Characters and Game Balance | Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game

Welcome back! In our last update we spoke about the Resident Evil™ 2: The Board Game rulebook and some of the design principles and challenges which contributed to its creation. We had a lot of fun revisiting those early steps and reminiscing – and it seems you all liked hearing about the development work too! And if you missed out, don’t worry. You can find it here.

As suggested this week we’re going to move on to character development, providing you with an insight to some design principles inherent in each character which might not be immediately obvious.

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Blueprint for Success

Unsurprisingly, in the beginning the characters were all entirely generic. The standard template had a five-space health track, inventory size of six, two evade dice, could use any weapon, and didn’t have any traits or abilities. It sounds very simple, but creating and stabilising a standardised profile like this in any game is actually very important.

To begin with, its very difficult to develop game mechanics or rules at the same time as unique characters and receive useful data. Let’s demonstrate with a specific example – say Leon is placed on a tile with three Zombie Dogs. We play out a handful of turns, and it becomes evident the Zombie Dogs don’t just have the upper hand, but it’s actually near impossible for Leon to survive. We now have several points of adjustment available to us.

Firstly, we can adjust the damage output or resilience of the Zombie Dogs (originally Zombie Dogs could sustain two wounds each and were able to move and attack in the same activation, for example). Next, we can revisit whether the Encounter Table should be able to spawn three Zombie Dogs in the first place, which is actually a much larger question. Should the encounter table not be able to spawn three Zombie Dogs on this tile type at all? Perhaps the possibility should remain, but in relation to the relative difficulty of the scenario and/or the weaponry the survivor might bring to bear? For this one we also have to ask ourselves what we’re specifically trying to achieve by spawning three Zombie Dogs on the tile. Do we want to scare players witless, or just present them with speedbumps?

Finally, we can look at Leon, and that’s where the difficulty really sets in. If we make Leon tougher or better able to kill the Zombie Dogs it obviously has a global effect on the rest of the game – we’d have to revisit every character and enemy. And whilst we’re not against larger changes for the health of the game, it should be done for the right reasoning, as it can render some previous work entirely redundant.

Already there is plenty to consider, and introducing special abilities just muddies things further. If we added a rule allowing Leon to negate hits and amended the Zombie Dog attack profile at the same time, we couldn’t tell which fixed the encounter when he survived, rendering the playtest pointless.

The other important reason for establishing a base character profile is to create a starting point for future development. Once the character refinement stage is reached, having this base point for balance is essential. Any potential changes need to reflect the core principles outlined above after testing, ensuring the new character can not only survive but also perform actions successfully at a base level.

And this leads us nicely to game balance.

Balancing Act

The most essential design conceit for survivors is that they all need to represent a valid choice for players. Whilst we know some people will want to play a character because it’s their favourite model, there should always be gameplay parity. If one character is released as over-powered then it breaks the game, and players quickly find the others irrelevant; if a survivor is under-powered by comparison they’ll never see the table, which is just as bad.

Character Values.png

To aid us we created a core character value sheet for each of the survivors. On this sheet we attached a value to each attribute. A score of 2 was our standard, and the maximum combined costing for a character was 10 – if we improved one attribute, we had to reduce another to balance the combined costing to keep this mind. Abilities and traits were scored based on how frequently they were likely to be used, as well as how much they changed the game state. A situational or once per scenario ability generally received a score of 1, whereas an ability used fairly frequently received a 2. Make sense? Let’s look at Robert Kendo as an example.  

Most of Kendo’s attributes are scored at 2, which makes sense – he’s a core game character, and as such is designed to be fairly straightforward. He does however have an extremely powerful ability, which is used in nearly every activation. To balance this his evade score is reduced, thus bringing him back into line and maintaining his combined score of 10.

Of course, the specifics are far greater than simple numbers. Thematically characters have to feel like their videogame counterparts as we’ve discussed in previous updates, and this informs which attributes are lowered or raised in relation to other changes  – but at the core of these rules is always this table, adjusting the relative power of these abilities before and after we go to playtesting.

We’ll leave you with this for now – for those inclined to look, there are some interesting development discussions to be had for the five additional Stretch Goal characters, where the design parameters skewed their gameplay. Hopefully this has been as fascinating an insight for you as it was for us to write it.

Let us know in the comments who your favourite character is, and what you’d like for us to cover next time!