I know this is generaly a no-no in game design, but I'm working on an action card game based loosely on a video game where one played plays as three "good guys" and the other side play as about four "bad guys". The trouble I'm hving is striking a good balance between the two sides, and allowing enough strategy for them to be interesting to play without it being perdictible and dull, or not enough choices and dull. Do you have any suggestions? Examples of already published games with uneven play that works?

# Uneven battle

Prepare to hate me... because I'm going to tell you that math is your friend here. Most good designs are run through a process called 'regression analysis'. This means taking the factors (mathematical factors) that are pertimnet to your game and ensuring that they balance against one another in a smooth curve. Let me try an example that will explain this with far more clarity than my limited elocution is perhaps capable of:

Simple fight game. (with Kudos to Mr. Gary Gygax who devised the combat system I am about to use).

Both sides have a choice of weapon and armor in a medieval style man-to-man contest. Hits are randomly rolled with a D20.

Both men start unarmored at an AC10, meaning that any number greater than 10 will hit. If we look at the average of the hits, we discover that at AC10, you get hit 50% of the time if the random mechanic is a D20.

Lets say that Man "A" uses a sword which does 1-8 points of damage. This indicates an average damage of 4.5 points..which when co-factored with the 50% hit ratio indicates an average damage factor of 2.25.

OK... now that we have this, lets see how regression analysis works... and this is said analysis at its most basic.

We decide that we will give man "A" scale armor (Armor Class 5) and a sword... and we will give Man "B" a larger weapon, say a polearm (that does more damage, in this case we'll say 1-12 points per hit). What armor should we give man "B" in order to make the fight equal?

Man "A" will suffer this average damage:

25% (AC 5 means 5 out of 20 rolls hit) X 6.5 (average damage of the polearm) = 1.625 average damage

Man "B" therefore needs:

(variable armor% hit ratio) X 4.5 = 1.625

OR

1.625 divided by 4.5 = 36.1111% OR an armor class that will allow him to be hit roughly 36% of the time... as our mechanic (a D20) uses 5% increments, that would be rounded to 35%, or AC7 (7X5 being equal to 35). For those wondering, that would be studded leather armor in D&D.

Although that does not provide perfect balance (and said balance can rarely be made perfect due to the nature of commonly used random generators), its very close.

This can be used in ANY game situation by first determining the affect of a game statistic, and then properly weighting that affect against other factors you wish to balance...

...but you have to do the math. :-)

XXOOCC

I agree 100% with XXOOCC about how creating balance is about tweaking mathimatical statistics. That's why some genius game designers have doctorates in math, namely one Reiner Knizia.

However, for the layperson not so adequately equipped for masterfully balancing mathematical probability, we can achieve similar results by rigorously playtesting and tweaking our designs until the record of outcomes reflects a greater degree of balance.

Surely, the trial and error route requires a great deal more effort; however, it is something that most of us can more easily gauge. And in the end, playtesting, I think, provides a better gauge than math. That is to say, don't bother producing a game that is mathematically sound, but that no one has ever played. I'd rather place my money on the game played dozens to a hundred times with no statistical support.

I wouldn't consider designing disproportionately powered sides into a game a no-no. I think the idea of uneven sides adds a whole new dimension to games that make things interesting and fun. There are lots of games that do that successfully: Magic the Gathering, Star Wars: Epic Duels (Perfect example! Yoda is awesome.), Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation, Talisman (in that the characters are all different), Mare Nostrum, etc.

Obviously, achieving balance when the array of powers on both sides are dramatically different is a daunting task. Ultimately, the only thing that will provide a truly balanced game is for you to run it through development and playtesting many, many times. After dozens of playtests and lots of tweaking, you should start to notice an approximate balance in the number of times each side has won the game.

Without having done this myself, I suggest developing action cards that suit one side or the other and then through playtesting assigning each a point value. Then, by adding up all of the points assigned to the cards on either side you might have a decent approximation of balancedness in total point value. One way of determining the "point values" of each card might be to create a temporary variant of your game where players bid on action cards using their victory points. Then, you'll be able to get a rough idea of the value of a card by seeing what it goes for on the bidding block.