Critical Play: Is this game balanced?


A game that I grew up playing regularly with my family is the board game, “The Game of Life.” This game is memorable to me because each time I play it I have a different experience, and this is due in part to the balance that the game is able to strike. Its target audience reaches ages 8 and up. 

Important Formal Elements

“The Game of Life” is a multiplayer game. It aims to recreate important life decisions and events, hence the name of the game. There are assets that can be earned throughout the game, such as tokens that have monetary value in the game or property. The game latches onto the idea that life is, at times, random, so the game utilizes a spinning wheel which determines how many spaces the user may move on the board, thereby affecting the life decision the user has to make. The game is largely based on luck and randomness, which helps create a balance in the game.

Types of Fun

This game is intended to create a sense of fantasy and fellowship. Fantasy comes from playing as if you are actually being confronted with the life choices, decisions, and events that are presented to you in the game. Fellowship comes from the fact that the game is multiplayer and there are opportunities to socialize and collaborate/compete within the game. I believe the game effectively meets its goal to create these types of fun.


Balance in the Game

Ultimately, the random elements embedded in the gameplay makes the game very balanced. As mentioned above, in order to progress through the game the players must spin a wheel, therefore all actions rest on a random element. Additionally, the game is laid out such that there are paths with forks in the road and if a player meets a fork in the road, they get to choose which direction to continue down on. 


Among the 4 types of balance described in the article “Game Balance”, the second balance in which there is asymmetry in multi-player games resonated with my experience playing the “Game of Life”. Before players begin, they spin the wheel to determine starting point conditions such as how many kids they have. As we learned about onboarding techniques in the previous week, this is not only an excellent way to teach players the mechanic and effect of spinning the wheel, but also create an asymmetrical balance in which players do not start with exactly equal positions and resources, as described in the article. 


Three Ways to Balance Game Objects

  1. Transitive: There is definitely a transitive relationship between the game objects in this board game. The objects in this board game include assets such as a marriage license, insurance, college degree, stocks, and so on. Each of these assets have a monetary value in the game. Therefore, balance is made between objects based on their monetary value, whereby greater priced items are worth more.  
  2. Intransitive: The manifestation of this way of balancing game objects in “The Game of LIfe” is less intuitive to me. There may be a potential intransitive relationship between selling certain objects to obtain/buy other objects, or determining the number of spaces that a player can travel (which is randomly determined by spinning the wheel).
  3. Fruity: I think there is a fruity balance between game objects that comes out quite strongly at the end of the game, when players assess the quality of the life they chose. It’s difficult to compare different life events, such as having kids vs. getting a college degree, because they are so unique and cause different life changes and experiences. Additionally, these life events are ultimately based on subjective values.  


Moments of particular success or epic fails

A particular success was having a lucky streak with spinning the wheel and getting a lot of money/reward/promotions/positive life experiences with ease within a short span of time. The converse is typically the case for epic fails. 


Things you would change to make the game better

I’d experiment by making the game more deterministic rather than purely based on a random element to see how that would affect the gameplay. Additionally, I wonder if assigning aspirations to each player at the start of the game would create even more balance in the game, as it adds another condition that influences each players’ successes and failures in the game. Furthermore, this change would add more control for the player in the game, as they would have more knowledge on which life choices would be better suited for them given their aspirations in the game, rather than picking randomly. 


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