Article #21: Game Design - Core Balance

-written byApoc

Hello! This is the first of a series of articles containing my thoughts on mafia/werewolf game design.

The goal of this article will be to explain the fundamentals of balancing a setup.

This guide does not discuss whether certain roles or designs arefun, but focuses strictly on what is balanced/fair. Fun/Feel is a very different area of design, worthy of its own article.

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Introduction

A lot of game design and balancing is typically done by feel or experience, a somewhat indecipherable process of guesswork and intuition. By distilling mafia games down to a few "core" building blocks, I hope to make the process a little more accessible for everyone.

When designing a game, I think it's good to have a solid starting point. I like to go all the way back to the original design, the thing all other setups were built upon, Mountainous. Let's examine the characteristics of a Vanilla setup and then layer other considerations on top.

1. Team Sizes

Typical team sizes are 7v2, 10v3, 13v4.

Which can be described in a number of ways:

- Player Count = (Number of mafia x 4) + 1
- Num of Town = (Number of mafia x 3) + 1
- Percent Mafia = Around 23%

I'm going to refer to the above as the "+1 Rule".

Note that the "+1 Rule" doesn't scale, so with higher player counts the percentage keeps increasing slightly. e.g. (15 mafia x 4) + 1 = 61. 15/61 = 24.5%.

Percentage is the easiest to use. Something around25%is usually about right.

You can pick a different percentage if you like, but too low and your game might become frustrating or boring...too high and it becomes difficult to balance.

2. Wolf Win Condition

Let's start this section by looking at the Village Win Condition:

How many wolves do the village need to lynch to win? Easy, all of them.

Everyone knows and immediately understands this. The number also never changes.

Less often, designers think about the Wolf Win Condition:

How many villagers do the wolves need toto win? This one requires a bit more thinking.lynch

2.1 Number of Mislynches

Let's examine a 9er, 7 villagers vs 2 wolves...

The answer is not always obvious, so I typically do something like this:

D1: 7v2

Lynch Villager

Night Kill

D2: 5v2

Lynch Villager

Night Kill

D3: 3v2

Lynch Villager

Parity!

The answer is 3.

Add in a vigilante, and the answer changes.

Add a doctor, and the answer is variable.

Add another player and sometimes the answer changes...but sometimes it doesn't!

The village win condition is constant, but the wolf win condition is dependent on an endless number of factors. This is what makes the wolf win condition one of the most important things to consider when designing a game.

For now, let's just try and quantify it for our Vanilla setup.

Number of Mislynches = Number of Wolves + 1

That +1 is the extra villager we added with the "+1 Rule".

Let's get it is as a percentage of villagers that need to be lynched:

9er: 42% (3/7)

13er: 40% (4/10)

17er: 38% (5/13)

21er: 37% (6/16)

This percentage is not really that important on its own, it's just an important preface for our next topic.

2.2 Number of Non-Clears

We now know how many villagers need to be lynched... but how many are actually lynchable? In the above example, the answer is "all of them".

But as we move away from a Vanilla setup we have to consider that some villagers will have roles that mean theycannot be lynched. We call these players "Mechanical Clears". We can call the remaining villagers "Non-Clears".

More important than counting mislynches, is counting your non-clears.

Wolves think of their win condition as "How many villagers do we need to mislynch?".

Designers need to think of the win condition as "How manydo the wolves need to mislynch?"non-clears

In my opinion, this number effectively represents the village's accuracy, which should be the deciding factor in who wins and loses.

I typically aim for around50% of non-clearsin my games, but the nice thing about this number is that you can easily adjust it to match your site's skill level or meta. The biggest reason a setup fails during review is because this percentage is too high (often more than 100%!).

The most important thing, is that youhave a number, and that youcheck it.

2.3 Example Analysis

Cop 13er with a n0

On Day 1 there are 2 clears, 8 non-clears, and 3 wolves. Wolves need to lynch 4 non-clears (50%).

Let's assume only Vanilla Towns get lynched and every Night Kill is on the cop's peek.

On Day 2 there are 2 clears and 6 non-clears. Wolves need to lynch 3 non-clears (50%).

On Day 3 there are 2 clears and 4 non-clears. Wolves need to lynch 2 non-clears (50%).

But now let's assume every Night Kill is on anon-clear.

On Day 2 there are 3 clears and 5 non-clears. Wolves need to lynch 3 non-clears (60%).

On Day 3 there are 4 clears and 2 non-clears. Wolves need to lynch 2 non-clears (100%).

Only two missed NKs and the wolves are already in a very bad situation. This analysis doesn't even account for Seer Hunt Clears.

Everyone knows this already, but (imo) this shows this setup is won or lost in the Night Phase.

Kill the cop, or some of his peeks, and you have a fair game...but whiff your NKs and you'll be in trouble very fast.

If you've ever been a wolf in this setup, you know the dread.

C9++, Random Setup

I randed this once, here's what I got:

99, 57, 61, 79, 11, 72, 87

B = Roleblocker

CC = Cop

V = 1-Shot Vig

T = Goon + Roleblocker + Godfather, Serial Killer (Investigation Immune OR 1-Shot Bulletproof)

D = Doctor

M = Innocent Child

The Setup:

Cop

Doc

Roleblocker

Vig 1-Shot

Inno

4 Vanilla Town

1 SK (Investigation Immune OR 1-Shot Bulletproof)

3 Wolves (Goon + Roleblocker + Godfather)

There are 5 mechanical clears in this setup. 3 of them (cop, inno, vig) are guaranteed.Maybethe Doctor or Roleblocker get lynched, but usually not.

There are 5 non-clears on Day 1. Wolves need to lynch 4 of them (80%).

The setup should be nigh unwinnable, and I didn't even consider what all the town PRs are capable of, just that they were unlynchable.

In the name of science, I went for 3 more rands:

Let's go again.

79, 4, 87, 62, 67, 66, 25

Cop 1-Shot

Doc

Doc 1-Shot

Vig 1-Shot

Inno

5 Vanilla Town

3 Wolves

% of non-clear lynches to win: 80%;

And again:

33, 8, 23, 64, 57, 41, 87

Cop

Inno

8 Vanilla

3 Wolves (Roleblocker + 2 Goons)

% of non-clear lynches to win: 50%.(This one is a cop 13er)

Okay, last one:

24, 79, 42, 14, 63, 95, 72

Doctor

Roleblocker

1-Shot Roleblocker

1-Shot Vigilante

5 Vanilla

Serial Killer

3 Wolves (2 Goons + Roleblocker)

% of non-clear lynches to win: 67%

~~C9++ is way too town-sided. For a lot of people, this is probably not new information, just an easy example.~~C9++ sucks

3. Kill Power (KP)

Nothing changes your game's wincon like additional KP, sometimes in ways you might not even realize until you think it through properly.

When calculating how many non-clears the wolves need to kill, count all village controlled KP as "mislynches" or "miskills". Let's learn by example...

Here's the rundown of a Vanilla 17er:

Wolves need to miskill 5/13 non-clears to win (38%).

13 town v 4 wolves.

13v4

Day 1 Mislynch

Night 1 Kill

11v4

Day 2 Mislynch

Night 2 Kill

9v4

Day 3 Mislynch

Night 3 Kill

7v4

Day 4 Mislynch

Night 4 Kill

5v4

Day 5 Mislynch

Parity at day end.

Now let's consider a Vig 17er:

Wolves need to miskill 6/12 non-clears to win (50%).

Vig 17er

12 Vanilla Town

1 Town Vigilante

4 Mafia Goon

13 town v 4 wolves. 12 non-clears.

13v4

Day 1 Mislynch

Night 1 Vigilante Shot on Town

Night 1 Factional Kill

10v4

Day 2 Mislynch

Night 2 Vigilante Shot on Town

Night 2 Factional Kill

7v4

Day 3 Mislynch

Night 3 Vigilante Shot on Town

Night 3 Factional Kill

Parity at day start.

The Town Vigilante changed quite a bit:

- It added 1 mechanical clear to the setup.
- It added 1 extra village-controlled kill before parity.
- Combined, these increased the wolf wincon from miskilling 38% of non-clears, to 50%!

Town vigilantes remove non-clears from the game, meaning wolves have to lynch a higher percentage of them to win. They are somewhat equivalent to a free mislynch, or a night without a mafia kill. They also tend to remove the least townie players, making mislynches harder (a slightly intangible benefit).

Wolf Vigilantes are basically the exact opposite, they reduce the number of villagers the wolves need to miskill/mislynch. A good time to add a wolf vig is in a game with too many clears.

Example: Balancing clears with wolf KP

Consider the following setup:

10 town v 3 scum

4 Innocent Children

6 Vanilla Town

3 Mafia Goon

Start of Day 1, 6 non-clears. 4 need to be mislynched (66%). Probably a difficult game for the wolves.

But, adding a 2-Shot Mafia Vigilante let's scum remove two clears during the game, and lowers the number of mislynches needed to reach parity.

Now only 3 of the 6 non-clears need to be mislynched (50%).

The above is all relatively straightforward, but less obvious is an important concept I'll call "KP Ratio".

3.1 KP Ratio

Back to Vanillas: The only Kill Power in the game are lynches and night kills. If we say the villagers "control" the lynch, then both teams share 50% of the game's KP. I don't think many people think about KP this way, but 50% each...that's my baseline number.

Now think about In-Thread Attacks for a second, town control 75% of them!

One effect of this ratio is how much control each team has on the game, and whether the townie players are dying faster than the scummy ones.

A much less intuitive effect...is thatwith an uneven KP Ratio, the number of mislynches before parity. The longer a game lasts, the more it changes. This can be a real pain to balance around; My best advice is to keep the ratio relatively even.changes over time

Vig 17er Example (Continued):

In this example, a couple of wolves dying prolongs the game and the unbalanced KP Ratio increased the number of miskills to 7 (58% of non-clears).

Let's assume the wolves never kill the vigilante.

13v4

Day 1 Mislynch

Night 1 Vigilante Shot on Town

Night 1 Factional Kill

10v4

Day 2 Mislynch

Night 2 Vigilante Shot on Town

Night 2 Factional Kill

7v4

Day 3 Mislynch

Night 3Vigilante Shot on Scum

Night 3 Factional Kill

5v3

Day 4 Mislynch

Night 4Vigilante Shot on Scum

Night 4 Factional Kill

3v2

At this point, 6 villagers have died to village KP...and they still haven't lost.

A Day 5 Mislynch gives Parity

A long Vanilla 17er for comparison:

It doesn't matter how long this setup lasts...the number of miskills never changes.

13v4

Day 1 Mislynch

Night 1 Kill

11v4

Day 2 Mislynch

Night 2 Kill

9v4

Day 3 Mislynch

Night 3 Kill

7v4

Day 4 Mislynch

Night 4 Kill

5v4

Day 5 Lynch Scum

Night 5 Kill

4v3

Day 6 Lynch Scum

Night 6 Kill

3v2

Day 7 Mislynch

Parity at day end.

Number of Mislynches: 5.

Summary

We've identified three core aspects of a game's design: Team Size, Wolf Win Condition, and Kill Power.

Your chosen team sizes are effectively just a starting point for your wolf win condition, and the most important aspect of Kill Power is how it changes your number of lynches. Ultimately, almost everything comes back to the Wolf Win Condition.

We defined the Wolf Win Condition as: "percentage of non-clears wolves need to mislynch". If you can relate a role, mechanic, or idea back to this percentage, then you can quantify its impact on your game and balance around it accordingly. Using this idea, we can make a wide range of alterations to a setup but analyze them all in a similar way.

What if we run a game as 15v2 instead of 13v4?

Check your non-clears/mislynches and see what effect it had.

With 13 villagers, wolves need 5/13 lynches (38%)

With 15 villagers, wolves need 7/15 lynches (46%)

If for some reason you decided that 38% was the right number, you now know how much tweaking to do to get back to that number...all while running a game with 2 less wolves. For example, adding a 1-Shot wolf vig would give you 6/15 lynches (40%), pretty close to 38%.

What if we add masons to a setup?

Remove two non-clears and recheck your Wolf Win Condition. Then tweak the percentages as needed.

What if we add a Vigilante?

Check your Wolf Win condition is ok, then check that your KP ratio doesn't ruin it.

You get the idea.

That's it for Part 1. Hopefully you found it useful. Feel free to request a topic for future articles.

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Core Design TL;DR

- Around 25% of players are Werewolves
- The number of mislynches wolves need to win should be 50% of all
non-clearvillagers- Both teams should control 50% of the game's kill power
- All deviations should be compensated for in some way