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Author Topic: [F.U.] Help With Munchkin-Proofing  (Read 1879 times)
knicknevin
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Posts: 105


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« on: February 06, 2006, 12:09:49 PM »

Currently I'm working on a simple, short game about barbarians, wizards, thieves and bards studying for their heroship degrees at college, a place called Fantasy University. It's turn based, with players studying, partying, working and so on during each Semester, then sitting exams at the end of the Semester.

One issue i'm having is how many actiosn to allow each turn: this is decided by the Time allocated at the start of each Semester. Players spend their Time and convert it into Potential (ability to pass exams), Prestige (defense against hostile actions targeted at you), Concentration (makes it easier to gain Potential) and Finances (makes it easier to gain Prestige).

At the moment, players have 15 Time at the start of each Semester: given that they can spend from 1-5 Time on any action, the question becomes, is there some Munchkin loophole that can be exploited here? If I just quickly sketch out the formulas involved:

Study: Spend X Time, X Concentration and 1 Finances, make a Time roll; roll equal to or less than Time spent to gain 1 Potential.
Party: Spend X Time, X Finances and 1 Concentration, make a Time roll; roll equal to or less than Time spent to gain 1 Prestige.
Work: Spend X Time and gain X Finances.
Rest: Spend X Time and gain X Concentration.

Rolls are made on 1d6.

The question here is not about terminology or mechanics, but about player tactics: if I set the Time value high, they can take more actions per turn that are more likely to succeed, so they will almost certainly pass their exams every turn too. On the other hand, if the Time value is low, then a little bad luck on their actions could wipe out their whole turn and leave them with nothing at all to show for it at the end.

Note that players can take other actions not listed here, these are merely the basic ones; some of those extra actions can be used to target other players though and disrupt their action. Its a gamble on the player's part, since they may choose to disrupt a type of action that no-one takes that turn anyway, but if it succeeds the the target may find their action too expensive or just outright impossible.

Mayber it's just my paranoia, but I'm sure this mechanic is breakable, I'm just not sure how exactly... can anyone see any obvious way of exploiting this system to do something like gain unlimited resources or guarantee a game-winning turn over of Potential points?
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2006, 12:27:07 PM »

Heya,

Quote
The question here is not about terminology or mechanics, but about player tactics: if I set the Time value high, they can take more actions per turn that are more likely to succeed, so they will almost certainly pass their exams every turn too. On the other hand, if the Time value is low, then a little bad luck on their actions could wipe out their whole turn and leave them with nothing at all to show for it at the end.

-In an ideal situation, what would you as the designer want to see in a single game session of your game in regards to this?

-What do they get for passing their exams?  What do they get for failing them?

Peace,

-Troy

PS: dig the name of you game
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2006, 04:17:14 PM »

There are no munchkiny loopholes here, but there are probably optimal strategies.

The rules you've presented so far are exactly equivalent to the following:

- Spend 2X + 1 Time points (where X = 1 to 5) for each roll.
- For each roll, roll X or less on a d6 to win a point of the desired commodity (Potential or Prestige).

Now, if it weren't for that "+1" (which represents the fixed 1 point of Finances required for a Study roll and the fixed 1 point of Concentration required for a Party roll), the expected value (that is, the fraction of a Potential or Prestige point a player would win on average) of each roll per point of Time invested in the roll would be the same for all rolls. So making many small (low values of X) rolls or fewer large (high X) rolls would produce the same average results. (The distributiion of results differs, though. Making more smaller rolls increases the risk that no points at all will be won, but also makes it possible to win more points if you get lucky, relative to making fewer large rolls. It's only the average results that are the same.)

Adding the +1 increases the relative Time cost of smaller rolls, giving fewer larger rolls a higher expected payoff than more smaller ones, making that the clearly better strategy (if certain other assumptions hold true, see below). Basically, the +1 turns the high-risk high-payoff option of making many smaller rolls into an unattractive high-risk lower-payoff option. So if you gave me 15 time points per turn, I would do the following:

If no points can be carried over from turn to turn, then I make two rolls in a turn, paying 2 Time points for the "+1s" and distributing 12 Time points to make the X's for the two rolls total 6. So, either a roll at X=5 and another at X=1, or a roll at X=4 and another at X=2, or two rolls at X=3. It doesn't really matter which, so I'll allocate based on whether I need one kind of point more than the other. This leaves one unused Time point, but I get no benefit for using it. The only thing I can use it for would be as the +1 for a third roll, and I'd still have to allocate points for the roll out of the same 12 remaining, so my expected results wouldn't change. Perhaps if I were in a situation where I didn't desperately need Potential or Prestige points, I'd make three rolls, knowing that it would increase my chances of getting no points at all but would also give me a longshot at getting 3 P points.

If Finances and Concentration points can be carried over from turn to turn, then I make one roll at X=5, and carry over the remaining 4 Time points in the form of Finances or Concentration points (depending on whether I expect more future need for Prestige or Potential, respectively). After two turns of doing so, I can make two rolls at X=5 the following turn.

Now, all of this rests on one big assumption: that all Prestige points and Potential points are of equal value to me. That's probably not a valid assumption, but it's the best I can do with the information about the game you've given so far.

If for some reason gaining more P points in the same turm is more than proportionally valuable -- if, say, getting two Prestige points in a turn gives me more than twice the advantage of getting one, and the penalties for getting none are not too severe -- then I might be more likely to go for more smaller rolls. On the other hand, if that first point is precious -- say, if failing to get at least one Potential point means I'm out of the game -- then sticking to low-risk high-X rolls becomes even more advantageous.

You have to ask yourself, which of the decisions the players are making are the tactically interesting ones? Then, remove unnecessary noise that adds complication without contributing to those decisions. For instance, it sounds like the key in your game might be outguessing the other players on whether to go for Potential or Prestige each turn. (Perhaps being the only one to get Potential while everyone else goes for Prestige, or vice versa, were to give you a big advantage.) If that's the case, then all the rigamarole with Time, Finances, and Concentration points can be dispensed with, and you could just say that each player has six Time points per turn to divide among up to six Potential and Prestige rolls, staking 1 to 5 Time points per roll, succeeding if that  number or less is rolled.

- Walt
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knicknevin
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« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2006, 11:38:00 AM »

Thanks to both of you, those were helpfulo questions and analysis.

-In an ideal situation, what would you as the designer want to see in a single game session of your game in regards to this?

-What do they get for passing their exams? What do they get for failing them?

I'd like to see players taking a mix of tactics: dry die rolls would be a bit boring and most of the narrative stems from taking the special actions which don't earn you as much but  which sabotage or slow down the other players. I also don't want them taking a string of 'safe' actions, I want them to gamble a littlle as well, hoping to get a payoff.

Passing exams is important becuase you can improve your character (raising their attributes and giving them new abilities) and also win the game; the more exams you have passed, the better the chance you have of graduating!

Players can be expelled if, at the end of any Semester, they have no Potential and no Prestige before sitting their exams; an expelled character can still participate but has less chance of winning due to restrictions placed on what they can do.


If Finances and Concentration points can be carried over from turn to turn, then I make one roll at X=5, and carry over the remaining 4 Time points in the form of Finances or Concentration points (depending on whether I expect more future need for Prestige or Potential, respectively). After two turns of doing so, I can make two rolls at X=5 the following turn.

Now, all of this rests on one big assumption: that all Prestige points and Potential points are of equal value to me. That's probably not a valid assumption, but it's the best I can do with the information about the game you've given so far.

Yes, Time does not carry over, but everything else does; at least one Point of Potential must be spent at the end of the semester, though, in order to sit an exam, though you can spend a point of Prestige instead to skip having to take exams this Semester.
In fact, that is the general use of Prestige points: you spend them to avoid things that you would rather not have happen to your character, including some 'attacks' from other players. They can also act as a shield: the Time cost for some hostile actions is equal to the target's current Prestige score.

Thanks for the assistance again: I'll have a look at my action-cost formulas to see if I can encourage more low-cost actions over high-cost ones.
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Walt Freitag
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Posts: 1039


« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2006, 08:35:49 AM »

You're welcome, knick.

Some other things to consider, as you continue. This is all boilerplate from my board game design experience, which seems applicable to your F.U. project as you've described it so far. (I'll be interested to see, as this develops, how the role playing aspects of the game get integrated with the points system.)

1. There is one critical balance issue that you must always keep in mind when designing a directly competitive game. On the one hand, most games need "stability" -- which can be summed up as "the player who's ahead is more likely to win." Games with minimal or no stability can still be fun, but tend to be seen as "lightweight" because if all players have the same chance of winning regardless of everything that's happened so far in the game, it means that uncontrollable factors must be overshadowing skillful decision-making. On the other hand, most games need "instability" -- which can be summed up as "a player who's behind can still catch up and win." Games with minimal or no stability can still be fun, but in play can become tedious if an overwhelmingly likely winner emerges before the end of the game. The term "game balance" in competitive game design has a whole slew of different meanings, but most of them boil down to a properly sustained  balance between "stability" and "instability" throughout the span of a game.

2. The mechanics for using your points to attack another player instead of advancing your own position must be carefully designed and play-tested. Especially if attacks harm the target without having additional direct benefits for the attacker. Oddly, such options tend to promote "stability" rather than "instability" as you might think. Let's say you've rolled poorly in a game and now four other players are ahead of you in points and exams passed. Using one of your points to attack one other player only improves your position relative to the single player attacked, while using it to advance your own position improves your position relative to everyone else. Thus it's a poor way to spend your points, and you should spend them on self-advancement, even though it's unlikely that you could ever catch up that way. (Worst case is, your participation in the game becomes limited to being a spoiler -- you have no hope of winning yourself, but you can determine who does win by attacking a leading player at the last minute.) Meanwhile, the player in the lead can use attacks to hinder whoever's in second place, helping to keep the lead.

There are, of course, many ways to make offensive play more rewarding:

- The effects of an attack are so devastating that it hurts the target much more severely than using the same points for your own benefit would have helped you, or hurts multiple opponents. In which case, all players have pretty much no choice but to go into all-attack mode, and instability rules.

- There are resources in the game that can only be used for attacking (the Robber in Settlers of Catan; the "breakdown"-type cards in Mille Bournes).

- Attacks can generate rewards that advance the attacker's position. In many board games -- consider Risk and Monopoly, for instance -- the predominant way or the only way players gain resources is by winning them from other players.

Please keep us posted on further developments!

- Walt
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knicknevin
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Posts: 105


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« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2006, 01:36:24 AM »

In regards to F.U., Point 1 is addressed through actions and abilities; the standard actions previously mentioned all promote 'stability', while the special actions and most of the abilities promote instability and allow a player who is falling behind to catch up.

Point 2 is addressed within the special actions, which either have a higher pay-off but require players to take bigger risks or co-operate with each other; or, as well as a pay-off, they include a penalty that is applied to one or more other players.

I'm currently working on a new draft which scraps Time and and gives players a fixed number of actions per Semester, with roughly the following formulas.

Study: Spend X Concentration and 1 Finances to make a roll to gain 1 Potential; if you roll a 6, lose X more Concentration.
Party: Spend X Finances and 1 Concentration to make a roll to gain 1 Prestige; if you roll a 6, lose X more Finances.
Work: Spend 1 Concentration and gain 1d6+Income Finances.
Rest: Spend 1 Finance and gain 1d6+Karma Concentration.

Income & Karma are modifiers that start at 0 but my be increased or decreased through a variety of actions and consequences.
The Golden Rule is that if you can't afford a penalty, you must pay 1 Prestige or Drop Out, which limits your chances of winning.
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