Something that’s been tricky to balance during the development of Osprey Adrift has been the various Role abilities that each playable crewmember has. I knew I wanted to give each character a bit of flavor by giving them a unique ability, but this, of course, initially led to some characters outshining others.
Variable player powers are something that I enjoy immensely in games, not only because it enhances the worldbuilding and theme, but also because it adds variety to a game that gets replayed often. However, it’s tough from a design standpoint, because game balance is critical for making a game worth replaying in the first place. If one player has a huge advantage over the other players, then it’s no fun for anyone involved (unless you enjoy crushing your opponents!).
The key thing to keep in mind when designing variable powers is the same tenet for all of game design really: playtest, playtest, playtest.
Just because player powers seem balanced on paper doesn’t mean they’ll be balanced when they hit the table. Play the game with every possible combination of player roles. Then play every possible combination again. And again. You may not know how different player abilities function when thrown in the same game together, and you may be (pleasantly or unpleasantly) surprised about the outcome.
While playtesting different combinations of player powers is important for social deduction games like Osprey Adrift, it’s especially important for Euro games where the game’s economy must be kept airtight for it to be successful. Of course, crunch the numbers for how each player power affects the game’s engine, but again – just because they look balanced on paper doesn’t mean they’ll be balanced in a game. When you playtest, be sure to keep detailed notes about how the different player powers worked (or didn’t work) together; and for blind playtesters, make sure you ask them which powers were used, and how they impacted the game.
Until next time, gang. Keep it plucky,