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How to Balance a Game

Zaradi
Posts: 14,124
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8/18/2012 11:03:48 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
So this is probably the most common problem that I personally run into when modding or setting up a game that I would mod: how to make sure that the game is as balanced as I can make it. If anyone remembers my Burn Notice game, yeah that was a little bit of a disaster. Imbalanced as hell. I look back at the game and I say to myself "Okay, mafia was unbalanced as hell and massively overpowered". And even looking back at how the game played out, how the roles were utilized, and even just how I set up the roles, I still have no idea how to fix the error, even in hindsight. Maybe the problem is just a relative lack of modding experience (outside of a Beginner's game, Burn Notice has been my only modded game), but part of it is also I just don't know what I'm doing when it comes to balancing out roles.

I know I kind of went off on a tangent, but to try and get back on track: how can you tell if a game isn't balanced and, if it isn't, how can you go about generally fixing it?
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Ore_Ele
Posts: 25,980
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8/18/2012 11:06:07 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 8/18/2012 11:03:48 PM, Zaradi wrote:
So this is probably the most common problem that I personally run into when modding or setting up a game that I would mod: how to make sure that the game is as balanced as I can make it. If anyone remembers my Burn Notice game, yeah that was a little bit of a disaster. Imbalanced as hell. I look back at the game and I say to myself "Okay, mafia was unbalanced as hell and massively overpowered". And even looking back at how the game played out, how the roles were utilized, and even just how I set up the roles, I still have no idea how to fix the error, even in hindsight. Maybe the problem is just a relative lack of modding experience (outside of a Beginner's game, Burn Notice has been my only modded game), but part of it is also I just don't know what I'm doing when it comes to balancing out roles.

I know I kind of went off on a tangent, but to try and get back on track: how can you tell if a game isn't balanced and, if it isn't, how can you go about generally fixing it?

Too many power roles will tend to make the game unbalanced, or at least unstable. An unstable game is a little different from an unbalanced in that unstable means that the balance can drastically swing based on NP1 or NP2, causing the game to basically be decided really early.
"Wanting Red Rhino Pill to have gender"
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Posts: 18,324
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8/18/2012 11:07:37 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
Can you post all the roles that each player had from Burn Notice along with night actions? I'll give you detailed feedback on it. I would have done so if you had posted an endgame.
Zaradi
Posts: 14,124
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8/18/2012 11:23:21 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 8/18/2012 11:07:37 PM, F-16_Fighting_Falcon wrote:
Can you post all the roles that each player had from Burn Notice along with night actions? I'll give you detailed feedback on it. I would have done so if you had posted an endgame.

Yeah I can. The reason I never really got around to posting an endgame was, to be honest, I was embarrassed as hell as how it went down. It was sad....

Anyway, I'll get the roles and see if I can't dig up night actions.
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Zaradi
Posts: 14,124
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8/19/2012 12:00:14 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
Roles:

1.Michael – JOAT (1x Kill, 1x rolecop, 1x doc) Agent (anon messages) : Townie
2.Fiona – Vig, 1x PGO : Townie
3.Sam – Rolecop, 1x LD (2 statements) : Townie
4.Nate – Bodyguard : Townie
5.Sugar – Roleblocker : Townie
6.Marv – Cop (Insane) : Townie
7.Barry – Tracker : Townie
8.Max – Mason Recruiter: Townie
9.Anson – GF 1x Recruit/Roleblocker : Mafia
10.Larry – Redirector : Mafia
11.Vaughn – JOAT (1x frame, 1x lawyer, 1x silence) : Mafia
12.Brennen – Goon, 1x shatter all protections : Mafia
13.Barrett – Cult Leader 3x recruit : Third Party/Cult
14.Simon Escher – Jester : Third Party

I'm still looking for night actions, so gimme a bit for that.
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F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Posts: 18,324
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8/19/2012 12:04:23 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
Okay, can you post player names with each role if you don't mind? I remember the game mostly based on players - Drafter being cult, FT being the "noob" etc.
Zaradi
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8/19/2012 12:08:18 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 8/19/2012 12:04:23 AM, F-16_Fighting_Falcon wrote:
Okay, can you post player names with each role if you don't mind? I remember the game mostly based on players - Drafter being cult, FT being the "noob" etc.

Well when I find those I'll have found night actions.... .-.
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Zaradi
Posts: 14,124
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8/19/2012 12:24:52 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
TUF1: Michael
Apollo: Fiona
F-16: Sam
Budda: Marv
Drafter: John Barrett
Vmpire: Barry
LK/TUF2: Simon Escher
VK: Sugar
Medic: Nate
Mestari: Anson
USM: Larry
Royal: Vaugn
FT: Brennan

These are the only ones I can find.
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Zaradi
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8/19/2012 12:40:05 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 8/19/2012 12:31:55 AM, F-16_Fighting_Falcon wrote:
Okay. Does the mafia recruit keep their original town role?

Yes'm.
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F-16_Fighting_Falcon
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8/19/2012 12:58:35 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
Okay, so we have 14 players which include 4 starting mafia with one recruit. The recruit is fairly guaranteed to work and there is no reason mafia wouldn't try it NP1 and there is no reason to assume that it wouldn't looking at your game setup so I'll assume 5 mafia total.

1) GF + Roleblocker
2) Redirector
3) Goon + 1X strong kill
4) Mafia JOAT (Frame, Lawyer, Silence)
5) Goon (at the very least)

Now we also have 3rd parties to worry about.

1) Cult Leader
2) Jester

That is 7 out of 14 players being non-town. Basically the number of townies amount to half the total number of players in the game.

Let's look at the town roles. They are fairly powerful:

1) JOAT (1x Kill, 1x rolecop, 1x doc) + Agent
2) Vig + 1X PGO
3) Rolecop + 2X LD
4) Townie roleblocker
5) Tracker
6) Cop (Insane)
7) Mason Recruiter

At first glance, the small town appears very powerful. But if you look closer, you will notice that the key to why your game fell apart was the mafia redirector. The redirector switched vig targets from mafia to town. This allowed mafia to get two kills a night. That coupled with the small town caused the game to end early.

The first thing I would suggest is to

1) Either remove the mafia redirector

2) Remove the town vig + pgo

3) Flavor the re-director in a way to disallow extra kills

Extra kills can swing the balance of the game tremendously As long as you allow this, it will be extremely difficult to balance the game. You have included the vig in the game with the expectation that the vig will provide town sided kills. However, the moment the vig claims, those change to scum-sided kills because of the re-director. This was the single biggest issue with the game.

My second major suggestion would be to increase the size of the town. 7 town vs 2 mafia is a reasonable setup in quickfire for instance. 7 town vs 5 mafia is simply crazy. Normal mafia games usually have about 20 - 25% scum at the most 33%. 50% scum is just crazy. Adding about 5-6 vanilla/useless townies in the game would have been a good idea. With 5 mafia, a 20 player game seems pretty well-balanced especially since there is a cult.

Thirdly, coming to cult, cult in a small game is not a good idea. If you wanted to include a cult, going for a large game would have been much better to reduce swing. Anything other than town vs mafia in a small game is difficult to balance.

Hope that helps. Let me know if you want me to clarify anything or discuss further.

I'll post my thoughts on how I design my own games probably tomorrow.
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
Posts: 18,324
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8/19/2012 1:03:29 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
At 8/19/2012 12:40:05 AM, Zaradi wrote:
At 8/19/2012 12:31:55 AM, F-16_Fighting_Falcon wrote:
Okay. Does the mafia recruit keep their original town role?

Yes'm.

Yeah, so basically recruit the vig to get a mafia PGO and two kills a night.
Logic_on_rails
Posts: 2,445
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8/19/2012 1:14:36 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
Balancing a game is always a complex affair and one that requires a lot of time (that's why I'm just a tad scared about my next game...), although some general guidelines can be used. Note: I'll be going generally and not discussing the limitations of significant story elements etc.

Firstly, you've got to decide on the type of game you're aiming for. I tend to try and make deaths gradual and constant. Games with extra killing factions, town vigilantes and so on tend to be swingy. That's not to say that they are unbalanced in the sense that one side is more likely to win, but unbalanced in the sense that a lucky kill can have drastic consequences. For instance, the death of the inquisitor in Death in Mystere was a terrible blow to the Mafia for game balance reasons.

In short, eliminate killing roles or make sure to compensate adequately. And 'compensation' does not mean add 3 more doctors or something (well... I had a game idea about such a thing, but it's not because of extra killers) ; you've got to be very subtle about all of this. It's a very careful balancing of things, or at least for my game I have many ways to fine-tune a game.

One of the most difficult things about balancing is giving 3rd parties a chance. Of course, you can eliminate 3rd parties, but doing this can sometimes simplify the feel of the game and there's a different atmosphere, one that's often conducive to good town play. Conversely, 3rd parties when included can damage the Mafia, weaken the Mafia's overall power etc.

Really, balancing is a very complex thing, and it's doubly difficult when you're trying to fit it to a lovely bunch of custom characters (for instance, 3 super powerful killing magicians doesn't work for Mafia...) , so don't fret - you're not alone. If anything, reduce killers and calculate the worst case scenarios. Then go about the minutae.
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But we"ll do more, Sempronius, we"ll deserve it
bluesteel
Posts: 12,301
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8/19/2012 1:24:41 PM
Posted: 4 years ago
What F-16 said was really helpful.

Basically, make sure to play out a few possible scenarios for how the game could unfold. Calculate out the easiest path to victory for the mafia and the easiest for the town. Had you done so, you'd have seen that there were too many scum for the town to win. Lynching third parties shouldn't cause the town to lose to the mafia.

Lastly, play out the "most likely" role uses for each player, rather than the "most lucky" (easiest path to victory). Is this how you want the game to unfold.

And of course, consider the strength of the players, although roles seemed to be more of an issue here.
You can't reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into - Jonathan Swift (paraphrase)
F-16_Fighting_Falcon
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8/20/2012 1:09:07 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
I am somewhat bored and since the title of this thread was how to balance a game, I'll offer a few thought on how I balance my own games like I earlier said I would. It would be interesting to hear opinions from other mods as well.

The essence of any of my games would be a mechanic that I want to highlight and/or a unique role based on that mechanic. For instance, in my Action Movies mafia, I wanted to emphasize tracker results as opposed to cops. The reason is that tracker is a much weaker investigative role than cop and relying on trackers makes it a little more difficult for town than relying on a straight up guilty result. So, I included a tracker as well as a backup who would take over that role if the tracker died. My unique role was the track/watch framer which served as the source of misinformation. Besides that, most of my roles were standard.

As for the town/scum ratio, I vary it based on the confirmability of the scum. In Action Movies, there were 4 mafia out of 18 players where as in Action TV, there were 4 mafia out of 14 players. That is quite a big difference. However, the key is that in Action Movies, the scum could confirm themselves which would make it very difficult for town to lynch them. In Action Shows, mafia had to make up fake-claims so they obviously won't be able to keep up the charade for very long - I needed to make it a short game.

Another good way to keep track of balance is to see how many mistakes (mislynches and miskills) town gets before losing. This depends on the size of the game and should usually be the same as or a little less than the number of mafia/scum. Obviously, the harder it is to catch mafia, the more mislynches that should be allowed before town loses.

In Action Movies, there were 4 mafia, a serial killer and 13 townies out of 18 players. Town no lynched twice and mislynched 4 times. That is usually very high but I designed it that way keeping the difficulty of catching scum in mind.

In Action Shows on the other hand, mafia were on the verge of losing and their lies were just about to be exposed. Had the game gone on any longer, mafia would almost certainly have lost. The game had a total of 2 no lynches, 2 mislynches and a vig kill on a townie. The total number of scum were 4. I believe this was close because the mafia had no confirmable roles - only town did. So, process of elimination would make it very difficult for them to hold out for very long.

So, in summary, the number of mislynches that town is allowed is an important tool that I use to balance my games. I account for one VTNL in the game design but most of my games end up having at least 2 VTNL's so it doesn't always turn out as expected.

I try to keep non-mafia kills to a minimum so as to not skew the balance too much. Also, I skimp on townie protective roles so that the mafia can quickly get rid of the confirmed townies.

Hmm, what else? Oh, yeah, I give town a lot of scummy roles so that it is more difficult for them. I also tended to put experienced players in the mafia until recently because it is a lot harder to play as mafia. However, this auto-confirms noobs so I decided randomizing is better.

So, yeah my advice is to overpower the mafia when in doubt by giving them town-ish roles and powerful roles but don't overpower too much in number because no matter how powerful the town is, if they mislynch once and loses, they will be pissed. You can set a difficult puzzle for town to solve (which is what modding is about - setting puzzles) but you gotta make sure that they get at least 3-4 tries (mistakes) before the game ends.
BlackVoid
Posts: 9,170
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8/23/2012 1:06:14 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
The main problem with the Burn Notice game as I look at it is, as F-16 said, there's too many scum. 5 mafia in a 14 person game means they only need 2 mislynches to win. After the first mislynch there would be 11 players, so at that point they only need 1 townie to vote for an innocent person, and they can all hammer for the win on DP3. Worse, it was basically just 1 mislynch because the Jester is going to be lynched near 100% of the time.

Generally, mafia should have to mislynch at least 3 people to win.

A couple things F-16 didn't mention:

If you want to put a Cult recruiter in the game, you should subtract one mafioso. Its almost guaranteed that the Cult Leader or another cultist(s) will be lynched over the course if the game, so thats basically a guaranteed mislynch for mafia, which hurts town too much if they aren't compensated somehow. On 3P's in general, you should assume that they're going to be lynched when designing the game, because they usually are. So if you want mafia to have to mislynch 3 people to win, and you have a survivor in the game, make it to where they have to mislynch 4 people instead, because that Survivor is probably going to die. This seems pro-town, but its acceptable as long as you make the mafia powerful.

You also have an insane Cop, which might as well be another mislynch unless he hits a mafioso or a townie who confirmed their role on NP1.

Also, mafia redirector is basically a super-RBer. Making the investigative roles target themselves is basically a roleblock. Except it can also redirect the vig and Mason recruiter, leading to more townie deaths. Therefore, SOP is to use EITHER a RBer or a Redirector, never both. Even a 1-shot Role Redirect can single-handedly win the game.

On general modding, I agree with Logic that you should limit killing roles. I really don't like Serial Killers because they can make the mafia unstoppable if they hit all-townies, or OP the town if they hit multiple mafiosos. The mafia in Dexter pretty much dominated the game, but lost because the SK hit 2 or 3 of them in a row. Conversely, the town lynched mafia in 3/4 DP's in Solar System, but lost because the SK hit all townies. I just don't like the idea of 2 or 3 people consistently dying every NP. Thats why I recommend putting only 1 killing role in the game.

Mods recently have a history of giving the mafia townish roles, which is fine, but make sure you don't go overboard. 2 townie-roles max. Remember the theme of the game is that mafia has to lie.

Here's a few ways you should help the mafia:

Leave several staple fake-claims unused, like Bodyguard, Beloved Princess, Bomb, Bulletproof. Obviously you'll need to use some of them, but make sure plenty of those type of roles are available.

You have to be creative with your scummy town roles nowadays. Making an extremely powerful character a vanilla might seem scummy in theory, but town will probably WIFOM themselves into believing it. We expect mislynch targets nowadays so you can't make them too obvious.

When designing the town roles, keep a tab of how many of them will be accepted as town with little difficulty. The main character, Doctor, Cop, and PGO fit this criteria, but can also be extended to Tracker, Messenger, Vig, etc. You can't put too many (more than 4) confirmable town roles in the game, otherwise its too hard for mafia to find mislynch targets.

If you assign roles manually, make sure you give some of the weaker players good roles and some experienced players weak roles so that the mafia can't dominate by killing all experienced players.

Thats a few things off the top of my head. I might post some more later.