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Subject: How to balance an abstract game rss

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Dave Madden
United States
Washington
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I'm trying to make an abstract game that has 3 players playing on a hex grid where each of the players has a different set of pieces with different properties. I've been playing and playing and playing but I'm worried that if I were to release this game in any fashion someone out there would find a game breaking strategy.

What kind of math would I need to solve the game? I know a bit of linear algebra but I have no idea where to start. Would it be better to create a computer algorithm instead?
 
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Paul DeStefano
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Once you have a design locked of any complexity, no math will solve it without programming a computer to brute force analyze the whole damn thing.

You need to find people, hand it to them and say 'here, break my game'. Then find a second group and do the same. You stay out of the games. The more groups, the better, and they shouldn't share members, so they each think as an independent unit.

Love em or hate em, playtesters must muck with your game.
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Alex Weldon
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If the game is for three players, you're probably okay. "Perfect play" is only guaranteed to exist for two-player games. In multiplayer games, it's usually the case that any individual player's strategy can be defeated by cooperation between the other players. Of course, that leads to other problems itself, but at least you don't have to worry as much about someone finding a sure-win strategy.

I made a couple of blog posts recently about the differences between two-player and three- or four-player games from a designer's perspective:

http://www.benefactum.ca/?p=120
http://www.benefactum.ca/?p=140

Aside from relying on player cooperation to solve the perfect strategy issue, you mostly just have to make sure the decision tree is deep enough and branches heavily enough that brute forcing your game is impossible, and that there isn't an easy heuristic for pruning it down too heavily. The latter is the hard part, but that's what playtesters are for. Playtesters, and your designer's intuition.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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xopods wrote:
If the game is for three players, you're probably okay. "Perfect play" is only guaranteed to exist for two-player games. In multiplayer games, it's usually the case that any individual player's strategy can be defeated by cooperation between the other players. Of course, that leads to other problems itself, but at least you don't have to worry as much about someone finding a sure-win strategy.


Yup.

2 player games : you gotta find out if there's a "sure fire strategy" that "trivializes" the game; or if it's far too easy to get to a draw.

3 player games : you gotta find out if there's a tendency for the game to turn to either a 3-way-draw or a king-maker situation.

Best way to find out: playtest, playtest, playtest.


Alex -- nice blog!
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Dave Madden
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Hey thanks a lot for your feedback I found it pretty useful. Cool blog too
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Alex Weldon
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Thanks, guys. I've been bad about updating it lately because I've been busy, but hearing that you like it should help me motivate myself to post some stuff later today (including the third part of that series where I'm going to talk about games for big groups).

Anyway, in trying to think of something to add to this thread so I'm not off-topic, I think I've come up with what my next blog post after the "Challenges of big-group games" is going to be. It'll be called "Chains, Sinks and Jumps," which are my terms for three specific ways your two-player, perfect-information, zero-chance game might not be as deep as a basic combinatorial calculation might suggest. Not fully relevant to you, since yours is for three, but you may still find it useful (instinctively, I would guess that Sinks would be the most common problem to run into in a three-player one).

In a nutshell:

Chains are long sequences of forced (or semi-forced) moves where any deviation is either illegal or leads to a disadvantage that would be obvious to any experienced player. They can seriously cut down the complexity of your game by effectively collapsing a bunch of nodes into a single one.

Sinks are positions or categories of positions that arise with undue frequency. If most games end up in a certain type of position at some point, strategic analysis of the game can just begin at that point, rather than from the beginning of the game.

Jumps are the possibility for the game to advance much more rapidly than the designer expects, for instance through the rapid trading of pieces in a chess-like game. Like chains, they make your decision tree shorter than you thought.
 
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