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Preventing a unlucky draw to ruin the game

8 replies [Last post]
Joined: 08/21/2013

Dear all,

I'm currently designing my very first game.

It's a 2 players short game (10-15 min) where one player "The escaper" try to escape a maze that the other player "The Builder" is building. The fun thing is that the players don't have the same goal and also don't play with the same mechanics at all (one player is moving his character and the other one is building walls !). The actions of one player still have consequences on the possibilities of the other one.
I will certainly talk more about it in the next few weeks as I'm currently beta-testing it. And as it is currently designed in French, I will have to translate the rulebook and the cards in order to show it to you.

Now, enough for the introduction, here is my problem:

While doing some probabilistic calculations for balance purpose, I came across a small issue. At the very first stage of the game, on the first draw of his tiles, the "Builder" can pick 4 particular tiles which makes him lose the game instantly.
There is just 0.03% chance of this happening (1-in-3510 chance). It's small but I feel it is still an issue: when I come across glitches like that in the games I play, it feels like the game is "broken", that the designer didn't thought of that happening. And also Terry Pratchett taught us that million-to-one chances crop up nine times out of ten.

I've thought about some solutions but I find them quite inelegant, as this is creating complex rules for a thing that should be very simple:
- When the situation occurs, just draw a supplementary tile. This is bugging me because it helps the Builder gathering more tiles, which makes him stronger. Also this is giving a very good information to the other player, who will know exactly what is in the hand of his opponent.
- When the situation occurs, just put back one tile and draw an other one. This has still the issue of giving a good information to the opponent, and it also gives the opportunity to cheat by exchanging something when you are not allowed to (if you say that the situation have occurred when it doesn't).
- When the situation occurs, just shuffle everything and draw a new set of 4 tiles. I like this the best, but it feels quite inelegant: "I screw up designing the game, just restart until you are able to play".

I could also change some mechanics in the game. For example make it so that exchanging a tile is allowed every turn. But then I fear that the balance will be too much in favour of the Builder.

Do you have any other suggestion?

Sorry for the long post. I hope it was understandable, English isn't my first language.


Corsaire's picture
Joined: 06/27/2013
A mulligan is a common enough

A mulligan is a common enough mechanic. Four is a tight number for one mulligan mechanic which is to draw one less tile. I would give a free mulligan chance to the tile drawer and allow the other player some bonus if the mulligan is taken.

Joined: 08/21/2013

Thank you for your suggestion, but I'm not familiar with the term "mulligan". I googled-it and found that mulligan seems to be a redraw without penalty (not unlike my 3rd "solution").

You seems to suggest something a little bit more complex.

Could you please elaborate? Thank you!

Joined: 07/12/2012

In Magic, if you mulligan, you draw another hand of cards, but with one fewer card than you previously had. It's to prevent people from abusing mulligans, as if you could ALWAYS redraw, you would continually redraw until you had exactly what you wanted.

I am thinking that you could simply always give the Builder the option of exchanging a card or two. This would mitigate the bad draw and could even potentially provide strategic misinformation. (My hand is so good that I'll exchange a card ANYWAY to make it seem like I'm weak)

You could also look at increasing the initial hand size.

Corsaire's picture
Joined: 06/27/2013
In this case it is mulligan

In this case it is mulligan with a penalty. For example in Magic the Gathering you draw seven cards. If you don't like them, you can discard, shuffle and draw only six cards. Don't like those discard and draw only five, etc. So you remove the game rules from having to anticipate broken draws. The player makes the decision and there is a penalty to the one who mulligans, either directly to them or by giving an advantage to the other player.

Heh, got beat to the answer :)

larienna's picture
Joined: 07/28/2008
I read rapidly your thread.

I read rapidly your thread. One way to overcome the luck factor in card/tile games is to give each card multiple functions. So if a player does not like the card he has, he can use them for another generic function. Not sure if it could work with your game.

As for gaining extra tile after using a tile, Micropul also had such mechanic, you you could only draw an extra tile once.

Joined: 08/21/2013
Thank you for all of your

Thank you for all of your suggestions. I now have several options, I will have to test them to see which feels more "natural" and balanced.

1 - Allow a redraw with 3 tiles instead of 4
2 - Allow one/x tile(s) change during the whole course of the game
3 - Allow one/x tile(s) change during the first turn
4 - Allow one/x extra tile(s) during the whole course of the game
5 - Allow one/x extra tile(s) during the first turn
6 - Rework the tile set so that could not happen (but huge balance changes may be needed)
7 - Make two-sided tiles so that more options are available to the player (I really like this idea, but it will surely need huge balance changes)

All of these are much better than having to explain the particular situation in the rule and the specific rule linked to it. Some of them also even add a special something that could make the game more strategic (I particularly like the #2).

PS: I played Magic a lot in my youth, and I don't remember ever using mulligan. How many games I've lost because of a crappy first hand? If only I had known!

radioactivemouse's picture
Joined: 07/08/2013
Two things


If, statistically, the problem occurs in 0.03%, then maybe it's not too much of a big deal. You will need to playtest this situation out rather than rely on theories about things coming up.

It's balancing the game according to "feel".

It doesn't have to be completely balanced in order to be "good", else we would only play symmetrical games like Chess. If you playtest the game and it never occurs, then it might not be a problem. If it happens too much, well then you can...


Incorporate it into the theme and/or make a rule. In Magic, the first player cannot draw on their first turn. In Star Wars: The Living Card Game, the Dark Side cannot go into Conflict on their first turn.

In your game, the builder cannot place 4 walls on their first turn. Call it "the cement has to dry" or "foundation needs to be laid".

You don't need to create a whole game mechanic based on an extremely small statistical probability. People want their gameplay to fit with the theme, so why not create a restriction based on the overall story you are trying to tell.

Joined: 08/27/2013
An alternate proposal

The common method for doing this would be to include an extra setup step. The 4 culprit tiles are separated out and shuffled into the bottom half of the tile deck. Or bottom 3/4, or bottom 1/4, or whichever you feel is an appropriate amount of time to delay their release.

This sort of mechanism is used frequently in scenarios where an event must occur at certain relatively fixed but somewhat uncertain points (Alhambra, for example, has scoring at intervals when indicator cards are drawn--the cards are seeded into the shuffled deck) or when the exact end of the game needs to be somewhat variable in order to counter strategies that center too heavily on counting tiles (Escape and Gentleman Thieves come to mind--the tile/marker needed to end the game is shuffled with a set number of others and stacked at the end). It could be used to effect here as a similar way of delaying release.

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