Game Design Rules #3: Adding Variety is not Always Positive


Sometimes you try to create different versions of a certain feature in your game, to add variety and increase the strategic value of that feature, and end up doing exactly the opposite of that. Here’s the sad story of how that happened to me.

The main loop of “Industrial Revolution!” is simple. Resources appear randomly on the map, you send your workers to get them, and the few who survive (factories are harsh environments), will bring them back to your workshop for a reward.

One of those resources allow you to draw extra cards, which are the most important element of the game. So in order to make it more interesting, I created 3 versions of that, each one allowing you to draw 1, 2 or 3 cards, respectively. I also made the +2, and specially +3, much rarer than the +1.
I hoped people would like the +1, as cards are really useful in the game, and they would really fight for the +3 cards resources when one appeared.
And as usual, I tested it just to see how wrong I was. Here’s what happened:

  • +3 Card resources: Those were perceived as very valuable, so players near one of those would usually get them. But there were so many +x card resources on the board, that there wasn’t a huge fight over them, because other more limited resources seemed more important. As resources appear randomly on the map, that meant that I was just adding a very complicated way of randomly giving +3 cards to some players, and thus giving them an advantage for no reason.
  • +2 Card resources: Those were perceived as “meh…”. Yes, getting 2 cards is really good, but again, due to the amount of +x card resources appearing, their value seemed lower than it was, compared to other resources. Also, knowing a +3 existed made the +2 seem less valuable. So people sometimes picked them up, and sometimes ignored them.
  • +1 Card resources: Those were perceived as garbage. Nobody wanted them, unless there was absolutely nothing else to get. And this created a secondary problem. New resources won’t appear on the board while older resources are still on the squares where they appeared. So, the more of those resources appeared, the less free spaces for other resources were left. The result was a board full of resources nobody wanted, and the game taking too long to finish because the desired resources were not appearing. 

The Solution

Once the problem was obvious, it was easy to solve. I removed all the +1 and +2 card resources, leaving only the +3 ones. I also lowered the proportion of +3 card resources compared to the other kind of resources.

After this change, anytime a +3 card resource appeared, it was not only considered valuable, but this time, players were really fighting for them, as they knew they were a rare resource and getting it could really improve chances of winning.

If I think about it now, it makes sense. Why should I give a lower reward (+1 compared to +3) to a player, if the effort to bring that resource to the workshop is the same in both cases.


The Irony

And here comes the ironic part of the story. You can only have 1 copy of some specific resources, so I added a rule, for the rare cases when a player brings a second copy of one of them to the workshop: Instead of their main use, they can draw a card. So basically, they are a +1 card resource again. And as that only happens from time to time, and they are technically not a +1 card, people use them in that way more often than they were using the +1 card resources before.

So I had to remove a feature for people to start using that same feature.


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