Board game design, Learning

In-game economics: Resources are temporary

Introduction

What can I trade for an additional turn?!
What can I trade for an additional turn?!
In a previous post I wrote about “resources” as part of a series on in-game economics. Of course something isn’t just written and then “done”. The piece got me thinking further, so I thought I’d share a bit more with you.

In this post I want to go into the “temporal” aspect of resources.

Resources are transient

One important insight I had was that all resources (in board-games) are transient, meaning that at some point they will be gone.

For things like wood and stone, which you “spend” to build say a building, this is pretty clear. Once you’ve used a given wood card or token, you cannot use it again until you somehow produce more wood.

There are however many resources within games which seem to be permanent: A city you build in Catan, the spaces on the board of Monopoly. And within the game they most certainly can be.

But that’s the thing: Games end!

And that means that everything within your board-game has a limited lifetime.

The lifetime value of a resource

If you buy a house, you can fully expect to be able to use for the rest of your life. And it’s not unlikely that your children and perhaps your children’s children will get to enjoy that nice piece of bricks and mortar as well.

Houses are ridiculously expensive! Staying in hotels for years on end is cheaper than buying one. But a house is still less expensive than staying in hotels for the rest of your life!

The thing to take away is that a resource needs to “repay” itself within its own lifetime.

And as time (turns, rounds) is fairly limited in a board-game, the pay-back time needs to be relatively short as well.

Players influencing time

This means that if players have some influence on when the game ends, this can become quite a significant resource in itself.

There is the simple influence, where ending the game now stops my opponent from doing more next turn.

But it also creates a more subtle influence: If the game could be ending soon-ish, then I’m not going to invest in something expensive that needs multiple turns to pay itself back.

The sacrifice

On the other hand, as a game is limited in time, it might not be a bad idea to give up a “permanent” resource for some short-term gain.

You wouldn’t give away your house for a vacation. But if the world was ending in 2 weeks, it might actually not be such a bad trade?

Many games make a very clear distinction between “spending resources” (wood, stone) and “permanent resources” (buildings, constructions, etc.). Why not have something in between? Something that stays for a while and then is gone? Or something that can be sacrificed (foregoing the long-term benefits) for something now.

This can also make for very interesting choices, especially if it’s not entirely clear when the game is going to end: Hang on to it and get the benefits for however long the game lasts, or blow it up and reap the rewards immediately. In the end it only matter how much you have in the end (of the game)!

Thoughts and questions for board-game design

All good things (including board-games) must come to an end! That has an influence on the amount of time any resource can provide value. In your board-game, is there a balance between how long something sticks around and how much it gives? How does that change over the course of playing? Are all your resources worth their cost throughout the entire game, or are some only worthwhile in the beginning?

Can you give players influence over when the game ends? Would that add depth or just complexity?

Finally, would it be interesting to add resources that are around for a while, but eventually go away, either because of a player choice or because of a mechanic?

Time can be an unexpected resource for your players and that can make for new and interesting game-play. My tip: Use (your) time well!

Feedback please!

I’m very open to your ideas and thoughts, let me know if you agree and where you think I completely missed the point! Leave a comment, or hit me up on Twitter!


Bastiaan_smallHi, I’m Bastiaan. The goal of this blog is to learn about game design. That’s hopefully for you as the reader, but just as much for me as the writer.

Help me to learn? Leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter?

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3 Comments

  1. Really enjoyed the article Baatiaan. The intersection between tempo and efficiency in resource allocation decisions is I think one of the most interesting in boardgame design. It lies at the heart of so many of the best and most meaningful strategy options available in gameplay.

    I’ve recently been thinking about this issue in regards to Mage Knight.

    In PVP there is a seemingly defined game length depending on the scenario e.g. 4 days 4 nights. However players have options to shorten the time available to other players by finishing the scenario conditions (capturing two cities) and/or by playing their hand more quickly to declare end of turn earlier. This introduces an urgency to players strategy and, I think most importantly, an uncertainty. Rather than simply seeking to achieve the most efficient allocation of resources (in this case cards-fame) which can be undeniably satisfying, the introduction of uncertainty in the time available forces players consider tactics which might be suboptimal depending on the tactics deployed by other players. This creates a wonderfully dynamic feedback loop of tactical responses by players as they monitor each others hand size/ proximity to victory etc.

    However I wonder at what point a lack of perfect knowledge over the time available stops being a benefit to meaningful strategsing and becomes a handicap? Were the game end less predictable, or even utterly random, then a players ability to strive for efficient forward planning and efficient resource allocation is severely curtailed. Finding that sweet point is, I think, a fine goal for game designers.

    Reply
    1. BastiaanReinink Author

      Hi Thomas,

      I haven’t played Mage Knight, but It just got bumped up on my list of things to try (it’s a long list… 🙂 ).

      There is definitely a balance to be found between “randomly ending a game” and knowing exactly when it will end. Personally I really like the: “You see it coming, but you can’t be absolutely sure”. I remember a game of Voluntarios (the game I’m developing) where everybody was quite clear that the game was going to end and was burning through everything they got. One player held back unexpectedly, meaning that the game didn’t finish after all. That player was then able to to exploit the final turn to the max (she didn’t win though, but it was close!)

      And it’s a good point you make, players can have influence on when the game ends, but also when a round ends (with all the lovely agonizing possibilities that creates!)

      Thanks for your comment!

      Bastiaan

      Reply
      1. +1 for agonizing possibilities being the best possibilities.

        I’ve just had a read up on Voluntarios and it looks really interesting. They say write what you know and that wisdom seems equally apt for boardgames.

        I’ll try and round up some of the less cynical members of my gaming group (player who last did something good going first would pose a challenge to some 🙂 to give it a whirl. Looks like the pieces from Lords of WaterDeep will work well.

        Reply

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