18 December 2010

Point Values for Squadron Strike

I had a long discussion with my friend Ken yesterday about point value systems in games, and specifically how this can be applied to his game Squadron Strike (Ad Astra Games). We spent several hours hashing out the details of a Lanchester type scoring system, and how various aspects of the game ought to affect the point value. I came prepared with the best I could muster from the theoretical standpoint, and Ken kept the focus on taking what the math says ought-to-be and turning it into something that works. At times we argued - a good sort of argument - and the very best work people can achieve often comes from such discussion.  I can't reproduce all the details, but I think I can recall the high points:
  1. There is no theoretically correct way to make a point system where values and simply be added together, but ...
  2. There is a way to balance point values, somewhere between Lanchester's Linear and Square laws, that is optimal. That is, a point system can be structured so that there is a small advantage to be gained by taking a moderate strategy - with moderate meaning the right combination of intermediate sized ships should be superior to both a swarm of small ships and a single Dreadnought.
  3. We argued discussed at length how various ship capabilities should affect the balance point. The result is that player ship-building decisions are going to change the balance point, and building The Ultimate Fleet that beats all challengers is going to be quite difficult (perhaps nigh impossible).
  4. Squadron Strike has a detailed ship construction system that already has it's own checks and balances built in. I encouraged Ken not to penalize point costs for aspects that should already be self-balancing. For instance, I suggested that movement didn't need to be part of this point cost, because ships with more hull space devoted to maneuverability automatically have less space left for weapons and defenses. Making movement increase costs too much could penalize players for building maneuverable ships, and Ken wants plays to build maneuverable ships. (I think that's when Ken accused me of being a closet Republican.)
I think we ended up hammering out a good basis for Squadron Strike point values for scenario balance. It isn't the the last word in the mathematics of game balance. Squadron Strike is far too complex to be able to write out as any sort of "equation for victory", but then most games are far too complex to solve in that way. That very complexity is why game are fun, and why we play them. A point system doesn't have to be perfect. It is after all just another rule by which a game can be played. A lot of hard work went into making this rule, and I think it's going to be a good one.
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