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Subject: Balancing options on dual-use cards rss

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Toby Wardman
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OK, slightly specific one here, but bear with me.

I want to ask about dual-use cards. By this I mean cards which have two different powers or effects, so the player can choose which effect to activate when they play the card. (There are many examples in existing games. Two random examples: Twilight Struggle has this with all its cards. Imperial Settlers cards have at least three ways to play.)

A good rule of thumb is that the two different effects on a card should be about as strong as one another, so that the player has to make a genuine decision about how to use the card. If a weak and a strong effect are paired on a single card, then it will be obvious to the player which effect to choose and the other one will always be ignored, so there's no meaningful decision.

OK, so. In a game I'm working on, each card has two different effects and players can choose which to activate. One is a "safe" effect which does something simple and common. The other is a "risky" effect which is more powerful, but comes with a cost: it puts the player at risk of attack from opponents. This means each card pairs a weak and a strong effect, but I'm OK with that because the strong effect is balanced by the risk, so there is a genuine decision for the player to make: play it safe, or go out on a limb.

Now here's the question. Not all "safe" effects are equally weak, and not all "risky" effects are equally strong. So how should I pair them up? Three options:

(1) Pair the strongest "safe" effects with the strongest "risky" effects?
(2) Pair the strongest "safe" effects with the WEAKEST "risky" effects and vice versa?
(3) Mix them up at random?

I've had some initial thoughts about the pros and cons of each option, but I can't decide which I prefer. I'd really welcome other opinions.
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Robyn Dawson-Ruiz
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Option 1 would give you the most interesting decision on every card, but would lead to some cards being better than others.

Option 2 might have some cards where the decision is obvious, but the cards would be more balanced compared to one another. You need to be careful with this option because you could end up with certain cards where there technically are two choices but one choice is way better so everyone always picks it except for perhaps new players who make the mistake of picking the other.

Instead of randomly pairing the effects, I would suggest pairing them in a way that puts different types of effects on each card, like a powerful but risky military effect with a weak but safe political effect. It could still end up somewhat random in terms of how powerful the paired effects are, but the different types of effects would present an interesting choice every time.

How important are these cards to gameplay? I.e Is drawing a card and making your choice the only thing you do on your turn or is it just a small part of your turn. If these cards are really important and some cards are better than others, you can end up with a situation where the game is won by chance rather than player skill.
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Geoffrey Greer
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I agree with Robyn has added here. I definitely don't think a random mix is the way to go. It may be personal preference, but I feel like any deck of cards must follow a logical progression, so I think your first two choices are best. I haven't myself experimented with designing dual-function cards, so I don't know which of these would be better, but I think--something in line with what Robyn was suggesting in the third regard--you could make really meaningful choices depending on what is happening "on the board" (or wherever else the game action is taking place besides the cards). I think the value of the card's two functions should be somewhat variable depending on the player's other needs, such that the value of one side over the other would be different in different games.

I know this is all very abstract, but it's the best I can explain myself, especially since I haven't dabbled with that mechanic. Good luck!
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Michael Brettell
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CrystylRobyn wrote:

Instead of randomly pairing the effects, I would suggest pairing them in a way that puts different types of effects on each card, like a powerful but risky military effect with a weak but safe political effect.


+1 to this. As well as ensuring there are interesting decisions to be made, the other benefit of dual-use cards is to make every card useful. If they are cards you draw from a deck, the last thing you want is a strong card, but one that doesn't suit your strategy. The primary effect might not be useful, but then the alternate should be.
 
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Toby Wardman
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Thanks for the advice -- some good ideas here.

brettellmd wrote:
If they are cards you draw from a deck, the last thing you want is a strong card, but one that doesn't suit your strategy. The primary effect might not be useful, but then the alternate should be.


Actually, players get to choose which cards to pick up off the table from various random options, and then play them from their hand later on. So I think it's OK to have cards that are suited to a specific strategy -- nobody should find themselves with a handful of cards that they don't use. But...

CrystylRobyn wrote:
If these cards are really important and some cards are better than others, you can end up with a situation where the game is won by chance rather than player skill.


That's true. And the problem would be amplified if certain players managed to pick up the best cards early on, enabling them to get into a better position and pick up more of the best cards later -- a runaway leader problem. So I think you're right, cards need to be roughly equal in value, which will mean balancing weak effects with strong ones on each card.

CrystylRobyn wrote:
Instead of randomly pairing the effects, I would suggest pairing them in a way that puts different types of effects on each card, like a powerful but risky military effect with a weak but safe political effect.


designer78 wrote:
I think the value of the card's two functions should be somewhat variable depending on the player's other needs, such that the value of one side over the other would be different in different games.


I really like these ideas. Thanks!
 
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Michael Brettell
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randywombat wrote:

brettellmd wrote:
If they are cards you draw from a deck, the last thing you want is a strong card, but one that doesn't suit your strategy. The primary effect might not be useful, but then the alternate should be.


Actually, players get to choose which cards to pick up off the table from various random options, and then play them from their hand later on. So I think it's OK to have cards that are suited to a specific strategy -- nobody should find themselves with a handful of cards that they don't use. But...


But then what happens if a card becomes available that would be fantastic for your opponent? Do you want to encourage players interfering with each other's plans? In which case, having a different strategic use of a card would be good.
 
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C B
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Is the risk:
1) relatively the same on all the risky effects
2) the weaker of the risky effects is paired with a weaker risk
3) the risk is not equal and also not evenly paired with the strong effects

If 1), then I would definitely pair the weak safe with the weak risky and strong/strong.
If 2), it's less clear cut, but likely still weak/weak and strong/strong.
If 3), then I'd reconsider the whole scheme, unless you're OK with some cards being obviously more powerful/cost than others like in Ascension.

 
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B C Z
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Look at Witch's Brew or Broom Service for strong/weak effects and the risks associated with choosing them.
 
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