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Subject: Balancing Card Draw in CDG rss

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Mus Rattus
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The standard mechanic for Card Driven Games (CDGs) is this: players have a hand of cards, each of which can be played for a generic "point" value or played for a special event. There exists a tension in knowing when to play a card for each purpose.

Generally, some cards are more or less powerful than others. A card with a more powerful event will be worth more points. This helps retain that tension. Otherwise, it would be obvious play cards with more powerful events for their events, and play cards with less powerful events for their points.

Question 1) Is the chance that a player might draw a hand (or a series of hands) of low-power cards a problem for a CDG, or should this be treated in the same way as bad die rolls (i.e. tough luck)?

Question 2) If we think that disparity in card-quality in CDGs should be mitigated, what is a good means of doing so?

Question 2a) Is Twilight Struggle's method of triggering events a good balancing factor?


My inspiration for creating this thread was playing High Treason: The Trial of Louis Riel. I will answer Question 1 with a yes. While I do enjoy making the best use of limited resources, it isn't the best feeling to think that I won partly or largely because I drew higher-powered cards than my opponent. I wondered if making the game more like Twilight Struggle's system would help things. I also recalled friends who questioned if Twilight Struggle's system was balanced at all. So I hoped I could decide an advisable course for High Treason, and a response to my friends.


First off, let's look at a few ways that events can be triggered in CDGs

1) At player choice
This may be assumed to be the default mode. A player chooses between points or an event. I don't think this has any effect on the luck of the draw.

2) Mandatory
Mandatory events always trigger when a card is played. The card may or may not be played for points as well as the event. In general, I don't think this affects the draw balance. The sort of cards that are mandatory generally affect players equally or perform some kind of upkeep effect. This might be a good place for a catch-up mechanic.

3) At another player's choice
I added this entry but I don't think it really belongs. I had in mind the card effects in the COIN games where a player other than the one affected may choose if the event gets played or not. But that doesn't really apply because the cards in those games are not a resource, and the balancing of >2 player games is another topic entirely. I suppose >2 CDGs may also fit, such as Here I Stand or Virgin Queen, where players can play events for other players. Still, another topic.

4) By game status
This one I admit I don't understand entirely. I was thinking of the No Retreat! series of wargames, where, if I have things right, certain turns favor certain players. If a player is favored, their events take effect, otherwise they don't. I find this a really interesting idea. In that series, it is used to create a historical balance where different sides were advantaged at different times.
In other games, I imagine it could be for many effects. One idea would be always triggering the event of the player with the lowest score.
There are many possible clever variations on this mechanic, I think, and many of them could help balance a game generally, or against card draw variance. (For example, always trigger the event of the player who has played the lowest card this round)

5) "The Twilight Struggle system"
The Twilight Struggle system is (and unfortunately I've written this whole post assuming that everyone is familiar with it!) that cards may be associated with one player or the other, and events associated with one's opponent are mandatory.

Now, I think this has a balancing effect, but I am not sure if that belief holds up mathematically. In a game where your opponent's events are *NOT* mandatory (for example, High Treason) a player would prefer to draw, in order

1. Their own high-value cards
2. Opponent's high-value cards
3. Their own low-value cards
4. Their opponent's low-value cards.

One's own cards afford more options, and higher-value cards are always to be preferred. If you draw a hand of high-value cards and/or your own events, you are happy.

On the other hand, with the Twilight Struggle rule of making opposed events mandatory, that logic is not so simple, I think. Drawing a high-value event might not be so good if it belongs to your opponent. The scenario where your opponent draws all high-value cards and you draw all low-value cards is not as bad.

Another factor that makes Twilight Struggle more balanced is that (almost?) every card is likely to be drawn (if not necessarily played).
Your valued cards are likely to be drawn by you (where you have more options with them) or by your opponent (where at least you get something when they are played). It would be worse if they were never drawn.
In a game where many cards stay in the deck, I think any mechanic looking to balance out the effect of card draw will be muted.

So it is really the combination of triggering opponent's events with the deck balance that makes all hands of Twilight Struggle equally good and bad.

What do you think about the ideas I have here? Are there any you'd like to add? How would you answer the questions posed? What innovative ways of triggering events in CDGs have you seen or created?
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Jeremy Lennert
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In most cases, I think the best way to deal with excessive luck in game design is not to adjust the probabilities, but to adjust the stakes so that skillful play makes a bigger difference than luck.

You could just get rid of luck entirely and play a perfect information game, but if you decided to make a CDG then that's probably not what you want.

And you could reduce the odds of good or bad draws via any number of means, but you'll still get them sometimes, and once you have one it doesn't matter very much how unlikely it was.

Instead, add stronger ways to play around your luck. Change the rewards in your game so that good decisions make a big difference and lucky breaks make less of one.
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Brad Miller
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One shared deck or two individual decks makes a huge difference in swinginess of card draws.
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Mus Rattus
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Antistone wrote:
In most cases, I think the best way to deal with excessive luck in game design is not to adjust the probabilities, but to adjust the stakes so that skillful play makes a bigger difference than luck.

You could just get rid of luck entirely and play a perfect information game, but if you decided to make a CDG then that's probably not what you want.

And you could reduce the odds of good or bad draws via any number of means, but you'll still get them sometimes, and once you have one it doesn't matter very much how unlikely it was.

Instead, add stronger ways to play around your luck. Change the rewards in your game so that good decisions make a big difference and lucky breaks make less of one.


Just theorizing here, no game in development. Maybe some house rules for High Treason.

I disagree that the odds of good or bad draws don't make a difference.
For one thing, a single bad hand will rarely ruin a game experience, in my opinion. It usually takes a run of bad luck to make things go down-hill.
Reducing the odds of a single bad-hand will significantly reduce the odds of drawing consecutive bad-hands.
Beyond that, a game where you get hosed 1% of the time is clearly preferable to one where it happens 30% of the time (that is, if you prefer not to have those kinds of experiences).

The difficulty, I think, when trying to see that "skillful play makes a bigger difference than luck" is that in CDGs luck determines how many opportunities one gets to make plays. It's hard to play around luck in those circumstances.
OTOH, luck in determining outcomes of actions (which is more common in other games) could also be interpreted in this way (if all your actions fail, you are in effect taking fewer actions), so maybe CDGs aren't so different after all.


Mostly I'm curious about how Twilight Struggle achieves its balance. In my opinion, despite the variance in card values, every hand is roughly equal to any other.
Maybe you have something there about other things mattering more. Maybe the skill of planning ahead and prediction makes more of a difference, and the higher stakes in Coup attempts makes the variance in card draw insignificant.

Windopaene wrote:
One shared deck or two individual decks makes a huge difference in swinginess of card draws.


That's a great point. I think the proportion of the deck that you draw over the course of a game also matters with this.
Having separate decks will save you from drawing the low cards while your opponent draws the high cards out of a shared deck, but it won't help you any if your high-value cards are still at the bottom at the end of the game.

Another direction to take would be to make all cards of roughly the same value. I think this is what Quartermaster General does, in combination with having separate decks and drawing most of them over the course of the game.
Of course, QMG cards only have one use (QMG:1914 changed that, I think, but I haven't played it).
 
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marc lecours
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There are two great ways of balancing a CDG:
1. Make the game a multiplayer game. If a player gets a good hand, the other players gang up on them.

2. As already mentioned, give each player their own deck. Each player is guaranteed to get all their good and all their bad cards. All that changes is the timing of when you get good or bad cards.

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patrick mullen
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If you get a weak hand early, the low cost of playing those cards will let you do more than the player who gets a strong hand early. If you get a weak hand late, hopefully you have managed to make do with the stronger hands you have gotten by then that it's ok that you have run out of good cards. Since the card distribution changes throughout play, you always know that poor cards early will be followed by good cards later on - provided you have the chance to go through most of the cards. Make sure the player getting bad hands has options to go through more cards and get to the good stuff.

The weaker a card the easier it should be to use. The stronger the card the harder it should be to use. Sure, a player may tailor their strategy hoping to get a specific good card - but maybe their opponent gets it first. If they do get it, and it helps them, it's because they took that risk. So it is still coming down to their own play and not just luck.
 
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Chris Nash
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rubberchicken wrote:
There are two great ways of balancing a CDG:
1. Make the game a multiplayer game. If a player gets a good hand, the other players gang up on them.

2. As already mentioned, give each player their own deck. Each player is guaranteed to get all their good and all their bad cards. All that changes is the timing of when you get good or bad cards.



It may be that I'm slightly misunderstanding the definition of a card-driven game, but if all players are drawing cards from a single deck, it seems to me that the method which is becoming almost industry standard to handle this is drafting...?
 
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Mus Rattus
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Drafting would be an interesting solution. I'd like to see it tried.
The difficulties, I think would be that:
a) it adds time to the game
b) reduces the factor of surprise, one of the really great parts of CDGs. Trying to reason out what is in your opponent's hand and play around it is good fun.

In multiplayer games (I must confess, I was really thinking of two-player games when I made this thread), a) would be worse but b) would be better.
 
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patrick mullen
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MusRattus wrote:
Drafting would be an interesting solution. I'd like to see it tried.
The difficulties, I think would be that:
a) it adds time to the game
b) reduces the factor of surprise, one of the really great parts of CDGs. Trying to reason out what is in your opponent's hand and play around it is good fun.

In multiplayer games (I must confess, I was really thinking of two-player games when I made this thread), a) would be worse but b) would be better.


Depending on how you draft, you can mitigate both of those factors. 7 wonders championed the simultaneous draft and pass method that keeps you from knowing exactly what cards are going to come out (which, yes, only works in multiplayer) and enables a 7-player game to take the same amount of time as a 3-player one.

Inis has done well with a similar method.

My problem in most games containing drafting is that it can kind of overpower all other decisions and take away from the theme of the game. Somehow I can tune out the drawing of random cards (maybe because I have done it in so many games) as just part of the abstraction, where drafting gives that metagame a bit too much weight.
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marc lecours
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Nashman88 wrote:
rubberchicken wrote:
There are two great ways of balancing a CDG:
1. Make the game a multiplayer game. If a player gets a good hand, the other players gang up on them.

2. As already mentioned, give each player their own deck. Each player is guaranteed to get all their good and all their bad cards. All that changes is the timing of when you get good or bad cards.



It may be that I'm slightly misunderstanding the definition of a card-driven game, but if all players are drawing cards from a single deck, it seems to me that the method which is becoming almost industry standard to handle this is drafting...?


CDGs have both types. In some games there is a common deck. In others there are separate decks for each power. (ex: Paths of Glory, Sword of Rome)
 
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marc lecours
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saluk wrote:


My problem in most games containing drafting is that it can kind of overpower all other decisions and take away from the theme of the game. Somehow I can tune out the drawing of random cards (maybe because I have done it in so many games) as just part of the abstraction, where drafting gives that metagame a bit too much weight.


When I read this, something in my head clicked. I had not realized before why drafting (even though a fun mechanic)was less than satisfying.

For some players, the part of gaming they like is interesting mechanics and the interesting decisions they create. For others (like me) who are more focused on the theme and subject matter, the key is decisions based on the subject matter not the mechanics. I would like the mechanics to be invisible (unless they fit the subject matter such as an auction mechanic for a game about auctioning paintings).

Drafting can overpower the rest of the game. To me there is nothing about running an ancient civilization that had anything to do with card drafting. Then, as mentioned by Saluk, I have no problem with zoning out the mechanic in a game where you choose a card from your hand of cards. There is only a small difference between the two mechanics, yet card drafting shifts your focus from the subject matter to the mechanic.

I will have to think about this a little more.

 
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Kevin Foresman
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I don't know if there is a better term for this or if it has a place in CDGs, but a mechanic I would like to see more in general is auction drafting. For example, drawing 1 card is free or costs $1/1 action point/1 resource. Drawing 2 cards and choosing 1 costs $2/2 action points/2 resources. Drawing 3 cards and choosing 1 costs $3/3 action points/3 resources.

Increasing the cost of drafting from >1 card by a factor >1 might be cost prohibitive due to diminishing return depending on card valuation. For example, drawing 1 card is free, drawing 2 cards and choosing 1 costs $1, drawing 2 cards and choosing 1 costs $3, or drawing 3 cards and choosing 1 costs $5.

Auction drafting can also be used to manipulate turn order. For example, drawing 3 or more cards and choosing 1 moves the player to last turn order place for the next round, drawing 2 cards and choosing 1 moves the player to second-to-last turn order place for the next round, while drawing only 1 card maintains the current turn order place for the next round. Thematically, auction drafting might make sense because lower turn order placement simulates spending time or resources to optimize choices and opportunities.
 
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marc lecours
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Auction drafting is interesting.

The possible problem is if it is time consuming. Anything that uses up time in a game becomes the focus of the game instead of its theme (subject matter). The brilliance of 7 Wonders was that the loss of time in card drafting was more than made up by the fact that all players were playing simultaneously.

If auction drafting is fast then great. For example if the auction is simultaneous as you seem to indicate it could be.

 
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Kevin Foresman
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rubberchicken wrote:
If auction drafting is fast then great.


If you need it to be fast and simultaneous, I imagine auction drafting would only be as fast as a game of blackjack. In a CDG, players would draw cards (or be dealt cards by a designated player like the 1st player) in turn order until all players have decided to stand. Players then simultaneously draft 1 card from their drawn cards and discard any others. Payment for the number of cards drawn and any turn order changes would follow and occur simultaneously.
 
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