Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Makes a Good Trait?

Every civilization is lead by a leader.  The leader has some number of traits, which change the base rules for that player.  Traits vary in power. Some civilizations have access to more than one leader, and a civilization's various leaders will have differing traits.  Most commonly, a leader will have 2 traits.

Leader traits in Civilization are so effective because they can completely change how you approach the game.  They help diversify the number of competitive strategies, and add a healthy variance to the game.  Therefore, when I am designing traits, those are the sorts of effects I want to create. However, not all traits are created equal.  The financial trait is causing me no end of headaches in developing Erebus in the Balance.

The financial trait doubles the speed of markets (an early building that gives gold) and moneychangers (a mid-game building which boosts gold production with a modifier).  Additionally, in every tile, if the tile produces 2 or more commerce, it will produce an additional commerce.  2 commerce tiles are fairly common in CIV, so the end result is that Financial produces a 50% increase in commerce for many tiles.

Ironically though, outside of the balance concerns, financial would otherwise be a model trait.  It clearly distinguishes itself from other traits by providing a type of bonus that no other trait does (a direct tile yield change).  It changes a player's game plan dramatically, and encourages a player to plan around leveraging the trait to maximize its effect.

Organized is a good counterexample to financial.  Organized doubles the speed of courthouses (reduce city maintenance by 50%) and lighthouses (+1 food from water tiles), and reduces civic upkeep by 50%.
It is a solid trait with a reasonable level of power, but isn't very exciting.  Its effects are primarily under the hood.  The player knows that his empire is more efficient, but he's not doing anything much different from his standard gameplan.  In other words, the player does not need to behave differently to leverage his advantage from being organized, beyond simply stepping up the time-frame of all of his plans.

Financial poses the larger problem to me.  It is a good trait, encourages a different style of play, but is so strong that it distorts the leader trait choices in multiplayer.  In general, the games on RBCIV can be loosely classified into two groups: games where financial leaders are banned and games where they are allowed.  In games where they are allowed, financial leaders dominate the picks.  While organized isn't a model trait, at least it doesn't destabilize the leader-pick meta-game.  Considering this, I realize that there was an important point I left off my initial list.

A "good" trait:
  • Creates space for new and competitive strategies
  • Encourages players to play to their trait's strength to unlock its full potential
  • Is not a must-have for every possible competitive strategy