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Relative power of abilities (Escape from Illeria)

8 replies [Last post]
simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008

Hey all,

I think I've talked about this game a little bit before, but I'm working on a wargame called Escape From Illeria. One of the hallmarks of this game is that most characters begin essentially the same, except that when they are created they are given a pair of abilities. Right now I'm testing the abilities for relative power, basically using a simulation that runs 100,000 battles and records who wins. After the 100,000 battles have been run, the screen prints how often the character with each ability won (i.e. killed the opponent and lived), and how often there was a draw (i.e. both died). I've found that 100,000 battles is enough so that if I rerun the simulation, the wins don't vary by more than 1%.

So, that said, I have a problem: I'm not sure how much of an advantage qualifies as a serious advantage. For example, if Parry wins 45% of the time, and Bonus Attack wins 40% of the time, does that really qualify as a major advantage? I ask in part because I'm trying to figure out a way to record the advantage each ability has over the other, so I can tally it at the end (for example, in my last simulation, Bonus Attack was stronger than 9 abilities, weaker than 3, and about the same as 2). Right now, I thought that a 10% bonus in survival rate was enough to qualify (i.e. take the amount that the first won, divide it by the amount the second won, see if that is more than 1.1 or less than .9). I'm considering also having something like "Extreme victory," if you really beat the opponent. I don't know, what do you think? Is 10% reasonable? Is there a better metric to use?

And I guess my other question: at what point will and advantage be noticeable to players?

And I know what some of you are going to say, I should just playtest all of this. I know there are subtleties I'm missing here, which can only be testing in a real game. That said, I have a large number of abilities to test, and running 10 million fights on a computer is much easier to do than run even 2 or 3 games in real life (part of it is I just moved, and haven't found any new gamer buddies yet). So, I'd like to be able to optimize this as much as possible before someone actually takes time out of their day to play the game.

devin's picture
Joined: 05/03/2009

well i think that if some one wins mor then 65% of the time thats a big advantage

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
stupid question

How do you measure 65% of the time?

I guess here is the problem: if two characters with no ability fight, they both have a 34% chance of surviving, which leaves a 32% chance that they both go out. Do I drop the chance of a draw, and just compare 34% to 34%? (because otherwise there would be a 66% chance that the first would kill the second)

Also, 65% victory means that one character is twice as likely to beat the other. Is that too large of a minimum advantage to measure?

Joined: 07/08/2009
Well . . .

. . . is it easy enough to run the simulation that you can just tweak numbers until they get where you want? Is it that simple, or are there other factors (like maybe even if they start out with an advantage, player skill, cards, powerups, w/e will change that later in the game)?

I wouldn't want to play a game where there was a huge advantage to one side or the other. It's what has kept me from buying War of the Ring thus far. I read that there was a bit of an advantage to one side. Honestly, I will still probably get it, because it's a two player game, so it's not a huge, huge deal since I'd just be playing for fun. But if I went on BGG and read about your game and it said this was a flaw, it might be a deal breaker for me.

What about using a bidding system for players to choose who gets who? Are there resources in your game that could work like that? I will probably end up using something like that for a game I'm working on, since it will let the knowledge/ skill/ level-of-caring of the individual play groups balance that last five percent for themselves.

ReneWiersma's picture
Joined: 08/08/2008
I think you should try to get

I think you should try to get the strength of the abilities as close to eachother as possible. Perhaps a difference of 5% at its most is acceptable (52.5% vs. 47.5%). If the difference is bigger people will start to notice.

That said, if you manage to balance the abilities against eachother perfectly, then what does it matter what abilites a player gets? I think it is important that different abilities lead to different strategic choices. For example, the "parry" ability is much more effective when you have a lot of small, cheap units, but "bonus attack" is more useful in combination with just a few, strong, expensive units.

It might be even more interesting when an ability has a side effect that is non-combat related. For example, the "parry" ability is a "better" combat ability than the "bonus attack" ability (in the sense that it wins much more in your simulation), but its downside is that it requires constant training (a fixed sum of money per turn). Adding stuff like this makes your game more assymetric, and more interesting. It also makes it harder to playtest and balance your game, but that is part of the fun of game design, isn't it? ;)

Joined: 07/15/2009
You say players get 2 powers.

You say players get 2 powers. If its really pushing you maybe you could link 2 powers to even it up. Avoids super combo's and may be easier to balance that way.

simons's picture
Joined: 12/28/2008
Reframing the question

I think the three of you hit a couple of things on the head. If any ability is really too good, I'll balance it by making it worth 2 ability points. Other than that, there aren't really bargaining mechanisms I could take advantage of. What I'm going for in total here is not necessarily that every ability has the same chance as every other ability, but rather that abilities are balanced in how good they are. I want players to be somewhat free in terms of how they choose their abilities, however, I don't want there to be one or two optimal choices.

If you want an example (if not you can skip this): Heavy Armor, Bonus Attack, and Venom. Bonus Attack is probably an above average ability compared to the others I'm testing. I'm okay with this, since it is a purely combat ability, whereas some others can have benefits outside of combat (such as, say, Regeneration). It beats Venom 45% of the time (loses 25% of the time, draws 30%). However, if Bonus Attack goes up against Heavy Armor, Heavy Armor wins 62% of the time (losing 24% of the time, drawing 14%). Heavy Armor is one of the best abilities currently (according to the simulation), and beats many other abilities by a high margin, but I am okay with this, because a) Heavy Armor slows a character's movement, and b) there are attacks that ignore armor (actually leaving the character worse off than if she had taken nothing). One of these attacks is Venom, which beats Heavy Armor 75% of the time, and only loses 9%.

Perhaps here are the better questions to ask: a) when would you notice an ability difference? b) when would an advantage start to affect your decision making? c) when would an advantage cause you to avoid combat at all costs? (i.e. "Dang, I was going to charge my well armored fighter in, but against a character with Venom that would be suicide.")

And perhaps a more side question: have people done games like this before, and if so, what would make you consider a host of abilities to be "balanced"? In the past I've tried using genetic algorithms. I've also had someone who worked on a CCG say something about "Have a healthy number of abilities/cards that negate other abilities/cards), that way if one card or combination really is too good, you'll see a lot of decks come out to counter those decks." Is there another mathematical or measurable way to say when a set of abilities are fairly balanced, or is it more of a gut feeling?

Joined: 07/08/2009

simons wrote:
Is there another mathematical or measurable way to say when a set of abilities are fairly balanced, or is it more of a gut feeling?

I think both of those things would be combined into the phrase "playtesting!"

I guess the effectiveness and usefulness of the computer model depends on how often players have to engage in something resembling it. Twilight Imperium, for example, has some pretty broken combat abilities on some of the races. The fact that one could win the game with a minimum of combat, however, offsets these a little. (Note, it can still be frustrating to have these abilities when no-one wants to come out and play, or to be stuck in between a couple of these abilities who really want to attack their stupid cat-person neighbor . . . )

So, if players have to start comparing their abilities to one another on the first turn of the game, and keep doing it, then your model had better show them to be pretty balanced. If the guy with the good defense can strategically maneuver himself onto a hill, or into a city, or onto his good resources (whatever might be an advantage) then it might be enough to offset a guy who could theoretically beat the snot out of him every time.

Joined: 10/22/2008
Quote:Is there another

Is there another mathematical or measurable way to say when a set of abilities are fairly balanced, or is it more of a gut feeling?

If no one tends to argue or use them, then a set of abilities are fairly balanced.

However it should be noted that Abilities are often perceived as advantages one has over another. My ability at flying is an advantage. Your ability at super-strength is an advantage. The ability to breath underwater is an advantage. They are all in an "advantages" set but should they all be expressed on a level field? Based on situational conditions (which games are just a string of situations), some advantages are going to be more advantageous at a given situation.

As a measurable way, you should look at how the abilities fair not against each other but how well they do against the situations. You could even rough out a value system:

Value System Ranged 0-9; zero (no advantage) up to nine (cancels situation by making it too easy)

Super Strength vs. Movement Situation - 2
Super Strength vs. Combat Situation - 7
Super Strength vs. Mental Combat Situation - 0
Super Strength vs. Lifting Situation - 9
Super Strength vs. Trivia Situation - 0

From the value system we can see a cross-section of how powerful the ability is in-game. It only measures in three of the five in-game situations but when it does it tends to peak highly. We use this information to weight in against other abilities and their in-game effects.

*It should be noted that this is still a rather empathic way of game design since it uses the designer's opinion rather than empirical data. But any game designer should flex his opinion once in awhile to make a great game. Like it or not, you're just making all of this up (game included).*

A few notes to help smooth over powerful abilities:

-Design more towards player personality.
Obviously not every player plays the same way when given the same resources. Any advantage is a natural extension of how differing player personalities use an opportunity (advantage) as an exploit.

EX. As a player, I play offensively often trying to knockdown other players before they are defensively ready. If the mechanics are slated towards rewarding building-up first, then there is a good chance I will bypass that opportunity because it simply runs opposite of my natural play style.

-Design payoff advantages rather than flat advantages.
Perhaps some abilities have prerequisites before they can be used. A player can weigh the obvious advantage of the ability against its cost to regulate its use. That way its up to the player to decide if the payoff of the advantage is worth it.

EX. I picked my game character because he has a great resource gathering ability. It works twice as well as other players but it costs me most of my starting gold to "fuel" the ability. This advantage will run-out if I have no gold.

-Limit game information that reveals advantages.
Games are environments that players muck around in. These environments tell players what is going on and this information influences players how they will make their next more. One band-aid to game advantages is to limit the visibility of an opportunity.

EX. The game is a card game. Abilities are listed on cards and kept in-hand rather than on the table till it is used. I know the player next to me has a killer spell combo in his deck that would give him a clear advantage over this battle but does he have it in his hand?


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