Game Design Thoughts #3 - The Dominoes Keep Falling

In the last 2 “Game Design Thoughts” series, I talked about how small changes affect a lot of things, and then how our changes to the CYMS took almost 2 weeks of intense internal playtesting to get right. Well, as the title of this post suggests, some of our seemingly non-impactful changes greatly affected the balance of the factions again.

As part of the BackerKit demo, we decided to simplify CyMS and their spawning even more. Our motto of “streamline, streamline, and streamline” pushes us to find more elegant and less complex ways to implement game mechanics, and let the interactions between those mechanics generate the complexity, instead of special rules and exceptions. In this case, we decided to reduce CyMS down to just 2 states, “Normal” and “Damaged” (new name for “Injured” or “Impaired” from the past). Keeping their stats the same between the 2 states, and making it harder in general for most factions to “KO” (new term for “disable”) them allowed us to also reduce the number of CyMS on the board. This reduced clutter and allowed the factions to focus more on objectives as well as the “skirmish” part of the game against each other.

We also decided to tackle the somewhat convoluted noise spawn rules, combined with scenario spawn rules and using the number of CyMS on the board to determine the end game condition. By going to a point-based end game condition, similar to what many boardgames have (“when a person reaches X points, the next turn is the last turn), we were able to divorce the CyMS generation per turn from the end game condition. Before that, we had to balance whether there were too many or too few CyMS, with whether the game lasted too long or short, which made the balancing extremely tough. With the new point system, all of a sudden we could just have any amount of CyMS on the board to keep things interesting without making them the main attraction of the game.

  Notice the 6 dark blue squares around the board? Those are new CyMS spawn points.

Notice the 6 dark blue squares around the board? Those are new CyMS spawn points.

Ok, all that sounded good, and the game is much more simplified now, why is the title named the way it is? Well, when we returned to our most difficult to balance scenario, “The AirDrop” (the one where you have to be in the center 9-hex diameter “circle” to score points), our 2 most developed and balanced factions, the Survivalists (SV) and Peacekeepers (PK), somehow went out of whack. They were very well balanced across 2 other scenarios in the past, and we left them as is to create our other factions, but all of a sudden, there was no way for PK to win anymore. Both Brendan and I tried playing PK and neither of us were able to make it work. Mind you, we help each other out with each activation so it can simulate 2 players of similar skills and games won’t be skewed by a single mistake. So when both of us couldn’t figure out how to win with the PK, we had a problem.

After 2 more weeks of intense and frustrating internal playtests, we finally figured out that it was the new CyMS spawn rules, combined with the requirement of having to stay in the center “circle”, and combined with how we’ve been playing around with cover rules, that made the PK just inefficient enough that they had a hard time staying competitive in that scenario. With a slew of minor tweaks to the faction and characters, tonight we finally were able to have a close game that could have gone either way.

Unfortunately, this also means we have to test the 2 teams again in the other 2 scenarios we have to make sure the PK aren’t too strong now, so the quest continues. I’m just glad we only have 4 factions to balance right now, since every change in the game creates a domino effect (thus the title) that means we often have to tweak all 4 factions again, and play them in every combination against each other to see if things went out of whack.

Game design definitely is NOT easy! If you’ve faced this type of issue before, how did you solve it? Is there a better way to do it? Let us know!