Game Design Thoughts #1

It is my belief that any game that can be considered well balanced, must involve 

some hidden information and a complete rejection of Nash Equilibriums in tactical decisions. While those Equilibriums are good when the game involves cooperation between subsets of players, they are harmful when it comes to individual tactics. There must always be an unstable choice between what you choose and what the enemy might choose.

In the game I’m Your Huckleberry, I tried to find and eliminate all such equilibriums so that if one player choose a certain tactic, the other player was not forced to choose a complementary tactic, but had, instead, several choices. This leads to dynamic play, and is more interesting.  The tradeoffs in Huckleberry are accuracy for time, movement for function, and defense for offence. The sequence of actions reflects this. The most lethal tactic is aiming with a rifle from cover. Getting to cover requires movement. Aiming at a target requires a turn. Then taking the shot in the third turn happens quite quickly and with a massive boost to lethality. During this time there are 7 actions the target can take between the aiming and the shot being taken. If the target had not already taken an action in the turn the shooter plotted aim, then those actions are walk, reload, shoot, charge, and action.

The target wants to get out of line of sight to avoid being shot at, OR they want to wound the shooter to cancel their aim. Walking can give an opportunity for either of those, because you are allowed to take a low quality shoot at the end of walking. Reloading has a fudge move, which could get you out of line of sight. Shooting is a quality shot, but the rifleman, if they were smart, could be quite distant to make the best use of a rifle’s advantages. However it is an option. Charging the shooter is certainly a way to dealing with someone aiming at you, but if you come up short and they stand… it could be bad. Action has a minor fudge move, but it could be put to use. In the next turn, before being shot at, your choice is limited to duck back. Sure, you could use the snap fire action, and it would be a glorious achievement if you managed to prevent a sniper from hitting you at range. All of those are options. Depending on the circumstances, one or a few are better choices. The choice is unstable because there is not perfect counter.

When we apply this to a greater strategy, this one on one battle is often part of a much bigger fight. By knowing what choices are available to the target in this case, making sure another member of your posse is in position to take advantage of some of these choices creates an overlapping set of tactics. The dynamic flexibility lends itself to smarter play choices and a richer experience.

This concept can be applied to any game, even ones where static lines dominate the individual tactical situations, as we see in 18th and 19th century warfare, the dynamic tactics are then at a larger level, with brigades acting at the true maneuver elements and the regiments are simply structure. Every choice should have several possible response choices. In a game like The Devil to Pay, the responses are often at the whim of the cards and the choice is to seize them or not. This added level of friction in command makes balancing the game to not have pre-determined nash equilibriums even more important. Otherwise, rational players will simply wait turn over turn, doing nothing until the card combinations come up the way that satisfies that equilibrium. I know Nathanial worked on play balance a great deal in that game and examined every play test with great care. I don’t think he was especially looking for equilibriums, but he certainly noticed when I made a rule change that no one every shot their muskets in the game, but instead just used artillery and charges. The use of musketry was seen by the players as too weak an option in that early draft.