Tabletop Tuesday: Options or Balance?

I’ve been following this thread on DakkaDakka quite closely, since while it’s a simple question it’s one that really interests me –

If you were forced to choose, would you rather have a game a) that gives lots of options in the variety of units and way they to equip those minis but sacrifices some game balance, or b) with fewer options but gives a more balanced game experience?

I know that everyone’s going to have a different stance here, and it’s been very interesting reading some people’s replies to the thread. And, of course, we thankfully live in a world where a game isn’t as black-and-white as ‘OPTIONS OR BALANCE CHOOSE NOW’, so this is only a hypothetical situation.

Personally, my choice of the two would be for B, fewer options but a more balanced game experience. Balance creates options, whereas an influx of options can eventually stifle some of the options it provides through an over-abundance of options (and the award for cramming the word ‘options’ into a sentence the most times goes to….). Let me try and explain my logic behind that.

To my mind, balance offers a better game experience in this hypothetical scenario no matter what sort of game you’re after – casual, relaxed, narrative, competetive etc. By having a more balanced game, it ensures an easier overall gaming experience. This is obviously of benefit in competitive play, but also equally important in casual or narrative games – when each player is on a more equal starting field, it’s easier to develop the game as you like and even try out new ideas (‘What if the Grave Spirit makes a bid to take over Seamus’s mind? So his necromantic powers are amplified, but he loses his flintlock…’). I should mention that this is coming from me as a self-confessed casual player – I haven’t participated in an organised tournament in years, and am at the point in my life where wargaming is something I want to do with friends to relax.

Another point I’ve been mulling over on this subject is the idea that balance creates options, whereas options don’t necessarily create balance. For example, in a game that has more balance than options, there’s less likely to be any units or models that are an ‘auto-take’ or ‘auto-avoid’ since each one will be more balanced when compared to another. I’ll try and explain this a bit better – if each unit / model is balanced against the rest of the faction and the rest of the factions in the game, even if (a la Malifaux or Warmachine) there are few or no upgrades for them, it makes each unit a suitable tool with its own strengths and weaknesses. Canine Remains, for example, aren’t a particularly great offensive unit outside of a McMourning-led crew, but are fast enough to make good objective runners. So while I wouldn’t take them as a priority in Reckoning, they have a very solid use for A Line In The Sand, for example.

Conversely, unfortunately more options over balance can’t easily do the same. I don’t want to say that more options ill inevitably lead to less balance, as that’s a ridiculously sweeping statement to make(!),and of course a large number of options can be balanced against one another. I just believe that the more options you inject in a game, the harder it is to ensure that the game balance remains. It’s great to have variety, and of course I wouldn’t want to play a game with no options (I think that’s called Chess!), but from my limited experience of writing bits and bobs for games, it’s hard to keep things balanced once you add in so many variables.

This has probably been quite a ramble of a post, but – as you can probably tell – it’s an interesting question to me. Of course, as always all of this is only one man’s opinions, so I’d love to hear yours. Leave a comment! :)

Take care,

Ben

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2 thoughts on “Tabletop Tuesday: Options or Balance?

  1. I would go the opposite way, choice over balance. I spend 50% of my hobby time painting 40% pouring over rulebooks and army books looking for new and interesting ways I can build an army. Pouring over unit entries weapon options and other options. The armies I have had the most fun with have been the most varied. My Inquisition Daemon hunters on their first and best codex lasted me 10 years. It’s an all metal army harking back to my GW discount days, currently codex less. I probably played to more draws with that than anything else, non GK’s so I was always on the back foot by goddamn did those plucky sods keep peddling! Conversly my most successful army on the battlefield my WFB all powers daemons army doesn’t excite me at all. I could buy the new army book and field them but I know they aren’t a competitive build any more, however I’m chomping at the bit for them to release a proper inquisition codex and get out my Daemon hunters on the battlefield again! Bring on the odd armys the wild and unusual builds. My latest project Throne of Chaos: Choas Dwarves has created a frenzy of list building, and website searching looking for independent manufacturer’s of count as models… and I’ve found some beauty’s. Then there will be my sisters of battle epic army. And then quite possibly a night goblin Horde, Not forgetting my lothern High/Sea Elves. If a game is too constricted for choice there is less excitement over collecting a new army or adding new units. I’ve never played exactly the same army twice either on my side oe facing me and long may it continue!

  2. I would agree with you, I prefer a balanced game over one with too many options.

    My experience is limited to Confrontation, WAB and FoG. The latter is my favourite, as it offers more or less balanced troop types (even though army lists are historical and thus not always balanced), yet through different campaign options, quality choices and in general number of different troop types, there is plenty to try and an army never gets boring.

    I can also be sure, that my spearmen will be useful in any given army composition, same goes for almost all other troop types.

    Too many options do indeed sometimes make a certain unit type entirely unplayable, which is just not my cup of tea, as it , as you rightly point out, actually limits options in turn.

    Bottom line: Not quite chess, but a nice, more or less balanced experience.

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