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We're booting around ideas for a tactical skirmish board game and stumbled onto what we think is a cool idea for a mechanic, the trouble is we're not sure how to balance it. The mechanic works like this:

Momentum is tracked on a slider numbered 11 to 0 to 11.

Each action in the game has some momentum cost. This moves the slider away (towards 0) from that player.

When a player ends their turn, their opponent moves the slider towards themselves by 5, and can take actions until they're satisfied, but can't move the slider past the 3 on their opponent's side of the track.

So, i have two intertwined and related questions:

1) is this mechanic too 'weird' or odd for a tactical board game (think Final Fantasy Tactics), and are we better off going with something else?

2) What process would be used to balance this mechanic, IE make it so one player isn't dominating the game.

Edit to clarify the mechanic: if they end their turn, the other player will move the marker 5 towards them. So if you and I are playing, and the momentum is at 6, you'll move the marker 5 towards you. I'll then take a turn with 1 momentum point. When i decide i'm done, say at -2, you'll slide it towards you to -7. If you don't have the marker on your side, you don't have momentum, you skip your turn (including the step that lets your opponent slide the marker towards them)

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  • If I'm reading this correctly (not sure I am; diagrams would really help), if one player has momentum between 8 and 11 in their favor, they can effectively prevent the other player from doing anything since they can never move the slider past 3? – goldPseudo Nov 29 '16 at 20:48
  • if they end their turn, the other player will move the marker 5 towards them. So if you and I are playing, and the momentum is at 6, you'll move the marker 5 towards you. I'll then take a turn with 1 momentum point. When i decide i'm done, say at -2, you'll slide it towards you to -7. If you don't have the marker on your side, you don't have momentum, you skip your turn (including the step that lets your opponent slide the marker towards them). – Adam Wells Nov 29 '16 at 21:09
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    @AdamWells Your comment should be added to your question since it is relevant to balancing it – diego Nov 29 '16 at 21:31
  • @AdamWells Yes, that last comment has some quite key information. Without it, a player can repeatedly pass at 8 momentum and stall out the game (possibly generating turn-based triggers to benefit). With it, you're forced to take an extra turn after passing at 6 or more, effectively giving away 10 momentum in addition to your actions.. – Samthere Nov 30 '16 at 10:17
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    I love the idea of a connected interactivity based upon two warring sides-- this almost speaks like a singular system fighting itself, like two sides of a brain arguing... what benefits one side will simultaneously and equally damage/restrict the other... it's an interesting comment on duality and I would research systems of duality to find what concepts are relative to this system. These could lead to interesting insights and inspirations you may not have expected could/would fit your game. – Gray Roberts Jan 4 '17 at 11:59
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I can imagine this system working better if implemented as an additional layer to the general action system, rather than a standalone concept of managing actions - let me outline what I have in mind:

  • each action a unit can take has a cost
  • each player has an amount of action points that regenerate each turn (not all have to be used, but you can't save any for the next round). Depending on your game's nature, you may want that limit to be different between factions or similar distinguishing factors
  • there's a shared, infinite momentum range for both players that starts at 0 and never changes on it's own (such as, at the end of a player's turn)
  • players may (in addition to spending any amount of action points for any number of actions) shift the momentum bar towards their opponent for the amount of an action's cost that exceeds the action points of that player's current turn
  • they may only take a single action per turn that moves the momentum bar on their opponent's side, but as long as momentum is in their own favor, they may use as many actions as they'd like, spending momentum in addition to action points

Here's an example of how that could play out, using only movement as an example for simplicity:

Both players have 5 action points and control 5 Soldiers with a movement cost of 2. The momentum bar is at 3 in favor of player 2.

Player 1 moves 3 Soldiers by spending 5 action points and shift the momentum meter by 1 (to 4) in favor of player 2. Because the momentum is in the opponent's favor and player 1 has already used momentum this round, they may not use further momentum

Player 2 moves 4 Soldiers by spending 5 action points and shift the momentum bar by 2 for their third, and another 2 for their fourth Soldier, ending with the momentum bar at 1 in favor of player 2. Since the momentum bar is still in their favor, they could spend more points, but they decide to keep it this way to retain the edge over the opponent.

By making the momentum bar an isolated element, you're giving players a better chance to judge how their actions will shift the battle in their favor, as with your initial solution, the momentum bar would shift crazy amounts every turn - with this solution, it's an optional element that doesn't "regenerate" on it's own, and therefore represents a more fair, yet also unforgiving investment for players, as every action that doesn't pay off shifts the meter towards your opponent, and now they have the upper hand in deciding whether to save it for later, or spend it on a counter attack.

It makes it especially interesting if your unit action costs force players to spend momentum points or waste some of their action points, rewarding players for planning accurately. I can also imagine that certain units could have action costs so high that they could only be paid using momentum in the first place. By never being able to use momentum once per turn unless it's in your favor, you're not allowing any "rushes", other than if your opponent has decided to give you that advantage due to their excessive use of momentum.

All in all, this sounds like an element to make battles less predictable in a non-random, tactical way.

  • Heya! Thanks for the feedback, I did post up a clarification that answers your stalling concern. The momentum mechanic is meant to be the primary action point system. That said, however, I do like this idea of having action points and momentum, with Momentum being a way to encourage big tactical risks. I can see rookie soldiers having an ability that makes them more effective as momentum swings in your favor, but get more scared as momentum gets away from you. Also i like it being in the same vein as turnovers in Blood Bowl. – Adam Wells Nov 30 '16 at 13:36
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The easiest way I can think of to balance this sort of mechanic is to have certain actions only be available at certain momentum levels.

In particular, you could introduce a class of "desperate actions" for cases when the momentum is too far in your opponent's favor. Obviously this would depend on exactly what sort of game you're designing and exactly what sorts of units are involved, but this could include things from suicidal attacks to simply overextending a unit's own abilities. For example,

  • Aircraft can perform kamikaze attacks
  • Ships can accelerate to ramming speed
  • Soldiers can move further or take extra actions at the cost of their own health
  • Guns can fire hotter rounds to increase range/damage but with a 50% chance of exploding in the gunner's hands(i think this is how guns work right?)

The important thing is that, while powerful, these actions would also come with a very serious cost and/or risk; the side that's confident in their overwhelming power is unlikely to resort to these when they can just play it safe and still probably win, but the side that's being overwhelmed would be more open to such ideas when the alternative is losing outright.

A cornered animal, as they say, is at its most dangerous because it has nothing to lose.

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    This is actually a great idea for a related mechanic. The more I think about it and read new answers, the more and more this idea of Momentum is moving to be the core mechanic of the game, which I am okay with it. – Adam Wells Dec 1 '16 at 15:56
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Rather than a momentum mechanic, this seems a bit like an initiative mechanic or an endurance mechanic. Like, you can take more actions, but it wears you out so you take longer to recover/give the other player more time to act.

One idea is that there are increased penalties for going past a certain point. Yes, you could go to 11 on the opponent's side, but then the opponent either gets 1.5x or 2x points for their turn (in addition to more momentum, or as more momentum), or it is less effective (3-5 is same momentum cost as (7-11).

Also, I feel that you shouldn't limit the player to a certain point past the middle (or start with a limit but remove it as the game goes on).

  • Hm. Actually, you may be right about the limit being a bad thing. It was there on the initial draft to prevent sweeps on the first turn (We're aware that could become an issue) but since there's die rolls involved going for it and missing could be very exciting on both sides. – Adam Wells Nov 29 '16 at 20:30

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