The development of solid, balanced gameplay is one of the first challenges of map development. In order to meet gameplay expectations and make your map successful, you will need to incorporate the following elements:
- Balanced deployment - It should be unlikely that one or more players can start the game with a major advantage as a result of the initial drop or getting the first turn. Conquer Club is primarily a strategy game, and we therefore like to minimise as many of the luck factors as possible - the dice are randomness enough!
Reasonable bonus structure - Bonuses should make sense given the size/style of the map, and be based on a consistent formula. Consideration should be given to balancing the strength of the board, ensuring that no specific area of the map gives an overwhelming advantage from the start of a game.
Game type flexibility - The map should support various game types and not be designed with specific/limited game settings in mind (standard, assassin, fog of war, 2 players, etc.). Maps designed for fewer than 8-players should be discouraged, and will only be approved if the map is really something special.
Player-friendliness - Any information you need to know to play a map should be easy to gather by looking at the map itself. The legend should be clear, concise and consistent; the map itself should be free of unnecessary or cumbersome rules that push it over the line separating complex from confusing.
Open-play - There should be many ways a game might progress on a map, and many roads to victory. Such features as unpassable borders should enhance, not limit, gameplay, and every effort should be made to limit the number of dead ends and bottlenecks in a map, unless they are justified by the desired play of the map. The map should be fun to play, not frustrating.
Function trumps form - The style of the graphics should not detract from ease of play: borders should be clear, titles and numbers easy to read, colors easy to distinguish, etc...
Form must follow function - So important it's on the list twice! Expect to show some flexibility and be prepared to move away from complete geographical accuracy or historical authenticity: the look and theme of the map must be utterly subservient to gameplay and legibility.
Let's unpack some of these elements in a bit more detail:
- Map Sizes:
- From a gameplay perspective, the map size refers to the total number of territories on a map, rather than the size of the canvas. At extreme ends of the spectrum, the very smallest and very largest maps are likely to give an advantage to whoever goes first. There are no defined limits for map sizes, although maps should have more than 24 territories in order to minimise the risk of first-round eliminations in 8-player games. There is no upper size limit, although the constraints of legibility and clarity need to be considered.
- The number of starting territories varies from the total number of territories on a map, as the game engine distributes territories equally amongst the players, allocating the rest as neutral. In all forms of the game, knocking one or more players into a lower territory band is a fundamental tactic, and so when each player starts with 12/15/18/etc territories, whoever happens to go first gets a huge advantage. Optimising fairness of the drop is therefore regarded as more important than minimising the number of neutral starts.
The following are the "golden numbers" lower than 200, which create a drop that in all (or all except 5/7p) forms of the game require two or three territories to be taken from a player before they are disadvantaged due to territory count and happening to not go first: 24-35, 42, 43, 44, 52, 53, 57, 58, 59, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, (78), (79), 80, (88), (89), 104, 114, 115, 116, (138), (139), 140, 141, 142, 143, 160, 161, 176, 177, 178, 179, 186, 187, 188
Where the total number of territories on the map is not equal to one of these "golden numbers", then expect to be asked to create/merge territories or to code some as neutral in order to ensure that the total number of starting territories is balanced for fair play.
- Standard Continent bonuses:
- Ever since the Classic Map has had continents, people have been fighting to control bonus zones. Bonuses should make sense given the size/style of the map, and be based on a consistent formula. Consideration should be given to balancing the strength of the board, ensuring that no specific area of the map gives an overwhelming advantage from the start of a game. One of the best places to start is with one of the Continent Bonus Spreadsheets in the Map Making Tools. The spreadsheets calculate bonus values based on limited information about the number of territories in each region. The results are a good rough guide to what a bonus is worth, although the mapmaker may want to use higher or lower bonus values depending on the type of gameplay they're trying to achieve, and the spreadsheets sometimes suggest values that are too low for central/congested areas of a map.
Each bonus needs to be considered on a local and global perspective: Simply saying, "this continent has 5 territories and 4 borders so it should be +5" is not always correct. If there was a smaller continent adjacent to it which if held together would be 7 territories and 4 borders with a bonus of +7 then you've probably made a mistake. Think about what would happen in game situations - some continents will obviously be held early; is this going to overpower everyone else? Each bonus needs to make sense in relation to the other bonuses.
- In addition to standard continent bonuses, there are a wealth of non-standard bonus options which can include non-contiguous continents, autodeploys (and decay), and build-your-own bonuses. The style of gameplay you are trying to achieve will have an impact on the bonus structure - classic, conquest, resource-based, etc. There are no hard-and-fast rules about what is acceptable, although extravagant imbalance should be avoided: the Bonus Probability Calculator can be used to get a feel for the likelihood of any player dropping a particular bonus. As an arbitrary guide, probabilities above 5-10% should try to be avoided where possible.
- Gameplay Direction:
- Whatever gameplay direction the mapmaker wants to develop, all the elements need to make sense in relation to each other. There should be many ways a game might progress on a map, and many roads to victory. Such features as unpassable borders should enhance, not limit, gameplay, and every effort should be made to limit the number of dead ends and bottlenecks in a map, unless they are justified by the desired play of the map. Gameplay features such as one-way borders, bombardments and objectives should be integral to the thematic direction of the map, rather than gimmicky add-ons for the sake of it. Care must be taken to make sure that any instructions are as clear and concise as possible - the map should be fun to play, not frustrating or unnecessarily confusing.
All gameplay options must be possible with the current XML available. If something isn't possible, then the gameplay cannot be approved. For a more complete understanding of what is/is not possible, it's worth looking over the XML tutorial. There's no need to be fazed by the prospect of writing any XML - it's essentially a text description of the gameplay of the map, and doesn't need to be started until your map is in the Final Forge (in fact, it's not really worth considering it until a map is nearly complete in any case).
- Starting positions in Conquest-style maps such as Feudal Wars and Age of Realms are set by coding every other territory as neutral - on these maps, all available territories are divided randomly amongst the players. It is possible to group some territories together (as in City Mogul) by using coded starting positions in the XML.
Starting positions can also be used in non-conquest maps to help minimise the luck of the drop by dividing some bonus areas evenly, or ensuring that no single player will drop any bonuses. The implementation of coded starting positions can be a bit bewildering, and if you intend to use them, it is worth reading this foundry discussion thread first.
- The breadth and depth of maps already available on Conquer Club means that new maps are likely to be subjected to higher levels of scrutiny. The maps that are most likely to succeed are ones that offer something unique in terms of gameplay and theme.