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Design Turn-Based Strategy Unit Type Roles

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Posted (edited)

Hi there,

I'm currently developing a turn-based single-player top-down strategy game: the player against simple swarm-like opponents which use spawners to spawn units.

Summary of game mechanics

There a factories which can produce three different basic "bot" units: attack bots (= stands for aggression), defense bots (= stands for survivability) and utility bots (= stands for flexibility, mobility, range etc.).

The bots don't do a lot by themselves, but any three of them can be combined to create another unit with a role based on the ingredients used. E.g. combining three attack bots must result in a highly aggressive unit.

My goal

Tweaking the types of units available to the player.

I'll need 10 units which have a specific role reflecting the ingredients used to create them (see above).

Additionally, the role of each unit needs to have enough room in its concept to allow upgrades into a specialised variant of the base role of the unit.

What I do have so far:

  • Attack bot (= "A") +A+A: "Berserk style" close-range damage dealer
    • Variant 1: bouncing around causing chaos
    • Variant 2: self-healing on kills
  • A+A + defense bot (= "D"): mid-range damage support unit with pushbac
    • Variant 1: sniper
    • Variant 2: faster shooting speed and increased damage to undamaged targets
  • A+D+D: close-range defense support with minor damage, e.g. area of effect slowdown
    • Variant 1: susceptibility debuff and focus on one target
    • Variant 2: ? More slowdown and more area of effect?
  • D+D+D+: heavily armored tank unit which can push targets away when moving
    • Variant 1: spikes damaging attackers
    • Variant 2: armor
  • A+A + Utility bot (= "U"): long-range area of effect damage
    • Variant 1: damage over time and large area of effect
    • Variant 2: ?
  • A+U+U: army movement and attack efficiency manager, e.g. damage buffs, pushing units further to the frontlines, terraforming etc.
    • Variant 1: attack focus, i.e. stronger buff?
    • Variant 2: movement focus, i.e. better terraform, teleport units
  • U+U+U: general supply unit. This is a unit which restores energy to units so they can move/attack again
    • Variant 1: balancer, i.e. making sure to spread energy well among allies
    • Variant 2: ?
  • D+D+U: healer
    • Variant 1: overheals
    • Variant 2: long-range health transfer among allies
  • D+U+U: ambush manager: "hook" skill which drags enemies, spawn a barrier which soaks up damage and blocks the path
    • Variant 1: invisibility buff and long-range hook skill
    • Variant 2: ? mind control debuff? Better barrier?
  • A+D+U: ?

Roles I cannot add:

  • Jack of all trades: even if balanced, this makes all other units somewhat optional because it can essentially fulfill every role
  • Scout: there is no fog of war, so no scouting role is required

Am I missing any basic unit role I could add? How could I fill the underlined items in the list above?

Are there any duplicates in the roles which I could merge?


Looking forward to your ideas and feedback!

Edited by Mzr

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The design looks good, but i do recommend to build/playtest it instead of over-theorizing;

specifically, would game-play suffer if one combination only had one specialization and the other combination had three ?

If not, better ask "i need a healer, which combination do i use for it" instead of asking "what an i use DDU for"

Anyway, here's some of my suggestions:

ADD: self-regeneration

AAU:Vampire, heals on dealing damage

AUU: poison enemies or disable them

UUU: Faster moving & energy-transfer

UUU: higher energy-replenishing & storage.

DUU: hook skill

DUU: barrier-skill

A+D+U: Chameleon; can turn into a AAA DDD or UUU with lower stats, needs time to change during which it's fragile & immobile.

Another idea for ADU is to give 3 bonuses for respectively having A, D & U.

each unit with A would have a boostable attack.

each unit with D could use trenches/defensive cover build by terraformers.

each unit with U would have an increased energy

hope this helps.

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On 8/29/2019 at 9:34 PM, Dramolion said:

build/playtest it instead of over-theorizing

Probably true. I've set up basic upgrades and started testing those.

On 8/29/2019 at 9:34 PM, Dramolion said:

would game-play suffer if one combination only had one specialization

It wouldn't, no. I'd like to try to keep the upgrades setup somewhat symmetrical.


Thanks Dramolion, that helped me a great deal already!

I like the chameleon skill especially, some of the other ideas I had implemented some way or another already.

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Maybe you have too many unit variants already (basically 20 types!). Units should have a distinct function and a distinct look, so the player can get feedback on the tactics he/she tries out.

If not all have this, i'd say you have too many units. And since you havent even started playtesting i'd say take it easy with more units :) Maybe starting with 5 units and see how they interact would make more sense to figure out what you need to add (if anything).

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Thanks suliman, you've got a point there.

I'm actually trying to make all units really unique regarding both looks and use, that's why I'm theorising so much.

After some playtesting, I'm undecided whether it's too many units because almost every unit variant feels like it actually has a purpose, but I get your point.

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The RTS "Homeworld" had loads of units types, but in the end most players focused on no more than 6-7 types in each engagement, as it became hard to organize and remember all the counters and tactics for everything otherwise. Roles tend to (at least partially) overlap if you have alot of unit types, this may be ok, but it's also an indication that they are not all NEEDED.

It might be easier in turn-based (compared to realtime), but many unit types can also lead to slower games (if players need to reference unit info, think alot etc).

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I'm trying to design each units as specialised as possible, each with serious weaknesses. Players will need an array of different unit types to counter those weaknesses. This also means there will only be minimal overlapping of the uses of units.

11 hours ago, suliman said:

also lead to slower games

I'm also  noticing that, and I don't really like it. How do I counter it though?

Less unit types? Sure, I can remove the whole upgrade approach. Would the game be too simple then?

Can I remove the complexity of the skills of individual units? That might also result in the game becoming repetitive and boring.

The point of this whole upgrading approach only was to make the gameplay more varied, but I'm beginning to think that won't work because there is in fact no variance, only more complexity.

My goal is basically: faster-paced gameplay which is still exciting.

Some ideas I had (not sure if that makes complete sense):

  • Remove the upgrades, but consider making one of the upgraded variants the base unit
  • Add suprise elements to the game that turn the tide of battle or at least force the player to adapt to a new situation. E.g. enemies which suddenly appear and can teleport behind the player's lines, random terrain changes (caused by earthquakes or something), ...

This is a asymmetrical PvE game, so any "surprise" needs to be well balanced. Any other ideas?

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Obvious tools to differentiate units that you haven't used:

  • Different damage types, with different enemies having different resistances and vulnerabilities and possibly even immunities.
  • Different terrain traversal abilities, e.g. flying, swimming.
  • Stealth.
  • Movement speed.

In general, any combat role can be combined with any movement characteristic.  Have a slow-moving tank group that's expected to survive heavy fire?  You want the utility units in the group (healers, buffs, debuffs) to also have high survivability.  Have a fast-moving group of jet fighters that avoids heavy fire by flying away?  You also need the utility units in the group to match the rest of the group in speed and flying ability.

You could even take the modular theme all the way by not having predefined units at all.  Instead, you have a set of abilities in three categories, and for each bot the player uses to construct a unit, the player gets to choose one ability in the matching category.  For example:

Attack abilities:

  • High damage.
  • Long range.
  • Area of attack.
  • Secondary melee push attack.

Defence abilities:

  • Armour.
  • Shield.
  • High hp.
  • Regeneration.
  • Stealth.

Utility abilities:

  • Buff allies.
  • Debuff enemies.
  • Healing.
  • High speed.
  • Flying.

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I dismissed different damage types and stealth as too complex at first, but I'll think about that. It's a stable in many RTS games at least. Thanks! Terrain and movement speed I already have implemented already.

The modules approach is a nice idea, but I'm afraid the merged units will lack identity and it will make the game more complex without much benefit. Cool design though.

I've removed the upgrades for now and merged the most exciting aspects which make each variant special into the base unit. Now I have the impression I've not lost much... Which means the upgrades were duplicates to some extent and were probably the wrong approach.Bottom line, over-theorising doesn't help if you don't know what you're doing.

Thanks everyone!

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