Achieving Balance in a Card/Board game

This has been a unique experience. As Small Towns comes up on its sixth continuous week of development, I'm both surprised at how quickly it has come together, and frustrated about how slow the last steps seem to go. 

Also, who thought a seemingly simple concept would require such a balancing act?

If you launch the game, you are greeted with the ruleset. This sets the rules on where tiles can be place on the board, and how tiles interact with each other.  Here are the rules in-so far:

The Deck:

There are 7 tile types, and 27 placement rules (9 columns, 9 rows, and 9 squares ala sudoku) this means there are 189 cards in the deck.

You get 3 cards per hand for 45 turns, and 3 redraws, exposing as many as 144 cards per game. Once a card is dealt, it does not go back into the deck.

  • Farms: 
    • Like to be away from towns. 
      • 1 point for each square radius away from the nearest town.
      • The maximum distance, if you set your farm in one corner, and shoved all other tiles into the other corner, gets you at most 6 points, this is very unlikely
    • Need resources
      • Adjacent water and forests add value (1 point for each)
    • Maximum value per tile: 11
  • Houses
    • Like to have diversity around them (Surround method)
    • Streets and other houses do not count. 
    • Farms should be distant, so shouldn't count
    • That leaves ponds, stores, parks, and forests
    • Maximum value per tile: 4
  • Streets
    • Serve the purpose of connecting homes to shops, even across town borders
    • Connecting streets gives one point for each connected tile from the start point 
    • Maximum score for all streets, assuming you get all 27 cards played: 26 points
  • Ponds:
    • Towns need water, and farms benefit from it. 
    • Ponds will link like streets and are scored the same way
    • Maximum score for all ponds, again is 26 points
  • Parks:
    • Parks do not like to share the same row or column as another park
    • parks also do not want to be adjacent to another park (surround method)
    • Maximum score per tile: 2
  • Forests:
    • Cannot be inside a town
    • Gets 1 point for each adjacent (orthogonal) tile that is a town member
    • Maximum score per tile: 4
  • Shops:
    • 1 point for every surrounding house, 1 additional point for each house that can be reached via a street
    • Multiple shops can reach the same house. 
    • Maximum score: Who knows? I've seen as many as 20 points for a single shop.
  • Towns:
    • Each of the three towns must include a source of water and at least one park
    • -5 points per town for each of the missing elements
    • Maximum score: 0, 
    • Maximum Negative score: -30
  • Errors:
    • If something should be inside a town border, but is not
    • If something should NOT be inside a town border, but IS
    • Maximum Negative score: -5 points per error

During playtesting these last couple of weeks, I've seen scores range from as low as -50 some point to over 150. It seems like shops are usually the biggest catalyst in high scores, and simply not understanding the rules is the biggest catalyst for the low ones. I know people respond well to the bigger scores, but the shops need to be reigned in, as they FAR outweigh the other tiles in their ability to score big. Farms, on the other hand need too much space on the board to be effective or even slightly competitive. In fact, most players (including myself) avoid them altogether if possible due to the low risk/reward ratio. Parks and ponds are required to not lose points, but don't really generate points of their own. Streets have a similar feel. However, the connecting of street tiles is a different kind of reward in itself.

In certain shuffles, the farms show up with alarming frequency as well, but as the daily shuffle is tied to the date, I'm not sure there's a whole lot I can do to limit them, other than take some of them out of the deck. 

I do NOT want to mess with the daily shuffle. I've already seen the benefits of having a daily competitive battle between friends over this game. 

Here's my proposal:

I don't want to nerf anything just yet. Although I am going to take a second look at the scoring algorithm for shops (I think they may be counting some houses twice). I'll start there then consider the following: 

  1.  Give farms a boost. Increase the radius boost to 2 or 3 times what it is now. Twice brings you into the 10+  point range, 3x gets you closer to 20.
  2. boost the pond linking from 1 to 3 points per linked tile
  3. Leave streets as is. For what they lack as linked tiles, the provide later in shop scoring. 
  4. boost the parks to 5 points each. This loses you 10 points if your screw up park placement. 
  5. boost the housing diversity bonus to 2 per tile type, and finally
  6. boost the forest adjacency bonus to 2 per adjacent tile. 

I'm also considering kicking up the error penalty to 10 points, really make it hurt when you make a mistake. 

I'd like to hear from you guys before I implement these changes. I think overall, these changes will give the player a greater reward with a even bigger final score, but without sacrificing the benefits of a well made shopping district. After all, every Small Town needs a tax base. 

Stay Frosty!

~Sub-Zero Chuck

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Feb 15, 2022

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