Boardgame designers and players will often talk about balance. A game that is well balanced is often well respected and thought of as a good game. There are many different aspects to balance within a game and many different ways to approach balancing a game. In addition there is often the question of whether a game can be too balanced and thus not be as fun.
Balancing internal mechanics – Games present players with a series of choices all of the choices that a player has need to be relatively balanced. For example say it is a simple race game where each player is trying to move their pawn 10 spaces to the finish. On a player’s turn they may either move 1 space forward or draw a card. If it is always better to move your pawn than to draw a card, than an experienced player will never draw a card and so that option that was included in the game is a false choice. The two choices don’t need to be equal (and shouldn’t be) but they both need to be viable options. If the cards offer only two options: move your pawn 1 space, or move your pawn 0 spaces than a player should always choose to move their pawn 1 step. If on the other hand the cards say: move 1 space, move 0 spaces, move 3 spaces, move other pawn back two spaces – than the players are presented with a real choice as both the slow and steady route and the random card drawing route could win out. For internal balance to be achieved all choices presented to players need to be viable. Some may be used more often than others and there may be a usual order that they are chosen in but all choices should be useful and necessary for the game to play.
Balancing Luck and Skill – In addition to balancing the internal mechanics a good game will find a balance of luck and skill. Some games will be purely skill, such as chess and go, and others will be heavily luck based like Yahtzee. Many players like a game that is pure skill or heavily weighted towards skill. However, a game with no random elements will often be less fun to play and also more difficult for new players to learn and be competitive. It is important when designing games to know who your audience is and how much of the game you want to be random and how much based on skill. A game that is mostly luck is generally considered lighter and for the most part these games work if they are playable in 20-30 minutes. If a game is longer and has more in-depth, complex maneuvering and choices then the presence of a lot of luck can be frustrating to players as all of their careful plotting and planning can be negated but a lucky draw or turn. Another upside of randomness is it increases replay value and keeps the game from being a strict battle of the minds. As a player I really enjoy those moments when I make a plan that involves a lot of skill but is still dependent on the right roll, or card, or action being chosen and it is! Not only do I feel smart that I was able to plan ahead so well, I feel that the odds are in my favor.
Finding Balance – I will write more on this later but for now I want to stress the importance of identifying the victory conditions in finding balance among the internal mechanics and luck and skill. A designer can use the Victory Conditions, whether they be points, location, last one standing to evaluate all of the options presented to a player. By having these solidly mapped out you can structure and adjust the mechanics so that they all provide a fair path to victory. The victory conditions can also be adjusted to balance out certain mechanics but I have found that since everything in the game is linked to and pointing at the Victory conditions it is important to have them clear in your mind for the majority of the design. That is not to say that they won’t shift and change, but that if they do you need to be conscious of how that affects each of the mechanics.