Feb 25 2023

7 min read

Cursed Problems In Tactics Games

That legendary item is broken AF! The devs need to nerf that $#!@ next patch!

~angry nerd

Winner Takes All

The "winner takes all" problem is a vicious cycle. First, a winning player may get an implicit advantage by taking control of "the board". Then, a game may add insult to injury by further rewarding the already winning player with MORE advantages like extra resources.

This sort of imbalance is prevalent in RTS games and some tactics games. The most active strategy decisions in RTS games happen before combat; the deciding factors before any shots are fired. It is resource management on top of combat.

A great example of this subtle issue can be seen in ole Advanced Wars 2. There are three kinds of heavy assault units; tank, medium tank, neo tank. These tanks are nearly identical and the costs go from 7k, 16k, 22k, respectively.

they are basically the same in the game

If you compare the stats in a vacuum, the advantages and drawbacks of each are relatively fair. While the neo tank is the most powerful it is also the most expensive, and conversely the cheaper plain tank is given greater vision to compensate along with lowest costs.

Fog of war Currency

While they do balance unit deploys with the cost, respawning is too powerful when coupled with an additional 1,000 resources per controlled zone per turn. As the game goes on, resource disparity makes it so that one side can pump out a new neo tank like, every other turn.

Even though it is both practical and real to life; this mechanic still makes for an imbalanced brain-dead strategy mid to late game nonetheless. At this point, both sides lose out on the fun, as neo tank steam rolling gets old after a few dozen times.

Resource management is actually something I personally enjoy, so I don't want to flame it too much. It is important to call it out, since it tends to be one of the harder things to balance as a gap begins to form between the players. For this reason, SteelPinion will not include in-match currency management; this is to better focus on the squad based tactics.

Meta Incentives

If a player has superior maneuvering, and they get in your blindspot whilst keeping your poor ship in the firing arc, then they've received a meta incentive (being a "free combat exchange" that you cannot return fire).

example risky maneuvering

There is no need to reward them further within the match in such a way that the match balance is weighed heavily in winner's favor. Rewarding good play with extra goodies should happen after the match to avoid tilting the current match further and further in one direction without a hope of the losing player returning.

What we want is for these "meta rewards" to emerge from the gameplay itself, rather than uncouth heavy-handed hard-coded advantages.

Imbalance Leads to Quitting

Players can sense when they've lost and often will freaking quit before a match is over. It is annoying, but they know that the power tilt is too great to overcome due to either randomness or excess mid-match winner rewards... Reasonably choosing to spend their time elsewhere.

The thing about strategy nerds is that they don't typically quit because of rage. Rage quitting can happen to the best of us, however a strategy loving nerd takes strategy into the next level; into one's own life. If they wouldn't employ a time wasting un-fun strategy in a fantasy world, then why would they waste REAL resources like lifetime or hard earned cash? It only makes sense they'd quit and try for more favorable conditions elsewhere.

Reverse Incentives

Okay, so this is where we flip this on its head. All players get goodies (afterwards) based on how they performed during a match; regardless of win or lose. Those goodies in SteelPinion would be instanced parts from your opponents ships. Each customizable part IS a SteelPinion mod file. We like to represent these in-game as cards.

This new equipable engine is a kind of reverse incentive to keep on playing; "Hey little guy, there is still some hope! Don't quit and tarnish the multiplayer community!"

We don't want to do obnoxious things like spawn random units in the middle of the map (I'm looking at you XCOM). Nor do we want to boost stat points unfairly like every other rpg tactics game where a boss buffs up to his "final form".

this isn't even my final form!

From the grave...

During a match, we'd want to grant some kind of non-game-breaking tilt for the losing player. What if their ships could still perform some useful action after being sunk? Aaand what if those actions thematically made sense so that the winning player isn't like "that's not fair"?

While that particular idea seems like a fun way to balance an outnumbered scenario. This solution doesn't solve a deeper, more rampant issue; power creep.

Power Wallet Creep

"Power creep" shows up in a couple of different ways. The more terrible appearance would be akin to the beloved CCG genre (collectable card game) such as Hearthstone, Yu-gi-oh, Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, etc; the creator's of which have every right to alter their base game by adding more cards.

Only... how do you keep the older cards relevant? Like, it's gotta be impossible right? I think it is not feasible to both maintain old meta and add new meta. You can't always add in new meta-game tactics without breaking some older ones.

This phenomena in game design may often be referred to as "power creep" by strategy enthusiasts. Since the old stratagems tend to be outstripped by the new more powerful builds, making the prior sets a foolish endeavor. It is a particularly nasty problem in virtually every CCG/TCG (collectable/trading card game) I've personally invested in.

When people put money into cards that become irrelevant a season or two later, that stings, leading to the aforementioned "Imbalance leads to quitting".

RPG Power Creep

The other less terrible kind of power creep is typical in other genres, and might possibly be sprinkled into every genre. Equipment like "basic knife" eventually get replaced with a more legendary "dragon-saliva-coated-toothpick" or somesuch better version of the exact same thing.

The problem being that "basic knife" is utterly useless junk for the majority of the game; filling inventory space, database space, screenspace, etc. To the point it would have been better to just give me gold instead of make me click a couple more times to pick it up and sell it!

Progression in games like Diablo/Path-of-Exile expose objectively superior loot as you attain higher and higher levels. Which is a feature of those kinds of loot-frenzy games.

The creeping hits hard when you are max level as most items you find will be junk, so you NEED the devs to introduce more "creepy" equipment, which will likely net more junk items caused by outdated meta-tactics. Path of Exile even has complex filter settings just to hide the junk!

look at all those junk items!

My issue with this kind of progression in strategy games is that lower level entities and tactics get washed away in the shadows of the greater items. This shortens the viability of stratagems and minimally clutters up the in-game menus with "newbie traps" (items/spells that only new players use).

Many games tie better items with better winning so that you are forced to always build the "best you've got", instead of what is fun to get those bragworthy drops in the first place!

What's Next

I accidentally went overboard on talking about the problems we are trying to solve with 1st class mod support... So I'll let the next article reference this one and get on with the description of what 1st class mods can do today and what we want them to do by release.

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