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.

§ 3.1 - Returns balance against risks.

§ 3.1 - Returns balance against risks.

§ 3.1 - Returns balance against risks.

Risk and return are the key balances of an economy.

When we think of “risk” we often think of “putting things at risk,” but that’s not a proper perspective for most games.

When considering risk and return, consider both the resources in play and the expected returns as a baseline. This is called an “Opportunity Cost”, and it’s the main source of risk in most games.

For example, say there are 10 turns in a game, and the average score is 50 points. You can assume that on average, a player is making 5 points per turn. When a player’s turn comes around, they’re risking their turn for a return of points.

If they can beat the average and make more than 5 points, that strategy should have an associated risk. If there’s a basic action that only gives them 3 or 4 points, it should be very safe to make that choice.

Once you understand risk and reward in terms of opportunity-cost vs. rate-of-return, you’ll discover many more ways to effectively balance your game, and be equipped with the mathematical basis to implement them.

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