War Stories is a squad level combat system that will offer a fresh new take for the genre of small unit tactical wargames. In this blog we will share our design process from initial concept to completed product. War Stories will be published by Conquistador Games in 2013 and was formerly known as Pocket Armies.
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Co-designing the War Stories system

Dirk Knemeyer
United States
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Working with Mike on the "War Stories" system has been an enjoyable process. I kind of liken it to being a father. Note that I chose the word "father" instead of "parent" very carefully. See, as a father, I have watched my wife do all of the hard work. The DNA of the final little one is ultimately about half mine, but the hard work and time was done in those cases by my wife or, in this case, by Mike. While the "father" sounds like pretty good work if you can get it, I do like being the final decision maker on my own designs. So, the process of compromising - and ultimately letting Mike make the final call in many cases when there is a conflict - is not necessarily a comfortable one. It has all been a learning process, but one I am surely enjoying.

Mike is a legitimate World War 2 expert. Whereas I have what I suspect is a "typical Grognard" level of knowledge about WW2, Mike knows more about the subject than any of my university professors. It is THE historical period that he cares about and studies. As such, the bulk of his historical research, game playing, and game design efforts have been focused on Sturm Europa on the grand strategic level, and now War Stories on the tactical.

When he and I first started working on this project together, he already had the old Pocket Armies system he showed in previous posts roughly conceptualized. He had done the heavy lifting around all of the equipment, from armor to guns to speed and more. He had concepts for it to live in mini-CRT's on cards. At that point we came together and collaborated pretty fully at a "making it real" creative direction and system design exercise. We would have long, working sessions, hacking thru major aspects of the game - designing cards and player aids one weekend, brainstorming events the next, talking about assets the next. In between, Mike would do the heavy lifting on the details, and I would work on my other games.

My role has been one of creative director and designer, whereas Mike has been more of the lead designer and engineer. Now, don't take that to mean Mike doesn't contribute to the big ideas; in the way we cooperate, he wears the hat of "this game is going to be chromed to the max" while I wear the hat of "this game is going to be as elegant and streamlined as possible". The consequence is that Mike's starting point is "I'm going to get everything they have in ASL into this game, but more elegantly" whereas mine is "This will play faster and easier than Axis & Allies Minis but with more chrome than Combat Commander and Conflict of Heroes". We both believe in what is motivating the other, we just each ultimately service a different primary end.

Those are VERY, VERY different mindsets. Mike is committed to heavy wargamers being shocked and delighted that (some arcane thing) is in a lighter game. I am committed to non-wargamers feeling like they are playing a wargame on their PS3, laughing and having fun with friends. In the design process, it lets me say things like "There cannot be more than three range bands on the result cards" and "There cannot be more than two modifiers to those range bands". Because I don't care what gets lost chrome-wise. I intuitively know that, within those constraints, we can play faster and with more detail than other games on the market, with a minimum of clumsiness. That leaves Mike to do the harder, and ultimately incredibly powerful, work of fitting all of the chrome that he knows will really get its hooks into serious wargamers into those constraints.

Now, of course not all of my sweeping declarations of what we "needed" to do proved possible. But from my perspective, we had to start on that end. It is about playability first, stretching it only so far as we are able in order to "chrome it up" to some minimum baseline level. Mike balances that by demanding that the constraints allow a certain level of chrome to always get in. Where we end up as a consequence is what we hope gamers will see as a pretty sweet balance.
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