Commandment #7: Challenge

This post is part of a series of articles detailing the BrainGoodGames Design Commandments. You can see the full list here.

In truth, this commandment is actually very closely related to the commandment about Learning. This is because if there are no gameplay paths that the player can come up with that give a reasonable chance of victory, or if the player can choose an arbitrary path (i.e if the game is too easy or too hard), then the player either cannot or does not need to learn anything! If we accept the premise that learning is a huge aspect of the fun of strategy games, then providing the correct challenge level is absolutely critical in creating an enjoyable experience.

Games have tried many methods of tailoring the challenge level correctly over the years, some overtly, others more subtly. One classic example is the concept of “grinding” in early RPG systems like Final Fantasy. The ability to grind (gaining power through some repetitive action) ensures that players of any skill level can eventually surpass whatever challenge the game throws at them. In theory this allows players to correctly tailor the challenge level to themselves. In practice it often results in players grinding until the game presents no strategic challenge (as players will often use the simplest solution available, even if it is less fun for them!). Not only that, but grindingly inherently involves engaging in a low-value activity in exchange for power, which means part of your game system is inherently boring to engage with (setting aside the quirk of human nature which assign some base-line satisfaction with gaining quantifiable power, as evidenced by clicker games).

Another common method of scaling difficulty is to allow players to simply select the difficulty from a menu at the start of the game. This is problematic as the player has no way of knowing which difficulty level will be appropriate for them in your game system until they have engaged with it. A more modern “fix” is to allow players to re-select their difficulty at any time from a menu. The problem with this approach is that it again gives players a trivial way to bypass the challenge and learning of your game, and therefore a lot of the fun! Additionally, I think that part of the job of a game designer is to do upfront work to craft a game experience the player will find enjoyable, and to some extent that includes selecting the difficulty. Players shouldn’t have to do the designer’s work for them (although I will admit that at times this is not feasible, in which case practical concessions need to be made).

Am I more of a “Ultra-Violence” guy or a “Nightmare!” guy…

BrainGoodGames have taken another approach, as outlined in the article on Learning. They use a single-player ladder system to develop a sense of player’s skill, and then adapt dynamically to continually modify the challenge to be suitable for them! In my estimation this solves a lot of the fun-circumvention problems of other systems, and removes some design burden from players. Win-win! A further augmentation present in Militia, and likely soon to be included in other BrainGoodGames is the inclusion of a “Placement Match” system to allow players who feel the difficulty is incorrectly calibrated to quickly set it to a (ideally) closer challenge level. This also allows experienced strategy game players to skip ranks that are too easy for them, and players’ to opt in to re-calibration after a large balance patch!

BrainGoodGames Design Commandments

I started BrainGoodGames last year because I felt a certain type of game was missing from the landscape. Over the years I’ve ravenously read watched and played as much varied game design thinking as I could, and I’ve come to some conclusions about the types of games I’ll strive to make. I call these the BrainGoodGames Design Commandments.

I may not meet all of these goals all the time, but they are the target that I’m aiming at. Also keep in mind that these are design guidelines for a specific type of game, and not applicable to all designs.

1) The complexity of the game should be in the strategy, not in rules comprehension (the player should know the rules!)

2) The game should have a clear win/loss state (match based play)

3) The player should be having the fun, not the designer (related to 1)

4) The game should always be moving towards its conclusion

5) The game will feature enough ambiguity to remain strategically interesting

6) The game will reward and encourage skill, learning and growth

7) The player should always be playing near the correct challenge level for them

8) The most interesting/fun way to play the game should also be strategically best

9) The game should not cease to be interesting without new content

10) The game should treat the player’s time as valuable

I plan to write a series of articles going into a bit more detail on each of these commandments, so stay tuned!

BrainGoodGames’ Next Game: SkyBoats, Live on Kickstarter/Greenlight!

SUPER EXCITED RIGHT NOW!! We just launched our Kickstarter/Greenlight campaigns for our next game: SkyBoats! It’s another single-player strategy game with a procedural generation and a ranked ladder, using board-game-esque mechanics. It would mean a ton to us if you checked em both out, voted, and considered backing! (Here we go again with the Greenlight/Kickstarter stress!!)


Age of Axes Patch 1.02 Full Patch Notes

You can get Axes and Acres on Steam here.

This patch contains a number of different things including balance, a few new objectives, and some adjustments to the rank system at higher ranks using the barbarians. (Full patch notes below)

The main things we have focused on for balancing is promoted dice, and cards. We felt that some of the time (more often than we would like) the promoted dice and the cards gained from your buildings (especially the more expensive ones) were often not worth taking the time to gain. To deal with this we have buffed the promoted dice and changed around a number of the cards. Now when you gain/promote a die it will roll into your unused dice pool. This will make promotion of dice stronger, while also allowing you to make interesting plays by promoting a die and then using it elsewhere on the board.

We have made changes to a number of the cards, almost completely re-working the cards attached to the church, marketplace, and town hall as well as smaller adjustments to the basic work card, the lumberyard card, and the theatre card. Now when you gain these cards into your deck they should be valuable tools to help you achieve victory. On a similar note, there will now be an indicator of how many cards remain in your deck and discard pile.

We have also made a few small changes to die faces, buildings and objective values. There will be more things you can undo (hopefully everything people wanted, but more on this below?) You also will no longer lose your movement within a turn, you can gain move, perform any actions, and then keep moving. We have also added some new objectives which relate to the tier 2 and 3 buildings, encouraging the players to build more grandly!

Finally we have made some adjustments to the barbarians at the higher ranks of play. Starting at rank 8 instead of every rank raising the points required to win there will be more or faster spawning barbarians. We had felt that the barbarians weren’t integrated enough into the game, and that they didn’t create enough of a challenge at the later ranks. There will now be more barbarian spawners at different points in the game which will provide an added struggle. This will also help spread out the higher ranks allowing for more differentiation of skill. We feel that non-quantitative changes to the difficulty are important in a ranking system like this, especially at the higher ranks. (More on this in another post)

All in all we hope this patch will keep the game fresh and exciting for all the existing players, help balance all the different strategies to choose from, and keep everyone having fun when playing Axes and Acres!

We have been thinking about adding a full turn undo button, which would be disabled if you roll/reroll any dice during your turn. We would love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this, or on any other changes we have made!

Full Patch Notes:

    • Gain 3 VP (instead of 2)
    • Bottom effect changed to set one die to gather.
    • Top of card changed to work then change to gather.
    • Bottom of card is save moves (5)
    • Top of card changed to Gain VP, Spawn Barbarian
    • Bottom changed to Gather + 2
    • Reproduce effect now save 5 moves instead of 4
    • Top of card now gain one food one wood one stone
    • Bottom of card now move 7
    • Bottom of card now Gain 3 food
    • Top of card now spawn three trees
    • Bottom of card now gain 1VP per 6 stored resources
    • One of the work faces changed to reproduce
    • One of the crusade faces changed to wild
    • build road no longer shows up in third round
      • You will have to find a more impressive way to win!
    • removed build building objective
      • We felt that this wasn’t particularly interesting, and was strictly worse than the build roads objective which detracted from overall strategy
    • Build fountain worth 2 points instead of 3 (to reflect change to fountain worth)
    • Have 2 masons now worth 6 points instead of 4
    • Have 2 priests now worth 6 points instead of 4
    • Have 3 farms now worth 6 points instead of 5
    • Added:
      • Build builders hall (Phase 2,3) – 4 points
      • Build lumberyard – 2 points
      • Build town hall (Phase 2,3) – 3 points
      • Have theatre (Phase 2,3) – 4 points
      • marketplace – 4 points
      • church – 4 points
    • rank 10
      • (13 points) – add spawner after phase 1
    • rank 11
      • points + 1
    • rank 12
      • add spawner after phase 1 + 2
    • rank 13
      • points + 1
    • rank 14
      • add spawner at beginning and 1 + 2
    • rank 15
      • points + 1
    • rank 16
      • reduce spawner times by one
    • rank 17+
      • points + 1

Age of Axes – Barbarian Hordes

Age of Axes Patch 1.02

The Age of Axes quickly approaches! Look for the full patch notes tomorrow, but for now, a little more on the barbarians that await you…

This patch will bring increased barbarian danger at the higher ranks. This change is being made for a couple different reasons. We have heard from some players, and agree, that the barbarian mechanic needs to be fleshed out a little more. Most games players will end up dealing with the barbarians fairly quickly and then never thinking about them for the rest of the game. The new barbarians in Age of Axes should be much more threatening at the high ranks of play.

The other reason for this change is to help differentiate ranks in interesting ways. The early ranks have changes to round limits, victory point requirements, and events. Once you get up to the higher ranks however, the only change each rank is the points required to get through each phase. These new changes will increase the span of ranks which have qualitative rather than quantitative differences. We hope this will make Axes and Acres interesting for players for a longer period of time, and provide a significant challenge to players who have been playing for a long time.

Beware the barbarian hordes!

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Age of Axes – Increased Undo Functionality

With this new patch we are trying to enable undo functionality for the most frustrating mistakes which you may make. You can now undo dice used as move x2 and as move later, and you can even use 2 dice for move 4, rather than doing them one at a time. You can also undo many other little things, simply right click to see what can be undone. We hope these changes will increase the ease of use for players and decrease mistakes made.

What is done may be undone.

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“Age of Axes” Balance Patch 1.02 Coming Soon!

We’ll be revealing more information over the next couple days. One thing we can reveal though, is that the Barbarians and Woodsmen are pretty excited about what’s to come.

Subscribe to the blog to keep informed of the patch changes as they’re revealed! (We’ll also be posting about Game Design, Development, Marketing and the future of BrainGoodGames on this blog. We’d be thrilled to have you along for the ride! Subscribe via email or RSS!)