Tobold's Blog
Saturday, January 01, 2022
Game balance in Roll Player Adventures

My wife and me have been playing through several adventures in Roll Player Adventures since Christmas, and it is a great game! The game does an excellent job of combining "role playing" (in the sense of making decisions that have consequences) with "roll playing", that is chucking dice and manipulating them.

The story part of the game is really good. The decisions you make and the events get you keywords, which then can change what happens in another location. Keywords get erased at the end of the adventure, but you can also gain permanent title cards, which means that if for example you help somebody in one adventure, he might "remember" you in another adventure and help you. There are three opposing factions, so if you play through the game a second or third time, you can go for different goals; please note that even if you do that, a large part of the adventures remains the same, so you might want to let the game rest and forget stuff between campaigns. In any case, the story part is definitively the highlight of this game, and gets you as close as possible to a tabletop roleplaying experience as a board game with a story book can.

The mechanics part of the game appears to have some serious balance problems. The fundamental game mechanic is that you have a list of colors and target values for every combat and skill check. For example to kill a human enemy, you need a blue 2, a red 3, and a 5 that can be either green or black. So, how do you get there? Your character has little white cubes in each of his stats, and each stat corresponds to a color. At the start of the game, your warrior for example might have 3 cubes in Strength, which is red. By spending as many cubes as there are players in the game, let's say 2 for a 2-player game, you can get a die of that color. But not only does that deplete your strength, the dice are also added to your fatigue, and if fatigue becomes equal or higher than your health, you are knocked out. Every combat or skill check also has a dice limit, for example at the start of the game your combat dice limit is 3, so you can't "buy" more dice than that. If you buy less dice than 3, random dice are drawn.

Now comes the second step: Dice manipulation. You have a number of cards, 7 per character at the start of the game, which can do things like change the color of a die, change its value up or down by 1, or flip it to the opposite side. It is easy to see that the more cards you get into your hand over the course of the game, the more likely it becomes that you have the right card for any given situation. However, you are also limited by the number of cards you are allowed to play per round of combat or per skill check. This "play limit" is relatively well balanced: Whatever number of players you play with, at the start of the game the sum of (number of players x play limit per player) plus bonus plays (usable by anyone) is always 5. For example in a 2-player game at the start of the game, every player can play 2 cards, and there is 1 bonus play. The number of cards is not balanced at all: In a 1-character game you have only 7 cards to choose from, in a 4-player game you have 28.

Over the course of the game, the difference between a true solo 1-character game and a game in which one or more players play several characters becomes less pronounced. You get a lot more cards by buying them for gold, and the amount of gold in an adventure is fixed, regardless of number of characters. With 2 characters, by the end of adventure 3, we both had 12 cards each, so overall we went up from 14 to 24. A solo character would have gone up from 7 to 17, because he would have gained probably the same 10 cards as we did, or close to. A 4-player group would have gone up from 28 to 38.

While I am not there yet, it has been reported that in the second half of the campaign, players tend to have so many cards, that they can do anything. While the number of dice needed for skill checks and combat are going up, your bonus play limit and combat dice limit can also be increased by spending xp. So the game gets much easier over the campaign, possibly trivially easy if you are a good gamer. That is aggravated by the fact that there are absolutely no limits to what cards you can use: You can "wear" several suits of armor of different types at once, as many weapons as you like, your warrior can cast spells, and your wizard can use a giant axe. At the end of the game you might have 30+ cards; you'll have totally forgotten that these are supposed to represent your weapon, armor, scrolls, skills, and traits; and you are able to modify any color of dice, change dice colors, add new dice above the dice limit, and do other beneficial effects with them.

I'll play through the campaign with my wife with the system as it is. If I ever feel the need to play a second campaign of Roll Player Adventures, I would probably invent some house rules to balance the game better, especially if I wanted to play true solo, with a single character. The fundamental balance problem appears to be too few cards at the start of the game, and too many at the end. So I might introduce a goblin banker named Gevlon to the game, who lends my character 30 gold at the start of the game to buy more cards, but requires to be paid 5 gold at the end of each of the 12 adventures to cover the 100% interest rate. Sounds like Gevlon. :)


Damn I miss that little goblin's insights (and rants)
Or just make the price of each extra card increase. That way there will be an optimal 'sweet spot' - everything else being equal, and assuming a functional economy - but players will have the choice of whether to lean into spending their gold on more cards or on other things.
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