We spent a lot of time trying to bring the details of the battle to the player's attention without the need for a long, complicated list of details.
By really focusing on the subtleties of how an enemy whips out his sword and jumps into an aggressive stance when you come in range, or winces when he becomes a target of an attack he can't counterattack, we set up a system of immediate feedback that was built into the gameplay as opposed to stopping, checking distances, and doing unnecessary calculations.
The health flag took many iterations, but in the end it became a great, simple mechanism where anytime you target any enemy, both of the samurai flags on the units' backs would show their total hit points and how many HP both units would lose in the altercation at the next touch of the attack button. Almost all the information the player needs is immediately where their eyes are already looking.
Augmenting all the visual design was a strong, iconic sound effect for each action. As you pass by potential targets, they whip out their swords, with the unmistakable grind of a sword being pulled out of its sheath.
Targeting an enemy at a range, you might miss, and you hear a whiff sound. By simply walking around your allotted movement radius each turn, you can see and hear how many units you could potentially attack without needing to do any calculations at all. From-the-hip strategy gaming!
An archer targeting some enemies. Orange-tinted units are missable, whether they are on the outside of the attack range or hiding in bamboo. Units that will counterattack have their weapon raised. Health is shown on the current targeted unit on its flag. Potential damage is shown on the current target in the form of black health bars. While not targeting, enemies within range will gleam white or orange (if they are attackable and/or missable).
Multiplayer was always a big focus for us. By speeding up the gameplay, we wanted to allow for multiplayer, which often isn't an option in these kinds of games because it simply takes too long. As we age as gamers, fun multiplayer experiences revolve less and less around twitchy action experiences -- we just can't keep up. At the same time, we want a chance to socialize with our friends while we play, instead of just screaming for covering fire.
Tied to speeding up the gameplay, we wanted to capture the dramatic nature of a really good basketball game (or say, a drunken flag football game). In early playtests we would have tense, dramatic matches that boiled down to two demon shoguns finally clashing after a tough battle. But we also had matches where one player would be beating the other player down slowly, taking far too many rounds to do it.
We immediately cut out some standard conventions that just slowed things down -- like not being able to use a unit in the turn it was created. We set up the game resources to play to a strong endgame.
Rice, which you gain from captured rice paddies every turn, was limited so you could only gain rice from them for six turns. This prevents players from ever reaching a stalemate where each side has the resources to maintain their position, but not advance. At some point, rice will run out, and players will have to make a final stand.
Two rice paddies, in the middle of being depleted.