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Working on a strategy board game: Any tips?

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HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012

Hey guys,

I'm a 16 year old who designs board games in his spare time. I haven't published any board games yet, but I've made some good prototypes.

My latest project has been a strategy board game, designed for 2 players. [I plan to add versions which involve 2-4 players, but this is what I have for now]. Each player tries to destroy the opponent while building their own city. I'm hoping to strike a balance between building a city and waging war in this board game.

The board shall be tile-based. I'm not sure about the board size yet, but I think that it should be roughly 20 x 20 tiles (each tile 1 x 1 inch). Cities would have a size limit of 8 x 8, and each building/unit (I'll talk more about buildings and units later) would occupy 1 tile.

Below are my ideas for units/buildings:

**Units:**
- Swordsmen (3 HP, 1 range, 1 attack, 1 tile movement)
- Archers (2 HP, 2 range, 1 attack, 1 tile movement)
- Horsemen (3 HP, 1 range, 2 attack, 3 movement)
- Catapults (3 HP, 3 range, 1 attack, 2 attack vs. walls, 1 tile movement)

Ideally, each unit would serve their own purpose. However, I'll have some balancing to do. I'll also have to give them proper prices.

**Buildings:**
- Palace (default. Generates gold per turn, and increases population cap. Only one allowed in city, when destroyed the player loses)
- Market (generates gold per turn)
- Houses (increases population cap)
- Barracks (trains troops)

BTW: Population cap is the size limit of your army. I haven't given the buildings prices or exact gold/pop cap boosts yet.

That's about it. Any tips or suggestions for my board game? Any components that need to be added? For example, there should be a "luck" component in this game. Ideas for building/unit balancing would also be appreciated.

Thanks,

HH

MikeyNg
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Joined: 07/12/2012
I'm not a miniatures guy

I'm sure that people who are way more into miniatures and those kinds of combat games will have much more input to provide, but here are my quick thoughts:

Be advised that you can only have four cities if they're 8x8 and you have a 20x20 board. It's unclear to me why you want distinct cities anyway - why not just have the buildings in place with set starting zones? It would allow for a more organic construction.

The easiest way to inject luck into your game would be to do have dice involved. Now it really depends how deep/complicated you want to make your game. You could have different types of armor and different types of weapons involved which would add complexity. The simplest way to balance is "rock-paper-scissors". So for instance: archers have a decent chance of killing foot soldiers (because of their range). However, the speed of cavalry means that horses beat archers. You can then have pikemen who have a good chance against cavalry, and finally the food soldier can beat the pikemen.

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
@MikeyNg

I'm not going to include miniatures in the game - I believe that they make the game seem "cluttered". Instead, the units (and buildings, for that matter) shall just be a small, square card that fits on the tile. The card shall have a symbol that indicates what unit/building it is. For example, swordsmen units shall be symbolized a sword, archers by a bow, etc.

Regarding cities:

How about this? Players could only build a certain number of buildings in their city (example: 50?).

And yes, I should incorporate dice into the game. Good idea.

Thanks for the response.

kpres
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Joined: 04/20/2013
Needs something to fight over

It sounds like your game needs something neutral to fight over in order to prevent an immediate imbalance caused by a direct attack from each village to each village. If the villages are at war from the start of the game, and have to devote resources to war units rather than rebuilding, then they'll never become cities.

Perhaps a resource zone off to the side that contains resources used for city-building. The more resources you control, the better you are at city-building, but the more vulnerable you are to attacks directly at your city because the resources are far away. (Imagine a triangle, where the cities are each at a point and the resources are at another point, and you can only send your main army to one position.) Another way to open up vulnerability is to require that only workers can harvest resources. Workers can't fight.

Alternatively, you can put the resource zone right in the middle of the two cities. The game objective, then, would be to take over that zone. Once the zone is taken over, the balance is tipped so far in one direction that winning is inevitable.

Here's another idea: The game takes place in a single city, and different factions are trying to take over the city by taking control of public buildings. This way, instead of fighting over resources, the players are fighting over the buildings that grant powers and abilities.

Also, try this exercise:

Make there be only one unit available to each player (eg. Swordsmen), one type of building (eg. Houses), and one type of resource (wood) (or no resources, depending on what mechanics you're going for). You need to secure forests in order to build houses, and you do that by moving your swordsmen out of your city and onto those resources.

That's a big enough starting point that you can start playtesting to figure out what is fun about your game, what is blatantly unbalanced, what the game desperately needs, and how long a typical game takes. Once you've got a basic game up and running and lasting for about 45 minutes, you can start to add new units and buildings to tweak it and open up new strategies.

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
@kpres

Wow, that was very helpful! Thanks :)

The idea of one city, controlled by different factions... hmm. I like this idea.

What if the city started off as something small, and would only take up a fraction of the map. Different factions would control different portions of this small city.

As the game progresses, the different factions **conquer** enemy buildings but also build new buildings at the edge of their zones. This way, the city expands as the players battle eachother for control.

Thanks for the help kpres ;)

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
Furthering kpre's idea

I could base this board game on the internal struggle in Rome during the Roman Republic. This way, the board game could involve some history.

Furthermore, the Tiber river could run through the center of the city, dividing the western and eastern portions of Rome. The Tiber river would be straight and evenly divide the city (of course, this is a historical inaccuracy. The Tiber river was more to the west of Rome. However, I need this to be balanced so the river has to be in the center). The river would be two tiles wide and impassable by land units, except on bridge tiles crossing the river.

kos
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Joined: 01/17/2011
Positive feedback loops and stalemates

General theoretical ramblings ahead, feel free to take it or leave it...

With games like this the basic formula is usually:
"Use resources to build armies, use armies to gain more resources. Repeat until win."

The thing to be aware of, and decide right from the start whether this is how you want your game to play out, is the positive feedback loop. The more armies you have the more resources you can control, which allows you to build more armies and then control more resources, and so on. That's all well and good, but if you're on the losing side of the equation the game quickly becomes unwinnable and loses any excitement.

Ask yourself this question: If one player lost the first three combats in the game, do they have any reasonable chance of winning the game from that point on? If the answer is no, then you might as well stop playing after the third combat. No amount of fancy rules, clever game mechanics, or interesting combat options is going to change the inevitable nature of a positive feedback loop.

There are other alternatives to the positive feedback loop, for example choosing a winning condition that is outside the feedback loop. Chess has a positive feedback loop (control territory -> capture pieces -> control more territory) but you can capture pieces without controlling territory and a losing player could theoretically win even with less pieces and less territory. Other games introduce a different resource for winning which is outside the feedback loop, such as collecting gems or completing missions or researching technology or gaining political points.

Even with a positive feedback loop, you can mitigate it through negative feedback loops (e.g. upkeep for units) or catch-up mechanisms (e.g. the underdog gains bonus Victory Points/Experience/Gold if he wins a battle).

The other fundamental issue you should think about before getting into the details of your game is how to avoid stalemates. Consider a late-stage game of Risk where only two players remain, both of equal power. I've seen such games of Risk drag on for hours before one of them finally gains the upper hand. Risk is a zero sum game with a positive feedback loop and the winning condition is within the feedback loop, so at this point the only valid strategy is to keep hammering the attacks and hope the dice are in your favor. This kind of game design completely fails as a two player game.

If you do employ negative feedback or catch-up mechanisms to counteract a positive feedback loop, then you must make sure that the rest of your game is not a zero-sum game otherwise stalemate is almost guaranteed.

Regards,
kos

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
@kos

Interesting...

I agree, board games which give the upper hand an assured victory are boring. I'm hoping that I can make a game which doesn't result in stalemates, but doesn't favor a strong start too much. (and BTW: I'll probably use unit maintenance costs as a factor).

There should be a few ways to win. ie: Domination (completely eliminate the opponent), Merchantile (reach a certain amount of gold per turn. This would discourage the use of armies, and thus make it more of a peaceful way of winning), Population (reach a certain population cap. Not sure about this one yet).

So even if a player is being destroyed by an opponent's army, he/she can pursue a Merchantile or Population victory. And, since players have many victory options in the game, stalemates are less likely to occure.

Thanks for the input, Kos.

laperen
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Joined: 04/30/2013
what is your combat like?

what is your combat like?

regardless i am going to state some of my thoughts, and IMO dice isnt a good match in a strategy game, for me i am looking for precision in a win

i understand its a city vs city (maybe your theme will change), but fundamental frontline is still army vs army. im not sure how it will go, but i am definitely not keen on managing the HP levels of any more than 4 to 6 troops, regardless of how small their HP is

since your main means of combat is movement and range, it might be better to consider number of units in a battalion to show health and power, represented by the pieces, then the player can manage as large an army they want, and as many or as little armies as they would want

another combat option i personally prefer is making using your environment to your advantage. i also have had a war game prototype, which made use of the change in frontline size based on which side of the square the armies were fighting from.

also, i am not sure of your options and lmitations, say a troop piece moves, can they attack immediately? cause im sure after a long march, the troops will be pretty tired, and not be as strong if they attack immediately after moving.

you also might want to research on sun tsu art of war for some inspirations on alternate options to winning a battle, although the options would most likely be supported by cards, unless you are not keen on dealing with anything outside the board.

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
@Iaperen

I have a new idea. The game shall be in one large city (loosely based on Rome).

Each player shall control a faction, and fight for the city. However, they can also expand the borders of Rome and build new buildings. By the end of the game, the city should encompass the entire board. Anyways, on to combat...

Each unit shall be represented by a small (about 1 inch by one inch) square card. On the card shall be tiny red markers, indicating how much HP the unit has left. If there are three HP markers on the unit, then it has three HP left. If there are no HP markers on the unit, then it is defeated and therefore must be removed from the game. (And so on...)

The combat shall be very simple. As soon as a unit touches another unit, they *both* attack and lose a certain amount of HP markers. (this does not apply to ranged units, however) ie: Horsemen attack swordsmen. Horsemen lose 1 HP marker and swordsmen lose 2 HP markers...

However, there are attack bonuses. Here are some ideas:

- Outflanking (basically decimates the unit with minimal damage done to attackers)
- Pincer movement (same as outflanking, but attacked by the sides)
- Charge (only for Horsemen. When horsemen move 3 units and hit another unit, they deal extra damage because of the momentum.)

I'm going to add some more attack bonuses. Thanks for the response!

MikeyNg
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Joined: 07/12/2012
Capturing locations

To avoid the positive feedback loop, also known as the death spiral (for the losing side), maybe have one of the victory conditions be to control 4 (or whatever) points in the city at the same time. If you're going with a Rome theme, it can be like the Senate, the Emperor's residence, and ummm... two others :)

Just throwing that out there.

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
I like that idea, MikeyNg....

Control points. Sounds great!

kpres
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Joined: 04/20/2013
a thematic suggestion

If it's going to take on a roman theme, maybe you could have a roman-empire-themed mechanic to balance the game.

Take the reasons for why the Roman Empire fell and build a mechanic that punishes players for building an empire that's too large.

HideousHades
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Joined: 05/21/2012
@kpres

And that would also counteract the positive feedback effect.... nice, nice.

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