Games of Balance: Striking the Right Balance in Board Games
In the realm of board games, balance is at the heart of creating a rewarding and equitable gaming experience. Whether in competitive games where players vie for victory or cooperative games where harmony is paramount, a careful balance of game mechanics is essential.
In this article, we will explore the importance of balance in board games, why it is so important, and how it helps create an optimal gaming experience for all participants.
What is balance in boardgames?
Balance in board games refers to how the various components of the game interact and influence each other. This includes rules, cards, characters, special abilities, resources, and many other elements that determine how the game works. The goal of balance is to ensure that no aspect of the game is too powerful or too weak, and that each choice offered to the players is viable and competitive. A well-balanced game provides a smooth gaming experience where each player has a fair chance of success, regardless of skill or experience.
Fairness and Player Satisfaction
Balance is critical to maintaining a sense of fairness among players. In competitive games, no one wants to play a character or faction that is constantly at a disadvantage to others. Balance ensures that all players have the opportunity to compete on an equal footing, making each game exciting and rewarding regardless of the outcome. Achieving this balance can be particularly delicate in asymmetric games (such as Small World, Terraforming Mars, Cthulhu Wars, or Steamwatchers) where different factions have unique abilities, and it is often playtesting that verifies that different abilities provide comparable advantages in terms of ultimate victory. In confrontational games where players recruit units with different abilities (such as Mythic Battles, 6: Siege, or Super Fantasy Brawl), balancing can happen automatically since “drafting” or team building is part of the game, but it is still important to avoid making certain units too strong or, on the contrary, too weak.
Similarly, in cooperative games, balance is essential for players to feel that their individual actions are effectively contributing to the achievement of collective goals. For these cooperative games (such as Zombicide or Darkest Dungeon), the game engine needs to provide enough opposition… but not too much. Again, it is preferable for each proposed character to be not only interesting and distinctive, but also balanced in terms of the mechanics they bring to the game. Even when everyone is playing together, it can be very frustrating to play a character that seems useless, or even less useful than those of other players.
The Appeal of Challenge
A well-balanced board game provides players with a stimulating challenge. If a game is too easy, players can quickly get bored repeating the same winning moves. There’s nothing worse than a “surefire” strategy!
On the other hand, a game that is too difficult can be discouraging and lead to frustration, especially since the first playthrough of a board game is often crucial: if players find the game too difficult, they may not bring it back to the table.
A good balance strikes the sweet spot where players face interesting tactical choices and significant obstacles, but where victory remains within reach with strategic planning and wise decision-making from the very first playthrough.
Impact on Game Longevity
Balance is directly related to the longevity of a board game. A well-balanced game is likely to be played again and again because it offers a variety of situations and strategies to explore. On the other hand, an unbalanced game can result in a predictable and monotonous experience, which can drive players away after a few games. Good balance helps maximize the replayability of a board game, allowing players to enjoy it for years to come.
The Importance of Player Feedback
Board game designers play an essential role in balancing, but player feedback is just as important. Designers need to pay attention to their community of players, as this feedback can highlight imbalances or problems that may not have been noticed during internal testing.
Updates and subsequent patches can then help adjust and improve the game’s balance based on player feedback. Often, the second release of a game can incorporate feedback from thousands of games, which is rarely possible with internal testing alone (although this may change with the use of artificial intelligence for testing).
Balancing is a fundamental element of board game design. It ensures that each game provides a fair, enjoyable, and stimulating experience for all players. Good balancing maintains the game’s long-term appeal by providing fresh challenges and a variety of tactical choices. Through player feedback, designers can continually refine and improve the balance, creating board games that will continue to captivate players and bring them around the table for years to come.
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