Balance? I don’t need no steenking bal … arrrrgh!

Wotcha everyone,

Every so often, real-life permitting, myself and a group of mates meet up to play boardgames.  Normally, we play long but involving games, that we don’t finish properly because we’re too slow and social to play fast enough.  Needless to say, fun is still had.

Tonight, we shall be playing one of our shorter, lighter games.  One of those on offer, and my personal favourite “light” game, is Pitch-Car.  For those that don’t want to follow the link, it’s like Subbuteo, but with racing cars on a track.  Obviously thought up by a genius.

Almost everyone I know who has tried it has approached the table with trepidation, come away thinking it’s a work of genius, and desperate to have another race.  It has inspired moments of envy, of awe, of sheer hilarity.  There have been times I have laughed so much I had to be reminded to breathe.

So tonight, we shall flick little wooden disks around a wooden race track, until the muscles of our flicking fingers are stiff and sore, and our nails are bruised and painy.  It’s a great game, and what’s more, because it’s just a set of identical disks with everyone racing on the same track, it’s perfectly balanced.  It’s all about the skill of the player.

Ah, “Balance”.  The Holy Grail of Gaming.  Why can’t games be balanced.  It’s simple enough, surely?  Just make everyone equal in terms of power, and that way everyone has fun.

I hate “Balance”.  If I had my way, it would be an un-word.  One with no rational meaning.  Because, in gaming terms, it has no meaning, no relevance.  Even those little wooden discs with stylised racing cars printed on them aren’t equal.  Some spin more than others.  Some are more stable.  They’re painted different colours, and that will make a difference.  We’ve played this game *a lot*.  We know, otherwise we wouldn’t have our favourite cars…

You can’t bring balance into a game which has different classes, with differing roles, skills, and the ability to use items.  That way lies madness.  Trust me, I know.  All you can do is try to make each way of playing fun, and if anything pops up as way over-powered, try to lower the power without screwing everything else over.

Besides, these are Massively Multiplayer Online games.  Not just Multiplayer.  Massively Multiplayer.  We don’t log on and take part in a series of one-on-one duels.  We form brute squads.  Warbands.  Zergs!  How can they be regulated, to ensure that each rabble has the right number and mix of characters, to ensure balance between sides?

And what about ourselves?  If I think my opponent isn’t as experienced a player as I am, should I play a bit dumber to give him a chance?  If his connection isn’t as good, should I pretend to have lag?  Should I force my pc to slowdown because he doesn’t spend most of his income on his gaming rig?

Balance.  Pah!  I remember my epiphany, when I suddenly realised that lack of balance actually made for more game than the sterile, turgid, stalemate that balance leads to.  Games were suddenly so much more fun.  I stopped caring that the other guy might have better equipment, or that his nuke did more damage than the Death Star.  I played harder, used my noggin, became a little more ruthless.  It’s not like I could do anything about the imbalance anyway.  And the returns were worth it.

Those desperate defences, the sweeping victories, the hard-won but fleeting wins.  I live for those moments.  Nobody dreams of a draw, they dream of bigger, better, more.

So I’m not worried about what the server population will be at release.  I’m not worried that They will have the uber classes, and Us will be made of fail.

I *am* worried that someone might attempt to grab my red and gold car this evening though.  She’s the best car on the track…


13 Responses

  1. have you ever tried Ticket to Ride? I was just recommended it so am fishing for other opinions

  2. Everyone knows that in Empire Builder the black crayon is the best.
    (actually it’s probably the yellow one because then no-one can see where your train tracks are)

  3. Ticket to Ride is the best most fun board game i have EVER played…and i play a LOT of board games..
    It becomes more fun when playing with other experienced players, because you will see through their plans, their *tickets* and try to stop them…when playing with unexperienced players its just too …easy…to take advantage…
    I prefer Ticket to Ride Europe, has got some extra’s that the USA version doesnt have.

    other games on my list of Fame include:
    -Thurn & Taxis
    -Princes of Florence
    -Puerto Rico

    play them, love them, i recommend it 🙂

    btw, love the post, i HATE balance as well…too sterile

  4. I think everyone has a different idea of what they mean by balance.

    Surely the best board games are designed with some idea of game balance in mind?

    I’m thinking about this because I’m off to gencon uk this weekend with some friends, and we’re trying to decide which board games to borrow and play there. But I do see ticket to ride on that list, maybe I’ll push for that!

  5. Wotcha everyone,

    I need to really watch out, because I can ramble about boardgames for hours…

    I am an evil gamer, because not only do I like Euro games (for their artful and beautiful simplicity that mask a variety of cunning and ruthless strategies), but I like Ameritrash games (for their lovely themes, and stories, and the ones that allow you to be cunning and ruthless, usually with unspeakable horrors).

    I’ve not played Ticket to Ride, or Princes of Florence, but I have played Thrun & Taxes, and I was surprised by how much fun it can be setting up a fledgling postal service through Middle Europe. Whodathunkit? Puerto Rico is the daddy, though. It amazes me how the game plays differently for the number of players, and just how many strategies there can be for one game that is so simple. Like Settlers of Catan, also a great game.

    However, one of the best games I’ve played (sadly no longer in print, but Fantasy Flight Games may well be publishing it, just without the “Intellectual Copyright setting”), is Dune. Which laughs at game balance. Read this review here;

    Wonderfully written, and bang on the money.

    Of course, I would also recommend PitchCar. Oh, and Shadows Over Camelot. Lots of fun, and the only boardgame I’ve played that is actually more fun with maximum players, than it is with less.


  6. I’ve seen Dune played and wished I was playing it (but I was doing some tabletop RP at the time).

    Personally, I love Fluxx and recently Chrononauts – but they’re card games rather than board ones. Have played Settlers of Catan once and loves that too. Just.. where I am I don’t have many people I could ask to play board games with, so I don’t tend to buy them.

  7. Oh! I played shadows over camelot last year at gencon and it was awesome.

  8. Dune sounds great 😀

  9. Chrononauts is *amazing*, but only with a good sized group (strictly 4-5), entirely comprised of people who are willing to explain (in a serious but silly manner) exactly HOW things are transpiring. For instance, the third time I prevented myself from preventing the prevention of preventing the assassination of JFK (seriously, I undid and did this paradox like eight or nine times myself, consecutively), having conversations with many versions of myself…anyway, that was great fun.

    I have today’s dumb American question for Hawley. Can you please define “Wotcha” for me? I think it means “Hey” or “What’s up?” or “WAAAASAAAAAAAP?!” or perhaps “Get ready for something as awesome as pancakes!” but I am honestly not sure. @_@

  10. Wotcha everyone,

    It’s a traditional English lower-class greeting, Thade, which fell out of popular usage around the 1950s. I have many OCDs, and one of them is using “Wotcha” instead of “Hello” when typing. I first started using it because it would annoy the hell out of people who greeted my characters with; “Hail”. Which I think is a rrrrrrrrubbish greeting.

    And don’t worry, there are plenty of dumb English questions out there as well. “Dumb” is a worldwide state, and one that we all share in. 😉

    Cheers (“Goodbye”),

  11. Not worried =) just not ashamed to be a dumb American. Thanks for the definition.

    Is it pronounced as I think it is? “Whot-chya”?
    or more of a “WaaaghChaaa!”?

  12. Wotcha everyone,

    Thade, you’re right on the first try there. It’s a short, snappy “Whot-chya”, as opposed to an orcish attempt to summon one of their freaky green gods.

    And for the record, I did a flying qualifying lap, was then absolutely rubbish in the race, killed Dr. Lucky in “Kill Dr. Lucky”, and was so awful at Munchkin Cthulhu that I deserved to have small children point at me and laugh.


  13. You don’t need perfection but you want to avoid “you’re screwed, you can’t do anything about this” situations that could possibly occur in 1v1 scenarios. (Such imbalances compound upon themselves and each other in group scenarios)

    If you can avoid that lack of choice simply due to what you face, your gameplay is pretty good.

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