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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Daddy, Where Did Havoc Come From?

One of the more popular questions about Havoc: the Hundred Years War, other than “Ok how do the Dogs of War work again?” is “So how did you think up this game?”

A couple years ago I heard the great line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the Dogs of War” and thought “Man, that would make a great theme for a game.” OK, if it matters, I heard the line again in one of the Star Trek movie reruns, spoken by a Klingon Commander. Yes, I’m a geek in other subjects than games...

So I designed a game where several cards would become Dogs of War, but only when they were called as “trump” in which case they’d be the highest trump (top Dogs). Worked on the game some more, five suits (colors), a trick-taking game with some clever bidding mechanics and (it turns out) some similarities to the German card game Skat.

If you’ve played Havoc, you’re thinking “That’s not even close to how Havoc plays.” Right. Partway through design I realized I was far away from the theme line of the Dogs of War. So I finished the game up with a new theme, borrowing from the movie Three Amigos. If you happen to catch up with us at a game con I’d be happy to play it with you.

So I re-started Havoc. I wrote the Shakespeare quote at the top of three sheets of blank paper and started writing notes. The game had to have Battles of some kind. There had to be Dogs of War. Preferably the Dogs needed to do what Dogs of War originally did – they went onto a battlefield and brought back to their owners arrows, weapons or other booty. If it had battles, it needed to have a way to get troops, and I’d already decided it should be a card game. The “arc” of the game would be important, so it needed to have Battles that grew in value through the game, so players might “save up” for the big battles. At the time I just thought “important battles in history”, not any particular war.

I chose for my beginning mechanics a sort of Canasta/Rummy method of gaining cards during the game, where I’d draw 2 and discard 1, gaining a card a turn. I wanted a few open choices so I jotted down “Recruits Area,” common enough in many games. For Battling, I needed was for troops to fight, but didn’t like the general “my total number is higher than yours so I win.” So I decided on some version of “set presentation” and wrote as a start “Use something like poker hands.”

In the early version of the game, there were at least twice the number of scoring hands in the game, because I allowed things like 4-card flushes, 4-card straight flushes, etc. It was pretty confusing, especially when I decided to use a 6-suited deck of cards, which naturally led to wanting a possible 6-card “Battle Hand.” So how did I whittle the list down to a manageable size? Well, I wondered how much 12 point text would fit on one playing card – 17 lines. So that’s why there are 17 scoring hands.

That was enough to get started on a prototype. I used my trusty Sticheln deck – 6 suits, and zeroes. I made Battle Cards that grew in value, and at the time each one had about half the 1st place points for 2nd Place, and about half that for 3rd place. The earliest version did not have a Peacekeeper. I made the deck and playtested, playing three to five players by myself to work out the flow of the game and see if there were obvious defects. That helped me work out how Dogs work and how to limit their powers.

In turn, that gave me enough confidence to try the game with Rip City Gamers, my main game group and very open-minded friends. It was in those 2 or three sessions, plus one session with friend Jay Schindler at the Portland Airport that resulted in the following great ideas that we later used:

> You should have tokens for the 2nd and 3rd place finishers
> Some Battles should not have 2nd and 3rd place
> The “big” battle should be Agincourt or something famous like that
> There should be some way to keep people from just drafting cards forever

In a future article, I’ll pick up this story again, since there’s also some interest in how we got from a playable prototype to a finished game.

I’m happy to say it’s selling well, many reviewers like it and more importantly everyday gamers like it. And that means Sunriver Games will be bringing more games out that you might like.


  • At 2:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Why is Havoc no longer available for purchase?


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