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Types of Balance in Game Design

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GamesPrecipice
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This month we're covering three of the areas of balance in game design.

The types we're looking at are Internal Balance, External Balance and Positional Balance.

http://www.gamesprecipice.com/intro-to-balance/

ReneWiersma
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As regards to internal

As regards to internal balance (all the internal objects of the game being perfectly balanced) I think that's not a necessity. It might even add to the fun of a game if certain objects in the game are slightly out of balance.

For example, take Puerto Rico. Some buildings are clearly better than others (Small Market always gets bought, but the Hacienda rarely), but that's OK. It will take a while for players to figure out which buildings are "best". Exploring the game, trying out the buildings, adds to the initial fun of a game. Also, some players might think it a challenge to do well in the game despite buying buildings that are thought to be inferior.

As for positional balance, it's not good to have a run-away leader, but at the same time you don't want to have so many bash-the-leader mechanics that the first part of the game doesn't matter. As you said, everyone turn should count. Balancing this is definitely one of the most difficult and most interesting design problems.

Kroz1776
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Self-Balancing

Some games are even self balancing. Dominion for one. If one card is clearly more powerful than another in dominion, everyone ends up buying it, thus everyone has the overpowered card...thus the balance isn't disturbed. Also, Cosmic Encounter has aliens with powers that are most definately more powerful than others, BUT because it is a game of negotiation, many times the players end up balancing the power themselves through devious plots. Someone ended up playing as the void in the game (who permanently destroys your spaceships...a very nasty power) and the first few turns everyone allied against him to wipe out his ships, he eventually was taken down to just a handful of ships, then we promptly left him alone for the rest of the match while he tried to recover. Sure it may seem mean but it's Cosmic Encounter, and we were truly afraid of him. We balanced out his card!

Thus, there are games that lend to having some imbalances in them and they still work out perfectly.

X3M
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Opposing force balance versus in-force balance

Kroz1776 wrote:
Some games are even self balancing. Dominion for one. If one card is clearly more powerful than another in dominion, everyone ends up buying it, thus everyone has the overpowered card...thus the balance isn't disturbed.

First of all: I don't know dominion. So I am talking here in general:

If that OP card/unit is limited to 1, a few or it still can't do everything. Then it is indeed self balancing.
If that OP card/unit can be bought limitless. Then...

Most people don't call that balance. And that includes me.
Not because each player has the same power. But it is just 1 power that everyone uses.
All the other things that are weaker are simply not used. Almost never used. Thus the game is imbalanced in usage. Players tend to hate games like these. Especially when that card/unit truly can do everything.

If 1% of a game is to weak, it is never used and the game is 99% good.
If 1% of a game is to strong, the other 99% of a game is never used. The game is only good for 1%.

To make the complete game completely playable. There are many ways how designers balance a strong card/unit:
- Through different costs;
++ 6 times stronger, costs are 7 to 8 times. Not just 6 times. This is often where things are limitless.
++ With limits; 6 times stronger, costs are 6 to 8 times. (The rules on limits comes very accurate, and requires to have 6 weak ones against 1 strong one)
++ Working together? Perish together! 6 times stronger, costs are 6 times. Now limitless is possible without imbalance
- A stronger card/unit has often a greater weakness. This is mostly done through RPS systems.
- It usually takes time/research to reach a certain situation where a player can achieve the stronger card/unit.

Camouflaged signs of imbalance:
- 6 times stronger, but 6 times (or less) the costs while things are limitless and the weak ones can(or are forced to) die one by one. Even if it takes long before players can get such a card/unit. It is still imbalanced. Because once a player has reached that tech, he/she will go all out with it. (O-game)
- A card/unit without weaknesses. While other cards/units do have weaknesses. (Mammoth RA1 vs Allied player)
- Stronger cards/units are available right at the start. (Reversed Monopoly!)

Kroz1776
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Mechanics!

Dominion is self balancing first off because you can only ever buy 10 of certain type of card. With 4 players, this is about 2.5 cards for each player, and with many decks by the end of the game reaching up to 20-30 cards each, the OP card becomes diluted. Also due to the way the game works, there are cards I don't buy unless I have nothing else to buy, does it make them bad cards? In a sense, but they are used and do have their uses.

Cosmic encounter, the powers are what are sometimes OP. Why is this still fair? Because even if you DO pick a weak alien, when other people realize this, they become friendlier to you. This happens, it works.

Obviously there are ways to balances out cards and such, but that wasn't the point, the point is that there are games out there that have the right mechanics that basically cause the games to self-balance themselves. There are other games where this isn't possible, and others where this is undesirable. Heroscape, because there are some bad units in that game, allows me to handicap myself when playing against my younger brothers easily by merely picking the units I know are bad.

X3M
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Well, as mentioned before. I

Well, as mentioned before. I don't know dominion.
But the way how you describe it means there are limits on the cards. And this means that there is more balance. Limits are a mechanic.
Does the most OP card have a weakness? Or is is not able to do something? Then you might get an idea on getting around the use of the OP card. And anticipate on it. If this is possible, the game sounds complete.
Now, if the set of cards that "beats" the OP card also has a counter. You are going around eventually, and there is a RPS system in the "combination of the cards". Which would sound like a great game.
Unless the combination of cards can have infinite results like in MtG.

Ah, heroscape. Well, even the weak units have their uses there. Fodder and block for protecting ranged, numbers for having multiple domination points. It is rather balanced if you can see past the basic strategies.

Kroz1776
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Passive Balancing

Yes, weaker units do have their uses, but there are units that don't perform as well as others. Major Q9 (for those of you who know of him) is almost a staple at tournaments because he gives a lot of bang for his buck. The point cost of the units is the supposed balancing mechanic, but some units aren't balanced...they just aren't. Some units are just downright terrible. Like I said though, not all these units have to be tournament grade units.

Dominion has very little player interaction. There is some with a few attack cards but many times you can find a game of dominion where there are no cards that will affect anything your opponents are doing. There are no counters in dominion in that sense. The game is all about deck management. Which cards do you buy and when? There are cards that when they show up, are almost always gone before any other cards. The thing is, that once someone trounces you once with that card, everyone figures out it's overpowered and the next match you play, you can only obtain 2-3 copies of the card instead of 6-8 of them. Now you all have the overpowered card and it's now diluted because you only have 1 or 2 of them in your deck. This is the balancing. It's not something the designers have done on purpose to balance overpowered cards. It is an inherent limit of a physical card game.

I'm not talking costs, weaknesses, counters or anything like that. I'm not talking about active balancing but passive balancing or balancing that is a natural side effect of the game. There is no passive balancing in Herospace, nor is there in Magic. If MtG makes an overpowered card, they have to either, make an errata for it and ban the OP from tournements or make a counter for it. Dominion as a deck builder can ignore all this. As long as the cards are in the right general area, even with an OP card, the game lives on just as well as it would had it been perfectly balanced.

So there you have it, Passive vs. Active balancing (I think I just made those two up just now!)

knightshade
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MtG is definately not setup

MtG is definately not setup for drafts IMHO... its been about 10 years since i have played... but if one person would get the right two cards even... GG. and the people that just go to take rare cards ruin it by passing along/flooding the people with "OP" cards with even more.

I, personally, find that in prototyping, many mechanics work themselves out. No matter how long you spend prepping, or running algorithms, or whatever. The dice I have been working on have changed symbols about 5 times, and ratios of the symbols at least double that. Sometimes you *actually* have to roll the dice and just tediously record all the outcomes and cross reference with other mechanics/components.

If all else fails +/- subvise. :P ... and if that doesn't work, tried and true RPS (LS) will. :D

X3M
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Passive Balancing Sequal

This post summary:
Answer.
My findings of this in my game.
Balancing of combinations of different games.

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Kroz1776 wrote:

So there you have it, Passive vs. Active balancing (I think I just made those two up just now!)

NonoYes!, I like that! Let's keep those words. You are on to something.

By actively playing the game with real players. You can see if the game passively balances itself.
If a game cannot do this while being imbalanced in some area's then the game is truly imbalanced. And needs an active balancing. By the game creator.

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knightshade wrote:

I, personally, find that in prototyping, many mechanics work themselves out. No matter how long you spend prepping, or running algorithms, or whatever. The dice I have been working on have changed symbols about 5 times, and ratios of the symbols at least double that. Sometimes you *actually* have to roll the dice and just tediously record all the outcomes and cross reference with other mechanics/components.

If all else fails +/- subvise. :P ... and if that doesn't work, tried and true RPS (LS) will. :D

I have seen this in my own game a year ago, especially the recording all outcomes and then cross reference these.

Some of my unit designs where somewhat useful, but there where always better variants. And I just know that players would go for the better ones.
I actually could place my "infinite" types of units in only 16 classes of units. And then tell what players would do.
A class is something like meat, support, hit n run vs structures, hit n run vs units etc.
I compared their uses to their relatively costs. What I discovered was that 2 where never going to be used by players (these 2 classes are rather similar). To weak, to costly. 2 others where only costly, but when the game progresses, players could buy unit that where 50% more expensive but then 150% more effective. So 2 classes with 2 similar classes that are better.

I had the luck to place this passive "im"balancing in a table of results.
So I had to actively balance the game.
The result now is that there are only 2 out of 16 that are costly. And after the game progresses, 50% more expensive but 75% more effective would take their places. However, the difference now is so small. That the players will have both since there is also a limit on the units. The bad ones are bought first too!
So, there is a better choice. But the lesser one is only 25% weaker, and thus the complete army of those similar classes would be 175% instead of 200%.

How did I discover my imbalance? I was looking for optimal units in a certain class. And discovered a flaw in my calculations. Then I decided to make the table of classes to see if I could tackle this.

So I actively balanced so that passive balance would go more smoothly in my game.

Maybe heroscape has the same problem.

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knightshade wrote:

MtG is definately not setup for drafts IMHO... its been about 10 years since i have played... but if one person would get the right two cards even... GG. and the people that just go to take rare cards ruin it by passing along/flooding the people with "OP" cards with even more.

Thought experiment:
So what about combinations of the pieces in a game?

@ The effects can be linear, sum or exponential:
- Where linear has 2 pieces combined, and they are only added up. No bonus effects.
- In sum, one of the 2 pieces gets a bonus of +100% because the other one gives this bonus.The next bonus is again +100% or a total of +200%.
- In exponential, one of the 2 pieces gets a bonus of *2 because the other one gives this bonus. The next bonus is again *2 or a total of *4.

A game like Risk falls completely in the linear category. Except for the last soldier, that is sum.
My game falls completely in the sum category.
MtG obviously falls in the exponential category with certain cards. But some card combinations are linear or sum.

Then you need to balance the combination results as well. This makes balancing very complex as bonus effects progresses.
So you combine pieces with power 1 or 2. What power is the result?

This is a summary of @
linear: P1+P1=P2
sum: P1+P1= actually 1+2=P3
exponential: P1+P1= actually the result to the power of 2 = 2^2=P4

Now lets compare 1+1+1 with 1+2:

linear: P1+P1+P1=P3
sum: P1+P1+P1= actually 1+2+3=P6
exponential: P1+P1+P1= actually the result to the power of 2 = 3^2=P9

linear: P1+P2=P3
sum: P1+P2= actually 1+4 or 2+2= P5 or P4 (2 options, but are balanced in the game by having the same counters)
exponential: P1+P2= actually the result to the power of 2 = 3^2=P9

(Ok, I hope the following can be understood)
Now, I have the feeling that MtG is balanced as if it would fall in the sum category. Which results in imbalance. This because the result expected in that category is P4 or P5 in the P1+P2 section. The P4 has normally a counter of P4 and the P5 has P5 as counter.
What if a P4 gets countered by a P5 and gets wiped out? Than that P5 should cost a bit more (I am talking here about the costs of a combination). But the real result is P9 for both according to the exponential category. This means that the one result with P4 and costs 4, becomes 9 in the game and the one with P5 and costs 5 becomes P9 as well. The P4 will be OP now compared to P5. Since the result is P9 for both while the costs differ by 1.

The only way to passively balance MtG is to have all player buy the best cards?

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