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Subject: Best ways to balance a Deckbuilder rss

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Luke Seinen
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Hi There,

I'm currently playtesting a deckbuilder and I need to balance it out for length of games and overpowered cards.

Are there any suggestions for best strategies or ideas to do so?

Thanks in Advance
 
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Jeremy Lennert
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I think that question is probably too broad to answer beyond the old stand-by of "test and iterate".
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Luke Seinen
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yeah your probably right.. I guess what i'm asking if anyone has any techniques in which the "test and reiterate" - like tracking stats, etc.
 
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Brandon Long
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lseinen wrote:
yeah your probably right.. I guess what i'm asking if anyone has any techniques in which the "test and reiterate" - like tracking stats, etc.


Not a game designer - but if you're doing a "stock pile" game like dominion, I would imagine the number of times each card got bought would be a big indicator of perceived value of the card.
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Jeremy Lennert
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Well, if you're trying to control the game length, then that's probably one thing you should track.

EulerPi wrote:
if you're doing a "stock pile" game like dominion, I would imagine the number of times each card got bought would be a big indicator of perceived value of the card.

This is less true than you might expect.

Sometimes there are powerful cards that you don't want a lot of; for instance, you shouldn't get too many terminal actions in Dominion, no matter how strong they are, while you might end up getting lots of non-terminals just because they are "safe".

What you purchase could also be influenced a great deal by how much money you happen to draw--you'll get different cards if you're always stuck with $4 than if you alternate between $5 and $3.

And sometimes fun/interesting cards will win out over good cards (especially among inexperienced or less-competitive players). I've had some games where an option wasn't being used so I kept buffing it until it became clear it was massively overpowered, and I finally realized that its power level wasn't the reason players were avoiding it.

But yes, if a card gets bought much more or much less than other cards, that's certainly something I would want to notice. You just have to be careful how you interpret it.


In general, it helps a ton if you are just...really good at the game. It makes it so much easier to put your testing results in context, and also to predict what changes will help with a particular problem. I made a huge number of obvious mistakes in designing my first deck-builder because I just hadn't figured out a lot of the nuances yet. You might consider spending some time reading dominionstrategy.com, for instance (depending on how similar your game is to Dominion, of course).
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Luke Seinen
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thanks for the advice, its quite different from Dominion unfortunately, but some of your points help
 
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D M
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lseinen wrote:
Hi There,

I'm currently playtesting a deckbuilder and I need to balance it out for length of games and overpowered cards.

Are there any suggestions for best strategies or ideas to do so?

Thanks in Advance


Cheat, i.e. create decks and hands that are insane (in power, recursive effects, game/turn extending) and then evaluate to what extent those are possible in the course of play.
 
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Benj Davis
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It could be a lot of overhead, but it might be worth keeping an eye on things that lie fallow despite being available. If nobody's buying something, it might be too expensive, too weak, or just hard to understand.
 
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Brandon Long
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Jlerpy wrote:
It could be a lot of overhead, but it might be worth keeping an eye on things that lie fallow despite being available. If nobody's buying something, it might be too expensive, too weak, or just hard to understand.


Why settle for one - Adventurer from Dominion had all three!

I have never bought a single one of those cards.

But as pointed out above - and to good point - someone buying only one of a card can still be very useful.
 
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"What do you mean, I can't pay in Meeples?"
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Get as many play-testers as you can beg, borrow or steal. Nothing shows flaws in a game design faster than having a half-dozen new sets of hands pulling at the stitches and prodding the weak spots.

'overpowered' and game length are heavily dependent on the game itself, so it's a bit hard to advise for those generically. If you have a game length in mind, just run a bunch of play throughs and see if you're under, over, or around where you want to be. If you can get some other players to do a run or two, you can watch specifically and see if there's any parts that are bogging them down - do they spend too much time having to read cards? arguing over rules? analysis paralysis?

Is there a metric you can use to gauge your card power curve? Not everything plots well of course, particularly unique abilities can be a case of apples to oranges, but it might help.
 
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Peter Strait
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Matrix it. Get a spreadsheet or, if you're proficient, a database going, laying out card costs and abilities.

Determine the probability slope of achieving specific buy-prices (i.e., what are the specific odds that someone can afford an X cost card, iterative for each additional [resource] card added to their deck). This sets your power curve.

For each card, first do a pass to see if each card with the same cost to buy has roughly the same power. Second, do a pass to see if the rise in power between costs roughly fits your power curve.

Third, based on the above, draft the rules for each tier of power. Yes, literally write a list of rules. This will be your guide and rule of thumb for all cards.

Fourth, regarding game length, this will depend on several factors such as how quickly the ability to purchase powerful cards accelerates, and what the actual trigger of the end of the game is. You'll need (again) to do some statistical analysis to see how long "on average" it will take someone to reach that trigger based on that resource acceleration.

Lastly, if you really like the game, the dev and the publisher, take all that, package it in a nice and professional looking report format, and attach your resume as an appendix.
 
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James Bowie
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Adding on to what others have said, your game length question can be divided into two categories. Ultimately you'll want to know how much time the game takes to play, but you'll also want to figure out how many turns it takes to win, and that can be achieved largely through math, depending on how interactive your game is.

For example, Dominion is a mostly non-interactive game with a specific pre-set win condition based on buying out the Provinces or any three other piles. The decks are designed in such a way that the player can ALWAYS buy one silver at least during their first two turns, or some other method of generating two gold but never more than that (Moneylender amounts to the same as just playing a Silver), meaning that in turns three and four I'm pretty sure it's also impossible (at least in the base game, it's been a while) to purchase Provinces. All that being said, if a card is purchasable on turn 1-2, you can expect it to be played on turns 3-5, and if a card is purchasable only on turns 3-4 you know it will only show up starting from turn 5+, etc.

Once you advance past the first few turns, the variety of options will become quite staggering, but if you can figure out and balance your card pool in such a way that you can safely predict what power level of cards can be bought on which turn, you can figure out by rough estimation at what point players will begin to advance the game toward the end state, and if you keep track of how many turns your test games are actually taking and they pretty much line up with your estimation, that's great! If it's off by a wide margin, take a look at those games that are outliers and what caused them to end either faster or more slowly than expected. If a lucky draw off an early buy enabled a player to snowball their deck too quickly, the cards involved may be too easily obtainable. If a game dragged on longer than usual, the players may have been buying cards that were either too weak for their cost, or interacted with the opponent negatively without furthering their own win condition, making the game take longer for both parties and causing spite.

Even if it's too difficult for you to come up with a rough estimation of how many turns it would take to win, really just pick an arbitrary number, or play a game that fit your desired time length and use how many turns that game took as a baseline and go from there.

The other reason why I suggest keeping track of individual turns is that rather than try and time the game as a whole, time how long each individual turn takes. Not only does that give you an estimate of the total playtime, it will also show you how well play flows from one player to the next and how long each person plays solitaire, which can be a major problem for games of the genre. You'll learn how much extra time is required by players the farther into the game they go, and be able to see if one player, card, or strategy takes particularly longer than the others to play out, all useful data.

Timing a game to judge the length is one thing, but if you're not sure WHY a game takes longer or shorter than another, this is how you're going to do it.
 
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