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Balancing resources

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sedjtroll
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Suppose you've got a game in development that uses various resources in much the same way Settlers of Catan uses resources- in that you produce them, maybe trade them, and then spend them on certain things.

How do you cost things and value these resources?

Obviously this depends on the game, so lets say for the sake of arguement that there are 4 resources in the game. One is worth, say, 3 Victory Points each at the end of the game. One is worth a 1 VP each, but is also used in more things, like buying buildings or whatever. The third and fourth resources are not worth VPs themselves but are used to build up to producing the 1st and 2nd.

Basically some of the resources ramp you up to producing the other resources, and the point of the game is to maximize your score (which comes primarily from producing that 1st resource, but also from building certain things which allow you to turn the 'worthless' resources into VPs in other ways).

Does any of this make sense? My problem is I'm having trouble costing the buildings to make it appropiately difficult to buy them and make out ahead if you do it right (and fall behind if you don't - like if you buy a Harbour in Puerto Rico and you get it too late, then you would have been better off saving for a big building).

- Seth

Anonymous
Balancing resources

Quote:
My problem is I'm having trouble costing the buildings to make it appropiately difficult to buy them and make out ahead if you do it right (and fall behind if you don't - like if you buy a Harbour in Puerto Rico and you get it too late, then you would have been better off saving for a big building).

From my experience, the best ways to actually cost a building appropriately, is to playtest (many times over) your game without it and then introduce it at varying stages of your playtesting. By doing this, you will have some sort of idea on the impact on the game that the building has, and the average amount of resources that are available at that stage as well. Then all you have to do is simply price the building appropriately for when you believe the best time for it to come into play. I hope that helps and made sense to you...

-Karl.

Anonymous
Re: Balancing resources

sedjtroll wrote:
My problem is I'm having trouble costing the buildings to make it appropiately difficult to buy them and make out ahead if you do it right (and fall behind if you don't - like if you buy a Harbour in Puerto Rico and you get it too late, then you would have been better off saving for a big building).

Personally, I would use a statistical approach to it - build a spreadsheet to model that aspect of the game and build some simple formulas to 'predict' various options available to players. For example, let's say that you need 2 units of lumber, 1 unit of bricks, and 1 unit of labor to build a house. Lumber is relatively plentiful, and labor in my imaginary game is a fixed resource (let's say players all get x labor per turn or something). I might build a spreadsheet that looks something like this:

Lumber Value 1
Brick Value 3 (maybe it takes other resources to make bricks)
Labor Value 1

To get the value of the 'house' I'd add up the value of the resources required to make it. So a house would cost 2 + 3 + 1 or 6 - valuing the resource at 6. Taken against all of the other 'resources' in the game this might fit right in or seem too low or too high - for example, if 'house' costs 6 and 'nuclear missile silo' costs 8 I might be out of balance. From that point, I'd play with the numbers - value resources differently based on my knowledge of the game and bend it to play the way I want it to play. Maybe, since labor is a fixed asset but I could use it for many different things it should be valued at 1.5 instead of 1. Plug that back into my calculations for all the buildings and see what happens. Maybe that nuclear missile silo should cost more labor.

Anyway, that's my approach to that. Playtesting is great, but in my world there are 3 kinds of playtesters: folks who think everything is great, folks who think everything is crap, and folks who give be solid feedback. Unfortunately, the solid feedback people are few and far between in my neck of the woods.

Marc

Anonymous
Balancing resources

Do you have to have the "building" in order to win or can you win via other means? It seems like it's an neccesary part of the game. If you don't have the building, you can't make any of the VP resource and you can't win. Would taking it out of the game break the game?

If it's a matter of timing (when it's built, rather than IF it's built) perhaps having one or two players attempt to build it early, others attempt to build it late. If the Early Player wins more often than the Late Player, perhaps it's too cheap (push the early player back a bit). If the Late Player wins, maybe it's too expensive (push the early player earlier).

If I'm guessing at what you're doing, it seems like a choice between go big and build the support later or start with the support and hit the ground running. Both should be viable strategies and the pricing of the "building" could make it work. :)

sedjtroll
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Balancing resources

OK, So in my game there are different types of buildings. In order to win you would have to build SOME buildings, but in theory it shoudl depend on which strategy you use as to which buildings you have to buy. Then some you'll buy either way, either because it's necessary in both main strategies, or because some of the buildings are worth points.

So... there's a building to produce each resource. Players will pretty much HAVE to build some of those, but it's not clear how many of each. Like the building that produces the VP resource- either you could go for multiples of those and piour your resources into making those produce (earning VPs directly), or you can build some of the Non-production buildings which allow you to turn the non-vp resources into VPs (earning VPs indirectly).

I'm hoping the winning strategy will include some of each.

Anonymous
Balancing resources

I think I have played this game before, what was it called? Puerto Rico?

HA HA

-Michael

Anonymous
Balancing resources

When it comes to costing and valuing resources, I'd tend to side with "work it out over many, many playtesting sessions" over "calculate the statistics."

I think that most of the complex systems that arise in games are too hard for the typical game designer to predict statistically. Even the designers who have doctorates in math -- *cough* Knizia *cough* -- cannot predict with 100% accuracy how to best cost and value game resources.

It's not that I completely disagree with The-Menace about his statistical approach... I might envision these statistics in my head or even try to work them out as best I can on paper, but in the end I'd only rely on the results of many, many playtest sessions (hopefully with various groups of players). There's no better way in my mind.

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
Balancing resources

sedjtroll wrote:

So... there's a building to produce each resource. Players will pretty much HAVE to build some of those, but it's not clear how many of each. Like the building that produces the VP resource- either you could go for multiples of those and piour your resources into making those produce (earning VPs directly), or you can build some of the Non-production buildings which allow you to turn the non-vp resources into VPs (earning VPs indirectly).

What you want to be careful about with this is it giving an "all roads lead to Rome" strategy where everything is so well-balanced that there's no clear reason to pursue one approach over another. I had a pirate themed game that I was working on where players could either try to increase the payout they'd get for various kinds of "booty", or try to to hoard a ton of booty. The problem became that these were both pretty much equivalent, and it was hard to formulate any kind of a strategy. You want to watch for this in your playtests -- ask your testers (or yourself, if it's a solo test) whether they're able to form a plan and follow it through.

As for balancing, one of my playtesters made a great point -- it's not necessarily a bad thing to playtest a game that is known to be imbalanced, as doing so will actually help you fix the value of certain commdotities/resources. Fixing relative costs is something you can get pretty close just by careful thinking, but beyond that, just playtest the thing to death. I think a spreadsheet could be a useful visualization tool, but ultimately, you're only going to know from playtesting, so you might as well start that process as soon as possible!

Good luck!

DavemanUK
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Joined: 12/31/1969
working from a baseline (e.g. 0GP)

(regarding the cost of 'building')

I've found it useful to fix one building's cost and scale all others around it over successive solo playtests (using mono-strategies to attempt to break each building, e.g. always building 'houses' instead of 'shops').

For example, I've been working with 4 'buildings' in my game of which one building is free (which is a nice baseline to work with :) ) and varying the other buildings costs around the 5-15 GP mark as playtesting mono-strategies prove that 'building X' is better than the free buildings.

Dave W.

Fos
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Balancing resources

jwarrend wrote:
What you want to be careful about with this is it giving an "all roads lead to Rome" strategy where everything is so well-balanced that there's no clear reason to pursue one approach over another.

I also worry, when designing very mathmatical mechanics, that I'll inadvertantly create a puzzle game. There's a "correct" formula; the optimum level of resources (both low and high-level), factoring in cost, etc., and players will find it, either by throwing the elements into a graphing calculator and doing some simple algebra, or through playing it repeatedly. This can switch your end game goals. It's no longer important to have the most victory points, but to acquire such and such resources at the right time.

My concern is that eventually the strategic decision of resource buying won't be a mechanic at all, and there will be no strategy. Every player will know the "correct" way to win the game. That's a convention, which is fine, but it puts more pressure on your other mechanics to provide the fun. It's no longer a game about finding the right formula, but making sure other players can't achieve that correct formula. It seems to limit strategy, and it hurts the elegance of the design. Instead of the simple "most VPs at the end wins" goal, it becomes, "discovering the right way to play the game and try not to make any mistakes along the way."

I'm not saying this is a problem with Seth's game; I don't know any of the other mechanics and how they interact, but it's something I fear in general when throwing such concrete math into games. Probably why most of my ideas revolve around player negotiations.

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