the opposite edge of the battlefield (six zones worth of marching). Since the aim was for the battalion to have one additional majik, I locked the lightest battalions’ majik reserve value to seven. I had my upper extreme!

This battalion could spend that single majik at any point within this sequence

Because of design goal 7 — and before I began fully fleshing out what are the available actions and what each does — I decided to set the change in majik between states to be a single majik. This would force me to support “high turn gravity” in the design of actions; I liked the idea of that “constraint”. “Turn gravity” is the magnitude in which the game state changes as the result of an individual’s decisions during a single turn, so high turn gravity means decisions during a turn have a dramatic effect on the game state. This is in contrast to what you get in games focused on resource accumulation and conversion, which have lower/low turn gravity; the meaningful data that’s changing is incremental, therefore not pushing dramatic changes to the game state turn after turn. This decision automatically gave me my lower extreme majik reserve value: two.

The heaviest battalions start a maneuver with only two majik in reserve

Now, to tune and balance arms values per battalion state… This aspect had to be developed with some foresight into how damage might function, which I desired to be simple. Complicated calculations and/or probabilities assessment for damage function would contradict design goal 8; this would slow down game flow and encourage “min-maxing” player behavior.

I tried increments of various values (change by two, by three, etc.), but a larger increment meant that I’d need to scale up any damage model I settled on as otherwise I’d be violating design goals 7 and 8. As the arms value increased, average damage would also need to be higher, so what would be the point of increasing the increment? In hindsight, I might have spent an unnecessary amount of time overthinking arms values because I ended up settling on the simplest linear relationship, with the lower extreme being arms 1 and the upper extreme being arms 6. I liked how this directly tied in to the number of faces a block has as this helped in making the game state and potential changes to the game state more effortless and speedy for you to parse.

By the end of this development first draft, we found quite a few intricacies in the functions of arms change, majik change, action costs, and the damage model, which are all interwoven with one another. I loved this fact as it worked directly in support of design goal 2. This system did indeed at its heart feel like it created a balance of power between battalions of all possible states, hence the system eponym.

Without Pain, Without Sacrifice, We Would Have Nothing

The second system I was able to develop on this first prototype is the Sacrifice System. This system can more appropriately be thought of as a super-system as there are a few smaller systems at play, some implicit and some explicit. Sacrifice in one way or another is a necessary component and unfortunate consequence of warfare. I wanted from the beginning for this concept to be expressed in a unique and meaningful manner within gameplay.

On the implied sacrifice side, the Balance of Power was already doing a lot of good work. If a battalion is reduced below arms 1, the battalion is removed from play. (In game terms, the battalion is “slaughtered” and sent to the opponent’s “graveyard”.) Now, if you are designing a strategy on a framework of being very actionable, you need to ensure that your battalions are of the lighter sorts — arms 1, 2, and 3 — as these battalions have more majik to spend.

There is, however, an inherent danger in having lighter battalions as they’re easier for the opponent to defeat in fewer turns. Also, it can be more difficult for lighter battalions to succeed at attrition, if attrition is part of your plan, because they aren’t very apt at naturally dealing larger amounts of damage. But this is a sacrifice you might have to make. To me, it’s a juicy, interesting, and even stressful (in a good way!) balance that has to be maintained in any given Warline match.

However, explicit sacrifice is something I’d have to intentionally design and develop as there’s nothing in the Balance of Power System asking players to literally make a sacrifice. The first thing I tried was to give you a means to willingly send your battalion to the opponent’s graveyard in exchange allowing you to increase the weight of another battalion by the arms value of the sacrificed battalion (capped at arms 6, though).

This was an interesting mechanism in its own way, but I ended up realizing that there were four issues with the mechanism:

• This approach violated design goal 8 as it introduced a negative feedback loop; in some cases, the total value of your combined arms would not go down upon losing a battalion, but stay where it was — a net break even.

• The effect wasn’t equally impactful across each of the six states of a battalion; a heavier battalion benefited less so than a light battalion since the heavier battalions are already beefy.

• The cost to you (losing a whole battalion) too far outweighed the benefit you received for paying that cost. There were enough cases in which having a heavier battalion didn’t have enough impact to warrant such a sacrifice.

• There was a lack of drama in using the system.

I iterated on this approach for months, noodling first to see if I could alleviate the lack of drama. In function, you declared a sacrifice and gave a chosen battalion of your own to the opponent, your opponent placed your battalion in their graveyard, then you increased the arms accordingly of another chosen battalion of your own. Meh…and I say, “Meh”, because that flow introduced no anticipation, stress, or cathartic release.

The solution to this lack-of-drama issue was to spread the function across two turns. On your turn, you “mark” a battalion for sacrifice, placing a token atop it. That’s all the battalion may do during this turn. After your turn, your opponent takes their full turn. If during your opponent’s turn, they interact with your marked battalion in certain ways, the sacrifice mark must be removed from your battalion; you spent your prior turn giving up action on the battlefield but got nothing from it. However, if your opponent does not, or cannot, un-mark your battalion, at the start of your following turn the sacrifice resolves and its effect is applied during this turn.

A battalion marked for sacrifice is like a very fragile time bomb…

Boom! That change to spread the function across two turns was a huge success and had impact for both sides. Marking your battalion for sacrifice lead to an uncertainty and stress of whether or not it would pay off, it gave your opponent an interesting bit of anxiety and decision-making toward removing your mark during their turn, and it culminated in what sort of felt like an explosion at the start of your next turn. This new function solved two of the three issues (the first and third, respectively) and turned out to be the function that made it all the way to the finished product.

The second issue in my list, cost outweighing benefit, was solved by redirecting what was the effect of the sacrifice. Heretofore, you would increase the arms of another battalion, but what if your battalions were all already on the heavier side? The effect would be incremental, but you gave up a whole battalion for just that increment. So I started experimenting with the other aspect of the Balance of Power System: majik.

What I landed on is this: Upon resolving your sacrifice, a chosen battalion starts with eight majik reserve instead of its normal allotment. Every single battalion can benefit greatly from more majik as majik is what enables action, and my goal was to ensure all actions had high gravity. Now, an arms 6 battalion normally begins with only two majik, but imagine if this terrifying and powerful force were to begin with eight majik! These battalions can be turned into wrecking balls of sorts; their value changes dramatically for a turn. Not only did this feel incredibly impactful and useful, it also injected even more drama into the playout.

Many, many matches were played in this iteration of Warline, over the course of years — but there was still more development to come…

Moving Forward in Time to the Big and Beautiful

From 2008 to 2017, I wasn’t heavily developing the Warline game design. For the better part of this time period, we were still happily playing the first prototype. During this time, I made small iterations as I and others discovered things in the design. This slow simmer of light development continued until my first child was born in February 2017, an event that was a strong catalyst to me adding purpose to the design and working toward making Warline a finished product that others could also enjoy.

I have a long history as a professional director and designer in the video games industry, but from about 2013 to 2017, I took a hiatus from professional video game design and instead focused my profession on freelance design and development of websites. (So much less time consuming and stressful than video game development!) In February 2017, my son Colt was born. At this time, my wife and I decided it would be prudent if I were to go back to full-time work, though I wasn’t hot on moving back into video games just yet; I still needed a little more breathing room.

While searching for a full-time job — and simultaneously taking care of Colt as mommy was away at work — I had some free time (babies sleep!) that I dedicated to work on industrial design for the game. In this timeframe, I also began scouting artists to help bring to life the vision I had for Warline’s world and presentation.

The results of my art scouting efforts

Serendipity had it that I landed a full-time design director position at a local tech house focusing on gamifying emerging technology. This company took on super interesting and challenging projects to “solve hard problems” (the company’s motto) for commercial, enterprise, and military hardware-software combinations: VR, AR, machine vision, machine learning, etc. This was so perfect for me as I was able to explore design beyond video games, applying and learning skills of far more varied application, while still exercising my strengths, passions, and years’ worth of experience in game design.

I call it “serendipity” because it was my work at this company that helped me frame the purpose of Warline’s game design, and it was the people at the company that helped me truly battletest and harden the design. While we were bidding for a particular military tech project, I went down a rabbit hole of research, landing on some eye-opening information that sucked me in deeply. This information led me to Boyd’s Theory of Maneuver Warfare. It is this theory that became the backbone of Warline’s further development.

William Lind’s Maneuver Warfare Handbook was the most comprehensive and important material in my research and design framing

There’s a lot to say about Maneuver Warfare Theory, too much to cover in this post, but I can offer a brief summary to help build context. Basically, classical warfare models are considered to be “attrition models”, essentially focusing on raw power and destruction of enemy forces/resources. For centuries, militaries operated on attrition models. However, in the latter half of the 1800s, forces of various nations began exploring alternate approaches to warfare, exploring far more axes beyond attrition: shock, disruption, compression of the OODA loop, deception, flow control, bottom-up command structures, principles of schwerpunkt (roughy, “main emphasis” or “pressure point”), and more.

While reading the Theory, it dawned on me that Warline’s current-at-the-time core design already modeled many of the core principles of Maneuver Warfare Theory: the Balance of Power System, the broad range of options to explore and employ as creative tools, the theme of sacrifice, themes of pressure — these all fit in very nicely with the model. This realization was a lightning strike for me. The purpose of my game design became, “Provide players with a rich toolset with which they can explore both Maneuver Warfare Theory and classical warfare models.” Going forward, the development and evolution of Warline emphasized this purpose, which helped focus my design goals and prevent meandering/feature creep.

The design began evolving, and the vision started to come to life. By this time I had a few pieces of incredible artwork that I very much wanted to be seen prominently on the table during play. My inclination was to apply this artwork to all sides of the blocks, but the blocks were only one-inch cubes, and in tests it was proved that the art became mostly illegible at this scale. I decided, “Why not make these blocks huge? This would make them stand out and create a stunning table presence, while providing ample space for Chen’s detailed illustrations.” And so the next prototype was born!

This prototype was gorgeous and felt incredible, but so large that it turned out to be impractical

With this prototype, we spent almost two years playing Warline religiously every Tuesday evening. We had a few copies of this prototype, so we were able to get in on average six matches each session. I decided to formalize this effort as a league of sorts, tracking wins and losses for each player.

This organized playstyle provided great motivation for all to always play with intent and to scrutinize the game design. The format was instrumental in uncovering edge cases and uncomfortable facets of the design, helping to harden Warline’s gameplay. I spent most matches observing and taking note of players’ body language, turn times, and commentary, then ran data analysis over time for the purpose of balancing both core systems and individual kingdoms.

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. — Sun Tzu

In our time with this prototype, I furthered Warline’s connection to The Theory. The most notable systems that evolved being the system around outposts, varied terrain and terrain interactions, unique kingdom abilities, and the “Mercenary Support System”.

• Outposts and their function model concepts around operational cores, the opportunities they offer their controller, and the opportunity they present to the opponent.

• Effective and creative use of terrain is a very important factor in Maneuver Warfare. Modeling these concepts not only added an incredible amount of variety to Warline matches, it also added some vibrant life to the battlefield.

• Maneuver Warfare doctrine is always advancing and evolving. Technology and the control of unique technology is one of the more important axes in the progression of this doctrine, and it will continue to be indefinitely into the future. Even though Warline is wrapped in dark fantasy, I still wanted to express these concepts, and I was able to translate a lot of what comes from technology by way of feats of what is called “majik”.

• The Mercenary Support System allowed me to lean even further into principals of shock, disruption, and sacrifice, which are all important concepts in Maneuver Warfare doctrine.

The outposts system stands out to me when thinking back on the journey as this system already had an analog within the first prototype, which was expanded and evolved at this time, as opposed to being newly added to the design. There is a system in the game that models the concepts of taking prisoners of war, using prisoners as leverage, and rescuing prisoners. Prior to this evolution, it worked like this:

• You may capture opponent battalions as prisoners by routing them off the battlefield.

• You may incrementally directly damage (called “tormenting” in the game) your prisoners. If you damage and reduce a prisoner down below arms 1, the prisoner is slaughtered and moved to your graveyard.

• If one of your battalions is imprisoned by the opponent, you may spend an order to “extricate” the prisoner, returning it to the battlefield row closest to you.

The last respective point in that bullet set changed in this new prototype and is where I was able to inject the concepts of command outposts. When thinking about these concepts, two key points stood out to me: 1) These stations are absolutely necessary in keeping a force’s operations running and helping them exercise control over parts of a battlefield, and 2) Outposts present both opportunity and vulnerability to a side.

Your outposts are positions to which you can rescue prisoners, but you must work to keep them standing

In this period of exploration and iteration, I adjusted the “where” to which you could extricate your imprisoned battalions from the previous closest battlefield row to one of your outposts. (You begin the match with two outposts.) This introduced some new and interesting decisions and interactions within the prison system. With two points of command instead of seven (the number of zones within a row of the battlefield), it became easier for the opponent to deny your use of zones for extrication. You had to plan for defense of your outposts while it was easier for your opponent to exploit the vulnerability outposts introduced. Also, where you chose to position your outposts (more on that to follow) introduced some new offensive tools.

Every battle is won before it’s ever fought. — Sun Tzu again. Smart guy!

Calling back to the second point in my design goals list — offer players tools with which they can be creative and “design their own way to play” — as the game design evolved, I was able to more fully express the concepts of play-your-way and design-your-own-strategy. This was accomplished with the Strategicraft super-system, a collection of systems that afford up-front creative freedom. Strategicraft would not have had the impact and importance that it does within a match if the new and adjusted systems were not to have come to fruition.

Before battle even begins, you make important decisions that shape the way the battle begins and the way the battle plays out. This is done through a sequence of very quick stages:

• Stage I – Scout Terrain: Here, you place terrain tiles in your opponent’s territory, allowing you to shape the field on your opponent’s side. (Your opponent does the same on your side.) Your choice of terrain types and each tile’s location plays greatly into how you intend to approach battle, how you intend to stymie your opponent, and how you intend to capitalize on your kingdom’s unique abilities. (Each kingdom has terrain-type-specific “battle arts”.)

• Stage II – Establish Outposts: Place your outposts anywhere within your territory. Your decision must factor in the makeup of the battlefield now that more complex terrain is present. You must also factor in how much work it might take to defend and keep your outposts standing. Furthermore, you must consider how you might be able to utilize your outposts as points of offense and surprise.

• Stage III – Recruit Your Army: Here you decide which type of mercenary support you intend to lean on early in battle. You also decide the balance of power versus maneuverability across your battalions. You are free to craft an army that harmonizes with a plan you’re at this time likely devising since the theater of war is established and you know your kingdom’s strengths and weaknesses.

• Stage IV – Deploy: Immediately before the battle begins, you choose where and how to position each of your battalions. You may create a formation of your own design, taking into consideration everything that came before.

Strategicraft flow as presented in the rulebook

Choose your mercenary support wisely, and continue to find clever ways to employ them throughout battle; this support is a key tool in your ability to exercise shock and disruption

Once the Strategicraft stages are complete (which typically takes only a few minutes), the battle begins. Because this super-system offers you and your opponent so much creative freedom, you can pretty much guarantee that no two matches will start out in the same manner or play out in the same manner. You must lean into your unique plan, adjust your plan when needed, and improvise your tactics throughout the battle; you cannot rely on memorization of predetermined openings and situations. Strategicraft came together so nicely in the end, satisfying in spades design goal 6. It felt high time I do something again to try to bring Warline to retail availability…

Time Again to Kick the Tires and Light the Fires

After a two-year period of development and polish, I was convinced that Warline was something unique and special and that I wanted to share it with as many players as possible. In late 2019, I ran Warline’s first Kickstarter campaign and…

Wa-wa-waaaaaa… I had to cancel the campaign due to lack of backer attachment

You’ll notice the funding goal in the image above. You’ll also probably think I’m crazy — and I likely was, but at the time I felt as though I was doing the right thing.

When setting up the campaign, I sought advice on the funding goal from the manufacturer I was working with. He suggested the reward cost should be 3x the cost of manufacturing an individual unit. This would help ensure that all of the necessary costs on my end (manufacturing, fulfillment, artwork, etc.) would be covered. It was indeed prudent advice. However, my approach was to be honest with backers and also set my funding goal to roughly 2.5x, which would cover the actual total cost of bringing to life Warline and getting it into backers’ hands.

Due to the large scale and non-standard components I was aiming for, the total cost to manufacture a minimum order quantity of units was quite high, roughly $50,000, so I set my funding goal to ~$118,000 (~2.5x 50k). As you can imagine, this swatted away potential backers like so many flies. After raising $4.5k, I decided to shut down the project and see what I could do to bring down the cost of manufacturing.

Jumping Forward to the Third Form Factor

How could I bring down manufacturing costs without sacrificing anything in the gameplay? I had a cool idea to explode the faces of each cube into individual cardboard tiles, but with so much hands-on physical manipulation of the components required in play, I couldn’t just give players tiles as they’d be cumbersome and awkward to manipulate.

I busted out 3D modeling software and began devising a multi-piece cardboard tray of sorts in which cardboard tiles would sit and easily be interchanged from. After 3D proof of concept, I worked with a print-on-demand company to test this design out in real life. The results were great!

One of the final 3D proof of concept renders for the tile-and-tray design

The actual prototype I took to conventions, which is nearly identical to the 3D POC

I had great success with this “flattened” industrial design. I was able to stay large scale with 2″ tiles, which allowed me to keep the artwork directly on these key components. It was really fluid and easy to swap tiles out in the trays (a function necessary when a unit changes status). Some players ultimately even preferred this design over the blocks.

However, most players and potential backers were bummed out a bit by the flattening. These players really loved the block design, as it creates dramatic vertical dimension to the playfield and feels inherently satisfying and unique to operate, though these folks weren’t so bummed that they weren’t still excited for Warline. Thus, after a few months of heavy testing and convention demonstration, in September 2019 I ran another Kickstarter campaign.

Wa-wa-wa-waaaaaaaaaaaa… Another crowdfunding fail

There are two things of note that you can glean from the above image:

• This new, flat industrial design brought down production costs by two-thirds! Therefore, my funding goal was able to be set to something much more attractive to potential backers.

• I was indeed able to gain more backers than in the previous campaign.

However, regardless of lower cost, I still had to cancel the campaign early due to the way backer trends work. For those of you unaware of this phenomenon, what happens is that a vast majority of potential backers will decide not to back at all if a campaign doesn’t get fully funded within the first week of being active. It’s a bit of a self-fulfilling end; someone wants the game, but won’t support unless they’re guaranteed to actually get the game. An important lesson in human nature I learned directly from running this campaign.

Now I knew I had to figure this thing out once and for all. I needed to go back to the block design. I spent the better part of the following two years scouting and working with multiple different manufacturers to find a solution for the block design that was far more cost effective, even than the much-less-expensive flat design, yet still created a unique and eye-catching table presence and super gratifying physical mechanisms. I also got some amazing advice from a few venerable sages…

Advice from the Grand Masters

In what I recall to be somewhere in February 2021, a very gracious YouTube board games content creator took notice of Warline ([user=danpancaldi]Dan Pancaldi[/user], I love ya!), as did a prominent figure in the relatively niche wargaming community ([user=Moezilla]Maurice “Moezilla” Fitzgerald[/user], I love ya!). These gentlemen wanted to set me up with a few industry giants in case they had advice for me on how to market Warline. Dan and Moe both saw something special, and they both also saw the challenge of marketing the game, and they wanted Warline to succeed at crowdfunding.

A meeting was arranged for me with the incredible [user=Academy Games]Uwe Eickert[/user] (of Academy Games), [user=Volko]Volko Ruhnke[/user] (designer of many innovative games from GMT Games), and David Thompson (of the Undaunted series) — incredibly all within a single meeting. Now, I’m no marketing specialist by a long shot; I’m a designer through and through. My ability to sell people on a concept is less than adequate…and this was immediately apparent to all three of these gentlemen.

In our meeting, I led with my pitch for Warline. I’m so geeky about game design that design nuances are what excite me and are what I like to talk about. I was also so enamored by Maneuver Warfare Theory that I equally loved talking about how the Theory is modeled within the game. This is how I brought people into Warline at conventions, on social media, on forums, and anywhere else I talked about the game. Uwe, Volko, and David promptly help me understand that there was no way in hell I’d get the game funded if I kept focusing on those aspects in my marketing!

These three gentlemen encouraged me to focus on the surface level aspects of Warline, that is, the insane dark fantasy visual presentation and world, the asymmetry in the kingdoms’ mechanisms, and the complex create-your-own-strategy-and-tactics game design. They were convinced that if messaged correctly, these aspects would be enough to sell far more people on Warline. And so began my efforts to reinvent the way I thought about marketing the game.

“Justin, why are you not focusing your message on this?!” A very good question that shaped the future of Warline

I consider this meeting to be the second most important event in Warline’s history, the first most important being the birth of my son. I can’t express enough gratitude to these gentlemen for taking the time and effort to work with me on marketing the game properly.

Closing in on the Present

Toward the middle of that two-year period, after months of experimentation and 3D concept exploration, I settled on an industrial design that hit all the right notes and stepped back to fulfilling the original principles of play I was aiming for. This design went back to the blocks at half the size. This meant the cube faces were too small for artwork, but I estimated that if I could get the blocks made of solid, heavy, glossy plastic, they would still look very nice and stand out on the table.

One of the final 3D POC renders I generated for this design

I updated the Warline modules on Tabletop Simulator and Vassal to reflect this old-but-new design and continued testing on those digital platforms. Suffice it to say, the game looked just as good and was in fact easier to parse than the large-blocks version from two prototypes back! My confidence began to soar; I knew I could get this game funded now!

A wonderful project manager from a little known manufacturer, Honest Games, reached out to me. The project manager mentioned she had seen 3D renders of Warline on social media, and she was quite confident that Honest could make the game a reality and even exceed my 3D POC target. Honest was the first manufacturer that didn’t immediately become nervous and start trying to find alternate solutions to the desired specifications I was requesting. On top of that, the project manager was so communicative and supportive and moved so quickly to prove to me Honest’s value that — even with little track record — I couldn’t pass up working with them.

Honest generated the first marketable prototype of the final form of Warline. This prototype was an all-around success. All the previous backers-to-be that were bummed about the flat design perked back up and got super excited. All of the playtests I ran proved my assumptions about the human element of playing with blocks. The feedback I was getting on Warline was very positive and encouraging.

The first prototype Honest Games generated; it’s astonishing to me how close it was to my 3D concepts — and in many ways even better!

Onward to the Final Campaign!

It was high time I ran another Kickstarter campaign for Warline. I began 2022 by getting to work. I spent a few months creating a hype video and completely refreshing the graphic design and presentation for the new campaign. I also sent the new prototype to Tim Chuon, who shot a gorgeous video of the game in action. Both of these videos ended up on the campaign page; you can see these videos below, along with a glimpse of the refreshed campaign presentation.

Youtube Video

Youtube Video

The new look for Warline on Kickstarter, fusing the graceful dark aesthetic with modern graphic design principals. Overall, I’m happy with how the page turned out!

With what might as well have been zero marketing budget behind it (which terrified me), Warline funded in June 2022. I felt more relief than I had in a long, long time when the campaign closed out successfully. This brings us to where we are today…

Welcome Back to the Future

The DeLorean has just enough juice in the flux capacitor to get us back to where we are now. What a ride, and thank you for coming with me! In May 2023, all backer copies of Warline were successfully fulfilled and are being played now around the world. I’ve had some YouTube content creators get very excited with the copies I sent them, and more content creators are on the way. I have around two hundred extra copies (as of this writing) of the game for sale on the Warline website. I’m still playing Warline multiple times a week and learning new things every time. Best of all, I’m (selfishly) now finding a whole new crop of challenging opponents to match up against!

For further reading, if you have any amount of interest in what went into Warline’s design, I keep a couple of BGG blogs that might interest you. In my Warline design journal, I dig deep into the guts of Warline game design, covering systems, mechanisms, and processes. In An Alternate Perspective, I share my general philosophies on game design.

A few photos of the retail version of Warline on tabletops

What Comes Next

Before the last Kickstarter campaign, I put a lot of thought into stretch goals. I didn’t want to hold back parts of the game and promote them as extras. I didn’t want to add miniatures as these sorts of components wouldn’t properly facilitate the gameplay. I wanted to come up with something very meaningful and different, something that supported one of my top design goals, that is, Warline is a game in which players create something of their own. In the game, this goal is supported by every system, which allow you to “Design Custom Maneuvers, Craft Your Path to Victory” (the campaign headline).

What I settled on is something that got me really excited. I chose to develop multiple web apps that supported gameplay and, even more importantly, gave players tools to create and share Warline content with the rest of the community. I was satisfied with these apps as stretch goals as they accomplished everything I did want stretch goals to be and managed to avoid that which I didn’t want the goals to be. I developed these apps from the end of the campaign until recently. Over the past couple of weeks prior to this writing, I launched the apps on the Warline Game Resources hub. Players can now create and share content for the Mastery of Command mode and the History of Conflict mode, and also further challenge their strategic and tactical acumen.

My present efforts are two-fold focused: development of two new kingdoms, and development of a new game mode. The latter development, Dragons War, is aiming to be a co-operative play mode. A co-op mode would fill the one gap in what Warline currently offers: a solo mode, two one-versus-one competitive modes, and a team-based competitive mode. Everything is coming along nicely!

A screenshot of the new Mastery of Command player-created-content web app

I’d love to hear your thoughts after reading about my experience bringing Warline from a kernel of an idea to a finished retail product. I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have about the game or my design process. Thanks so, so much for reading!

Justin D Leingang

Warline glamour shot courtesy of the uber-talented Tim Chuon


Povezani blogovi