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Game Design Journal

Cry Havoc Design Journal 07

Cry Havoc Design Journal 07

Today, we share another great article from Grant Rodiek on the design of Cry Havoc:

There Is No “I” In “Global Development Team”

Sometimes, at 6:30 am, when you’re sitting on the weight bench at the gym, you shouldn’t rush to BGG period. But, you definitely shouldn’t go there to answer rules questions. Thankfully, I have a Portal team member in West Virginia who can set me straight. Or one in England. Or one in Poland. Well, several in Poland.

Now that Cry Havoc is past Gen Con and the initial fans have it, I wanted to write one more development blog about making this game with Portal. I’m quick to note I’m the co-designer, because I’m a small piece of the team. That led to some fun experiences and we thought peeling back this layer on board game development might be interesting.

I come from the video game sector as my day job, so one thing I like to say often is that I effectively licensed a warfare/area control engine to Portal. I didn’t license them Cry Havoc — we made Cry Havoc from the foundation. This is similar to how somebody makes Gears of War out of the Unreal Engine.

Earlier in our partnership, I didn’t speak to Ignacy at all and Michal Oracz wasn’t on the team yet. It was mostly me and Michal Walczak trying to figure out how to solve the lack of player progress, designing structures beyond the single one that originally existed, and fixing the perfect information issues.

There were some times I refer to as the dark periods, where Portal would go radio silent, then emerge from the woods months later with wild, or brilliant ideas. One dark period led to the night/day cycle, which we ultimately cut, but also the deckbuilding concept, which is now the beating heart of the game. At BGG Con every year we’d have a good 4 day development session where I could fully immerse myself in all the changes, test, and most importantly, debate with Ignacy on the changes.

Late in the cycle, my anxiety ratcheted way up as I had to really trust the team and focus on my portion. If you work on something for so long, it’s very very very difficult to not sit on every piece of it like a mother hen. You should be thankful Ignacy is in charge instead of me!

Ultimately, the Portal team was equipped for the final deep balance testing, which only makes sense as it was Ignacy finally stepping in towards the end to make the game truly asymmetric. Previously, we had four different sets of content. It was Ignacy who made it four different alien species. But, when January rolled around, Ignacy told me I was up to bat.

I printed and assembled what can only be described as the ugliest version of Cry Havoc in existence and we fought the war. It was beautiful that my friends who tested the original version 100 times each were able to put their stamp on the final prototype. I needed to understand the game to write the rules, which I did, but I was also expected to chime in on the balance.

I can proudly say I pushed the Trog Structures towards usefulness. Previously, they were trash. We made an exception that the Tunnels don’t have an activation cost, and the Brooding Pool was added to give the Trogs an alternate use for Wrenches so that Mountains are a more viable grab for them.

But, in other places I had to trust the Portal team more. I could see hints of it, but I had to trust them. I would say things like “the Shred Drones are way too good!” and Ignacy, like a wise executive producer, batted me aside and said “trust me.” Deep breaths. Okay. Just because I spent hours writing my balance/playtest report does not make me right. Why? The Portal team did that for days, weeks, and months prior.

Then, we also had compromises. I was very frustrated with the “final” pool of Events. They were too negative and they slowed the game. I countered with a series that were too complicated and too positive. We met halfway with Events that were crisp to resolve but were not too good, but not too bad. Somewhat like a bear’s porridge.

But, and some of you will know this from the BGG forums, I’ve had to rely on the Polish side of the Portal team to answer super deep, 20+ play balance questions. I can give you the best direction and general strategies, and when it’s not 6:30 am in the gym I can answer the rules, but the primary deep balance team? They’re in Poland, most likely sleeping when I’m awake.

The final months of the project were the most fascinating. We largely worked out of a web-based proofing tool. In February and March I ate, slept, and breathed Cry Havoc with Ignacy shifting from executive producer to task master. I partnered with Paul Grogan to write the rules and we fell into a cycle of:

  1. Grant writes the rule
  2. Paul improves its clarity/li>
  3. Grant and Paul debate whether the clarity changes the rule itself/li>
  4. The Portal test team chimes in to clarify…often in Polish/li>
  5. Lord Ignacy arrives/li>
  6. We have clarity/li>
  7. Repeat/li>

We did this for every square inch. It reminded me of the hedgerow battles after Normandy. Every Skill, every Structure, every Terrain card. This was also our last final opportunity to debate balance and such.

It was chaotic, it was frantic, and it was beautiful.

As the original designer, it’s fun to identify the footprints that are solely mine. The ones that only I came up with. But, as the co-designer, as the piece of the team, it’s far more satisfying to wave at the entire game that thousands of people actually care about. The one I made? Was never going to be on the BGG hotness. The one we made? That’s a war I hope we’re fighting for years to come.