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Warriors
a collectible card game by Ryan Hackel

Way back in 1992, inspiration struck me to design a card game, instead of my usual roll-and-move and abstract experiments. I settled almost immediately on a fantasy/sci-fi themed combat game, using an original setting. My game would have each player field a fighter, arm that fighter with weapons, armor and items, and fight, with victory going to the last man standing. I grabbed some index cards, a pencil, and ran with the idea.

I then showed my game Warriors to my friends Adam and Nate, who were both longtime computer gamers. They loved it, and we ended up playing 3-player games of Warriors for six hours. Every time I saw them, they asked if I had Warriors with me. It was the motivation I needed to perfect my design.

Warriors was in a nascent state then. The card pool was 60-80 cards. There was no spellcasting. Locations had not been created yet; victory simply went to the player who won the most matches. Everyone still used a communal draw and discard deck. My handmade deck began to grow as I thought up more cards. I added spells a few years later. Embracing schizophrenia, as Andy Looney likes to say, I played the game against myself to test things out.

The biggest innovation to the game design was almost 10 years later. I had created a 350+ cardpool, but I was still unhappy with the victory conditions. Runaway leader syndrome was still a problem; one player would draw the most cards after winning each battle, thus getting good cards faster than underdogs and ensure their further victory. Players also didn't have enything to fight over either. Then it occured to me that the locations should be captured. It made sense thematically, and gave a more pivotal role to the location cards, which up to that time had been mere weak modifiers. My wife (then girlfriend) suggested, without ever playing the game, "why don't you invert the spoils system"? So the winner of the battle gets the location but the fewest cards, while the other players get more cards the sooner they went out. This was so obvious to me in hindsight, but I hadn't thought of it before. It worked brilliantly! The weaker players get compensated with more cards, giving them a better edge to win future battles. Winners capture locations, but fall behind their opponents in resources. This was what I wanted Warriors to do from day one, but the solution had eluded me for years.

The most interesting property of Warriors is the balance that one player must maintain between winning and losing battles. Winning is the only way to acquire the locations necessary to actually win, but losing is the best way to keep replenished with cards. Cards give you options, and a player who falls behind in card advantage will find himself constrained against better-supplied opponents. Cumulative wins drain resources; cumulative losses rejuvenate them. Only by keeping supplies at a healthy level will a player be strong enough to grab that critical location when it becomes contested. A good Warriors player chooses the battles that matter, and carefully loses the ones that don't. A game of Warriors will flow back and forth as players jockey for that delicate balance of wins and losses.

To all my friends and colleagues who have helped with the design of Warriors, given me constructive feedback, spent hours in playtesting with me, or just enjoyed playing my game, I owe you a hearty Thank You!


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Last Updated: 29 December 2009

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