11 July, 2018

What the hell is "Game Balance"?

...and why do we care?
...and how do we get it?
...and what difference does it make?
(You could probably add a dozen follow up questions of your own)

I've discussed the notion numerous times over the years (such as here, here, here, here, and here). My thoughts generally haven't changed. It's possible to have asymmetric characters and still have fun in a game, but if you're going to do this you need to make sure the unbalanced elements of the game are offset in some way, or maybe make the game about something that isn't impacted by those unbalanced elements. Have a game with an awesome warrior, a street urchin, and a wizard... then make the game about their relationships with the community where they live.


Of the posts linked above, the most relevant for my current thoughts is the third one (about "point-buy" systems). Once you know what the game is about, and once you've decided that players may be competing against one another, you should strive to make avatars within the game world that actually let players compete. This may be through balancing power levels, or by allowing underpowered avatars the option of gaining larger rewards, or lower levelled victory conditions.

Four variants on this can be found in four of the inspirations for the "Bring Your Own Miniatures" project.


  • Dofus/Wakfu Arena - This is one of the more unusual balancing mechanisms. The characters are differentiated at a far coarser level of granularity than most games, because it's designed for a younger audience. Low level characters are worth one point, better characters might be worth 2 or 3, and the experienced veterans are 4 or 5... there may be characters worth more, I didn't get a whole heap of figures before they were discontinued. As you'd expect, there's a pretty big difference between a level 1 and a 2... but there's plenty of variation between level 1s too. A certain level 1 might vary in it's power level depending on keyword synergies throughout the rest of their team. The interesting thing about this game is that there is no real issue competing a 10 point team against a 15 or 20 point team. You just need to earn a number of victory points equal to your team points to win. These points can be gained by eliminating the opposing team's points, or by completing mission objectives. The varied win condition level has made even the most uneven games competitive. I've yet to try a 1pt-vs-10pt game, but even in this case a win by either side is feasible. A sneaky single victory point could be acquired by the lone 1-pt figure before they get obliterated by their opponents. 
  • Confrontation: Dogs of War - Engaging in battles and missions in Dogs of War earns a company renown points. These points may be used to recruit new team members. Under this system, the rewards are varied depending on the imbalance between the two companies. Beating a lower renown company will earn renown, but beating a higher renown company will earn more renown. The greater the difference in renown, the greater the difference in the final awarded renown. Specific characters are balanced in this game according to miniature values, which could range from 9-10pts for low level grunts, th rough to 20-25 for seasoned combatants, 30-50 for powerful humans or monstrous figures, and anywhere up to 300+ points for true legends. 
  • Mordheim - There isn't much to balance teams in Mordheim, but the lower warband generally has the opportunity to choose the scenario, or choose whether they act as attacker or defender. In some cases, named NPC characters may join a lower ranked warband, with a better chance of joining if the difference between teams is higher. So, instead of changing the goalposts, or heightening the reward, it potentially narrows the margin by adding an extra character. Characters in Mordheim gain experience and this both contributes to the warbands rating and improves them when they reach milestones.
  • Malifaux - Malifaux assumes even battles, but this isn't particularly true. Players get an equal number of Soulstones to build their team, and if they hold any stones in reserve, it gives their leader more magical energy to play with. Individual figures might cost anywhere from 1 to 10 Soulstones (or more for truly significant figures), but it is assumed that the baseline level of the team Masters keep everything more even... but those masters aren't balanced, and have wildly different techniques for effective play. 


Each is valid, and brings something interesting to the table.

But what about balance in this "Bring Your Own Miniatures" system.

I've been worried about the Water element giving skills. Not only does it feel like I need to balance the skills against each other, but the way skills are gained means I also feel like an extra skill needs to balance against an extra point in an attribute. A lot of the skills I've been writing up over the last couple of days have been getting overpowered... which basically means that a player will optimise their figure by allocating their 8 points into Water then buying 8 skills which each have overpowered effects. This is definitely where prerequisites come into play...a couple of skills requiring 7s or 8s in an element become virtually mutually exclusive. Similarly, high powered skills might have underpowered skills as prerequisites, effectively forcing players to pay extra for those heightened abilities.

Now it's going to come down to playtesting. 
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