Guidelines for Strategy Game Design

A functional and lightweight game design manual by Level 99's D. Brad Talton Jr,
on how to create tense, dynamic, decision-driven games.

§ 2.4 - Strategies are dynamically balanced.

§ 2.4 - Strategies are dynamically balanced.

§ 2.4 - Strategies are dynamically balanced.

All strategies need to be beatable. Otherwise, the emergence of a master strategy will render the game solved very quickly. Games with a master strategy are all about execution—whoever can implement the master strategy best will win.

Thankfully, dynamic balance is not hard. As long as every strategy is beatable, the game will self-balance.

The basic concept of this is simple, and we learn it in grade school with “Rock-Paper-Scissors”. Ultimately, all strategic play in games follows this simple rule. There is nuance for execution and situation and opportunity, but at the highest strategic level, your game will either stand on this triangle of linked strategies, or collapse into a simple test of execution.

For any strategy A, there should be a strategy B that beats it. Strategy B needs a strategy C that beats it. Finally, strategy C can lose to strategy A, so there’s no strict need for a strategy D (but you can still have one!).

In any strategic game, there should be a minimum of 3 major strategies with this relationship.

This loop is self-balancing. It doesn’t matter if strategy A is the strongest strategy or earns the most points. If strategy A earns ten times more points, then that makes the strategy that beats it, strategy B, ten times more compelling to pick—as long as players can see and understand this relationship.

Hybrid strategies can and should emerge—especially in longer and more complex games.

The important thing is that each strategy in your game must have both strategies it beats and strategies that it loses to, and any part of the diagram is reachable by any other part.

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