Balancing the Bias, or…

“Everything is OP to someone, somewhere.”

For me, one of the more frustrating aspects of balancing is turn-order balancing. I tend to run into problems (possibly from being too close to the project while designing) where I develop bias in strategy.  I expect that this is common for designers- as we are designing the game to be played with certain conditions in mind- but the bias that I struggle with the most is first-turn balancing and turn-order balancing.

My concern isn’t whether or not the turn is balanced or not. Typically, I find that playtesting will provide evidence suggesting whether or not that is a prevalent issue. What I do find myself concerned with is the perception of balance not lining up with the reality.

 With games, confirmation bias can ruin replayability.  More times than I can count, a person has stated things such as “If Player X meets Condition Y at the beginning, the game is over”, whether or not this is actually true. With balance, the first turn can often be interpreted as the first player having the immediate opportunity to meet Condition Y.  Conversely, if you mechanically prevent Condition Y from being available until a later turn, the first turn can seem handicapped, as their moves/strategy/tactics will be telegraphed before the ultra-powerful card or piece becomes available.

Clearly the balancing mechanically can be handled with granularity and probability. You want the best player to win most often, and for two players of equal skill to have an even split of victories. But you also don’t want your entire mechanic to revolve around a specific condition.

How do you balance for a factor that the players will be prone to seeing as overpowered or game-breaking?  Is it wisest to completely remove the factor, even if it isn’t broken within a probability tree, if that increases the likelihood that players will avoid the confirmation bias created by that piece?

At what point do you account for the human factor in your game and ditch a perfectly reasonable mechanic because the players will gravitate towards it and lower the variety of options used?  Or do you leave such mechanics in there and possibly reward players who avoid confirmation bias and win because of it?

Ultimately, how do you test for bias that isn’t supported by evidence? Do you include that in the data set?

Published by ashermhart

I work at an amazing miniatures company during the day, and try to unravel the mysteries of game design for the rest of us plebians at night.

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