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RTS, is it even possible to balance?



8 members have voted

  1. 1. Is it possible to find a balance for any RTS? (You can have multiple choices)

    • Yes, there is. By applying a huge load of math.
    • Yes, there is. By trial and error and adjust and trial and etc.
    • It is impossible.

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A lot of math in this thread.


Although I don't have much time now. I will try to re- awaken this thread.

I did the following classes test for checking the usability of my units:


Each statistics can have a very low, or very high number. So you double classes with each statistics that gets tested.






This means there are 16 "basic" unit designs.


I also used my formula to determine the prices. I used extreme values to almost reach the minimum and maximum prices. As mentioned before:


Ah, you know what, I post the formula here:


€ = Stats = Size

Stats is used as Build Time

€ * X asks a Size reduction: Size / X²

Stats = (Armour + (Multiplier * Damage)) * (Range + Speed + 6) / 10

Health = 6 * Armour² / 2500

Max Damage, is per dice/multiplier on target = Armour² /2500 or Damage² / 2500


And thus I discovered 1 major glitch. 1 particular type of unit that has almost no value in combat, and is way to expensive.

Perhaps you can guess which one (and 2 more) it is (are).


For the testing, I used 50 and 500 for the Armour/Damage value's. Comparable with infantry and tanks with armour that of a mammoth tank. So the firepower as well. The 500 damage however can also be viewed as 10 times 50. Meaning it is anti infantry.

And I used 2 and 12 for the Range/Speed value's. Comparable to normal range and that of the SSM or V2 launcher. Speed, normal tank speed or something like the Recon Bike.


The 16 unit designs:

Whereas A=Armour, D=Damage, S=Speed, R=Range


..A    D    S    R      €    Unit

.50   50    2    2    100    A

.50   50    2   12    200    B

.50   50   12    2    200    C

.50   50   12   12    300    D

.50  500    2    2    550    E

.50  500    2   12   1100    F

.50  500   12    2   1100    G

.50  500   12   12   1650    H

500   50    2    2    550    I

500   50    2   12   1100    J

500   50   12    2   1100    K

500   50   12   12   1650    L

500  500    2    2   1000    M

500  500    2   12   2000    N

500  500   12    2   2000    O

500  500   12   12   3000    P




Now the question remains. For what would you use these units? Every unit will serve a purpose and is useful in some way. If there is no usefulness, the formula that is used, fails.



Is a typical basic unit. Weak in any aspect, yet strong through numbers. It can serve as cannon fodder, or support for finishing of enemy infantry. So a Dual Basic.


Is the same unit as A. Yet has insane Range. Due to this range, the duality is removed. And this unit now simply serves as Support.


Is the same unit as A. Yet has insane Speed. Due to this speed, the duality is removed. However, due to the other statistics, you would only use this unit for Hit and Run tactics on the enemy base.


Is a combination of B and C. Both Range and Speed are insane. Due to this, this unit is perfectly to do Hit and Run tactics on the enemy units. It would be one of my favourites.

E through H

These units all are some sort of Support. This due to their insane damage value. Yet E can still be used as meat against cannon fodder, if there are other more expensive units to be protected. F is Support only just like B. G has the same usefulness as C. And H is the same as D. If you are going for a "cheap" OP unit, H is your choice.

M through P

These 4 are again the same as A through D. However, they are the expensive variant.


The other 4, I through L

These 4 have almost no damage. But they have a lot of armour. Therefore they should act as Meat units. Of course they still can act like A through D. However...

The only problem is. Why pay twice the amount for armour for a ranged unit, while the damage is almost non existent. I do understand that long ranged units are safe. So the high armour is only useful if such a unit is trapped. But twice the costs on armour is not needed. If you are going to use meat. Then the one without range can act as such. So you pay for something that you don't use. And to top it off, you pay it twice.


And this is where my formula fails. An extreme version would be:


..A    D    S    R      €    Unit

.50    0    0  594   3000    X


So basically an infantry level wall with Insane³ Range. This is clearly a fail. And if it is possible to have a clearly fail. Then there are hidden fails as well. So, my formula needs to be changed. But into what? This question is continued in the other thread for my board game. Clearly, Range is not allowed to touch Armour with a factor. No matter what the Range is. The costs should only be €30, not a one hundred fold.


Summarized: I did not use a perfect formula for a balanced RTS. FAIL!!

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  • 6 months later...

I noticed that I never posted the new and improved results.

The 16 unit designs:

Whereas A=Armour, D=Damage, S=Speed, R=Range


..A    D    S    R  old-€  new-€    Unit

.50   50    2    2    100    100    A

.50   50    2   12    200    200    B

.50   50   12    2    200    200    C

.50   50   12   12    300    300    D

.50  500    2    2    550    550    E

.50  500    2   12   1100   1550    F

.50  500   12    2   1100    650    G

.50  500   12   12   1650   1650    H

500   50    2    2    550    550    I

500   50    2   12   1100    650    J

500   50   12    2   1100   1550    K

500   50   12   12   1650   1650    L

500  500    2    2   1000   1000    M

500  500    2   12   2000   2000    N

500  500   12    2   2000   2000    O

500  500   12   12   3000   3000    P



Summarized: SUCCES!!!

And to top it of. Fast units also have a reduced hit chance when targeted while moving.

2 has a 69% chance of being hit while moving, but 12 has only 11% chance of being hit while moving.



People will keep using that one.


Really great in hit and run tactics now.


A marvellous toy of annoyance.


The least useful, unless you need emergency meat somewhere where you expect an attack very soon. Then this one is the only option.



I've been thinking in quite the opposite direction, do you think it could be possible, since its a boardgame and you can implement whatever rules you want, to make a really more realistic combat model? With limited ammo, different attacks for different targets etc.? I guess that the most troublesome part in this approach is actually the calculation of hits and misses, since accuracy is going to be a serious issue (relative positions of the attacker and the target, projectile type, wind etc. etc.; but on the bright side, all of that can be calculated reliable with the "huge load of math" as you put it :)).

I never answered this, did I? Sorry for that.


- Limited ammo?

Yes, that is possible. Although, very tricky and I never really thought about it.


First degree approach is having all the units carry the same amount of possible damage. Meaning if one unit has a value of 50 and another one has 500. That the first one can have 10 ammo, while the second has only 1 ammo. Further more, this is expandable to any factor.


Second degree: However, if you want to have units with more ammo or less ammo in comparison. Then there should be a tweak in balance comparison as well. I am not aware of the approach of this. But a possibility would be a "total possible damage". Where one unit with 30 x 50 ammo would have 1500 points and another unit with 5 x 500 ammo would have 2500 points. Thus 67% more expensive.


The question then remains, how much is this system part of the damage system? is it a 50-50% for normal weapons? Is limiting ammo to 0, giving the result of 50% worth of damage? What about unlimited ammo?  This is a trick question for me. And a lot of games have both systems in one. Having ammunition of 0 should return a € 0 for weaponry. Having ammunition of 1 time something/something should return € 100% for weaponry. Is it up to the designer where to place the basic Damage/Ammunition ratio? Just like the Health/Damage ratio? Then the designer can decide on a "normal" game where both ratio's have the same number. Thus having just enough ammo for killing your own kind. Or having 2 or 3 times the clips? That simply results in overkill. If the design only allows 99% or less, there is always a retreat for refilling. This could give pause to players constantly. A bit to much retreating and players find the game boring.


However, training troops would result in cheaper ammunition refill if you think about it.


- Different attacks for different targets. (Mammoth Tank Assembled, C&C3)

Yes, this is simple. ..With long time consuming math. I ensure you :dry:

However, you need to keep in mind that an unit can shoot both, or just 1 target at a time. There are different factors in play for that.

There are 3 main choices in this.


Lets assume there are 3 possible targets, Normal units are specialized in dealing with 1 of them.


Choice 1:

Having an unit that can shoot all (2) different projectiles at the same time at 2 different targets, simply means all projectiles count 100% in costs. The unit is simply much weaker in normal chaotic combat, dealing with 3 different targets. But a good support unit for "noobs" as long as another unit takes the damage.

Dealing with the 2 desired targets, and your unit wins anyway. Also keeping in mind that if all projectiles go to one of the two, the damage is on target, but slightly less effective.

Dealing with just 1 desired target, and your unit already has a chance of losing. If there are no desired targets, your unit fails even more so then the specialized units.

If the targets are in different dimensions, whereas 100% of 0% damage is in play. Players need to think extra carefully about using these units. However, if both ground and air are there, then both can be targeted. The unit simply can't focus all shots on one target.


Choice 2:

Ok, now for the, can shoot only 1 target with 1 type of projectiles at 1 time. While having 2 types of projectiles. Thus the Mammoth from RA1.

Each round of firing, the damage is considerably less. However, not less then 50% in a 2 types of projectiles.

I do not like these units. Nor the balance behind them. That's why I did not write down rules for them. Nor do I use them in my game.

But if I have to explain these in balancing terms?

I guess I could say that even if this unit could hit the ground with 2 different weapons, disabling one and activating another should lead to calculating the total damage against any target. And compare this with when both weapons can shoot at the same time.


Let's say the targets are 50 (1), 150 (9) or 300 (36).

The weapons are 6 x 50 and 1 x 300. Obviously the total worth normally would be 600.

But since only 1 weapon is activated at the same time. We need to observe the total amount of possible damage (in a game with infinite possibilities of targets this is not possible)


Against 50, we have 300, against 300 we too have 300. But what to use against 150?

In my game we have an armor of 9 for 150, thus 6/9 with 6x50 or 9/9 with 1x300. Obviously the 1x300 is used. Thus even though the weapon is less effective in the long run. The worth is 150 points for the mid section? (Using the wrong weapon is only 100 points) While the other 2 are 300 points each. Thus a total of 750 points.


How does this compare with the worth € 600 weapon?

It is 350 points for the first, 250 points for the second and 350 points for the third. A total of 950 points.


If € 600 is worth 950 points. Then the other unit with 750 points is only worth € 474. (€ 237 for each weapon instead of € 300, which is cheaper, right?) So a cheaper unit relatively speaking, is actually more expensive. Since only 1 weapon is used each time. The problem lies within the fact that this unit pays for the most optimal weapon. Which is good and helps. But fails in chaotic combat. No sweat there, it is balanced. But is it useful for players?


It ain't useful if you want to expand a game with more types. If another type comes along, lets say 600 armor aka 144. Then the points immediately become different.

For the € 600 there is an addition of 175, a total of 1125.

And for the other one we have the most optimal choice is 1x300, thus 150 more points. Thus a total of 900.

The new price would become 900/1125 of € 600 = € 480. That is 6 more. Thus this unit would become more expansive after an expansion pack.


The main things that I don't like about these units is that

A) mistakes in weapon choice can be made during game play and

B) the balancing is harder since weird prices come along and

C) my game is expandable into infinity.


Choice 3: Back to C&C3.

While other units can only hit ground or air. This unit can hit ground or air with the same projectile. There are more choices compared to the basic units. Thus a bit more of a more expensive weapon. It also depends on the number of choices that a game has. With only ground or air. The bonus might be big, but never is allowed to surpass the square root of 2. Thus the bonus an unit during combat has is 42%, but in a chaotic combat, it is 42% for the enemy. Since players then tend to get chaotic battles instead to prevent this abuse. Another square root could be applied. Leaving only a difference of 19%. So if mister Recon Bike could not hit air, then it's worth would be roughly around $ 500 instead of $ 600. Keep in mind, the factor to this depends on the number of dimensions a game can have. To be close to only 2 in my game, I use 33% costs instead of 42%. Yet another 33% is added every other dimension. With 4 dimensions, the weapon is times 2 in costs. Never allowing myself to surpass 4 dimensions.


Just like choice 2 never would allow me to add more types. But dimensions are limited and types are not. Thus choice 3 is made, choice 2 is not.


-Hits and misses

Obvious. Yes.

Of course the most exceptional rule is the one that I have for targeting moving objects. The faster they are, the harder to hit.

However, calculating this with only dice. Results in some sort of overkill on slow moving objects and over miss on fast moving objects.

However, no matter what kind of unit it is. Once standing still, it is 100% hit.

Forests and other obstructions influence projectiles as well. Where hiding in a forest gives the same bonus as hiding behind a forest. But this is downsized with 50% once a player decides to attack from a forest. The missing part is only for the other player that shoots into the forest.

Calculating all of this is not an issue. A chance of 5/6th means the worth of the weapon is 5/6th. Thus a weapon of 300, simply costs 250.

And the risk part makes a part of the game.

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  • 1 year later...

Wow, more than a year ago. This topic.


Any way. I had some discussions with someone who designed a real RTS.

Regarding balance.


He too had troubles in balancing. But went with trial and error.

The result was still pretty neat.


I got a copy of his game. And shared it with my cousin. It is in java. And I await a response.



With the talk going back and forth. We got to some new conclusions.

Where actually, only 1 method requires math and 1 method requires play testing. These are mostly though experiments considering the level of skill of players. And the experience of designers over the past 20 years.


Just some tricks to add to the game. To see it more balanced.


Here we go:



Encourage players to keep some resources stand by to become any thing. With RPS going on. You loose your R against P. But you know you need to get S. The fight has to go slow enough for players to see what the enemy has. They can build new units back in their base and know how much they need. So they will not waste it all on the new right unit. Just enough to win a battle. The more skill a player has, the more efficient this flows. But somehow, it balances itself out because "normal" players always build the right counters. And can't overcome initial fights since both players are behind the facts by 1 step.


Scouting should not be permanent. Fog of war balances the game because it maintains for players to be behind by 1 step. Of course this means that scouting itself should be balanced.



Increase health for ALL units if you feel that one unit is a bit too effective. Often you get into a chain reaction of modifying unit, after unit. And you could go in circles with this if your testing is incorrect. It seems that having an overall health increase automatically balances towards what you had envisioned. If that doesn't help, increase all health once again. Of course you can't go on with this. If having 200% or more health doesn't help you. Go back to 100% and simply adjust that one unit instead.



Indirectly increasing health by allowing units to take cover. And of course having the smaller units a better job at this. You can use other units that are meat or that can be entered. You can also use walls. Structures too.



Going the other way for all units with health. But not really health. No, instead you increase damage on those specialist units. But not just for against 1 type of unit. You need a specialist that is able to destroy another type instantly. A sniper against infantry. A bunker buster against bunkers. A tank killer rocket for dealing with tanks. A laser that deals with light armoured units. An EMP blast against 1 air unit. In fact, you design your game to have RPS, not just a soft version, but also a hard version at the same time.



The well known math trick is known by many designers. But also hated by many designers. After having set your first statistics. You pick your weakest unit. And compare it to all your other units in numbers. Do not apply a differentiation in damage on types. Just basic damage is what you need. Also you take in account how many units a player will have on average. Now fill in the formula for each unit:


Td = (H-1)*N*D + 0,5*(N*N+N)*D.


Where Td is your total damage score.

H is literally hit points of the unit.

N is the number of units.

D is the damage of the units.


If you apply cooldown or rof, you need to use DPS instead: And subtract the H for both units by 1.


Both units will supply you with a Td. Now you will calculate the following:

€ factor = Root of ( "Td current unit"/ "Td of the weakest unit")


If you need help with the formula for your recalculating. Call me.

The thing that designers hate is that root part. It always gives crappy numbers.



Cheaper units, should be healed way faster. Most RTS fail in this. And the strong unit heals just as fast as a weak unit. This is incorrect since the weaker units also die faster?



Damage is linear to health. OMG, this one is that obvious one. Although, in board games it is hard to implement. Most RTS could benefit from this. If implemented right.

It is also the first thought trick ever implemented to RTS. And we all know which game.

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  • 5 years later...

6 years later...

In the meantime I matured more in math regarding RTS games. And to sumarize, most of them have to do with infinities and limit interactions.

The 3 main pillars are:
- Chain reaction weapnry. Where every hit could trigger another chance to do more damage. O-game is a very good example in this. Where a chance of 50% for each increase of 1 would result in an average of 2 damage on the infinite scale.
- The same as the chain reaction. But the chance for the projectile to go through a section of the terrain in combination with infinite range. Would eventually result in an average range. Where a chance of 5/6th per region would result in an average range of 5 regions.
- Considering cooldown/charging or ROF or, yes even a weird salvo can now be balanced by math. Burst, Salvo and Charged weapons now go together. This calculation makes use of the set Health/Damage ratio.

There is a clear difference between theoratical balance and practical balance.
Practical balance includes effects of the terrain, the combination of units and the skill of players. Sometimes the set of designed units might secretly shift the Health/Damage ratio as well, this happens when there is no mirror design.
There is math to it all.... Except the skills of players. And thus my final verdict is that balancing a RTS game starts with theoratical balance and has to proceed into practical balance by having a team test the game.

If you want to know more about a subject. Feel free to ask. I know this will not really happen. But I am happy I solved a couple of mysteries in the RTS genre. :)

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