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Paper Scissors Rock Combat

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I am a huge fan of choosing my battles, in almost every RPG game I play the first class I choose will be the assasin or rogue, whichever can go invisible. However, even in games where you can choose your battles there never seems to be much reason to. This is why I decided that in my game, their will be a tic-tac-toe combat system (with a little more depth). The system will include a modified version of the Five Elements in Chinese Philosophy. The elements themselves are offensive, and an animal that symbolises the element will act as a defensive counterpart. Nature, Fire, Earth, Iron and Water and their counterparts are. Nature: DOTVD (Defence of The Viridian Dragon) Fire: DOTVB (Defence of The Vermillion Bird) Earth: DOTAS (Defence of The Auburn Serpent) Iron: DOTGT (Defence of The Gray Tortoise) Water: DOTTT (Defence of The Turqoise Shark) Nature overcomes Earth Fire overcomes Iron Earth overcomes Water Iron overcomes Nature The player doesn't have to choose the Viridian Dragon for defence if he chose nature for offence, but the Viridian Dragon will still act as a Nature based defence. In a lot of games you do have counters, strengths and resistances, however it seems hardly any developers are willing make these resistances and strengths game changing variables. I'm thinking that if you are up against a defence that counters your offence, instead of simply defending against the bulk of your damage it will completely reflect it, giving it the potential to hurt yourself (I say potential because players can jump and dodge missiles and what have you). On the otherhand, if your offence counters the opponents defence then your move will absorb the defence, thus penetrating it and thus having a damage bonus because it absorbed the defence and used it against the opponent. As you can imagine, facing someone with opposing elements will be a near impossible battle. Though to me this sounds rivetting, and ads to the gameplay I can't help but think: "Will other people want to play a game based on luck of the draw (to simplify it)?" Thoughts, opinions? [Edited by - Timus on October 4, 2006 1:39:32 AM]

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Are you thinking Scossors/Paper/Rock rather than tic tac toe? Another name for tic tac toe os noughts and crosses. You have a 3 by 3 grid and take turns in placing a Nought (zero) or a cross (an "X") in one of the grid squares in an aim to get 3 in a row.

Scosor/Paper/Rock on the other hand has a system where if one player plays Rock the will beat a player that plays Scissors, but be beaten by the player who plays Paper, etc (Scissors beats Paper beats Rock beats Scissors).

From you description it seems you mean Scissors/Paper/Rock.

Actually you can do a lot to the basic S/P/R system to make it less of a random draw. The easiest thing to do is to add a cost associated with each choice. So Scissors might cost 5 points to play and Rock might cost 4 points and Paper might cost 3 points (or such).

Another way it to not make it an absolute win or loss on a single decision. So each win would take 10 points form your opponenten but even a lost would take 3 points from them. If the players then had 100 points and the first to reach 0 looses.

Combineing these makes the game more interesting as you have a cost in playing that will reduce your points and if you loose you will be left with even less points, and to top it off playing a Scissors now costs half of what a loss would cause you. The choice to play a particular decisoion is no longer so simple and much more interesting.

S/P/R is not just limited to 3 option either. You can eaqsily make it for any odd number of choices (even numbers can also be used, but they don't have the natural balance that odd numbers have - but they can still be balanced, it just takes more effort). With greater numbers than 3 you have rapidly increasing amounts of complexity.

Another option is to have it multi-layerd. You might have an initial layer of a S/P/R system which determins the winner or looser of a bout, but then have a second layer that determines the amount the winner won by

My most complex one of these I designed was a 4 layer system (with the costs and differeent winning amounts too). The first layer was a 5 way system, the next layer was a 3 way system and the next two layers were both 5 way systems - the reason I didn't go further wasa that it was just a purely theoretical excersize to see if I could balance such a system and that it was far too complex for most (if not all) players to grasp, to them it was just the same as random choice (but it was fun to attempt to balance).

As a general rule for complexity, don't exceed 7 choices for the player. Most Humans can process 7 (+ or - 2) things in their working memory. If you exceed this then they can not hold it all in their minds and they won't be able to develop a reasonable strategy. Also just trying to do so will mentally exhaust them and they wont be able to enjoy what you have made.

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Where I come from we close a tight fist and say "Tic Tac Toe" then reveal whether we chose paper scissors or rock.

Even though I have hear of people refer to it as Paper Scissors Rock, I never knew I, and my co-workers and peers, had been calling it a wrong name :P.

All cultural differences aside, I think you're over-analysing, though I apreciate your input I already have a combat system in mind. My question was: Would people like it if there were some battles they couldn't win, and some they could easily based on a tic-tac toe system.

The problem with having three elementents is this: The chances of encountering a fair battle are 1:3 against.

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As a general rule for complexity, don't exceed 7 choices for the player. Most Humans can process 7 (+ or - 2) things in their working memory. If you exceed this then they can not hold it all in their minds and they won't be able to develop a reasonable strategy. Also just trying to do so will mentally exhaust them and they wont be able to enjoy what you have made.


The way my game is going to play I could have thousands of choices and not have it be to complex, this is because when the player is creating their character they choose their defensive capabilities and offensive capablities, all they need to know is what specific offense counters their defense, and what defence counters their offence.

Oh, and it's short-term-memory... working memory is a whole different psychological theory (Visuo spatial sketchpad, articulatory control system... all that rot) not that it matters, I just never miss an oppurtunity to be a smart alec.

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{quote]Where I come from we close a tight fist and say "Tic Tac Toe" then reveal whether we chose paper scissors or rock.[/qoute]
Yeh, I have also heard it called Ro-Sham-Bo too. Different cultures and different names. So long as we know what we are talking about I don't realy care what it is called.

I was just clearing up amy posible misunderstandings as I do know of a game called tic-tac-toe which is very different. But scince that cleard up, it fine.

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My question was: Would people like it if there were some battles they couldn't win, and some they could easily based on a tic-tac toe system.

If it was purely random, then I don't think they would. By having a system that doesn't give the player meaningful decisions, it will turn players off. They are there to play a game, not watch the computer play its self.

If you give the player meaningful choices, then you will start to make it fun for the player.

Meaningful choices are ones where the player have to make a decision where it effects the outcome. Also decision where there is no absolute best choice are good to add into the system. These are not just choice where the player can not know the consiquences of their actions as these would just be a gamble, but they should be difficult choices.

An example of a difficult choice crops up a lot of time in Chess. If an opponent moves one of their pieces so that it could capture 2 or more of you pieces, you have a difficult choice. What ever you choose, one of your pieces will be captured, but you have the choice of which one.

Question: Did you forget to mention what water overcomes or does water not overcome anyhting? To fit it into a S/P/R system I would say that water overcomes Fire.

Also you could make the system more interesting like this:
Nature beats Earth adn Water
Fire beats Iron and Nature
Earth beats Water and Fire
Iron beats Earth and Nature
Water beats Iron and Fire

The amount one beats another (or the the results of that victory) do not have to be the same for each. So Water might counter Fire attacks and defences, but only weaken Iron defences (it rusts them :) ).

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Original post by Edtharan
Yeh, I have also heard it called Ro-Sham-Bo too.


Where I live, Ro-Sham-Bo is a game VERY different from Rock-Paper-Scissors and Tic-tac-toe...much, MUCH more brutal...

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Original post by Happy_Reaper
Where I live, Ro-Sham-Bo is a game VERY different from Rock-Paper-Scissors and Tic-tac-toe...much, MUCH more brutal...

Would that be Southpark, Colorado (shockwave)?

As far as your combat design, I don't really have much to add. But there should be some resources out there. Here's a couple I found that might be useful:
Gamedev RPS article (some discussion in forum link at bottom of article too)
Sirlin.net article
Something similar to yours (PDF)
That was just a quick search though, so there's probably more (and better) out there.

In trying to find some links that might be useful, I found some other interesting RPS things. Including the World Rock-Paper-Scissors Society.

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This sounds a lot like the Magic The Gathering mana system. What Edtharan said made it more so. But it would work in a game. each element has two "enemies" and two "allies". THey could have different effects on each other. Allies could offer additional support and enemies could have different negitive effects.

As to the fun factor, randomizing it is not fun. Now if the battles played like rock/paper/scissors, then it would be more fun. So in battle you chose an attack and a defence and the enemy did the same. Then damage is calculated and you continue until one of you loses.

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I think the five-tiered spell categorization is a good start and very important. You must establish an elegant, cohesive system by-which intuitive and strategic decisions can be made. That is the first, most important aspect of building a good game mechanic.

The second (as my sig has said for years now) is this: Carefully and sparingly, pick certain situations wherein the mechanic goes to heck. Pick rare occasions where Water can cut through Earth (because water erosion is, after all, the biggest natural force for change in a geological sense). Figure out other weird, wonky ways to throw a wrench into your beautiful machine: That makes players feel powerful.

I strongly encourage unforseen chunky-bits that shut one aspect of your 5-element system down temporarily or things that grossly exaggerate aspects of one spell category's strengths --- the kinds of things that make the players, after having grown accustomed to the "X beats Y beats Z beats X," say: "What the sod is this madness?!" Because it's fun.

You must choose those situations tactfully and wisely, though. That takes some skill.

For example, in the card game Uno, the basic mechanic is: Each player takes turns placing a card on the table that matches the number or color of the top card in the discard pile. However, to mess with the system, there are Skip, Reverse, Draw X and wild cards -- just so you don't grow too comfortable in your traditions of "play passes to the left" and "color is yellow" 'n' such. Only, in your game, you could make it niftier -- with a more powerful visceral effect.

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I'm not convinced.

First of all, the reason designers shy away from hard counters is that it makes gameplay less interesting. Suppose for instance, you're playing an rts in which unit A is a perfectly hard counter to unit B - that is, unit A is completely invulnerable to Bs attacks and can destroy it easily.

If your force of 20 unit Bs bumps into your opponent's force of 20 unit As, its a no-brainer that you're going to lose. You should always run away because no matter what you do, you can't win that fight.

Now if A is only softer counter to B - that is, it will nearly always beat it but can still take damage in the process, then it no longer becomes trivial. You have to decide whether A is a hard enough counter for the difference in numbers to make a difference, whether your own skill at the game can tip the balance further in your favour, etc. In short, the decision as to whether to flee or fight becomes interesting.

Another reason why I'm not convinced - and this is perhaps more relevant to your idea - is that Rock Paper Scissors just isn't a very interesting game. At the end of the day, it's just a silly guessing game. Even more so against a computer - at least with a human opponent you can try and trick them.

While RPS balancing might be reasonable as a starting point, you need to add a fair bit more complexity to make things interesting. Incidentally, you might be interested in checking out this card game, which your post reminded me of. It's a fairly simple card based fighting game, but reasonably entertaining. Each 'stance' in this game is particularly strong/vulnerable against one other stance, in an RPS-like fashion, but there are other benefits and weaknesses to each of the stances which make your choice of stance more than just a trivial guessing game, but a somewhat strategic decision.

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Original post by Sandman
First of all, the reason designers shy away from hard counters is that it makes gameplay less interesting. Suppose for instance, you're playing an rts in which unit A is a perfectly hard counter to unit B - that is, unit A is completely invulnerable to Bs attacks and can destroy it easily.


Fudge-factor in both directions is always important. This is often implemented in the form of probabilities of success rather than striaght-up X beats Y. Saying "X has 30% advantage over Y" allows for some play and helps alleviate the harshness of an otherwise sterile game.

The example of Poker shows how we can take a very simplistic "X beats Y" system (where an individual hand can, without fail, beat another one) and implement dynamics of the gameplay that make it interesting to the players. When it's not entirely a question of who has the highest card but also a question of "Are you willing to pay to see if he _DOES_ have the best hand?" more options unfold. Pitching the proper wrenches into an otherwise boring machine can make it work.

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Poker is a repeated trial -- what the OP is describing isn't.

In Poker, the random element is sampled so many times that it tends to average out. You can be good at Poker precicely because of the repeated trials and the leaking of information.

In Poker, you control your information leaks, analyze other players information leaks, and use statistical knowledge to figure out how good your hand is. Any one hand of Poker is meh compared to the skill the builds up over multiple rounds.

If you sat down at the poker table, got delt a hand of cards, and had to play it this night and every night for years -- well, that would be a less interesting game.

The same I suspect holds for RPS -- if you are locked into one of the three choices, you can't tactically change your stance to deal with an opponent.

I suspect that a game with a medium-fast RPS cycle (1 to 10 seconds), with soft dominance and cumulative evaluation of victory, might be interesting. Toss in some hidden knowedge (before the battle, you have to set up biases for how "expensive" each of the RPS options are -- so part if the game is trying to figure out your opponents chosen weaknesses and hiding your own weaknesses), and engaging actual gameplay (more than just hitting 1 2 3! Bells and whistles can be good :) ...).

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Original post by ishpeck
Fudge-factor in both directions is always important. This is often implemented in the form of probabilities of success rather than striaght-up X beats Y. Saying "X has 30% advantage over Y" allows for some play and helps alleviate the harshness of an otherwise sterile game.


That was basically my point: perhaps my use of the terms 'hard' and 'soft' counters was misleading since these terms are used by gamers to differentiate between very strong and not so strong counters. I was addressing the OP's comment that designers rarely go for extremely strong (perhaps we should call them 'dominating') counters in games.

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The example of Poker shows how we can take a very simplistic "X beats Y" system (where an individual hand can, without fail, beat another one) and implement dynamics of the gameplay that make it interesting to the players. When it's not entirely a question of who has the highest card but also a question of "Are you willing to pay to see if he _DOES_ have the best hand?" more options unfold. Pitching the proper wrenches into an otherwise boring machine can make it work.


Poker is not a great example - Poker derives its interesting gameplay from risk management and player psychology. There's no risk management in a rock-paper-scissors game, and the psychological aspect is rather limited (and non-existent in a randomised computer opponent). Comparing Poker to RPS is apples to oranges.

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Original post by Sandman
Poker is not a great example - Poker derives its interesting gameplay from risk management and player psychology. There's no risk management in a rock-paper-scissors game, and the psychological aspect is rather limited (and non-existent in a randomised computer opponent). Comparing Poker to RPS is apples to oranges.


I disagree. A game can incorporate a "combat" mechanic that works like poker where the hand "three of a kind" beats "royal flush of spades." That would basically be "Paper, Scissor, Rock" with the "risk managment" system that can extend its depth and playability.

From that standpoint, the player can make strategic decisions based upon what kinds of success/failures he's had and what kind of dangers he can anticipate --- a very strategic system with plenty of room to incorporate wonky, "wrench-in-the-works" abilities to help keep things interesting.

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That was basically my point: perhaps my use of the terms 'hard' and 'soft' counters was misleading since these terms are used by gamers to differentiate between very strong and not so strong counters.

I understood what you said about the hard and soft counters, and agree. To make the basic RPS system interesting you will need to add in more complexity. One of these additions would be that a victory is not absolutly complete (the soft counter).

I think the basic RPS system is quite boring, simple because it is too sterile. But by "dirtying" it up a bit (that is, add in some complexity etc) it can be the basis of a good system. But remember it is the basis, not the whole of a system.

Another tool I use for developing interesting systems is the "Just broken symetery" concept.

The Rock, Paper, Scissors system is what could be called a symetrical system. All choices are valid and all give an equal victory. This is pretty bland and un interesting. But if you add in a bit of broken symetery, you can make the system much more interesting. Adding in differnet costs for each choice, or adding in different amouns for victory, or (if you are using them in a repeated fasion like in a beat-em-up game) have them take different times to activate them (which is a form of cost).

Another just broken symetery i I occasionally use needs at least a 5 way system and it goes like this:

A beats B and E
B beats C and E
C beats A and E
D beats A, B and C
E beats D

As you can see this still has the S/P/R like aspect, but it is not the simple symetrical system of the basic 5 way system. Throw in some costs, a soft counters, repeated tests (ie not a 1 hit kill type of resoluton) and leaked infomation (as well as incomplete infomation) and you end up with an interesting core mechanic.

Lastly, there is adding is features that do not directly relate to the victory/loss conflict. These options will need to be useful, but they would not be useful in the direct conflict.

In a Real Time Strategy game these would be your builders and resource gatherers, or they could even be alternate uses for the cobat units (in a non combat role). In a board game that I designed (no published) I had 3 ship types (Fighter, Bomber and Capital). These were in a RPS relationship (F->B->C->F), but to make the system more interesting I gave the ships other abilities that weren't used in the ship to ship conflict.

The Fighter had the ability to scout new planets (all ships had this, but because the fighter could move faster, it was able to scout them quicker), the bomber could destroy enemy planets and the capital ship could colonize planets. These out of combat roles made the choice of buying a specific ship more interesting than if you only bought them for the combat capabilities.

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Original post by Sandman
I'm not convinced.

First of all, the reason designers shy away from hard counters is that it makes gameplay less interesting. Suppose for instance, you're playing an rts in which unit A is a perfectly hard counter to unit B - that is, unit A is completely invulnerable to Bs attacks and can destroy it easily.

If your force of 20 unit Bs bumps into your opponent's force of 20 unit As, its a no-brainer that you're going to lose. You should always run away because no matter what you do, you can't win that fight.

Now if A is only softer counter to B - that is, it will nearly always beat it but can still take damage in the process, then it no longer becomes trivial. You have to decide whether A is a hard enough counter for the difference in numbers to make a difference, whether your own skill at the game can tip the balance further in your favour, etc. In short, the decision as to whether to flee or fight becomes interesting.

Another reason why I'm not convinced - and this is perhaps more relevant to your idea - is that Rock Paper Scissors just isn't a very interesting game. At the end of the day, it's just a silly guessing game. Even more so against a computer - at least with a human opponent you can try and trick them.

While RPS balancing might be reasonable as a starting point, you need to add a fair bit more complexity to make things interesting. Incidentally, you might be interested in checking out this card game, which your post reminded me of. It's a fairly simple card based fighting game, but reasonably entertaining. Each 'stance' in this game is particularly strong/vulnerable against one other stance, in an RPS-like fashion, but there are other benefits and weaknesses to each of the stances which make your choice of stance more than just a trivial guessing game, but a somewhat strategic decision.


The combat has more depth than paper scissors rock, I don't know how this has been taken so far but my question is this:

Would the player like having to choose their battles? Imagine a game where you're completely invisible until you engage combat, keeping this in mind should said game include some impossible to win battles?

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A beats B and E
B beats C and E
C beats A and E
D beats A, B and C
E beats D


Refactored:
X, Y and Z

X > Y > Z > X -- normal RPS

X has 3 subclasses: X.A, X.B, X.C

X.A > X.B > X.C > X.A -- normal RPS

All the above did was take one of the strategies and made a sub-RPS game out of it.

As you can see, your system is closer to RPS than you might think. :)

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As you can see, your system is closer to RPS than you might think. :)

Yes I know, that is why it is called "Just Broken" symetery. Not asymeterical :D .

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Would the player like having to choose their battles? Imagine a game where you're completely invisible until you engage combat, keeping this in mind should said game include some impossible to win battles?

Imposible to win battles are ok if they player can either know in advance, or they can escape it easily enough.

Also a random outcome is not a favourable method for resolution, some randomness is ok, but the entire outcome should not be dictated by the randomness as then the player will not feel like they are playing the game.

Thus, if a battle outcome is randomly determined before the player even begins (ie it is determined before the battle comenses that no matter what the player does, they can not win this battle), then the player will not like it at all. However, if the player makes choices in the battle that, from that point on, means they can no longer win the battle, then this would be less of a problem.

If the player can just bypass evey battle, why would they ever want to battle? With your invisibility senario, why couldn't the player just remain invisible untill they completed the game and bypass all combat?

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Most RPGs have incentives for combat, experience and loot being the foremost. This being so, it's probably good if charging into combat is not a no-brainer. As for remaining invisible and avoiding all combat, well, Thief was a really good game. :)

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Thief was a really good game. :)

Yes theif was a good game, but there was still combat. Maybe not hand to hand combat, but you still had to shoot the guards at times. The balance was quite simple for thief. If you attacked the guards without their knowing, then it was an easy kill. If you attacked them with them knowing, you would almost certainly loose.

Also avoiding combat was much more active than just being invisible. To avoid combat, you would have to activly take steps (put out torches, avoid the guards partol paths, not make noise, etc). So just being invisible all the time would allow you to avoid any combat you liked without much effort. The fun of thief came about because of the effort put into avoiding combats and the variety of ways you could employ to those ends.

If you look at it, avoiding combat in thief was actaualy a form of contest and so was a form of "combat". It was your positioning and use of the environemnt vs the AI's threasholds for discovering you.

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I dislike the whole rock/paper/scissors systems in games. Don't get me wrong, they have a basis in reality. Mounted troops generally beat (on a 1-1 basis) foot troops, bow troops have the advantage of first strike, but when engaged in melee, fall quickly, pike troops generally beat mounted troops. This is because everything was designed with a purpose in mind, usually a single purpose and other considerations are secondary.

That being said though, I still dislike them being universally. I prefer things being a bit more granular. Infantry might have the advantage of being inexpensive, but if you equip (and train) them with more weapons, then they can be better against other types of targets. Everything is a variable - infantry when equipped with proper shields can largely nullify archers. Arm them with pikes and spears and they can get the 'initial strike' in against the horsemen, weakening the mounted troops before the actual engagement.

I think that when considering combat, while simple is easiest, it's not the best, as long as you're not spending 4 months designing the system. Everything has strengths and while water is really strong against fire, make something 3000 degrees and that water is just so much vapor at the end of the day. So while most water-based spells would be very strong against fire-based creatures and fire might not be very strong against the water-based creatures, make that fire hot enough and it will be a completely different story.

I guess I should say that everything has a context and everything should have some form of benefit against all other forms, whether it's equipping your infantry with a particular type of equipment, casting a particular spell from a class of spells or whatever.

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Infantry might have the advantage of being inexpensive, but if you equip (and train) them with more weapons, then they can be better against other types of targets. Everything is a variable - infantry when equipped with proper shields can largely nullify archers. Arm them with pikes and spears and they can get the 'initial strike' in against the horsemen, weakening the mounted troops before the actual engagement.

What you are edging towards here is acutally a complex RPS system. It can be done with 9 types (its the simpelest, not the smallest number though), but it is easier to break it up into 3 groups of 3.

For example:
You have 3 groups: Call them A, B and C.

In each group you also have a group of 3: Called 1, 2 and 3. This gives you a unit total of A1, A2, A3, B1, B2, B3, C1, C2 and C3.

Thay will have this SPR relationship (it can help if you draw it out on paper):
A1 beats B1, B2, A2 and C3
A2 beats B1, B2, B3 and A3
A3 beats B2, C1, C3 adn A1

B1 beats C1, C2, B2 and A3
B2 beats C1, C2, C3 and B3
B3 beats C2, A1, A3 adn B1

C1 beats A1, A2, C2 and B3
C2 beats A1, A2, A3 and C3
C3 beats A2, B1, B3 adn C1

Instead of being unique units, each type could be a specific weapons and equipment load out.

This, being a symetrical configureation, is the easiets to describe and understand, but not nessesarily the most interesting.

A system like this has been used in games before. The game "Homeworld" used a system similar to this (it was almost the same, except it had a just broken symetery to it).

The advantage of this kind of system is that it gives the player a choice between several almost equivelent options. They are almost equivalent because they do have different units that would be able to beat them. It gives a more dynamic interaction, overall.

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That would be one option, I wasn't necessarily thinking of it just as "Equip them with spears instead of sword and shield", more like that or "Equip them with spears in addition to a sword and shield". You end up with reducing their endurance (speed, whatever) and increasing their cost, but can gain flexibility.

In the same token, you can have a really intense, quick fire spell that is made to set things on fire and do that whole "fireball thing", which won't have a significant impact on a water/ice based critter because the change would be too small and not enough of an extreme to have a significant imbact, or have a long-term spell that's not nearly so hot that will damage water-based creatures (making them boil) and ice critters (melting them), whatever. If you drop the temperature even more, but spread it out even more, you can make your enemy's troops exhaust more quickly to gain advantage in large scale battles. You might not do that "flash bang" damage, but the impact might be even more noticable when your enemy starts exhausting and making mistakes. Of course, this spell might have the opposite effect on a fire-based critter (or even critters from hot climates or with cold blood), envigorating them.

Just because you've got a big fire-based spell doesn't mean that it's going to have an automatic + or - against water/ice critters. How the spell works has as much (if not more) impact on them. The fireball-type spell might do very little damage to an ice critter, but the long-term spell made to exhaust enemy troops would probably be fatal before too long. However, that fireball spell would probably have a significant impact on foliage (plant critters) and living things that are more succeptible to small changes in temperature. You increase the outer layer of these critters by 100 degrees and they have melted skin, damaged eyes and are in serious pain. Do that to a water critter and it's just a warm water critter now, some water evaporated, but the temperature change probably dispersed quickly throughout the critter and didn't do much of anything.

I like things a little more complex and getting towards the 'realistic' end of things. I think it makes things more interesting and requires more thought (strategy) for the players.

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I wasn't necessarily thinking of it just as "Equip them with spears instead of sword and shield", more like that or "Equip them with spears in addition to a sword and shield".

This is still the Payoff/Penalty that lies at the core of the S/P/R system. Some things are good in 1 situation, but in another situation they are not so good (and somehting else is). But unless you make 1 choice the best in all situations, you will end up with an S/P/R system (eg: A is good in situation 1, but not good in situation 2 and 3. B is Good in Situation 2, but not 1 and 3 and C is good in situation 3 but not in 1 or 2). This is still an S/P/R relationship, just not the direct one that is typical of S/P/R.

You are also thinking of flexability (Sword and Shield + Spear) at a cost (endurance). This can also be used in an S/P/R system where you could choose to play 2 (say both Scissor and Rock), but at a higher cost (and they could choose to play Rock and Paper) to beat you. This, then just creates a meta system which is:

S+P -> P+R
P+R -> R+S
and so on.

It doesn't realy change anything.

Quote:
Just because you've got a big fire-based spell doesn't mean that it's going to have an automatic + or - against water/ice critters. How the spell works has as much (if not more) impact on them. The fireball-type spell might do very little damage to an ice critter, but the long-term spell made to exhaust enemy troops would probably be fatal before too long. However, that fireball spell would probably have a significant impact on foliage (plant critters) and living things that are more succeptible to small changes in temperature. You increase the outer layer of these critters by 100 degrees and they have melted skin, damaged eyes and are in serious pain. Do that to a water critter and it's just a warm water critter now, some water evaporated, but the temperature change probably dispersed quickly throughout the critter and didn't do much of anything.

What you are talking about is a more abstract S/P/R system here. Instead of having it do damage directly to Health, you are just applying it to a different Stat for each target. It does create more effort to create (and usually worth it), but it is not different to a S/P/R system. In the case above, Ice -> Fire -> Plant, etc. Also you havent used the factions as the resolution, but the individual abilities of those factions. It is still an S/P/R system.

This is why the S/P/R system is so useful, it will apply to almost any balanced system. Any system that has some abilities that are useful in certain circumstanses and other in diferent circumstances, then you will ususally end up with a form of S/P/R. It might be a loose or abstract syste, (like the one you presented above), or a tighter, more concrete system (like in the actual S/P/R game), but it will still be there.

The Payoff/Penalty method is just one tool that can be used to set a balance in the S/P/R, by having a cost for each choice (be it time, manna, money, etc) and a penalty for a wrong choice (loss of a unit, loss of it's effectiveness, change in state, the target getting more powerful, reduction in hitpoints, further costs, etc) you will be able to construct a balanced system.

There are boundaries to the costs and penalties that will break the balance, but ususally, in an S/P/R system they are fairly flexable.

Combined arms (adn S/P/R is just one application of it) has been around for thousands of years and will be with us for some time yet (I think).

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You're oversimplifying to an extent that was not intended, is irrelevant and when you start including enough things, you end up with a rock/paper/scissors type scenario, but what happens when your scissors are made out of adamantium and you're talking about a pummous rock? That's what I'm talking about. The scissors will beat the rock and the paper and the rock is SOL. You'd have to find a rock made out of impervium or unobtanium ;)

Something will always beat something else, it's the nature of how things are developed, ballistae are designed to knock down walls, not take out mobile units. But it's never as simple as rock, paper, scissors. You also missed the point where the footmen didn't gain an additional weakness (other than increased cost and potential marching distance in a day), they simply gained another strength.

But you're trying to prove a point to someone who's went through most of the arguments and decided on his own path already. I also didn't state that I don't think that rock/paper/scissors scenarios and/or systems weren't valid, just that, as a designer, I prefer to spend my time fleshing out a more complex system with more variables than "Did you pick the rock, the paper or the scissors?", even if you make it 5 different units (or 4 or 5 or 9 different unit types).

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