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Maintaining balance with a "leader" player

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SDHokie
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Hi All,

I'd like to kick off a discussion on the idea of an intentional "leader" player and their possible capabilities while maintaining a balanced game as players work to achieve winning conditions. Let's assume the game partly involves acquiring and trading of resources to obtain items that are used to build personal tableau.

The idea comes from a game I am brainstorming where the players are randomly assigned roles in a family (3 generations) and the "abuelita," or grandmother, is a prominent role. Each family member is trying to accumulate items, or offerings, to honor the abuelito.

Or, take the idea of a crew in a spaceship and a player is assigned the captain with special abilities. How about an ancient civilization with a chosen leader?

What comes to mind in terms of mechanics when you start thinking ways to maintain a balanced game, or a co-dependence among all players with a leader player? Consider this an open-floor discussion. Give any example you'd like.

My ideas:

  • Money, if involved, does not count toward winning conditions; that way, if the leader is intentionally responsible for funds, they aren't already setup for victory
  • The leader must NOT own above a certain amount of resources by the end of the game, to ensure they are not playing greedily
  • The leader is the only source from which others obtain resources and/or abilities (perhaps while adhering to the above item); that way, the leader must give up resources
  • The leader can only obtain certain items or resources from the other players rather than from the board or resource pools
  • Specific rules for the leader without being too clunky, e.g. the leader gives all players a resource at once while any one player can take from the leader

I'll stop there for sake of brevity. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. Thanks.

Tim Edwards
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First thought about theme was

First thought about theme was feudalism.

Leader (king) is the the source of estates to lords (which they can pass on to fiefs) in return for tribute and/ or homage, etc

questccg
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Why not assign a secret victory goal for each player

This could affect play styles and add a bit of intrigue into the game. The leader chooses what each player will have as secret goal.

A bit of this is to be able to have various players (in age)... All vying for the Leader to grant them victory. Some goals could be easier and good for younger players (like aged 9 to 12) and then have some middle objectives for teens (13 to 19) and lastly for the adults more difficult objectives...

The idea being that the game is challenging for all of the players...

SDHokie
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Re: Tim Edwards

Good example. Is there a game that happens to have a similar feature? I'd also like to know if there are games out there with a similar mechanic.

SDHokie
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Re: questccg

A secret victory goal from the leader is an interesting idea. That would mean the leader knows players' goals (unless they forget, in which case too bad?). The design would have to include something to avoid personal bias in a game, e.g. the leader helping their SO win.

What if there is a "compound goal" made up of multiple conditions from a "conditions pool?" Say there are many conditions possible, but only N conditions are handed out for N players. Each player gets one condition and must deduce the others during the game (so maybe a bluffing element here). The leader maybe gets one as well but cannot give hints to what makes up the rest... hmmm

When it comes to the age of the players, you're hitting on exactly what I am going for pertaining to that. With my family design, the game will very likely have to appeal to families. The mechanics therefore must offer some type of challenge to players of all ages. My thought on this is that acquiring resources should not be the most difficult task in the game. The difficulty lies in choices of resources (as well as getting rid of them) and strategic placement of those resources in the tableau for maximum points. Perhaps the secret victory goals can accommodate specific ages to balance that part of the game.

Thanks for your reply. You got my gears turning.

Jay103
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Really it's just an

Really it's just an asymmetric game (assuming this is not a cooperative game we're talking about here). You need to balance the game in a way that makes sense for the game.. I don't see that you can get too abstract about it.

That said, I'd avoid restrictions like "The leader must NOT own above a certain amount of resources by the end of the game, to ensure they are not playing greedily". If the game isn't cooperative, then this seems unfair. Though maybe it makes sense in context. But playing "greedily" implies to me that you have a cooperative game that's being dominated by the leader. Either way, the design probably shouldn't be fixed by "The leader may not have more than 10 gold for reasons I will not provide."

Jay103
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SDHokie wrote:When it comes

SDHokie wrote:
When it comes to the age of the players, you're hitting on exactly what I am going for pertaining to that. With my family design, the game will very likely have to appeal to families. The mechanics therefore must offer some type of challenge to players of all ages. My thought on this is that acquiring resources should not be the most difficult task in the game. The difficulty lies in choices of resources (as well as getting rid of them) and strategic placement of those resources in the tableau for maximum points. Perhaps the secret victory goals can accommodate specific ages to balance that part of the game.

If this is asymmetric because of a parent/child dynamic, then you want to be careful about making the child roles too complex. A secret victory condition may be crossing a line, as it will get in the way of the child getting any sort of help.

For example, if you're playing Catan, a more experienced player can offer useful advice to a less experienced one. If your Catan game had secret victory conditions.. that player probably couldn't offer useful advice, nor could the less experienced player easily ask a strategy question without giving away the condition.

I'd think more in terms of (old-school) Warcraft, where there were different races that were balanced against each other.

let-off studios
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Reason to Lead

TLDR: Give the leader a reason to be the leader.

I've recently been reading comic books again, and many of the leaders seen in superhero teams (for example) confer with their team members, recognize the threats they face, and between them all it's agreed on who becomes responsible to accomplish a specific task. What's more, an effective leader is listened to, and while not necessarily obeyed unfailingly, will have team members who acknowledge their role and know that what they do is going to buoy the team to success. The leader might not have to hang back all the time, but they will at least be able to maintain a "big picture" perspective.

I'm deliberately generalizing my description here so that folks aren't jammed-up talking about specific characters in their favourite comic book universe... :)

I think a team leader is the person who makes critical decisions about who does what, and when they ought to do it. I think the strengths of a leader come when they realize that they don't necessarily know it all and can't possibly do it all, and they know how to most-effectively delegate to team members so that everyone benefits.

When approaching this from a design standpoint, providing a diverse array of challenge types (not all intellectual, not all physical combat, not all magic-based, etc.) is key. Not only will this allow you to have a broad design space for asymmetrical strength-base approaches (as noted above already), but it will allow the leader player to delegate, receive feedback on the decision they've made, and then continue to make decisions by re-allocating or re-assigning resources.

Drion22
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Role of the leader

We should touch upon on what kind of leader we're talking about, I love the initial idea of a victory condition being about appeasing and offering tribute to another player (though I don't understand how the abuleito actually wins then). This describes a kind of assymetric game, with the leader having control over other players while they're playing their own minigames, just like in Tim's feudalism idea. But let-off's hero idea feels like a leader of a team in a cooperative environment, which means that the leader player has more decisions or bigger stakes (and could also maybe help keep alphagamers in check). How about blowing up the appeasing the grandma theme into a player being a picky god who's trying to show the other gods that he is the most loved, so he tries persuading his servants (other players) with boons into giving him the most offerings!

Jay103
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The more I think about it,

The more I think about it, the more I hear dissonance.

You're talking about a situation (such as on a starship) where the players are inherently all on a team, trying to accomplish a goal together. But it's not a cooperative game.. that's why the power dynamic matters at all (if it was cooperative, there would be no problem with a leader role)

I think I'd need a concrete example scenario. The ones you present I just don't get. For example, a picky god trying to show the other gods he's the most loved.. except the other players aren't the other gods, competing for boons (which has been done afaik), but rather are the subjects. That just.. doesn't work, for the reasons you present. You can't really have a game where 4 people are doing one thing, and 1 person is doing something totally different, and the 5 people are all separate. If it was a 4-on-1 team thing, sure, but I just don't see that you could design a decent game like that.

Drion22
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Jay103 wrote:The more I think

Jay103 wrote:
The more I think about it, the more I hear dissonance.

You're talking about a situation (such as on a starship) where the players are inherently all on a team, trying to accomplish a goal together. But it's not a cooperative game.. that's why the power dynamic matters at all (if it was cooperative, there would be no problem with a leader role)

Yeah, I ran away the idea a bit quick.

Jay103 wrote:
I think I'd need a concrete example scenario.

The idea being, that there is a team of players with similar abilities working together. Now the question is what does a leader do differently:

1. A leader who has additional abilities > choices > responsibilities, this could maybe offset a more experienced / more alphagaming player

2. A leader with a different set of abilities, but ones that influence all the other players, like the feudalism idea, where a landlord plays with different mechanics and maybe even different goals than his farmers, but still interacts with and helps them ("leads" them)

The god idea was just based on the second one. The god just wants the most offerings and the servants are fighting for giving that in exchange of the best boons. Slightly messy, might need more gods fighting over the best servants and servants fighting over the most generous gods. Fun stuff :P

questccg
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Battle for Olympus

Drion22 wrote:
The god idea was just based on the second one.

How about a game where the Alpha player is Zeus and the other players are lesser gods seeking his favor???

The story could be that Zeus wants to appoint another guardian for Olympus in the event that he should be unable to protect the realm. Another god would step in to protect their sovereign realm from otherworldly threats.

Just my 5 cents... Cheers!

Fri
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Every player could have a

Every player could have a goal or goals (secret or not secret or a mix). However the leader could have a disproportionately goals compared to the other players. This would be "balanced" by the fact that they more resources and of course bring the leader they can get the other players to help them.

SDHokie
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I'll explain further...

Drion22 wrote:
We should touch upon on what kind of leader we're talking about, I love the initial idea of a victory condition being about appeasing and offering tribute to another player (though I don't understand how the abuleito actually wins then)...

Hi Drion22 thanks for the reply. The abuelito in the game has passed. The family members are each building an ofrenda, or offering, to honor his life. He is survived by abuelita who will always be a player in the game. She is going to know everything he liked and disliked in his lifetime, so of course she knows what should go on the altar *out of the numerous items in the game. She is clearly a very special person in this game so I'd like to carry over that experience.

The family of course knows what abuelito liked, but not to the extent of abuelita. Let's say each family member starts with secretly knowing a single item abuelo liked and must figure out the rest of the items. Perhaps at the onset of the game, abuelita has handed everyone this information - she knows everything he liked! The rest of the items in the game are neutral or bad, as in abuelito either didn't care for those items or disliked them, respectively.

So how do we balance this game? By writing this, it is looking to me as though players should be bluffing as part of their strategy, and that includes abuelita since she doesn't want to give it all away. The players will deduce all items through the actions of the rest of the family.

I should note that this theme is based on a personal experience of mine and I am not looking to change it at all. This game is honoring my abuelito. *I am open to hearing examples of parallel themes for the sake of examples and ideas. Though the thought of him painted into an omnipotent figure for a gods theme is adorable and funny.

*Edits

SDHokie
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Reply to u/Fri

Hi Fri,

I like this idea. u/Jay103 was right in this thread that I am essentially designing an asymmetric game. The difference here is that the asymmetry really lies with just one person - abuelita. The end goal for everyone is the same though. Build a beautiful ofrenda to honor abuelito's life with items obtained during the game.

With the same end goal, it might only be the abuelita with not disproportionate goals but abilities, or ways to obtain items. If the family is running through the town buying and trading items for the ofrenda, maybe the abuelita moves slower, or is home-bound and is slower to gain these items? Perhaps the abuelita would need help from other players while trying not to reveal abuelito's favorite items all too quickly?

Sorry if I'm discussing the thick of the theme here without much background. I realize I started this thread more open-ended but I don't actually want to change the theme of this game.

Jay103
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This is a tough design, I

This is a tough design, I suspect.

How about if the abuelita scores points based on balance? Not exactly sure how it would work, but essentially she'll need to win based on something "positive", while at the same time effectively thwarting the other players. If her goal was to have, say, an equal number of offerings from each other player, while of course their goals are to have the most good offerings, that might work.

Obviously it needs a little more than that :)

questccg
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I had an idea about "scoring" to be balanced...

In "Bejeweled 3" there is a gem game called "Poker". The interesting part is that the gem matches are used to "MAKE A HAND". But BETWEEN a "Pair" and "Two Pairs" is something called "Spectrum".

"Spectrum" basically equates to ONE (1) of EACH color (for a total of 5 cards in Bejeweled 3).

But nothing stops you from requiring one OFFERING from EACH player based on the "color" of the offering. Now instead of a "color", it could be ANYTHING your heart desires... The categorization is your own...

This would make it that players co-opetate. They must work together at the same time, each trying to be the higher scoring player. Players can LIE (Bluff) about if they have or don't have a specific missing category.

And generally speaking the Leader is pleased when an entire "spectrum" is offered and OFFENDED if NOT!

I'll stop right there... because you were asking about BALANCING and HOW to achieve it... This is only ONE (1) method, I am certain there are others. But you can see it can be real straight forwards to BALANCE the game... And it can be as flexible as you want.

For example if the Number of "categories" is greater than the number of players (or gems in Bejeweled 3) you have HIGHER odds of success!

Cheers mate...

let-off studios
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La Familia

Jay103 wrote:
How about if the abuelita scores points based on balance? Not exactly sure how it would work, but essentially she'll need to win based on something "positive", while at the same time effectively thwarting the other players.
The abuelita moves towards victory by maintaining balance between all other players, while all the other players are moving towards victory by sliding the scales in their favour.

I envision a crime family vibe with this. There's one leader or archetypal "godfather" while there are henchman and family members surrounding the leader, each with their own agendas, likes, and dislikes. Several of them simply hate one another, but due to the abuelita's influence they are forced to work together much more often than they would like. Additionally, this syndicate is only as powerful and successful as it is due to its loyalty to the abuelita. All that is changing, as the family is at the cusp of a transitional phase. The abuelita is the old lion being kicked out of its pride, so to speak.

The abuelita is attempting to maintain its control, or balance. The other players are either co-conspirators to the throne, or want to eliminate the rest of the family by any means necessary. It's not about supporting the abuelita's grasp on power (unless of course, you're the abuelita, who must choose their successor). Rather, it's about being the head of the syndicate when the smoke clears.

I imagine lots of hidden agendas, voting mechanics, and resource management. The abuelita directs other players to complete different tasks in an effort to gain resources, while other players attempt to foster their own coup without casting suspicion on themselves.

I can see this as a cooperative-competitive, social deduction game. The abuelita wins if their chosen successor is the only surviving family member, while coalitions of family members will win if they eliminate all those not part of their faction.

SDHokie
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Re: let-off studios

let-off studios][quote=Jay103 wrote:
How about if the abuelita scores points based on balance?...

I imagine lots of hidden agendas, voting mechanics, and resource management. The abuelita directs other players to complete different tasks in an effort to gain resources, while other players attempt to foster their own coup without casting suspicion on themselves.

I can see this as a cooperative-competitive, social deduction game....

THIS. Scoring on balance is a unique idea. I know others have mentioned it here but I will take that into consideration. Hidden agendas are always fun. Related to voting mechanics, I think I might add an auction element. Auctions would be interesting under uncertainty of how valuable the item is, though maybe one or more players know. You could use the auction as a bluffing mechanism whether you are the auctioneer or bidder.

Lots of ideas from this thread. The crime family is a great analogy too. Thanks everyone.

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