540 Imbalanced Information, Vol. 2

Last week, we laid the groundwork for the idea of imbalanced information, with the general goal of getting to here, Vol. 2, where I will be relating it to gaming.

Information is a key component to a designing a competitive game. Let’s use some examples to clarify the differences.

Whether you’ve played it or not, chess is a universally known and beloved game. There are 32 game pieces set on a grid of 64 squares, and players take turns moving one of their pieces in order to eventually eliminate a specific piece of the other players’. It’s easy to see why this can be considered a game with balanced information. Both players looking down at the chess board see the exact same information. It’s completely balanced.

(In Vol. 3 we’ll get into talking about the implicit imbalance that every game has: the player’s mind and their decisions.)

As a counter example, look at poker (or really, many other card games). Poker is entirely defined by imbalanced information. Players are dealt hands of cards, and spend the game betting one another that they have the best hand, without ever knowing what cards other players have. The only completely factual information a player has at their disposal is which cards they are looking at in their hand.

Although a game is either one or the other, every game lands someone on a scale. It’s like a stovetop burner, it’s either off (Balanced), or it’s some varying degree of on (Imbalanced), but can never both.

Most games that use imbalanced information in their design are defined by it. The imbalance is the game design. The elements of the game are externalized objects that facilitate and alter player’s decisions. They also typically contain a certain amount of chance or luck, whether on purpose or not.

Balanced games could contain an amount of this as well, but seem to be based more on the player’s internalization of the game. The mind becomes a part of the game and a tool to analyze, not just a means to process new information.

Picture you and a group of friends are all standing on a dirt patch, and there are dozens of paths branching out from it, all around you. Some of these paths lead back home, while others don’t. In an Unbalanced game, you all see the same distance down the paths. It’s up to you to choose paths and adapt to new information as it becomes available. In a Balanced game, everybody knows which direction home is, but some people might have better vision than others, giving them an advantage.

That’s a weirdly imperfect example, I’ll try to come up with a better one soon.

[ Today I Was Playing: Fire Emblem Fates Birthright ]

June 23, 2016

#games #game-opinion, #game-theory, #strategy-game

Foster Douglas is a game designer, entrepreneur, and a wannabe Japanese-Italian. He’s been posting a new idea each day in this blog for over 2 years.