Making/Balancing character powers: A lesson in mathematical balancing and listening to feedback

Topher
3 min readFeb 5, 2019
My first cards and current cards for battle bash

One of the coolest features in Super Smash Bros. (which I loosely based Battle Bash on) is that each character feels, and plays, completely differently. This opens up a lot of strategic options such as using a quick character to strike and get away before your opponent can strike back or using a ranged character to safely damage your opponents from a place that they can’t reach.

To add some of this diversity to Battle Bash, I decided to make four characters, each with unique power. But at the very beginning, the balance between these characters was horrible.

On the one hand there was the archer, which always won battles when it was attacking. This bypassed the die rolls that gave each player a fair chance of winning a battle and was very annoying to a couple early play testers. On the other hand, there was the wizard, which could trade places with another player instead of moving, but only on a role of five or six. This power was almost never useful since the whole point of the game is to get next to other players to fight them, and trading places with another player doesn’t bring them any closer to you.

My game design merit badge counselor made a couple suggestions that slightly improved the game balance. The archer’s power started only auto-winning on odd numbers and the wizard got the privilege of using its near useless power whenever it wanted to. Despite these improvements, by the time I earned the merit badge, Battle Bash was still quite unbalanced.

Th biggest change in game balance among the character powers came last fall, when I had a genius idea: “What if I mathematically balance the powers, and see how often each one actually impacts the game.” It’s something I should have done as soon as I had the concept for the game, but better late than never.

I decided to use the knight’s power as the base I would balance everything else around because it is the simplest. Out of the thirty-six possible outcomes of two dice rolls, this power changed eleven, turning five losses into ties, and six ties into victories. When I did the math for the archer’s power, I found that it was already about as balanced as I could get it. Then, I finally realized that the wizard’s power needed an update. I made it a combat based power that let it take hearts from another piece when it lost a battle. I did a similar update to the scout, changing it’s name to “barbarian” and giving it a combat based power after a play tester complained that he had the weakest piece. Both of these new powers were a bit weak at first, because I though the abilities I gave them were powerful enough that they could come up less frequently and still stay balanced. After a few play tests with these powers, I decided that I was mistaken and strengthened them both.

Now, Battle Bash’s characters are pretty well balanced, but there’s still some work to do. I’ve been noticing over the past few play tests that people frequently forget to use the wizard’s power. My untested solution to this is to revamp the wizard’s power to sometimes being able to avoid losing any hearts when it loses battles, with the added benefit of being able to teleport anywhere on the board. Hopefully it will be easier to remember than the damage transferring power that the wizard currently has, but I’ll need to play test it to find out.

There are a couple important lessons that I learned from balancing character powers in Battle Bash. First, do the math. While balancing your mechanics on paper is no substitute for actual play testing, it gives you a good base to work off as you introduce new rules and make changes to your game. Second, listen to feed back and be observant while play testing. If I hadn’t listened when my merit badge counselor suggested weakening the archer, or noticed that the wizard’s power was almost useless, Battle Bash would be no where near as good a game as it is today.

Thanks for reading!!!

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