Flash of Steel header image 2

Three Moves Ahead: Episode 8 — Symmetry and Asymmetry

April 14th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 14 Comments · Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


A full panel today as the experts ramble about symmetry and asymmetry in strategy game design. What do we even mean by an asymmetrical game? When is asymmetry just a cheat to hide poor game design? Listen as Julian Murdoch poses hypothetical questions, Tom Chick praise the King of Asymmetry, Troy Goodfellow challenges Tom’s logic and Bruce Geryk tries to stay on the sidelines.

Listen Here.
RSS here.

Tom’s first Demigod diary
An earlier Bruce article on board games vs computer games and learning the system


14 Comments so far ↓

  • Quarter to Three » Three Moves Ahead: one of these sides is not like the other

    […] the latest Three Moves Ahead podcast, Julian Murdoch makes the case that chess is about asymmetrical […]

  • Scott

    Arghhhh… Ogre/GEV references… I’m in a time warp to 1986…

    Nostalgia hurts my head.

  • John Hawkins

    Ogre and Starship Troopers in the same podcast! Awesome. If you talked about Gamma World, I’d have been completely transported back to the 70’s.

  • wildpokerman

    Stop making these for a month! I’m going to have to nickname them “7 podcasts behind”. Great stuff.

  • Thomas Kiley

    I think the reason each team has the same objectives is because it forces players to interact with each other. If one person is challenged with collecting 1000 wood and the other with taking 3 victory points, it might end up with both people racing to do their objective, oblivious of the other player! I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I think this is the danger.

    Also, I think Troy is right about the Alpha Centurai. I think it is worth bearing in mind there are like 60 (?) leaders in Civ 4, you probably could break that down in to 7 unique leaders.

    For me, where I draw the line between mathematical variations and interesting asymmetry, is when the differences forces you to play differently. In Age of Empires (I) whichever race you played with, you would follow the same basic strategy. True, some races were quicker at ceartain elements, but for the most part, it didn’t matter.

    Where it gets in to the other realm is when it is nearly impossible to use the same strategy. In Dawn of War 2, if you play as the Eldar and try to walk forward and fight the enemy head on, you’ll lose.

    @Wildpokerman He he, I know the feeling!

  • Morkilus

    No mention of Dominions? Where most of the really good players see only minor differences in the 80 different nations, nation strengths and weaknesses are a matter of great contention in the lower tier. Except for the pop-killing and blood nations: this brings a level of asymmetry that drives some hosters to ban them outright. Fun stuff.

  • Troy

    We can’t mention Dominions every episode!

  • Howard

    As a good example of a symmetrical game would be Igo (Baduk), not only are both sides running by the same rules, all the game pieces are exactly the same(they’re just stones after all)

  • Robert

    One quick response, as I’m listening to the podcast at work. You guys talk about the way DoW2 is being balanced and patched and how there seem to be so many changes and nerfs… but have you gone back and looked at the Starcraft patch notes? It’s considered one of the most balanced RTS games currently, but over its life it has had all kinds of fairly radical (at the time) changes made to it as responses to overwhelming strategies. In order to keep an RTS balanced, I think you have to be willing to made whatever changes necessary. I don’t even really play DoW2, so I don’t know exactly, but if they’re patching regularly and changing things, I can’t imagine it being a bad thing.

  • Troy

    The problem with Relic’s patching cycle is that the changes are often radical and one-sided. Though balance is a good thing, Relic’s pattern (best seen in the original DoW and Company of Heroes) requires far more adjustment on the part of the player than Starcraft’s patches. (Though, to be fair, Starcraft is a much simpler game.) Company of Heroes is already past patch 2.1 — Starcraft only 1.6 ten years after release. Relic is more frequent and more dramatic in its patches, I think.

    Also, Starcraft’s first three patches fixed exploits, but did nothing about race balance – that wasn’t touched till 1.04 – meaning that Blizzard was studying the issue for almost a year before they did anything to it. The only other race balance patch was 1.08 – all others were to fix bugs or exploits. You could argue that exploits are also about balance, but they are arguably more about game design qua design – playing the game as it was meant to be played.

    The professional Starcraft leagues in Korea also make it a bit of an outlier in RTS support and updating.

  • Alan Au

    The talk of asymmetric games reminded me of this classic Sirlin post, where he talk about introducing asymmetry into otherwise symmetric games: http://www.sirlin.net/articles/rock-paper-scissors-in-strategy-games.html

    He’s actually quite engaging to talk to, especially about the strategic considerations of competitive play.

  • FhnuZoag

    I think the important thing that you missed was that the social engineering values in Alpha Centauri weren’t numerical bonuses, but rather levels that meant dramatic changes in mechanics.

    For example, the Gaians’ +1 to Planet is huge, because the distinction between 0 and 1 means that Gaians can capture mindworms, while other factions can’t. (Unless they spend a lot of research and resources towards this.) So, this explains why Gaians interact with fungus and don’t keep a large standing army – because while for the others, the fungus is a scary place where mindworms randomly appear to wreck their stuff, for the Gaians, the fungus is a source of free units, and in fact units that you can send to root around in the fungus to find even more free units, and these units ignore almost all technological differences.

  • Erez

    This topic, for me, is extremely interesting. I had a go, at the time, on designing chess variants (shameless plug: http://is.gd/1d8Ty).
    At first, I played with the usual symmetrical piece design, but eventually, I created an asymmetrical variant called “TreeLeaders”. This was inspired heavily by Archon, a chess-like computer game with two non-similar armies.
    One thing I have to admit, though, is that even after playtesting and integrating some players comments, I can’t really say how balanced it is, mostly because I have no idea on how *to* balance some of its pieces.

    Some of them are different variation of the similar piece (the chess rook and the Chinese cannon), but others are truly “out there” pieces, some of which I invented, that were not similar, or balanced, by anything on the other side.

    OTOH, in chess, unlike a computer strategy game, placing pieces enables some balance. For instance, placing the rooks at the corners takes away some of the power of those overbearing pieces, or the location of the queen places it under threat very early in the game. Using similar placements, I was able to force some balance, while also matching up pieces. Similar to the symmetry of sides in regular chess opening, I placed matched-up pieces in the same opening places.