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BoardGameGeek» Forums » Board Game Design » Board Game Design

Subject: Preventing the trivial strategy rss

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Jeff Warrender
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I've talked a bit in these forums about a design I'm working on that's played in two phases. In both phases, there are challenges that you have to pass by rolling dice. Having the right cards lets you roll more dice, or you can pay cubes. You're given a limited supply of cubes at the game start and can't ever get more.

In the first phase, you travel around acquiring cards and getting to look at the challenge cards that you'll face in the second phase. You expend cubes to take these actions. Then the second phase starts and you reveal the challenge cards one by one, and must roll to pass each one.

The astute reader will notice the problem immediately. If you completely eschew drawing cards and acquiring information in the first phase, you'll have more cubes available in the second phase, and can simply use these to boost your number of dice so as to scoot through the the challenge cards more easily. I consider this the "trivial strategy", and don't want the game to reward it at all.

The problem I'm having is that most of the ways I can think of to prevent it impose restrictions or limitations on the players. For example:

- You may only spend at most one cube when facing a challenge
- You MUST pay to acquire information in the first phase

I'd prefer to motivate player behavior with incentives rather than restrictions. The obvious thing, then, is to have the 2nd phase challenge cards give a big boost to players who have the right equipment, and you need to pay to acquire information so you know what the right equipment is.

The difficulty is, it won't be possible to have perfect information, and in punishing players who acquire NO information, I don't want to also punish players who only acquire partial information, or who acquire information but are unable to acquire the equipment cards needed to act on it. So if the challenge cards are uber-harsh unless you have the right equipment, this could kneecap players without info.

Restrictions seem like the easiest way to go, but it's not my preferred option. Hence this thread; if anyone has good ideas (I know I've only given limited info, but can say more on request), I'd be very receptive to them!
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Nicholas Hjelmberg
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Incentives are definitely better than restrictions. Work from the goal and backwards. What is my objective? To overcome a challenge. How do I do it? By learning about the challenge and preparing myself for it. I do the first by buying information. I do the second by buying equipment.

Will I automatically overcome the challenge then? No, there should be some kind limit that makes the perfect game difficult to accomplish (limited resources, limited knowledge about how to match Equipment and challenges etc.). Hence, I prefer a game where you have to work with partial information and find the least risky way rather than a game where you win with perfect information and lose without it.
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Nathaniel Grisham

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You could use diminishing returns, or some non-linear function to determine how much a die costs. As an example, the first extra die on a challenge costs one cube, the second die costs two cubes, etc. A player relying exclusively on these cubes would run out pretty quickly if they need to add more than one or two dice for a challenge. The players who are the most well-rounded in their preparations for the challenges will have to spend the fewest cubes to pass those challenges, and players who focus on one area, or the wrong areas, because they didn't acquire the needed knowledge will struggle more.

You could also reward having extra cubes at the end of the game, or at the end of certain challenges. I think players respond better to incentives than they do punishments, and it makes it less obvious that the game is trying to push them in a certain direction.

Hope these thoughts help.
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A. Mandible
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Two currencies. You start the game with a fixed number of coins and can't get more. One of the types of things you may find in your travels is a store that allows buying the magic cubes for coins. If you don't travel, you never get any cubes at all. (Maybe the stores offer better prices the farther you've traveled, so failing to draw a store before the point where you want to stop isn't an unmitigated disaster?)
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Jeremy Lennert
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If you want to encourage players to spend their resources on X instead of Y, you need to make sure that X gives a better return-on-investment.

The easiest way to do that is usually to make X cheaper. Increase the number of cards you can see for 1 cube, or increase the number of cubes you need to spend for 1 bonus on a roll in phase 2. Or implement some kind of tax where you lose (say) half of your remaining cubes when you move from phase 1 to phase 2 (effectively making everything in phase 2 twice as expensive).

Making information valuable enough that it's worth giving up wildcard bonuses just so that you know what's coming up is tough: that knowledge has to help you so much that the difference between a knowledgable strategy and a random strategy is on average worth more than what you paid. And if you're paying even more to acquire the gear that you now know you need, you need to factor that into the cost, too.

Obviously, part of that is going to be offering a large reward for players who bring the right gear. But another part is going to be to weaken the randomized strategy by ensuring there's a large variety of gear that you could need. If you've only got 3 kinds of gear, then you've got a fairly good chance of picking the right one even with no information; if there are 30 kinds of gear in the game, then choosing randomly is much less likely to win.

I don't know how you currently combine the results of different challenges. If you're currently thinking of this as "the players must pass every single challenge to make it to the end", then it might be helpful to try a style of "players are always going to fail some of the challenges, and the goal is to pass as many as possible". That gives you the space to say that sometimes a challenge is utterly hopeless if you didn't prepare for it without making your game unwinnable. Or perhaps "each challenge is an opportunity to score points depending on how well you do", allowing you to reward players who do super-well on a challenge compared to those who just scrape by.

You could also consider giving out some direct bonuses along with your information. Maybe when you get to peek at a challenge, you also automatically get to place a token on it to show that you peeked, and that gives you an automatic bonus on that challenge just because you are mentally prepared for it (even if you didn't actually buy any special gear or anything).
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Josh
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What triggers the end of the first phase?
Maybe the end-condition could be "After some total number of cubes has been spent on information"?
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Koen Hendrix
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Remove the cubes from the game?
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Jeff Warrender
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Thanks for the many helpful replies so far! The replies are highly congruent with my view that it's better to design with incentives than with obstacles, so I'm definitely trying to work within that framework.

Grishhammer wrote:
You could use diminishing returns, or some non-linear function to determine how much a die costs. As an example, the first extra die on a challenge costs one cube, the second die costs two cubes, etc.


I hadn't thought of that, but that's a really good idea! Thanks.

grasa_total wrote:
wo currencies. You start the game with a fixed number of coins and can't get more. One of the types of things you may find in your travels is a store that allows buying the magic cubes for coins.


That's also a very good idea, but unfortunately I don't think it quite works thematically for this particular game. But I think it could work perfectly well in a different take on the same system, so I appreciate your mentioning it!

Antistone wrote:
Making information valuable enough that it's worth giving up wildcard bonuses just so that you know what's coming up is tough: that knowledge has to help you so much that the difference between a knowledgable strategy and a random strategy is on average worth more than what you paid.


Absolutely. And yet, that's exactly what the game needs to do; i.e. that's what is supposed to be distinctive about it, that it rewards playing the knowledge game, but, as you note, the penalties for not doing so aren't so severe that you're out of the game completely unless you have perfect knowledge.

Quote:
Obviously, part of that is going to be offering a large reward for players who bring the right gear. But another part is going to be to weaken the randomized strategy by ensuring there's a large variety of gear that you could need


That's exactly right. A different thought I had is that each piece of equipment can be the right thing for a couple of challenges, so the goal isn't just to acquire the right equipment but to acquire equipment that gives the best synergy with the challenge system.

Quote:
If you're currently thinking of this as "the players must pass every single challenge to make it to the end", then it might be helpful to try a style of "players are always going to fail some of the challenges, and the goal is to pass as many as possible". That gives you the space to say that sometimes a challenge is utterly hopeless if you didn't prepare for it without making your game unwinnable. Or perhaps "each challenge is an opportunity to score points depending on how well you do", allowing you to reward players who do super-well on a challenge compared to those who just scrape by.


I have a system that I think I like to address this very thing. My intent is that players will progress through each challenge together, as a group. Each one takes a turn tackling the challenge, which means rolling the required result. If you fail, you roll again, and then again, until you either succeed or you hit X rolls, at which point it passes to the next player. Then, players re-order their position based on the number of rolls they took to pass the card. So, being unprepared or rolling poorly doesn't put you out of the game, it simply puts you at the back of the line and you'll have to scramble to get back to the front!

Josh wrote:
What triggers the end of the first phase?
Maybe the end-condition could be "After some total number of cubes has been spent on information"?


Something like that could work; I was thinking of going to something like "you can't enter the second phase until you've spent at least X cubes", but again that's a restriction not an incentive. If it's 'until ALL players have spent a total of X', that could work but it still doesn't address the hoarding player strategy.

Another option could be to say that you get 2X cubes total over the game, but only get X in each phase. Again, that's more restrictive than I'd like to be, though.
 
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Greg
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The essence of the solution has been found: Spending cubes (cleverly) in phase #1 needs to produce more of a bonus than spending them in phase #2

At the moment you need at least two cubes to do well, one to see the problem and one to grab an appropriate card for it. If cards are coming randomly then you'll need far more. If that's being contrasted to one cube for one dice then having the right card needs to add *lots* of dice to be worthwhile.

The detail of how to do that will depend on your game, but here's two things that came to mind for me:

1) What if cards were free but you could only carry so many? That way you only spend cubes to learn which cards you need - then once the second phase starts you do a "draw X keep Y" with a highish X and a lowish Y to reward information gathering

2) What if you had to bid for something and having gathered info lets you bid more intelligently. If you had [1] Gather info [2] Bid on kit [3] Solve problems - that could work if the effect of kit was to allow you to automatically skip the right problems and problems required enough cubes (on average) to pass to make the kit acquisition worth it.
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Jeff Warrender
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khendrix wrote:
Remove the cubes from the game?


This isn't a ridiculous suggestion, but it would change what I'm trying to do with the game. Obviously with the die-rolling resolution for challenges there's a fair bit of randomness in the game. Ultimately, the game is a race, so you're trying to balance your speed and your "stability" -- pursuing the goal too aggressively exposes you to more risk. The actions that the cubes pay for let you customize the way in which you reduce your exposure to risk, and the cubes themselves place a finite limit on exactly how much "risk reduction" you can engage in over the course of the game. That could perhaps be controlled in a different way, but for now I like the idea of giving players some flexibility but also an upper bound on how flexible they can be.
 
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Jeff Warrender
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x_equals_speed wrote:
The essence of the solution has been found: Spending cubes (cleverly) in phase #1 needs to produce more of a bonus than spending them in phase #2

At the moment you need at least two cubes to do well, one to see the problem and one to grab an appropriate card for it. If cards are coming randomly then you'll need far more. If that's being contrasted to one cube for one dice then having the right card needs to add *lots* of dice to be worthwhile.


That's right. There's the added constraint that having the wrong card in a single challenge or two shouldn't doom your chances in the game, but if you never have the right card, then you should lose handily.



Quote:
1) What if cards were free but you could only carry so many? That way you only spend cubes to learn which cards you need - then once the second phase starts you do a "draw X keep Y" with a highish X and a lowish Y to reward information gathering


That's a good thought. There is sort of an element like this already: you choose 3 of the cards from your hand to "equip" at a time, so having good advance knowledge helps you to know what cards you'll need and when you should be using them.

Quote:
2) What if you had to bid for something and having gathered info lets you bid more intelligently. If you had [1] Gather info [2] Bid on kit [3] Solve problems - that could work if the effect of kit was to allow you to automatically skip the right problems and problems required enough cubes (on average) to pass to make the kit acquisition worth it.


I like this idea very much and it even fits with the way the 2nd phase works: as I mentioned briefly, all of the challenges are faced simultaneously, and you're jockeying for position. Bidding could play into that, except...it would probably necessitate adding another currency, and I don't think that quite fits with the theme of the game. It's a good idea of a concrete way to reward knowledge -- you'll necessarily bid higher the more certain you are.

 
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Greg
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Choosing 3 from your hand to equip makes your problem worse, because it introduces diminishing returns to the "buy card" option. The first three you buy are always available, after that you increasingly risk not having the right one to hand.

People were trying to introduce diminishing returns to the other side of the equation to make cube spending in section one more profitable

Another possibility is to have actions on step #1 change how good spending cubes in step #2 is. So for instance you could do something along the lines of "You can spend cubes before revealing the challenge, but must choose a challenge type. If you are correct they provide double dice, if you're wrong they provide nothing."
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Jeff Warrender
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x_equals_speed wrote:
Choosing 3 from your hand to equip makes your problem worse, because it introduces diminishing returns to the "buy card" option. The first three you buy are always available, after that you increasingly risk not having the right one to hand.


Well, sure, but if you have acquired knowledge then you know what cards to use for which challenges. (There are a couple of points at which you can reset which cards are equipped). If you bought equipment that happened to be right for the challenges, but you didn't know that they were and thus don't actually know when you were supposed to use them, then, yeah, you may luckily have them equipped at the right time, or may have them in your hand when you wish you had equipped them -- that seems fine to me, it's the stuff that fun gaming stories are made of. ("I can't believe I left the pickaxe back at the cave entrance! Should have known this pistol wouldn't do me any good if there was a cave-in!")


Quote:

Another possibility is to have actions on step #1 change how good spending cubes in step #2 is. So for instance you could do something along the lines of "You can spend cubes before revealing the challenge, but must choose a challenge type. If you are correct they provide double dice, if you're wrong they provide nothing."


This is more like investment than bidding. Yes, that could work. It definitely makes the trivial strategy less likely to succeed. I wonder if it's a bit redundant if there's already a system in place whereby having equipment in hand rewards advance knowledge. But something like this could be incorporated into the equipment system -- for example, if instead of having 3 equipped cards, you had a hand of cards, equipped one at a time and then put cubes on it. Then reveal, and if the card matches the challenge card, the cube give X dice each, whereas if it doesn't match they're lost.
 
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Greg
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I get that it's having the right kit and the knowledge to use it is the best case scenario, but I was thinking about ways to balance "gain info" and "gain kit" actions to make them more powerful than not taking any in favor of spending cubes. Cards have diminishing utility after a point unless you have perfect information (which you've said is not expected), this factors into that equation.

Having 6 cards is better than having 3 cards, but it's not twice as good unless you've got perfect info and the ability to switch them at the right moment.

Yup, it was a totally different idea, it wasn't a suggestion of a bidding implementation. You don't need as many ideas as are suggested in this thread, you probably just need one good one to solve your problem, but without knowing the game well I've got no way to judge so was just throwing out ideas so you've got options for finding the best fit.
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wayne mathias
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Totally out of left field, but what if cubes are traded to increase the number of sides on the die/dice rolled instead of number of dice rolled?

4,6,8,10,12 sided dice

Cards could variously reduce needed number, add to number rolled, or even affect type of die used or number of dice rolled while cubes could only affect the type of die or dice being used.

edit:
The idea refused to be quiet until it ramified a bit:


assumption: challenge roll needed based on 3 dice - normally 6 sided

full set of dice is 3x4-sided, 3x6-sided, and 1 each 8,10,and 12 sided - a roll will use 3 dice from this set

cards could affect type of dice rolled or give bonuses, lacking a type or category of cards could reduce to 4 sided dice, various affects depending on challenge and card matchups

spending 1 cube lets you trade up 1 die by 1 step - but there are only 1 each of the 8,10, and 12 sided dice and lacking correct cards may have you starting with all 4 sided dice instead of 6 sided


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Jeff Warrender
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gxnpt wrote:
Totally out of left field, but what if cubes are traded to increase the number of sides on the die/dice rolled instead of number of dice rolled?

4,6,8,10,12 sided dice

Cards could variously reduce needed number, add to number rolled, or even affect type of die used or number of dice rolled while cubes could only affect the type of die or dice being used.

edit:
The idea refused to be quiet until it ramified a bit:


assumption: challenge roll needed based on 3 dice - normally 6 sided

full set of dice is 3x4-sided, 3x6-sided, and 1 each 8,10,and 12 sided - a roll will use 3 dice from this set

cards could affect type of dice rolled or give bonuses, lacking a type or category of cards could reduce to 4 sided dice, various affects depending on challenge and card matchups

spending 1 cube lets you trade up 1 die by 1 step - but there are only 1 each of the 8,10, and 12 sided dice and lacking correct cards may have you starting with all 4 sided dice instead of 6 sided


This is a neat idea. In the game as presently conceived, the dice are custom d6s so I think this would preclude this idea from a cost perspective. But for a game where the challenges were number-based and you were trying to achieve a target sum, this could absolutely work; nice idea!
 
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John Breckenridge
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An easy way to make the players spend cubes in Phase 1 is to have a rule where the player with the fewest cubes at the start of Phase 2 gets a bonus (maybe one free reroll that must be used before the final challenge).
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Jeff Warrender
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Here's another thought I had yesterday: it would be to introduce two-card effects. For example, some cards will have a feature that you can activate (perhaps you must have the right card to activate them). Then on some later card, if such-and-such feature has been activated, such-and-such effect happens.


Issues with this are obvious:

- How to ensure that the activating feature comes before the affected feature?

- What if the activating feature isn’t in the game, or the affected feature isn’t?

- What about players who just activate the feature blindly, just to see what will (possibly) happen?

- How to construct the effect such that the player with advance knowledge activates the feature and benefits himself more than other players?


The answer to the third seems to be that sometimes the effect is favorable and sometimes unfavorable, and advance knowledge helps you know which. That may also be the answer to the second: if you have enough knowledge to know (or suspect) that there isn't a "catch" effect, or that the "catch" effect is bad, then you may not spend a cube to activate the "throw" action. Clearly it necessitates that there are more than one of each activating feature and more than one corresponding activated feature, so that there are decent odds of a throw-catch pair will be present at least some of the time.
 
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Matt D
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Have you considered giving the card effects different abilities that are more potent than adding dice?

For example, perhaps over simplification, but if the "challenge" is to roll in excess of 15 and you are given 5 dice to do it without any bonus, you can spend cubes to get extra dice to throw (but still only use your best 5, making cubes not totally additive), but the cards themselves manipulate dice or give additional dice that CAN be used.

Scenario 1: No cards, 3 cubes. I roll 8 dice and keep the best 5. Probably going to succeed, but not guaranteed and not horrible.

Scenario 2: 2 cards, zero cubes (cubes spent to obtain info on challenge and get two useful equipment cards). One card lets me flip a die to the obverse side (turns 3 to 4, 2 to 5, 1 to 6), and one card lets me auto-set a die to 6. Still a very remote chance of failure, but those two cards are almost an instant win -- in this scenario you are rolling 4 dice to achieve 9 after you set one to six, so the only roll that does NOT achieve it is 1,1,1,1 (which becomes 5,1,1,1 for 8). Any other roll either has at least one 1 that becomes a five, or has enough to stand in its own merits (lowest possible otherwise is four twos which becomes three twos and a four thus 10).

Now I know you said it's a custom d6 so I assume you have non-numeric faces, but you can still die manipulation in some capacities. I'll refer to your die faces as colors for the sake of convenience. You may have a card that will auto set any die to red, blue, or yellow, which essentially turns a failure die into a success. You can use obverse manipulation, rotational manipulation, etc. if your die have oriented images with a distinct top and bottom, then you can even specify (rotate the die to the left, right, up and down).

This can also add an element of added predictability about what cards are beneficial to the challenge -- lets say your challenge requires three reds out of your five dice. Then you'll want to get a card that sets a die to red, etc. that may help you find ways to make your "equipment" cards more useful and more beneficial and specific to the challenge.

I'm not sure what theme or other mechanics are in play here, but you can use the insight to have a "bring the right tools to the job" idea. If your challenge is to get through a locked door, a lock pick might turn one die into a particular face that means "unlock" while a crowbar might let you re roll one die -- still helpful, but not fully helpful. But of course, the crowbar'so utility is not limited to that challenge, whereas the lock pick is only useful if the particular challenge it is used for requires that particular face.

Assuming your mechanic is "accrue this pattern of results" and you roll x dice to get the pattern, you could also have cards represent non-die successes. Using the above example, if your challenge requires "unlock", "sneak", "escape" (I just turned your unknown game into a heist game, btw), you could have one card that automatically adds an "unlock". So instead of rolling five to get three of what you need, now you are rolling five and only need the other two. So not just die manipulation, but significantly reduced difficulty.

In those scenarios I think cards become significantly more powerful than extra dice.

But again, I don't know the theme or the mechanic or anything like that.

Although now I want to design a heist game, because we really don't have too many of those. Aside from Langfinger, which is mostly pasted on...
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Jeff Warrender
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Thanks, those are good points. There's definitely a fair bit of this. The cards have a number of different effects, some of which boost your chances against certain challenges but some change the way you interact with certain challenges and some give special powers. I mentioned yesterday the possibility of "two-card" effects, whereby an effect can be triggered on one challenge card and then it takes effect on a different card. That kind of thing could be an additional role that equipment cards can play.

And equipment cards can also let you interfere with the other players -- generally, at the cost of a cube. So, maybe you can pay a cube to use your machete to take out the rope bridge, making it harder for everyone else to cross. This could provide a nice way to reward knowledge that's orthogonal to "being prepared to pass the challenges" -- you might also want to be prepared so as to improve your ability to interfere with other players, or to know when it's possible that other players might try to interfere with you (and how).
 
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