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drmauric

Suggestions for Creating Your Own "Balanced" Scenarios

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I originally posted this on Board Game Geek in a discussion about creating "balanced" scenarios for Monolith's Conan board game. People responded positively to it so I thought it might be useful here.

I've only made one scenario that I felt was good enough to share out of several attempts. So I'm no expert, but here are my thoughts anyway.

#1 Play a lot. Play through all the Official scenarios. And play as many unofficial fan made scenarios as you can find. The Official scenarios will help you understand how a scenario is "supposed" to be. And the Unofficial ones will help you see what works and what doesn't work. You will also learn what effects balance. Circular Strike in Hunting the Tigress wrecks the scenario. But a high reinforcement value in Blood Red Dawn (Nordheim #1) nullifies Circular Strike. Archers balance out Evasive. Ranged weapons for the Heroes can snag an escaping Villian at the last second. A tempting treasure chest just a little too far away can run the clock out on a greedy Hero. Blocking can make a heavily armed Hero pretty much useless. Single gem attacks with Ambidextrous make the Overlord spend extra gems on Defense rolls for heavily armored Monsters.
By playing as much as you can you will see what works and what doesn't. What you like and don't like.

#2 Play by yourself first. That way you aren't wasting anyone's time. This is especially true when playing a fan made scenario, whether yours or someone else's. This will also help you detect problems with your own scenario, because you know what each side is going to do, so you have to really think through each move.

#3 Avoid excessive special rules. Conan is a great game, custom scenarios should not "reinvent" the game. I want a Conan scenario, not a new game that uses Conan components. Keep it simple. And steal special rules from Official scenarios. I loved the way the Crows reinforce in the Nordheim expansion, so I used it it mine. Or the interrogating the priest's in The Wrath of Anu. Poison in Stygia. Steal Official special rules for your scenario, rather than invent your own, you already know they work. This also keeps everything uniform so other players will understand the rule. Meaning, for example, use Monolith's poison rules, rather than inventing your own.

#4 Avoid using too many pieces. The Conan minis are awesome. I want them all on the board, but that rarely works out well. Conan is not a table top war game, it's a scenario based skimish game. By definition it uses less mini's and more story... which leads my next point...

#5 Write a good story. We all love Robert Howard's stories. Honor him with your story telling. Craft a good story and build your scenario around it. Fit the minis, board, special rules and other game mechanics into the story. Nordheim is great because it loosely follows The Frost Giant's Daughter story. A great story makes your scenario more immersive, you feel like you are in the story.
The Unofficial scenario Torrid Night is a great example of this also. Great, funny story, with simple game mechanics to play out the story on the board.


#6 Don't overly strive for a "perfect" balance, strive for a great game experience that brings people back for more.
Balance is a strange issue because often times people seem like they feel a scenario is out of balance if they don't get the result they want. "It's impossible for the Overlord to win" or "I can't win with the Heroes." Just because a scenario is hard or even "impossible" for one side doesn't mean the game is wrecked and out of balance. 50-50 balance is fine if the players are evenly matched. 60-40 is better if one player is more skilled. Chess is a perfectly balanced game and it gets kind of dull in a hurry. Each Conan scenario is, in a way, a unique game unto itself. That's what makes it awesome. That is it's strength.
A great example of a fun 60-40 scenario is the official scenario The Terrible Lovers. It is tough for the heroes to win, but it is a solid well balanced scenario. And most importantly fun and challenging.

#7 Quit easily. If your scenario isn't working for you, it probably won't work for anyone else. Set it aside for later and try something else.

#8 Have fun for Crom's sake. Or not. Crom doesn't care if you waste your time being frustrated over perceived "balance" issues or page after page of special rules. As long as enemies are crushed and driven before you and women are lamenting, everyone wins.

These are just my thoughts, for what it's worth. (go easy on me, :) )

Edited by drmauric
Missed a word
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Good advice, and timely for me as I delve into trying my hand at scenario creation. As I am doing one using Kull and new characters, I did create some new skills that were taken straight from their stories. But I do see your point about not reinventing the game. They may seem like a but much at first but they will carry over into all my Thurian Age scenarios so I hope that makes it worth it!

For some reason I had not thought of playing alone but that one makes perfect sense!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice!

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I actually wrote a chapter on this topic for the Modiphius book. I'm not sure how necessary it is at this point in time, so it may not be included. I wrote it before the game even shipped. We shall see. I think for novices this advice is great. Your points strongly echo mine. 

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On 10/3/2017 at 6:24 PM, Primeval said:

Good advice, and timely for me as I delve into trying my hand at scenario creation. As I am doing one using Kull and new characters, I did create some new skills that were taken straight from their stories. But I do see your point about not reinventing the game. They may seem like a but much at first but they will carry over into all my Thurian Age scenarios so I hope that makes it worth it!

For some reason I had not thought of playing alone but that one makes perfect sense!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and advice!

I think what you are doing sounds great. My point about excessive special rules is that, when used properly, they greatly enhance the game. I just feel that special rules shouldn't  disrupt the over all format of the game. I used a couple special rules in my scenario but the game still plays like Conan rather than Warhammer, D&D, or a video game survival mode.

Again, I'm no expert, but when I see multiple pages of special rules I tend to put that scenario into the "I'll try that one later" pile, and you know how that turns out in the gaming world.  :)

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I was trying to do rough through's of the scenario I'm working on. I looked at dice average calculations and realized that using these calculations is misleading. A far better statistic is the median. The reason for this (especially with reroll) is that distributions can be asymmetrical so the average is misleading. The median roll represents one could expect to roll or better 50% of the time. 

 

https://github.com/spgarbet/conan/blob/master/dice.R

 

Thus with some shorthand, I could quickly roll through my scenario multiple times till the median outcomes were fairly balanced. Now for actual playtesting with dice. Also, this exercise has informed my game play as to what is a good use of gems versus a poor one. 

 

Take for example Conan with a 2-handed sword versus a Black One. He can't reroll so the expected median is straight-forward, He can invest 1-5 gems in the attack and expect to get 3,5,6,7,9 hits or greater 50% of the time. The Black One has an armor value of 3, so a 4 is needed for a kill. Thus 2 gems would be sufficient, but the Overlord can guard, and it's going to take 4 gems with a Crow in the right position to get him back. Each gem invested cancels the same number of hits or better 50% of the time. So the overlord could spend up to 4 gems to save a Black One. These means 4 or more will be cancelled. So Conan needs to hit for 7 or better and needs to invest 4 gems to get a 50% or better outcome chance of killing the Black One. So, to be sure he's getting a kill he should invest 5 gems in the attack. At this point the OL decides it's not worth it and doesn't guard at all spending nothing! So killing a Black One for Conan is an expensive investment. Thus Conan has to look for opportunities when the OL has run low on gems, because it's a tough won and expensive fight.

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@garbetsp

It is amazing how hard it is to hit a Minion with even a 2 armor! But to see it explained mathematically helps.  Great point about considering the dice rolls, definately needs to be a consideration.

 

Wise gem use is definitely a strategic point lots of players miss. It effects scenario balance as well. During my playtesting I will often "go crazy" spending huge amounts of gems on an action, a big attack, big defense, or rerolls until I get my result, massive teleportation etc,  just to see if I can "get away with it" and to see how the crazy idea effects the scenario as a whole. Can the player recover from it? How does their opponent respond to it? Does it "wreck the game"? 

 

As you mention Conan has to look for opportunities when the OL is low. The challenge for designers to to make sure that doesn't happen too soon or too late.

Edited by drmauric
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