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Paper: Balancing Skills to Optimize Fun in Interactive Board Games

by on October 19, 2011

To discuss in class, I’ve read the paper “Balancing Skills to Optimize Fun in Interactive Board Games” by Eva Kraaijenbrink , Frank Van Gils , Quan Cheng , Robert Van Herk , Elise Van Den Hoven. The paper can be found here.

The paper researches the effect that balancing skills has on the user experience. The main experiment was done with a stratego-like setup. The board was replaced by an electronic device, so that a computer could calculate the currently winning and losing player. The balancing was done by displaying bonuses whenever a piece was taken from a player. In a balanced game, the bonus would appear closer to the losing player, in an unbalanced game, the bonus would appear randomly on the board.

The game was tested on pairs of two, and each pair played 2 times. One of the times, the players where informed about the balancing, the other time, they did not know. Results showed that players in a balanced game felt more successful. Also, the players preferred to know in advance whether the game was balanced or not. They saw the balanced game as more challenging, and if they know it in advance, other tactics can be used. This creates a new aspect to the stratego gameplay where the better user might sacrifice his bad pawns to be able to get the bonuses.

I’ve learned from this paper that rules change gameplay. Although this was a research to see if balancing the skills would improve the gameplay, it’s clear to me that if the users are aware, this balancing becomes a new rule, and this changes the tactics of the game. When creating a game, the influence of every rule must be taken into consideration, because adding one rule to much may drastically cripple the game or make it a great one.

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One Comment
  1. Sven permalink

    Consider a game where a player is facing an opponent who has much more experience, or who is simply better at it. Then, when the first player is told the game is going to be balanced in his favor, and he somehow still loses, won’t that completely destroy his morale, causing him to stop playing instead of trying again?

    Personally, I would be very disappointed if I found out. Of course getting complete crushed by your opponent is not all that much fun either, but I think players should simply try to play games against equally skilled opponents (where possible) instead of introducing custom balancing rules that might have an adverse effect on the game.

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